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The Time Has Come for Sport Compact Racing


f today's sport compact drivers, only a few seem to be interested in drag racing or performance hop-ups as the '50s hot rodders did. Sure there are prohibitive smog regulations, potential new car warranty slams and increased insurance payments, but the majorities just want their rides to look and sound cool. Today's sport compact rodder doesn't seem to be buying all-out performance adders like cranks, rods, pistons and cylinder heads as many aftermarket manufacturers had hoped for. Yes there are some performance buyers, but many manufacturers are reassessing the drag racing component of the sport compact industry. From what I have seen, the idea that today's sport compact buyers are just the next '50s hot rodder is not panning out.

Most car manufacturers will void new car warranties if major modifications are made; so many sport compact street drivers are interested in "bling-bling", a bottle of nitrous or a computer performance program. Tires and wheels, chrome valve covers, plug wires, halogen headlights, street glow, vinyl graphics and dress-up kits are the most popular and a ton of it is sold.

According to a recent Autoweek article, Mitsubishi is reportedly scanning weekly Sports Car Club of America Autocross results in an effort to red-flag potential warranty claims for their performance vehicles. They hope this will prevent their local service departments from becoming crew chiefs for weekend warriors while the car is still under warranty. The cost to sport compact hot rodders is stout with replacement of turbos running in the thousands of dollars. It's not inconceivable that some manufacturers might start sending a representative to local drag strips for weekend test-n-tunes and scout for newly purchased Dodge SRT-4s and Subaru WRXs.

How this translates into drag racing is clear; the NHRA Sport Compact Series may soon be getting that reality check as happened with Pro Stock Trucks. I recently heard from a very reliable source that there would be a summit meeting of major sport compact sponsors and suppliers later this year. New car manufacturers and aftermarket suppliers needed to discuss whether to continue with massive budgets to field professional sport compact drag racing teams in its own series. It's strictly financial, as most manufacturers still believe in the "Win on Sunday-Sell on Monday" theory, however if so few spectators are watching, who's buying on Monday?

This season there are still under 50 racecars showing up for most NHRA Sport Compact races for the five-eliminator categories, the average for the 2003 season was 44 cars, showing not much growth at all. The amount of local bracket cars at each venue is usually very good, but the so-called pros are very limited. Except for Englishtown, Atlanta and Moroso the NHRA Sport Compact spectator attendance still sucks when compared to the NHRA Big Show.

As many have noted it's time for reality to set in. The sport compact craze is real, but different. It is a distant cousin of the '50s hot rodding craze and better suited for venues with a car show, bracket racing, a hip hop concert, bikini contest and a DB audio contest with exhibition runs from super-fast sport compact racers. A sport compact experience.

When floppers emerged as a fan favorite in the late '60s, did NHRA set-up their own Funny Car series away from the Big Show? NO! Inclusiveness has always been part of drag racing. So why now when a new way of getting the power to the quarter mile comes along does it warrant a traveling professional show of its own? The isolated Sport Compact Series isn't worth the time, money and effort so many are expending.

Remember when the EMPI VW "Inch Pincher" would run against radical injected roadsters, coupes and dragsters of the day and the great reaction of the crowds in the grandstands? Now is the time to update the strident rulebook for Comp Eliminator to allow for multi-valve heads, EFI and turbos, in short: Bring on the next generation of drag racing.

Take off the gloves and let's see the real racing innovation of sport compact technology with Marty Ladwig, Stephan Papadakis, Nelson Hoyos and Ara Arslanian against the big boys of Comp like David Rampy, Wayne Ramay, Dean Carter and Vinnie Deceglie. Now that would be a race.

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View from the Left Coast with Darr Hawthorne - 6/8/04
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