News and Analysis

ADRL and NHRA in Turf War

It has never been a secret that the NHRA jealously guards its status as the premier drag racing sanctioning body in the world. It is also not a secret that the organization has a history of trying to destroy anyone or anything that they perceive as a threat to them.
So it should come as no surprise to anyone that once the NHRA management perceived Kenny Nowling’s fledgling ADRL as a threat to their pre-eminence they began to use their not small influence and power to make it harder for the ADRL to operate on NHRA-owned and -sanctioned tracks.

For example, just a couple of years ago, when the ADRL was still holding races at smaller eighth-mile tracks in Texas such as Houston International and Texas Raceway near Dallas, the NHRA sent letters and emails to the operators of those tracks just a few days before their ADRL events were to begin telling them that if they ran the events the tracks could or would lose their NHRA sanction.

I personally witnessed this. I also personally witnessed the owners of those tracks refuse to buckle under to the NHRA and stage those races despite the possibility of losing their sanction. In both cases the races went on and the tracks stayed in the NHRA family. Once the NHRA granted the ADRL the coveted ASO (Associate Sanctioning Organization) status the parties seemed to have an uneasy truce. The ADRL was granted ASO status once it complied with the NHRA’s safety and insurance requirements, and adhered to the NHRA’s rules for their classes. 

Touring sanctioning bodies like the Goodguys, the Super Chevy Show, and the Outlaw Fuel Altered Association -- all three of which have classes for cars that burn between 20% and 100% nitromethane -- have all been granted ASO status. Over the years these traveling road shows and the NHRA have co-existed mainly, many people believe, because on their best day none of the above sanctioning bodies have attracted enough racers, fans, TV audience or, most importantly, big-budget, corporate sponsorships to be a serious threat to the NHRA’s position as Numero Uno in the world of drag racing.

There can be no doubt, despite their feigned lack of interest in the ADRL, that NHRA sees a threat from that sanctioning body that they haven’t felt since the late Wally Parks and Dallas Gardner opened up their pocket books and race schedule to make sure that the Billy Meyer-owned IHRA couldn’t sanction any track that might be big enough to sustain an NHRA national event. Suddenly track owners who previously couldn’t get a call back from the NHRA were getting visits and national events.

Since its inception five years ago, Kenny Nowling and the talented people he has surrounded himself with have elevated the ADRL to the point that it has become the second most influential sanctioning body in drag racing. It has its own in-house magazine, tech department and sales staff, and will soon have its own one-hour TV show on the Versus Network with a Sunday time slot. The ADRL has attracted several major sponsors including the National Guard as a title rights holder.

The fact that ADRL races are drawing one-day crowds equal to or in some cases larger than those the NHRA attracts at the same venues. At least that is what the owners/promoters of venues such as Houston, Rockingham, and other tracks have said.

Now, evidently the NHRA has decided to go after the ADRL again.  The NHRA, Houston Raceway Park and the ADRL are currently involved in a nasty fight concerning the ADRL season opener this weekend, March 6-7. 

The issue is that apparently the NHRA woke up one morning and discovered that the ADRL allows nitro-injected powerplants burning a 94% load in the tank in their Pro Extreme class, and they seriously object to that. They want to limit the nitro percentage to a mix of 50%. Interestingly, the ADRL rule book has contained the rule for half a year or more.  The fact is that the NHRA allows other series to race cars with up to 100% nitro (for example, fuel altered and AA/FC on the quarter mile), but they evidently think a state-of-the-art doorslammer limited to 94% on an eighth-mile track isn’t safe burning more than a 50% nitro/fuel mixture.