Do you have the desire to go NHRA nitro racing again?

JR: Nope, been there done that. I’m 78 years old. I just want to enjoy myself. I enjoy the people at the races, I like the controversies. When they got the cars to slow down in 2014 they got Beard to work on it. Beard came right to me and he said you are my go-to guy. He knows I know what I am doing. I named the Project 1320 in ‘15. By the time we got there it couldn’t be done. The cars are too fast. You start slowing them down, it isn’t going to work very well. Now the cars are knocking on 325-330. They can do that and still be fairly safe.

Let’s just market the sport better and make the personalities involved more popular. Wally’s plan was not to make one driver the focal point of the sport. It’s common for quarter-mile racers to retire and no one knows it. Even Shirley didn’t get a lot of fanfare when she retired, or Prudhomme either. They were never hailed like, say, Richard Petty, and Prudhomme’s career was on parallel with Petty’s, as was Garlits. But they kinda slipped off ’cause to the NHRA if they leave they make a big dent in your pocketbook, and the bigger the fanfare of them leaving the bigger the dent will be in NHRA’ s pocketbook. And they don’t want that. But that could be handled differently too. The NHRA might be learning.

You seem to feel like you have your finger on the pulse of the sport, you know what is going on. I presume you speak with Beard along with a host of others. Who do you see as the future of the sport?

JR: Of fuel car racing? Oh Jesus, I hope Schumacher continues. Because he loves it and he can afford to do it. So can Kalitta. But it all comes down to marketing it better. I think Peter Clifford is doing that. I saw Leah Pruett (Pritchett) the other day was doing a bunch of stuff, with displays and stuff on some main street. The kind of stuff NASCAR would do. Bigger banquets and stuff. They need to make all the drivers more like heroes. Tony Schumacher is a natural. He says the right stuff, and even looks like a sergeant; he has had a tremendous career. He had the right kind of publicity. And the girls… Leah is damn good at that. Wilkerson is a real down home kind of guy who would be a great spokesperson.

But the damn NHRA won’t spend much on marketing. When the show comes to town the only place you see anything about it is on Velocity or something like that. I know it is expensive, but there has to be ways of doing it better. Take some money from the salaries of the higher ups and buy some advertising with it. So the damn sport will still be there. Man, I saw where Tom Compton made 960,000 dollars a year or something like that. Is that really necessary? He hardly went to the damn races. He maybe went to one out of three, if that, glad-handing a few people. I do not think he loved the sport, he was just making a living at it. A damn good one, but I feel that is way out of line.

Back in the day drivers had nicknames that emulated their personalities. Jerry “The King” Ruth, Ed “The Ace” McCullough, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, etc. Getting back to your marketing point, and I am not asking to go to WWE or Monster Truck racing, but is the NHRA missing the boat by not working with drivers’ personalities and using nicknames that the fans could connect with?

JR: Oh hell yes! Absolutely they are. They have always tried to in some extent squelch the personalities, but seem to be getting better. Let these guys be. I saw Prudhomme at this high-dollar car show and he was up there speaking and he was great. I feel the NHRA has a great product. You see when they interview a new person who has never seen the sport before live, how impressed they are with the sport. The competition seems to be fairly even. Is it inexpensive? No, it isn’t.

I like how they do the live stuff, especially for just a few rounds, but I do not think they can do a whole race, ’cause by nature we blow stuff up, and when we do that, we go back and fix it. That’s how we got where we are. So you want to eliminate that, but I don’t think you can. Plus the guys won’t let you, they will keep working at it.

 Back when you were still racing Division races were big deals, now most Division races get almost no spectators and the only nitro cars are the A Fuel Dragsters. What is your opinion of Division racing today?

JR: There are six of those races a year in each of the seven divisions of NHRA. That’s OK because that was Wally’s original direction. Right now the Divisional events are the kiss of death; there is nobody there except for relatives and they leave when their son or grandson loses. If NHRA would have let the injected fuelers run, let’s just think about this for a second. They ran right about six-oh when they first came out. Fuel injectors with hemispherical engine, no superchargers, you know, with a 2.90 gear. Ran about 270 miles per hour. The blown alcohol guys couldn’t run with them, ’cause the alcohol guys were in the 6.20 at 228, and it was a drubbing. So NHRA started to load weight on the cars (injected nitro) in an attempt to get them slowed down. And when that didn’t work they started taking fuel away from them. Now they have it to where there is parity in the class. It’s pretty evenly balanced right now. I think the injected cars have won the most championships in the past five or six years.

But the deal is they had nitro cars at the races! They would have nitro cars and they wouldn’t break at all ’cause they all run blown fuel car parts in them, and they make a couple thousand horses and a fueler makes ten. So the parts are there to run those cars and be reliable. Did they miss that opening? Yeah, I think so. Why did they do that? [long pause] I don’t know. The NHRA seems to want to make the racer pay for everything.