Volume X, Issue 6, Page 97

The edge of the cliff, perhaps?

In times past, if my spirits required a lift I just booked a trip to an NHRA national event. Plenty of nitro cars, plenty of stories, and a generally energizing time could be had by all. My trip to NHRA's annual race at Heartland Park Topeka this year didn't have the desired effect, however. I'm blaming it all on the bad vibes emanating from the Top Fuel and Nitro Funny Car pits. Who can blame them, right? Without Nitro, there just ain't no show! Did you notice how I capitalized Nitro - like it was a God or something? It is! Nitro is what puts the butts in the bleachers, the dollars in the coffers, and whatever else stirs the adult beverage that is drag racing. Don Prudhomme said it best when he said, "... Top Fuel and Nitro Funny Car IS professional drag racing." The syntax was not quite there, but the truth is in his words.

So why can't the Powers That Be see the truth of it all? They probably do, but have, by their own choices, painted themselves into a corner regarding the nitro supply situation. When NHRA entered into their Exclusive Agreement with the current supplier, they did it for the money. So did the supplier, for that matter. From the supplier's side of the equation, nothing wrong with getting the deal. It was shopped, they reeled it in. But, as my Sainted Grandmother Davis used to say, "...be careful what you ask for - you might get it!"

If you get an exclusive deal, you better be real sure you can fulfill the terms, no matter what! In the case of nitromethane, too many people's livelihoods depend on the uninterrupted flow of that evil yellow liquid, for anybody to drop the ball. Don't blame China, don't blame Dow Chemical, don't whine about the Olympics, and don't blame Don Schumacher. After all, it's his nitro, bought and paid for. It's not John Force's, nor Rod Fuller's, nor anybody else, and they and others need to wake up and put some pressure on NHRA and the supplier to keep the nitro coming.

Crow will need to be eaten, contracts may have to be reexamined, and egos will have to be suppressed. But it needs to happen soon. See, every time something like this happens, it brings to mind an anecdote a nitro racer told me a few years ago. Seems some "big stars" within the NHRA pro ranks had some complaints about how he and his team were going about their business, and had made it clear they didn't want him around "their" events. An employee of NHRA knew of this, and remarked to my friend, "... ya know, this whole thing is run by U-A-E's". I'm going to let you guess for yourselves what UAE stands for, but it ain't United Arab Emirates. Seems pretty accurate to me.

There were some positives at Topeka. Although Top Fuel was a car short of a full field, everyone ran hard, when there was no earthly reason to do so. Which brings up an interesting what-if. Given the current nitro crisis, what would NHRA do if the cars outside the top 12 at the end of Friday's second session simply said no? As in, no, we won't make any more laps until eliminations begin. I'm talking about those times when there are sixteen or fewer cars on the grounds. That would save some nitro, after all. It wouldn't do much for the show however. I am not advocating this scenario - I think too much of the paying spectator to ever do that. Instead, I'll give kudos to Alan Bradshaw and Joe Hartley for setting the 12-spot at a decent 4.67, and Morgan Lucas, Bob Vandergriff and Dave Grubnic for chasing a bump spot that didn't exist. Testing, 1-2-3!

And how about that Hillary Will! Now the eighth woman winner in Top Fuel, she still hasn't got a major corporate partner. Maybe the new PR/Marketing arms of the NHRA can get to work on that, huh? That's probably not their job, though. And that's a shame, for everybody involved. I would think someone who possesses the title of Summa Cum Laude, as Miss Will does, would be a marketable entity. That's just my opinion.

I have a question. Is Mike Neff's Mustang a Ford when it runs numbers and goes rounds, and a Chrysler Hemi when it goes up in flames? Or is it always a Ford, or is it a Ford rear main bearing, or valve covers or what? Don't mind me, I'm just confused (and probably a bit mean-spirited). See children, Brand Identity can be a tricky game. Truth in advertising advocates may care, but I don't think NHRA does.

Now that I've knocked John Force Racing, let me spread some salve. Ashley Force looked like the most together element of the whole operation. Ashley and I go way back, though she wouldn't know me from Adam, as the saying goes. I went to Indy in 1984 to do a day-by-day on John Force and his exploits at the Big Go. It was pretty much just John, Larry Frazier, Laurie Force and Ashley, who was in diapers at the time. So, present day, it takes a bit of mental gymnastics on my part to accurately gauge her performance at the wheel of a nitro funny car. Based on what I saw at Topeka, the Force family legacy is in good hands indeed. She will never be the "force" her dad is during interviews, but that could be a good thing. I'm not sure drag racing is best served by over-the-top speechifying any more. Again, just my opinion, and I really do love John, despite how it must look in print sometimes. As to Ashley, when the day comes when John feels the need to step out of the race car, he should no longer fear that day. The Force Story will be carried on most capably by Ashley.

One more thought on the nitro situation. Maybe this all happened because NHRA thought it would be out of the nitro business by now. You remember, The Sale! The sale that didn't happen, as it turned out. In hindsight, I'm kind of glad it didn't happen, at least not as it was put together then. If the boys are waiting for that bigger offer, they should forget it and take the one that is on the table right now. You know the one I'm talking about, don't you? If you all think the offer can't get any worse, you might want to think again. Just look at how things are going in the real estate business. Things change, and sometimes not for the better. The time to act is now!  Later!!  


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