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The latest update as of July 18, 2010

Where do we start? There's just too much stuff to work on

It's been a whirlwind past month or so for Northern Thunder, with three races attended in four weeks and another one coming up next weekend at Mission Raceway. The "road trip" started inauspiciously in Calgary with the Father's Day Funny Car Classic that was saved from cancellation at the last moment by a very hard working bunch of folks with the Calgary Motorsports Council. By now, I'm sure you've read and heard more than enough about the AHRA and how their failures nearly took out the Calgary event through the collateral damage scenario.

The following week saw us venture a little further north to Edmonton for the Rocky Mountain Nationals, with a completely different facility, atmosphere and race. Far more fans, race cars, more organization - even though the input from IHRA was less than in previous years - and a far bigger and more successful event overall. While the future of both Alberta dragstrips may be somewhat up in the air, for vastly different reasons, the back-to-back trips across the Rockies were a welcome change from work and domestic life.

With a week off to catch up on laundry, battery re-charging and finishing reports on the two Canadian races, I had just enough time to get ready for the big blast in Seattle, the 23rd annual NHRA Northwest Nationals. Again, a totally different atmosphere than the two previous events, for several reasons: a comparative lack of spectators, similarly a lack of race cars, and a racing surface that caused some consternation to almost every racer throughout the weekend as conditions changed on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

Top off all the small problems with a major tragedy late on Sunday afternoon, resulting in the death of Top Alcohol Dragster competitor Mark Niver, and the whole exercise of attending Pacific Raceways became somewhat pointless. After his crash I couldn't get out of the facility fast enough. Even now, a full week later, I'm still very saddened by the events of that day, but have been very moved by the numerous stories remembering Niver and the positive changes in the NHRA rulebook, some even going into effect next week.

Finishing off this literal tour-de-force with next weekend's Funny Car Nitrofest! at Mission Raceway seems like a fitting way to cap off a very busy early summer racing season for Northern Thunder. In all, I will have attended more races this summer than I have in total for the past six or seven years. And we've still got a couple more events up our sleeves for later this year. While I'd like to attend the Spokane Raceway event in two weeks time, and Boise's Nightfire Nationals two weeks after that, or the AHRA Reunion Tour (I'll believe that when I see it) at Ashcroft scheduled on the same weekend, there are just so many races I can attend, due to physically and financial constraints.

However, we have left enough money in the travelling budget (aka: the credit cards) to fit in the California Hot Rod Reunion at Bakersfield's storied Famoso Raceway in mid-October, followed up by the NHRA Las Vegas Nationals (hmm, no title sponsor....) at the end of the month to wrap up our race attendance for 2010. After too many years sitting on the sidelines, merely following the sport on the 'net and once a year getting out to Mission Raceway for a day or two, I've been having an absolute ball catching up on drag racing and mostly especially, all the friends - new and old - that make it so much fun.

With so many topics on my notepad today, I'd better move on and try to cover at least a few of them before I run out of time. Either that, or log off and watch the IndyCar race from Toronto on the TV. Yes, IndyCar as that stupid IRL title is finally being retired and from "far too little, and way too late" department, the IndyCar folks have finally decided to attempt to rebuild their image and brand by going back to what was successful 15 years ago: one unified series, with all the drivers at the same races. Time will tell whether it's going to work, but in Canada at least, the events in Toronto (today) and Edmonton (next weekend) are both successful from the fan standpoint, albeit not from the financial side.

Seattle and Ashcroft - competing events?

Anyone want to try putting together an analogy to compare the NHRA Northwest Nationals in Seattle and the AHRA Sportsman Nationals at Ashcroft last weekend? Maybe start with the obvious: David and Godzilla, or Bambi and Goliath? How about Nazi Germany and Poland? (with apologies to anyone with bad memories of that period of history). The comparisons could stretch from here to, oh say, Spokane Valley, Washington for instance, with few interruptions.

While neither event was a total failure, both had their difficulties. Obviously, the scale of those difficulties was like comparing apples and pumpkins, but neither race lived up to the hype or the hope that had been built up in anticipation of the biggest events of the season at the respective venues. While NHRA's national event at Seattle will be back next year and on into the foreseeable future, the AHRA reign at the Eagle Motorplex (Ashcroft) may be as short-lived as a Balkan dictatorship.

The Sportsman Nationals was financed by the Canadian director of Ahra, Brad Janishewski, who also threw in the services of his Jet Funny Car for free in an attempt to draw an audience. HIs losses on the race, which drew a total of 60 race cars - yes, you read that correctly - SIXTY race cars (which included nearly 20 Junior Dragsters - now start doing the math...), totalled well into five figures. With the AHRA schedule, such as it is, showing a Reunion Tour (aka: national event) race at Ashcroft in just three weeks, the odds of that happening aren't a lot better than winning the lottery.... without buying a ticket.

I'm not knocking the sincerity of the people who put on the race at Ashcroft, the hard working track crew, the racers who showed up and put on the best show possible, and the fans who ventured out on a very hot weekend to see the race. They all deserve credit, lots of it, but is there really a market for what the AHRA is attempting to promote? Especially when their far too ambitious smorgasbord of classes could give the impression that they're a much larger and more viable sanctioning body than they really are.

In fact, I'll be surprised if the AHRA is still in existence by the end of the season, unless they literally blow it all up, and start over from ground zero, with new management, a new philosophy and an attitude to make things work properly on a small scale before they ever attempt to jump up and run with the big (or even medium-sized) dogs. A quick check on their website a few seconds ago reveals that there haven't been any updates to it since a posting on June 23rd. Close to a month with nothing to report and still bannering the "Desert Thunder" event from May as having "photos and results coming soon". One more telling sign is that their forums, such as they were, are now in "maintenance mode". Can you say AHRA is DOA?

Turning our viewpoint southwards in the direction of venerable Pacific Raceways (a track that's nearly as old and beat down as I am), my weekend at the Northwest Nationals saw far more lowlights than highlights. There have been some solid improvements to the facility since my last trip there in 2005, such as a big new grandstand at the starting line and a completely revamped Pro pit area. But the list of non-improvements is at least as long as the dragstrip itself.

Putting the physical plant complaints on hold for a minute, I'd like to examine the overall show presented by the NHRA. With not enough cars to fill the top five categories, yielding only two non-qualifiers of the 74 races entered, the qualifying show was virtually non-existent. Couple that with bad air (too hot and humid) for the first two days, a mediocre track, with one lane obviously better than the other, and a general lack of spectators on Friday and Sunday, with Saturday only being average at best. Top the whole mess off with the death of racer Mark Niver and you've got a real downer of race. Not (Bill) Doner, downer.

While the NHRA party line extolled the virtues of racing in the fresh, clean air of the Pacific Northwest and welcoming the fans from both sides of the border (didn't see very many Canadian license plates in the parking lot), the reality behind the glossy press releases was far different. Following on a stretch of races where empty seats in the grandstands were very noticeable at Norwalk, Bristol and Chicago, it's becoming obvious to everyone that there are some serious challenges facing professional (ie, NHRA) drag racing. Bad weather, bad economy, small crowds, fewer racers, etc, etc.

We'll close this section for now and revisit the issue after we've studied the situation a little closer and can form some indpendent opinions based on the year to date results for the national event circuit. Then we'll move on and take a look at the first half of the newest incarnation of the IHRA: the NitroJam era under the direction of Feld Entertainment, leaders in the production of Rodeo, Monster Truck and Circus events. Until later today, that's all for now. Before we go though, we've just got to share this handout found we picked up at Seattle, given out by a nameless racer - oh, his name is at the top, in big, bold letters - and ask if you can spot the most obvious flaw I've ever seen in promotional work since the invention of photoshop. Click on the thumbnail, if you dare, to see the image in all its "glory".

Terry Haddock handout

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