Might I have been wrong? That is something that I have lately been pondering when it comes to my thoughts on the movement that is Street Outlaws, along with the No Prep scene.
For years in our industry we were stagnant when it came to new things and new ideas. Stuck in the ways of doing things that always seemed to work. Stuck with the same classes week after week, and year after year. Everything has changed over the last decade though, and I am starting to believe that the phenomenon we see on television every week has and is forcing change within the industry.
With that said, this is not going to be some fluff article about how great everything is when it comes to that style of racing, or how it’s so great and everything else should be ignored. Most that know me in fact, know that I am not a fan of what I have long termed the “Kardashians” of drag racing. I have been called out by people like Kamikaze from Street Outlaws for being a “hater” and always bashing the show, the racers, etc. He is 100% correct in some ways though, but it’s not because I am a “hater” but because of my views on the sport I love.
I was once told from a man wiser than me, that there is room for everyone, whether it be in media, racing, or other avenues within drag racing. He was completely right with that statement. I have made a conscious effort over the last six months to turn on the television and watch Street Outlaws. It’s not because I want to, or care to see street racing 3000 horsepower cars, most of which I have seen at the track, but more in line with trying to understand the fascination with this trend. What does it bring to the table and why people have fallen in love with it? I think I have found some of my answers, but I have to take us back to the 80’s to fully explain it.
Back in the 70’s all the way through the early to mid-90’s motorsports fans cheered week after week. They went to the racetrack, they bought merchandise, and they followed religiously. It could be NASCAR, Indy, or drag racing, the fan had their guy/girl. Then in the 90’s we really saw a huge swing to the corporate dollars that continues today. We have drivers that sound like robots in interviews, pushing the sponsors and being politically correct. Add that to the fact that the racing isn’t as good, and you have a recipe for disaster. Long gone are the days of Dale in NASCAR, or the feuds between Pat & Tony, or the Warren Johnson’s of the world. Gone are the days of supporting your driver and already knowing who their sponsor was. You knew the black #3 or the Castrol Ford or the Popeye car. They were larger than life people that you could relate to.
This is where Street Outlaws took the reigns and ran with it. Street racing is nothing new and it’s been happening since the first two cars were ever invented. The idea of two drivers going head to head on the street to see who is the baddest of the bad is something that even I partook in more times than I can count. The difference now is that it is bringing back what fans of those decades got and then lost. It’s the personalities and the cars. Yeah racing is cool, but people within the motorsports world connect with two things, the driver and the car. Street Outlaws is the modern-day version of what we had then. You have larger than life characters that you see on television every week with cars that look like normal cars. They aren’t all 2019 Camaros with the same damn engine in them, and they aren’t some bullshit supercars that the average blue-collar worker making $18 an hour can’t relate to.
When I talk to people like Mills, Swanstrom, Bruder, etc they tell me how great the NPK series is as well. I can’t sit here and be a damn hypocrite by bitching about street racing and then bitching about them taking it to the track. Do I think a lot of the bullshit that happens is for TV? Absolutely, but that’s what I must remember about this stuff. I was reminded by a friend last weekend, Street Outlaws and NPK are TV shows. Yes, they are races, but they are also production television. I want to believe that the fans are drag racing fans, but I know damn good and well that a lot of them are most likely celebrity fans. There is nothing wrong with that now that I think about it more. It doesn’t matter what kind of fan it is as long as the sport of drag racing is in front of their eyes, it’s a good thing, right?
People in this country and around the world love celebrities. They love seeing people of television, movie screens, or even Youtube. That is what makes Justin, Dave, Shawn, Chuck, Kayla, JJ, and so many others so relevant and popular. You see them on Monday night on your television, and then when you get the chance, you see them in person at your local track. You support those people because they are your people. You can go and meet these drivers, touch the cars, and have that connection with the man/woman you saw on TV. I can personally say that I have been at races as a member of the media, and see Justin, Shawn, Ryan, Dave, and many more run. Never have I had a negative experience with a single one of them. I have seen Justin and Shawn talk to little kids for what seemed like hours in Memphis at Outlaw Street Car Reunion. I can say with pride that I consider Mike Murillo a friend for many years (though I think he’s still pissed at me about the bill I sent him LOL).
You will hear promoters absolutely lambast the entire no prep world, the TV heros, etc. You will hear me call it the Sesame Street Outlaws too. Fact is that I might have been wrong. I do believe that there is a big difference between what Matt Plotkin and Shannon Morgan do for no prep versus the NPK TV show as well. Those two promoters I have the utmost respect for, and it’s because of the people that they are. Do I think that class racing will still be around long after the TV shine wears off? The answer would be a resounding yes! The fact is this, if we in the heads up world would pull our heads out of our asses for a few minutes and remember that drag racing is the most amazing sport in the world, yet it is still a form of entertainment, we’d all be doing a hell of a lot better. There is a reason that the stands are packed for these events and it isn’t because it’s the best racing that anyone has ever seen. It is because those fans can relate to those cars and those drivers. They pick someone and they ride with them to the end.
I’m not here to tell you that someone like Donald Long is right, or that Street Racing is the best thing since sliced bread, but I will tell you that I may have been wrong. I think we need all of it and we need it in heavy doses. Donald Long puts on some of the best heads up, no bullshit, wide open races on the planet. Along with promoters like Mike Hill, Tyler Crossnoe, Monty Mikho, Jason Miller, and others. That doesn’t mean that no prep and TV racing don’t have a righteous place in drag racing though. Do I respect the drivers and the cars on that side of things? Again, the answer would be absolutely. That doesn’t mean that it’s “my thing” and chances are you will never see me at a NPK event. I certainly would go to one of Shannon or Matt’s races though.
Lastly, it comes down to the fans. The fans are the ones who make all of this possible. It’s not race promoters, track owners, or media people, it’s the damn fans of the sport we all love. It’s about putting on a show and providing the fans with memories that will last them a lifetime. It’s about that 6-year-old kid that doesn’t know the difference between NPK and Lights Out, nor does he give two shits, because he is a kid that sees race car drivers and race cars. That’s what matters in the grand scheme of things. This is about making sure that tracks survive and thrive for generation to come, which means bringing money through the gate and making people want to come back for more. Let us not forget, we aren’t changing the damn world by racing two cars in a straight line for four seconds. Just like the NFL isn’t changing the world by doing what they do. For those minutes, hours, and days, that fan is at the track, they are there to be entertained and forget about life for a while. It is our job, no matter where you fall, to make sure that happens. So kudos to all of you out there that are changing the game and bring more fans into the fold. Whether you are NPK, Street Outlaws, No Prep, Pro Mod, Radial, Brackets, or Test and Tune, keep that shit up, because there is a good chance some 6 year old boy or girl is out there wanting to be you!