Drag Racing Online: The Magazine

Volume VIII, Issue 6, Page

THE NEW DEAL: Reshaping the Sportsman racing scene

PART I: Fixing the alcohol ranks


Will Hanna has two racing websites, InsideTopAlcohol.com and InsideCompRacing.com. He drives TAFC 425.

A guest speaker in one of my college marketing classes a few years back gave me about the best quote I’ve heard regarding change. This successful business man, “Mattress Mac” Jim McInvale (owner of the World’s most profitable furniture store, Gallery Furniture) told us his mentor charged him early in his career that “Change isn’t required, but neither is survival.”

With my earliest memories dating back to Division 4 drag strips, and working my way through the sportsman ranks on both the local and national level, I’ve seen a lot of things change. When I was a kid going with Jay Meyer’s TAD in the early '80s I remember piling into the Chevy dually with a 36-foot Chap and that was a "big" rig. The Super Gas guys hauled their cars on open trailers. Now the Super Gas guys usually have bigger rigs than the alcohol guys.

The one thing that hasn’t changed is the racing structure, and payouts.

I don’t think the current NHRA national and divisional series is totally broke, but I think a lot of improvements could be made to adapt to the current sportsman racing landscape. Some areas are really out of whack, and others just need slight change. Some are just fine.

This is a culmination of several years of thought on how it could be done better. Much like Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” that brought the country out of the Great Depression, this is what I envision as the “New Deal” for sportsman racing.

Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car

If you’ve read my website, InsideTopAlcohol.com, over the past few years, you probably know I’m not a real big fan of the alcohol cars and the current divisional system. This is probably the biggest problem with the series.

Years ago, the alcohol cars used to be a way for a track to bring in a crowd to a divisional meet. At some tracks, that’s still the case. Over the years, that picture has changed. Instead of trying to make money at the "front gate" with spectators, the current structure allows a track to make a decent, lower risk profit strictly off the "back gate." A track can make enough money off sportsman entry fees and crew passes without the risks and expenses of advertising for a crowd. In this scenario, the $12,000 to $13,000 payout to the alcohol cars does nothing but cut into that back gate profit. Now you have a situation where the alcohol cars aren’t needed and unwanted.

On the flip side of that, an alcohol racer HAS to go to these divisionals. Even if you aren’t chasing points, you still have to go to get grading points so you can run national events. With the costs of fuel, to run a marginally competitive alcohol car equates to about $1,500 a pass***. That big group of asterisks denotes the big “IF” you don’t blow anything up. With that number in mind, an NHRA divisional event pays $2,500 to win. Contingency, if you run it, and IF you get it, may bring you over $3,000.

Of course you can’t expect to pay for your racing off the payouts. . .this is NHRA, right? Well, the best way to lose a sponsor is to have them pay you to go to one of these races, unless its customer base is sportsman racers. A race with no TV, no spectators and very limited media coverage has ZERO sponsor value. This really screws up the potential to run an alcohol operation like a business. Any sponsor that is going to dump a significant amount of money in a team wants to see their team high in the points, or even competing for the championship. So, a team is faced with not charging a sponsor for those divisionals and just eating that portion, or they charge the sponsor full price, the sponsor either goes to one of these races or sees a picture with no fans in the stands, and they dump you the next year.

The flip side of this is the few tracks that actually bring in a decent crowd. An alcohol racer is the star of that show, and that has real marketing value. Less than 25% of the divisional events out there bring in a crowd that has some sponsor value. Some of the blame lies in boneheaded scheduling. If a divisional is run at a national track, that event should be at very least three months before or after the national. Why would a fan bring the family to watch a divisional a month before the national when he already has to save up money for that trip? At the national he gets to watch the alcohol cars AND the Pro’s.

Part of the problem is that true promoters are a rare breed. A true promoter is capable of going outside of their personal preferences to cater to all the different tastes out there. Half-ass promoters, for that matter, are rare as well. Some of the track owners are nothing more than a manager and don’t have a clue what it takes to get a crowd. "Promoter" doesn’t fit them. So a track owner will tell you, “I tried to get a crowd one year and we lost our ass.” If you can’t take 280 mph, NITRO, and Funny Cars and make a profit on your $13,000 payout investment, sir, please step away from the track. Put your track uniform on the ground, and take a step back.


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