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There’s no doubt that if you are reading this issue of DRO you are a drag racing fan. Duh, you say … well, let me explain. Drag racing is the coolest motorsport that I have experienced, having watched my first auto race as a kid when Roger Penske won on the road course at the 1962 Los Angeles Times Grand Prix at the vaunted Riverside Raceway.
NASCAR raced on the same Riverside road course in 1963 and my pre-teen sister fell in love with Fireball Roberts, having had a chance to meet him in the Riverside 500 pits. When Roberts ironically died the next year as a result of his fiery crash at Charlotte Motor Speedway, my sister gave up on auto racing until the whole family started going to the drags together.
I know this is old news, but the drag racing many of us grew up on was a rough, rugged, raw motorsport with total unpredictability. My friends and I used to madly anticipate the Winternationals every year, where the baddest racecars from across the planet would strut their new wares, new mechanical innovations, paint jobs and body styles.
On some levels, today’s Big Show drag racing has devolved into an over-regulated, over-ruled, ultra-professional, nitromethane-infused, straight-line entertainment monster truck show. Ask yourself, at the 50th Winternationals will you be looking to see who has ultra-new innovations or who simply has a new sponsorship … where’s the excitement?
I’m hardly advocating a return to the days of changing engines in the Holiday Inn® parking lot or cleaning parts in the motel room bathtub, but damn, when everything becomes so homogenized and void of innovation, where’s the excitement? The drags, what was once a real challenge for the hearts and minds of the American race fan, will forever play second fiddle to the other kind of racing America loves, NASCAR, the 900-pound gorilla.
Recently NASCAR took the lead in meeting with their team engine builders on ways to incorporate fuel injection into Sprint Cup racing, not just to remain the industry leader but to make the racing better. So now anything that the Big Show does to incorporate FI into Pro Stock will give the impression to the motorsports media that it is simply playing follow-the-leader.
Wally Parks’ passing, I think we can all agree, marked the end of the old NHRA; actually the 50th anniversary of the sanctioning body may have been the beginning of the end of that era. Most of the attendees at the special50th anniversary race at Pomona that year can probably agree.
The IHRA is going through their re-upholstery and re-paint hoping to re-invent the Other sanctioning body into a single-day nitro entertainment delivery service. Hopefully this new formula works with booked-in shows and a strong sportsman series.
There are few people in drag racing who have left their mark on the sport and those visionaries are far between. Such is the case with Rich Christensen, whose small screen debut in 1995 with his Pinks! TV show introduced competitive drag racing (albeit a made-for-TV-show shot on a drag strip0 to an entirely new generation of viewers. His fans range from young viewers to old shut-ins, but with Christensen’s game show format taking place on our hallowed drag strips, I submit that he may be one of the most important influences on the drag racing market of this decade.
Christensen’s simple original concept: if you lose the race, you lose your car.
I got a lot of crap from readers and friends about enjoying the Speed TV show Pinks: it isn’t traditional drag racing, the host has a big ego, it’s rigged, nobody has to really give up their racecar if they loose, stuff like that. What I witnessed at the recent Pinks All Out show at Famoso Raceway was great entertainment with the racecars already built.