Gettin' up for 2004, outa the way, Eleanor!
What's that on this distant new shore?
Oh Jesus, I think we've been here before;
it's those same three guys, nuthin' more.

Dixon, Pedregon, and Anderson.
That might be okay for some, son,
but not every fan's idea of fun.
In the nightstand, I've buried a gun.

Open the mouth big and wide,
let Smith & Wesson step inside ...

ll right, enough of this. Rhyming screed on a Studio Suite cocktail coaster. Have I really lost my mind, lo, these 40-plus years of drag racing spectator-hood? No, but for someone like me where variety is one of the very rare and precious spices of life, it's getting closer to a weepy session with Dr. Phil.

With the exception of NHRA Pro Stock Champion Greg Anderson, I really don't think you'll see repeaters in the two nitro categories. N ow, for someone who bewails the appalling lack of nitro suspense of the last half-decade, one could surmise, "Hey, waddya complainin' about? That means that maybe Doug Kalitta, Tony Schumacher or a great comeback by Brandon Bernstein is in the offing for Top Fuel, or in Funny Car, maybe Force will bounce back or Whit Bazemore or Gary Scelzi will mount the stage of history?"

Yeah, and who else?

Leaving aside a few genuinely terrific nitro runs, most notably by Kalitta and Schumacher and the 329-mph charges by Scelzi in Funny Car, the nitro cars had all the suspense of me calling out Mike Tyson at the Crush Bar. The only suspense would be whether or not his first punch killed me.

I mean look at the numbers. According to the final issue of National DRAGSTER where they write up the three pro champions, the situation in Funny Car draws "El Gran Silencio." Gadddzzz. Just 33 drivers competed at 2003 National events, and a half-dozen or so of that crew raced maybe two or three times.

What's worse is that if you take drivers No. 17 through No. 33, and added up all their career Funny Car wins, you know how many you'd have? Well under a half-dozen. Phil Burkart won the 1999 Springnationals and No. 26 Bruce Sarver has a couple, and that's, I'm pretty sure, it.

Make no doubt about it, former Alcohol Funny Car World Champ Tony Bartone oozes talent as does Cory Lee, Richard Hartman, and a few others, but since the whole thing spins on money, they can't be seen as serious contenders. No sponsors, no trophies. Simple as that.

If you wanna see something really scary, add up the wins of the top three finishers, Tony Pedregon (27), Whit Bazemore (15) and John Force (109) (That's 151) and you see how UN-competitive things are with the "floppers". It wasn't always thus.

Let's just pick a race from a few decades ago, the 1982 NHRA Summernationals at Englishtown, New Jersey. Just look at the 16 qualifiers. Twelve of them (Billy Meyer, Raymond Beadle, Kenny Bernstein, John Lombardo, Don Prudhomme, Gary Burgin, Tim Grose, Frank Hawley, Tom McEwen, Dale Pulde, Mike Dunn, and Al Segrini were all in NHRA winners circles. Okay, I know, a few of these drivers scored their wins AFTER this race, but still look at this list. Look at it, dammit!

The level of competition there outstrips anything we've seen this millennium ... and by a ton. Reason? Money, for the majority of it. And don't forget a goodly number of current-day racers are members of teams owned by some of the qualifiers as in the case with John Force or the Worshams. Some competition, eh what?

It's not a lot better in Top Fuel. Still ... if you count Kenny and Brandon Bernstein as one car, then just four ... "FOUR" as in the "Four Freshmen" or "Four Horsemen" won 23 national events. Bleecchh. To these eyes and ears that's not competition. I will say that the situation is a little better here than in Funny Car because last year's winless racers like Doug Herbert, Cory McClenathan, Shirley Muldowney, Jim Head, and (with a late season appearance) Scott Kalitta have scored at NHRA events more than once, and are genuine talents.

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