While a lot of our readers are going to think that I have finally lost my marbles, I will tell you exactly why I think that NHRA is back on the upswing.
Last month, Ellen and I traveled to the Gatornationals to cover what in my mind is the true season opener for the NHRA. The reason that I look at this as the true season opener is because it is the first race of the year that also includes Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Mods. Two classes that I happen to enjoy a lot.
There has been a lot of talk over the last year or two that the NHRA is a dying organization, and that no one is going to their events anymore. Well if Gainesville is any indication of the health when it comes to the NHRA, I think they are doing just fine. There were full fields in all the pro classes, and pro mod had an astounding 35 entries when quota was only 28. Add to that they fact that Saturday was a complete crowd sell out and it was a damn strong event.
So why then does everyone talk about the NHRA like it’s a dying breed? This is a much more complicated question to answer. Most will tell you it’s because of the racer demographic in the pro ranks, along with the cost to get into the events. Some will tell you that the “falling off” of NHRA is due to outlaw racing, as well as TV shows like Street Outlaws. While I agree that the landscape of drag racing as a whole has changed, I don’t think you can contribute any one thing towards what some see as a downward spiral of NHRA.
NHRA has a better television package than they ever have in the past. The ratings are solid, though could be a lot better. Now there are those that want to compare the show on Discovery to the NHRA show. Not entirely sure why you would ever do that since it’s like comparing apples to sandpaper. Different styles of racing, and much different “characters”. The fan base also tends to be different for the two of those outlets. I will say while I was in Gainesville, I did see a handful of S/O shirts on fans while walking the pits. Not anywhere near the number of NHRA driver t shirts though.
The concern for some is that the NHRA has lost touch with its core fan base and that it will start to have the same issues as NASCAR. And there are some valid concerns there. Plenty of things could change on the NHRA side to make them even more relevant to the new fan base, yet they choose not to. NHRA teams have been very smart over the years though when it comes to sponsorship. I believe that they know their demographic better than any other sport beside soccer. There certainly are plenty of opportunities if you understand the business of ROI and branding.
I believe the following statement 100% as well, and not because most are friends of mine but because it’s true. Pro Mod in the NHRA over the last three seasons has given a long-needed injection of life into NHRA. Stevie Jackson could be the next John Force. The addition of all the new blood in Pro Mod like Melanie Salemi, Jeremy Ray, Jose Gonzalez, Carl Stevens, Brandon Pesz, Rick Distefano and Chad Green all bring new fans to the NHRA side of things. Add that to the abundance of NHRA pro drivers that have built, bought, or are building and/or driving someone else’s pro mod. Names like Erica Enders and Bo Butner, who are both NHRA World Champions. The crossover from class to class brings fans with as well.
Drag racing is the most diverse sport in the world. No other sport on the planet cares less about your skin color, your gender, your religion, your nationality, or anything else. Men and women, boys and girls, all on the same playing field, and NHRA is still the show when it comes to our sport. What you need to race has nothing to do with all those things I listed, and everything to do with intestinal fortitude, and driving skills. One can be taught and the other you either have or you don’t.
Looking back on the Gatornationals, and only a week departed from the biggest door slammer race in history, I would have to say that the landscape of drag racing is pretty damn healthy right now. We all need NHRA to thrive within the industry to make the industry work. It really is basic and common sense. If you ask my friends who John Force is, most would know. If you ask them who Stevie Fast is, most would also know that. It means that the health of our sport is very well and NHRA does make up a big part of that.
So, anyone that thinks NHRA is a on the declining end, I would suggest going to an actual event, or at least getting NHRA All Access and spending some time absorbing their product before continuing to make idiotic, uninformed statements. There will continue to be change in NHRA, whether it be rules, classes, events, etc. That change will hopefully build the brand even more and bring even more drag racing to the masses. We are drag racing and we are worldwide!