Volume X, Issue 4, Page 17

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Notes off of the Burkster’s cluttered desk

The NHRA folks in charge of track prep (not the workers) were roasted by most of the media including, in their own subtle, way the ESPN announce staff for bad tracks at Houston and Las Vegas and rightfully so.  The NHRA got their (and the track’s) groove back at the just-concluded Atlanta event.

Despite the obvious pretty vicious bump in the left lane, the track had “teeth” and it showed in the quality of the racing. To be sure there was a dip in the left lane that statistically gave the racer in the right lane an advantage. Pro class elimination laps (of which there were 75) for the five pro classes saw 46 wins in the right lane and 29 in the left. Nevertheless the traction, if not the actual surface, was excellent in both lanes thank to the work of the NHRA and their crew.

I hear there were two big factors for the improvements: 1) They went to a 75% traction solution and 2) Atlanta’s surface got a break from the weather and wasn’t subjected to the sun cooking it every day. Regardless of that, kudos all round for all concerned. The track the pros raced on at Atlanta sure made for better television in this viewer’s opinion.

My sources say Victor Cagnazzi’s sponsorship with Charter Communications  a major player in the cable television field) is more than $3,000,000 for three years. If that number is right (and there is no reason to think it isn’t) that certainly shows the perceived value of an NHRA race team sponsorship for some companies. I’m told by some people who should know that the ability of a company to send clients, potential clients and company executives to a national event for some “hospitality” is possibly more important to sponsors than how much signage they get on the car and track. BTW, the value of a share of the publicly traded Charter stock as I write this is just under a dollar.

I’d still buy a ticket to see NHRA fuel cars. Today’s NHRA nitro cars remain the quickest, fastest, mind-blowingest race cars on the planet! But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss some of what they used to offer: the chance that I might see a new speed or ET record at a race. I’m sad to say that one of the problems for me as a nitro junkie  is the odds against  a new record in any of the nitro classes anytime soon  are prohibitive.

In a legitimate effort to increase safety following the deaths of Darrell Russell and Eric Medlen, the NHRA has instituted a myriad of rules designed to make the cars safer and to slow them down. Those include mandatory rev-limiters, spec engines, tires, fuel percentage and an increase in the minimum weight of both nitro classes.

It’s been 20 years since Eddie Hill became the first nitro racer to record a sub-five-second pass (which, by the way, caused the NHRA to make the first change to slow down the cars by restricting the rear-end ratio to 3:20 or higher) and it’s been 16 years since Kenny Bernstein first went over 300 mph in a Top Fuel car. Tony Schumacher set the current speed record for fuel dragsters at 336.19 in May of 2005 and the ET record of 4.428 in November of 2006.  Tony Pedregon owns the Funny Car ET record (4.659) set in Feb ‘07 and Jack Beckman the speed record (333.66) in Nov. of ’06 -- both set prior to the new weight rules. And no driver has threatened those numbers since. 

I really miss the legitimate chance I might see those records broke and the fact that re-setting a speed or ET record could determine a World Championship. I know that is a small price to pay for safer racing, but it still makes me a little sad. 

THE DANICA EFFECT

For the first time in my memory a major newspaper, in this case the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, had a front page -- not the front page of the sports section but the actual front page of the newspaper where the major news stories of the day are put -- with a major story about drag racing! The story was about Ashley Force and all of the major female drivers in NHRA’s pro classes. The story and photos, including a shot of Shirley Muldowney, took up a major portion of the front page and began, as we say in the newspaper biz, “above the fold.” That means the editor of the paper thought that a story about drag racing was important enough that everyone would be interested in the subject, so he put it on the most important page of his newspaper. 

I’m not sure, but I don’t think that even the death of Dale Earnhardt made the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Even more impressive for me was that the story was in the Wednesday edition of paper, two full days before the first racecar would make a pass at the NHRA race in St. Louis. I can’t empress on you readers what a significant event this is for the local newspaper and for the sport of drag racing.

And guess who we have to credit for this happening? I’d like to tell you it was the hard work of the NHRA public relations department or that of Force’s PR man and my pal, Dave Densmore, but the fact is that none of those folks were really responsible for drag racing on the front page. No, my fellow drag junkies, the credit for this momentous occasion goes to none other than IRL driver Danica Patrick.

You see, like it or not, had not Ms. Patrick won the IRL race in Japan and, as a result, become even a bigger media darling than she already was, the chances of a story about Ashley Force becoming the first woman in drag racing history to win a national event in a Funny Car being on the front page of a major newspaper was slim and none and slim left town. So, no matter how much Shirley Muldowney and Angelle Sampey felt slighted, the fact is Danica Patrick has done them and all of drag racing a favor that we can probably never repay. She helped make drag racing front page news and for that the sport of drag racing owes her large. I’m personally going to send her some flowers and a thank you note.  


jeffburk@dragracingonline.com