in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of May 10, 2000
The following "update" was supposed to be the start of the Monday Wrap-Up of last weekend's Lordco BC Nationals event at Mission Raceway. Somehow it just got larger and further off the topic by the paragraph, to the point that I felt it deserved its own separate page.
There's only so much you can throw at people at one time without losing their interest, and the following piece pretty much fits that description. So before you go any further, make yourself comfortable, grab a cold (or hot) beverage and then start scrolling. By the way, we'll be back tomorrow with a grab-bag of news, views and maybe some feedback from the "guilty" parties.
So where do we start today? Let's look at how the "straight" media covered the event. The two local daily newspapers in the Vancouver area took very different approaches to the race. The "senior" journal, Vancouver Sun chose simply to ignore the race entirely.
In their Saturday edition, they did manage to give some female Trans-Am "Pro" racer most of the front page of the sports section, complete with large colour pictures (plural) and an additional half-page further into the section. Plus, they gave the Spanish Grand Prix nearly half a page. Drag racing? Not a word. Not one word. No mention of it even in their "What's On This Weekend" section for local sports.
In sharp contrast, the Vancouver Province, started their event coverage with a half page preview on the Thursday. Followed that up with a semi-advertorial one-third of a page on Friday, and a further one-third page "human interest" story about Kim Parker in Sunday's edition. (They don't publish on Saturday). Then, on the Monday following the race, a full page, complete with large colour picture of Pat Austin. Quite a difference (to the Sun's lack of coverage), eh?
The event scored some points with the electronic media too, most notably the four segments broadcast on British Columbia's most-watched TV station, BCTV. Of course, it helps to have an avid motorsports fan, Squire Barnes, as the Sports Director and on-screen anchor at the station. Still, if the story didn't warrant broadcast time, it would never hit the screen, would it?
Unfortunately, in some media circles, and to be fair, among a large segment of the general public, drag racing still has some serious "image issues." Despite fifty years of trying to educate people about the safety, professionalism, and social acceptability of our sport, far too many people, including those in positions that influence public tastes and appetites, still have an image of drag racing as an "outlaw" sport.
It is still far too common an occurence to read or hear in the media about some "drag racer kills two innocent bystanders" (referring, of course, to a street race -- NOT a drag race). Ignorance among the masses and the media manipulators that drive their perceptions of the world around them, are still far too common. So how do we, as racers, fans and enthusiasts, get the "correct" message out to the public?
There are several avenues of approach, ranging from the diplomatic, all the way to firebombing their sorry asses. Oops, got a little too hot under the collar for a moment, didn't I? Let's backtrack to the diplomacy tactic. Everytime an incorrect statement about, or reference to, drag racing appears in the media, we must immediately inform the perpetrators of their error.
Calmly, with no malice or invective, simply stating the facts about the difference between organized, sanctioned drag racing and anything that happens on public roads -- which, by definition, is NOT drag racing. Another method is to continually inform the media, and therefore the general public, of what drag racing is, where it is and when it is.
Keep feeding them the facts, the stories -- especially the human interest ones (those type of articles seem to hook the media like a tuna going after a mackerel -- or is vice-versa?) and keep driving home the point that our chosen sport is safe, accessible for almost anyone, either as a spectator or participant. Compare it to the Formula One and IndyCar "circus" and explain that this is a real grassroots sport with the opportunity to advance to higher, very professional levels, without the expenditure of trillions of dollars.
You get the general idea don't you? So why don't you spend a few minutes and actually write a short note to the respective sports editors at the two Vancouver newspapers. In the first case, send your thank yous to Paul Chapman, the sports editor of the Vancouver Province. On the other hand, to Gary Mason, the sports editor of the Vancouver Sun; you might politely enquire as to the lack of coverage of a major local motorsport.
You might ask him if it's because drag racing doesn't fit the demographics of the Sun, or that the sport is too "low-brow" for his readers. If you take that route, you might ask why he very recently ran a major article on a woman who's trying to move into NASCAR racing. Into a sport that started from an activity far more illegal than drag racing, and one that glorifies its roots and still receives far greater public (and corporate!) acceptance than drag racing could ever dream about.
Quick Aside: In yesterday's paper, there was a short article about NASCAR (in the Province, not the Sun, of course). It read pretty much like a press release, which in fact is how many, many stories see print. You didn't really think that journalists actually went and searched for stories, did you? Unless the idea is literally dropped in their laps, or they trip over it on their way to the coffee machine, nothing but a major fire, drive-by shooting, or some such public disaster makes the news. But that's a whole 'nother story, for another day. Working title: Journalism 911 - The Ethical Reporter - An Endangered Species?
Getting back on topic, here's the bombshell that came out of the NASCAR "story". They've just signed a new television contract with NBC and Fox. The total value of the package -- MAKE SURE YOU'RE SITTING, OR BETTER YET, LYING DOWN TO READ THIS -- $2.8 BILLION over six years. Yes, that's not a typo - $2,800,000,000 (man that's an awful lot of zeros), and that's US (ie., REAL) dollars. I'm flat out boggled when I read something like that.
So let's compare that to NHRA's current TV package. Tell you what, let's just forget about doing that. What's the point, other than to prove that we are so far behind those "good ol' boys" that we may as well be on another planet? Is there any doubt which dog is wagging the motorsports tail? As if there ever was, eh? So what can we do to close the gap, even a small amount, and get some fair coverage in the media and attention in corporate circles?
Or are we just so far behind that the whole idea of getting even a tenth of such a deal is beyond comprehension? Well, you all remember, and so clearly too, the "world famous" Public Relations, Advertising and Marketing firms that NHRA signed last year. And you know how much they've done to raise drag racing's profile? You hadn't noticed?
Aw come on, remember that ground breaking (or was that wind breaking?) "We Have Ignition" ad campaign? The one that was featured on the Daytona 500 race coverage and the S(t)uper Bowl. The one that did so much to bring NHRA Championship Drag Racing to the forefront of everyone's consciousness? The one that now plays mainly during drag racing broadcasts on cable TV? As if it's going to attract a larger audience by playing to people already watching drag racing.
Yes, I'm trying hard to forget about the campaign too. Especially the rumoured $1.8 million they've spent on it so far. I shudder to even think what the next brainstorm will cost. And what it will achieve. But there are some positives so far this year.
The 90% nitro rule and the 75-minute turnaround time are definitely putting on a better show for the spectators. Most people spent the off-season arguing about what affect it would have on the televised show. Those that did, missed the point almost completely. Yes, it has made it easier to provide same-day tape-delay coverage within the time windows available. But the largest effect, by far, has been on the people in the grandstands at the races.
The national events run so far this year have averaged just over five hours in length, instead of the previous norm of six to seven hours. NHRA still has a long way to go to get down to the average endurance span (at an entertainment venue) of three to four hours. But they are getting there. However, to make the next leap forward in this department will require a radical restructuring of the events, with some categories either being dropped entirely, or run on a separate day to the "pro show."
Can you see where this is leading? If so, you won't want to miss Friday's update -- hey, it's going to take at least that long to get all my thoughts down on this issue -- so, as we always say: Stay Tuned. Don't change that URL and be sure to come back for the "master plan" on Friday. Thanks to Terry McHardy for being the catalyst to my finally bringing out my ideas on this subject. (But don't blame him for what I'm writing; like I said, he was just the catalyst that started the chain reaction).
PS: Tomorrow we'll catch up with all the stuff that's been gathering dust in my mind and on the desk and give you a grab-bag of odds and ends to fill the day.