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I went to the NHRA Winternationals for the first time in about five years and I have to say that overall it was a great visit and a great race! Now in the interest of truth in journalism, I admit I was only at the track for two days then I hopped on a plane, came home and watched the race on the tube Sunday night (and the season premiere of The Walking Dead). But I’ll say it again, it was a great race by any measure.
As a guy who has lamented and often chronicled my opinion regarding the decline of NHRA drag racing, I think I need to explain that declaration of excellence.
I have been around drag racing for more than fifty years, having gone to my first drag race at Amarillo Dragway about 1960 and I have been covering drag racing as a journalist since 1975. So I have been lucky to have witnessed some of this relatively young sport’s greatest races and moments. But human nature is such that we all seem to remember the good old days as being much better than they really were. As my brother once said regarding a certain group of old racers, “Their memory is so good they remember stuff that never happened.”
I have to plead guilty to comparing and expecting drag racing in 2012 to the drag racing I saw and loved in the past, and I’ve decided that’s not only wrong but shortsighted.
The 2012 Winternationals was by any reasonable standards a great drag race. Obviously the fans thought so. Every day that I attended, beginning on Thursday, there was a very respectable crowd in attendance who paid $40, $50, $60 or more for a ticket. Obviously a majority of those folks weren’t at their first NHRA race; they knew what they were going to see and were willing to pay the cost of a ticket to do so.
What they didn’t see at this year’s Winternationals were 25 or more Nitro Funny Cars or Top Fuelers or 30 or more Pro Stocks as was the case not so many years ago -- a number many of us geezers had come to expect as just as an average number of cars. But evidently that isn’t the case for today’s drag racing fan. They seem to be perfectly happy with what they see at an NHRA national event and the price for seeing it.
What the NHRA fans are seeing at today’s races are smaller fields to be sure, but in my opinion the quality of race teams are for the most part better than they have ever been. The nitro teams fielded by Don Schumacher, John Force, Connie Kalitta, and Alan Johnson are as good or better than any in the long history of the sport. In fact, as far as I’m concerned that excellence applies to 95% of the current NHRA professional teams.
Then there is the racing itself. I’d match what we fans are seeing today with anything from any time in the sport’s past. The Winternationals I watched had everything that as a fan I wanted to see. The pros delivered new track records and new national records. The racing itself saw margins of victory measured in thousandths of a second. There were holeshot wins, big upsets, and rookie winners. There were crashes and engine explosions which, whether anyone will admit it or not, is what some people come to NHRA drag races to see.
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