By: Troy in Oregon
While it may be true that NHRA professional classes have faced challenges in recent years, what is no longer true is that the NHRA alone is a good barometer for the state of drag racing as a whole. It’s certainly not appropriate to compare car counts from the 1970’s with the car counts of today in an effort to justify the argument that drag racing is on the way out. Sure, it can sound compelling when you go that route but to do so requires a willful ignorance towards the lack of other opportunities for professional racers in those days compared to the myriad opportunities available today.
All that said, I turned on the NHRA TV livestream from Maple Grove this Saturday and the place was absolutely packed to the gills for qualifying runs in Pro Stock. You know, the class that diehard fans love so much and casual fans use for bathroom breaks. Maple Grove seats over 20,000 people in the grandstands and they sold every last seat for the Saturday show….and it’s football season. This past June, TV ratings at Bristol topped the 2021 Thunder Valley numbers by nearly 20% and just six months before that, the race at zMAX set an all-time viewership record.
While the pros were at Maple Grove, there was another Drag Week and Kyle Riley and SFG Promotions were paying out $250,000+ at the Super Bowl of Bracket Racing with a main event purse of $100K to the winner. Last weekend, Gaylon Rolison and Britt Cummings held the Great American $100K and paid out another $80K between the races that shouldered the six-figure main event. Peter Biondo’s highly successful “Fling” promotion was shelling out $175K for the Summer Fling at National Trail on the very same weekend and they’ll do it all over again at the Fall Fling in Bristol. Just days before that, the WFC Labor Day event paid $100K to win a footbrake-only race and the JEGS Summer Door Car Shootout had so many entries that they had to turn folks away for the first time in event history. Hundreds of competitors show up to each one of these events and they happily pay entry fees that can soar to over $2,000 just to have a chance at glory. That’s a lot of racing and a lot of money and I’ve still only mentioned one sanctioning body. Regional series’ like the PDRA, MWDRA and Southeast Gassers Association (SEGA) host some of the most competitive racing in the country and continue to grow their car counts and viewership. Weekend bracket programs are thriving all over.
Chris Graves’ Funny Car Chaos has taken the country by storm and it’s the best thing going when nothing but nostalgia will quench your appetite. Still, you have a national radial tire scene and an endless supply of No Prep Kings and Street Outlaws. Love them or hate them, NPK and Street Outlaws have put drag racing in more living rooms than anybody ever has. Finally, there’s the IHRA and emerging WDRA. One is a legendary sanctioning body and former giant in the racing world that still occupies an international footprint, recently purchased by track owner and elite racecar builder Larry Jeffers. The other, an upstart group of former IHRA personalities and track operators looking to reshape sportsman drag racing. Both parties are investing huge amounts of time and money into their respective efforts and while they may approach it from different angles, they have one huge thing in common….they’re both competing for the loyalty of the same group
of track operators, sponsors and racers. They both see the value in the sport and in the people that make it great. As a lifelong race fan and now a sportsman racer myself, there is no better scenario than a knockdown drag-out battle for racing supremacy.
Drag racing isn’t even close to dead and it’s not even dying. You don’t have to believe me, though. Ask Bret Kepner. He will tell you there are more U.S. dragstrips in operation today than at any other time in history. With so many opportunities for racers, the sport may be more fragmented than ever but diverse is probably a better word for it. Whether drag racing is better or worse than it was in the “good old days” depends on whose good old days we’re talking about. Yours might be the days of Grumpy and Mr. 4 Speed. Mine are the days of Amato, Bernstein, Force and The
Professor and that’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be. That’s how history lives on and gets passed down.
Today is the good old days for an entire new generation of people. Just as you told me about Grumpy and Herb and I tell my kids about Joe Amato, my kids will tell stories about Erica, Hagan and Brittany Force…and John, they’ll still talk about him, too. They will talk about Pro Stock fields separated by less than 1/10th of a second from top to bottom and Top Fuel cars hitting 300mph at the 1/8th mile. They’ll talk about the Spring Fling Million and, yes, they’ll probably even talk about Big Chief and Cleetus.
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