Drag Racing Online: The Magazine

Volume VIII, Issue 6, Page

What’s Right About NHRA & Drag Racing

By Glen Grissom

I’ve been very fortunate to have covered and reported on races and racing in many different series across the U.S., both at the national and local level. Although most of my professional background has been with race cars turning left, when I worked for a few years for The Nashville Network’s (TNN) original Internet site (before the network was mutated into the unwatchable Spike TV), I had IHRA drag races to go to because the eccentric and eclectic TNN telecast them -- along with enthusiast TV shows about fishing, guns, Winston Cup racing, World of Outlaws, and yes, country music. What a great mix – real America characters on one network. Their racing mojo was lost and tossed when Viacom/MTV bought them.

Those New York-based TV executives had no idea how to support racing of any type – they had maybe heard of NASCAR racing. WoO? Are you kidding? Drag racing? Please. I always wanted to be in the first meeting of the minds in New York when their liberal sensibilities discovered that they had bought a network that not only celebrated gun ownership, it showed you how to hop them up to make them more accurate and lethal! It’s still farther than you think in cultural miles from Nashville to New York.

Here at DRO I’m getting to now devote a bunch of my professional time to straightliners of all types. While I’ve worked at covering roundy-round races across the map from the Bomber/Street Stock classes to Nextel Cup to IndyCar/IRL, and sprint car races from local 360s to the World of Outlaw’s racers at Eldora and the Knoxville Nationals (Even though you’re drag racers, you have to go to these at least once in your life!), most of my working life has been spent at national level drag races in the NHRA or IHRA -- covering mostly the Pro classes – but sometimes including the random Sportsman or nitro-fuel bike event. The fear-bone is definitely disconnected from the sense-bone with those nitro’d two-wheeled loons. And I mean that with respect!

Now I’m getting to work my way from those higher-end big time events out into the real heartland of amateur drag racers, where you readers work for a living, and then compete for all the reasons anyone commits resources to a amateur hobby – you basically love it. It’s not a rational, logical attraction – I don’t think true love is.

Certainly you can hardly make a monetary case for racing, and believe me I’ve tried to help racers do so. Yet, we all know there are some unique characteristics that are common to drag racing both at the top levels and local ones, and these separate it from other motorsports and make it unique and desirable to us. I think this uniqueness needs to be amplified if drag racing is going to grow at either level, too.

What are some of these distinctions that should be kept right in front of drag racing consumers, be they the fan in the stand or corporate buyer, and put in the minds of future potential racers?

Safety Among Motorized Mayhem
Yeah safety is boring, safety doesn’t directly sell tickets, and drag racers (and all other racers I know) resist safety actions until they are regulated. But dead racers are not a good foundation for a sport, either.

Jeez people, we have bracket racers loosening their safety belts so they can cop a look at their competition and the belts become essentially for show only – we have seen the enemy of drag racing safety and he is us! What are you some kind of example of evolution in action helping it along to determine the survival of the fittest? But I digress, and that’s for another future column.

If the formation of the NHRA Safety Safari did anything, it helped legitimize drag racing in the eyes of local authorities by organizing it across the U.S. and getting racing off the streets; actually planting the seeds for it to become a family sport, and also reducing death and injury. Street racing and drag racing are still confused by some people even it this day and age.

The Safety Safari was so ahead of its time – here was a sanctioning body being proactive about the survival of its participants -- what a wonderfully novel idea! Still is. NASCAR at the national or local levels never had anything remotely like that, and still doesn’t. If you attend an NHRA event it is clear from the stands or listening to the drivers that the Safety Safari is critical to the operation.

OK, so sometimes they just seem to be just track sweepers and preppers, but when someone’s life is on the line or there is a crash, they are fearless and the first into the flames or bent metal. Every local drag racing track should have the equivalent of a Safety Safari and its character and charter should be capitalized on and promoted. How about hitting the local high schools with your local Safety Safari team advocating safe racing and getting kids out to a sponsored test and tune session with their street cars? The local police would probably help.

I’ve been to local stock car races where the “fire” truck used a garden-type hose, and you would starve to death before the “safety” workers got to you if you, heaven forbid, went off-track. (Of course the coyotes or rattlesnakes might have got a bite out of you first at a couple of Southwestern dirt tracks I used to go to.) I can only guess for now there are equivalent tracks in drag racing, and you can bet we’ll let you know about them.

Fan Access
This has been jawed to death, but it is really amazing and special how much access to the hardware and the people a ticket-paying fan has at a national or local drag race. The model of getting up close and personal with the racers in their garage area endorsed and fostered by the NHRA has it is all over every other racing sanctioning body.

If the average ticket-buyer, or even corporate guest, really tried to get into a NASCAR Cup garage without the proper credentials, there are some of those tracks where I fear they’d be riddled with bullets, after being beat senseless. OK, I’m exaggerating a little. This isn’t true at most local stock car racing tracks though, and that sport is the better for it.

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