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The just completed NHRA POWERade season was, for all but the Top Fuel class, a down-to-the-wire nail biter in the Countdown to the Championship. Whether you agree with the Countdown or the ESPN approach to showing our sport, the excuse that drag racing does not make the transition to the tube may be a problem with ESPN coverage rather than drag racing itself.
If you can dust off any of the tapes from the halcyon Diamond P Video days you know that many of us were satisfied with watching the distant races of the season on a tape delayed basis, giving us a much more finely edited and watchable show. Unfortunately the late-model ESPN2 version we see today has highs and lows, but something is missing. We all see the glaring negatives filled with regurgitated clichés and too much screen time for the anointed stars of our sport, plugging sponsors with machine gun-like precision, seemingly void of human interaction.
I recently received a preview DVD of the season-ending compilation of NHRA’s 2008 POWERade Drag Racing series. A lot of things happened in NHRA competition in a year with tragedy, traditional track length changes and personal records. Highlights of Tim Wilkerson leading the Funny Car points for much of the year, diversity squared - with women winning in both nitro classes, John Force’s struggles with two DNQ’s, and “little guy” wins with Tony Bartone in Jim Dunn’s flopper to multiple Pro Stockers defeating the reigning and past champs.
To say I enjoyed watching the 2008 Year In Review is an understatement. What is apparently an internally edited production at NHRA world headquarters is a refreshing change from the stogy, ESPN2 footage-in-a-blender 2007 Year In Review DVD. Previously the loyal drag fan was presented a regurgitation of the ESPN2 show, a show that any loyal drag fan would have already seen and digested and maybe even stored digitally for the future.
What I enjoyed about this new production -- available December 17th from NHRA -- was fresh thinking that somehow forgot about similar past productions and finally embraced the human element rather than just the cars. Much of the 2008 DVD is told from the racer’s perspective, with Tony Schumacher talking about the season, the crew and the crew chief in seemingly his own words. Portraits of our drivers -- as Larry Dixon has called them, “The guy who’s shot out of the cannon” -- is most important in this new release and, to me, made it much more enjoyable.
All of us have seen the brightly painted dragsters, funny cars and other racecars and bikes, with cameras attempting to break into the human side of drag racing with in-car video. Those shots depict humans, but are void of the human element. The 2008 Year In Review accomplishes what has been missing from previous video compilations. An important change in the presentation is it minimizes ESPN’s Paul Page. Bob Frey, arguably the best of current drag racing announcers, fills in the gaps with well-written commentary to move the story along at a good clip.
The NHRA 2008 Year In Review has good camera work – not just the stuff seen in the ESPN2 show, with personal, first person interviews. Unfortunately, for some reason the interviews were photographed in a very odd, minimalist off-track set of made of earth tones and somber lighting. In spite of this strange locale, the content and personal introspection from our stars makes for a compelling video.
Anyone who missed Robert Hight’s touching E-town single after the death of Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta will probably fight off a tearful memory with the entire uniformed Kalitta team standing strong. It was portrayed sympathetically with a tasteful remembrance of a fallen driver in this video.
I was surprised by the strong filmmaking and judicious editing in the NHRA 2008 Year In Review. The pre-release version I watched ended at the completion of the 2008 U.S. Nationals at Indy and I’ll get the final version, but based upon what I saw I encourage you to get your hands on this new compilation video. Hopefully this video is a change in direction that the NHRA video department will adopt for future releases. We’ve seen the ESPN2 coverage all season long, thanks for giving the fan a better and different perspective.