The DRO  event at Cindi McMillan’s Texas Raceway will mark the first time the Mickey Thompson  Tire-backed DRO series has had a race on the eighth mile and the first time in many years that NHRA-legal AA/FCs have participated in a national event race on an eighth-mile track. Additionally, this event will mark the first time the DRO AA/FCs will be on the same card as the Outlaw Fuel Altereds.

The drag racing at the ADRL and DRO races is in many ways the direct opposite of what we have come to expect from the NHRA’s professional classes. For a vast majority of the racers we’ll see at those two races in Texas, racing is their hobby not their job. In other words, these are racers who are doing it for the fun of it, not to pay the rent. It’s the hobby-versus-professional vibe that attracts me to the ADRL and DRO events. It is the passion that I see at the non-NHRA races.

Too many times the drivers of a big show professional class, when interviewed after a race,  tell the interviewer that they don’t even pay attention to who’s in the other lane. “I just do my job,” they often say. Or they say that “the ‘Bloated Oats Cereal’ team are great competitors, they have a great driver and it was just their day! Our ‘Stewed Prunes’ car just didn’t have it today.” 

Whew, it’s just too politically correct for me. I wonder, are the drivers actually allowed to have an opinion? To be sure, there are a few exceptions. Warren Johnson comes to mind. But I mean that if I hear one more NHRA Pro Stock, Top Fuel, or Fuel Funny Car driver say in an interview that he or she doesn’t pay any attention and doesn’t  care who they are racing or who is in the other lane, I’m going to take a five iron to the TV screen! Drag racing is about beating the driver or car in the other lane!

Last year the NHRA Motorcycle drivers mixed it up a bit, but to be honest it seemed a bit contrived. I want my racer heroes to be passionate about the racing! What’s wrong with letting other racers or other teams know they are the driver or team you really want to beat, and telling the fans so? In baseball, football, and basketball, intense rivalries are part of the game and the players pull no punches when talking about the other teams.

Last year in the DRO series, John Hale let it be known to anyone who would listen that he wanted to beat defending champ Paul Romine, and he made good at the last race of the season. This year, California team owner Gary Turner has stated that he didn’t like getting beaten by Texas racer Hale at the California Hot Rod Reunion and he is coming to Texas Raceway for the first DRO race of 2012 to get after the defending DRO champion in his home state and track.

Those are the kinds of rivalries that make good racing and good press, and that sell tickets. And there are some of the same kinds of rivalries in the ADRL, especially in the Pro Extreme class. It used to be that way at NHRA races but they seemed to be, as Bill Maher says, “sanitized for your protection.” (Gag reflex here.)

In the Golden Age of Drag Racing, there were plenty of serious and public rivalries in NHRA’s professional classes. There was no love lost between Don Garlits, Don Prudhomme, and Shirley Muldowney. Pro Stock racers Dick Landy, Bill Jenkins, Don Nicholson, and Ronnie Sox were fierce rivals. And don’t forget the infamous supercharged Gasser wars where the racers and sponsors went after each other in the weekly and monthly magazines.

Today’s NHRA for me is a pale ghost of its former self when it comes to generating fan and media interest. But I admit there is a chance I’m just a geezer and that kind of stuff doesn’t play anymore.

The point here is that rivalries are the life blood of almost all sports, and for the most part today’s NHRA teams and drivers seem to be afraid to say who they want to beat or don’t like. It’s like NHRA drag racing has some kind of rule about offending another team or driver or expressing an opinion. 

So, while I still like to see the very best that drag racing has to offer in the way of performance and appearance (and I get that at NHRA’s extravaganzas), and I’m seriously looking forward to my dose of three-second, 325-mph nitro cars, when I want to see new racers, new classes, tracks that demand drivers and tuners who can cope with a marginal surface, and racing where it’s winning and not just the money that drives the competitors, I’ll be found at an ADRL, DRO, or NMRA/NMCA race. Hope to see some of you there too.