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During the past holiday season, I was bored. I got terribly sick, coughing up hairballs and, really spent too much time on all the Internets, yeah they have that on laptop computers now!
The doom and gloom presented by the “Chicken Little Drag Racing Society” in Fan-zines out there had me cheering for an Evan Knoll-like Federal government bailout for drag racing since the picture portrayed by some pundits was that drag racing as we know it was truly doomed. Doomed, huh?
Having seen my first drag race at Riverside Raceway in 1963, fortunately my father’s influence in the local media was able to get me on the starting line with a full Press Pass for the ’64 Winternationals… No there wasn’t a title sponsor yet and we weren’t part of the media, let alone a media center.
It was a rich time of vast racecars in the lanes, twin engines, small blocks, Buicks, Hemi’s, blown gas and injected nitro with small payouts, and so much diversity that if you found an engine and had a chassis with a proper roll bar you could probably compete with your dragster at the Winternationals! The Winternationals, the biggest race we had on the Left Coast, back when there were four or five National events!
We used to have a thriving NHRA Divisional drag racing level where you could watch Super Stock, VW powered dragsters, pro-stock-like Street Roadsters, injected funny cars, AA/FC and AA/FD all at the same event at small tracks like Inyokern in the desert, Amarillo Dragway in Texas and Greater Evansville Raceway in rural Indiana.
There are still a few involved in drag racing today who raced back then, but that field is getting smaller with every new-year. A stat that really caught my attention during the recent California Hot Rod Reunion was that over 75 pioneer drivers, engine builders, chassis builders, journalists and team members had died over the past year.
So, even though I never drove a nitro car, I did race some fast ones and guess that I have some perspective on this crazy, addictive world we all love… some more rabidly than others.
Let me tell you, this has all happened before, we’ve had short professional fields at nationals events, teams have lost sponsors, we’ve had lousy hits to the national economy in both the 70’s and 80’s, drag racing had a paradigm shift as top fuel racers left in droves to embrace those new fangled funny cars to make the BIG money in 32 and 64-car flopper fields. In the early 70’s Frank Bradley won Englishtown with a twelve-car qualified field, the ’83-’84 downturn in the economy shortened car counts too.
Short fields… As the Monty Python troop would say, “I spit on short fields”.
I guess the thrust of my rambling is that all this drag racing stuff is still out there, you’ve just got to look a little harder. Nitro snobs may have a little difficulty, but it can be found. Drag racing has been fragmented, compartmentalized, segregated and embraced by so many regional drag racing series and promoters that you’d better start marking the dates on that new Christmas calendar with all the possible drag event dates or you may miss one that’s very close to you. Just make sure to bring a friend.
We are experiencing a renaissance, a metamorphosis of drag racing into whatever it will become over the next few years, and if you are waiting for the butterfly to emerge from the cocoon soon, it may not look quite like the one you are used to seeing.