Volume X, Issue 9, Page 21

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Drag racing is doing just fine

I’m often accused of being a “nattering nabob of negativism”, to quote Richard Nixon’s disgraced Vice President Spiro Agnew. In fact, a couple of weeks back, at Rockingham Dragway for the ADRL’s Dragstock V, I was talking with engine builder David Reher and asked if he read DRO. He replied, “I always read your column.” I was basking in the light of that complement when he finished the sentence with: “You’re the guy who writes about all the problems drag racing has.” My basking light went out while he continued, “but I read your recent column where you said nice things about the NHRA and the IHRA, and I liked that.”

So I’ve been thinking about that conversation and how and what I write about in my columns and I had an epiphany. It’s not that I always write about the bad things in drag racing as David said, but I very often do write about what I feel is wrong concerning the NHRA and (less often) the IHRA. I do that because for at least the last 20 years those two sanctioning bodies have been - in the minds of most fans, sponsors, racers, manufacturers and media - the only drag racing series worth talking or worrying about.

For many fans, racers and members of the media the NHRA and to a lesser degree the IHRA are drag racing. After all, a couple generations of drag racers grew up being told that nothing else compares to NHRA drag racing, and we all believed it. NHRA and IHRA racing was the ultimate goal of many racers.

As a result I’ve spent a large part of my career focused on NHRA and IHRA races, racers, policies, and management, and, because I raced and most of my friends are racers, I have taken the side of the racer. As a result, I’m known in some circles for pointing out NHRA and IHRA’s faults as I see them. But I don’t think I’ve spent too much effort criticizing the sport itself.

I do believe that in many cases racers are treated by the sanctioning bodies more like furniture than their customers or partners. And I have not been afraid to say so.

Actually I’ve written a lot of positive columns over the years, but they seldom get any attention. Readers seem to be happier with me when I point out management’s faults and errors than when I praise them. Go figure.

For example, who cares if the NHRA spends more of its profits on new towers, salaries and self-promotion than on paving their pits so their customers don’t have to park in a cow pasture or on a dirt road. On the other hand, they deserve accolades for still allowing pro teams free entry.

Actually, I feel there are a lot of positives happening in drag racing these days and I should be writing more about those. 
We sat down the other day and counted the number of active drag racing series that DRO and our sister publications, Max Chevy and Mopar Max, cover on a regular basis and we came up with 31 different series that we report on. Think about that for a minute. Thirty-one drag racing series with active racers, fans, and sponsors! If that isn’t an indication that the sport of drag racing is healthy and growing then I don’t what would be.

I accept the fact that currently with many casual fans, media and sponsors, the NHRA and drag racing are synonymous, but, fortunately for the sport, that just isn’t the case. There is much more to drag racing than NHRA or IHRA.

Unlike oval track racing where NASCAR is slowly killing the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, mom and pop tracks, and many of those small tracks are being forced to close, that is not the case with drag racing. Neither the NHRA nor the IHRA have that kind of influence on the sport.
I’ll say it again: the sport and business of drag racing is alive, well and growing. Many more new tracks are being built than are being closed. Unlike NASCAR, in drag racing there are very successful series not connected with the “big two” sanctioning organizations that attract both crowds and participant counts approaching what the best NHRA and IHRA events do. Established series like Roger Gustin’s Super Chevy Shows, the Meadors family’s Goodguys Nostalgia drags, and Kenny Nowling’s ADRL are not just surviving but thriving.

And it’s not just series that are doing well; there are independent race events that are hugely successful but don’t receive the media or sponsor attention that many NHRA/IHRA races do. The ADRL’s Dragstock event, Bill Bader’s Night Under Fire, Scott Gardner’s World Series of Drag Racing, the Bowser family’s March Meet, the New family’s Nightfire Nationals, Mel Roth’s PSCA or Carl Weisinger’s World Street Nationals are just a short list of independent races and series that attract both large car counts and huge crowds.

The point I’m trying to make is that just because I take the NHRA to task doesn’t mean I just write about what is wrong in drag racing. I write about what the readers indicate to me they are interested in. And trust me, everyone connected with drag racing cares about what is happening or not happening on the second floor of the NHRA headquarters in Glendora, CA, and to a lesser extent what is going on at the IHRA headquarters on the second floor of the bank building in downtown Norwalk, OH.

If drag racing does have a problem it is that sponsors, racers, some fans and most of my media brethren are fixated on the NHRA and the IHRA as if those two organizations were all that is drag racing. The fact is that they might have been once, but no more.

I constantly hear manufacturers, racers, and fans bitch about the cost of supporting IHRA or NHRA drag racing and I wonder why they seemingly put all of their efforts and money into being involved with them.
I’ve spent the last few months going to major independent races and series. I’ve seen some really great racers and racing. I’ve seen how these races dominate the market they are in. Markets that often the NHRA or IHRA aren’t in. I’ve sat in grandstands full of people who can’t afford a $60 ticket but can afford a $25 ticket. And I’ve wondered why more of the industry and media types that spend so much time and money with the NHRA and IHRA don’t support events that offer them access to fans and racers they are probably not reaching.
I’m going to say it again. I’m bullish on drag racing, all of drag racing. I’m not saying that the NHRA and IHRA events aren’t in general the prime series of our sport -- no doubt they are -- but thankfully for all of us there are plenty of viable alternatives.
I do believe that manufacturers, sponsors and racers that are looking for growth opportunities should start looking around at some of those alternatives.

For example, if I were Don Schumacher, instead of adding yet another NHRA fuel team, I’d start considering pitching my sponsors on a AA/FC, Top Fuel or Pro Mod team that they could sponsor that would race at places such as, St. Louis, Kansas City, the Quad Cities, Englishtown, Bakersfield, Boise, Houston and Los Angeles. And offer them those markets for a much better cost per thousand (CPM). It’s not how much money a racer gets or a sponsor spends but what kind of profit and return on investment they can realize.

If I were Larry Morgan or Ken Black or John Force I’d have a Pro Mod team that ran the ADRL and other series. Why not be a big star at a race that attracts 25,000 fans (many of them new to the sport) where your team may not have to compete with Force, Prudhomme, and Bernstein for media attention.
So, if you are a racer who wants to race a nitro car and doesn’t have a couple of million bucks to spare or wants to race a heads-up fast doorslammer, or a manufacturer who needs to get to his customers and can’t afford the vig to park at the NHRA midway, I say just look around; there are viable alternatives.

Come to think of it, legendary engine builder David Reher -- who for years owned an NHRA Pro Stock team -- was at the ADRL’s Dragstock V event at Rockingham, NC, while about 90 miles up the road the NHRA was holding an inaugural event at it’s newest facility in concord. Hmmm … is that a sign?