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Christensen’s rapport with the audience sitting for hours in packed wooden grandstands was amazing to watch; he had that crowd in the palm of his hand. He spoke with a headset microphone and the collective response was nothing short of evangelical. Now with the many drag strip-based TV shows his company has spawned, I will bet that more viewers are watching his shows than the NHRA/ESPN2 programs on a weekly basis.
I saw a couple of NHRA marketing brass standing on the Famoso starting line, baffled by the spell Christensen had on his flock. You didn’t see John Force T-shirts on the fans, no NHRA Full Throttle hats, and no kids playing with NHRA-branded plastic toy dragsters. What you did see was long lines of Pinks fans heaping money and credit cards at the well-stocked shelves of dozens of cool hats and T-shirts with the Pinks brand.
Another amazing thing I saw was spectators sitting through hundreds and hundreds of door cars and cheering wildly when a beautiful ’66 Nova made a 300-foot-plus smoky burnout. They were captivated and they were even enjoying a sportsman show, something the major sanctioning bodies have been unable to accomplish. I contend that the huge crowd that weekend at Famoso was ripe for the picking by NHRA to get them back into those seats for Division 7 events and maybe even a trip over the Grapevine to the upcoming World Finals at Pomona.
It is also really heartening to see how nostalgia racing has grown, without any major sanctioning body intrusion. There are some very political racing clubs for elitist owners, but few willing to give back to build this brand of drag racing. Not to bring in today’s big corporate sponsors, but to build a marketable form of racing that takes place on a drag strip, with cars that can be built at home. I am convinced that a Big Show points-earning series is not important to many nostalgia racers; taking home cash and an event trophy or round money appears to be the goal.
The few big-money nostalgia events are well known, but the break-even events or ones that only lose a small amount of dollars are not healthy for this group of racers, but turning nostalgia racing into a mini Big Show is not the solution either.
We’ve got to find new blood for drag racing. Way too many of our competitors and spectators have left the fold, many don’t think of drag racing at all anymore, and the thrill is gone, the thrill that, thankfully, a lot of us still have.
Where’s our new Wally Parks? Where’s our new leader? Not a marketer or MBA. Who will lead our sport into the future? Please don’t repeat the recent BS mantra of taking it to the next level; all we’ve got now are figurehead “leaders” without action, content to keep the status quo.