in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of September 7, 1999
18 hours of Bull ... What kind of drugs are those promo guys at The Nashville Network on?? And where can I get some??? Hey, folks, only kidding about that; as everyone who knows me well knows, I'm as clean as the driven snow when it comes to "substances".... and that's Canadian snow, not the Peruvian variety! Seriously, what a dumb-ass slogan for a day of programming on TNN yesterday. Yes, I know, they showed almost non-stop bull riding, interspersed with four hours of drag racing, but still, has the "lowest common denominator" gotten that low?
Since it's been a while, quite a looong while in fact, since I've seen any US drag racing on the tube, it was a rather enjoyable way to spend a day off from work. (Hopefully, my last day off until the plane leaves for OZ on December 26th; and it was only a holiday due to a union rule... something to do with Labor Day). It was nice to see some new camera angles; the helicopter cam showed some very interesting shots that are lost with the low-level trackside cameras.
The presentation format followed the same old tired formula though, with Eli Gold ruining another broadcast with his less than stellar commentary. Frank Hawley as the "colour" guy was acceptable and Steve Evans and Bob Frey were familiar and (for the most part) knowledgable faces... but Gold... man, what has that guy got on the folks at TNN? Pictures of executives in comprising situations? Majority shares in the corporation? What gives?
As for the content: The number of qualifying and early round upsets was simply astounding. A fairytale story of a young Aussie in his first US Nationals going to the finals was only cut short by a car-length in the last round. Still, it was a major achievement for Andrew, John and father Graeme Cowin to have gone that far... especially considering the number of top names that fell by the wayside earlier. Good on ya mates!!!
One of the other rather large surprises of the weekend was the performance of Cristen Powell (the girl who took half a season to get her license). After months of tire shake and tire smoke she qualified very strongly with her first four-second pass (in a Funny Car) and followed up with another four in the first round. "Cinderella" lost her slipper in the second round, but she made some giant strides in the credibility department with her performance.
Another shocker was the semi-final finish of pretty much unknown Bob Gilbertson of South Carolina. Long-time Northwest drag fan(atic)s may dimly remember the (mostly uncompetitive) alcohol funny he ran out of Portland, Oregon back in the 80's. Since moving to the East Coast (ten years ago?), he's been at the occasional NHRA national event, but has only qualified once or twice and has never won even one round before. His performance over the weekend was aided by a seldom seen lately, Paul "I'll punch your lights out" Smith and a new, experimental Murf McKinney chassis. That, and a few lucky breaks got Bob to the semis, then reality took over and ended his dream run.
The other buzz over the Indy weekend was the Rules Committee meetings, where the "Year 2000" NHRA rules were to be finalized. Cynics might say that all the previously announced changes for the "Top Alcohol" cars were set in concrete months ago, and the meetings were just a "dog and pony" show to convince the doubters that the association really does listen to the racers. There's no way I want to even hazard a guess as to what the final version (until the revisions start.... probably before the rulebook even gets back from the printers) will be. But I do know there are a lot of upset, disillusioned and depressed alcohol racers out there.
Remember the March 15th New Rules for 2000 pronouncement? That first "proposal", outlawing the injected nitro combination and making radical changes to the blown alcohol cars ignited a firestorm of protest. Following three months of those protests from the racers, manufacturers and even some NHRA officials, the proposed changes were replaced with a very different set of rules changes on August 3rd. While the second version reinstated the injected nitro cars, it did its worst to handicap them and threw even more combination changes at the blown alky guys and gals. Instead of having 100% of the racers pissed off, the second version brought that percentage all the way down to say.... 90%.
So what happened at the committee meetings?? There haven't been any official reports yet, but any day now, like today or tomorrow, there should be the predicted announcement on NHRA's website. And I'm not holding my breath waiting to see anything that anyone, other than the Glendora gang, wants. I've received some "inside" information over the weekend about some of the latest proposals, including the most radical one yet: Having Alcohol Dragsters at HALF the events next year and Funny Cars at the other half. Whew! What is the perceived benefit of that brainstorm, NHRA? Why a purse increase for the category, of course. "Oh, you mean they double the purse for the cars running at each event?" Hardly, the proposed split is like a 60% increase, with the remaining 40% going to the Divisional meets. Uh huh, yeah, sure....
After nearly a year of beating this "deceased equine" I'm getting rather tired at repeating the same old arguments... but here we go again. NHRA, get this straight: The spectators like to watch blown and/or nitro burning cars. Period. Full stop. They may sit still long enough to watch 15 or 20 minutes of Pro Stock CARS, but that's it. End of story. Wake up and smell the f*#$&ing tire smoke, NHRA!!!!
Okay, at this point we probably have to try to come up with some equitable rules to allow the injected and blown cars to compete together. In fact, looking at the results this season, that objective has been achieved to some degree. While the nitro "hitters" like Henkelman, Troxel and Stark have turned some very big numbers, on occasion, the victories have gone to blown cars of Santos, Reichert, Gunderson, et al. Come to think of it, we almost have some parity right now. So why change all the rules at this point? Yes, the cost of competing is killing most of the blown cars right now, but the proposed rules changes will only lead to more mechanical carnage and even more expense.
So what do you do? Go back to last summer and re-read my rather lengthy rant, entitled "Money, Marketing & Nitro" again. The major premise of that article was the need for VASTLY INCREASED purses. Not at the expense of one category of cars (dragsters at one event, funnys at the next... give me a break!), but with payouts that in some way reflect the actual cost of fielding an alcohol car. Remember, they don't have large payrolls to support (you think anyone gets PAID to wrench on an alky car?), or the airfares and cost of running a full shop and a tractor trailer. No, just the cost of making those laps at between $1000-$2000 each time they go down the track.
Now I'll shut up for a minute and hand the microphone over to some of the people who really have a stake in this (in case you've forgotten, my car is now a permanent resident of Australia, so I'm out of the "equation"). In case you missed it, yesterday's update contained a very humourous, but sadly ironic, FOR SALE advertisement for some equipment that will soon be obsolete (non-Y2K compliant). The next piece is courtesy of a rather disillusioned Alcohol Funny Car racer who will remain anonymous at my discretion. (Discretion? Wilson? Isn't that some sort of oxymoron?)
They (NHRA) should be more concerned about keeping the current crop of racers happy and from what I hear at Indy the entire FMD and FMFC field is about ready to pack it up. Plus, they're ready to hang a certain racer who claimed to represent everyone's opinion in discussions with NHRA.
Our year concludes at the Pomona Finals with our current combination which only gives us two months to test any new combinations before the Winternationals (if it's not a dragsters-only event). Manzo and others who finish their season in the next couple of weeks on the east coast will have nearly five months to prepare for the new rules.
Our plan is to sit out most of next year except for a few division races. We aren't interested in blowing up a bunch of parts while looking for a new combination. We will wait until we're happy with our performance before we run again.
P--- wants to quit at the end of this year because he's tired of getting jacked around already and he's only been racing for two years! He sees every decision as one that puts us further down the food chain and he feels NHRA wants us to go away. When he was just a race fan, he loved the alky cars. He can't understand why alky takes a back seat to classes like Pro Stock Truck, etc. when the grandstands empty out whenever they run.
For the amount of time and money it takes to race, there's a lot of options for fun things to do besides getting screwed around at the races.
Well put, "Mr. X". Couldn't have summed it up better myself. Believe me, he's not the only one feeling this way. I just wonder which racer is on the "hit list" for selling everyone out, though? Oh well, time for another viewpoint. Wonder if he's singing the praises of Glendora....?
I just read the IHRA press release concerning Big Daddy's BBQ Sauce and the $20,000 to win, $10,000 runner-up, $5000 semi-finalists and $2500 first round. (This is for an eight-car field of the highest qualifying ALCOHOL Funny Cars on the IHRA circuit next year). Gee, that's $50,000 if my math is correct. Maybe IHRA will reinstate T/AD in the near future. We may look for a shop back east and base our operation out of it to run IHRA. Seems like they want us to come.
I heard there was to be a meeting at a certain racer's trailer today at Indy. Many are saying this is it for them. Ridiculous, unwanted and costly new rules and a smoke screen with this "proposed" new National Event format. (The alternating categories scenario). Every turn it gets worse. And the sad part of this is that there are certain people within the NHRA that are trying to make it work for us, but two steps forward and ten miles back isn't cutting it.
They know we haven't seen an actual purse increase in years, but in their attempt to raise purses they take away local sponsor opportunities and the ability for some racers to have their friends and families attend races close to home. Pro Stock Truck fields are increasing, so eliminating alky cars will make more room in the pits for them. I'll donate our pit spot to them next year at this rate.
How hard would it be to move everything "downunder"?
Oh, oh. Looks like we have a problem there. Another alcohol racer wants to muscle in on the action in Australia. Quick, somebody tell that man what a hurclean task it is to actually make the move. Of course, if he has real money, then it's relatively easy, unlike the experiences of a certain Canadian "wage slave" in his battle to get to the starting line at Willowbank Raceway (Australia). The last words for this update come from a well-known US chassis builder, who I'm sure would prefer to remain anonymous. However, without cutting his opinion down to a simple "Hello and Goodbye", that anonymity will be difficult to protect. (Unless he e-mails me with an ultimatum to ditch it.. or die).
I came home from Indy yesterday (Saturday), because I needed to get some things done before I leave on Wednesday for the FIA European "World Finals". The only reason I went (as I had NO cars there this year) was a last minute SFI chassis committee meeting with a twenty-day notice. With all the hurried arrangements, things went downhill in a hurry as soon as I wheeled in the gate.
I immediately started to get suspicious that I was missing something as, within the first two hours, I had nine car deals offered me (as you know, I wheel and deal cars and parts internationally, since I can't build cars that nobody wants), when people found out I was about to make another trip overseas.
Then I found out about the "wisdom" of the alternating race deal and I guess this is now being considered the final straw by a lot of competitors. Most people I talked to said, "Why don't they just tell us to leave and be done with it!" Some said they could understand the split schedule, but with a 100% purse increase only, as nobody seems to trust the plan to send that 40% to the divisional races. After all, we know there will be "administrative costs" that will probably amount to 35%!
Remember Melvyn (Record), as I know you'll read this, I'm only passing on what I heard at Indy, and if anyone upstairs wants MY opinion, you know I'll be more than happy to do it face to face with anybody. As most of them know, I'm not a screamer! One quick point though, I've got ten cars running Downunder, eight in Europe (with another one on the jig now), four in Canada and only two left in the US, with one of those quitting at the end of the year.
What's wrong with this picture? Have fun at your next races R---- and P---, I hope I don't have to make an offer on your tune-up (and parts). I'd like to see you keep it up.
Well folks, is that enough for one day? I know it's enough for me, as the more I think and write about the whole alcohol situation... the higher my blood pressure gets and the angrier I get about the whole damn business. Tune in again tomorrow and see what further news we can gather about the new, improved, better tasting, less filling, etc., "Year 2000" alcohol rules. In the meantime, keep your powder dry and wait until you see the whites of their eyes.....