VOLUME XX,  NUMBER 10 - OCTOBER,  2018

BURK'S BLAST w/editor Jeff Burk

Random thoughts while watching the U.S. Nationals on TV

I couldn’t get to the U.S. Nats this year so I opted to follow the “biggest race in the sport” on Summit Racing Equipment’s Drag Race Central and watch as much of the race as I could on the Fox networks. DRC provided me with all of the data and info a drag racing nerd like myself craves. Wish I could say the same for the Fox and FS1 race broadcasts. For me the Fox/FS1 coverage of the U.S. Nationals simply didn’t have enough racing either live or tape delayed.

 

What I did see was too many meaningless features, boring interviews, and sponsor blow jobs, but not enough actual racing or race cars on the track. NHRA’s broadcasts of their events show less racing action than any of the sports it competes with for viewers. Network broadcasts of Stock Car, Sports Cars, Motorcycle, Street Outlaw or even Monster Truck racing devote a majority of their air time to the actual racing, which is what fans of those motorsports want to see.

 

We audited a couple of NHRA FOX broadcasts using a stopwatch to measure the time ANY real racing is being shown and confirmed that those broadcasts are at best 50-55 percent racing. The rest of the time the producers devote to interviewers of the same racers, owners and tuners or tedious replays of fluff features, interviews and tech features. I cannot understand what reason would prevent airing the Factory Stock and Pro Mod eliminations for the final-day broadcast instead of 15 minutes of racing and 45 minutes of fill.

 

The NHRA under new president Glenn Cromwell is experiencing popularity like it has never seen before. Ticket sales for NHRA national events indicate more racing fans than ever are buying tickets to the events. At eight NHRA national events in 2018 there has been at least one day of the three-day events that was sold out.

 

The problem is that the increased NHRA race event popularity with fans hasn’t meant increased viewers for the NHRA broadcasts on the FOX networks so far in 2018. In fact, the 2018 Nielsen ratings for the first 16 national events initial broadcast are down by 20% so far this year. Nielsen ratings for race day NHRA broadcasts on the FOX/FS1 networks through the first 16 races in 2018 averaged a .40 Nielsen rating point. In 2017 the average for the same period was .50 of a point. To be fair, a few races have had better Nielsen rating numbers in 2018 than 2017 but not enough.

 

One other fact: So far in 2018 NHRA’s largest TV viewership was 956,000. In 2017 NHRA had four races in the first 16 events that drew over one million viewers, in 2016 they had four races in the same period with over a million viewers. I am not offering an opinion here, these are the facts.

 

NHRA’s self-produced broadcast of their events seldom if ever reach the benchmark of a one-point (1.0) Nielsen rating which all corporate advertisers see as a must before they will even consider sponsoring a race or a race team. Every week a scripted-for-TV show about Outlaw Street Racing and outlaw race cars attract five times the TV audience that an NHRA broadcast does. Someone at the NHRA needs to ask themselves and their TV production team leaders “Why” and “What are you doing to attract more viewers?”

 

It is incomprehensible to me that the NHRA management team led by president Cromwell that has had verifiable success increasing the sport’s popularity by making cataclysmic changes to its raceday program even when racers seriously opposed those changes seems incapable of doing the same when it comes to its TV production team. Let’s be clear here: the NHRA broadcast team and talent are first rate but they are restricted by what the producers of the broadcast think their viewers want to see. But, based on the audience numbers, they (the audience) obviously don't.

 

If NHRA drag racing is ever going to ascend to the same level of importance with the media, fans and sponsors that NASCAR and IndyCar racing enjoy they must find a way to increase the TV audience. Drag racing can be the most dramatic racing on TV, especially nitro cars with huge flames at night! Unfortunately, no producer/director in NHRA TV broadcast history has had the ability to take the essence of nitro racing and move it to the small screen.

 

 

Maybe the problem is the product. Maybe 335+ mph, nitro-burning, flame throwing Funny Cars and dragsters, Nitro Harleys, the Factory Stock class or 250+ mph Pro Mods (the quickest and fastest doorslammers in the sport) just don't deliver the RACING action RACING fans want to watch. What other reason could it be? What I want to ask NHRA is, why wouldn’t you show every nitro pass you could?

 

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Just Wondering … Why during a two- or three-hour NHRA race broadcast viewers don’t get to see every lap of nitro qualifying? It just doesn’t make sense because the premier attraction of drag racing, whether at the track or on TV, is the nitro classes. Not showing every lap cheats the viewer, the pro nitro racer trying to get or keep a sponsor, and some sponsors who may be sponsoring a car for one race to see what kind of exposure they get. As a serious racing fan I want to see all of the cars and every lap of racing regardless.

 

Just Wondering … How did this happen? We are in an era where “professional” racers will pay $1,000 entry fees and in some cases pay the sanctioning body additional “dues” in order to guarantee the class purse. They seem perfectly willing as a “professional” drag racing class to assume the responsibility of funding their own racing. The generation of professional racers that came before would have never even considered that possibility. For the last half-century or so, racers in the professional classes showed up, put on a show, got paid and the promoter (hopefully) financed the whole deal from ticket sales and concessions. Can you imagine the reaction of racers like Prudhomme, Schumacher, Glidden, Warren Johnson and their peers if they had been expected to do that? There would have been a dragstrip riot!

 

My sincere congratulations to Chris Graves. His Funny Car Chaos races are the real deal and a legitimate racing series with five events in 2018 and he is a successful race promoter. His idea of an “Outlaw” “No Rules” 1/8th mile Funny Car Series has proven to be exactly what the racers and fans wanted. I haven’t attended a Chaos in person yet (my mistake) but I watched the live feed of the Havana Dragway “Chaos” and was entertained. Eighteen Funny Cars with more than half of those on nitro, some impressive speeds an ETs and some good racing -- what’s not to like?

 

One of the things that I really like about drag racing is that even at the highest levels of competition it remains an everyman’s sport. I think it would be prohibitively expensive or impossible to in just a few months before the Daytona 500, Indy 500 or LeMans to buy a race car that you knew had a chance to qualify let alone win the race. It just takes too much time and money to develop a car to win those races, and if you have one it isn’t for sale. However, I believe that two months prior to the U.S. Nats a Top Fuel or Funny Car team with a tuner capable of winning the U.S. Nationals could be purchased and be competitive. I don’t believe any other professional motorsport offers a racer that opportunity.

 

Just Wondering … Do a majority of ticket-buying NHRA fans give a damn about a 1,000-foot track, nitro cars that are noticeably slower, or the fact that seeing a new speed or ET record broken in the nitro class is now almost an impossibility when deciding if they will attend a national event? Evidently, they don’t. The 2018 NHRA season began with their nitro teams continuing where they left off in 2017, setting speed and ET records at will, and sold out crowds on a Saturday or Sunday happened. Then the NHRA took action that resulted in a noticeable drop in the Top Speeds and higher ETs from the nitro cars and still had sold out days. In fact, there have been eight “sold out” race days so far this year. That’s entertainment, folks.

 

Just Wondering … There is a mega money bracket race almost every week that pays the winner up to $100,000! Entry fees in the $1,000-2,000 and up. Very often these big money races have 300-400 entries. On the other hand, more and more tracks are cutting back or eliminating weekly bracket programs. I wonder if the big-buck professional bracket races and racers is having any effect?

 

Just Wondering … NHRA’s Pro Mod, Factory Stock, and Nitro Harley classes each enjoy more media, fan, sponsor -- and most importantly -- racer interest than any of the NHRA pro classes except Top Fuel and Funny Car. Is it time for the NHRA to promote one of above-mentioned classes to be one of the three NHRA pro classes at every national event?

 

Just Wondering … Why doesn't the NHRA and its track partners do themselves and the sport a favor by reducing ticket prices for those race days (Friday and Sunday) that NHRA consistently has problems getting enough fans to make the races look successful to prospective sponsors? Surely a near full grandstand of race fans buying massive amounts of food and drink at the track concession stand would generate profit for all concerned. I once asked a management exec at one of the NHRA national events why they didn't reduce ticket price to sell more tickets on those days. And his answer was, "We think that lowering ticket prices would decrease the value of the sport in the eyes of corporate advertisers and sponsors." Maybe so, but it couldn't do any more harm than half full grandstands being seen on the television broadcasts. Remember, for Wall Street advertising or sponsorship is determined by how many potential buyers will see it! Half-empty grandstands and Nielsen ratings under a point drive those possible advertisers somewhere else. 

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Editor & Publisher, CEO Jeff Burk

Managing Editor, COO Kay Burk

Editor at Large, Bret Kepner

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