NEWS & ANALYSIS
Maybe we should welcome the world to professional NHRA drag racing
The biggest news to come out of the U.S. Nationals had nothing to do with who won or lost at that event, but, instead, was the announcement that Alan Johnson would be leaving the U.S. Army-backed Top Fuel team that the end of the season to put together a Top Fuel and Funny Car team with backing from Qatar Sheikh Khalid Bin Hamad Al Thani and Al-Anabi Racing, which is headed by a Qatar prince. The only other announcement that could have made a bigger wave would have been if John Force crew chief Austin Coil had announced that he was leaving Force to work on the new team.
The initial reaction from fans on the Internet was at first shock and then outrage. It was almost as if the prince were from Iran or some other Middle Eastern country that’s a sworn enemy of the U.S. Actually that couldn’t be further from the truth, as the country of Qatar is one of America’s strongest allies in the region and hosts the largest Air Force base outside of U.S. territories.
So, uninformed or emotional politics aside, what is the big deal about a billionaire from a foreign country getting involved in a U.S. racing series?
To me it’s just another wealthy hobby racer such as Ken Black, Connie Kalitta or Roger Burgess deciding to get involved in the fastest motorsports in the world. There is a long history of wealthy businessmen from other countries like Australia, England, Europe, Mexico and Canada coming to U.S. drag racing with an open wallet and the desire to compete in drag racing’s premier classes. So, why not a prince from Qatar? If he has he time, money, and interest, more power to him. Al-Anabi Racing already has a very strong Pro Mod team and is currently building a drag strip in Qatar that will join the several others that are already in existence.
Drag racing has become much more of an international sport in the last decade and it has a strong foothold in the Middle East, so instead of asking why, I ask, why not? As far as I’m concerned there can’t be too many nitro teams, new tracks and billionaire team owners.
The only question I have as a journalist and fan is, will the participation of this extremely wealthy individual adversely effect the sport of drag racing and particularly nitro racing?
The only negative I can foresee is that the cost of fielding a really competitive nitro Top Fuel or Funny Car could get much more expensive. Top Fuel and Funny Car racing is rapidly becoming a mirror image of today’s society where the middle class is becoming non-existent. But that already has been the case for a long time in premier series such as NASCAR, IRL and F-1.
I suppose you could make a case that professional drag racing has finally on the verge of becoming an important INTERNATIONAL motorsport instead of the homegrown, North American dominated racing discipline it has been for the last 55 years or so.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, after the involvement of the prince, other billionaire hobby racers from Europe, South America and maybe the Far East decided to field a Top Fuel, Funny Car or Pro Stock team and do battle with the Sheikh. After all, it is the Billionaires Racing Club, isn’t it?
Maybe, just maybe, this is the deal that will kick-start the beginning of real international competition for professional drag racing. When the money is right the NASCAR, IRL and F-1 series have all taken their acts outside the continental boundary of the U.S.
Maybe in the near future the NHRA puts a POWERade (or Full Throttle) event in Europe, Australia, and the Middle East and add a Professional Pro Mod class since those continents recognize Pro Mod as a professional class even if the NHRA persists in not. If drag racing is ever going to realize its full potential, then the premier series has to eventually be international and crown true World Champions. When that happens, my opinion is that is when the TV networks will start paying for the rights to broadcast NHRA races instead of making NHRA pay to air them.
So, my view is that if ultra wealthy drag racing fans, regardless of nationality, want to come to the NHRA, spend millions of dollars building a team based here, and compete, that’s a good thing. Face the facts. Team owners such as John Force, Ken Black, Connie Kalitta, and Don Schumacher aren’t exactly on the welfare lines. Those team owners all have the resources to compete with the Al-Anabi guys, and they will. And I suspect if there were points races overseas they would and could make those races. I’d bet their sponsors would insist on it.
The Al-Anabi team expects to enter the venue of nitro racing and eventually dominate it, and the prince is evidently willing to spend whatever it takes to do so. He isn’t the first team owner to do that, nor is he the first to have those aspirations. So he offered Alan Johnson what Alan has always said he wanted (which he made very clear in his DRO innerview in June): enough money to field his own competitive Top Fuel and Funny Car team, and Johnson took it. Did anyone expect anything else?
Now we’ve got fans on the Internet decrying the thought of the Al-Anabi team “taking over” the sport and venting their racism concerning the prince. What a bunch of provincial, short-sighted, un-American crap! Isn’t America supposed to be the land of the free where everyone gets a second or even third opportunity to succeed?
After giving this subject a lot of thought, I say to the prince, “Welcome! And may I say that I for one am glad you have decided to spend your cash racing here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. As for any plans of dominating the sport, you wouldn’t be the first; that honor already belongs to guys like Garlits, Prudhomme, Glidden, Force and Schumacher, but feel free to give it your best shot. That’s what the American-invented sport of drag racing is all about.”