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So much for controversy

All the sound and fury of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals wound up signifying nothing in terms of ESPN2’s ratings two weeks later at the Carolina Nationals.

Final eliminations produced a 0.5 number, actually DOWN from last year’s 0.6.

All involved should be, well, I’ll use a polite word – disappointed – given the “momentum” NHRA supposedly had post-Indy. I include under that umbrella not only the publicity stirred by the John Force-Pedregon  brothers dust-up, but also the celebrity factor of Ashley Force Hood’s victory, notably heralded in a huge (if garish) USA Today ad.  (Results reporting in the paper amounted to a couple of lines on Tony Schumacher.) Plus, Carolina was the start of the Countdown to One championship, and hosted the much-ballyhooed four-wide exhibition runs in Top Fuel and Funny Car.

In fairness, ESPN2’s lengthy presentation of the Indy eliminations got a ratings bump, 0.7 vs. 0.6, compared to 2008. Overall, however, the average for finals coverage has been in decline throughout the Full Throttle season. (The qualifying and race preview show numbers basically are flat as of this writing.)

Not surprisingly, the blame game is being played by some within the NHRA power structure. Fingers are being pointed at the ESPN broadcast booth and production trailer.

I presented, in some detail, the producer’s philosophy in my May and June columns. Agree or disagree as you wish. Sure, John Force gets too much time (not counting Indy and Carolina, where true news had to be reported.) Especially for someone who hasn’t been winning. The Seattle weekend obsession with how many miles John put on his motorbike was the year’s most ridiculous storyline and deserved every bit of heated criticism it generated. It was an embarrassment. But, as for the down trend, we should ponder a few other things:

  1. Traditional quarter-mile fans’ unhappiness with 1,000-foot racing. (I include myself in this group. Yes, before anyone gets on my case, safety comes first.) I think this is bigger than anyone cares to admit. 
  2. No Angelle Sampey, Melanie Troxel (in Top Fuel or Funny Car), Tommy Johnson Jr., Hillary Will, or Dave Connolly.
  3. Limited appearances by Hot Rod Fuller, J.R. Todd and Doug Herbert.
  4. Warren Johnson’s sub-par performance.
  5. Lack of outreach beyond the NHRA fan base by Full Throttle, despite what was promised when Coca-Cola’s energy drink took over from Powerade. (Economic conditions have caused advertising, marketing and PR budget cuts, but I didn’t see any evidence this was happening even before that became a good excuse.)
  6. Lack of one-on-one relationships with journalists. That especially impacts this time of year, with intense competition from the NFL, college football, baseball playoffs and World Series, and NASCAR’s Chase. The list of general audience media people willing to go out of their way to cover drag racing right now is shorter than a bike burnout. 

It occurs to me that, the wisest and most effective course of action, would be for the Lords of Drag Racing to stop complaining and do something productive. How about gathering together leaders of the various constituency groups (team owners, drivers, promoters, sponsors, media) – and some experienced, unbiased outside consultants – for a good, long, deep, and HONEST think session?

Or, is that idea too controversial?

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