SELLING THE SPORT
IHRA's recent announcement of its new "Night
of Fire" circuit -- 10 one-day shows featuring
wheelstanders and jet cars among other exhibition
vehicles at tracks all across the Southeast
and Midwest -- is one of the most promising
I've seen in drag racing lately.
Personally, I'm not a big fan of the exhibition classes. Without a win/lose decision on the line, I just don't care. I feel it's sort of like watching Cops on TV -- interesting at first, but once you've seen it, you've seen it a hundred times. Still, I recognize the teams and drivers who participate in these classes as serious racers. Anyone who goes the distance on two wheels at 100 mph-plus or straps himself or herself to the front of a jet engine and lights the fuse certainly deserves this humble scribe's respect!
And it's easy to understand the fan appeal of Bob Motz's fire-breathing Kenworth or Ken Nelson's wheel-standing school bus. Without fail at IHRA's national events, where the Night of Fire concept is well established, fans young and old flock to the fences and gape with awe whenever they take to the track. Only the mighty Top Fuelers rival these guys in creating a buzz through the stands when their runs are completed. So it just makes sense to widen the exposure of the exhibition classes and GIVE THE FANS WHAT THEY WANT!
Surprisingly, for many years this philosophy seems to have escaped the major sanctioning bodies. Instead, at local tracks across the country, spectators have been fed a steady diet of bracket bashes and sportsman clashes with an occasional divisional race thrown in for good measure. But as hinted in a recent DRO interview with new IHRA Director of Race Operations Skooter Peaco, after a couple of years of hands-off stewardship, entertainment giant Clear Channel seems to be taking a renewed interest in its IHRA property.
Of course, there's always trepidation when a new owner (especially a much larger, but less-experienced corporate owner) starts fiddling with a proven product like IHRA drag racing. But if Clear Channel can accomplish half -- hell, make it a quarter -- of the success it's realized in promoting Supercross, IHRA can't help but grow and thrive. And that's good for drag racers everywhere since it'll mean they'll continue to have places to race. After all, you still have to have some competitive classes for filler between exhibition rounds, don't you?
Seriously, though, this new Night of Fire series should expose many new fans to the core of our favorite sport. Most may come for the fireworks and jet cars, but some will inevitably grow to love the hardcore drag racing vibe -- and that will be the long-term payoff for racers and promoters alike.
Another promotional initiative that caught my eye recently came courtesy of a couple of Atlanta-based racers who hit on a unique approach to the never-ending quest for attention in the modern motorsports marketplace. What's more, they're performing a good deed at the same time.
Now, it's nothing unusual for small race teams to join forces in an effort to share expenses and knowledge, support each other while traveling, and stake out a higher presence at the track. What makes the alliance between Mike Langston and Sherman Carter a little more unusual, however, is that Langston is an ARCA stock car driver and Carter races a '69 Camaro on the south's growing outlaw drag racing circuit.
As far as they know, a partnership like theirs hasn't existed before, where both cars are prepared out of the same shop, with many of the same crewmembers working on both machines. Langston's and Carter's Pure Power Team cars will be painted similarly and each driver will attend as many of the other's races as possible, often bringing their respective rides along to cross-promote the two racing disciplines. Additionally, to further appeal to young race fans, the dynamic duo commissioned a professional artist to create cartoon alter egos for them. Langston's a mongoose; Carter's a leopard (too bad it's not the other way around so we could see the return of the mongoose to drag racing)!
The good deed that springs from all this effort is Pure Power Outreach, a volunteer-based program designed to introduce young fans to racing and the racing lifestyle. Located in Powder Springs, near the team's shop just outside Atlanta, the Pure Power Outreach building features a gymnasium and sports equipment available to any child who shows interest. Carter says there will also be instruction offered to older kids who want to learn about crewing duties with a race team.
Obviously, this is a great idea, especially from the drag racing side of things since it's no secret the sport has an aging fan base. Any effort to attract and interest young fans and potential participants to the straight-line racing world that doesn't involve bikinis, coffee-can mufflers, and loudest stereo contests has to be applauded.
Finally, Johnny Fenn, president of the Outlaw Racing Street Car Association, described to me the work of Carolina Dragway, an IHRA-sanctioned strip in Aiken, SC, to attract and entertain the younger set while their parents watch or participate in racing. The track, which will host the ORSCA opener Mar. 20-21, has installed a playground, complete with swings and slides. Just giving credit where credit is due.
P.S. To volunteer or learn more about Pure
Power Outreach, call Langston
or Carter at (770)
What does "street car racing"