NHRA Kiss-off Stirs Brothel Brouhaha
by Susan Wade
Photos by Jeff Burk
Deep staging, hot rods and hole shots might have taken on an entirely
new meaning, if Bob Gilbertson had been allowed to keep the newest associate
sponsor of his NHRA Funny Car.
Shauna Cummins, a 52-year-old grandmother of two, paid $10,000 for
an eight-inch sticker on Gilbertson's car at the Houston race, then
increased her investment to $25,000 at Bristol. But NHRA officials refused
to let Gilbertson race at Atlanta until he removed the advertising.
Cummins' business is a legal brothel in Wells, Nevada -- one that Graham
Light, NHRA's Senior Vice-President of Racing Operations, said is inappropriate.
Cummins wasn't going to take Light's decision lying down. She caught
up with him during the Matco Tools SuperNationals at Englishtown, N.J.,
May 19, lobbying for a reversal of his decision about her Bella's Hacienda
"You think I'm about sex, and you're incorrect," Madame Cummins said
in a letter to Light and NHRA President Tom Compton.
"(NHRA has) more sex going on in the pits than I do behind closed doors,"
she said. "All I do is treat people as though they matter . . . No matter
how much money they have or whether they even choose to partake of time
with a lady. I wish to cause no one embarrassment."
Light told her that meeting with her further to discuss the matter
"would be a waste of our time and it would be a waste of your time."
He said although her brothel is a legitimate business in Elko County,
Nev., prostitution is illegal in every NHRA venue, including Las Vegas.
"We don't want the image of a brothel being associated with our sport,"
Cummins then questioned why NHRA allows alcohol and tobacco companies
to sponsor NHRA competitors. She said their products "kill people. I
don't think I've ever killed anyone. Show me the rules or the list of
criteria for being a sponsor. No one will show me the rules. I don't
think there are any rules."
Light produced Section 7:1 of the NHRA rule book: "NHRA reserves the
right to regulate the advertising that appears on the body of any car
participating in NHRA events and may, from time to time, publish guidelines
on the subject."
"We didn't have any problem in Houston. Nobody said a word," Gilbertson
said of the stickers that shared space on his 2002 Pontiac Firebird
with his "Trick Tank" logo.
The Gastonia, N.C., driver seems an unlikely central figure in the
controversy. He is fond of mentioning that he and wife Sally have been
married for nearly three decades, and was quick to report, "I haven't
ever been (to Bella's Hacienda Ranch)."
Gilbertson helped defuse a flare-up earlier, at Atlanta. "I told her
to let it go," he said after Cummins suggested the team take legal action.
"She was hot as a pistol."
However, Gilbertson said he feels the tug between NHRA's defense of
decency and family values and his right to procure his car's sponsorship
by a legal business. "I'm a freedom fighter myself," he said. "I'm the
guy who owns the billboard."
He also mentioned the Penthouse sponsorship from years past.
Light said if the men's magazine were to express a sponsorship interest
now, "it may be very different. It would be different."
NHRA has chosen to associate itself with alcohol and tobacco interests,
which legally cannot do business with underage spectators or participants.
The clamp-down on the tobacco industry ultimately cost the sanctioning
body its 27-year series sponsorship by R.J. Reynolds and its Winston
brand of cigarettes. And drivers such as the Funny Car class' Tommy
Johnson Jr. and Ron Capps, who are sponsored by Skoal, are prohibited
from even handing minors an autographed photo of themselves or their
cars because those bear the tobacco company's advertising.
Cummins said she can't understand what she perceives as hypocrisy.
Naturally, she wants (ahem) exposure for her brothel, and she contends
her signs at the Houston and Bristol races were in good taste. However,
she offered to alter the business name on the sticker and to make her
website a G-rated one focused on Gilbertson and his accomplishments.
"I'm flexible. Are you?" she asked Light.
He told Cummins, "It's nothing personal. You seem like a nice lady.
You know our position. Our position isn't going to change."
And as for any more double entendres . . . readers will have to come
up with their own.