in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of July 3, 1998
NHRA Reorganization leaves 19 Unemployed. Many Longtime Staffers Included.
NHRA Announces Plan To Streamline Business Operations
Two separate versions of the same story. The first is an independent report, the second is NHRA's statement issued on Wednesday, June 24th.
And you thought NHRA Championship Drag Racing was still a sport? These news reports are just further evidence of the transformation of (NHRA) drag racing from a sport to a business. The key phrases: "Streamline Business Operations", "More Productive in the Marketplace", "The Company becoming more Customer Oriented" can be found in any "Corporate America" media release.
Since the (not) well-publicized battle for control of NHRA (and it's future direction), was lost by the racers/members in the mid 1980s, NHRA has gradually changed from a non-profit member oriented association to a for-profit motorsport entertainment business.
"Selling a product" has become NHRA's new "raison d'etre" (reason to be). The professional racers have become marketing tools and poorly-paid entertainers, while the sportsman racers are now merely filler for the big shows, or a cash cow for NHRA. Unfortunately, the changes (for the worse) are far from over.
NHRA's next targets for cutbacks ("Reorganization") will probably be the current divisional structure and the addition/deletion of several eliminator categories. Unless they are producing a profit, the seven divisions will soon be gone, with their funcions performed (with far fewer staff) from NHRA headquarters in Glendora, California.
In the past two years we've seen the addition of a new eliminator, Pro Stock Truck, and the sale of two eliminator titles to Federal-Mogul. These moves were made strictly for marketing reasons, as any other significant eliminator changes in the future are likely to be. If your favourite category doesn't fit the marketing blueprint, then it's adios amigos. Conversely, new eliminators will only be created if and when they are deemed a "Marketable Product".
Does it sound like I'm down on marketing ? Yes and No. After all my business name is "Wilson Motorsport Marketing" so I should at least be sympathetic to the marketing profession. But when the direction of an organization (to which I must belong in order to race) is dictated almost solely by marketing and sales considerations, then it's time to say NO!.
And while we're on the subject of marketing, NHRA will soon announce the appointment of a New Vice-President of Marketing. This must be the fourth (or fifth) new V.P. of Marketing they've hired in the last few years. For whatever reason(s), NHRA seems to be "usin' 'em up" quicker than Roland Leong changed drivers in the "Hawaiian" funny car.
And the big question looming over NHRA's very existence (like the proverbial 900-pound gorilla) is what about Tobacco sponsorship? While I haven't followed the story closely, and admittedly am still not sure of the latest amendments to Canada's laws in this area, the U.S. government is moving rapidly to a ban of all tobacco advertising and sponsorship. The continuation of Winston's support into the new millennium seems very unlikely at best. Take their $20 million annually out of the equation, and you could see some very big changes happening at NHRA.
What then ? . . . It's difficult to predict the future, but if the Australian experience can serve as an example, then the prospects, at least in the short term, are not very bright. It may not be a completely valid comparison due to the differences in population, culture and history, but it could easily be repeated in North America.
As of January 1, 1996 all tobacco sponsorship of sports, with the notable exception of Indy Car and Formula One, was outlawed in Australia. At the time, Winfield (a Rothman's brand) was the major sponsor of ANDRA (Australian National Drag Racing Association) and with their support gone, drag racing downunder lost much of its momentum. While ANDRA's stature and wealth of finances and personnel is far less than NHRA's, the past 30 months have seen no new major sponsor come on board, and aside from the continuing success story of Willowbank Raceway, ANDRA has seen declines in racer participation and spectator support. The Olympic Games to be held in Sydney in the year 2000 are currently eating up any available large sponsorship money in that country, so the situation is not expected to improve greatly in the next two or three years. Could we have a repeat of this scenario in North America? . . . Only time will tell.
When ( it's not a question of " if " ) the tobacco ban comes, you will certainly be shocked by the resulting changes. For all it's seeming omnipetence, NHRA would very quickly be reduced to a shadow of it's current self with Winston's pullout. While it's easy to say that a replacement sponsor could be found, it will be very difficult to attract the big corporate dollars needed to fund NHRA's current business infrastructure.
Sorry, but I don't have any magic solutions, let's just hope that the NHRA "ostrich" looks up before the sun goes down on its' empire. As for me, I'm off to Australia, where at least I can still race a "Top Alcohol Dragster" in an eliminator without Nitro cars and be paid $2000 first round (loser) money for my efforts.