in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of April 17, 1999
First, a few random notes, before I forget to mention them (again) and then some free-ranging philosphy on where the sport and Northern Thunder are headed as we, almost too rapidly, approach the new millennium. For Canadian Drag Racing fans, we have another (all too rare) opportunity to see a televised race this weekend.
The Hi-Lo/O'Reilly Nationals - presented by Pennzoil will be broadcast on TNN this Sunday, April 18th at 1:00 pm (P.D.T.). Unless it gets bumped/pre-empted by something more important, like a Roller Derby, Demo Derby, Bass Fishing, Square Dancing or any of the other more socially (and demographically) acceptable forms of "entertainment" that Nashville provides.
Secondly, this weekend sees the kickoff of the 1999 NHRA Division Six Federal-Mogul Drag Racing Series at Boise's Firebird Raceway. The "Ignitor", first of six stops on the Northwest Division schedule has always been well attended, and despite the relatively high altitude, performances should be very good on the well maintained and prepared track. For results, check out the Firebird OnLine website. A complete report on the event, with pictures, will also be posted on Larry Pfister's Horsepower Heaven website early next week. Providing he and (Rich) Carlson can find their way back across the mountains and home again.
Next item on the agenda is our Press Clippings index. In case you haven't checked it out lately, there's been many new items posted, including some very thought provoking pieces by Warren Johnson and Bret Kepner. I thought I'd never see the day when I'd put up anything about Pro Stock on this website (at least in a positive vein), but the "Professor" speaks about many areas of NHRA operations in a frank and honest manner. I've got to wonder just how welcome I'd be at their races if I spoke out like that, but of course, I'm nobody and he's the top dog in the Pro Stock pits. Bret's article is not nearly as critical of NHRA, but does ask some serious questions about the future viability of the sport's two major drawcard classes: Top Fuel and Funny Car.
Plus, there's the latest brainstorm from Ken Lowe; his proposal for a real World Drag Racing Championship is contained in the latest edition of his Harbinger Press. While still in the embryonic stage, the idea has "legs" and could be the start of truly international Championship Drag Racing competition. Check it out and give him your feedback and ideas on how it could be improved.
Now let's try to look into the future, the future of drag racing and the future of my racing. This is strictly from my perspective and may not be in alignment with anyone else's vision of where we're headed... but it's my place and it's my keyboard... so here it is.
Any business that wants to continue operating has to have a business plan. A year-to-year plan, a five-year plan, sometimes even a ten or twenty year plan. There is one common thread here, a plan. Without it, no business, and serious racers are in business, can succeed in the long-term. My regular employer has such plans, despite the appearance of nothing more than a five-minute plan in place, but they do plan for the future. Even my Northern Thunder racing team has a business plan and a marketing plan, with our goals laid out for the next five years. These plans keep changing, mainly due to the ebb and flow of my financial situation, but there is a plan.
Looking back to an article published in Performance Racing News in December 1996, I can see that we missed our goal of running the new Top Alcohol dragster last season. And our participation in the 1999 Australian (ANDRA) series will be minimal. However, we have come a long way since late 1996.
At that time, I was sitting in my shop looking at the remains of a 392 Chrysler engine in a late-model dragster chassis. An old rearend, an old-style Lenco transmission, a two-disc Hays clutch and a lot of old 392 parts lay spread on the floor. It was one of the low points of my life, pondering whether to give up and sell off everything, or take another stab at Top Alcohol racing. The thought, and it has been suggested to me many times over the years, of backing down and running Super Comp or Quick Eight, etc. never entered my mind. It had to be blown alcohol or nothing.
So, for the past two-plus years, I've been slowly working towards that goal. Now, as we stand on the threshold, ready to race again, this time with a state-of-the-art car (in every respect), I'm wondering "where do I go from here?" Looking back to that PRN article, the final sentence mentioned an eventual move to Top Fuel and a permanent base of operations in Queensland, Australia. As regular visitors to this page know, the race car will be based permanently in Australia, but the move to Top Fuel is much further (if at all) down the road. There's still much unfinished business in Top Alcohol.
This season has seen some of the smallest, weakest fields since the inception of Top Alcohol (originally Pro Comp) in 1991 in Australia. The pace of competition, the cost of new technology, the horrendous exchange, duty and sales tax rates have conspired to limit new entrants to the class. Simultaneously, some of the original competitors have either dropped out or moved on.
The first five-second alcohol car in Australia, the Gower-Dobson-Howson team, disbanded two years ago. Alcohol Funny Car racer Vic Baker moved to Top Fuel (although, two years later, he has yet to turn a wheel in that class). "Top Gun" John Noonan couldn't keep up the financial pace and parked his car. Jeff "Burner" Burnett, with the quickest alcohol altered in the world, was similarly forced out, as was Wayne Topp with his ex-"Lenco Special" dragster. "Pommie" Steve Read finally sold his old car and is now back in Santo Rapisarda's T/F car.
At last year's Winternationals, long-time T/AD racer David Hawke, just returned to action after a four-year layoff, destroyed his new car and without funds to rebuild seems to be on the sidelines permanently. Even the National Record-holding dragster of Romac's Bob Brackam, driven by David Glenwright, has not been seen or heard from since it's engine blowup and crash at the Winternats. Finally, one of the true showmen of the class, Townsville's Harold "Insanity" Campbell hasn't been on track more than once or twice a year for the past several seasons. Not enough money, not enough sponsorship, not enough incentive to continue has seen many of these teams fold their tents or move on.
On the positive side of the ledger, several new teams have stepped up in the past few years, but they have all struggled to some extent, due to a lack of funds, track time and competitive opportunities. And if the 1999 season is anything of a guide to the future, those future prospects don't look too bright. ANDRA put out only a five race schedule for the alky burners this year and with nothing more than a gold christmas tree at the "end of the rainbow", many racers only attended those events within reasonable distances of their homebase. Two events at Brisbane's Willowbank Raceway, two more at Melbourne's Calder Park and one at Adelaide does not really make a nationals series, does it?
Thankfully, due to the efforts of some of the racers, the Lucar Cargo Vans Queensland Top Alcohol Championship series was created for this season. With all (five) events run at Willowbank, two of them being rounds of the ANDRA series, it gave the racers a total of eight events for the season. Of course, for racers based outside of South Queensland or Northern New South Wales, the travel expenses limited interstate competitors from attending more than a few rounds of either the ANDRA or Lucar series.
What about next year? Presumably the Lucar series will continue, but as of this date, no official confirmation of that has been posted. And with three of the five events in that series limited to four-car fields (with money posted for the first two non-qualifiers), is there any chance of an expansion of fields and events for next year?
Then we come to the ANDRA Championship series for the year 2000. Without a national sponsor for the association, or even series sponsors for the individual eliminators, any expansion of their schedule seems unlikely. A big step forward in many areas would be realized with the return of Championship Drag Racing to New South Wales, in the form of the proposed new Western Sydney Motorplex.
The approval process for this new facility has been ongoing for over six months now, and while government approval seemed imminent a few months ago, to date nothing has been forthcoming. If the project does go ahead, some serious advances could be expected for all ANDRA categories. Increased competitor totals, increased sponsorship opportunities, increased schedules, etc.
Moving away from the capital city tracks (Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney), the situation in the rest of the country is not very bright. Out on the west coast, racers in Perth are looking forward to the opening next year of the new facility to replace venerable Ravenswood Raceway. However, being situated thousands of miles from the next nearest large population centre makes it virtually inaccessible to most racers from other areas of the country.
Up north, Darwin's Hidden Valley Raceway is similarly isolated, and with a small-ish population to draw on, has limited prospects for expansion. Just as isolated, and with an even smaller population is Alice Springs. Situated in the heart of the "red centre" of Australia, very popular with tourists visiting the nearby Uluru (Ayers Rock), the part-time airport, part-time dragstrip has virtually no presence outside the immediate area.
Long-running Canberra Dragway was forced to close at the beginning of the year, due to a lease dispute with the National Capital Commission. Being situated directly across the road from the international airport and in the way of future expansion plans for the airport, the future of this facility seems not too bright at the moment.
Going up the coast to North Queensland, the three tracks in that area, Benaraby (Gladstone), Palmyra (Mackay) and Townsville are all struggling to some extent to survive. Small population and competitor bases, unpredictable weather in the last few years, aging facilities and rising overheads have kept their programs from moving ahead.
Sounds like a lot of doom and gloom, doesn't it? It's really not that bad, but there are serious issues confronting all the tracks in Australia over the next few years. Strong leadership at the top, strong sponsorship programs and an expansion of televised drag racing and more higher profile events are needed for the sport to move ahead.
Many people keep saying (and hoping) that a new international grade track in Sydney will solve all (or at least many) of the sport's problems, but it will take a lot more than that to right the listing ship of drag racing. However, it would be a large step in the right direction and send a strong signal to the rest of the country that drag racing is once again moving forward. Then, maybe, the "boom" years of the early to mid-90's will be repeated.
When I started this update, my intention was to also look at where NHRA
racing is headed in the future, but the issues confronting the sport in North
America are too numerous to cover in one sitting. So you'll just have to come
back later to see what I'm thinking in that area. A few teasers though:
Is that enough issues to keep your appetite whetted for more "Northern Noise"? Stay tuned and see what develops. And, as always, more news as it happens, even if we have to make it up ourselves. PS: This weekend, I promise, there will be an update of our Aussie Drag Babes photo gallery. Plus, if we can keep the scanner from melting after that, more photos of our new car, plus some of our soon-to-be competitors from down under.