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Drag racing needs a new plan.
When Wally Parks invented the drag racing sanctioning business, his purpose was to provide the drag racers of the era with a high quality, safe place to race. The NHRA was conceived as an organization that got drag racers off of the street and put them on a safe track. Then they would race to see who had the fastest hot rod that particular day.
The NHRA’s mandate, as Wally Parks saw it, was to serve the drag racers. I don’t believe he saw the racers or the drag races themselves initially as assets that needed to be (using the new favorite word of corporate CEO’s) “monetized’! He and his pal Robert E. Petersen figured that Hot Rod Magazine was going to be their source of revenue.
Wally told me when I interviewed him many years ago that when he and his pals organized the first NHRA U.S. Nationals at Great Bend, Kansas, they had no idea that anyone would be interested in coming to watch the race. They were totally unprepared at that race to sell tickets and handle spectators; they held the race just to attract racers and give them a place to race. The relatively huge crowd that first race generated brought the realization that the drags could also be a money maker.
Nevertheless, for the next 35 years or so the NHRA and the IHRA’s main job was to cater to and serve the racers so that they could have national events that would attract the sport’s stars, which in turn would (hopefully) attract spectators.
In order to do that, better and bigger tracks such as Atlanta, Bristol, Rockingham and the Texas Motorplex were built to cater to racers and at the same time attract and serve spectators.
The problem as I see it now is that at some point the management of the major sanctioning bodies and the track owners (with some exceptions like Steve Earwood, Bill Bader, and the Bandimeres) began to see catering to their racers as a burden they had to endure. The NHRA even went so far as to restrict the number of sportsman racers and classes that would be allowed to compete at national events while spending big bucks to prep the tracks for the pro classes. The sanctioning bodies cases raised sportsman entry fees, cut cash payouts and raised ticket prices.
The sanctioning bodies went full throttle in romancing Corporate America and spiffing up their own corporate image by spending profits remodeling current or building new towers, adding more luxury suites, and funding a TV program that excludes any racers but those in the professional classes. Although NHRA and Lucas Oil do fund a sportsman TV series, it isn’t part of the primetime package that most fans and sponsors watch.