Will Pro classes strike NHRA?

By Jeff Burk (Editor & Publisher)

t's 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.

Cover | Table of Contents | DROstore | Classifieds | Archive | Contact
Copyright 1999-2004, Drag Racing Online and Racing Net Source