in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of March 21, 2000
Three updates in three days: what the heck is going on around here? Has Wilson finally emerged from his semi-permanent "stuck in Canada while the racing season's in high gear in Australia" coma? Well, it's partly that and partly . . . when the stories just fall into your lap, how can you ignore them? Today's one of those days.
The biggest news so far this year in NHRA's Division Six was publicly announced earlier today through a media release from Division Director, Chris Blair. There had been rumours floating around for several weeks about this venue change for a Federal-Mogul Drag Racing Series event from Seattle to Mission, but today's release confirms it. While Seattle has dropped its divisional points meet, it will still host the Prolong Northwest Nationals in July. Mission however, will be hosting two -- count 'em, two -- points meet this year, the usual date in early May and now a second one in late June, plus the MOPAC Canadian National Open in late July. An embarassment of "riches" to be sure.
Here's what Mr. Blair had to say about the change: "We are looking forward to hosting two Federal-Mogul Drag Racing Series events at Mission Raceway Park in 2000. Mission has been one of our most popular tracks since it opened in 1992 and provides our racers with some of the best racing conditions in the sport."
B.C. Custom Car Association (Mission Raceway's owners) president Ray Grossmith added the following comments: "By now hosting two Federal-Mogul Drag Racing Series events as well as the Canadian National Open Championship, Mission Raceway is proving itself to be Canada's premier motorsport facility."
So what did Seattle promoter Jim Rockstad have to say about the change? Nothing. For the record, all that was mentioned was that "by mutual agreement" the change was made. Not much to read into that, is there? I've received some very interesting "backgrounders" on the situation from a variety of sources, but in the interest of keeping the legal profession from getting richer than it already is and being allowed to attend this year's Northwest Nationals, I'll try to keep the invective and slander to a minimum.
It's common knowledge that Mr. Rockstad's lease on Seattle International Raceway is due to expire at the end of 2001. And he has been informed that a renewal of that lease is not an option. The future plans of the property owners are not totally clear at this point and the track may continue to operate in 2002, but that is far from guaranteed. Again, the rumour mill has all sorts of ideas about what will become of SIR, but until the owners speak publicly, nothing is concrete.
For the past few years, heck, try the last ten years (or more?), Rockstad has allowed SIR to deteriorate, to the point where it must rank as the worst site on the NHRA national tour. The pits are just that: the pits, with potholes and large rocks in plentiful supply and paved or even smooth dirt surfaces at a premium. The grandstands? Using the word "grand" with those "stands" is really almost fraudulent. If they weren't so well sheltered from the winter storms by the nearby forest, the wind would have blown them down long ago.
The tower? A tad fancier than Mission's, but still, certainly not up to current national event stature. The track? Well, it was originally paved in 1959 . . . and sort of re-paved in 1998. I say "sort of", as the thin layer of new asphalt did little more than patch the holes in the surface and failed to address the underlying bumps and dips. The lights and PA system? Heck, my Chaparral has more power and light than SIR. The only real improvement in the facility since Rockstad took over has been the highway access/egress. Of course that was funded by the taxpayers and that's the only reason it happened.
The one area where Rockstad doesn't skimp is in hiring security guards. Big, ugly, well-armed dudes with built-in bad attitudes and a minimal understanding of people skills or drag racing. Are they there to protect us from ourselves? Or to protect Rockstad and the NHRA officials from the masses of angry specators that seem to forget the basic lessons of P.T. Barnum on an annual basis. You know most of them, don't you? "You can't fool an honest man" "You can fool some of the people all of the time; and all of the people some of the time". So which category do Rockstad's customers fall into?
Another area where he doesn't exactly spread the money around is in the area of promotion. He does some things right, for the die-hard folks, like continuing to send out his quarterly "Northwest News" newsletter and annual schedules to anyone who's purchased tickets to the Nationals through the mail or over the phone. He must really like me: I get two copies of each newsletter.
However, he doesn't like spending much money on TV and radio advertising for his events. I'm presuming that NHRA pays for the advertising and other promotions for the Northwest Nationals -- somebody correct me if I'm wrong. But when it comes to the divisional points meet: nothing, not a nickel more than he absolutely has to. Either that, or potential race fans in the Seattle area save up their money for the national event.
And saving is the operative word: this year's edition will cost me $180 US (including parking). In Canuck dollars that equates to about $270 at today's exchange rate. Pretty pricy entertainment, eh? Okay, I could park in the regular lot (in the next county) with the mob, pay general admission at the gate and still shell out $114 US. Okay, I could use that valuable $5 discount coupon that came with my NHRA membership and cut the tariff down to $109. For the privilege of risking hemorrhoids, bodily injury and being required to stand when anything louder than a Stocker goes down the track. Real bargain, eh?
Okay, let's get back on topic and talk about SIR and Mission and the points
meets. Rockstad was probably happy to ditch the money-losing
How does it affect the rest of the division, though? I'm not privy to all the details of how the venue change occurred, but I'm certain that it was done with very short notice and no other sumbissions from other tracks were invited. Coming as close to the start of the season as it did, moving the race only 180 miles north was the logical choice. For this year. Period.
If Mission Raceway hosts two points meets next year then the division as a whole will be shortchanged. Ashcroft's Eagle Motorplex held its annual FMDRS meet from its opening year until this season. A lack of market size, funding problems for the native band-owned facility and the disinclination of racers, especially from south of the border, to travel to Ashcroft doomed their hold on the premier race on their schedule.
Small aside: Through the almost singlehanded efforts of Bill Kraus, they were able to completely resurface the Motorplex late last season and have embarked on an ambitious upgrade of the entire facility. Unfortunately, it may be too late to ever see another FMDRS event there. A National Open yes, and one is on the schedule this year, but a full-blown NHRA points meet: sorry, not a chance.
Other options for a new location for the Seattle race were two other tracks in Canada, across the mountains in Alberta: Calgary's RaceCity and Edmonton's Labatt Raceway. For a five year stretch in the late 80's, early 90's, Calgary's multi-purpose track did host a (then) Winston points meet. They lost it shortly after Mission Raceway re-opened and since then have gone through some management instability and have focused their efforts in other areas. Now the word is that they are very interested in getting back on the divisional schedule. I understand that a serious submission will be made to host a FMDRS event in 2001.
With six points races on the schedule for Division Six, it is absolutely necessary to maintain parity that at least two of those events are held in Canada. Assuming that Mission is a given, that leaves either Calgary, Edmonton or Ashcroft as the viable choices for the second event. It will be interesting to see how the lobbying progresses for the hosting of that event during this season and into the off-season. My money's on Calgary, but I've never been a very successful gambler, so let's wait and see.
Last word (for now) on the topic: While I'm personally very happy to see two events within an hour's drive of home and the racers will be very pleased to be running at the best track in the division twice this season, longterm considerations demand that the second Mission event be relocated for 2001. End of story. Dissenting opinions to this viewpoint are welcomed. But before you react emotionally ... think rationally. Like I always do. As if, eh?