NHRA: Save The Elephants!

Neglect them at your own peril

Words by Pete Ward

Several months ago when NHRA raised its circus tents at The Strip in Las Vegas, Jeff Burk, the major-domo of this historically significant publication, dispatched me to take the temperature of fans attending the national event.


Instead of wearing my spiffy official Drag Racing Online apparel, which may have skewed fan responses, I broke out a variety of my vintage racing T-shirts, including a treasured Joe Pisano/Venolia Pistons Olds Cutless F/C classic, and headed for the stands. For the next three days, I conducted a very informal survey of spectator opinions regarding drag racing NHRA-style. I’d sit down next to a couple of folks and with my shrewd interrogation skills, obtain the desired info and then casually move on to my next targets. I surreptitiously made notes from conversations with 60 spectators. Group make up: 55 men (obviously five women,) seven were ages 18 to 25 the remainder were 40 or older.


Predictably, the fans rolled in and out like the ocean tide. When Pro Stock qualifying was announced the nearly empty grandstands would s-l-o-w-l-y begin to fill, reaching high tide when the Top Fuelers and Nitro Floppers made their appearance. Following pro qualifying the folks dissipated faster than the nitro fumes, leaving only the hardest of hardcore fans (or racer’s family members) to observe the sportsman “action”.


Nitro qualifying was peppered with the usual quota of oil downs which the fans stoically endured, so it was then I conducted most of my interviews.


My biggest surprise was their comments regarding the down time. I expected frustration and acrimony, instead I got basically “hey, it comes with the territory”…one guy opined “it takes time to drag the dead animals from a bull ring”, a fitting comment indeed. Only three individuals expressed their dismay. Six questioned why one of the spare lanes of this four-lane facility couldn’t be employed to keep the show going.


The controversy of 1000 feet vs. 1320 didn’t really resonate with my 60-member group. Twelve lamented the shortening of the race distance, but it certainly wasn’t a deal breaker.


Regarding the “upstart” no-prep, small tire, outlaw action, currently drawing so much attention? Thirteen watched Discovery Channel’s Street Outlaws with some regularity, but only six would pay or travel over 50 miles to attend such events.


When asked about what the trip to this event was gonna cost, the response was understandably mixed. Forty-five reported the race was part of a Vegas excursion, so it was difficult to cost out the expense. Three were in town for the race only, and they were spending anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 depending upon choice of lodging and transportation costs. Five locals pegged the price to be at least $150 a day, figuring in tickets, food and souvenirs. The remainder chose not to comment. Another surprise: No one complained about ticket prices!


Regarding the out-of-towners: Average travel distance was approximately 1500 miles.


Yet another surprise, when queried about what changes they’d like NHRA to make, to a person all were content with the status quo.


Their reason for attending the drags in general and this race in particular?  One was a Super Stock Showdown fan (which wasn’t contested), another was a member of motorcyclist Steve Johnson’s contingent the remaining 58 resoundingly bellowed “For The Nitro!” That was their sole reason for opening up their wallets or breaking out the plastic -- for the nitro and nitro only. Sportsman racing held no interest, alcohol and Pro Mod provided only mild entertainment value. Pro Stock you ask? Zero, nada, zilch…provides time for a beer run.


When asked if nitro wasn’t part on the show, all 60 would be no-shows.


If the nitro fields were downsized to eight cars, 37 proclaimed they would no longer attend.


So, what conclusions can be drawn from this admittedly very unscientific survey?


NHRA, you have a very loyal fan base…but the caveat: Do whatever necessary to nurture your nitro contingent! Without your “elephants” you no longer have a circus. 



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