Interview conducted by Jeff Burk
Photos by Jeff Burk, Ron Lewis and DRO files

With all of the issues facing NHRA’s professional teams including loss of major sponsors, mounting costs of fielding a team and a proposed new spec engine for Top Fuel, DRO Editor Jeff Burk sat down with Don Schumacher and his newest team member, Lee Beard, for a conversation about the current state of the NHRA and the nitro classes.

DRO: Lets talk about the proposed new spec engine that NHRA is developing and testing. Do either of you know who the NHRA tech folks talked to before putting this program in motion?

Lee Beard: Obviously they didn’t talk to the crew chiefs.  I find that rather disturbing, because financially, if it goes the way their proposed motor comes out, it would be devastating to a team owner like Don (Schumacher), let alone some of the lesser funded teams. Is a new spec engine the right thing that the sport needs? No. All focus at this point in time needs to be put into marketing and sponsorships. That’s where the focus needs to be.

DRO: What’s PRO’s position in all of this?

LB: We need to have a board meeting for any of us to be able to answer that. As I expressed to a couple of the board members, we all have our own feelings about things, and then when we all get together in one room and A has feelings about his thoughts and B has different ones, and C has different ones and D has different ones, we tend to pay attention and come up with a united “Hey, this makes sense.” I have my feelings, I’m sure Kenny (Bernstein)  has his feelings, I’m sure John Force, Doug Herbert, Connie Kalitta, Tim Wilkerson, they have theirs. Until we’re all together, able to communicate equitably on a level playing field, I can’t express to you what PRO’s board members’ feelings are on this.

DRO: Did NHRA contact PRO members when coming up with this 413-inch engine program?

LB: Well, Tim Wilkerson is involved in it. I mean, they’re going to run it in his car so they must have contacted him.  Regardless of whether they consulted with him or someone else I can’t say. Like I said, they didn’t talk to me.  But I continually take a step back and say, “Why are we doing this? What is the problem? What are we trying to cure, fix or solve?

DRO: My impression is the NHRA is concerned that their fuel cars aren’t running a quarter mile. That would be part of the reason they have yet to establish 1,000-foot records. I have talked to NHRA folks who say that if they go back to quarter-mile racing for Top Fuel and Funny Car that will bring more fans and polish up the fuel classes’ image. Do either of you guys think that? That 1,000-foot or quarter mile is some sort of magic that will improve the sport?