Volume IX, Issue 11, Page 1

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Boycott! Are you guys serious?

I’ve been hearing for a week or so that Torco’s Competition Plus internet magazine, which is the de facto house organ for Evan Knoll-backed race teams and events, was speculating that Knoll might instruct all of the teams that he and his various companies back in the NHRA to boycott in some manner the Winternationals. To be honest, I paid little attention to the issue because, frankly, I refused to believe that anyone in the professional classes of NHRA drag racing would even consider such a move given the state of professional drag racing compared to other major sports.

After I kept hearing the rumors I decided to call my friend Mike Ashley, whose Fuel Funny Car team is backed by Knoll and who will add a second car in 2008 with Melanie Troxel. He confirmed that his friend and sponsor, Evan Knoll, was seriously considering ordering a boycott by the teams he either owns or is a major sponsor of. I couldn’t believe my ears.

While it is true that the NHRA has been the subject of at least two other successful boycotts -- Don Garlits’ PRO organization of racers boycotted the U.S. Nationals in 1971 and 1972, racing at the AHRA event in Tulsa instead, and in 1981 Raymond Beadle led a boycott of the Cajun Nationals at Houma, LA, by Nitro Funny Car teams. I want to remind everyone that in both cases the reason for the work action was the NHRA purse structure for the Pro classes at that time. Remember this, as it is important to the point of this column.

So, now we fast-forward to 2007. Basically the pro teams have all been complaining for some time about the current purse structure and although the NHRA pros have made some vague threats about a work action, nothing has happened. Over in the IHRA the Top Fuel cars actually skipped a qualifying session, but all that was gained from that action was that the IHRA made rules that essentially cut the pay of those teams who didn’t run the sessions! Gee, that worked out well didn’t it?

So here we are coming up on the 2008 NHRA season and, according to Mike Ashley, Evan Knoll and perhaps some of the other team owners he is partnered up with are really serious about taking some kind of work stoppage. And their reason? If you guessed safety issues, you’d be wrong. If your guess is purse, again you’d be wrong. No, my fellow drag racing fans, the reason -- and I find this absolutely unbelievable -- is that some of the teams and team owners don’t think that they got enough air-time on the ESPN2 broadcast during the 2007 season, and especially after the Countdown started after the NHRA event in Maple Grove.

Are these guys kidding? First of all, what the hell did they think was going to happen after the field was cut to eight cars? Virtually every media person covering drag racing wrote stories suggesting that those racers that made the cut to eight would get the lion’s share (if not all) of the media’s attention. I mean if you or your team have zero chance of winning the championship, the sad fact is that the viewers at home no longer care about you and any journalist, print or electronic, who doesn’t realize that needs to find other work.

So, to punish NHRA, ESPN and their fans and sponsors these racers are considering skipping a qualifying session or perhaps a race. That sure will show those guys, won’t it?

I suggest that anyone even thinking about doing something like this consider the following. It’s going to be hard to get the press on your side. For a strike of any kind to warrant a lot of coverage it has to be for something noble like working conditions or wages. Millionaire team owners striking because they didn’t get the television attention they think they deserved and someone else (like a 14-time World Champ) is getting it all, isn’t noble. It’s more likely to be perceived by the public, sponsors, the sanctioning bodies and especially the blue collar ticket buyer as petulant and petty rich owners and drivers whining.

A couple of more things that don’t make sense about this idea. In order for this to work at all the superstars of the sport would have to support it. (Remember the most successful strikes were led by Don Garlits and Raymond Beadle.) Anyone who honestly believes that corporate sponsors such as the Army, Budweiser, Monster Energy Drink, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company (USSTC), Checker-Shucks-Kragen-Murray, Snap-on, Matco, Caterpillar, or Castrol -- not to mention GM, Ford or Mopar -- support a strike by their teams has lost contact with reality! So basically any strike wouldn’t include the most famous and well-known teams. They’ll be racing in February, bet the bundle on it.

Did the ESPN guys do right by everybody? Maybe not, but they weren’t trying to hurt anyone either. The front-runners of any sport always get the most face time. Will a strike endear any racer or owner to ESPN or NHRA or HD Partners? (Especially HD Partners, who are trying to take the sport and the teams to the next financial level.)
What professional drag racing needs the most right now is more and better sponsors and a better image with those corporations. A work stoppage of any kind right now, especially for no viable reason, only sends the message to fans, the media and Corporate America that drag racing is still bush league.

The real answer to getting more attention from the media is winning more races, not whining!