Volume IX, Issue 7, Page 22

News & Analysis

Still More Questions Than Answers

A meeting was held on Friday, July 27, at Sonoma that was supposed to be open only to NHRA team owners and drivers, HD Partners’ CEO, Eddy Hartenstein, and NHRA officials. A driver who was at the meeting agreed to give DRO the details of what went on in the meeting with the understanding that he would remain anonymous because of possible repercussions. According to the driver, this was billed as a meeting between the two sides in order for them to get to know each other and for Mr. Hartenstein to give a short speech outlining HD Partners’ plans.

According to the driver, Hartenstein’s speech was well received. “Hartenstein seems like a very smart guy with strong connections into corporate America. He said he’d be using those connections to introduce corporate execs to NHRA drag racing as a real value for potential sponsors,” our source said.

All was going well until the meeting was opened up for questions. Again, while the meeting had been set up as a “meet and greet” for current drivers and owners, a few uninvited attendees, who didn’t exactly fit the profile of invitees, made their way into the meeting. According to our source, Frank Hawley (who to our knowledge neither owns a professional car nor drives one) started asking some very pointed, specific, logistical questions and was asked to save his questions for a later time after the actual acquisition of the Professional part of the NHRA is finished.

Don Prudhomme’s driver, Larry Dixon, reportedly also asked Mr. Hartenstein some pointed questions, but was asked to take it easy by some of his peers. In attempting to answer their questions and issues Hartenstein reiterated to the crowd that the Securities and Exchange Commission still had to approve the sale and that those approvals often take longer than the 120 days they had originally estimated. 

Questions also drifted to the sponsorship of the series by Coca-Cola and the POWERade brand and their lack of direct participation, in contrast to what had been the previous high profile norm with RJ Reynolds. Tom Compton reportedly defended his courting of Coca-Cola by citing the restrictions placed by the government on tobacco product marketing, which forced Winston to leave racing sponsorships.

Reportedly the issue of NHRA’s knowledge of the Infinion Raceway Friday night hard curfew also was brought up by pro drivers, but, again, was not addressed since the transition to HD Partners has not been concluded.

Some of the attendees were surprised that veteran crew chiefs had not been invited.

Our source said he was willing to give Hartenstein and HD Partners the benefit of the doubt. He believed most of the professional drivers at the meeting came away with a very positive view of the future, and that Mr. Hartenstein seemed to have a pretty good knowledge and feel for the sport of drag racing.  

In view of this meeting and Mr. Hartenstein’s admission that it very easily could take much longer than the four months originally predicted for the sale to be vetted and approved by the federal and state regulatory offices, it might be well into 2008 before HD Partners and Mr. Hartenstein can start taking drag racing to the next level.

In the meantime, what the participants, the fans, and the media want is some answers to their questions. What is the plan and what is the “next level”? So far, no one is getting any answers.

Other knowledgeable sources have told DRO that the NHRA management team was none too happy with the confrontational tone of the meeting. What they need to realize is that so far the drag racing teams, the fans, and the media have gotten basically no information. When the agreement was first disclosed in May, HD Partners made a PowerPoint presentation -- at which no member of the press was allowed to ask questions. Now, two months later, at a meeting designed to get to know each other -- the racers were allowed to ask questions, but didn’t get any substantive answers.

What NHRA seems to forget in all of this is that the race teams have enormous amounts of money riding on the decisions that NHRA and HDP make. The racers devote their livelihoods and their lives to racing, and they need to know what is going to happen in order to make plans for the future and fulfill their sponsorship agreements. The race teams are not “owned” by NHRA, they are partners with NHRA. Equal partners. They deserve some answers.