Dead on 

The Final Round

Thanks to everyone who read this column, I appreciate all of you!!


After more than 20 years writing my editorial column “Dead-On” and sharing opinions of the sport of drag racing it will come to an end with these final written words.


First, I want to sincerely thank Jeff and Kay Burk for letting me be part of this great online magazine that they poured their heart into. I met Jeff when he was selling his regional racing newspaper “Midwest Racer” at one of the tracks I owned or managed in Iowa. From the get-go, I knew he was as crazy as I was about trying to help our sport grow on the local level. I think we have done that over the last 20 years.


Jeff has had “Nitro Fever” since he first filled his dragster fuel tank with it (I think at Havana, IL, right?) and worked with Dave Koehler on, if I remember right, a Big Block Chevy nitro front-engine car. It has been a lloooonnnnggg time since we talked about that stuff but, trust me, he has had a passion for drag racing for about 60 years.


My columns wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for my own passion for drag racing and the freedom Jeff gave me to write about subjects I felt passionate about. From trying to fix the Contingency payouts from NHRA and IHRA (which really worked by the way) to tech columns on building bracket cars to local racing ideas. THANKS JEFF!!! Love you my friend, you have been a blessing to me in many ways.


I made my first pass down a track in 1968 and basically haven’t stopped enjoying the ups and downs of it since then. I have seen a lot of changes and helped put some of those changes into play on the local level over the years when I was leasing Eddyville Dragway from 1979-1984 or owning Cedar Falls Raceway from 1983-1998.


When I was in Florida racing at the richest series in bracket racing, the original “Winter Series” I watched Royce Miller (of Maryland Int’l Raceway fame) put his championship Camaro up as a Gambler Race prize at the Moroso 5-Day Event. As far as I know it was immediately the biggest prize ever at that time for one bracket race. He asked me to be the starter for that race as he wanted someone on the start line (no AutoStart back then) he could trust and who had seen all the “games”. I was honored to do that and it was at that Winter Series I had a talk with him about “BUY-BACKS”, which at that time was basically an unheard of idea. As a track owner I had seen the positives and the negatives of buy-backs but as we all know, it is now pretty much available everywhere. A lot of ideas I brought back to Iowa came from things I learned at Big Bucks events and I think more track owners should go to other tracks and watch.


On the subject of buy-Backs, I wish they would just go away like the old 5-amber ‘tree. I have changed my mind on buy-backs quite a few times, but some of the recent events that take 18-22 hours to complete and have 300 or more cars in the “buy-back round” is simply just too much for me. Even the local level where you might have 30 cars in a bracket. Buy-backs do a few things: 1. They protect the track a little bit if they guarantee a payout by generating some extra income. 2. They give a good racer who lost first round a second chance. 3. The downside is if a local guy who doesn’t see many win lights beats the local hot-shot first round and is feeling pretty good, he or she will likely see him again in eliminations. That is where I think buy-backs are hurting the sport. The big bucks, highly skilled teams love them as they are prepared to win; problem is that it washes away a big day for the little guy who pulled off the upset.


I have watched the smaller budget racers starting to disappear over the last 10-15 years and about once a year they show up at a Night of Fire or some special event. The cars are still out there, they don’t disappear. The problem is the track managers are catering to the high dollar guys who make all the verbal noise. My wife, Barb, and I used to call that group the “whining minority” (10% of the racers making 90% of the noise). It is the local guy who works hard to put $100 into entry fees and travel to the local track. That guy has been run out by $20,000 engines, $5,000 powerglides, three sets of tires a year, and multiple entries by drivers who probably spend more time honing their driving skills than they do at their job. I appreciate the hard work the “new age” winners are putting into it, but it has driven the “weekend racers” away. That is why tracks have smaller and smaller turnouts.


On the opposite side of that scenario is the new MEGA-Bucks events across the country. A couple of these races GUARANTEE $1,000,000+ to win a bracket race in 2020. Simply unbelievable but it is true. The SFG races, the Fling events, the Original Million, Loose Rocker events, and so many others have become a way to make a living for some drivers. The upside I see from this is the well-funded or highly skilled racers now have an option they can schedule in to display and be rewarded for their driving and mechanical skills. Think about it: Win the $1,000,000 at Martin, MI, in the SFG Race (be brave and don’t split the payout) and your little bracket car made more in one race than any other form of motorsports on the planet! Get your dial-in board ready, it could be you getting that check.


The downside of the Mega-Bucks races is it takes racers away from local tracks, much like NHRA did when they introduced the Super Comp, Super Gas and Super Street classes for divisional and national events. I witnessed that transition as a track owner and we lost about 30% of our regular weekly racers who chose to run Lucas Series races rather than bracket race.


Where do I see bracket racing in 2020 and beyond? In a nutshell I think the Mega-Buck events will survive a few more years and then fade a bit as local promoters and track owners will start to run a few “big buck specials” for their regional racers and stop leasing their tracks to outsiders who roll in and fill their pockets with profits with no infrastructure expenses. I see more and more local $5,000-$10,000 to win races coming with entry fees in the $300 range for a weekend. I also see a lot of “splitting of these payouts” as they will be extremely top heavy in payouts (example-$10,000 to win, $1,500 r/u). I think anyone with a clue would talk about cutting that up to maybe $7000 win, $4500 r/u, right? I see a lot of splitting on payouts locally even if it is $1,500 to win and $600 r/u because it is usually friends racing and who really wants a -.001 to cost them $900 after a good day racing?


In the final paragraph of “Dead-On” I want to say this about drag racing, and my focus in more on local racing: I hope turnouts get better, so tracks survive. I hope local tracks will work together and quit cutting each other’s throat trying to get cars in the gate and, lastly, ”Put the effort into treating the weekend racers like real customers and respect them. In return they will respect the track management.” it is a win-win for all of us.


Good luck to all of you, hope to see you around in my little red S10 in the next couple years before I switch 100% to golfing and fishing.


See you at the stripe!

- Jok Nicholson 


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