Drag racing in the new decade

We are just three weeks away from drag racing’s first national event of the second decade of the 21st Century. On January 29 the “new” IHRA will stage its first national event at Palm Beach International Raceway in Florida and it will run under a format unlike anything that IHRA has done in the past. For that matter, a format that no premier drag racing sanctioning body, that I’m aware of, has ever used in the 50+ years of professional drag racing.

For the first 40+ years of the IHRA’s existence their National Event professional classes would consist of eight- or sixteen-car qualified fields with a single elimination tournament to determine a winner. The new IHRA’s Nitro Jam features “professional” classes (except Top Fuel) consisting of eight-car booked-in fields without any qualifying. For the first time in IHRA history the professional field will have no mountain-motored Pro Stocks or Pro Mods. Instead the IHRA’s Nitro Jam is supposed to consist of four Top Fuel cars, eight Nitro Funny Cars, eight injected Top Fuel dragsters, and I think a pair of jet trucks. This is the brainchild of Aaron Polburn who told me for years that he thought the secret to IHRA’s success would be to give the spectators four hours of non-stop entertainment, but not necessarily four hours of racing.
So the first National Event of the 2010 decade for the IHRA will have no qualifying or true eliminations. Instead all of the booked-in “pro” cars will run each other twice a day. IHRA will name a race “winner” based on who wins the most rounds with the quickest ET. I’m sorry but that isn’t real drag racing. Real drag racing means that when you lose you put your car in the trailer and either go home or fire up the grill and crack open the cooler. What the IHRA is offering isn’t racing, it  is an exhibition of drag racing. Drag racing has a long history of these kinds of weekend extravaganzas at tracks like Englishtown, New Jersey, Martin, Michigan, and Palm Beach International Raceway, but the fans and racers at these races knew they were exhibition acts.  

It has been a very long time, or maybe never, since a true national event drag race has been held at the West Palm Beach track formerly known as Moroso Motorsports Park where a National Championship was at stake, so the IHRA Nitro Jam will probably attract a large crowd and hopefully they will be entertained. However, the question is will the fans come back to see a Nitro Jam next year, and will the fans at traditional IHRA tracks like Martin, Michigan, Epping, New Hampshire, and Rockingham, North Carolina -- that are used to seeing a traditional race when the IHRA comes to town -- be happy to buy a ticket and watch professional cars in exhibition? 

It’s a changing world to be sure and maybe drag racing fans no longer care about qualifying and real racing. Aaron Polburn and his bosses at Feld Entertainment  are betting that a majority of you don’t. I’m betting we will know by the third race of the IHRA’s 2010 season at Rockingham Dragway if hardcore drag racing fans will buy their idea.

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