Story continues below this advertisement
I often comment on various motorsports promotion companies and try to learn. I saw something the other day that astounded me. It was the largest spectator drag race in the world that few people in North America have even heard of. The event is called the Nitrolympx and it is held at the Hockenheimring in Germany. [Editor’s Note: DRO European correspondents Ivan Sansom and Rose Hughes have covered this event for us for several years.] The event is a multi-day event as part of the FIM European Drag Racing Championship. What I couldn’t take my eyes off was Saturday evening show simply called The Night Race.
Let’s first address the spectator counts. It pains me to say this but most spectator counts are pure imagination. I have heard various counts that could only be reached if they included the air traffic within a 100-mile radius. I am here to tell you that The Night Race at one of Europe’s most famous F-1 venues was in the neighborhood of 70,000. That’s 70,000 breathing human beings. To give perspective that would be more than double Norwalk’s Night of Fire, which has long promoted itself as the largest one-day drag race in the world.
It probably exceeds the attendance of every NHRA National event and maybe even the entire Nitro Jam schedule. How do I know this? From the pictures and video you can see that every seat is filled. Using seating charts it doesn’t take that much effort to come up with a reasonable guess. But more importantly is the question just begging for an answer. How did they do it?
It really was a combination of Drag Racing, a Trans-Siberian Orchestra show, Monster Jam, and The Ringling Barnum and Baily Circus. To be honest it was what I envisioned when I was President of IHRA but failed to pull off in such a grandiose manner.
Surrounding the final qualifying in the pro categories were car and bike stunts, a large gathering of jets, anything with fire including actual fire breathers spewing 10-foot flames. I saw two rat rods going nose to nose trying a push each other backwards. It was like watching a hot rod sumo wrestling match. Add rock music and gorgeous women wearing what appeared to be an eye patch, mix in an incredible light and pyro show, and you get the gist. I’m leaving a lot out but you get the idea. It was nonstop in-your-face entertainment that didn’t let you breathe until the final Top Fuel cars went down the track.
Guess what happened on Sunday? When the format returned to what can be described as final eliminations … no one came. The gate went from 70,000 to probably less than 5,000 in less than 24 hours.
I’m not suggesting that NHRA make such a move, but I am saying that if they don’t they are making a huge mistake. At least consider ending the event on Saturday night. Reduce the fields to eight cars and (dare I say) give the spectator what he or she wants, not what you think they want. Ban track prep except for oil-downs, and once you step on the entertainment gas don’t let up.
No my Parkinson’s has not destroyed all my brain cells. I know that because I can still do math and 70,000 is a lot more than 5,000. So, are you in it to be legit or are you in it to grow? Depending how you answer that question could very well determine drag racing’s future.
I was saddened to hear of the passing of long time drag racing announcer Brian Olson. During my stint as IHRA President I hired and worked side by side with Brian many times. Brian would drive me nuts because he had no filter. Whatever he was thinking he immediately verbalized. Ninety percent of the time he was spot on. The other 10% normally raised the ire of someone in the audience. He was a racer and a world class painter of race cars and show cars and he was able to draw on those experiences to make his delivery entertaining and educational. If he had a choice he would prefer to announce a round of stock and Super Stock over anything else.
Then there was his laugh. It was loud. It was boisterous. It was infectious. If you met Brian you had a friend for life. Godspeed, my friend. And try and let Leo Taugher have a little microphone time.
How do you like the new rules in NHRA Pro Stock? I love them. I don’t see it being a resurgence for the class, but if it helps bring relevancy to a tired product I’m all for it. And if it keeps the car manufacturers in the game, so much the better.
What do you think of the Street Outlaw series on TV? I’m a fan. It gives you characters to follow and a good story line. This is escapism at its finest. Get off your soap box. This is a made for TV reality show.
What is the inside story with TPG (the private equity firm that now owns IHRA) and IHRA? There is no inside story. What TPG does is clean up the financial mess IHRA was in after facing weather disaster after weather disaster. Next year will be different: TPG will demand accountability. It will be the IHRA No Excuses Tour, so I imagine changes are a coming.