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There was a time not so long ago that the sport and the success of professional drag racing was synonymous with the letters NHRA. As the NHRA went, so did the sport. Most of the sport’s major manufacturers tied their wagon to the NHRA engine and for several decades, starting in the late 1970’s the NHRA was THE driving force for drag racing.
Now there is no doubt that the NHRA is struggling, mostly because there is a whole generation of teenagers and young adults that don’t associate the kind of drag racing they like to watch or participate in with what the current NHRA (and to a lesser sense the IHRA) have to offer. The sanctioning bodies don’t give the non-hardcore racers/participants what they want.
So, you may think that just because the NHRA drag racing is suffering that all of organized drag racing is. You would be wrong, Bardahl breath. Drag race fans and racers have never before had so many choices of what kind of drag racing they want to watch or participate in. For example on the April 12th weekend drag racing fans could choose from the NHRA “Four Wides” at zMax in Charlotte, the IHRA Nitro Jam at Bradenton Fla., the international Manufacturers Cup Top Fuel Bike races at SGMP, the Super Chevy series at Memphis Motorsports Park, the Mega Mopar series was at Rockingham and don’t forget the Nostalgia Pro Stock “Nationals” at Dyno Dom’s Sikeston Dragway in Missouri. And I’m sure there were more. If there were ever an unwritten rule that a promoter can’t do a specialty race the same weekend as a NHRA/IHRA National Event those days are long gone.
If drag racing has a problem it might be that the fan base hasn’t really declined but that fan base has many, many races and venues to choose from on any given weekend. The sport is every bit as big or bigger than it has ever been. The trick for promoters is to listen to the fans, give them what they want to see, and be able to sell tickets, food and drink at a price today’s drag racing fan can afford. It isn’t rocket science; it is economics.
I went to the inaugural PDRA race at Steve Earwood’s Rockingham Dragway. From a fan’s perspective after three days of new eighth-mile class records including the first door car over 220 mph, first door car with an ET below 3.50 and a huge number of racers’ personal best ET and Speeds, I would rate this race as one of the Top Three I’ve attended in my career. Just for the record the other best races I have seen in person are (in chronological order) the 1982 NHRA U.S. Nationals where Don Prudhomme’s record-shattering 5.63 ET came on a pass where the engine was dead at the 1000-foot mark and many of the nitro funny car drivers had their personal best ET’s, and the 1987 IHRA Winternationals at Darlington, SC, where Bill Kuhlmann just beat Bob Glidden to the 200-mph “barrier” in a Top Sportsman race car.
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