Will Pro classes
By Jeff Burk (Editor
not as if the NHRA and their premier attraction
classes of Top Fuel, Nitro Funny Car and Pro
Stock didn't already have enough problems with
safety issues, rule enforcement and lack of
sponsorship funding. Now you can add the possibility
of a boycott by those three classes at an NHRA
national event to that list. Man, the hits just
keep on coming!
DRO has verified with sources from both sides
of the issue that the Professional Racers Organization
had a meeting at the recently completed U.S.Nationals
where the board of the PRO made the decision
to demand a purse increase from NHRA for the
Top Fuel, Fuel Funny Car and Pro Stock classes.
According to our sources, the board drafted
a letter and forwarded it to the NHRA management
team and president Tom Compton immediately after
completion of the U.S. Nationals. Reportedly,
in the letter PRO demanded that a proposal for
the purse increase be submitted to the PRO board
by the end of business at the Fall Nationals
in Dallas Sept. 24-26.
Our source also indicated that if the NHRA
does not come up with a proposal that would
give the three classes a pay raise, the PRO
organization is prepared to take a labor action.
Reportedly, that action could be a boycott of
just one or more rounds of qualifying at some
NHRA national event to be held after the Dallas
event. Evidently a complete boycott of a race,
as some sources have indicated might be the
case, is not an option.
DRO spoke to one former team owner who had
major corporate sponsorship when they raced
and asked how a corporate sponsor might react
to this kind of labor action. His opinion was
that a corporate sponsor probably wouldn't have
a problem with a team sitting out a qualifying
session to make a point, as long as the car
was in the pits, the hospitality suite was working
and the car made a least one qualifying attempt.
Another very prominent multiple Funny Car team
owner and PRO member I talked to said that if
PRO can't negotiate a purse increase, then their
only option is to sit out a qualifying session
which, in effect, saves each team money equal
to the cost of a run. He went on to say that
he feels there will be an agreement but, if
none is reached he would support the group's
decision to sit out one of the two qualifying
sessions on either a Friday or Saturday. That
way, the teams would save money and the fans
still would get to see at least one full qualifying
session. He also said that this action (should
it become necessary) would send a message to
the NHRA that the racers are serious about either
getting more money to do what they're doing
or saving money.
If NHRA Pro teams do sit out one lap, a good
guess would be that they would probably choose
a Saturday night qualifying session. When IHRA
Top Fuel teams had an issue with the IHRA management
team over their purse and other issues a couple
of years back that is the action those racers
took at one of the IHRA national events. That
labor action actually worked.
And let's not forget the success of the 1981
Funny Car boycott in Louisiana that led to a
purse increase. That has been the only labor
action taken by professional racers in the modern
era of drag racing.
The real question is why the PRO and its members
have taken this hard-line stance with NHRA.
It can't be the money. Few, if any, of the professional
teams depend on purse monies to support their
racing efforts. To paraphrase a famous quote
by Kenny Bernstein from many years ago: Anybody
depending on the purse at an NHRA event to keep
them racing needs to do something else.
With most team owners admitting that a competitive
Top Fuel team requires a budget of $2-3 million
a year, it becomes obvious that the purse at
any NHRA or IHRA event can have little influence
on a competitive, well-financed team's survival.
The reason heard most often is that when Tom
Compton ascended to the NHRA presidency replacing
Dallas Gardner, who is now the Chairman of the
Board for NHRA, one of the things he promised
the professional class racers and owners more
than once was a purse increase. It hasn't happened.
Sources inside NHRA say adamantly that a purse
increase isn't an option, that NHRA simply doesn't
have the money to do so.