Notes from a
NO RESPECT FROM THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA
If there is one thing I have learned from the whole mess
over Top Fuel tires and safety it is that drag racing just
doesn't show up on the mainstream motorsports media's radarscope,
much less that of the mainstream "stick and ball" media.
What brought me to that conclusion was the following:
As a certified motorsports junkie, I get two or three motorsports-related
publications per day that end up on my desk and I at least
glance through them all. Two of my weekly favorites are
Chris Economacki's National Speed Sport News and the AutoWeek
magazine. Both of those are publications in which drag
racing can be found and they are among the best, if not
the best, ink and paper racing publications in the biz.
Anyway I noticed that through all of the Darrell Russell
tragedy and the ensuing Sturm und Drang concerning car
and tire safety for the fuel cars, neither of those two
publications devoted much, if any, space to drag racing's
tire problem or attempted solutions.
They delivered lip service to Darrell Russell's crash
and did little else in the way of follow-up coverage. Here's
the point: If any one of F-1, NASCAR, CART, or SCCA's potential
star drivers with Darrell Russell's credentials had been
killed in a crash that was attributable to tire failure,
and the sanctioning body kept racing on tires that continued
to have the same problems they had prior to the accident,
you can bet the farm those two publications and others
like them would have been all over the story with weekly
updates until a solution was arrived at.
DRAG RACING PROBLEM DIDN'T RATE ANY COVERAGE
And then there is the potential strike by the NHRA Pro
teams. Again, were this labor action being threatened by
the top teams competing in one of the so-called top tier
motorsports such as NASCAR, IRL, or CART, it would be headline
news. Sadly for big time drag racing, the editors of most
of these print publications obviously don't think their
readers give a damn about NHRA/IHRA drag racing or don't
have beat writers assigned to drag racing that are in the
loop. Any way you look at the situation, it doesn't speak
well for the mainstream media or the average motorsports
fan's concern for the sport of professional drag racing.
WE NEED ONE WINNER
I recently had a conversation with Matt Strelo, Vice President
of Gateway International Raceway near St. Louis. GIR also
has a mile oval and a road course, and is owned by Dover
Motorsports Inc., which also owns Memphis Motorsports Park.
Both of these venues host NHRA national events and also
have major league oval tracks that feature NASCAR, USAC,
and other tours on the ovals. One thing Strelo mentioned
in course of a long conversation was that he believed drag
racing's main problem, and one of the reasons that it didn't
attract the same attention that NASCAR did with the average
fan, was because drag racing had too many winners on race
day—as in more than one.
Now his idea isn't a revelation to anyone involved in
the sport of drag racing. At almost every level of management
they are aware that having multiple winners on race day
is a problem. How to resolve that issue is the real problem.
I was sitting at my favorite dive bar, "The Cooler," just
across the street from the DRO offices, thinking about
that problem when it suddenly became clear to me that there
was a solution for the too many winners problem at least
in the fuel classes. That answer is of course to combine
the Funny Cars and the Top Fuelers, and their purses into
one. Then we would have a 32-car field with a much better
purse structure. Hell, NHRA could even retain separate
shootouts for Top Fuel and Funny Cars.
So I can hear you saying to yourself already, "The
Burkster is cruising up the senile expressway on-ramp.
He has really lost it." But bear with me just a minute
and I think I might be able to change your mind.
To quote my buddy Ted Jones, "Here's the deal." We
all know that NHRA and Winston tried to bracket race Fuel
Funny Cars and Top Fuel cars a few years back at the Winston
Invitational and that experiment was an abject failure
on every level. I mean, it was bracket racing fuel cars
for God's sake!
But I digress. The problem is that the Top Fuelers are
consistently two-tenths or more quicker than the floppers.
Here is my suggestion: we all know the Top Fuel cars need
to be slowed down for their own good, so now is a perfect
time to find a way to slow them down a little, leave the
Funny Cars alone, and have one eliminator for fuel cars.
Don't tell me it can't be done. The IHRA officials found
a way to ensure parity between nitrous and supercharged
Pro Mods, which are completely different cars that had
a two-tenth e.t. difference. It wasn't easy, but they did
get it done; so could the smart guys at NHRA.
So, just for a moment, imagine that the two classes are
joined together and the rules deliver parity between the
two classes and both Top Fuel cars and Fuel Coupes are
running 4.80's at 310-315 mph. Now, instead of 18-20 cars
in each of two classes trying to qualify for separate 16-car
fields we have 40-50 cars trying to make a 32-car field
with one winner on Sunday. Nobody would have to park anything.
Sponsors, fans and racers would have a choice between rooting
for or racing a dragster or a flopper and, as I said, we
can still have individual shootouts for each.
If either car type suddenly had a big advantage, the sanctioning
body could do just what IHRA has done with Pro Mod—penalize
the quicker class of cars.
Add weight, subtract overdrive or nitro percentage, whatever
is needed, but keep both machines competitive. But if we
slowed down the cars, which in turn stopped the tire-chunking
problem and at the same time made the nitro show better,
wouldn't that be a good thing?
Two things are pretty sure, though: the current crop of
owners would probably never agree to something like this
suggestion and the suits that run NHRA probably don't have
the huevos to make the change for the greater good.
Everyone knows that drag racing has too many pro class
winners on race day, which confuses the average race fans,
print media sports editors and those Sports Center copyreaders/reporters.
This is just my idea and at least my friendly bartender
at the "Cooler" approves. I don't hold out too
much hope but a certified nitro junkie can dream, can't