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Lenny has been traveling lately, which is a good thing. For one thing, Lenny gets to see more Nitro when he travels. But best of all, traveling lets Lenny get a good feel for what is happening in drag racing, right now! And on back-to-back trips to Cordova, Illinois and Topeka, Kansas, a great view of the differences between IHRA and NHRA drag racing -- national event style, at least.

When you get right down to it, it's really a matter of scale. NHRA is big, maybe even huge, and IHRA is not. I'm not saying one way is better than the other. It's simply a matter of big versus not-so-big. I even believe there is plenty of room for both on the 1320 landscape. But I also believe that some people need to decide what they are going to be, and start taking some steps to shore up their foundations.

Let's talk about Pro Mod. It seems to be the issue of the moment. Will NHRA "steal" Pro Mod from IHRA? They already have, in some ways. Will Pro Mod get dealt a bigger hand in NHRA-land next year? No doubt about it. Will all the Pro Mod stars "defect" to NHRA? Nah, that group will always have its loyal core group of Pro Mod racers, and it should. But I will say this. The people who run IHRA might be well served to settle upon a group of say, eight to twelve Pro Mods Names who they feel they just can't live without, and make those names the kind of offer that guarantees their participation at IHRA races. Booked-in sucks, says you? Hey, it used to work well for the old AHRA group, not so long ago. And besides, those guys had to win on Sunday to get the bigger bucks, no matter what fables have been advanced over the years by those who didn't get the buy-in call.

I know this because I had the opportunity to sit in on a few meetings when the promoters would put together the lineups for the old Grand American races. I can't speak to the earliest days of the GA Experience, but from what I observed, racers were paid an appearance fee to come in and do the pre-race promo duties, be featured in the TV and radio ads, and do the required number of qualifying laps. They still had to run the right numbers to qualify, and they had to beat whomever lined up against them on Sunday to make anything above the appearance fee. As long as all parties adhered to the terms of the day, it proved to be a mutually profitable arrangement.

Heck, I even heard Don Prudhomme himself lament the passing of the AHRA series once, stating what a good deal it really was to run those events. You may ask, why would it be necessary to buy the racer's participation? I say the answer is, look at the crowd count.

Exhibit one is Holbrook Motorsports, and the Grave Digger Pro Mod. I am well aware of who tells whom where to go in that deal. More power to 'em. But based on Sunday crowds and observed buying practices at Cordova and Topeka, I say they are cutting off their noses to spite their faces. I just love that saying; it's so graphic! Anyway, most T-shirt buyers don't go much "below" the Nitro burners, but I'm betting they would go for the Grave Digger's act. And from what I have read, that's where the money is in that deal. They did sell their share of product to the Cordova fans. But there just wasn't that many of them, at least not compared to the turnout at Topeka. From a business standpoint, a racer wishing to sell to the public at some point HAS to be at NHRA national events.

If you think there are date conflicts between IHRA and NHRA now, just wait until next year! Loyalties, and who owns what will only go so far. And then someone will have to decide if they want to be profitable, or not. Other Pro Mod teams face much the same dilemma, whether we are talking T-shirts or sponsor dollars or whatever. Crunch time is coming, folks. And the answer will not be found in cute cartoons, by the way.

And what of Top Fuel racing in IHRA? When I see it up close, it sort of reminds me of the old AHRA days. Don't you just hate it when an old guy pines on for the old days? Too bad. Let me be blunt here. It's weak. Don't get me wrong. I would rather see the WORST Nitro car on the planet than anything else. As long as it sounds halfway right, I can live with it. But the competition in IHRA T/F is not good right now.

One guy used to dominate in the old AHRA days -- his name was Don Garlits. Maybe you have heard of him. One guy is dominating in IHRA these days and his name is Clay Millican. Maybe he's not quite so famous (yet). I don't think I could go out on the street and persuade anyone to come to the drag strip with me, based on Clay Millican being on the entry list. And that is not meant to slight Millican as a racer in any way. For all I know, he's the Next Biggest Thing in drag racing. But I do know he won't get that title without going into the field of play at NHRA.

So what should IHRA do with Top Fuel? They need to do what AHRA did with Pro Stock. They stepped back, analyzed how their version of Pro Stock benefited the show -- and got rid of it! They didn't want to commit the kind of resources (prize money) that would attract the Pro Stock hitters of the day, so they decided to more or less let it die off. Of course, the entire AHRA entity died off eventually, but that's another story. And like AHRA before it, IHRA might as well decide just how badly they need Top Fuel cars at their national events.

From what I saw at Cordova, they might be money ahead to bolster their Pro Mod, Pro Stock and Funny Car programs. As a racing fan, you just could not have asked for a better show than what those three groups put out at Cordova. It was a kick-ass show! The outside world will never know about it, and I would say that's most of the whole point. Why not spend some time (money) and get these racers a piece of the public consciousness. Hey, I know a few PR types, and the rates are reasonable. Why not get behind the racers who can and will enter your races, run their *#it into the ground trying to win, and pay them enough loot so they can keep doing it? Ask Laurie Cannister, for one, if that sounds like a good idea.

Bottom line is, IHRA will never "beat" NHRA at being the "biggest and bestest." They can only try to be true to themselves, true to the racers who got them this far, and maximize the assets they do possess.

Much as it sounds as if I'm bashing on IHRA, I would be the first to say there needs to be an IHRA. No one wants to see NHRA as the ONLY choice. A monopoly is not a good thing, ever. I would just like to see IHRA take some steps to make sure they continue to be a strong presence in the drag racing game.


photo by Jeff Burk

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