Bring on the Changes
ow that the failed sale of NHRA is behind us, the question becomes, "What happens now?" With the 2008 national event season two races old, it is very likely nothing at all will happen, at least in the near future.
I hope that is not the case, as it has become clear change is needed at virtually every level of the organization. Judging it as a tax-exempt organization, which it has been since its inception, it is fair to say NHRA has lost its way, both in the way it carries out its stated core values and in the level of monetary compensation its top officers and board of directors enjoy. Were NHRA a United Way affiliated tax-exempt organization, it is doubtful they would remain so after a serious examination of their corporate salary structure. That their approach is legal, as defined under California law is not in question. That has been litigated before, and NHRA has always prevailed. The question most people connected with drag racing ask is, "Where does the sport go from here?"
Given the low success rate of using a crystal ball to foretell the future, I'm glad I don't have one. What I do have is a wealth of opinions, shaped by close to thirty years of observation on what NHRA drag racing should look like and who should be running it. Let me examine each segment of the NHRA competition structure.
NATIONAL EVENT TOUR
I would love to see Bruton Smith take over NHRA professional racing, and that means Top Fuel, Nitro Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Modified. If and when he does, I hope he has the good sense to leave behind everyone currently involved in the decision-making process on NHRA national events.
Just as a new coach or owner typically cleans house when they take control, so should whoever eventually buys the Pro segment of NHRA. There are plenty of qualified people within the drag racing community to staff a new organization, and given NHRA's track record in dealing with issues such as safety, spec tires, rules and enforcement, press relations and more, I can think of no compelling reason not to look around for some new faces.
Years ago, my editor at the time, the late, great Steve Collison, often lamented the sameness that permeated NHRA national events. He was talking about the racers, but the point applies equally well to the people in charge. New blood never hurts any gene pool, and it's high time for drag racing to get a transfusion.
If O. Bruton Smith gains control, he should give serious thought to how many national events there should be. Given drag racing's difficulties in controlling costs and/or securing sponsorship dollars, it may be time to scale back the schedule a bit. I can think of a couple of tracks that don't merit national event status, and so can most of you. Failing that, maybe he can actually market the sport effectively, raise purses and help racers acquire marketing partners. Yeah, I do realize how unlikely all that sounds. But it sure won't happen under the current regime.
NHRA DEVELOPMENTAL LEAGUE
Haven't heard of that one, have you? That's because it doesn't exist, at least not yet. But it should, and it might solve several problems if it came to be. From my perspective, the racers in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car have never been dealt with fairly. Money, rules, scheduling - you name it.