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Since NHRA's Countdown series is on hiatus for the next three weeks this is a good time to talk about my second favorite subject: the politics of drag racing and these days the politics is pretty interesting.
IRG Sports + Entertainment, the parent company of the IHRA, recently announced an infusion of investor money rumored to be more than $40,000,000. The press release from IRG CEO Jason Rittenberry explains that the cash will go to upgrade the current tracks IRG/IHRA owns or leases as well as to help fund further track acquisitions.
There is no doubt that the NHRA hasn't had a competitor with the drive and financial backing that Mr. Rittenberry has since Billy Meyer first made a run at buying the NHRA and then did buy the IHRA and put the NHRA in panic mode. Rittenberry has the vision, the funding, and the people to compete with the NHRA for sponsors, fans and racers, and I believe will do so agressively. NHRA's problem is that there are few if any tracks that can replace the ones currently on their schedule and the few that do exist are probably being pursued by Jason Rittenberry and IRG.
At the same time the old NHRA is faced with the fact that their most successful track operators led by Billy Meyer now own and promote an independent series of 34 Chevy, Fun Ford and Mega Mopar "National" events and they are negotiating to have their own TV deal for those races.
I believe the track owners started those series so they wouldn't be as dependent on the NHRA national events as they have been in the past. I'll bet that the days of NHRA using their national events to leverage the track management into signing contracts that benefit the NHRA more than the track operator is over.
As a sometime critic of the NHRA's Countdown I have to admit that (at least this year) I was wrong about it. The Countdown, so far this year, is giving the fans and racers all of the drama and excitement of professional drag racing's championship that Tom Compton and his crew could have hoped for.
It's too bad that just when the 2014 NHRA championship race is getting really interesting and newsworthy that there is a three-week pause in the action. Fortunately, the NHRA fixed that problem with the 2015 schedule when there will be a race every two weeks at the end of the season, starting with Maple Grove.
Having said that, I think the ESPN broadcast team and the product they are now delivering is excellent as long as all the viewer cares about are NHRA's nitro classes, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle. Coverage of the pro classes from Reading was not only compelling and informative for hardcore fans who know the sport, but for the casual race fan too.
Too bad ESPN's own SportsCenter can't find a spot in their continuous hour-long daily sports broadcasts to give the NHRA championship race a two- or three-minute segment once in a while.
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