I probably have mentioned this in the past but a very knowledgeable man in the world of marketing once said to me some years ago that essentially there were two areas needed from drag racing if it was to become a major league sport: live television and a reduction in classes. The subject has been broached on and off through the years but it’s a sore subject for most, ending up as just a comment or two here and there but never talked out loud about. And what exactly is that subject? The professional and sportsman ranks splitting up.
The latest mention was by Jim Hughes of Hughes Performance – who can see multiple sides of the argument – mentioned a few weeks ago in Competition Plus that there was a disconnect between the NHRA and the Sportsman classes. Track schedules, track prep and a lack of a healthy environment for sportsman racing were some of the many reasons that he saw as more than problematic for continuing.
Two distinct groups
Even before these egregious conditions evolved though, it was obvious that the NHRA had seen the two divisions in clearly different manners. The biggest distinction may have come five years ago when the NHRA proposed to sell the series to local investors. The sale to HD Partners never materialized (source: L.A. Times) due in part to the Recession but essentially what they were selling was the Pro part of the series because that’s where the money was. Basically the NHRA would have kept the Sportsman ranks for themselves. It was more convoluted than that but you see where the value was. And that is what’s key here.
The Sportsman ranks aren’t in the big picture for the NHRA and big-time sports. And from what I hear, the sportsman might be fine with that. Their treatment by the NHRA is awful. When an event is on television, to make it work for ESPN, who covers all of the NHRA action, the Sportsman’s division runs very early in the day, subsequently waits while the Pros run during the day then are back on the track at night. I hear from racers all the time through discussion boards, blogs and emails or comments to me after a story I write – to put it simply, sportsman racers are not happy at all.
Drag racing is more popular than the mainstream would have you believe and I’ve documented that over and over through the years. However, the big money is with the Pros and you can almost not blame the NHRA for spending their time and effort on the Pros. The same marketing guru I mentioned earlier said the NHRA had to get rid of or split their Sportsman ranks from the Pros. Fundamentally and almost through osmosis, that may be happening. And I believe everyone benefits and would be happier.
As a Nostalgia drag racing fan, we know all too well how the NHRA treats those who aren’t million dollar teams in the Pros. Our Hot Rod Heritage Series often gets second fiddle treatment – at best. Yet, we bring in giant crowds that rival any major race series. The fans love it and maybe a merger of Nostalgia and national Sportsman ranks – which essentially we already have – would make for a nice fusion.
Regardless, the NHRA needs to cut the ties between Pros and Sportsman and give both sides a renewed and better outcome than what is presently occurring. A split would be most beneficial for all concerned. And it should happen sooner rather than later.
Daryle W. Hier
PS: Thanks to Bobby Bennett from Competition Plus for his dialogue on this matter.