Volume IX, Issue 7, Page 1

Racing Net Source LLC

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DRAG RACING Online will be published on the 8th of each month and will be updated throughout the month.

DRAG RACING Online owes allegiance to no sanctioning body and will call 'em as we see 'em. We strive for truth,integrity, irreverence and the betterment of drag racing. We have no agenda other than providing the drag racing public with unbiased information and view points they can't get in any other drag racing publication.

EDITORIAL
Editor & Publisher, CEO
Jeff Burk
Managing Editor, COO
Kay Burk
Editor at Large
Bret Kepner
Editor at Large, Emeritus
Chris Martin
Bracket Racing Editor
Jok Nicholson
Nostalgia Editor
Jeff Utterback
Contributing Writers

Jim Baker, Darr Hawthorne,
Ro McGonegal,
Dale Wilson

Australian Correspondent
Jon Van Daal
European Correspondent
Ivan Sansom
Poet Laureate
Bob Fisher
Cartoonists
Jeff DeGrandis
Kenny Youngblood
PHOTOGRAPHY
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Ron Lewis
Contributing Photographers


Donna Bistran
Adam Cranmer James Drew
Todd Dziadosz Steve Embling Steve Gruenwald
Debbie Gastelu
Zak Hawthorne
Rose Hughes
Bret Kepner
Jim LeMoine
Tim Marshall
Dennis Mothershed
Mark Rebilas
Ivan Sansom
Jon Van Daal

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Clifford Tunnell
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Adrienne Travis
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and Racing Net Source LLC

Emptying out the Burkster’s Notebook

I’ve been getting a few letters lately taking me to task for only asking questions in my “Just Wondering…” columns and not supplying answers. I like to ask the questions and let the readers give the answers, but since a few of you have asked, I’m going to use this column to give my answers to some of the questions I heard or have been asked over the years. So, here goes.

One question I’ve asked and have been asked about often is: Why doesn’t drag racing get more coverage on major TV networks and in the major papers? My answer: In many cases a lack of a professional public relations effort by the tracks after sanctioning body national events. I’m not saying that the NHRA and IHRA PR staff aren’t very professional, nor am I questioning the ability of those friends of mine that rep the traveling professional teams. In both cases those folks are doing extremely professional work. The problem is the lack of presence that drag racing has in the local media after the NHRA or IHRA national event circuit leaves town, caused by lack of follow-up by the host track management. 

Tracks in major markets that have a half-dozen or more major drag racing events per year need to hire a PR rep with a journalism background that knows racing, loves drag racing, and can form relationships with the local sports writers and broadcasters. In many cases the track’s PR guy is the track manager, his wife/girlfriend, or a rank amateur with no experience in the job. Many track owners routinely spend six figures on track improvements and offer huge purses to attract racers, but won’t spend a nickel to hire a professional PR person to promote them in the local or national press.

For example, here in St. Louis where we have an NHRA national event each year, hall of fame drag racers and manufacturers, as well as other major drag racing events, the local motorsports writer covers the local circle tracks very well in his columns, but gives drag racing little coverage. The NHRA national events held at tracks in Chicago and Indianapolis (the U.S. Nationals) rate little or no coverage while NASCAR, IRL, or CART races in those same venues rate major coverage.

If drag racing is going to really grow to be a “major league” sport, the track owners in major and minor markets are going to have to take a lesson from successful track owners such as Steve Earwood, Billy Meyer, George Howard, Carl Weisinger, Bill Bader, the Bruton Smith tracks, and a few others, and hire professional people (who know how to write in grammatically correct English) to promote their track programs as well as the sport of drag racing to the media by forming personal relationships with their local media. Like it or not oval track racing is ingrained as “The” motorsport to the traditional stick and ball sports fans and media. Again, like it or not, drag racing still needs to be sold to the fans and media as a major-league sport on the level of the “stick and ball” sports or NASCAR. The sanctioning bodies’ PR arms can’t shoulder the burden alone nor should they be expected to. 

Another question I get all the time is why doesn’t NHRA drag racing get better treatment from ESPN and what can we do to fix it? Well, the short answer is that sports such as women’s NCAA baseball and soccer, bowling, golf -- in fact just about any televised sport you can mention, including poker -- draws significantly larger viewership than drag racing.

That would be the reason ESPN makes the NHRA pay for the privilege of getting their races televised. That’s also the reason (at least in part) that Paul Page will never lose his job -- that and the fact that in a recent DRO poll with over 2,000 respondents nearly 70 percent indicated they watched all 5.5 hours of the NHRA broadcast on a race weekend.

As to what the sport can do to increase drag racing’s clout so that the broadcasts of the races aren’t pre-empted in the future by a professional domino tournament, either we are going to have to find out who the Nielsen families are and bribe them to watch NHRA drag racing, make the broadcasts more entertaining and compelling television, or do what I have suggested in the question I answered previously.

Then there is the perennial question of why don’t/haven’t the sanctioning bodies raised the purse in either the professional categories or the sportsman categories? This one is easy to answer. They won’t because they have no reason to. The NHRA, IHRA, and the track owners are in drag racing to make money, they are not philanthropists.

I recently attended an NHRA points meet at Gateway International Raceway in St. Louis. There were about 400 sportsman cars including a large contingent of alky Funny Cars and dragsters. I did a little research and was told by several drivers that every entry was paying $150-$175 for a car and driver entry. Crew members were extra. In all but the alky classes they were racing for around $1000-1200 cash and whatever they could get from contingency and special programs. Try selling that package to bracket racers and see how many cars you get. But there is the benefit of getting all-important grading points racers must have for the privilege of paying to race at a national event.

At St. Louis neither the track nor the NHRA spent much if anything advertising the points meet. That may be one of the reasons there were just 97 people by my count in the stands on Sunday for the first round of eliminations! At these races the racers basically make their own purse, and the track and NHRA both make a profit. What possible motivation do the promoters or the NHRA have to make them want to give the sportsman racers a raise? What would they get for it? Remember the Burkster’s motto: “You can’t be a victim if you volunteer!”

Last question I get a lot: Why are you guys so hard on drag racing’s sanctioning bodies? After all, you are making a living off of them.

We’ll here’s the answer. In my opinion, one of the reason’s that drag racing isn’t taken seriously by the mainstream media is that for 50 years or so the drag racing media were basically “good news” publications that didn’t hold the sanctioning bodies responsible for any faults (e.g., Hot Rod Magazine, Car Craft, National Dragster). There were publications such as Super Stock & Drag Illustrated and others of that era that did, but they weren’t read by the mainstream media.

When I decided to start DRO I wanted to cover the sport of drag racing the same way my journalistic peers cover sports such as NASCAR, Formula 1, baseball, basketball, or professional cycling, and that is to cover all of drag racing in a professional manner including the good news and bad news. We don’t slant the news to favor any sanctioning body or advertiser. Our responsibility is to bring the facts to the readers as best we can. We’re not in the PR business, we’re in the news business.

Today baseball and cycling have serious drug scandals, football has more felons than the LA County lockup, basketball has a ref that supposedly was working with gamblers, and a NASCAR driver was recently arrested on a heroin-related charge. The fact is the fans and sponsors of all professional sports have a right to know what is going on in the sport they support both with their dollars and loyalty, and as far as I can tell up to this point the coverage of these problems in the press isn’t putting those major league sports in danger of folding.

All that we are doing at DRO is treating and reporting on the sport and personalities of drag racing as a major league sport and nothing less.  


jeffburk@dragracingonline.com

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