in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of October 24, 1998
TROUBLE IN PARADISE !!! DRAG RACING IN CRISIS !!
After months of non-stop good news about how wonderful and perfect the drag racing scene is in Australia . . . now it's time to show the dark side for a change. NO, it's never been perfect downunder, but compared to NHRA, the situation seemed much more compatible with my racing philosophy and budget. Unfortunately the latest issues of DRAGSTER Australia have brought out into the open a series of major problems now facing drag racing in Oz. Hey Bob, just when you thought it was all coming together . . . the rug gets pulled out from under you, eh? No, its not quite that bad, but the next year will certainly be one of major changes in the structure of drag racing downunder.
The history of drag racing in the south pacific has been marked by many periods of instability, followed by periods of sudden growth, only to be followed yet again by more instability. The current sanctioning body, ANDRA (Australian National Drag Racing Association) was formed in 1973, when the annual general meeting of its predecessor, the AHRF (Australian Hot Rod Federation), saw the agenda hijacked by a renegade group of drag racers that broke away from the street rodders and formed a new, dedicated to drag racing, organization. My in-depth historical files on the downunder drag scene go back only to 1979, but over that nearly 20 year time span, I've seen the current crisis(es) repeated time and time again. The same faces, the same places, almost the same arguments each time.
I've collected the latest "crisis" stories in the Press Clippings index, so for the full background on the situation, visit the index and check out the following: ANDRA At The Crossroads, We Will NOT Let This Happen, Drag Racing Crowds Plummet, Palmyra Crisis Meeting and the Dennis Syrmis (Willowbank Track Manager) Guest Editorial for the full story(s). Unless one is fully acquainted with the ANDRA system, all the reasons for some of the actions may seem fairly obscure.
Briefly, the political system that governs ANDRA is almost too democratic for its own good. Huh?? Well, all rules start at the bottom, at the club level, and are taken to Divisional Council meetings by delegates elected by each club. The votes taken at Divisional Council meetings are binding on the Division Director and if clubs in each of the six ANDRA divisions are thinking along the same lines, become policy at the Annual General Meeting where the Division Directors must vote according to the wishes of the local club delegates or face removal at the next Divisional Council meeting.
Quite a contrast to the NHRA, eh? It all starts at the bottom, instead of the top. Of course, any major changes that are needed for the good of the sport as a whole, are lost in the maze of local club politics and interests. Overriding the often illogical and unworkable submissions of the clubs is a difficult process and gaining any degree of unanimity on nearly any subject is next to impossible.
In my personal opinion, there has to be some balance between the heavy-handed dictatorship of NHRA and the overly democractic style of ANDRA. But finding that balance is very difficult and is often seen to be balanced only by those in positions of power. At the moment, the battle lines in Australia seem to be drawn between the racers and promoters, with ANDRA on the sidelines as a "neutral" third party. (At least that's the current impression the spin doctors are creating ...). But if the people on Greenhill Road in Adelaide think they can deflect the criticism of their operations to the "bad, evil, (you fill in the adjective) promoters" . . . they better give their heads a shake . . . or two or three. (For those unfamiliar with my reference to Adelaide, substitute Glendora for Adelaide; get the picture?)
OH OH, here he goes again. Bob, you're already "personna non grata" at NHRA, don't burn your bridges in OZ before you even get there. Well, I've tried to bend over backwards and be as nice as possible about how drag racing is run downunder, but it's time to take the gloves off and get a few licks in. Anyways, if the current threats/rumours follow through, there will be a NEW sacntioning body (to kick around?) by the time I start racing in OZ. And for once, I've made the right decisions about where to base my racing downunder, and who I've aligned myself with.
No matter what, as long as life as we know it exists on this planet, there will be a Willowbank Raceway and the Konica Winternationals every June. As surely as the sun comes up each day, that venue and that event will be there in perpetuity. I only wish that the same could be said for some of the other events and facilities in Australia.
The high point for the sport (up to now) was reached on December 30, 1995. It marked the first round of the 1996 Castrol New Year Series, the first round of the 1996 Australian Top Fuel and Top Alcohol Championship(s), and unfortunately the final event with Winfield (tobacco) sponsorship. From that day forward, the sport has contracted and slipped back, with attendance dropping each year, the fields shrinking, the performance standards not moving ahead as quickly and the momentum of the early 90's gone.
While they had nearly three years notice of the moratorium on tobacco sponsorship, the marketing "magicians" at ANDRA didn't have any replacement waiting in the wings, and at this time, seem no closer to having any serious national sponsorship prospects. Yet, the same person continues to occupy the marketing director's position. By contrast, NHRA goes through marketing vice-presidents on an annual (or more frequently) basis, and they've got bigger and more lucrative sponsorships coming in every year.
An intersting sidenote: ANDRA didn't even approach Winfield to sponsor their events/championships; the sponsorship was handed to them by Top Fuel Racer Jim Read who enjoyed Winfield's backing for over twenty years until the end of 1995. His own company, RPS Promotions took it upon themselves to direct the Winfield money into ANDRA events, instead of their own race car and pockets. Other than the contingency program and some minor associate-level sponsorships, the ANDRA marketing consultant, Vic Wood has achieved virtually nothing during his six years in the position.
The final full season of Winfield's involvement saw end-of-season bonus awards to the top four in the Group One (Pro) categories, with the largest amount, $14,000 being awarded to the Top Fuel Champion. Since then, the Australian National Champions have received a nice trophy (valued at nearly $1000), a handshake and a "good on ya' mate" from ANDRA. While purse sizes have not shrunk and contingencies keep growing at a (very) minor rate, there is no major sponsorship in place for the sport as a whole. The consequent lessening of promotion has contributed greatly to the dropping attendance figures and the increasing difficulty that racers face in gaining personal sponsorships. A truly self-perpetuating downward spiral has been the result.
Without any real assistance from ANDRA, only those tracks that have the vision to look ahead and the means to achieve their goals are moving forward. Perth's Ravenswood International Raceway was the first to produce its own television programs - the 1997-98 season was the third for its Comin' At Ya' series of broadcasts. Next up was Willowbank, which has just started its third season of drag racing broadcasts, and last season saw Adelaide International Raceway join the broadcasting ranks with regular one-hour programs.
Six years ago, the very first regular broadcasts of drag racing on a local/regional basis came out of Sydney's Eastern Creek Raceway while it was being capably run by Kevin Prendergast. The short-lived series did much to promote the new track and sowed the seeds for televised coverage of drag racing in Australia. Currently, the only major promotion of drag racing in the country is through these tv broadcasts, and none are presented on the national networks, with the sole exception being the TAC Australian Nationals from Calder Park Raceway (Melbourne).
The few bright spots currently in Aussie drag racing are having a hard time shining through the doom and gloom blanketing the rest of the country. While Willowbank (Brisbane) is an ongoing success story, and Ravenswood (Perth) continues to build crowds as it prepares to move to a new facility in two years, and a new track opened recently at Mildura, Victoria, the overall mood at virtually every other facility is pessimistic.
Calder Park and Adelaide (both owned by megalomaniac Bob Jane) are fighting a major battle with both ANDRA and the racers, Townsville is fighting the weather, the racers and ANDRA, Palymra (Mackay) is having weather and money trouble, Benaraby (Gladstone) is struggling as it tries to build up its status, Hidden Valley (Darwin) lost most of the past season due to reconstruction of the road course that runs through it - and an invasion of brown snakes (big, ugly VERY poisonous suckers) and Eastern Creek Raceway (Sydney) is a continuing tragedy of monstrous proportions.
After reading all this, you might seriously question the sanity of someone spending a few hundred thousand dollars to build a new race car and ship it down to a country where the sport of drag racing seems to be in such turmoil. Trust me, I didn't go into this venture with blinders on; my two trips downunder in the past year prepared me for such a situation developing and through good planning (aka: dumb, blind luck) I've positioned myself well to weather the storms that surely will come in the next year. I'm looking at this as a "ground-floor" opportunity, as in many areas, the sport has nowhere to go but up (downunder), and I'll be positioned as well as anyone to take advantage of those opportunities when they come. And they will come, if history is any guide at all.
Turning to the local drag scene, more bad news out of Mission Raceway Park this week, as long-time dedicated employees, Bill and Joan Wells "have been relieved of their duties" and this year's new track manager, Aubrey Holmes, has suddenly become the newest ex-track manager. While I didn't always agree with Bill, I always respected him and Joan for their hard work and fairness. I'm sure they will be missed by the vast majority of racers, and can only hope that adequate replacements can be found.
Maybe the "brain trust" at the BCCCA will realize what a mistake they've made when all the things that just "happened" just "don't happen" next year. As for Aubrey, never having met or dealt with the man, I won't make any judgements on his ability here, and leave it to the reader to judge. All I can ask is, who's next for the meatgrinder/manager position?
After reading paragraph after paragraph of bad news from Oz, you must be wondering if I'm still stuck downunder with this kind of news. It seems that no matter how weird/stupid things seem in the south pacific, the west coast can top them almost every time. Hey BCCCA, why don't you guys quit playing your little games and put the damn place up for sale? Let someone who knows how to run a drag strip and is willing to run it (instead of playing games) take over and let everyone get back to drag racing. The endless politics and gamesmanship has gotten way past boring and is doing more to destroy the racing community than create an atmosphere that anyone wants to be involved with.
Coming soon . . . FINALLY . . . pictures of the new car, the PSI blower, and all the other shiny bits we've bought in the past few weeks. Plus, our new shop - a 40 foot shipping container. As soon as we get a chance to take a breath and focus the camera, they will be up on this page. Tomorrow will be my 40th consecutive day at work (on my "real" job) and it's damn near impossible to get anything done except work, eat, sleep - sometimes all three at once these days! More news as soon as we can get around to it . . .