If you are a Ford guy like me then you no doubt know a lot of what the NMRA (National Mustang Racers Association) is all about. While you've seen them make some strides in the right direction over the last few years, even more is changing, and the fact is that it needs to.
Let's take a look back on the NMRA for a moment before we move forward though. NMRA dates back to the year 2000. That is when racing for a jacket and a $400 payout was ok. As a matter of fact, it was also a time when diesel was about $1.43 a gallon, average income was $40k, average house was $162k, and average rent was $675. Times were pretty good back then. We hadn't gone to war yet, 9/11 hadn't happened yet, and we had 30+ cars in Super Street Outlaw.
There was a reason that times were good then in racing and especially in the NMRA. One of the biggest reasons was that we didn't have a different race to go to every weekend of the year. If you were a Ford person you either went to NMRA, FFW (Fun Ford Weekend), & then once a year we had the granddaddy of them all, World Ford Challenge. You certainly didn't need a $60k setup to try and win a 10 second class either. The best part of that era wasn't the cars either, it was the superstars that went with them.
Do you know why Grudge, N/T, Street Outlaws, & Radial races are so big? Beside the fact that the promoters do an amazing job marketing their product as well as welcoming media to cover their product, it's because that's where the stars are! The stars from a decade and a half ago that still race are doing that or they are doing Pro Mod. Names like Glidden, Murillo, Urist, Da Silva, Big Daddy Dwayne Gutridge, Erica Ortiz, and the list goes on forever.
So you may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with the NMRA and it's current product. Fact is that it has everything to do with it. Long gone are the days of superstars like John Urist coming out and destroying the competition, or seeing Bruce, Tim, Robin, and a host of others running on the ragged edge to win Real Street (BTW that was the best NMRA class to ever exist), and long gone are the Factory stock Winemaker, and the JPC vs. the entire class. Gone are the reasons to log onto the internet and watch the banter between drivers.
Your product will always be what you make it, and NMRA had the best product out there until FFW died, and the Radial revolution came to life. NMRA was late to the party in adopting what the fans wanted to see. The move to 1/8th mile in some classes took too long, the lack of a 200+ mph 1/4 mile class is now a gaping hole for purist fans. Along with the fact that most of the superstars of the sport run in NMCA and not NMRA. Names like Keith Berry, Daniel Pharris, Dwayne Mills, and others. Don't get me wrong, NMRA Street Outlaw is FILLED with superstars, but it's just not the same.
By now you may think that I am "anti-NMRA" and you couldn't be more wrong. NMRA is my home, it's where I grew up racing, and where my "family" is. The problem is the NMRA needs to evaluate the product and start looking outside the box to improve. Both NMRA and in my mind PDRA have the same issue. The issue is that the have by far and away the best non one off product and yet unless you are within the inner circle of drag racing you'd never know that. The lack of coverage from these events that both of the organizations put on is troubling to say the least.
What is the solution though? The solutions to some of these issues are actually simple and right in front of our faces, while others aren't so easy. I found out this week that Dave Doubleu is leaving and going back to Procharger. This might be one of the single biggest losses that NMRA has ever had to deal with and to fill his shoes is going to be difficult to say the least. Another issue facing NMRA is empty stands. Now I know that everyone will jump on me about the gate this and the gate that. Well the fact is that when I cover these races in person or watch the live feed, I know how many spectators are there.
This is a digital age people. There is some much to do and experience. When I can pay Donald Long $60.00 for a pass and be at his event Tuesday-Sunday, why would I pay NMRA $95.00? For a family of four that has to make the decision between the two, or even a group of friends wanting to go to the races, that is an extra $140 to watch classes that may only have 4-10 cars in a class. You have to make the fan want to consume your product and that is exactly what these other races are doing. And where is the coverage of the events? The more that anyone in this day and age has to search for it the less they are going to care about finding it. Why are there not photographers lined up on the walls to cover these amazing races and awesome racers?
The classes and the racers are the product. NMRA has started to build a following with the Street Outlaw class, and they should. It's an amazing class. What about the other classes though? What is NMRA doing to attract more people to come race with them? The fact is the NMRA and NMCA are prefect places to race. The tracks are usually great, the people that race there, for the most part are great people, and there is something for everyone.
Honestly though, we need classes like Real Street again. Put those pushrods and modulars against each other on a 26" slick only. And you'd better watch out with the new GF101 in Coyote Stock, because if you think Mike and Brandon are the only ones walking over to Factory Stock, you'd be wrong. Factory Stock will turn into a street modified Coyote 5.0 class in 2017 as well. There will be no reason to run a pushrod or a 2V in the class. You run 6 races a year and chances are with the exception of Coyote Modified for a small time, no one was running away with anything in the classes. Rules need to be left alone so that people can build for the future.
Everyone always points out the issues, well here is my list of suggestions for 2017 and beyond. First off, NMRA has to increase the purse. Less and less people care about contingency, they care about cash/check. Next is spectator entry, no weekend period at an NMRA or NMCA event should cost a spectator more than $50-$60. Let's get real, there are a million other things that people can do with their money and have shown they will do with their money. Then there is Racer Tech Cards. The price needs to change as well. $150 for a chance to win $600, plus the travel money etc. I mean let's get real here. If you pay out less than $1000 for the class that tech card shouldn't be more than $100. Moving on to class, leave them alone!! The only thing that I would suggest is finding a way to incorporate either a true 28 vs 29 class or add LDR (Limited Drag Radial) to the program. You'd better find a long term, financially viable solution for Coyote Stock drivers as well. Add a N/T 8 car field as well. If you look at the locations where NMRA competes they are all good hotbeds for N/T Racing. Lastly, and what I think is most important, is open up to media. You can have the best darn product in the world, but unless people know about it, it won't matter. Fact is that these racers and fans deserve the coverage that other big races and series get, but the NMRA is prohibiting that from happening.
In closing, I love the NMRA. It was my drag racing home for a long time and I want to see it return to the greatness that it deserves. Some of the best drag racers in the world race in the NMRA and have for a long time. When you go to an NMRA event it's like coming home for a family function, dysfunctional as it may be. I just hope that NMRA can do things in the future to make the fans line the stands and the racers fill the fields.