f you’ve been aware of business in the past few years, no doubt you’ve heard the nebulous forward looking statement, “We are going to take it to the next level.” The origin of that phrase probably evolved from video gamers who, upon completion of a difficult challenge, advanced their video game play to the next level.
So when Eddy Hartenstein, chairman and chief executive officer of HD Partners Acquisition Corporation announced the intended purchase of the NHRA Professional assets for the bargain-basement price of $121 million, the cliché onslaught began. We heard that one of the major goals of the new ownership would be to take NHRA to “The Next Level.”
Hartenstein stated, “NHRA President Tom Compton and his team have done a remarkable job positioning the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing series as one of the country's top motorsports events. We see tremendous opportunities in working closely with Tom, who will become President and CEO of NHRA Drag Racing, to take the sport of drag racing and the overall NHRA experience to the next level."
The first question coming to my mind was what had prevented Compton from finding and clearly defining “The Next Level” in his tenure at the old NHRA? Why would he stop short of “The Next Level” and only do the job of positioning? Compton still has unopposed free rein as the head of the current soon-to-be-old company, with Tom Compton often being characterized as Wally’s anointed-one. Where were the unfettered initiatives from his plush Glendora office, short of selling off NHRA’s only money generating assets? And what the hell is “The Next Level”?
In fact, editor Jeff Burk and I talk frequently about that subject. When I told him I would be making my annual Left Coast road trip up to Sears Point. (Infineon) he told me go out and ask some pro team owners, drivers and or tuners what they think the “Next Level” is.
So, with wireless recorder in hand I did just that after the abbreviated Top Fuel qualifying session on Friday. Here then is a sampling of the responses we got. It is clear from the answers there is no consensus, as few of the pros I talked to agreed as to what Tom Compton or Eddy Hartenstein might find the “Next Level” to be. There were, however, plenty of opinions.
Whit Bazemore, driver of David Powers’ Matco-sponsored Top Fuel dragster
Whit Bazemore felt that professionalism was an issue. “Being on time is number one. Last night’s session started twenty-eight minutes late and we weren’t able to get finished due to a hard curfew. It’s the sanctioning body’s job to know (of the curfew) and I’m sure they were well aware of it, but we (the pro’s) weren’t. It’s just inexcusable.
The potential of our sport is unlimited, but we’ve got to focus on the draw and the draw is the fuel cars
“The potential of our sport is unlimited, but we’ve got to focus on the draw and the draw is the fuel cars,” Bazemore continued. “There are a lot of fans that like other classes and I do too, but the fact is that the vast majority of fans come here to see fuel cars and the emphasis needs to be put on (them) . To take the sport to the next level so it’s more commercial, more mainstream, more able to draw in more sponsors so the teams are funded so people can make a better living out here and be more professional to attract more of corporate America… the focus needs to be more finely focused to the professionals.”
Another issue Bazemore thought was important was: “Paying attention to the ‘show,’ to hospitality, when we run, how we run, the rules -- 85% (nitro rule) is tremendously hard on parts and oildowns are a real problem, so why do we have a formula that is harder on parts than we have ever been? The fans have paid money for us to run at 8 o’clock, the biggest crowd we’ve ever had on a Friday night (at Infinion). The Formula 1 sessions start on time, the NASCAR qualifying session starts on time and, f*ck, the NHRA session needs to start on time. That’s just the way it is and they don’t get it. Things haven’t changed much ever. I love this sport, but the frustration of where we are and where we should have been…. I could have raced anything, but I chose drag racing,”