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The Burkster gazes through the haze and predicts good things for 2009
I try to always end the year on a high – er, I mean -- positive note. This year that is a tough assignment. Since the robber barons of Wall Street were exposed a couple of months ago causing the stock market and the economy to crash, almost all news including racing news has been bad. The Detroit automakers are bailing out of all racing including drag racing and Corporate America is right behind them, getting out of the race team sponsorship business as fast as they can.
So my New Year’s resolution is that I’m going to quit watching the damn TV news and instead watch re-runs of The Munsters hoping to see the drag racing episode or catch one of those 1960’s Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello/Harvey Lembeck surf and drag flicks from the American International film library. Von Zipper rules!
But reality is relentless and no matter how much you want to, it can’t be ignored. So, in keeping with the traditional new year predictions shtick that is expected from those that conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh refers to with a verbal sneer as the “drive-by media” ( I think I’m a member of that club) I’ve decided to peer into the drag racing future. This time, though, instead of using my trusty crystal ball, I visited my local magic shop and got one of those mystic eight balls that magically answer all questions. You know the ones I’m talking about: you ask it a question, shake it, turn it over and the answer to the question magically appears.
So let’s fire up the old mystic eight ball and divine what the future holds for drag racing in 2009 and beyond.
Question: What does the future look like for the NHRA and the IHRA?
Answer: The future looks grim for the NHRA and IHRA if their management teams just continue doing business the same way they have been. Change is the word of the day, week, and year!
Question: What about the future of other sanctioning bodies like the NMCA, ADRL, Super Chevy Show, major nostalgia events and bracket racing?
Answer: The future looks bright! In fact, all things considered, I think drag racing outside of NHRA and IHRA will prosper. The main reason is that independent race organizations make it their number one job to cater to their racers and fans. They especially don’t treat their racers as an asset to be “monetized” as both the NHRA and IHRA do.
The smaller series’ futures looks bright because the racers supporting them are doing so because they are having fun doing their hobby and they aren’t treated as if they were being done a favor by being allowed to compete. Perhaps the best example is the ADRL that gives both their racers and fans free admission. The ADRL sponsors pick up the tab for the series. After four complete seasons the series continues to add fans, classes and major sponsors. Something the NHRA and IHRA can’t say.
Question: Is the price of a ticket to attend one day of the major national events too high now?
Answer Absolutely. In these troubled times casual fans and families (not the hardcore fans) won’t be able to afford paying $200-300 just to get the family in the track -- and that price doesn’t include additional fees for parking, bottled water, seat upgrades or souvenirs. All of that to sit on hard aluminum seats under the blazing sun for long hours. The Big Show guys had better find a way to make a day at the races affordable family entertainment.
Question: What does the future hold for the NHRA professional classes?
Answer: Unknown at this time. Since the last month of the 2008 season major NHRA fuel team owners Chuck Worsham, Ken Black, Don Schumacher, Roger Burgess, Connie Kalitta, Kenny Bernstein, and David Powers have either quit or cut way back. Major sponsors UPS, Caterpillar, CSK, Oakley, Mac Tools, Snap-On, Old Spice, Monster Energy Drink, GM and Mopar have withdrawn as major Top Fuel or Fuel Funny Car sponsors. Kenny Bernstein and Don Prudhomme are believed to be in the last year of their contracts with their major sponsors. Budweiser’s new owner InBev basically shuttered Budweiser’s Sports Marketing division after it purchased that American company.
GM, Chrysler and Ford have virtually withdrawn their Pro Stock and Funny Car sponsorships. Many Pro Stock teams will either have a very limited schedule or not race at all in 2009. Pro Stock has been for years a class where wealthy hobbyists served either as owners or patrons. There can be no doubt that those owners are suffering the same financial issues as the nitro team owners.