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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.


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