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If you read my columns you know I never like things in drag racing to get stagnant. When that happens, it gets boring, old and tiring. I think that has happened to the professional classes with NHRA and to some extent IHRA. I have to admit I feel like IHRA has dropped off the radar screen with recent changes and lack of a following.
The NHRA is still the BIG BOY on the block, but if they don’t make some serious changes the younger generation will not even know what the NHRA is. Let’s break it down pretty quickly and easily.
The fastest cars in the World, NHRA Top Fuel dragsters, have evolved into such an expensive class that only a few teams have any shot at all to win: Schumacher, Kalitta and Force. Everyone else just shows up with either older parts, lack of new spare parts, lack of engineering support (e.g. $200,000 a year crew chief). I think the guys who pretty much know they cannot win a race are OK with that. They just like racing in the Top Fuel class. The problem is: ONLY 14 to 17 cars are on the property. That means the two days of qualifying is a joke.
The Fuel Funny Car class has also run into a major problem, from my point of view. Not from the performance end, as these cars are bad-ass fast. A similar problem arises, though, just like Top Fuel: only two or three teams have the financing to compete at the top level race after race. The other cars are fast but can’t sustain it for an entire weekend because the parts breakage and replacement parts to stay that fast cost about five times more than they will win by racing. At least the Funny Car class has had full fields at most of the races, but, again, when 16 cars are all that show up, it is just a three-run test and tune session for the well-financed teams.
Pro Stock class: YIKES! It used to be my favorite class as you could see individual ideas being put into each car and different ways to go fast. Now they have spec fuel injection, spec tires, spec bodies, spec spoilers, the cars are exact clones of each other (evidently they copied NASCAR’s stupid idea of “clone cars”) and when they make a run you hear each car hit the shift points at the exact same time. Nothing but $250,000 Super Comp racers in my opinion, except for one thing: MONEY. If you have the budget to throw unlimited resources into Research and Development you can get a step ahead and likely stay there until the other teams figure it out. The new body styles might look more modern but they have no real appeal to the younger generation. They DO NOT look like anything you can buy or will ever see on the street. Want to improve Pro Stock? Change it to what it was “Pro STOCK” -- Stock-bodied cars with OEM-style engines, certain cubic inches, minimum car weight, and stand back and see what happens. I think you would see high 6-second stock-appearing Mustangs, Camaros, and Dodges, and the interest from fans would return. Spending $150,000 to develop a billet big-block Chevy (or call it that) has passed the sport by. Go back to stock-type bodies and let the innovative racers BE INNOVATIVE again.
How can NHRA get the crowds they used to have back to the track, enthused about buying their favorite teams’ T-shirts or iPhone covers? It won’t be easy; it will require the current teams to make sweeping changes, but in the end I would bet the bleachers will be full and “QUALIFYING” on Saturday will mean something again (because it sure doesn’t now).
I think a step back on the fuel cars is going to have to happen. If not, there will be 10 cars showing up. Connie Kalitta is not getting younger, John Force has some young guys in management of his team but HE is still the man, Schumacher is all about the money but when he decides to go fishing or stop spending millions to win thousands then what?