GUEST COLUMN w/ Jeff Leonard

VOLUME XIX,  NUMBER 5 - May  2017

Daddy, Why Do the Nitro Cars Have Qualifying?

By Jeff Leonard

Jeff Lenard used to be a regular contributor to DRO in the early days, but has drifted away from drag racing over the years. We enticed him back and the former writer of “Lenny’s Lines” has an opinion about what has been happening while he’s been away.


It's not hard to imagine this question being asked by a young fan at any NHRA national event. As has been well proven by now, Top Fuel and Nitro Funny Car fields currently draw the minimum number of entries, sometimes a couple more, sometimes less. The reasons are many, but the bottom line is there is no drama in qualifying (in terms of who will make the starting lineup on Sunday), and some less than thrilling matchups on the Pro ladder charts. Bad for the racers, bad for the fans, and bad for the TV show, I suspect. But what to do?


I guess those in charge could continue the floggings until morale improves, but I think they have already tried that. Not working, as far as anyone can tell. I think a complete format change may be required. It may well be time to do away with Qualifying, as we know it. Or the pretense of qualifying, if you prefer.


As crazy as it may sound, NHRA needs to expand the size of the field - say to twenty cars. And they need to guarantee, in writing, that all twenty entries in each nitro field receive television time, in some form, on some electronic medium. And here's the part traditionalists will go off the deep end over: All twenty cars make final eliminations. I know, it's the evil ALL RUN concept, writ impossibly large.


No other sport (that isn't a motor sport) spends two days deciding who is going to fight it out for the big bucks. And many other forms of motorsport have already gone to the all-run format. F1 is as big as it gets, and all twenty cars start the race. The fans, the millions and millions of them, don't seem to mind this setup. I'm thinking drag fans wouldn't either, if it produced better racing and a few new drivers to cheer for.


Several drivers have expressed the view that they might have more success in landing marketing partners if they could guarantee said partner would be able to see their colors in action, on race day. You know, when it counts!


Ideally, guaranteed TV time, a spot in the starting field, and a fresh look at the path to the winner’s circle might move the needle in the right direction. As it is, more of the same is what can be expected. And don't talk to me about eight-car fields. The zero-sum game has no appeal. Leave that stuff for political and economic discussions please.


Format change, here it is. Two qualifying laps on Friday, award points for all who make laps. Provide TV time for every car that runs. I'm thinking on an NHRA Today-style show that serves as a lead in for first round of eliminations. If a team doesn't want to make an attempt, cut their payout. Good enough for Broadway Bob, good enough for anybody.


Saturday, two practice sessions for those who want further preparation for eliminations. Award some minimal points as a reward. If you don't want the points, sit out and get ready for eliminations. Which, by the way, start about 6 p.m. on Saturday. Yes, you read that right. Why not give the paying spectators a round of actual racing to enjoy? They will stick around, watch the action, buy another beer or soft drink and a $12.00 cheeseburger, or whatever they are selling for these days. Reads like win-win to me. Televise this round -- very important!


On Sunday, a return to tradition, if you will. Sixteen-car fields, current ladder in use. What happened to the other four guys, you ask? Well, they got put out in Saturday's televised first round, in which the ten winners, plus six quickest losers come back on Sunday. Oh yeah, it’s also time to reset the field, by quickest times during racing action, not qualifying. The six "losers" from Saturday go to the back of the field, so there is an incentive for those who won on Saturday.


That's pretty much it. More racing, less fooling around. Lots of unpredictability and hopefully more cars, with more marketing partners generating more opportunity for racers. Plenty of flies in the ointment, but none impossible to overcome. Given the current facts on the ground, there are plenty of reasons to try something different. More cars is better, every day of the week.


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