NHRA’S future depends on ESPN broadcast of their races

I’m now one of the half-million. According to the Nielsen ratings I’ve seen, the ESPN2 NHRA broadcasts attract around a half-million viewers per race. As of now you can count me as one of the grateful half-million viewers.

Now you readers must be asking yourself if the old Burkster has forgotten to take his meds, since I have been a pretty severe critic of the ESPN broadcast of NHRA national and sportsman races for years. The truth is that no matter how poor I think the shows are or how good they could be if ESPN gave a damn, I still watch them. Now I’m taking it a step further and suggesting that everyone who wants professional drag racing to remain perceived as a major sport had better start watching at least one of those broadcasts and introducing potential fans and friends to them.

For the first time in years I wasn’t heavily involved in some extra-curricular drag racing project over the Midwest’s three months of sleet, snow, below zero temps, and no racing.

By the time the NHRA Winternationals came around I was really, really ready for some drag racing. So I - for the first time in years - was really looking forward to the Winternationals broadcast on ESPN2. And I have to tell you honestly that I wasn’t disappointed. I enjoyed watching qualifying on Saturday and racing on Sunday. I also watched the broadcast team with a different perspective and the fact is that overall the show was far more informative and entertaining than it was dull and boring. Unless you are an uber-fan, it is good entertainment.

Much of my criticism of the broadcasts in the past was based on my frustration as a fan and a promoter of the sport with the dropping Nielsen numbers year after year. I blamed the ESPN broadcast for the waning popularity of the sport. Another part of that frustration comes with knowing many of my peers in the “elite” print and electronic media consider drag racing a second-class motorsport.

I was thinking about that issue when it suddenly occurred to me that I have been wrong, really wrong, for bashing and not supporting the ESPN broadcast or Tom Compton’s securing a long term ESPN/NHRA contract and spending 12-14 million of NHRA’s money to make it happen.

My opinion is that without the ESPN broadcast of every one of the NHRA national events that reaches some 60-70 million ESPN cable subscribers, NHRA professional drag racing would probably get even less national media coverage than it does now! Without the ESPN race broadcasts my bet is there wouldn’t be NHRA pro drivers on the cover of ESPN Magazine, or coverage of drag racing in the pages of publications such as USA Today, AutoWeek, and Car and Driver magazine.

Could it be the national broadcast of NHRA events almost forces mainstream media to pay attention to drag racing for fear of losing viewers/readers? I believe that is the case. Nothing else professional drag racing does puts the sport, its events, and the drivers and teams in front of as many eyes as the ESPN broadcasts.

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