On Sunday I happened to find myself on the phone with a drag racing
friend. He’s a fairly big wheel racer, and if you watch the NHRA on
ESPN you’d be familiar with him. We were discussing the mass exodus of
teams and sponsor money from just about all the professional ranks over
the last couple of months and what the lasting effects would be to the
series in the short and long term.
At one point he said something that I called him on. He said, “If this
keeps up, it will be the end of drag racing.” I called BS on the guy
and told him that if every Fuel dragster and Funny Car were to vanish
from Earth tonight, drag racing on the whole would survive and even
grow in the long term. His reply? “Yeah, but you’re talking about all
that cockroach shit,” meaning that I was talking about Sportsman level,
Well, count me as a cockroach, then.
Every type of racing I have ever been directly involved with (meaning
that I had the potential to, and often did, lay under the car) has been
grassroots, Sportsman-level stuff. Unless my life takes an insane turn
for the financial better, it’s all I’ll ever do, and frankly that
doesn’t bother me one bit.
I guess I can see where a “professional” would have a very tough time
stomaching stepping back to the amateur level, but history has
shown—through things like the Great Depression and recessions in the
’50s and the late ’70s, and a modicum of other problems and crises
along the way—that ground-level racing will survive. During the Great
Depression the two most popular forms of entertainment in America were
the movies and auto racing. Dirt tracks had weekly jalopy races that
packed the house and birthed the early superstars of NASCAR.
Truth be told, I spend lots of time taking with other cockroaches in my
work as a freelancer for a few print magazines. For one drag mag, all I
do is write Sportsman features. In talking to these racers some common
themes emerge, but everyone has a different story and none of them
involve million-dollar deals with corporate “marketing partners.” Most
involve no sleep during the week, vacation days from a fulltime job,
and considerations for maintaining a healthy relationship with family.
That’s three things that lots of professional racers could learn from.
It seems that now’s a good time to be a cockroach. While it’s true that
just about everyone is under some kind of financial assault these days,
it’s also true that most of us operate within our means and we rely on
ourselves to pay the bills, not someone else. So long as your workplace
doesn’t have padlocks on the doors Monday morning, racing should still
be in your future.
I’m interested to see what happens with the people who are only fans of
professional racing. It stands to reason that they may not be into cars
at all, rather into the atmosphere, personalities, and environment that
high-level racing offers. Frankly, there’s nothing wrong with it if
that’s your thing. Those people will be the first to head toward the
exits and onto their next flight of fancy if a sustained large-scale
decline of participation in the professional ranks of racing continues.
It stands to reason, like in times past, that there are enough of us
with this stuff so deeply embedded in our blood that we will find a way
to do it, see it, or experience it on whatever level we can. Maybe it’s
once a week at a local short track or checking in on a bracket race at
the local strip, hell, even spying an autocross now and again. We can
get our fix in all those places that sponsors fear to tread—you know,
the places where real people hang out. Scary stuff!
Bonneville is the ultimate expression of this philosophy. It’s survived
everything that has ever been thrown at it, and over the course of its
history, that’s a lot.
The reference made to the lowly cockroach by my buddy hit me as a gut
punch insult upon first hearing it, but by the end of the conversation,
with my mind doing about 150 mph, I was totally comforted by it, to the
point of thinking it as being a compliment.
Cockroaches are recognized as being amongst the oldest creatures on
Earth. They’ve been around since about the beginning of things on this
planet. It’s also joked about that if the whole world got lit up in a
nuclear war, the only thing that would survive would be the
Now you may understand why I was comforted by it. We’re the ones who make it.