Is U.S. Nationals only special to racers these days?

“The U.S. Nationals is the greatest, most prestigious, most popular event in all of drag racing!”

That was the constant theme that both the NHRA PR department and ESPN’s broadcast team hammered home to the public for the last three weeks. We were constantly reminded of that by a litany of past and current Nationals racers saying how the U.S. Nationals was and is the most important race on the NHRA schedule from both a historical and current perspective.

While that was once the absolute truth, sadly that simply is no longer the case as demonstrated by the less than stellar crowds attending the race, a drop in both Pro and Sportsman class entries, and lack of attention and coverage in the elite media that a truly great race warrants.

In fact, a case could be made that all of the remaining six races on the 2015 schedule that make up the “playoffs” are each more important that the U.S. Nationals.

The fact that Top Fuel team owner Bob Vandergriff Jr. considered not racing in the final round for the U.S. Nationals title to guarantee that his team stayed qualified for the Countdown (and said so on national TV) confirms that hypothesis.

There was a period of time when the U.S. Nationals got significantly more attention and coverage by the elite national media than any other NHRA event. At one time most of the major magazines, newspapers and the wire services sent their reporters and photographers to cover the race. Sadly, that is not the case anymore.

I think the blame for this falls squarely on the administration of former NHRA prez Tom Compton. Let me explain. When Compton came to power the U.S. Nationals was still a very unique and prestigious event and attending the U.S. Nationals for drag racing fans was mandatory just as attending the Indy 500 or Daytona 500 was for oval track racing fans. Currently the Indy 500 and Daytona 500 remain races that if a race team can only afford to attend a single race it will be one of those. Unfortunately, that evidently is not longer the case for the U.S. Nationals.

Here is an example to back that argument up. There were only 22 Top Fuel cars entered at the U.S. Nationals but yet Top Fuel racer Bruce Litton, whose business and race shop is located close to the Indy track, didn’t enter his car in this year’s U.S. Nationals. This year one of drag racing’s royalty, the Vandergriff family got one of their Top Fuel cars into the final round and team owner Bob Vandergriff Jr. said on TV before the Top Fuel finals that he had considered not running the final because if his team oiled the track and got penalized points they would be out of the Countdown. Evidently making the Countdown was much more important to his team than a U.S. Nationals title.

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