Story continues below this advertisement
A tempest in a teapot or a sea change?
Remember this date: September 7, 2009. I say remember the date because we all may look back on it in future years as the date that drag racing turned the corner and started on the road to being a mainstream sport. You see that is the date that Tony Pedregon called John Force a cheater on live TV and the two former World Champions and teammates had to be physically separated. Now as I write this some 48 hours later NHRA drag racing and the two antagonists are getting more attention from the national press than I can remember it getting ever.
The night of the “fight,” ESPN’s Sports Center -- the absolute top of the sports reporting food chain -- had a three to five minute spot on the altercation complete with Tony’s accusations and Force’s threatening to kick his A**! Those stick and ball ESPN anchors actually talked about the drag racing and after the segment was done airing talked about the situation some more. It was unprecedented attention in my memory (as faulty as it is getting to be as I age) by those stick-and-ball-sports talking heads.
Almost immediately zMAX Dragway’s Marcus Smith, channeling his mentor Humpy Wheeler, sent out a press release offering to stage a match race between the two men. And you can bet that between the promised four-wide Top Fuel exhibition and the publicity surrounding the “cheating” incident between Tony Pedregon and John Force that the Bruton Smith organization is going to put on a full court press with the local media. I’ll bet Marcus is on the phone right now to Pedregon and Force handlers wanting to set up a photo shoot with the two men in a boxing pose. And if the two are smart they will do as asked.
I have absolutely no doubt that there will be even more national media attention given to the upcoming Full Throttle national event at the track that Bruton Smith modestly refers to as the Bellagio of drag strips. I’ll be willing to give some strong odds that the ESPN2 broadcast of the drags from Charlotte in two weeks will have the largest home audience of the year.
This story has generated so much attention and interest in the motorsports world that NASCAR, the 800-lb. gorilla of auto racing, has had to pay attention. They have actually decided that perhaps, in their own Cup Series race this weekend that will determine the final spot in their “Chase”, some of the 10 teams -- some of whom have multiple entries -- that have a mathematical chance of getting that coveted last spot might think about spinning out an opponent or something else to insure another team member gets or keeps his spot in the “Chase.” Say it ain’t so! A racer take someone else out in a Cup race? That would be unheard of, wouldn’t it? (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)
And to think that something that happened at an NHRA drag race is having an effect on NASCAR policy!