Nostalgia racing may not be so little anymore

There are times when big brothers can get caught up in themselves. They become so focused on their own life situations that they forget to take a look around and notice that their kid brother has grown almost as big and almost as strong as they are.

I feel this is what is happening with the nostalgia drag racing scene, represented by the NHRA Heritage Series, IHRA Nitro Jam, and the DRO AA/FC Challenge series.

For the past couple of years nostalgia racing has been filling the stands at the venues these different series run at. It was SRO (Standing Room Only) at Bakersfield for the March Meet.  The stands were full at Tucson and San Antonio for the first two IHRA races. Boise will be full for both of their Heritage Series events, as will Salt Lake City for the IHRA.

Now I can already hear the naysayers screaming, “You can’t compare the different venues!”

This is true to a point. The Big Show races are at larger venues such as Las Vegas, Pomona and Charlotte. However, many times these venues are only half to three-quarters of capacity. Aesthetically I will take a smaller venue that is at capacity over a large facility that may be three-quarters full -- and so will marketing partners. If there are big empty gaps in the crowd, some venues use advertising banners in an attempt to hide the fact there are empty seats. Pomona comes to mind.

The IHRA is doing a great job of filling these smaller facilities and putting on an excellent show that the fans are enjoying. And the IHRA is reinvesting those resources into compensating their competitors on a much larger scale than the NHRA.

I spoke with IHRA President Scott Gardner about their new business model for Nitro Jam.

As many of you already know, the IHRA has a field of six seated cars that have committed to run their entire schedule for the year. Six more regional cars make up the qualifying field. The quickest eight cars then make up the race field.

The seated cars are given no special treatment; they all must qualify for the show and must win rounds to win the event. Their reward for being a seated car is a slightly larger non-qualifier stipend if they do not make the eight-car field.

The rationale behind this, according to Gardner, was, “We wanted to bring competitive racing back to IHRA and to have the best cars in the country running our events.” 

In order to accomplish this feat the IHRA put out a big carrot to lure those top competitors to their events.  Ten thousand dollars to win per event and a 100,000-dollar points fund at the end of the year, with 50 Grand going to the winner.

Gardner also stated “We are not dealing with the John Forces of the world, Kalittas, or Schumacher Racing. Our guys have jobs or businesses which fund their racing. So we needed to make it feasible for them to travel the schedule, that’s why we put the big carrot on the stick.”