in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of December 26, 1998
Hey, it's not the 26th yet, so come back tomorrow afternoon or evening. It's Christmas morning now and I've got some obligations in life that extend beyond my job and race car and this website. Have a Merry Christmas and check in later to see what I can come up with on Boxing Day. Just remember, it'll be Las Vegas rules: Standing eight counts, unlimited knockdowns and you can't be saved by the bell. And bring your own cut man!
While I was still in my corner, attempting to put on my firesuit and other needed accessories, my "opponent" leapt into the ring and got in a few quick body shots. Then, before I could get my helmet on and the visor pulled down, POW, a punch in the nose. The "challenger", Bob Wilber posted a message on the NHRA newsgroup a few days ago asking everyone to "not be so darn negative" about NHRA.
Then he proceeded to list all the good things that "association" has done for us all over the years. His opening line was "I'm not a shill for the NHRA..." and it went downhill from there. The following is his first rebuttal to the flames generated by the posting. (FYI: Bob Wilber is the Marketing and P.R. guy for the Del and Chuck Worsham Funny Car team). He "owned" the First Round, but as the bell signalled its end, I readied myself for Round Two and came out fighting... dirty.
My response to a conflagration of remarks, by various individuals and not necessarily in any sort of chronological order...
The one theme that seems to infiltrate the majority of posters is a feeling that NHRA has somehow conspired to drive up cost, hurt the little guy, make it more complicated, make it a big business, remove the fun, etc. etc. etc. I keep hearing about the "good old days..."
Let's go back to the very root of this sport. Drag racing is an acceleration contest between two vehicles covering a straight line quarter-mile track from a standing start. Period. That's how it started. That's how it grew. Can I go faster than you? What you see before you today is not a conspiracy, it is not the function of a business plan, it's evolution. At some point (see the biographies of folks like Kenny Bernstein and Don Prudhomme) a few of these racers figured they knew how to go faster, needed more money to do it and had the business savvy to go get that money. Sorry guys, but at that very moment in time, your "good old days" were gone. Poof! It was over.
You sound like the sorts who might STILL be boycotting baseball because those damn Dodgers moved out of Brooklyn and besides, they don't wear wool uniforms anymore. Well guess what? The Dodgers moved to LA, football players don't wear leather helmets anymore, hockey goalies don't play without masks anymore, Olympic skiers don't use wooden skis and today's golfers don't use hickory shafts. Things change. As a group, many of you sound like the drag racing version of the Amish, you passed a point in time where things suited you quite well and you wanted to call a halt to evolutionary progress. "That's it, no more."
Frankly, from my perspective (which you all seem to relish insulting), the truth is quite the opposite. SPORTS have changed and the NHRA was SLOW to move into this era. 30 years ago you could also haul your car on a flatbed to Martinsville and race against the NASCAR boys. NASCAR, MLB, NHL, NFL and all the other sports were much quicker on the draw here than NHRA. And NHRA still lags behind from a marketing standpoint, because of that slow reaction time (pun intended). This evolution was RACER driven, the NHRA was along for the ride for many years before getting aggressive in the last eight or nine.
I heard some comments about those good old days before the cost got so high and fuel teams would match race all over the place. You're right. And you know what? Major League baseball teams used to barnstorm all through the south after spring training and play exhibition games in smaller towns during the season. Those days are over. The stakes are too high. But again, it was just scientific and competitive evolution and I don't understand how you all seem to "blame" the NHRA for that. It's as if you think Wally Parks and his cronies held a meeting in 1974 and said "OK, let's get the fuel teams to start spending a lot more money and drive the price of this thing up so we can ruin the sport..." Nonsense!
There is both good and bad with this progress, there's no denying that. The sport has evolved. Why? Because racers want to go faster!
As sportsman racers (and contrary to someone's insinuation, I ALWAYS ASSUMED most of you were racers, not fans) you love to criticize all that is the current situation. And I wonder, if NHRA didn't provide a hundred or so classes and subclasses of racing, fill a rule book with rules to keep the playing field even, allocate hundreds of thousands of dollars of Federal-Mogul and other company's sponsor dollars directly to the sportsman ranks, hire hundreds of people to accomodate sportsman racers, include sportsman classes at national events and organize and promote hundreds of divisonal points meets every year....
What would you guys do? If you have an answer to that, and are racing at other tracks, or in smaller circuits, then that's fine. I guess you should do that then, vote with your dollars and your presence...
My first race car. A 1969 Dodge Super Bee. Bought it in 1972 from the (locally) infamous Belmont Motors - "Home of the Patched Up, Bondoed Over, Ready to Blow Muscle Cars". I must have been lucky as the original 383 "Magnum" engine lasted for two years. Maybe if I'd changed the oil - even once - it might not have kicked a rod out. (Small sidebar: After blowing it up, I continued to drive it for another three days and 25 miles -- until it seized and broke the cam in three -- you've never lived on the edge until you've driven a car with a broken rod around town for a few days -- you could hear that sucker coming for miles)
After a short intermission paying my "debt to society" (another story for the archives) I decided the only proper way to rebuild the 383 was to install a full-tilt Super Stock 426 Hemi (with a mag cross-ram, etc.), gut it, find all the fibreglass pieces I could and then drive it on the street. That lasted for all of a week, as the DEEP oil pan couldn't get on the muffler shop hoist and the local constabulary seriously frowned on the open headers.
It's "career" as a race car taught me a few valuable lessons. Number One was "Never try to build a dual-purpose, ie: street and strip car". It just doesn't work either way. With 575 horsepower, 11" tires, 5.13 gears and 10.75" converter you can probably imagine how "successful" it was. Didn't take long to convince me that a "race only" vehicle was the way to go. Last I saw of my prized "Super Bumble" was it being loaded on a barge to go up north for conversion to a hill-climb car. For the $400 I received for it, I had to throw in the fibreglass hood too. (Missing in the picture).
It's now noon (PST) on Boxing Day and the Second Round is about to begin. The First Round was definitely not the opening I'd planned for this "match", so now I've got to start throwing punches at everyone in sight to get warmed up and back in the fight. The following paragraphs are my response Bob Wilber's original post on the NHRA Newgroup from a few days ago. I only wish I'd saved it, but his follow-up (Round One) pretty much reiterated his views.
If you've got a weak stomach or are still full of turkey that you'd like to eliminate by the normal route, please go to some other page as the following is rather strongly worded and manages to get in some low blows to almost everyone in the "sport" of drag racing, me included. Hey, I'm just as guilty as the next guy! The next round will be on later this afternoon and hopefully the entire bout can be completed by late tonight. If the arena is still standing, that is.
Seems that Mr. Bob Wilber (of Worsham & Worsham) has ignited more than a minor conflagration. Lots of pros and cons, flames and rockets going back and forth on this one. So I guess its time for me to throw a little more "fuel" on the fire.
Bob "Pollyanna" Wilber is dead wrong and right on at the same time. His perspective is not one that very many (if any) members of this newgroup can share though. He's looking from the top of the mountain down and not from the bottom up. From where he's sitting, things look pretty good. Maybe with a pair of high-powered binoculars he might see that the guys down at the bottom are having a very hard time even imagining what the view must be like from the peak - or anywhere near it.
It's hard to dispute what the NHRA has provided to the racers and the "sport" in general over the last 48 years. It's come a VERY long way from the humble beginnings at Santa Ana, California. The safety standards, the facilities, the organization have all come light years in that time.
But the fun and he friendship have fallen by the wayside also. The costs of competing have skyrocketed, the rulebook has grown to 226 pages, with increasingly expensive changes/modifications/recertifications required. The schedules have grown to "death march" proportions, the bullshit factor has mulitiplied and the sport/industry/business has flat gotten out of control.
BUT, it's not all NHRA's fault. We, the racers are as guilty as they are for the escalation of costs, regulations and general complexity of drag racing today. When Super-class cars are showing up in tractor trailers that cost more than my entire Top Alcohol "operation" there must be something wrong. Hell, there's probably guys in those classes with more expensive cars than my dragster for that matter. (And for the record, I don't have some tired old piece - it's all brand-new, still never run, 1998 state-of-the-art stuff).
The disease that's overtaken the sport is well established in every class from the top down. Top Fuel down to the Super-classes. We've all allowed ourselves to get sucked into the "bigger, better, badder" vortex and collectively we'll all go down the drain, still screaming "more, more, more...."
Top Fuel and Funny Car don't have any mystique anymore. It's simply a battle of grenades - bring 8 engines and change them every lap. Pro Stock is a battle of dynos and engine builders - getting more boring by the minute. Pro Stock Bike and Truck.... I won't even waste the bandwidth commenting on those marketing inventions. Top Alcohol - sold to Federal-Mogul for ten cents on the dollar (that's the percentage of the deal the racers get). Competition eliminator - Very expensive cars feeding very expensive egos with dwindling racer and spectator interest.
The "smart" ones have jumped to Pro Stock and Pro Stock Truck just in time to avoid the soon-to-come extinction of the category. Then we've got Super Stock and Stock - an increasingly weirder mix of late-model cars and trucks and early (getting pretty old, aren't they) muscle cars. Two categories that have just about used up all their value. Then we come to the Super-classes. Next to the fuel and alcohol classes, these eliminators display the classic symptoms of the disease to the fullest.
Way too much money and far too much complexity for what was originally envisioned as a home for fast bracket cars. Out of control to the extreme. If you can't "wire up" your piece to cut an .001 light and run .001 over the index, then don't bother showing up. Boring doesn't even begin to do it justice.
Notice that I haven't mentioned the bracket categories or the outlaws or the pro mods or jets, etc. The guys outside the "margins" are probably the only ones left with any sanity and still having any fun. There is no pressure to step up, spend up and try to run with the big dogs in the brackets. Some of them might actually be still having some fun too. But if Pro Mod or the Jets ever became NHRA classes, they would end up as sick or sicker than the current pro classes. Ever followed the non-stop whining in IHRA Pro Mod? Or seen the "follow-the-leader" syndrome in body styles and engine combinations?
So what's the point of all this noise from the north? Simply this; Unless we all acknowledge that we're carriers of the disease and that it's collectively all our fault that we've contracted it - racers, spectators, NHRA, etc., then we'll continue trying to find someone else to blame. We're all part of the problem and the only solution is for all of us to work together to find a solution. Of course that will never happen unless we blow it all up and start all over again.... and that won't happen either.
The bottom line is there is no hope for any of us. For the guys who've gone out way past the end of their financial rope(s) (like myself) the only prognosis is "terminal". The only thing to do is keep trying to find a little fun, a small ray of sunshine in the gathering darkness and try to enjoy what time we have left. I'm taking the easy way out and shipping everything down to Australia in February where the "symptoms" are still not in the "advanced" stages and it's still possible to race and have fun, some of the time.
Wish I could be more positive about all this, especially at this time of year, but the closer you get to the "heart of the beast" the darker things look. Hope everyone can still have a Happy Holiday and forget about all the trouble and bother and strife for at least another week. Then start scrambling to get ready for that first race of the '99 season.
My second race car. It doesn't look like much in the picture, especially with the "high-dollar" trailer underneath, but it was a real 1970 Hemi 'Cuda. With a total of TWO miles on the odometer. Driven from the (nearby) dealership home and converted into an SS/DA overnight. This was my first (and last) racing partnership, as after a season of mis-adventures and one solid run (only 2-tenths off the record), we had a "minor" falling-out.
The first inkling was when someone knocked on my door to pick up "his" trailer, just purchased from my (soon to be ex-) partner. Only problem was the trailer was still my personal property. Next to disappear were the new tires and wheels and an engine worth of Max-Wedge parts that I still owned. Last I heard of my partner, he was trying to collect the insurance on his house... that just happened to burn down shortly after our partnership dissolved. Oh yeah, did I mention that I found out later he was a heroin addict too? You sure know how to pick 'em, don't you Bob?
Does ANDRA need to become more businesslike in its structure? NHRA's Carl Olson explains how they handled it in the USA.
Back in the late 70's the NHRA reached a crossroads in the development of the sport that they represented. They perceived that if the sport was going to make the next step that would push them closer to the forefront of motorsport in the United States they needed to change their direction, administration format and method of controlling the sport. They operated in a suprisingly similar fashion to ANDRA's current format and found that it was restricting their potential to grow.
Their major change was to transfer the decision-making power from a democratic club-input set-up (as currently applies in ANDRA) to an appointed board of directors. Did it work? Would it work here? These are some of the issues faced by ANDRA executives. We spoke to NHRA's Vice President - International Relations Carl Olson on the matter when he made a fact-finding tour of Australia earlier this year.
DA: You've been here for a few weeks now and had a chance to have a good close look at ANDRA. How does the current ANDRA structure equate with what was happening at the NHRA before 1978?
CO: It's a very close comparison. Although our process was essentially democratic, it differed somewhat in that the NHRA had abandoned its club structure. Decision making power was vested primarily with our Divisions. Each Division Director represented the wishes of his constituents.
DA: So racers in the NHRA had individual voting rights in similar manner to racers in Australia?
CO: Yes. The structure was a bit different from ANDRA's, but the members had a very strong voice in policy matters. I would have to say that currently, ANDRA members probably have more direct influence than NHRA members ever did.
DA: What was it that drove the NHRA to consider going to the sort of structure that they have now?
CO: The realization that in order for the association, and consequently the sport, to move ahead then it had to become much more business-like. We found that many of our members influenced policy in such a way as to benefit themselves, but not necessarily the overall sport. As an example, since most of the members were racers, they'd sooner increase prizemoney than vote to invest in better facilities and programs which management felt would ultimately be much more beneficial for everyone involved in the sport. As a result, it was very difficult to generate the necessary resources to invest in the sport's future.
DA: Were there any driving forces that brought this about or was it just an in-principle decision?
CO: The driving force was the fact that in the late 1970's, the NHRA came dangerously close to insolvency. A combination of factors, over which our organization had absolutely no control conspired to make it very difficult to maintain an equitable financial structure. At that particular moment in time I think it became obvious to all of us in the management that we had to take reponsibility for our association's longevity by creating a much more business-like environment. We recognized our obligation to do whatever we could to ensure the organization's short and long-term future.
DA: So exactly what did the NHRA do?
CO: Primarily, we began to look much more towards the bottom line. We created a system in which our members had the opportunity to provide a great deal of input into policy matters, but in which final decision making power rested with a small group of individuals who were involved in the NHRA's business at every level, and on a day-to-day basis. These individuals took what I believe was and is, a much more balanced approach to policy matters, and responded to the need to promote and market the sport in such a way that a strong financial base was created from which to pursue our goals and objectives.
DA: How did the racers and the membership as a whole respond to this change of structure within the NHRA?
CO: It was so evolutionary in nature that I'm not sure there was any moment of truth or anything like that. I believe that while there were racers, and for that matter some staff and volunteer officials, who perhaps were reluctant to abandon the status quo, the proof of the pudding was in the eating. I think everyone recognized that as the NHRA's focus turned to more prudent business decisions, facilities and insurance programs improved, events got bigger and better, television and print exposure increased the purses and prize funds went up substantially. The biggest change was the amount of outside financial support generated through our marketing efforts for the track operators, the promoters and the racers themselves.
DA: How did the NHRA go about the business of changing its structure?
CO: Through a revision of our bylaws voted on by the membership. I believe enough of the members could see the difficulties the association found itself in that they recognized the need for change. As soon as absolute power was vested with the Board of Directors, a Management Council of key department heads was created to oversee the NHRA's day-to-day business. A series of advisory committees was also created to generate the much needed input from the membership. I'm absolutely convinced the reorganization was very much for the best, as it resulted in the sport accelerating forward with great momentum.
DA: So in essence what has been the real benefit to drag racing under the NHRA in the 1980's and now the 90's?
CO: Well in my personal opinion, yes, though given that I have an individual perspective from within the organization, some individuals viewing the sport from a different perspective might disagree with me. I strongly believe that in retrospect the end result pretty well proves out the theory that the decision of NHRA management to take a much firmer hand in controlling its own destiny has been good not only for the association, but for the whole of the sport as well.
I'm heading for the dungeon to dig up all the dirt I can unearth on the change of NHRA's structure from democracy to autocracy in 1978. I've been telling people for months now that it actually was put to a vote of the membership and everyone has been telling me that I was crazy. Okay, I am crazy, but I wasn't hallucinating the change in NHRA's structure. It really did happen, after all Carl Olson admitted it, didn't he, and he's never told a lie in his life, has he?
The follow-up to this story will take a while, digging up the facts on a story that's been buried this long will take some time. In an attempt to speed up the process, I've even e-mailed Bret Kepner, "keeper of all drag knowledge" for his help and am anxiously awaiting any input he can provide. When we do get all "our ducks in a row" and finish the story, you'll see it here first. Stay tuned.
My third race car. Purchased in 1976 from George Duda (MOPAC Auto Supply), this former SS/DA car was being prepared to run in SS/BA with the 426 Hemi out of my previous car(s). After investing a few thousand dollars and thinking about how much money it would take to make it a competitive car in the late 70's Super Stock "wars", better judgement departed and I sold it and started buying dragster parts. I'll NEVER, EVER tell anyone how much (little) I sold this ultra-rare piece for. Did I mention that it was one of the ultra-low production, aluminum front-end Max-Wedge cars? Don't ask, just don't ask...