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|Jon Paulette is a former Editor of the late and occasionally lamented Inside Motorsports, a former Managing Editor of IHRA Drag Review and a longtime freelance motorsports journalist. No wonder he's slowly becoming a Washington Nationals fan.|
The economy, though improving, still sucks. NASCAR is at its lowest ebb in a long time. Indycar, after years of worthless infighting, is only now staggering back to life. Road racing is.....well, about as popular as it ever was. If NHRA drag racing is ever going to break out, now's the time to start making some changes. I'm sure NHRA has a lot of good ideas. You probably have your some of own. Here are just a few of mine....
Make Indy Matter
Calling the U.S. Nationals the biggest race of the year is nice; but to casual TV viewers, Indy looks just like every other drag race. Every driver talks about how much it means to win Indy and drag racing aficionados know exactly what they mean. But what about everyone else--the significant others, the kids and the guy who stopped on ESPN2 because there was nothing else on? Those people need convincing.
In NHRA's rush to do everything just like NASCAR, they failed to remember that few sports fans outside of the South really cared about stock car racing until drivers started winning boatloads of money--think Bill Elliot's "Winston Million" in 1985. Triple the purse, double the points and you’ll have a “Big Go” worthy of the name--plus a hell of a lead-in for the Countdown. Indy is everything--we know that. Add big money and big points and everyone will know.
Make the Countdown Go Away
When NASCAR decided that awarding a season championship to the racer who actually had the best season was entirely too boring, they came up with The Chase. The idea was to replicate the do-or-die playoff mentality of stick-and-ball sports. It hasn't worked. NHRA followed along and it hasn't worked for them, either.
Faux playoffs suck, and I say this as a longtime Red Sox fan who scared the hell out of two innocent dogs by going bananas when the Sawx finally won it all in 2004. It was a memory to cherish (maybe not for the dogs), but I also remember that my guys got in as the "Wild Card." I'm still happy about that championship (and 2007, Yankees fans....), but I hate the Wild Card. And I hate the Chase--er, Countdown. Whatever. Both, actually.
Sometimes a championship comes down to the last run of the last race. Other times it doesn't. So what? The driver and team who have the best overall season deserve to be season champions. That said, we all know that the Countdown isn't going anywhere. But, since it was designed to increase fan interest, ticket sales and TV ratings, I'll also say this: If it ever does what it's supposed to do, each class champ deserves a lot more money.
Make Pro Stock Relevant
Seen any new rear-wheel drive coupes powered by 500 c.i. carbureted engines lately? Me neither. Been awed by a Pro Stock pass lately? Me neither. No offense to the hard-working teams involved, but today's 500-inch formula has to go.
Race fans are smart enough to know that the Cobalt, GXP or Stratus (Charger? Seriously, what the hell is that thing?) they see on Sunday is nothing like the one they probably won't buy on Monday. New Ford Mustangs will liven things up, but only for so long. Pro Stock hasn't sold many cars--or go-fast parts--for a while now. It’s time to make the class relevant again. To do that, we need a new formula.
I'm no tech guy, but I'm thinking small-blocks, fuel injection, power-adders, gas or alternative fuels, stock-appearing bodies, rear-wheel drive, honest 10.5 tires, all major manufacturers allowed and (I’m stealing this from Bret Kepner with his full permission) NO WHEELIE BARS. Hijinks will ensue and you will watch. Parts will be developed and you will buy them. Pro Stock will be relevant again and that's a wonderful thing.
Make Pro Mod a Pro Class
You've heard of Pro Modified, right? Nutjob doorslammers running numbers that make old-time Funny Car crewchiefs shake their heads? From what I've read and seen for the last two decades or so, people seem to like them. NHRA, however, still isn't convinced. That's why Pro Mod teams jump through hoops and write checks in hopes of having a chance to win a Wally in near-total obscurity. It's a joke.
It's usually blamed on Pro Stock manufacturer pressure, but since most of those companies are too busy recovering from bankruptcy to care, why not make Pro Mod a legitimate Pro class? With a reinvigorated, high-tech Pro Stock division doing its own thing, a bunch of whackjob, old-style blown cars won't mess with anyone's marketing plan. Now's the time to take a look at the schedule, select appropriate markets for Pro Mod and Pro Stock Bike and give each class 15-17 races (including Indy) to determine a champion.