Is it time to rethink the way that events are done within drag racing? I personally believe that it is time we have an honest chat about race scheduling and how we as a whole are going to continue to grow the sport.
Now, there are going to be some serious detractors when it comes to some of the things that I have to say, and I am perfectly fine with the idea of having an open discussion, but if we don’t talk about it we never will. I am of the belief that there are many things we can do to provide a better product to the consumer, i.e. fan that pays their hard-earned money to watch drag racing live and in person.
Let’s start off with the amount of days we expect not only spectators, but drivers, staff, media, etc to be at an event. There are few exceptions to this, but the fact is that fans, racers, staff, media, vendors, etc don’t want to be at a racetrack for four or five days. They want to roll in on Thursday and be loaded up Saturday night. Immediately I have stoked the flames on that statement. Let’s be frank about it though, there are promoters and organizations that have proved the model works and works well. Look at PDRA, Mid-West Pro Mod Series, Tyler Crossnoe, and others for examples.
More often than not I am seeing promoters and organizations use Thursday as a test day, then have testing Friday during the day, before going into qualifying on Friday night. Saturday morning is one more qualifier, and then off to eliminations Saturday afternoon or early evening. By midnight or 1 am you are wrapped up and people can head home. I know you are wondering why this matters, and I’m going to explain it to you.
Take for example you are a racer that has a 9-5 job, which most do, and you are at an event that is doing qualifying on Friday morning, Saturday morning, and running eliminations Saturday night and all-day Sunday. If you make it to the finals, you have guaranteed yourself that Monday is another day gone. So, if you are 6 hours away or even more, you are losing Thursday at work, Friday at work, and maybe Monday at work. Take that same race, test on Friday morning, qualify starting at 6 pm Friday night, and complete the race Saturday night. Now your racers are only missing one day of work and not three. It also means that your spectators only have two nights in a hotel instead of four or five. That means more money for them to spend at the event.
Of course, there are exceptions to this idea. Monty Mikho runs the YellowBullet Nationals on a holiday weekend, so Monday is a typical travel day anyway. Donald Long’s racing are a destination that you plan on spending a week at, and NHRA, while I think they could get the show done under the lights on Saturday night, never actual will. Now that is out of the way, let’s address some of the arguments though.
The first argument is that you lose gate money on Sunday. Well, when no one shows up any damn way, does the gate money on Sunday matter? If you price your product accordingly, you fill have asses packed in on Friday and Saturday night. You spectator base won’t have to take much if any time off work to catch the action, because you were smart enough to plan on their schedule. So, to me, the gate money argument is a moot point.
Next, the argument “what if something happens” is one that will get tossed around. I have seen on numerous occasions where there are oil downs and crashes, yet the event is still wrapped around midnight or 1 am. The idea of getting done at 5 or 6 pm on a Friday is absolutely asinine! You are forcing your spectator base to miss a day of work and pay to see your product. It is your job to accommodate your fans, racers, crew, staff, vendors, and not the other way around. Run a tight and productive ship, and if there if catastrophe you still have Sunday as an available day in the “just in case” scenario.
Can we move on to the fact that our sport used to be an entertainment show? Big, long, smoky burnouts. Huge nitrous purges. Epic burndowns where cars would take forever to stage. There were bumper dragging wheelstanders under the lights. It seems as though we within the industry forgot that we are there for more than just two cars racing, we are there to put on a damn show for the fans. Look no further than what Keith Haney and Todd Martin do at Tulsa, or what Bill Bader does at Norwalk, or what Broadway Bob used to do. They put on shows and provided entertainment. Long gone are the driver introductions that we used to have at races like World Ford Challenge. Driver meet and greet is a thing of the past except for NHRA. Too many people are too damn busy with the art of business and not the art of entertainment.
I am not for a second saying that the product across the board is broken! It is less broken than I have seen in over a decade, but you can bet your ass that we could all do a damn better job at this than what we are doing now. A lot of us that were fans before we ever got behind the wheel, under the hood, behind the lens, or in the boardroom, have forgotten what it was like to be a fan. If we took some time to remember what attracted us to drag racing, we would spend more time trying to bring that excitement to the fans watching now.
Before I even think about ending my opinion for the day, I want to share an observation that I had from a couple of weeks ago when I saw again firsthand the power that Dave Comstock and Shawn Ellington have. I wish I had a video camera at the time, because the way that they interact with fans is something that every single drag racer in the world should take note of. Watching Shawn initial/autograph spark plugs for kids that he grabbed out of his own trailer, and making time for the fans, not treating them like a burden, it was refreshing to say the least. You are all well aware of the fact that I am not some S/O nuthuggin fan, that is widely documented, but I have the utmost respect for the way they treat the fans and their true love for the sport.
Do you know why the NPK and Street Outlaw drivers are so liked? It’s not because they are on some cable TV show, it’s because they are a throwback to the 80’s and early 90’s NHRA and NASCAR drivers. You picked your guy and flew that flag as a fan. You were ready to pop another right in the mouth for talking shit about your guy. I don’t care if it was Dale, Petty, Force, Bernstein, or anyone else, if your guy was there are racing, nothing else mattered. That is what the Street Outlaw crew has done with the new breed of fan. We may all laugh about the “TV Fan” but the fact is there are more interested in cars than most, and they are a ride or die fan with their driver. Many others in the industry could take note from Shawn, Dave, Ryan, Murillo, and many more.
With that in mind, I am always open for more suggestions and discussions about what we are all going to do to keep the proverbial wheel rolling in drag racing.