in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of April 19, 1999
NEWS FLASH !!!
All-Canadian final in Top Alcohol Funny Car at the opening event of the NHRA Northwest Division Six season at Boise's Firebird Raceway yesterday. After qualifying in the 7th spot, the Mopac Auto Supply-sponsored team of Calgary's Roger Bateman and John Reynolds stepped up the pace and went on to victory over Mt. Lehman B.C.'s Mike Giuliani in the final round. Mike qualified in a strong 4th position and laid down some strong 6.0 runs until a burst panel let go during his burnout in the final. Great show from both teams, defeating some very strong running American cars. Way to go, guys! We now return you to our regularly scheduled de-programming.
The timing of this update seems very appropriate, following my viewing yesterday of the taped coverage of last week's Hi-Lo/O'Reilly Nationals (presented by Pennzoil) from Houston Raceway Park. New "world" records were set in both (professional) fuel classes and career best performances were achieved by many racers. Highlight of the meet had to be Doug Herbert winning the $100,000 Winston "No Bull" challenge after coming so close to it at the previous event, the Gatornationals. Consistent runs by the Dick Lahaie-tuned Snap-On Tools car took Dick to the winner's circle, in contrast to the "rotate the earth - or else" tactics of many of his competitors.
And that's where this "soapbox special" is leading today. The most telling moment of the race coverage was John Force's admission (in a finish line interview after he won the race) that he had used up six engines -- that's in his car alone; that doesn't include the (probably) two or three more expended by team-mate Tony Pedregon in the other Castrol Car.
Heck, even if he'd been the No-Bull winner, plus won the race (which he did), plus took the $25,000 MBNA record bonus (which he did), plus the runner-up money for Tony's car (which they did), he still would have lost money, lots of it, for the weekend. Is this really any way to run a race car? Sure, he's got the quickest and fastest Funny Car on the planet, he's probably got the most sponsorship support of anyone in drag racing, but is this really any way to run a race car?
And is this really the right direction for the "sport" of drag racing to be heading? Of course not. While the performances continue to spiral into the realm of the unbelievable, the costs continue to spiral upwards and the competitiveness of the field(s) as a whole continue to decline. The pressure on the teams to perform, to allow them to keep their sponsors happy - and on board - is driving the fuel classes to the brink of extinction.
With the much reduced television package this year, the opportunities to justify those big sponsorship/marketing contracts are shrinking. Without some serious TV time, no team will stay sponsored for much longer and with no improvement of the current TV package on the horizon, the pressure to go deeper into eliminations (to get that oh-so-valuable "tube time") is forcing the racers to push harder and harder - and spend more and more.
In the last two seasons the absolute necessity of major sponsorship has seen more than a few teams drop out when the dollars evaporated. Shelly and Randy Anderson (when Parts America was bought by another company), Whit Bazemore (when Winston decided to "go in a new direction"), Jim Dunn - after winning two consecutive races with Frank Pedregon driving - was forced to park his car due to a lack of sponsorship. Considering that "Big Jim" runs a very tight ship (dollar-wise) and had won two national events in a row, does that tell you something about just how bad the situation is getting?
Let's not look at the purses for other forms of motorsport, such as NASCAR, Indy cars, Indy Racing League or Formula One. They would make the drag racing payouts look like pocket change by comparison. There are obviously many reasons for the great disparity, with television coverage and the attending increase in mainstream acceptability and marketability being foremost. The attendance figures are, in most cases, similar to those for NHRA national events, but the income from television - as opposed to having to pay to have races broadcast - makes a huge difference in the money available to the racers and teams.
Also, with all that increased TV exposure, the individual teams and drivers are able to attract much larger sponsorship contracts. The other series are on a sprial too -- upwards, not downwards in every area except performance. In fact, performance increases are not even desired in many other areas. Witness the changes in Formula One last year to slow the cars down and make the racing more competitive; therefore more interesting and marketable.
So, do we have any answers to these problems? Are you kidding? If I did, do you think I'd be sitting here writing this; I'd be down in Glendora trying to knock some sense into people who have their heads stuck so deep (fill in the blank yourself) that they have no clue what is going on outside their office or the corporate suites.
Looking at the world of drag racing through their eyes, everything is just fine and exciting and wonderful, but the reality is that there are some very dark clouds on the horizon.... and they're getting darker and closer all the time. By the way, this "editorial" was aimed at the fuel classes, but you could apply - to a degree - the thinking to the other "Pro" classes and some of the more expensive Federal-Mogul eliminator categories as well.
The foregoing is simply one man's opinion of what's wrong, written from a fairly narrow viewpoint, but if it makes even one other person sit back for a minute and think about just where we're headed, then it's served its purpose. As always, more news as it happens.... even if we have to invent it ourselves.