Impressions of the Season
By Glen Grissom
ell, the pro drag season has nearly wound down and I’ve had my first full-time taste of covering it. So here are some season-long thoughts after getting to smell the nitro a bit.
The NHRA pro drag racing season is too long. Going up against pro football on TV in the fall is suicidal. NASCAR can’t even pull that off – their TV ratings are down on almost all their races this year, and The Chase format isn’t helping those ratings either.
The NHRA’s version of NASCAR’s Chase “play-off” format is a marketing move made for TV. Fine. I guess I’m too old to really accept it: throughout the season you stage; you launch; you race; you win or lose. Why does drag racing need a play-off?
The NHRA has the best track clean-up and prep crew out there – or at least they manage that activity better than any sanctioning group I had the pleasure to see. The attention span of a paying crowd gets stressed when pushing an hour to do track clean-up (IHRA, are you listening?). Live drag racing TV will never endure that sort of delay.
Speaking of live telecasting of NHRA/IHRA etc. drag racing – I’ve changed my mind – forget it. Concentrate on putting together a couple of TV race highlight packages of about an hour and make them jump off the small screen. Use one of them for qualifying rounds and then finals. Oh, we’re doing that already? I hadn’t noticed – and I praised some of the TV coverage this year. I just want it to be more pushy. Maybe TV just isn’t big enough to show drag racing?
Any sanctioning body that doesn’t mandate wearing a head and neck restraint in its Pro classes doesn’t deserve the business. Any racer, pro or sportsman, that doesn’t wear one has a fool for a driver.
Speaking of sportsman racers, you guys and gals are one tough crowd. Obviously you race for love and madness because it’s not for the coin. I saw you relegated to track fodder (let the sportsman guys go out and find out how squirrelly the surface is) and racing and wrenching at times when most people at a track are relaxing with an adult beverage. Damn you’re impressive.
Track entertainment has sure changed since the ‘60s when I went to my first drag race as a kid. I could not have made up that I would one day be watching a row of synchronized front-end loaders on a return road going through motions that look like some sort of mechanized Karma Sutra. Strange and disturbing simultaneously. Wish I could have been at the first proposal meeting for that idea. “Yeah, J.B., when there is a track clean-up, we’ll have these pirouetting construction vehicles to entertain the crowd! It can’t miss!”
Crowd entertainment – stop with the T-shirt cannons already! Shoot some live animals (badgers preferably) wearing T-shirts into the crowd and watch for the fun. You get a T-shirt then, you earned it.
As much as I am loath to admit it, a jet car is still a hell of a crowd pleaser – at least here in the South. That of course might be saying more about the South’s drag racing crowd than the jet car. Sure appeals to the male Beavis & Butthead gene though.
And we really have the South to thank for Pro Mod enthusiasm. As much as I think nitro Funny Car racing is the pinnacle of drag racing’s essentials, Pro Mods are the Monster Trucks of drag racing. Outsized and outrageous and out of control. Actually more like modern fuel Altereds – just 4-wheeled insanity with a gas pedal. Get it sorted so that the nitrous Mods have a chance against the blower cars and then print up extra tickets.
Thanks to DRO I finally got to fulfill one of my race attending fantasies – the U.S. Nationals. What a show. WJ doesn’t advance!? WTH? Got to see John Force red-light his way out of the finals and then show more raw emotion and self-loathing in a minute in the press room than most people have in a lifetime. You didn’t know whether to call the paramedics or psychiatrists. No wonder the guy has won so much – it kills a bit of him each time he loses. Respect that.