BURK'S BLAST w/editor Jeff Burk

Nitro Drag Racing and the March Meet, NHRA TV, NHRA Management, and a little wondering

As a true nitro junkie, the annual Bakersfield March Meet and the other Hot Rod Reunions have become my favorite races. NHRA national event racing over the last 15-20 years (and especially in the nitro classes) has dramatically changed. Often at NHRA national events there aren’t enough Top Fuel or Funny Car teams in attendance to fill the 16-car fields and qualifying on Friday and Saturday is basically just practice. On the other hand, the March Meet and Hot Rod Reunion races have become the last place for diehard nitro racers and spectators to experience the drama and excitement that comes when 30 Nitro Funny Car teams or 12-15 Top Fuel teams and fans get to see qualifying sessions that are as dramatic and meaningful to some as the racing that comes after qualifying. That is something NHRA national event racing no longer offers … and that is sad.




In a recent interview in Dragzine Magazine NHRA Top Fuel team owner/driver Tony Zizzo, who enjoys a part-time corporate sponsor and fields a team that is very competitive and a genuine threat to win at the three or four races a season he can afford to compete at, said this: “Here’s the problem with the sport: It’s hard-pressed to be worth $100,000 of exposure for the weekend... So, I’m going into boardrooms and asking for a minimum of $100,000. And that’s a challenge.” [Ed. Note: Zizzo says that it cost him $100,000 per event to race his Top Fuel team.]




Just Wondering … When will the NHRA’s CEO and President finally admit the NHRA/ESPN and now NHRA/FOX broadcasts that according to past tax returns indicate the NHRA spends around $10M a year to sustain, other than fulfilling a requirement from the Coca-Cola Company for them to remain, is in every other effort a massive failure? Failure is a strong word but the facts we have back up that statement. DRO has kept track of both the NHRA/ESPN and NHRA/FOX Nielsen ratings for almost 20 years. During that time there isn’t one race broadcast that I can find that delivered a rating above a one share. In the last two years the ratings for a Sunday NHRA/FOX broadcast have never been above a .85.


The 2019 numbers are even worse. The Las Vegas 4-wides had a .45 share with a viewership of 127,000. Phoenix drew a .30 share and had 71,000 viewers and the 50th Anniversary Gainesville race drew just a .24 share and 70,000 viewers.


There is no doubt that the most recent broadcasts of NHRA national events by the FOX team has been much improved with a much more professional graphics package and production, but the show content as demonstrated by the wretched viewership ratings over a couple of decades just isn’t what auto racing fans will tune in to watch! (To be fair, NASCAR numbers are also tumbling.)




Just Wondering … Does the way NHRA does its coverage of national events favor a few teams and not others? For the most part, yes. The NHRA’s premier teams -- JFR, DSR, Kalitta, Elite, and KBR -- get the lion’s share of the NHRA broadcast time and the exposure or air time that their sponsors want. Here’s how the TV coverage works currently. The low qualifier in T/F, F/C and P/S are interviewed for the qualifying show broadcast. On Sunday round winners are interviewed almost exclusively. Should a team "only" qualify for the 9 through 16 position and lose in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations they are almost always ignored. Chances are very good that unless the cops come on the racetrack to arrest one of them (joking!) those teams will get little or no “air time” for them or their sponsors during the NHRA/FOX broadcasts.




Just Wondering … If the NHRA management believe (and I think they do) that Nitro Funny Car and Top Fuel class racing are what sells national event tickets and also attract the only corporate sponsorships NHRA drag racing has, why can’t the producers of the three-hour Sunday broadcasts find a couple of minutes of air time for every qualifier? Shouldn’t EVERY team that qualifies as one of the 16 elite to race on Sunday be guaranteed their driver will get a short interview or introduction and that his team (and sponsors) will be rewarded for spending their time, money and hard work to make the NHRA show?


I’ll bet if a team that spends the time and money to get to the race could guarantee a sponsor that exposure those teams might be able to bring new sponsors and fans to the NHRA. I will say that the most recent Sunday race broadcast has seen the director have more interviews with teams and drivers that they almost ignored in the past.




Just Wondering … What does the NHRA have to offer in the way of drag racing entertainment that will drive auto racing fans to watch NHRA drag racing on TV? That is actually the $1,000,000 question and one neither the NHRA management nor anyone else knows the answer to. I do know the drag racing fans I speak with that watch drag racing on TV aren’t interested in a feature on how engine blocks are prepped or getting a lesson on staging a Top Fuel car or even a visit to a trailer park where a drag strip used to be 40+ years ago. On the other hand, I don’t know any race fan that won’t watch nitro-burning, engine exploding, painfully loud, 300-mph, dangerous cars racing or qualifying on TV. Race fans want to watch racing not a drag racing version of TV Guide magazine.




Just Wondering … Am I the only NHRA fan who would like to see NHRA have at least one televised night race on the schedule where the finals in the nitro classes schedule guarantees the pro teams run after dark? It has been proven over and over that the best drag racing from a visual and performance standpoint happens after the sun goes down. I think that if the NHRA had just one night race and broadcast a year it could become something special like the four-wide events. I believe properly promoted even non-NHRA TV race fans would watch a broadcast that featured 40+ nitro burning, flame throwing, engine exploding race cars and nitro Harleys. It might attract new fans and sponsors.




Just Wondering … One more time, can someone explain why NHRA’s only pro doorslammer class with ANY real support and involvement from the Ford, Chevy and Chrysler factories (Factory Stock) isn’t NHRA’s premier professional doorslammer class? Hasn’t history shown and proven over and over that drag racing (indeed all doorslammer) fans want to see Mustangs racing Camaros racing Mopars. Perhaps today’s NHRA fans aren’t interested in wheelstanding, 7-second, 180-mph American made stock cars racing heads-up with no breakout. That may be, but the Street Outlaw TV shows are produced using that formula and their Nielsen ratings are 10 times better than what the NHRA broadcasts are able to deliver.




Just Wondering … Now that there is no longer even any pretense by the NHRA that it is anything other than a for-profit entertainment business (just ask the Pro Stock and Pro Mod racers if you doubt that) is the next step in the NHRA’s future to try and sell off the Sportsman Series? I think what the NHRA will do is offer to sell the series to an outside company but retain the sanctioning rights to the series and allow whomever would buy the Sportsman Series to still award the winning racer one of those coveted Wallys that is the only reason why many sportsman racers are still racing in the NHRA.




Just Wondering …  After seeing the 9-second electric Camaro on the NHRA broadcast from Las Vegas I am wondering if at some point electric power could replace internal combustion engines and the accompanying sounds and smells. For me, as the man said, “No way, Pal.”




Just Wondering … Will the Lights Out race return to a much larger venue than SGDP, a facility with enough parking, seating and fan base to take advantage of the race’s status as the ultimate “outlaw street” event? The Burkster thinks that Donald Long will take his act back to Bradenton where he started.


Just Wondering … … What does it say about the popularity or lack of popularity of NHRA’s current “stars” when the last major auto racing magazine in the U.S., AutoWeek, decides the only story from NHRA’s 50th annual Gatornationals worth sending a staff writer and devoting editorial space to was the legends’ Unfinished Business race? So, a bunch of septuagenarians racing each other in Toyota Camrys was what the editors at AutoWeek believed the hardcore readers wanted to know about what went on at the 50th anniversary of one of the NHRA’s “Big Four” races. That is sad!   

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