Monthly Archives: May 2014

Top Current Female Drag Racers

With the much overdone and yet historical 100th NHRA drag racing win for women finally coming to fruition with Courtney Force’s Funny Car victory at Topeka, it brought out the diversity angle once again.  Drag racing is by far the most diverse sport in the world with men and women of all colors battling each other head-to-head day-in and day-out.  With all that has been reported lately, it felt like as good a time as any to list the current female stars in drag racing.  They’re listed alphabetically.

Force DeJoria Enders-Stevens

Courtney Force, Alexis De Joria and Erica Enders-Stevens have all been winners in the NHRA this season.

Alexis De Joria – Her professional career is rather short for the 36 year old from Venice, California.  Alexis is only in her third full-time season driving the fuel floppers and yet she looked like a good pick to grab the 100th female win.  She currently resides in third place overall in the Funny Car ranks and has earned two wins already in 2014.  The daughter of Billionaire John Paul De Joria – he of hair product fame (Paul Mitchell), Alexis has coupled with Kalitta Motorsports and will likely be a force on the track for years to come.

Erica Enders-Stevens – The 31 year old Pro Stock points leader is from Houston, Texas, and the most accomplished of all the current professional women drag racers.  Erica has eight career meet victories and has more history-making runs and accomplishments than any of her contemporaries.  She drives for Elite Motorsports and has consistently been the fastest car this year in a division that arguably is the most competitive of all the professional categories.  Enders-Stevens might have the best chance at a championship of the women racers this year, which in-turn will make even more history for the superstar driver.

Brittany Force – The fastest of the women drag racers, the 27 year old Top Fuel pilot from Yorba Linda, California, has been making inroads in only her second season driving the ground-pounding monsters.  Brittany joined her sister this past week as number one qualifiers making the two Force girls, the first siblings to ever accomplish the feat on the same weekend.  Driving for her father John, Brittany looks ready to win her first event and it wouldn’t be surprising to see her competitive during the Countdown to the Championship (playoffs).  She’s a star in-the-making.

Leah Pritchett and Brittany Force

Rookies in 2013, both Leah Pritchett and Brittany Force are up-and-coming Top Fuel drivers to be reckoned with.

Courtney Force – The 26 year old has ascended to the top of newsmakers this year for drag racing but has had a relatively quiet third season so far – at least until winning Topeka Sunday.  That victory was the Yorba Linda native’s fourth of her short career and has brought her right into the thick of the championship battle.  The youngest of John’s daughters, Courtney has the drive and determination reminiscent of her father.  Having already made news last season as a winning Funny Car driver while baring it all in ESPN’s Body Issue, Courtney looks like a champion-in-waiting.  When?  Could be sooner than you think.

Leah Pritchett – She’s on the list even though Leah doesn’t run the full schedule.  Still, the 26 year old is a competitive Top Fuel driver and has shown to have the skills necessary to become a champion for years to come.  A former Nostalgia Funny Car champion, while also winning in Pro Mod, Pritchett, who is originally from Redlands, California, drives for the Dote family and her marketing abilities offer an advantage that most other drivers could only hope for.  Once she becomes a fulltime Top Fuel pilot with a competitive car, the talent is there and she could be a future star in the sport.

Source: NHRA

Daryle W. Hier

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PasoWineBarrels.com

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Snake And Mongoose Review

It took me a bit of time to get around to seeing the Snake & Mongoose movie.  While it was released last September, the movie was never available in the few theaters we have here on the California Central Coast and as such, I had to wait for it to come out On Demand a month or so ago.Snake & Mongoose

My take might be a little different than most unless, like me, you can specifically relate to drag racers and the era.  I was born to a Top Fuel dragster driver from the ‘50s and ‘60s, and without jumping ahead, I grew up with Hot Wheels at their onset.

Generally the story revolves around the connection between Southern Californians Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen.  Through the mid-60s, drag racing was nothing more than a minor sport at best that most viewed as a bunch of grease-monkeys and ne’re-do-wells.  Essentially drag racing started in Southern California, which is where this legendary account begins.

New stars

Whatever you may have thought about either of these men, what they did with bringing in corporate money to a relatively unknown and certainly unappreciated sport, revolutionized drag racing, if not motorsports as a whole.  The movie offers up Don Prudhomme as a rising super star in the sport by the mid-‘60s, while Tom McEwen was one the established drivers.  In truth, Prudhomme was a racer through-and-through and probably one of the best all-time drag racers, period.  McEwen was good at racing but he was maybe the single brightest mind when it came to promoting – he was a visionary.  The story does a good job of telling that narrative.

As a marketer, I’ve known the chronicles of how McEwen was able to get a meeting with Hot Wheels toy-maker Mattel and secure the first full-blown sponsorship of its kind.  The rivalry of the Snake and Mongoose led to McEwen’s putting the deal together and the two barnstormed the nation, giving Mattel everything they wanted and more with massive exposure.

Whether the rivalry was made up or otherwise, doesn’t matter.  The competitive nature of the Snake combined with the Mongoose’s flamboyant and sometimes playboy style comes out in the movie, making for an interesting drama and arrangements between the two.  The passionate world of drag racing merging with the new dynamic of the corporate world is indeed legendary in the world of marketing, if not the entire sports world. Also, if you’re nostalgic for ‘70s, sideburns and polyester, this film has it all with a human side to the era.  Although most of this motion picture revolves around the 70s (Hot Wheels sponsorship), the period starts in the ‘50s and goes to the ‘80s.Snake & Mongoose Hot Wheels

Opinion

The movie was great, but then I know about the story and seeing all the old names and sites is nostalgic for me.  Whether someone who doesn’t have that same connection will feel the same way – I’m not sure.  To tie in old shots of the great races during the era is fine, but I don’t know how that would go over with someone who doesn’t relate to the old reels.  Personally, I liked the story and thought it was engaging and showed the enduring culture of drag racing.

I’m not a professional movie reviewer, just a fan of nostalgia and drag racing … and music.  The soundtrack was pretty cool.  My view is tainted, but I will tell you that the accuracy regarding the tale of these two drivers rivalry is pretty good and the historic nature for the premise of the Snake and Mongoose is real; it directly led to the professional sport we have now.

If you are a drag racing fan, you’ll likely love this flick, if not, well, I’m not sure unless you like period pieces from the ‘60s and ‘70s.  It’s a cool movie and represents everything good, bad or otherwise about drag racing.

Snake & Mongoose (Blu-ray) – (DVD)

Daryle W. Hier

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Bobby Unser’s 1981 Indy 500 Win Cost Him Career

Bobby Unser

Three-time Indy 500 winner and two-time series champion, Bobby Unser

You would think that winning the most famous race of all – The Indy 500 – would have kept one of the sports elite and successful drivers going for more, but Bobby Unser’s victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be his last.  To add more oddity to the situation, Unser wasn’t declared the winner of the race until October of that year, roughly five months after the race ended.  On top of that, the victory had tied him for second on the all-time Indy 500 winners list with three.

I’m talking about Bobby Unser for a variety of reasons but primarily because one, we’re in the month of May leading up to qualifying and running of the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ and two, I saw the legendary driver in person with the car he won Indy back in ’81 (he also had the pole that year).

Here in wine country, we have an excellent warbird and car collection called the Estrella Warbird Museum and Woodland Auto Display.  We had a huge spectacle of our own this past weekend out at the airport (Warbirds, Wings & Wheels) and here, in the middle of wine country on a beautifully clear day with temps in the 70s, was a racing legend.

One of the greats

Bobby Unser’s career actually took off while winning one of the oldest racing events in the United States: Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.  Bobby is the winningest driver of the event.  He also drove sports cars including for the Arciero Brothers who went on to wine fame here in Paso Robles.

He started his IndyCar career in ’63.  From the pole, Unser won his first IndyCar race in ’66 at where else, Pikes Peak which was part of the circuit from ’65-’68. His first win on a road track happened the following year when he won a double-header at Mosport in Canada – he was on the pole both times.  Bobby’s first circle track win came at Phoenix in ’68 and yes, you guessed it, he won from the pole.

1981 Indy 500 winning car

Bobby Unser won the pole and eventually the Indy 500 in 1981 with this Penske-prepared #3 IndyCar that gave Unser his third Indy 500 win and also his last career victory.

Win, lose, win

Rain had made a near nightmare of qualifying for the Indy 500 in 1981 – yeah, us Californians say ‘what’s rain’?  Yet, the rain wasn’t the biggest story that year.  Obviously known for his ability to win from the pole, Bobby appeared to do just that at Indianapolis in ’81.  However, shortly after Unser had drank the milk and taken all the pictures and accolades, controversy dampened his victory.  Officials penalized Bobby’s Penske-prepared Cosworth-powered #3 Norton Spirit for passing cars during a caution.  He was dropped one spot into second and Mario Andretti – who was racing Formula One full-time – was awarded the win the next morning.  Car owner Roger Penske immediately appealed the penalty and after nearly five months a decision was finally rendered giving back the win to Penske and Unser.

The fact that he lost endorsements because of the long ordeal had left a disdain of sorts with Bobby, so he retired. The two-time IndyCar series champion joined the television booth and was an accomplished color commentator for many years.

Stars of all kinds

Now at the age of 80, Unser seemed to be in good spirits and was very lively with the crowd, even if he had to sit most of the time. It was great to see him among the many stunning cars and warbirds of all sorts including a T-33 which was the trainer for my favorite jet, the P-80 Shooting Star, which I believe was the United States’ first jet fighter.

By the way, the airport originally began as a P-38 Lightning training site during WWII.  The P-38 happens to be my favorite airplane of all-time and the number one ace of WWII – Major Richard Bong – flew a P-38.  Yeah, some folks think it was the P-51 Mustang or F4U Corsair, but no it was the more versatile Lightning.  I was looking forward to seeing the masterful aircraft however; I was disappointed they didn’t have anything more than some models.  They’re very rare but I was hoping … oh well.  Still, these stars of the sky were a treat, along with the more grounded stars.

Old Classics - Warbirds, Wings & Wheels

There were classic cars everywhere at the Estrella Warbird Museum & Woodland Auto Display

It may be a little much to say the delayed Indy win in 1981 cost Unser his career but it certainly tainted the situation and probably led to an earlier retirement than he was ready for.  In any case, my day was great as I love flying, cars and of course motorsports; so it was nice to do something away from the usual wine business which is everywhere here in wine country. Being at the airport with Bobby Unser brought out the nostalgia in me – which isn’t hard – and the story of his last Indy 500 is always worth telling.

Not that I don’t love the wine business and especially wine barrels, which brings me to an interesting situation …

Daryle W. Hier

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PasoWineBarrels.com

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NHRA Sells Pro Classes?

Glendora, California:

Six years ago, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) had tentatively sold their professional operation to a consortium of investors called HD Partners.  However, that deal fell apart with the onset of the current Great Recession.  It appears a new deal with a new group … is just a hopeful rumor.Rumor

Actually, the news coming out of the NHRA is that Sunoco will become the official fuel starting in 2015 (go here for more).  VP Racing Fuels is who supplies the NHRA right now.

What if the rumors had been true?  It probably would be good news for everyone.  Television would finally be able to control the operations of an event more easily and the Pro classes would be able to rid themselves of the stagnant and sometimes confounding ways of Glendora.  I’ve mentioned this before but some years ago an influential man in sports marketing told me that if the NHRA was ever to be a major sport in the United States, one thing they would have to do is get rid of the Sportsman classes.

And speaking of Sportsman, the NHRA could finally turn their attention to the much maligned classes and help promote the grassroots of drag racing.  As far as what this might mean for Nostalgia drag racing is a bit more sketchy.  The Heritage Series is run through the NHRA Museum, which more than likely stays in the hands of the NHRA.  With the Sportsman classes and Nostalgia being the focus of the NHRA, they could start promoting the events and putting more emphasis on the the Heritage Series which gets almost no support from Glendora.

Again, we can only hope that some sort of promotion-minded business comes along to wrestle drag racing from the clutches of NHRA’s non-profit operation.  Until then, don’t expect much in the way of advancing drag racing past the midnight television slots and being delayed while the local women’s ping pong tournament from Bangladesh finishes up.

Daryle W. Hier

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WineBarrel-house_June13cropadj

PasoWineBarrels.com

 

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