Volume X, Issue 4, Page 43

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I want my old NHRA back

Make no mistake about it, Tom Compton and his management team are reeling from the collapse of the HD Partners deal. Under the terms of that sale several members of the NHRA board, including Compton, were in line to make a lot of money and that didn't happen and that wasn't good.

Unlike the NHRA management that was in place for about the first 40 years of the company’s existence, who genuinely cared about growing the sport and its racers, the current team doesn’t. But we shouldn’t take them to task for how they are because they are just doing what Wally Parks hired them to do: Make the NHRA a highly profitable racing business. When Parks hired Dallas Gardner and then Tom Compton, he did so because the NHRA was financially on its ass.

Mr. Parks tasked Compton to turn the NHRA into a profitable business, and that is exactly what he and his friends on the management team did and continue to do.
So none of us should be surprised that Compton’s management team are less racer friendly or understanding of racer’s problems than the old NHRA management team that was made up of racers like Wally Parks, Steve Gibbs, Carl Olson, Cary Menard and others. They were racers who became businessmen. Today’s board and management team are businessmen who happened to get hired by a racing organization.

The problem is that too many NHRA members and racers still think of NHRA as some kind of racing club being run by ex-racers who want to make the sport better for the racers, when in actuality it is not. It is a business with leaders who are tasked with and measure their success by improving the bottom line profits of the financial reports and nothing else.

None of the professional racers, manufacturers, or teams I’ve had conversations with recently are satisfied with the current management. That doesn’t mean that everyone is dissatisfied with the way the NHRA is being run, but I’m hard pressed to find anyone that is happy.

My fellow drag racing journalist Jon Asher recently penned a very good column (in which he referred to me as “another writer”) calling for the mass resignation of the current NHRA management team, His reasons were basically incompetent management, blatant nepotism, ego-driven decisions,  and an uncaring attitude toward the racers.

Right though he might be, I don’t think Jon’s call for mass resignation will happen. The reason I feel that way is that I believe that for all intents and purposes, after the death of Wally Parks and because the NHRA is a not-for-profit corporation, Tom Compton and his buddies on the board of directors became the de facto owners of the NHRA! So Tom answers to no one and I don’t think there is anyone who can fire him, short of the unlikely scenario of his buds on the board of directors turning on him.
 
The real tragedy in all of this is that despite a better bottom line profit statement almost every year since Compton assumed the presidency, the figures I have seen -- figures straight off of the NHRA tax returns and Joyce Julius -- indicate that NHRA drag racing isn’t growing. Consider these facts I gleaned from looking at Joyce Julius viewership numbers from 2002 through 2007:

In 2002 approximately 47 million fans watched NHRA broadcasts, in 2004 that number dropped to about 35 million, and in 2007 it was just over 40 million. Any way you do the math, that is a decline in drag racing viewership from 2002 to 2007! During that same period the NHRA tax returns show that NHRA declared an income for ticket sales in 2002 of approximately 42 million dollars and 46 million in 2007. The average ticket income for the six-year period comes to about $41million, with a high of $46 million last year and a low of $40 million in 2003. Factoring in ticket price increases, those dollar figures indicate that NHRA attendance annually over that six-year period is fairly stagnant. In that same period, as Asher pointed out in his column, the board’s salaries and numbers have increased significantly.

It is my opinion that the above figures might be the real reason that HD Partners pulled the plug on the deal. Their accountants looked at those numbers, saw no real growth and said No way! Is it any wonder that even Eddy Hartenstein wouldn’t vote yes to the deal with his own shares of HD Partners?

Is it any wonder that NHRA drag racing can’t get more and bigger sponsors than they do?
The race team sponsors are getting their money’s worth and more just being on the cars; why would they want to spend more of their money with the NHRA? So probably what happens is that NHRA gets part of what the sponsors would be giving the racers as a result of some arm bending and the racers get a smaller piece of their sponsor pie.

No wonder NHRA had to pay IMG to come to the party, despite the standard “everything is wonderful” press release from IMG/NHRA (which kind of reminded me of the one sent out when the HD Partners deal was announced). IMG will have earned their fees if they succeed in finding the NHRA major new sponsors.

The current NHRA management continues to build new towers and luxury box seats but can’t find the money to raise the purses for the professional classes. And except for the Coca-Cola company, most of the professional racers’ sponsors (almost all of which were developed by the racers, not the NHRA) continue to pour a lot of money into the NHRA coffers.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again. Don’t get mad at Tom Compton or his staff for doing what they are trained and were hired to do: to make the NHRA show growth and be profitable. If they fail to do either of those then you can be mad but don’t expect any changes in leadership to come from it. Tom Compton and his board apparently answer to no one, so they will not be held responsible for their apparent failure to increase the popularity of the sport.

With the current state of the American economy I fear that no one is going to step forward and buy the NHRA unless Bruton Smith pulls a Rupert Murdoch and does it just because he can. Bruton, please!!!

Wally Parks once told me when talking about the possible sale of the NHRA, “Jeff, don’t worry; the barbarians aren’t at the gate.” He was right; I think they had already been escorted inside.  


jeffburk@dragracingonline.com