: It's an annoying dynamic to deal with, but it’s a positive situation, in another sense, because it shows people care. Drag-racing fans, not just NHRA drag-racing fans, seem insatiable when it comes to fresh information, discussion, reminiscing, and history. The Internet has dozens of web sites dedicated to some aspect of drag racing. We don’t see that with NASCAR or IndyCar. Do you find that drag-racing fans are just different that way?   

TC: Yeah. One indication is the Facebook-engagement number I shared with you which is so much more than any sport out there. Some market study research that came out and asked – they ask questions different ways . . . I'll just give you the gist – "Do you support the products of the sponsors that sponsor the NHRA? Would you switch brands because the brand is an NHRA sponsor?" . . . That's a number that's usually fairly low, even though someone feels good about it [feels favorably toward a product]. To actually say, "I will switch brands" is huge. And we had one of the highest numbers that this [data research] organization had ever seen in all of their studies.

When we did a fan-satisfaction survey a number of years back, the company that did it went to a number of national events. They asked a bunch of questions. And they said from the first one they went to to the next one – every event – scored more than any other sport they ever measured. NHRA fans are having a great time at these events – and they support the products of the sponsors at a level that's just second to none.

Again, that's why they engage in social media. They're passionate, and that's a good thing. They have a lot of good ideas. We listen to these ideas, and we respond to as much of the mail as we possibly can, which is 90-some-percent of it. In any sport, you're going to have different viewpoints. We have different viewpoints among our fans, and we have all the different viewpoints from all the business angles. So it’s a tough position to be working for the NHRA, but I think the team here does it because they love it and enjoy it and can't imagine working anywhere else. It's challenging. It's interesting. It's fun. And it can be difficult. But all those things together make it certainly not boring.               

: Not that you are going anywhere, but how would your successor be chosen?

TC: I don’t have any idea. The board of directors is who hired me and who will hire the next president. I'm sure I'll have some involvement in that process. The presidency of the NHRA reports to the board of directors.  

: What is the most important goal for the NHRA you have as its president?

TC: I want to get back to that run we were having between 2000 and 2008 – and beyond. I think for a lot of reasons this sport's in a position to be able to do just that, because of the youth I talked about, the unique nature of this sport, the extreme nature as you mentioned, the family atmosphere, the fact that we're very accessible to women and minorities.

We had a 16-percent growth in Hispanic fans in the last three or four years. We had a six-percent growth in African-Americans, 20 percent in female. Courtney [Force] won the race that represented the 100th professional win by a female.

There's so many things going for us that are so unique and different than other sports in motorsport. You always want to improve the product, but we're not sitting here with a broken, messed-up product that no one likes. We've got a rich history and tradition – we're going to showcase the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Nationals at Indy. We have so many assets other people wish they had, and we're going to use them. We're very excited about the future.

WRITER’S NOTE: Following this conversation, Mr. Compton contacted DRO through Mr. Effler and wished to clarify a couple of discussion points, one about his working relationship and friendship with Wally Parks, the other about quarter-mile racing. The message is crafted in Mr. Effler's words, as Mr. Compton shared:

  1. Tom’s relationship with Wally. Wally brought Tom into the NHRA because of his broad skill set that included finance, marketing and sales. They had a very close working relationship for 14 years and Wally was Tom’s leading advocate to step into the president role once Dallas Gardner retired. As Tom began to make his mark on the organization, Wally was behind him every step of the way.  “Keep doing what you’re doing,” he’d often say. Even after Wally’s retirement, they spoke regularly. They last had lunch together three weeks prior to Wally’s death.
  2. 1,000 feet vs. quarter-mile. One thing Tom forgot to mention was the input and feelings of the nitro team owners themselves. Team owners have been staunchly opposed to returning to quarter-mile racing because of the perceived safety risks and the perceived cost issues.

NOTE: DRO first ran an InnerView with Tom Compton back in 2000 after he took over the NHRA presidency. If you’d like to read that, go to http://www.dragracingonline.com/innerview/ivcompton_1.html.