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in the world of drag racing

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The latest update as of August 16, 1998

I've taken a few days to reflect on the news of next year's " Winston Showdown ", to be held at Bruton Smith's "NEW" Bristol Dragway. By the way, in case the name Bruton Smith doesn't ring a bell, you must not be a fan of NASCAR racing. And if you are a fan of stock-car racing, then what the heck are you doing at Northern Thunder? Unless of course, you're not a complete "blower snob" like myself and can appreciate other forms of motorsport. Anyways, Mr. Smith is one of the biggest operators in the stock car industry and like the cliche says, "when he talks, people listen".

His holding company owns many successful race tracks already, and is still expanding its empire to the point that he has developed major clout with the respective santioning bodies at his facilities. Despite rumours that he was prepared to bulldoze the existing Bristol Dragway and turn it into a parking lot for his neighboring oval track, the announced $7,000,000 redevelopment plans for the drag strip indicates his desire to expand his drag racing presence. Currently, the only other drag strip he owns is the multi-purpose Sears Point Raceway in California.

I'm sure the story of this new Bristol Dragway goes much deeper than what is currently visible. It seems like quite a coincidence that the Winston Showdown and the track redevelopment plans were released simultaneously, doesn't it ? From a business standpoint, the news make great sense for all concerned. It's truly a win-win-win situation for the "players" in this story, but what about the racers and the fans?

Allegedly, NHRA fan surveys gave them the impression that this top fuel vs. funny car format was clearly wanted. My reaction to that assertion is the usually cynical one: Who are these people, and why were they allowed to leave whatever institution they reside in ? But, after reflecting on the issue, and seeing a lot of pro and con discussion on the subject, I wonder whether drag racing fans really do want to see this alternative to separate eliminators. For a "one-time-only" exercise, I don't see a real problem with it, it may even prove to be entertaining. It won't be real racing, and should be considered on the level of the "circus" acts that once proliferated in drag racing: Jets, Rockets, Wheelstanders, Bus-Jumping, Guys Blowing Themselves Up (remember "Bennie the Bomb"?), etc.

What about the implications for the future of the "sport"? Is NHRA really testing the waters to see if they can combine the two fuel classes, and ultimately drop the funny cars from their competition roster? From a marketing perspective this would make sense, allowing them to sell a more streamlined TV package with ONE (top) class, ala Formula One, IndyCar, and NASCAR. No more time wasted explaining the different types of cars, just one all-encompassing "Formula Fuel".

Sacrilege? Surely. Inevitable? Probably. Don't forget that NHRA has become a motorsports entertainment corporation, the days of the association of hot rodders dedicated to safety, etc. is long since past. For more on that subject, see the Money, Marketing and Nitro article in our Press Clippings index, or go to the August 9 "What's New" update to read more about the evolution of NHRA. And I invite any feedback on this subject, as my views are somewhat narrowly focused on my class of racing, and certainly don't parallel those of the mainstream drag fan. Let me know what you think by e-mailing Northern Thunder.

For the latest reaction(s) from other folks, go directly to Nitronic Research and check out "Header Flames". Or if you would rather read the sanitized, authorized, official version of this "Race to End All Races" (and simultaneously, drag racing as we knew it), go to NHRA Online.

Remember our motto, "more news as it happens, even if we have to make it happen". As always, stay tuned for the latest updates.

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