Volume X, Issue 3, Page 42

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Cleaning out the Editor’s notebook


Despite the fact that Don Garlits had a career-long feud with Wally Parks and the NHRA and Mr. Parks really wanted his NHRA Museum and Hall of Fame to be the drag racing Museum and Hall of Fame, Don Garlits’ version of both are to most fans, racers, and media the real deal. They’re drag racing’s equivalent of Major League Baseball’s Cooperstown, NY, hall or Football’s Canton, Ohio, site. Induction into Garlits’ Hall of Fame is in my opinion, the ultimate recognition and honor in our sport.

It would be nice, though, if that hall of fame was completely non-partisan and honored all drag racers regardless of their lifetime affiliation. A couple of years back I was talking to one of the selectors and touting a racer I thought deserved induction. I was told by the selector that even though the racer I was pushing was certainly deserving, his chance of being nominated and confirmed was very slim because he didn’t have a great record with the NHRA. That unwritten rule became crystal clear to me when I started looking at some of the names on -- and off -- the list of inductees.

I’m told that a selector spot came open on the Garlits HOF and the NHRA Museum's Greg Sharp has joined NHRA’s Steve Gibbs as a selector, which in my mind may in the future make it even harder for non-NHRA stars to be installed. So, let me take this opportunity to start the campaign for a few racers who should be installed next year.

At the top of my list is Bill Kuhlmann, the first racer in a door car over 200 mph. His accomplishments were almost all run with the IHRA and smaller non-NHRA circuits. Aside from the obvious 200-mph mark, for many years Kuhlmann was at the top as a Pro Mod racer. He is retired and it’s time to honor the man and his accomplishments.

Another racer/manufacturer who should be honored is Mike Thermos, who like Bill Kuhlman, got most of his fame with the IHRA. As the visible head of the NOS nitrous company, he and partner Dale Vaznaian really introduced the use of nitrous oxide to the mainstream of drag racing and Thermos’s support was essential in making Pro Mod initially successful and making it a professional class.

And finally, Top Fuel driver, tuner, and innovator Clayton Harris. He is the first man to tune a front-motored car to a five-second pass, the third to tune a four-second Top Fuel car. He was an innovator on the level of a Don Garlits or Dale Armstrong, and was a national event Top Fuel winner as a driver.

Induction into the Garlits Hall of Fame ought to be based strictly on accomplishment and contributions to the sport and nothing else should matter, and all three of these racers should be in it.


Some of my peers -- and I suspect most management folks connected with other drag racing series -- are really, really suspicious of the number of spectators announced by the ADRL. And well they should be because, despite what may be claimed, the fact is that (Pomona aside) the largest NHRA tracks have about 25,000 seats. So, when the ADRL says they had 42,000 spectators at Houston on Saturday, those not at the event ask how could that be. The answer is that the crowd turns over a lot during the day.

Many of the fans at ADRL races are at their very first drag race! Unlike spectators at an NHRA or IHRA race, they haven’t invested in a $50-70 ticket plus parking before they sit down. The most a family at an ADRL event has invested is the price of parking, so they can stay for a couple of hours, watch the cars race, and then go home without feeling like they haven’t gotten their money’s worth.

At Houston I had a pretty good view of the gates and I noticed that about three hours into the Saturday program there was a steady stream of cars entering and exiting the parking lots, and it wasn’t because the show was bad.

The fan base at an ADRL race is much different than at a traditional drag race. I believe it is equally split between really hard-core life-long drag fans who come to see a complete race and novices who know nothing about drag racing but come to see what the sport is about and to be entertained.

Think about it: dad gets the whole family to the race for, say, $20 and when the wife and kids get cranky and want to go home after a couple of hours, dad doesn’t have to say to them “We’ve got a couple hundred bucks invested and we’re staying.”  ADRL fans have the option of leaving with no monetary or entertainment loss, and thereby allow someone else to come in and find a seat. So, a large number of tickets -- more than what the track holds at any one time -- can be redeemed, resulting in big attendance numbers. Just my explanation. 


I don’t know how many of you noticed or even care, but at the Gatornationals in Gainesville just four car owners had more than a dozen cars qualify in the Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock classes. John Force had all four of his fuel coupes make the field. Don Schumacher had two Funny Car teams, one Top Fuel team, and a Pro Stock bike in the program, and Scelzi could have easily been the fifth DSR pro team qualified. Ken Black had two Pro Stockers and a Top Fuel dragster, and Connie Kalitta had two fuel dragsters and a fuel coupe qualified. Those four team owners had a total of 14 cars qualified!

What would happen if those businessmen put their differences aside and joined forces? Instead of the NHRA setting the tone for drag racing maybe those men would. What if Bruton Smith were to join with those team owners and their sponsors?

That is approximately the scenario that resulted in the disastrous open wheel split-up that resulted in the IRL and CART forming, and that action almost killed open wheel racing in this country. I hope the NHRA is smart enough to make nice with Bruton Smith, John Force, Don Schumacher, Connie Kalitta, Ken Black and the Coughlin family, and to keep them happy, or someday they might wish they had.


The cost of a 40-gallon barrel of nitro at NHRA venues went to $1250 effective at Gainesville. Gasoline is over $4.00 per gallon in some states and diesel fuel is on average approaching $5.00 per gallon. The cost of living on the road is skyrocketing. Despite all of that there were nearly 140 NHRA professional class teams (including Pro Modifieds) at Gainesville. They had record numbers of entries in Top Fuel and Pro Stock and Pro Mod teams were clamoring for an invitation.

So evidently despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth by some professional racers, travel expenses aren’t an issue. Either that or Gainesville was the last hoorah for many of them.