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Being that I’m a resident of Charlotte, N.C and live only 12.6 miles from O. Bruton Smith’s beautiful zMAX Dragway, the Burkster asked me if I’d be interested in jotting down my thoughts about the O’Reilly Auto Parts Carolina Nationals. I said sure, why not, I was going to be there anyway, so here’s your old pal Bob’s thoughts about the NHRA big show coming to town.
A little history before I get started. I’ve been to literally hundreds and hundreds of NHRA national events during my career, in many different capacities such as crew guy, track manager, team publicist, journalist and most of all, as a fan of drag racing.
I’ve seen pretty much everything that the NHRA has to offer. I’ve been to every NHRA national event facility, so when Speedway Motorsports announced three years ago that they were building what Bruton called the “Bellagio” of drag strips in my backyard, I was ecstatic. Since zMAX opened in 2008, I’ve attended dozens of events held there, including all of the NHRA races, PINKS, test and tunes, and the NMCA races, among others. Every time I go there, when I pull up to the gate I’m reminded that this is arguably the nicest drag racing facility in the world. Now this isn’t going to be a “fluff” piece about the track that I love. Instead I’m going to pen my thoughts Larry King style about my weekend as a professional spectator and jump all around the place, so here we go:
First thing I noticed right away was how much the crowd count was down over previous years. There weren’t any traffic jams and getting into the place was a breeze. There were no lines at the ticket booths and you could find an available seat in any of the grandstands all four days. Was it because of the fact once you’ve seen 4-wide you can’t go back? Or is it the economy?
By the way, the NHRA had a lot of competition for entertainment dollars that weekend. Between Lady GaGa in town on Friday night, the Black Crows on Saturday night, the NFL Panthers on Sunday afternoon, and Tom Petty with ZZ Top on Sunday evening, there were a lot of choices for locals to spend their disposable income.
When Bruton built the 4-lane dragstrip, he envisioned being able to switch the racing to the other pair of lanes during oil-downs in order to keep the show moving along for live TV. They should have done that Saturday and Sunday. Down time for oil-downs was intolerable, and I’m not putting down the NHRA Safety Safari. They, as always, did the best they could with the circumstances they had to deal with, but to have the other two lanes sitting empty seemed like a waste of resources.