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The times, they are definitely changing
During my career as a drag racing journalist I have witnessed and reported on most of the major changes in the sport. The sale and quick death of the AHRA after the death of its founder, Jim Tice; Billy Meyer’s ill-fated run at buying the NHRA and his subsequent purchase and eventual sale of the IHRA; and Bill Bader’s equally ill-fated run as president of the IHRA, which included the Clear Channel, Live Nation, Evan Knoll and finally Feld Entertainment acquisition of that once influential organization.
I covered the ascendancy of both Dallas Gardner and Tom Compton to the presidency of the NHRA after Wally Parks relinquished his position, and Compton’s failed attempt to sell the NHRA to Wall Street investors.
Through all of those changes of leadership and ownership, remarkably, the sport of drag racing itself somehow survived. It didn’t seem to matter who was in charge at the NHRA or IHRA or how the management teams in those organizations kept taxing the racers, fans, or the performance parts industry in the name of profitability, the gravy train just kept rolling.
Then about two years ago the gravy train jumped the rails. The Evan Knoll era at the IHRA came to a screeching halt. Corporate sponsors of NHRA’s professional teams, UPS, Budweiser, Mac Tools, Snap-on Tools, Caterpillar, and Checker-Schucks-Kragen (just to name a few) have either shed all sponsorship or drastically cut back. The pool of professional race teams that support NHRA national events keeps getting smaller.
Whether weather or the economy is to be blamed, fan and competitor attendance at NHRA’s events are down. At the start of this season the NHRA management gave all their full-time employees an across-the-board 10% pay cuts, and just last week were forced to layoff employees.
The IHRA that most of us have known for four decades will cease to exist after their season-ending national event at Rockingham Dragway this weekend, to be replaced by a new and improved (?) version next season.
And change and budget cuts are coming to the IHRA too. According to IHRA president Aaron Polburn, there no longer will be IHRA-sanctioned “National” events as we have known them. The IHRA races will instead be referred to as Nitro Jams, a non-traditional drag racing event that won’t have a traditional racing program for professional classes. Instead the Nitro Jams will consist of and retain their traditional sportsman racing series plus some pro classes that won’t be racing for points or a championship. Nitro Jams will instead feature a booked-in eight-car Top Fuel show and possibly other pro classes, a few jet cars and some wheelstanders.
Instead of a traditional qualifying/elimination program that runs over three days the “pro” classes will instead race daily using a modified Chicago-style format.