in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of August 6, 2000
Before we forget: Today at 7:30 PM (P.D.T.) on The Nashville Network, the first IHRA broadcast of the season. Yes, it is the Winter Nationals (from March), but it's the first installment in a schedule that will see a one hour show at the same time every Sunday night from now through October 22nd. During the twelve week run, all eleven IHRA national events from 2000 will be shown, plus a final season in review and bonus coverage show in the final week.
It's a rather unorthodox way to present drag racing on TV, with the first broadcast being shown five months after the event occurred, but there is a method to their seeming madness. They're presenting the shows as a regular series of broadcasts: same time, same station, every week. That's a proven method of building an audience.
No more hunting around for irregular broadcasts, sometimes several weeks apart, in different (and changing until airtime) timeslots, on different days and shown on different networks. When it becomes too much like work to hunt down a show, the "clicker" makes it too easy to just bypass the whole process and watch something else... or nothing at all.
I'm not holding out any great hope of seeing some radically new or ground breaking coverage of drag racing on these IHRA shows, even though the broadcast format will be different than the standard fare. Each class featured will be shown from beginning to end; then a commercial; then on to the next class. For now, it looks like the Nitro Harleys, Alky Floppers, Pro Mods, Pro Stocks, and Top Fuelers will be the rotation.
Will it work? You'll just have to tune in this evening to find out. And for those of you living in the eastern time zone, who also have to get up early for work on Monday, better catch an afternoon nap today, because the show finishes at 11:30 PM. Doesn't sound like the best timeslot, but at least you've been warned and you've got twelve weeks to adjust your personal schedule.
Pretty quiet week, eh? So what's really been happening (or not, as the case may be) around here for the past few days? Burned out from three days in Seattle last weekend? Bummed out from turning 50 earlier in the week? Or just getting too old to keep it up (the updates that is....) anymore?
It's actually a little of all three, with a few double-shifts at work thrown in for good measure. It's summer and lots of people would rather enjoy themselves lying around in the sun, or doing something they enjoy rather than dragging themselves off to work each day. So why do I keep doing it? Two reasons: my office is air-conditioned.... and the big fish has gotta eat! (With NO apologies to the NitroFish folks -- more on that subject soon).
Progress is continuing on a regular basis with the new race car. Remember that "new" hot rod that we were busy building last year? and the year before? and next year? Yeah, that one ! It's not quite finished (so what else is new?) but Ken Lowe is sending progress reports each week; Dave Coles has got the truck in the panelbeaters (bodyshop) for some rust removal, new paint and a general tidy-up; then all we have to do is fit the new 300 litre gas (propane) tank, register it and we're roadworthy downunder.
As the scoreboard counts down to my next trip to Oz, the "to-do" list is finally getting shorter and that daylight at the end of the tunnel is looking more like a christmas tree and less like a locomotive. Only six and a half months to go. And it's going to fly past so quickly that my head will still be spinning by the time I get strapped into the car next February.
But that's not the only downunder news. I've sort of been sitting on the next item for nearly three weeks now, and I'm not really sure why. It should have been front page news when it happened, but better late than never: Mark Brew, driving the "ProForce Motorsports" Top Alcohol Dragster has upset the applecart in Top Alcohol racing in Australia.
At Willowbank Raceway's "Winter Finals" (July 16), he became the first alky dragster pilot in the 5.6's downunder, with a 5.651 at 247.39. (If you're not yet familiar with the slightly different rules structure in Australia, here's the main point: with his 470 cid engine, he could run at 115% overdrive with a PSI blower in North America; in Australia he's limited to 88% overdrive with that size engine and blower. Yes, it's a big difference in horsepower, and consequently, performance potential).
To illustrate the great leap forward by the Mark Brew - Bob Brackam owned dragster, the previous best ever downunder was a 5.700, turned nearly three years ago (by David Glenwright in Bob Brackam's previous car), with almost 104% overdrive. Another very important factor holding back performance gains is the lack of racing opportunities (five events a season for top alcohol cars), and the high cost of imported racing parts.
My heartiest congratulations to Mark Brew, Bob Brackam, Pete Miller, Wayne, and the entire ProForce team. Good on ya' mates. Stratgegically, their pass has got to be worrying defending season champion Gary Phillips, who is leading them by only 20 points heading into the final event of the 2000-2001 season, the rescheduled Winternationals (in early October). Looks like it could be a very interesting finish to the year for all concerned in the alky ranks.
Not quite as earth-shaking, but to those in the know, equally impressive, was Debbie Reed's 6.07 - 223 mph pass at the same Winter Finals event. When you consider that she's running an old (and I mean OLD) chassis, an iron small-block Chevy, a powerglide, a high-helix blower, and receives no weightbreak consideration for running a wedge... do those numbers start to come into perspective?
Yes, that's just what I needed. Two cars make a big stepup in performance downunder, just as I'm getting ready to make my big leap into the pond. Let's not even talk about the short fields at every NHRA event (divisional or national) that began to happen about two days after my car left for Australia.....
Changing subjects to racing even further from home: This weekend is the fourth of five FIA European Championship events for the Top Methanol and Top Fuel cars, at Gardermoen Raceway in Norway. With travel to the Scandinavian countries being very expensive and time-consuming, many of the British and Maltese cars are not in attendance, so the fields are rather small. Like three Top Fuel cars and five Top Methanol dragsters. Small, but stout.
Low qualifier for the alky dragsters is Great Britain's Dave "Grumpy" Wilson (sounds like a distant - or not so distant - relative of mine, eh?), with a career best 5.773. At the bottom of the field is Denmark's Kim Reymond, with a 5.912. Sandwiched between are the two Finnish cars of Roivas and Kilpelainen, and Great Britain's Rob Turner. Sounds like the track is biting and the eliminations today should be awesome.
The Top Fuel field has been weakened somewhat by a competing event at Tullinge Raceway (near Stockholm, Sweden) that has siphoned off four of the best European fuel cars. While there is no public discussion of any reason why some of the racers run the "Top Fuel Tour Sweden", while others compete in the official FIA events, I've got to wonder why this is happening. It probably comes down to money, or lack thereof, being posted by the official events. Or some rivalry between promoters, or the guaranteed money lure, as opposed to running in open competition. Maybe somebody across the water can explain this situation for me.
We'll have all the results and possibly an eyewitness report available later tonight, and the updated points standings will be posted by Monday at the latest. Stay tuned.
Back to North America now, where the IHRA and NHRA are both holding national events this weekend. The "senior circuit" is presenting the Autolite Nationals at Sonoma, California's Sears Point Raceway, while the "other guys" are holding the Carquest Northern Nationals at Stanton, Michigan's Mid-Michigan Motorplex.
While the NHRA race is being blessed with sunny skies and reasonable temperatures, the IHRA race saw its Saturday "Night of Fire" program lost to rain. And the forecast for the next few days is thunderstorms. Hmm, doesn't sound good. As usual, the racers were the biggest losers in the equation, with only two qualifying sessions to set the fields and some fairly big names left out of the big show today -- assuming there even is one.
On the west (not wet, this week) coast, the biggest news from Sears Point is the surprises in the alcohol show. Biggest of all has to be Pat Austin's low qualifying -- and first round losing -- performance -- for the second week in a row. That's got to be some kind of a record. Last week, in Seattle, it was tire shake and a departing blower belt; this time around it just looks like even heavier tire shake put him out early.
The other big story, other than Seattle winner Rick Santos not appearing, is the change in the cockpit of Mike Johnson's Giant Bicycles dragster. Out with the old (Dale Carlson) and in with the new (Gary Ormsby, Jr.). Say what? Yes, it's true: after last week's unfortunate and ill-timed first round redlight loss at Seattle, Mike made the big change.
The news first reached me in the form of a rumour earlier this week, and I dismissed it at first. It wouldn't surprise me to see Dale Carlson out of the seat; the mood around the Giant camp last Saturday evening in Seattle was pretty dark; but to see G.O. Jr. behind the wheel of Mike's car? Hmm, that really caught me off guard.
And I guess most surprising of all: the new combination was #1 qualifier, with an extremely stout (for blown alky) 5.43 at 260 mph. They backed up those numbers with a first round 5.44 at 259, and have lane choice over returning veteran, John Shoemaker, in today's second round.
So why isn't Rick Santos racing this weekend? They won Seattle with no problems last week, the track is the closest to his Brentwood home, so why aren't they racing? Economics, sponsorship and the points structure. The next appearance for the Oakwood Homes entry will be the U.S. Nationals, so they're staying home, saving parts, money and effort, and will be very ready for the annual Labor Day classic at Indy.
Latest weather report from Michigan: 100% humidity; fog, drizzle, cool temperatures. The race hasn't been rescheduled yet... but the writing is on the wall. More news about all three events (California, Michigan and Norway) when I get home from work tonight. Plus, if we're lucky, the first installment of my Seattle report. Better never than late? We'll see.