What do race fans want?

This is the tale of three races and three sanctioning bodies.

What do drag racing fans and sponsors want from a drag racing national event? That was my question after this past weekend (March 30-April 1). That weekend, three of the major national drag racing series -- the National Hot Rod Association, the American Drag Racing League and the Feld Motorsports’ Nitro Jam series -- all delivered for their fans and racers with, by any definition, varying success. 

The all-doorslammer ADRL held their season opener at Royal Purple Raceway (formerly Houston Raceway Park) in Baytown, Texas. That same weekend just 206 miles west (and still in the state of Texas), Feld Motorsports staged one of their Nitro Jam/Summit Sportsman combo races at San Antonio Raceway. And finally, 1510 miles further west, the NHRA put on the first of two national events they stage yearly at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

I couldn’t afford to attend any of those three events so I spent the weekend surfing the Internet and watching television coverage. I was able to keep pretty informed on all facets of the races from spectator and car count to qualifying and race results using the Internet and TV.

Depending on your point of view and/or blind faith, all three sanctioned races were successful but to be sure some were more successful than others.

The winner, at least as far as filling up the available grandstand seats with paying customers goes, was the Nitro Jam at San Antonio. Those grandstands hold close to 10,000 people and photos from both Friday and Saturday showed that almost every seat had a fan it it! This would mark the second Nitro Jam in a row that has basically sold out the venue where it was held.

They offered Friday and Saturday shows featuring Nostalgia style AA/FC cars, injected nitro dragsters, nitro Harleys, Fuel Altereds, and jets. Sunday featured Sportsman-only racing with around 300 cars entered. Tickets were $30 Friday and Saturday at the gate, with a $10 ticket for kids 7-10 and free admission for seven and under with an adult.

The stands at the NHRA Nationals at Las Vegas looked to be about 60% occupied on Sunday and considerably less on Friday and Saturday. But a call to the track management got the information that the number of tickets sold for this year’s three days was virtually identical to what was sold for the Spring 2011 race. The Vegas management believes that had there not been TV weather forecasts telling people to stay inside on Sunday because of high winds, they would have sold out on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the car and crowd counts at the ADRL event at Houston were less than impressive. We closely examined a photo from Saturday during Pro eliminations of the single grandstand opened for spectators, enlarged it, and counted the spectators. Even assuming a 10% margin of error, there were fewer than 500 people in the stands and, by the ADRL’s own numbers, fewer than 130 competitors.

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