2017 has gotten off to a flying start on just about every level in the sport of drag racing. Since late January I have been at a track just about every weekend and the events at said tracks have ranged from the traditional stuff that many people love, the outlaw stuff that is as hot as molten lava right now, and races like the NMRA and NMCA season openers that really combine both of those worlds into their own series. I have never experienced an early season like this one in terms of the excitement, the anticipation, the performances, or the spectator turnout.
As I told you a couple of weeks ago, Lights Out 8 was complete insanity. Following that was the NHRA Arizona Nationals and that place was a zoo on Saturday and Sunday. Following that was the NMRA race where Bradenton Motorsports Park and NMRA officials literally asked me to announce the fact that we could accept no more race cars and no more show vehicles because every inch of available property was full. They opened multiple overflow parking lots, and the stands were packed to watch Mustangs of all shapes and sizes do their thing in a multitude of categories. The NMCA race the following weekend was (as it always is) smaller in terms of car count and spectators but when I looked out the window on Saturday for final pro mod qualifying, the stands were alive and well with people chomping a hot dog, slugging down a beer, and enjoying an awesome show. (The pro mod show at NMCA was one of the best in that series’ history with 18 great cars all running strong for the duration of the event.)
As you read this I am on the way to Gainesville for the NHRA Gatornationals and a potentially historic weekend when it comes to the size of the crowd that can jam into a drag strip. Gainesville is massive, the second largest seating capacity on the tour, which if you count RV spots and standing room only likely reaches 30,000. The forecast is such that there’s nothing but sun and mild temperatures to look forward to and the Gators always deliver for performances. The pro mod season starts there, the pro stock bike season starts there, guys like Larry Dixon are coming back, the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown is happening, it is a horsepower circus of the highest order. If the last couple of weeks are a guide, this one should be banging as well. So, why? What’s the deal?
After the Arizona Nationals race, I stuck a post on my personal Facebook page and mentioned that one version of the sport of drag racing does not have to suffer for the others to succeed. While no one took me up on an argument on social media on that point, I am fairly sure that my viewpoint is not the majority and many people think that if some aspect of drag racing is really popular than the others have to be on the downswing. BREAKING NEWS: Those people are wrong and the last three months prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt for me.
There’s a basic reason that you don’t want the negative viewpoint to be correct and that centers around race tracks. The same places that are holding the radial, no prep, and outlaw pro mod races are also likely holding a weekly bracket program, a jet car show your kids love a couple times a summer, and test/tune nights during the week. If people take the tack that only the thing THEY like can do well and advance, eventually they’ll be disappointed when there is nowhere for that particular style of drag racing can take place near them because the tracks have closed.
There’s another side of this discussion that needs to be had as well and that is with the track’s themselves. While many operators see the trends that are emerging in the sport or that have emerged, many others do not and it is the neglect of today’s environment in the sport that with either be the undoing of their job or the undoing of their business.
There are local and regional series now for virtually every niche of the sport from X275 right up to pro mod, top sportsman, import racing, and more. These series are booming and will continue to boom. Those are roving customers for tracks and those tracks need to treat them properly. What does that mean? It means all the basic things like welcoming them to a facility that is clean, has bathrooms that operate, and most importantly will groom the track to the best of their ability.
If there is one thing that needs to be addressed, handled, or “fixed” in the sport that I have seen and heard most often in the last year, it is the occasional attitude that racers run into regarding the track they will be on. Everyone has an ego and that includes the racers and the guys working on the track. The racers don’t like a crummy track and the prep guys don’t like to be told their track is crummy. Nothing can blow up a potentially profitable relationship for a track and a traveling group of racers than this root issue. Too many people are too afraid to pick up the phone and ask for help in setting up their surface to give the racers the best possible scenario and the fans the best possible show. No, it is not cheap but racers have proven time and time again that they WILL pay if things are on point.
This isn’t something that is directed at one particular group. Obviously radial racers like the surface one way and big horsepower big tire guys another but the point is that both groups need the work put in to give them the best launchpad and safest surface possible. Gaining a reputation as a track that does not follow through and do those things is bad for business these days when global communication is just a few keystrokes away.