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Peter Clifford, the Chief Financial Officer for NHRA since 1999, was named the new President effective July 1, 2015. Clifford is the fourth president of the NHRA following founder Wally Parks, Graham Light, and Tom Compton, who had held the job for the last 15 years.
Although the plans had been in the works for a year or more, several changes were soon announced including buying out the final year of their contract with ESPN and moving to Fox Sports 1 to carry the professional race coverage and bringing the production in-house.
Significant changes have been made to the Pro Stock class. NHRA will require teams to back their racecars into the pits and leave engines uncovered so that spectators have better accessibility to see the racecars and interact with the drivers and crew members. A new rule also will discontinue the practice of crew members standing beside the cars to hold them in place as they begin their burnouts. Finally, NHRA will make it mandatory for teams to create automobile manufacturer identification headers visible on the racecars' windshields up to a maximum of 4.5-inches high, but not smaller than 4.25-inches.
Starting on Jan. 1, 2016, NHRA will require all Pro Stock teams to equip their cars with electronically-controlled throttle body fuel injection systems, making engines more relevant from a technology standpoint. In order to reduce and control costs for the race teams, an NHRA-controlled 10,500 Rev Limiter will be added to the fuel injection systems.
The NHRA also will require Pro Stock teams to remove all hood scoops and reduce the length of the wheelie bars to a length specified by the NHRA Tech Department.
DRO editor Jeff Burk tried to get some insight into where the NHRA is now and where Mr. Clifford thinks it is heading.
Over the last decade or so it has been rumored over and over that the NHRA was in some serious financial trouble. I get that question a lot when talking to industry executives. Should anyone be worried about the financial health of the NHRA?
PC: No, we are actually in good financial shape. We believe we weathered the recession better than most other motorsports. In fact, this marks the fourth year in a row where we have seen attendance growth over the prior years and our TV viewership increased nine percent over the prior year for our Sunday shows. We are also seeing good growth on our TV ratings this year.
Former NHRA president Tom Compton publicly told team owners and racers in the past year that the NHRA was being shopped around for possible sale. Is the NHRA or any part such as the professional nitro categories for sale now or in the future?
PC: We are not for sale. We looked at doing a strategic partnership to help with media but given what we recently announced with Fox, we are thrilled with our future opportunities in the media are. We could not have imagined a better television package. We have developed six initiatives to help continue to grow the sport, introduce the sport to new people and grow even more passionate fans. We’re confident that our plan will be successful.
I understand that NHRA management met with the "Big Three" Detroit automakers as recently as last year to talk about NHRA Drag Racing and Pro Stock in general. Were the recent rule changes announced for Pro Stock for 2015-16 done in part to make the class more appealing for the Detroit automakers?
PC: Pro Stock is one of our professional classes and has experienced some declining car counts in recent years. We met with all of the constituents regarding Pro Stock, including manufacturers, current teams, former teams, sponsors, and others, to discuss possible changes to the category. We gathered all the input over a period of many months, and made the decision based on what we thought would do best to improve the category. Every group we met with encouraged us, as the governing body, to take action, and we did.
It was important that we focus on improving relevancy for the fans and manufacturers, maintaining 200-MPH speeds, entertainment value, increasing participation, and as always, keeping in mind cost to the teams. We are very optimistic that the changes implemented will help the class and accomplish our stated goals. We look forward to working with the teams, sponsors and manufacturers to move the category forward and increase participation.