The First 100 Days

ou see a lot of those four words these days, certainly on CNN and the Fox Channel. Newly elected President Barack Obama. One hundred days? Three months and change.

But, speaking of 100 days, how about our sport? If you’ll recall, I wrote a few months back that I thought drag racing might get off to a good start, certainly the first four or five months, but the brutality of the current economy might come in and turn over the card table. More to the point, fewer cars, smaller crowds, fewer sponsors and a bloody head-on collision with economic death. I’d have to say very carefully that so far that’s not the case at this point.

The NHRA has given somewhat mixed signals as of early April. Through no fault of their own, the new year was grabbed by the throat and held underwater at Pomona with roughly 77 fans willing to battle it out in a Thursday through Tuesday torture test. Only a great Pro Stock show kept the rain-soaked opener from being a total loss.

Then, much to my chagrin, I found that the organization followed that loss to nature with another setback from the economic end of things. Management followed shortly wiht a 10% wage cut for all, everybody from Compton to the guys who mow the lawns. For a moment, I thought, “Geezuss, these guys won’t make it ‘til Mother’s Day.” But things have picked up some.

From all that I’m told and have seen, the races at Arizona, Gainesville, and Houston did all right at the gate. The only thing I noticed that was untoward was that at a couple, qualifying crowds appeared down.

The most recent race at Las Vegas appeared all right, but something I noticed at Pomona has carried through ‘til that event: The quality of the fields are noticeably off. The loss of Top Fuel racers Doug Herbert, Rod Fuller, Hillary Will, Melanie Troxel, Bob Vandergriff Jr., Dave Grubnic, and J.R. Todd as circuit regulars due to lack of sponsorship, has made the “Kings of the Sport” the least competitive of the three pro classes.

At Las Vegas, the class was a stone bore. NHRA might as well have made the class an eight-car show. The division of power in Top Fuel is terribly one-sided. You still have roughly a half-dozen or so cars that honestly have a chance to win, but that’s it.

Funny Car had almost all of its top 10 return for 2009 as did Pro Stock, but the marquee class, Top Fuel’s step backwards has hurt aesthetically.

I also noticed that the Las Vegas crowd almost had to be a little off. When the TV cameras shoot from the spectator lane up track, the joint looks like its packed to the gills. However, when the cameras are shooting from the top end on the pitside, you could definitely see empty aluminum. Not every row is barren, in fact not any, but ... how can I say this? If you arrive late you will have a choice of seats from 800-feet on down for the fuel cars.

All in all, I think the NHRA shows are in still pretty good shape, but the fears that unleashed my pessimism earlier year have not abated. If NHRA is still 7/8 full in the bleachers at Memphis and St. Louis, I’ll feel a whole lot better.