Pain in the Gas
just came back from a midnight beer run (hey, something
has to fuel these late-night ruminations), and was somewhat
surprised to see long lines of cars, pickups, and thirsty
SUVs lined up at the gas pumps with their drivers anxious
to pay $3.49 a gallon for regular unleaded. Obviously the
fearful result of the hurricane tragedy that struck New
Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast just four days earlier,
it was still startling to realize people in Atlanta—a
good 500 miles from “The Big Easy”—were
already stockpiling fuel.
I vaguely recall photos of similar spectacles
stemming from the Arab oil embargo of the early-‘70s,
but living north of the border I never got to experience
that fuel crisis first hand (and to be honest, not yet being
of driving age at the time I didn’t really care).
But clearly, this time I have to, not only because I, like
practically everyone reading this column, need a reliable
gas supply to maintain my North American lifestyle, but
because fossil fuels are a critical component of my business
and passion, namely, drag racing and motorsports in general.
It may seem selfish to
even consider such a thing when people are dying or clinging
to life on rooftops and so many have lost practically everything
they’ve worked a lifetime to realize, but it’s
a legitimate question: How will this crisis affect our sport?
The immediate impact, it seems, will be greatest
here in the South and along the East Coast as the temporary
closure of eight of the nation’s largest refineries
and two pipelines that run from Louisiana through Mississippi,
Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia has virtually
stemmed the northbound flow of about a million barrels of
fuel per day. But if the closures last even a few days,
the pain at the pumps will inevitably spread nationwide—if
it hasn’t done so already.
So, it’s reasonable to assume many travel
plans are going to be cut short or eliminated, at least
until some sort of sanity returns to the price at the pump.
And undoubtedly that applies to fans intending to take in
some of this fall’s events. It’s not hard to
envision a family or group of friends who want to see a
race three, four, or five hundred miles away, but where
they may have previously been prepared for the cost of the
trip, they might simply not be able to afford the gas now.
I suspect more than a few would-be attendees
will be rethinking long drives to Indy for the U.S. Nationals
or the big ORSCA Outlaw 10.5 event this weekend at Atlanta
Dragway. Ditto for all the remaining NHRA and IHRA national
events, the World Street Finals in Orlando, or Bradenton’s
Snowbird Nationals. Race promoters have to be more than
a little concerned about attendance right now.
To be honest, I don’t see the racing
itself being curtailed, especially not at the highest levels.
It barely abated during the previous fuel crisis; in fact,
for many series—drag racing included—that era
is often thought of as “the golden years.” But
surely participation will flag, particularly by grassroots
racers, if only because the cost to send their rig and racecar
down the highway doubles in short order. And I have no idea
how expensive race fuel will become, though I suspect prices
will be on the upswing there as well.