Attracting the fans
Not all of us had the opportunity (or curse) to grow up in Southern California. As the Snake said about left coast drag racing in this month’s DRO InnerView, “There were characters, and people, and it was the beginning, it was being free, it was being able to afford it, it was tons of cars, lots of dragstrips on every corner. Being here in California, we had so many dragstrips…”
Yes, I feel fortunate to have attended and raced at some of the biggies, the legendary drag strips like Lions, Irwindale, Orange County International Raceway and San Fernando. As I have seen a resurgence of drag racing in some parts of the USA, and particularly anywhere Kenny Nowling puts on a show, one of the issues seems to be attracting new audiences.
Without a doubt, drag racing on all levels is graying. The non-inclusive stance NHRA took by setting up the segregated Sport Compact series, which may have been one of the last youth waves to catch for a while, was simply a failure. Face it, you and I are probably going to the drags a couple of times a year, but look in the mirror. Got the graying temples? The balding head? The less than svelte build? Well, you just might be a drag racer.
I will give props to anyone who’s putting it all on the line to promote a drag race today; it’s a crapshoot that can easily put your well-earned nest egg in serious jeopardy. Just takes a little rain, stale beer, gas price increase or a politically charged boycott by racers from a competing sanctioning body.
I have become a firm believer that, as I heard a couple of weeks ago on a SIRIUS-Radio NASCAR talk show, “Hey, the empty seat doesn’t buy a hot dog.” Man, that really stuck in my mind and the parallel with the ADRL. What with NHRA and some local promoters finally realizing that divisional events should have free spectator access, the old cliché that, “We’ll make it on the back gate” has truly been detrimental to our sport.
A lot of us see the NHRA BIG Show on ESPN2 (okay, about 650,000 of us), but the point is that there’s a whole lot of folks out there who really don’t understand what we love, drag racing without the capital letters of a monolithic Hot Rod Association preceding the words drag racing.
Yes, I went to the Sonoma NHRA event a couple of weeks ago, probably one of the best-promoted events on the NHRA tour. By far the best promotion came on the local level, from the Infineon Raceway media staff. There was not enough room on the walls of the Media Center to hold all the Xeroxed local newspaper columns extolling the power of nitro drag racing at Infineon Raceway.
Certainly the NHRA Media Department helped, but a long-standing relationship with the local media is cultivated at every opportunity by John Cardinale and his ample SMI Staff. Yes, O. Bruton Smith’s employees made the difference and sold out grandstands.
I understand that many local drag strips don’t have the clout of an SMI media machine, but what has become clear to me is that the next generation of drag racers is few and far between. All of us will probably go to a number of drag races this year, but will the 19-year-old person across the street buy a ticket to the same show or will he or she head to a movie, an Internet coffee shop to check email with a stiff cup of Joe, stay at home and turn on the tube, or head to the mall – instead of the 1320?
If we can all take the time to cultivate that next generation, both promoters and addicts - and that means getting out lots of free tickets to every vocational school, extant high school auto shop, Boy Scout troop, YMCA, Boy’s Club, Girl’s Club, church groups, Jiffy-Lube, TV stations, radio stations, even homeless shelters, we might be able to eventually create an interest in drag racing for the next generation. It’s time for us all to become evangelists for drag racing.
Many of us grew up, as Snake said, with a dragstrip on every corner, but it’s just not that way anymore… there are simply too many empty seats not buying hot dogs or beer.