in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of November 23, 1998
In case you thought the only thing being updated around here was the scoreboard ... fear not, there's lots happening beneath the surface. Lots of North American Drag Babes are being added every day, some great drag racing stories from the past have been unearthed and added to the Press Clippings index and lots of new items have been posted on BACKFIRE !!. We've even had time to find out what's been happening lately in the land downunder and closer to home.
Biggest news of the week, overshadowing the NHRA season-ending Winston Finals, was the announcement of the BIG Tobacco Settlement in the U.S. After years of negotiations and numerous lawsuits, the tobacco companies have agreed to reimburse each state BILLIONS of dollars in compensation for the damage caused by the use of their products. I'll leave the political rhetoric for others, but if you want to see the whole story, surf on over to the Drudge Report for all the details.
The major impact of this agreement on the sport of drag racing, specifically to the NHRA, cannot be understated. Simply put, the agreement allows only ONE cigarette brand name to be used for sponsorships - of all types. While there is no restriction on the number of sponsorships by the corporate name (R.J. Reynolds), the WINSTON name will only be allowed to sponsor one sport or series or event. This won't happen overnight and will be phased in over a three year period, but the finish line is definitely in sight for many of the tobacco sponsorships currently existing in motorsport. Faced with the choice between NASCAR and NHRA, which way do YOU think RJR will lean??
Brrrrrrrrtttttt..... Time's up class, and the answer is (or should be) obvious .... NASCAR Winston Cup. What about NHRA Winston Drag Racing?? Thanks for the memories boys, but the party's OVER. Yes, R.J. Reynolds could continue to sponsor drag racing using their corporate name, but if you believe that will ever happen, you'd better go directly to Fantasy Land and have a reality check-up. Sorry, but the BIG Winston $$$ are almost at an end and a replacement sponsor of anywhere near that magnitude is just not going to happen in our lifetime. What about the liquor and beer companies?? If you can see beyond the end of next week, they are likely to be the next big target in the ever-encroaching world of "Big Brother-ism". George Orwell (author of 1984) really was right ... he just had the date a little wrong.
Okay, Mr. Smart Guy, where do we go from here? Well, in the world of marketing, and let's set the record straight on this: while my "business" name is Wilson Motorsport Marketing, I make no claims to being an expert in the field, but I have studied the subject enough to have some ideas about what works and what doesn't. In today's marketplace, the overiding conern is for demographics. If your marketing "vehicle" can't deliver the right 'graphs for the "target" (prospective sponsor) then no matter how much exposure and impact and how many impressions you can create, then they are simply not interested in doing business with you. Simply put, if you can't reach their market, they can't use you.
How do drag racing's demographics create a problem for potential sponsors ? Have you ever looked at the data? Even if you haven't, you can probably guess which way it leans: heavily to males, predominantly young, moderately educated, moderate income, primarily unmarried. What can you market to this group? Liquor, Tobacco, Automotive Products, Fast-Food and Entertainment. Can you see how that relates to the current crop of drag racing sponsors? What about all the other consumer products on the market? They are marketed to the largest demographic group: the family, and that's where the marketing dollars are going these days.
While NHRA has given "lip-service" to the concept of a family atmosphere and espouses the "family that races together" motto, the truth is that they will never attract this audience. There's just too many aspects of drag racing that turn-off and chase away the family market. Crummy facilities, expensive admissions, (nearly) unrestricted beer sales, lousy concessions and washrooms, poorly packaged and overly-long shows. I could probably list a few dozen more detractions, but the previous sentence pretty much sums up the major offenders.
You've asked lots of questions Mr. Wilson, how about some answers now? I don't claim to have ANY of the answers, but I can see some of the things that need to be done to create the conditions necessary for drag racing to move forward in the "sponsorship sweepstakes". Before we go there though, ask yourself whether we really want to. Do we want to radically change the way we do "business" to attract that large mass-market, or do we simply want to continue having fun the way we always have?
It's very difficult to balance both sides of the equation without compromising one element or the other. To achieve the stature and mass-market acceptance that Formula One or IndyCar has achieved will probably never happen. They present an exclusive, high class, uniform show that drag racing will never be able to duplicate. Diversity has always been one of the major elements in our sport and will never change.
That diversity, ie: the myriad classes and numerous eliminators, is one of our biggest stumbling blocks to achieving the high profile we seek. Do away with everything but the PRO classes and what do you have left? Not much to attract new competitors, not much to present for the fans and not much of a show for television because of the need for between-round maintenance on the cars. And that will never change. So what's the answer?
Let's assume that we keep the current eliminator structure, but put a major emphasis on providing spectator friendly facilities, ala the Texas Motorplex, Route 66 Raceway and Heartland Park Topeka. Let's cut the BIG, parasitic overhead in Glendora and simultaneously lower ticket prices and increase the purses. Let's improve the facilities, the concessions, the washrooms, the parking lots.
Let's make the "drags" an event that the mass-market can really attend in comfort and safety. Let's schedule the races like other pro sports: Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night. Sure, that would take some major upgrades for almost every track on the national event tour, but if the tracks are not willing to make those much-needed improvements, then drop them from the schedule. If NHRA shows corporate America that it is really willing to make drag racing "user-friendly" then new facilities will be built and current ones upgraded with "new" money.
For a case study of how this can be achieved, you only need to see what has been achieved at Willowbank Raceway in Brisbane, Australia. Started by a group of volunteers in the early 80's, it has progressed into one of the most well-appointed, best run drag strips in the world. ALL of the profits have been put back into the facility (due to its non-profit status) and the results have been spectacular. Every year has seen increases in attendance, major improvements to the facility and growing numbers of competitors. The well-promoted, tightly-run shows are presented on Saturday nights. While the gates open at 10 am and qualifying starts at 11, eliminations start between 6 and 7 pm and are over by 10 pm.
A three-hour "main" show at reasonable admission prices, with discounts for students and pensioners and free entry for children has been successful week after week, year after year. Constantly shifting the "headliners" from Top Fuel to Top Doorslammer to Top Alcohol and the track's own Top Comp eliminators has kept the product interesting for the spectators. For the past two years, the track has broadcast its major events on TV in a 10-program schedule that has paid dividends in reaching the large mass-market outside of the hardcore drag racing audience. North American tracks could definitely learn some new "tricks" from these guys, and, despite the cultural differences, the basic promotional and marketing techniques are the same on both sides of the Pacific.
I'll be spending more time in the near future thinking and writing about the future of drag racing marketing. Watch this space for those stories and if you have any opinion on the subject, please don't hesitate to e-mail us at Wilson Motorsport Marketing with your views.
While the North American race season is finished for the year (except for the winter series in Florida), the Australian season is just kicking into high gear. The weekend after next sees two state championships running, with the first round of the Top Doorslammer championship headlining Ravenswood's Golden State Championships and the second round of the Top Fuel championship headlining Calder Park's Victorian Championships. The action should be very hot out west at Perth's Ravenswood track, with the scheduled first round of the Top Doorslammer series rained out last weekend at Calder and the racers champing at the bit for some action.
The Top Fuel cars on the other hand, had a very successful start to their season two weeks ago at Adelaide's Spring Nationals. Although a short (five car) field, the race saw Romeo Capitanio's first two 4-second runs and the return to racing by "Pommie" Steve Read (in Santo Rapisarda's car) and Australia's favourite fast female, Rachelle Splatt in her Valvoline-backed car. A true fairy tale ending was in the cards for new mom Rachelle as she thrilled the packed (15,000) crowd on the Adelaide mounds with a flaming - literally ! - final round victory over her old mentor Romeo.
Now it's on to Melbourne's Calder Park for the second round of the championship and hopefully a larger field. Local newcomer, Andrew Cowan of Motorsport Trailers, who has been thwarted continually over the past six months in his attempts to license his new car should finally be able to make some laps in the car and add some spark to the field. Sydney's Sainty Family didn't make the trek to Adelaide due to some indecision on the purse offered, but should make the relatively short haul down the Hume Highway to Melbourne. No word yet on whether Brisbane's Smith and Atholwood team will be coming though.
If the five cars that appeared at Adelaide come back and the three teams mentioned above show up, then a full field and even better racing should be the result. Let's not forget to mention the added incentive of a $50,000 bonus on offer for the first 300 mph run in Australia if it happens at the Victorian Championships. Since Calder is the site of Australia's first 4-second run (December 1993 by Graeme Cowin), track owner Bob Jane has decided to pull out all the (financial) stops trying to get the other big milestone for his facility.
Out on the West Coast at Perth's Ravenswood Raceway, the Top Doorslammers may see a new face in the field. Last year's event saw the first appearance in Oz by American Pro Mod superstar Scotty Cannon and while there are no "tourists" scheduled for this year's series, a very well-known racer may be driving one of the local cars. He's none other than Gary "Klappa" Phillips, five-time and defending Top Alcohol champion (in a dragster) and would be his first ever appearance in a race car with doors. Our spies in Sydney's Baulkham Hills have informed us that he was in Perth last weekend, tuning up two of the locals' cars and making license passes in one of them.
Gary has plenty of experience in driving front-engined vehicles however, notably a Fuel Funny Car (Bill Dunlap's "Captain Crazy") in the US back in the 1980's, his blown alcohol Altered in the late 80's in Australia and (until a horror crash) his own Top Alcohol Funny Car in the early days of Aussie Pro Comp racing in the 90's. Still, the question remains, will he know how to get in and out of the doored car without bumping his head on the roof?? And how will the "King" of Aussie doorslammer racing (Victor Bray) react to this new challenger to his supremacy ?? Stay tuned for further updates on this story.
News from paradise (aka: the Gold Coast) has some major developments at Ken Lowe's. Biggest flash of the week is the major interest being shown by a Malaysian TV network in featuring his Drag Racing School on its "Golden Dreams" program. Another coup for the promotions master Lowe. Ken has a real knack for getting his projects in the public eye and in the process has become the most successful race car chassis builder and parts supplier downunder. Now his Drag Racing School is following the same success curve and has become the best attended outside of the United States. Truly personalized instruction by a lifelong winning drag racer and master craftsman has provided great value to his first classes and bodes well for the future of not only the school, but the entire sport of drag racing.
Last bit for the day: some Northern Thunder news. This coming week will finally see the arrival of our crankshaft. The latest delay (it's only seven months since we first ordered it) was (allegedly) due to Crower's balancing machine seizing a bearing and throwing the crank across the shop. Needless to say, we'll be taking a VERY close look at it before we accept delivery. Also coming this week will be the connecting rods and blower pulleys from our good friend Terry Morrow at Walt Austin Racing Engines. If you need real hard-core parts and advice on choosing the right stuff for your race application, give Terry a call at (253) 846-1366. As they say, "he's been there - done that" and will give the best, unbiased information available anywhere.
Then it's only two more "big" items to buy and we're ready to put it all together and go racing. First is the clutch - a NEW Crower pedal clutch with titanium "donut" - not cheap, but absolutely necessary to make quick, repeatable, tune-able laps. Second is the intake manifold and that will have to wait until we arrive in Australia as Ken Lowe will be building it in his Gold Coast shop. It'll be a "sheet metal" piece - if you can call 3/16" thick runners, 1/2" flanges and 3/4" top plate a sheet-metal manifold. After reading the instruction book that came with the PSI blower, we've decided the extra few pounds of material in the manifold will allow us to sleep much better and feel more confident as the boost levels climb towards 50 psi.
That's all the news for today, but tune in regularly to see the latest updates about us and the world of drag racing, reported as they happen. Oh yeah, almost forgot one more item. This week's edition of DRAGSTER Australia has yet another story by Bob Wilson. Three pages this time; a piece titled "Money, Marketing & Nitro". This was originally written as a submission to the NHRA Rules Committee for their consideration as they planned for the 1999 season. You know how much impact it had with NHRA... but the folks in Australia were impressed enough to waste(?) paper and ink on it. It's not exactly "professional journalism" but it does come from the heart and certainly struck a chord with many racers in the Top Alcohol classes in North America.