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I’ve spent the majority of this year at local drag strips, local events at Famoso and Las Vegas for both the Heritage Series and Mopars at the Strip, watching and reporting on the kind of drag racing that I enjoy… nitro racing, fast door cars and Hemi shootouts.
It is great that we have so many kinds of drag racing to enjoy and support and in which to race. By far, the largest growing segment of drag racing is Heritage, Nostalgia, Prostalgia, Vintage, or whatever you want to call it. It’s growing, even in the lousiest economy many of us have ever seen.
Fortunately, the NHRA still has not figured out how to “monetize” this kind of grassroots racing, the place where do-it-yourselfers have gravitated as they moved away from the Big Show, where so many racers can pass on the art of nitro racing. In talking with many aftermarket manufacturers over the past few years, those parts builders are still searching for that elusive do-it-yourselfer market.
You may not remember, but we used to see a complete drag racing show headlined by nitro on the old NHRA Divisional level. Over time the NHRA harvested the nitro cars by adding more and more “national events” and the seven divisions found less and less spectator interest in their regional show.
Now, there is the return of local/regional nitro racing with shows like the 2012 Saturday Night Nitro Series at Famoso, three races well supported by nitro racers and a growing fan base with kids, and racing completed in a single evening. It has proved to be good for the track, the racers and the sport. Hopefully this kind of format and venue can spread across the country to other dragstrips as a weekend challenger for the family entertainment dollar, a competitor for the local Cineplex 24, entertaining the entire family.
With the maturity of the nitro show now, on the local level we can see there’s an alternative. It will never rival the memories of Lions, Irwindale, OCIR, Fontana, or even San Fernando, but it is what we now have - and supporting this level of racing supports the racer too.
Putting gas and diesel prices aside, it seems that the Heritage Series was a success this year and with a majority of the racecars housed in the western USA, particularly California, Auto Club Famoso Raceway has become the nostalgia racing capitol of the world. At other venues, the absence of nitro severely reduces ticket-buying spectatorship, but the events still need to be spread around.
Sacramento Raceway has their longstanding Funny Car Fever and Governor’s Cup, Firebird in Boise has the Ignitor and Nightfire Nationals, and Las Vegas has the Rockabilly Rod Reunion for funny cars. Is it possible that Salt Lake City and Sears Point can be added to the mix?
After talking with a couple of drag strip operators, it seems there is a common thread: Why do we need the NHRA and their sanctioning fee to put on a Heritage-type race?
We’ve just completed the 21st California Hot Rod Reunion and there’s a clear issue that must be addressed. The Reunion and Heritage Racing have become too large to be run at the same venue over the same weekend. Qualifying bumps into a Cacklefest, a mini-Cacklefest ceremony delays the start of racing eliminations, and oil-downs delay the geezer parties.