Monday, January 19, 2015

The Future of Drag Racing

(I wrote this about eight months ago but between being in a wreck, being without a car, trying to get my car fixed, a laptop death, trying to get it repaired or get a new one, having the flu and all the other crap which has happened, I am just now getting it on my blog! I even tried putting it on there in September but my ISP wouldn't do its job! It is just as important now…and maybe even more so with the recent events which have happened…and many of you will agree with everything in here…as usual. Becky)

By Becky White


 I regret often that I have been silent, but never that I have spoken!


I read Larry Morgan's interview on DRO AND John Force's interview in Hot Rod. I hope most of you have also read them. The purpose of writing this is to point out the fact anyone who subscribed to and read Quick Times Racing News for many years have already read almost everything those guys talked about because I printed it ALL 15, 20, 25…even over 30 years ago! Some of the things both racers said about NHRA may have been worded differently and they used names and sponsors more than I did in Quick Times, but basically, neither one said anything NEW!


A friend who read it pointed that out, saying, "Well, they didn't say anything new…you've said ALL over and over again in the last 30 years or more!" Larry and John also were much nicer about what they said than I ever was! The hardest thing to realize about both men and both interviews is this: they are both right and neither has a solution to drag racing's problems…mainly because the 'powers that be' won't listen to them any more than they ever listened to me!


From the time I first began publishing Quick Times, I continually strived to get track operators as well as IHRA and NHRA to begin special promotions and do hundreds of other things to preserve the future of drag racing.  My words pretty much fell on deaf ears. You know WHY they fell on deaf ears? Because when someone is running their mouth all the time, they aren't listening to anyone…just the noises going around in their own heads! If your mouth is open, your ears are shut! Just last year, I put the May, 1981 Quick Times Racing News editorial on this blog and it dealt with exactly many of the things both Larry and John recently pointed out!


That was only the second editorial I had ever written and that was 33 years ago!!! Over the 25 years I published the print version of Quick Times Racing News, I did MANY more editorials on that same subject (and many other   subjects). I spent countless hours on the phone with track operators who called crying about the state of their situation…not enough racers, not enough spectators, neighbors trying to shut them down, other track operators not working with them. I never failed to give them solutions to ALL those problems and more.


I spent many MORE hours on the phone talking to successful track operators…those who tried every suggestion most anyone ever came up with. Many worked, others didn't! But you have to try everything to figure out what works and what doesn't! One of our local tracks recently closed because the owner/operator would NOT accept hints, suggestions or help of any kind from anyone else because HE thought HE was the smartest.


What do YOU think? Was HE the smartest? Is that why he finally gave up? Because he was the 'smartest?' No…he just had the biggest ego! I wrote an editorial to the Pro Stock IHRA owners in the early '90s basically telling them they could NOT run IHRA using their egos. Every single one of those men was a successful business owner and everyone thought they would be successful with IHRA. But they weren't…because when they bought IHRA, they allowed their egos to take over! They weren't successful and soon had to sell their new venture!


When I gave my speech at the 2012 North Carolina Drag Racing Hall of Fame when I received the (first ever) Jeff Byrd Memorial Lifetime Achievement award, I thanked good friend and former track promoter Marshall Oldham and said, "Even now when we talk on the phone, we still manage to solve most of the problems of drag racing!" The track operators who were there just kind of snickered…and therein lies much of the problem! Every track operator in the room either read and ignored those editorials or just didn't read them at all…some STILL have a problem with the fact I am a woman with a working brain…even AFTER I proved I was the only person in drag racing smart enough to do the job I did all those years!


Men do not want to take advice from a woman and track operators and association owners won't take advice from anyone because their egos won't allow it! They are afraid if they do and everything works out, they will have to admit they were wrong and everyone else was right…even that 'woman.' Their egos just will not allow it! Laying that aside, I wish they HAD taken my advice…even if they had given credit to someone else! At least they would have been doing something to help insure the future of drag racing. I didn't start writing this to expound on my knowledge of drag racing…just to remind everyone I really DID have many of the answers for many years! They just didn't want to admit it.


Even MORE than that, these people have not been willing to do the hard work and make the effort to insure even THEIR own futures in this sport. Just look at what is going on in drag racing today. I, like Larry Morgan, no longer think the problems are 'fixable.' Maybe it IS too late. Drag racing lost the chance to capture at least two new generations…maybe even three…for their future income by NOT looking to the future and doing the things I suggested to insure that GOOD future. Look at the stands. It doesn't matter whether it's an NHRA race, an IHRA race or a local Saturday night bracket race, why are there no butts in the seats?


Longtime fans are older and many cannot go to races any more, many are on fixed incomes or retirement and can't AFFORD to pay the unreasonable fees to spectate at races and let's face it…NOT ONE of us has gotten any younger. Some have just lost interest in drag racing and Larry covered all the reasons for that, too! Not only that, we aren't doing anything to capture the interest of younger generations! Even if we had, many younger people can't afford these ridiculous prices either! I don't have all my printed issues here…most are in storage. But I looked through the few which are here.


As anyone who subscribed knows, I wrote a LOT of crap about Billy Meyer when he bought IHRA…one thing in particular…adding weight to the Pro Stock cars. That may not have been exactly the same thing Larry spoke about but it is so closely related, you can't separate it…it all ends up being the same thing. The other…getting rid of the few classes which REALLY drew the fans in…Modified, Super Stock, Stock and Pure Stock. Sportsman classes…just like Larry spoke of. Even if the fans couldn't understand the stats, they loved those wheel standing, gear jamming, high winding drag cars and didn't mind paying to watch them run.


That is why Gear Jammer races are so successful now! My favorite day at the races was always Saturday…when ALL the guys ran full out. The wheel stands were higher and the engines were screaming louder trying to set records and get that recognition! On race day, they were cautious…not wanting to lift their front tires out of the lights, they tied them down. Not wanting to break out, the flywheels didn't wind quite so tight, the engines didn't scream quite so loud! Saturdays were the BEST! And NOT JUST because I was a photographer! I was also a FAN!


Ask the old time fans what they came to see besides Pro Stock…they will tell you they came to see the class cars, top fuel funny cars and top fuel dragsters! There used to be a nighttime 'show' of some type…remember all the jet cars and trucks, the Top Sportsman Top 8 Shootout in IHRA and SO MANY other things NHRA and IHRA did to draw spectators? Now, all they want to do is grab your money and hope you'll spend a lot more when you get in the gate. But it cost so much now, people are not coming in the gate! I got news for you guys…you can't sell anything to anyone you can't get inside the gate!


In the September, 1991 (Volume 11, Number 6) issue, I wrote an editorial about our fans and how we could get more of them…TEN years AFTER I had written another one just like it…in September, 1981! In the very next issue…October, 1991 (Volume 11, Number 7)…the editorial was about track operators spending more efforts to support the businesses who support them every year, year in and year out as well as helping their racers by sponsorships and being on hand to help them when they needed help. My words to them were: "YOU NEED TO TAKE CARE OF THE PEOPLE WHO ARE TAKING CARE OF YOU!" How many did that? One out of 20? Maybe.


In Larry's interview, he talked about NHRA structuring their programs where it costs too much for 'manufacturers' to come. "This is the first time in the history of drag racing Tim Hyatt wasn't there (Vegas) with his service rig," Larry commented. "He services clutches and sells Weld wheels and stuff like that. He couldn't afford to take the trip out because he doesn't get a lot of business there. That's not good." No…it isn't…but we're going to see more and more of it. I wouldn't know what to do if I went to a drag race and didn't see Tim and Beth Hyatt there! I can give you many other names as well. I know the racers also felt that way.


Can you imagine what THEY thought about the future of drag racing when one of the mainstays of this sport for 40 years wasn't present? It couldn't have been a good feeling! Personally, I don't think the sponsors ought to have to give ANYTHING to NHRA OR IHRA to set up at their races…whether it's 2%, 10% or 20%!  This entire mess needs to be re-structured! Sponsors are already carrying most of the load, why should the top guys at either association be lining their pockets with the sweat of someone else's labors? Sponsors are already paying out the rear, why should they be expected to pay MORE, MORE, MORE? How many small tracks charge their sponsors to set up at their races? NONE! At least none I know of!


They are so damned happy to have them on the premises, I don't think it has ever even occurred to them to CHARGE a sponsor! Why does NHRA AND IHRA do it? GREED, folks, GREED. There's NO other reason. I wrote MANY editorials about hundreds of ways track operators could get more spectators, more sponsors…even more racers. Every time I heard about a track operator doing something new or different to get more spectators, I called them, talked to them and wrote about it! None of these things cost a dime…just mostly some work. The one I did write about costing someone a little money was Melvin Bishop.


Melvin was the owner of Princeton Dragway in Princeton, WV. He printed thousands of business cards and took them to all the businesses in the area. He asked how many employees each business had and give them that many business cards to give to their employees. You KNOW if a company gets a chance to GIVE an employee something which didn't cost THEM anything, they're going to do it! On the back of that card was printed "One Free Pass!" I KNOW this worked. I SAW it work. They more than made their money back so in the end it didn't cost them a dime…just time and they were WELL PAID in the end for that! Even though Princeton Dragway closed, there are STILL people who go to other tracks in the area who originally went their first to time to Princeton on that FREE PASS!


I wrote about it…hoping other track operators would do the same. I never heard of any other track operator trying that! R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (Winston Drag Racing) did it! They printed and handed out thousands of free passes for the first ever Winston Invitational at Rockingham Dragway…an NHRA race…and other races as well! Jeff Byrd did it…after he became president of Bristol Motor Speedway! NHRA saw for themselves how well that worked but did they ever do the same? Not that I know of…even though they are the ones who benefitted from it!


Most tracks, as well as NHRA and IHRA have simply priced themselves out of business. They no longer seem to care what is happening to the sport as long as they get their 'cut!' Where do they think that 'cut'…their paycheck (and extras)…are going to come from when they finish destroying everything? That's the problem…they don't THINK! I personally feel NHRA's downfall started when they hired a soup company CEO to run a drag racing association. (Did you ever hear of Campbell's Soup company giving away tickets to a drag race? OR sponsoring a drag race?)


I remember talking to Jim Teller when he was managing Atlanta Dragway, he said to me, "NHRA is no longer a 'racing' organization. It is now just a 'marketing' organization!" I had a hard time believing that but it was true! When NHRA stopped BEING a racing organization, they forgot where they came from. Compton NEVER KNEW where they came from…how could he give a hoot about the history of our sport which came from people's blood, sweat and tears for so many years when he knew NOTHING about it? And he STILL doesn't know! There were PLENTY of RACING people INSIDE this sport who could have filled that job and filled it well.


I don't think they care…they still get their pay check whether there is one spectator or a million! But in the meantime, they are short-changing every single person who is trying their damndest to keep this sport alive and well. Larry Morgan pointed out the disconnection between racers and the sanctioning bodies…in my opinion, the sanctioning bodies are the culprit here! Even though Aaron Polburn was third worst behind Tom Compton and Billy Meyer and even though Aaron is gone now, during the years he was the head of IHRA, he let everyone else handle his duties and did not oversee what was happening in the organization.


BOTH organizations are the glue holding this sport together and THEY need to get THEIR acts together. Racers, sponsors and spectators are all the little pieces that glue needs to bond. I had hoped, with Scott Gardner, he would fulfill that duty with IHRA but now I'm not so sure…it's that ego thing. But I don't know about NHRA. If they don't get someone in a position to oversee and correct what is going on there, they ARE going to FINISH falling apart. YES, they DO need to lower the cost for the spectator and they REALLY need to stop playing politics with peoples' lives.


Racers no longer have the support system through sponsors they had at one time. It used to be you could get any part you needed and/or almost anything repaired without ever leaving the track at a points race or national event. I even wrote a story about the fact there is a complete city within the confines of the gates at a national event…there wasn't much you couldn't buy at any national event track. Then NHRA quit letting racers sell their own souvenirs and things have gone downhill from there. What damned difference should it make to NHRA HOW MANY t-shirts or any other souvenirs a racer could sell?


OR HOW MUCH MONEY they could make from those sales! They SHOULD have been helping those racers sell MORE instead of wanting a cut of the profits! Those profits helped racers PAY their racing bills, buy their parts, pay their way in. But no, NHRA, being the greedy monster it became, wanted even MORE. They treated sponsors the same way. Not only that, if they had a big sponsor…let's just use a soft drink company for an example, a racer who had a different soft drink company for a sponsor could not even run their sponsor logos at those races! Let's use Pepsi for an example…since I don't think they have ever been a big NHRA sponsor.


We have a local soft drink company in Salisbury, NC….the name of their product is Cheerwine (very good I might add…I make a helluva Cheerwine cake!). Let's just say…for example…Pepsi was sponsoring the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. Suppose the Cheerwine company wanted to expand their distributorships into Georgia and they thought sponsoring a drag car at the Southern Nationals would benefit that effort.


Suppose I had a race car and they said to me, "We want to sponsor your car at the Southern Nationals, we will furnish you everything you need to get the word out we are trying to expand into that area. We will paint your car with our colors and logos, pay all your travel fees, entry fees and give you X-amount of dollars for your time," I would have to tell them, "I can't do that!"


They would be SHOCKED and say, "Why not?" I would have to say, "Because Pepsi is sponsoring that race and NHRA won't allow any other soft drink to be represented there because it would be a conflict of interest!" Can YOU imagine HOW MANY prospective sponsors, not just for NHRA but for racers as well, have been turned off by that?" Can you imagine how many thousands of dollars have been lost to this sport over the years because of stupid decisions like these? This is politics people…NOT marketing!


Are people who make these kinds of decisions the people we need leading this sport? I don't think so. I wrote editorials about tracks getting together with local schools to display race cars and have the drivers explain drag racing to kids. I did it…way back when I was working for Farmington Dragway ('79, '80, '81). It was VERY well accepted by the schools…they were glad to have us. In the March, 1982 issue, I wrote about Farmington Dragway being a big presence at the Boy Scouts' Pinewood Derby. Many local racers put their drag cars on display the entire weekend and even helped with judging special award winners.


One of the biggest car shows in the south used to be at the convention center in Charlotte every year in February. They had an entire floor devoted to drag cars and some round track cars…it was one of the most well attended of all displays. One of the displays they had every year was Jim Norris doing his fabulous striping on the spot…how many onlookers do you think THAT drew? Local racers, tracks and businesses set up booths at the event and promoted drag racing and our local tracks. One quote in particular I remember is this one from Johnny McGuirt, "IT'S THE PEOPLE!" That's it in a nutshell, folks…it IS the people!


We can't do ANY of this without the people! In April, 1982, I wrote an editorial about Farmington Dragway's Annual Carolina Hi School Day in May. They not only had Hi School Day, they also had 'little kids' Friday night with many younger childrens' events. They invited the local Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts AND 4-H members! It was one of the most successful things they did. I wonder how many of those people returned to the track? THAT was an investment in their future. I write a lot about Farmington because it was my 'home' track and I knew more about what was going on there than at other tracks when I first started the paper.


Besides, they ALWAYS set a good example! In October that same year, I wrote about the Shriners' race at Greer Dragway. They had WFBC, Channel 14 to come out and cover that race. Racers took up a collection to dunk track manager Roland 'Mac' McAbee in the water barrel…head first…on TV! The money, of course, went to the Shriners. Shriners always played a big part at Greer Dragway, they not only sold their pecan logs and other items at the track, they were instrumental in helping keep that track open when the neighbors wanted to shut it down!


I wrote MANY editorials about being a good neighbor and this is one example of how that could help in the long run! In January, 1983, I wrote about the drag car show I had at the Valley Hills Mall in Hickory, NC. The merchants told us this was the first January in the history of that mall they had met 100% and MORE of their quotas for that month! They begged us to come back. Every local track in the area was represented in some way during the show…even tracks AND businesses as far away as Columbus, OH!


The next year, I had two car shows…one at Valley Hills and one at East Ridge Mall in Gastonia…also successful…even after a huge ice storm which shut the East Ridge Mall down on Sunday! I wrote editorials begging track operators to have their announcers take a few minutes every week to explain drag racing to the spectators…by having two racers…or even two people on golf carts or bicycles…go down the track while the announcer told everyone what they were doing and why, how the lights worked and how the winner was determined. I wrote editorials begging track operators to be good neighbors.


There was one neighbor who lived near the end of one track, I won't tell the name, but you can probably figure it out. The neighbor was elderly and had a mature son who was handicapped. The owners of this track helped support that lady and her son all the years they had that track. Track operators don't have to go to those extremes, but who do you think was the first person to stand up for that track all THREE times other neighbors tried to shut them down?


This same track offered the use of their facility for any church or community event FREE. They were such a good neighbor, they even got a 'conditional use' permit to SELL BEER in a DRY COUNTY! They used to have HUGE events over the July 4th weekend with a concert and fireworks and other events. The community not only supported this, many local businesses, NOT associated with drag racing, actually came out and set up booths to advertise their businesses.


Those businesses had their own little row where everyone coming into the concert had to walk right past their displays! The local Jaycess were a huge part of this event. With the concert and all the kids racing and big folks racing, that place was packed for DAYS! Good neighbors! I wrote editorials about how to invite Jaycees, Ruritan Clubs and any other organization to get involved with the track by bringing kids out…for FREE!!! This particular track ALWAYS allowed anyone under 16 to get in free which not only helped UP their spectator count, it helped the racers themselves…that was one spectator ticket they didn't have to pay for. Yes, free! In today's world of drag racing, that could save a racer as much as $100 or more each month…making it possible for them to race more often!


Do you have ANY idea how much food, drinks, t-shirts and hats you can sell to a kid because his dad didn't have to pay his way in? All these things are probably the reason this track is still one of the MOST successful tacks in the south…even after some 'not so smart' track owner/operators have hurt it over the past few years. I begged track operators to have more 'youth' events, Farmington also used to have a grudge night every Friday night. Not only that, they had special high school events on those Friday nights.


Not just racing, they gave little trophies for the best appearing car, best paint job, best and loudest boom box, fastest car…I don't even remember HOW many trophies they gave out just on that one night! Reckon any of those folks are drag racing now? You bet your boots they are! I also wonder how many continue to come to the track as spectators? Was it worth it? You betcha! I begged tracks to have a 'truckload' sale…if not once a month, at least once a year! Everyone who could climb in a truck or trunk could get in free…so could the driver!


I think Farmington did that some. You could also give the biggest load something extra…one of those little trophies maybe! Who doesn't love a trophy? The smartest track owner I have EVER known is Bill Bader (other than Jeff Byrd). Since the very first moment Bill Bader got Norwalk Raceway Park, he has been looking to and planning for the future! He probably has the BIGGEST races of any drag strip on this continent and they are ALL successful!


The only thing to ever hinder a race at Norwalk were God and Mother Nature…otherwise, everything they have done has been a success! Every track in this country could be the same way if only they were willing to work as hard at it as Bill Bader has. Even after Billy Meyer and others nearly destroyed IHRA, Bill Bader is the one who brought it back and made it a helluva success for the years he was there. And he did it through HARD WORK!


Good grief! If I continue writing about all the ideas I gave track owners AND NHRA and IHRA over the years, there wouldn't be enough room on the internet to put it all. Bill Bader agrees with everything I have EVER written about track, race, racer, sponsor and fan promotions. Larry Morgan and John Force covered most of it…they just pointed out NHRA and IHRA have done NOTHING to insure the future of this sport! (Except for the years Bill Bader owned IHRA!)


Most of what NHRA has done over the years since Compton was hired has been to the detriment of the sport, not the health of it. THAT should tell you what kind of man he is…a man who is so dumb, he doesn't even have enough sense to make sure his OWN FUTURE is secure and healthy! Well, it isn't ALL his fault…he's had a LOT of help along the way. Instead of surrounding himself with knowledgeable people who could and would have been willing and happy to help him figure out the best things to do for the future of drag racing, he surrounded himself with greedy, egotistical idiots who never cared about the future of drag racing.


They have already priced some of the absolute best racers they've ever had out of national events. One is Warren Johnson. Larry Morgan explained that, too. Any racer Warren's age who can hole shot a racer like Dave Connolly in 2014 IS NOT sitting at home because he's too old to race. He isn't sitting at home because he doesn't 'want' to race. Warren would give his eye teeth to be able to race. With 40 (or so) employees and a booming business, he isn't stupid enough to blow his income…without a major sponsor…and their incomes…on NHRA's ridiculous costs.


And I don't blame him. Warren could race every weekend and I have NO doubt he IS still be a winner…he proved that. And I have no doubt he would be the first one in the gate if things were different! But he is smart enough to take care of his business and his finances and, without a sponsor…not blow it with NHRA! Oh yes…drag racing will be here until those guys retire and get THEIR retirement but they care nothing for what comes after. And yes, we ALL know…NHRA sets the standard.


Everything done in this sport is pretty standardized by them. No one dares to buck them, no one dares to stand up to them…except Becky White. Maybe Tim Hyatt did us ALL a favor by NOT showing up at the Vegas race…maybe others will take note. Who is going to say to NHRA, "We can't charge for a $70 spectator day at the races…we can't make enough money on that to pay the power bill because people won't (can't) pay that!"


When sponsors and racers say, "We can't pay your stupid 20% (or whatever it is) commission on everything we sell plus pay a set-up fee AND a yearly sponsorship fee! We cannot pay you a commission on our souvenir sales…that's what helps us pay our way to get here! You cannot keep ripping us off…we can no longer afford it!" Anyone out there listening? They may not say it out loud but they say it when they don't show up at the race track! If they didn't listen and follow my advice for the past 33 years, maybe someone will now.

That one track I have written about so much near here is one of the most successful tracks in the south…Farmington Dragway…I think I said that already. Every time I have attended a race there for the past three years, the place has been packed when every other track operator around is crying the blues! They continue to have to find new places to park people! They're using land now they hadn't even thought of using years ago!


Successful? Yes! And yes, they HAVE had their share of downers…MANY of them over the years! They have come close to closing at times, but they always managed to come back! You can NOT 'JUST' open the gates and collect the money…you have to WORK at this. You have to look to the future and plan for it and make it work now to insure it later! Our leaders have not been doing that (sounds like the government, huh?) It is time for things to change! You can no longer run a 'marketing' organization on the racers' backs if there are no racers at your races and no butts in the seats!


I always was, I still am, I always will be…Drag Racing's MOST DEDICATED Fan! Becky

Tuesday, May 13, 2014


By Becky White
Editor/Publisher of Quick Times Racing News for 25 Years & Blog Author
for 10 Years

For all the years I have been in drag racing, there have been many
track operators…meaning track owners and the people who operated the
tracks for them…who have reminded me of General George Custer. Just in
case you don't remember your history lessons, he was the General who
would not listen to anyone because he thought he knew more than
everyone else.

Because of that, he led his troops into the Battle of the Little Big
Horn where every single person in his troop was killed including
himself. Track owner/operators who refuse to listen to anyone and
everyone and learn anything are signing their own death warrant…we
have seen this so many times over the years, we wonder how they can be
so blind as to do the very same thing other 'out of business' track
owner/operators have done to cause their own demise.

They think they know it all and will listen to no one, even when
people try to reason with them over the issues of track safety. I was
out of drag racing for ten years…what have I learned since becoming
involved again last year? Things are the same. Nothing has changed. I
want to explain 'top end' safety to track owner/operators who seem to
think the only thing they have to update and take care of is the
starting line and 660/1320 feet racing surface.

They think they can keep up with the times by shaving the track,
widening the track, prepping the track and even re-paving the track
and that is all they need to do. Of course, some do nothing! 100% of
ALL fast racers will tell you, "The top end is even MORE important
than the starting line AND the track surface!"

I had not seen Pro Mod cars since 2003 until September last year. I
knew they were quicker and faster but you have to see it to believe
it. I have only attended two Pro Mod races since but it doesn't take a
rocket scientist to realize something is wrong! I LOVE this job! I can
STILL call nearly every racer I have ever known and get more
information than most anyone else in this sport.

My reputation precedes me by over 35 years and even though I haven't
been there very often for racers since '03, they are still confiding
in me about their concerns and issues. With Pro Mod drivers, top end
safety came up more than any other problem. I went to MANY Quick 8,
Quick 16, Top Sportsman and Pro Mod races over the years as Pro Mod
grew…from some guy trying to go fast enough to get an extra 50 bucks
for Low ET or Top Speed at their local (southeastern) eighth mile
track in the '80s to the single, most popular group ever in the
history of this sport.

I was one of the original instigators of Pro Mod racing. These guys
are flying. The fact they are running over 200 mph in 660 feet…not to
mention the quarter mile…is mind boggling. I was always on the
starting line and able to watch track prep and clean up as well as the
race cars and drivers. As always, the concentration is from
approximately 60 to 100 feet behind the Christmas tree to the top end

The area beyond those traps is a no man's land! Why aren't track
operators concentrating more on their tracks from the top end traps to
the end of their pavement and even beyond? Why don't they realize THAT
part of the track is AS important, if not MORE SO, than the FIRST 660
feet? Track owner/operators must feel since the cars are 'racing' only
on the 'racing' surface that is all they have to keep updated. That is
NOT true!

Just because a racer shuts his car down at 660 or 1320 feet it doesn't
mean he isn't STILL racing! They are no longer under power, true, but
they are going the fastest at top end and in the shut down area of any
time they are on the track! Not only that, these modern cars are more
violent on top end than at any other time as Todd Tutterow said. Yes,
it takes a lot more power to power 'up' than it does to power 'down'
but, in most cases, they are powering down for an even longer

These cars do NOT and CANNOT stop when they get to those top end
lights! They need their shut down area to be just as smooth, just as
wide and just as sticky as the racing surface they were just on. Todd
also said, "It doesn't matter HOW long the shut down area is when you
are barrel rolling or flipping end over end!" Most others agree. But
it does matter if you're still on your tires. Just the fact most
tracks change so drastically at the top end lights is enough to cause
a crash!

Cars are at the height of their speed and a parachute or two can only
do so much! The science of these cars continues to advance so much
quicker than track surfaces but, of course, they always have. Why is
that SO hard for some track owner/operators to understand? I will
never forget, in 1989 at River Cities Raceway Park, a popular small
track in Ashland, KY, Rob Vandergriff and Norm Wizner were matching

One racing gas company reps was talking to Rob telling him how much
more power his gas would give Rob's car. Rob said, "Man, you don't
understand. I don't NEED any more power! I can't get the power I
already have to the track! If I could just get the power I have now to
the pavement I could run faster anyway…even without a better fuel!"

There is the gist of this editorial. What Rob said, nearly 25 years
ago, was so profound it is 100 times more true now than it was then!
Chassis builders and most racers concentrate on safety and how to get
more power to the pavement. Speeds and ETs have skyrocketed. Track
safety, in most instances, has not! Tracks have not gotten any longer.

Most smaller tracks have NO top end lighting…where it is needed most.
If someone has a top end accident, safety crews and EMTs have to work
by vehicle lights in most incidents to do what they have to do and
sometimes, that may even include saving a life! Race cars don't have
lights…they NEED as much lighting in the shut down area as they do
anywhere else, maybe more.

Tracks are not getting any longer and most aren't getting any better
in the shut down area either. If a track has plenty of shut down
length, they don't need sand traps and safety nets, but in most cases,
shut down has not been expanded and needs those things. The reason
racing had to go eighth mile in the early years was because cars got
too fast for the shut down and a fifth of a mile was not short

You forget…in the '60s, they weren't running nearly as fast as our
cars today…on these same tracks! This is also the reason Pro Stock
cars were taken out of championship points competition in the early
'80s. Yet, these ultra fast racers today are expected to race on
tracks their counterparts would not…and thought they could not…race on
40 years ago!

The reason? They didn't feel safe! Cars need assistance to stop just
like they need assistance to start…ie: water box, burnout area. They
just need a lot more of it. A car is 100% more erratic and more
violent on top end because they're at the fastest they will ever be on
any part of the track! How many accidents do you ever hear of on the
racing side of 660 feet? I don't have any figures on that but almost
ALL accidents happen on or near top end.

What are some of the causes? First and most important…besides the fact
shut down areas seldom get any upgrades, is the fact bracket racers
race on these surfaces on a weekly basis. The problem? What do many
bracket racers do when they go through the lights? The first thing is
slam on their brakes.

What happens when hundreds of cars slam on their brakes on hot asphalt
near the same spot? A dip eventually occurs. Check out the top end at
your local track and look closely…many look like those proverbial old
'washboard' dirt roads on which many of us grew up learning to drive!
Not only that, after a track has been paved and the pavement stops at
the finish line, there is already a dip caused by the pavement ending

Even though the paver smoothes and tapers it down, it is STILL a dip.
Another problem is most tracks were not 'stabilized' when they were
built so when there is a lot of rain, water gets under the asphalt or
concrete. When it has nowhere else to go, it pushes up through that
surface. In the winter, the water freezes and pushes the ground and
the pavement up.

When the ground warms up, it settles back down but the cracks never go
away. Every time the ground rises and settles, it settles differently
due to the changes in temperatures from day to day. The old pavement
becomes more and more cracked and porous allowing water to settle down
in those cracks. The water gets pulled back up by force…making it as
slick as an oiled baby's behind!

But how many top ends ever get sprayed with VHT? I have never seen a
top end get sprayed, have you? VHT is not only an adhesive used for
traction, did you know it is also a concrete and asphalt sealer? Even
though it not a stopgap answer for an unstabilized track, it is better
than nothing!

Can you imagine hitting a slick surface at 200 mph? You can if you're
a Pro Mod driver! That is the first experience ALL drivers have when
he or she goes through those top end lights! They can't even utilize
their own braking system, it is too dangerous…just using the brakes
can cause an accident….sometimes deadly, as we all know.

I am not down on all track operators. Many have, over the years, done
all they possibly could to make their tracks and even their top ends
safe; others…just what they thought they HAD to do (which, in many
cases is nothing). Many have made leaps and bounds trying to keep
their tracks in good condition to be able to handle the power in these

They have concreted their starting lines; most tracks where the
quicker cars run have been paved and re-paved. But most have only been
paved to the 660 or 1320 foot mark…the point where the cars are going
the fastest they ever go! After that, these drivers find themselves in
'never never land.' They run nearly 200 mph on a nice smooth, groomed
surface into infinity.

How many of you remember Bristol Dragway in the old days? It got so
bad when IHRA would have their Saturday night national event show,
once cars got to about 1,000 feet, they were all over the track and
many accidents occurred! Funny car and top fuel drivers threatened to
stay away unless something was done about it.

It was as simple as the fact there was natural water coming out of the
mountain under the track…the heat of the sun and speed of the cars
pulled the water back up through the track. It was dangerous! They had
to go under the track and put in a drain to take that water away from
the track.

Even after Jeff Byrd became the manager there and remodeled the track,
that had to be done again! Atlanta Dragway was the same way. When Gary
Brown bought it and spent millions remodeling the entire facility,
there were still top end wrecks because of water under the track. He
had to go back under it and drain it, too.

I will never forget at a IHRA national event at Alabama Int'l Dragway
one time, the Pro Stockers looked like 'Seadoos' going down the track
there was so much water flying up behind them! I don't know if
anything was ever done to fix that track. Many (most) tracks have not
been repaired.

When a Pro Mod driver hits that rough, unsealed, damp, possibly slick
asphalt, they can literally skate around as if they had hit a patch of
black ice! Do you have any idea WHY racing insurance is as expensive
as it is? If you can't answer that by now, go back and read this
again, only let it soak in next time.

A word to racers…something you can do to help yourselves be safer on
the tracks you race on…when you go to a track you've never run on
before…go down to the top end and check it out. Even if you have to
make a 'time trial' in your personal truck or car, even a golf cart or
ATV…just drive all the way down that track!

Look to see what is there for your safety. Is there enough shut down
area? If not, do they have a sand 'mountain' or safety nets or lights
if you are racing at night. Judge for yourself…most of you are going
to get a surprise! 'Try' to talk to the track operator about what
he/she needs to do to KEEP you coming back to his track!

We know every drag racer loves what they're doing, if they didn't they
would be bowling or something safer. Every time they get in their race
car, they know they are taking their lives in their hands. They do
this because they love it, but they get hired in to put on a show and
bring in spectators for the tracks…for YOU.

They are busting their butts going quicker and faster and having cars
which not only look like show cars, they become missiles on the track.
For THEIR sake, what kind of mind cannot comprehend the dangers these
racers are putting their lives in for your track and your fans? I know
small track operators are having a rough time now…even some national
event tracks are as well because of this economy.

However, there are NO reasons to short change racers and even fans
when it comes to safety, not to mention short changing yourself. Let
us not make drag racing a sport where spectators pay to come see the
wrecks! We have never had that reputation, let us not sink to those
lows now.

Thanks to: Warren and Arlene Johnson, Todd Tutterow, Charles Carpenter
and Marshall Oldham for their help with this very important issue.

I am now, I always have been, I will always be drag racing's 'most
dedicated fan!' Becky White

Sunday, January 19, 2014

In Loving and Faithful Memory of Jeff Byrd

By Becky White

There are a few people in this world whose foresight rises above all
obstacles, they just know there is a greater good with some things
when other people cannot see that good. Jeff Byrd was always one of
those people. I have wanted to write this memorial to Jeff since we
lost him. I didn't do it sooner because I wanted to see if anyone else
would but I have not seen one. In my personal opinion, Jeff did more
for drag racing than any other single person in the history of our
sport for many years and I know there are others who feel the same
way. His efforts were far reaching…as one person, he probably touched
more people in drag racing than anyone else ever has.

Jeff got his start in our sport when he became THE WINSTON DRAG RACING
MAN! Jeff worked for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in Winston-Salem
and was instrumental in Winston Sports Marketing…he truly became a
legend. He probably educated more people about the ins and outs of the
business end of drag racing than anyone…he somehow had this inane
knowledge of how things 'should' be. Even though he never ran a track
until he became president of Bristol Motor Speedway in 1998, he KNEW
how a track should be run. I don't mean he knew how to run a race or
he knew how to tech in a car, he knew how people should be treated.

Of Jeff, Bill Bader said, "Jeff was one of the smartest men I knew. He
taught me the phrase 'creature comfort features.' He knew about
'marketing' and marketing above all else can make or break any
businesses but most especially drag racing. People interested and
involved in drag racing were spread all over this country and even
other parts of the world and he knew marketing and advertising were
the only true ways for a track and our sport to succeed.

Second was the way he treated people. I never saw nor have I ever
heard of Jeff treating a Pro racer differently than a little guy
racer, whether it be sportsman racers or bracket racers. I never saw
nor heard of Jeff treating any national event track owner or operator
any differently than any small weekly track owner and operator he
dealt with.

"He even put the powers that be at NHRA and IHRA or any other
association on a level playing field. He did not discriminate between
bosses and employees, no matter whether he dealt with the tech guy or
the guy who cleaned the trash at the end of the weekend. To him,
everyone was equal. That is a quality you seldom ever find in this
world. Jeff's 'creature comfort features' included everyone. As for
teaching track operators the importance of marketing, advertising and
how to treat people, Bill said, "When we signed Norwalk Raceway Park
with IHRA in 1981 and Winston was the series sponsor, I didn't think
'World' Nationals was a good title for our first ever national event.
We were an 'unknown' in drag racing at that time."

IHRA owner, Larry Carrier said, "We'll call it the Winston World
Nationals" and Bill agreed with that title because he felt that was a
good title since it changed the whole perspective. The fact Jeff was
such a good guy and being a softie didn't mean he couldn't tell where
he thought they were going wrong…with not only your operations, but
also the way you projected yourself to the public, your employees,
your racers or the business people with whom you dealt. Bill said Jeff
sent them 100 gallon of paint…50 red, 50 white! Bill got busy painting
barrels. Jeff called and when the person who answered the phone said,
"He's out painting barrels," it did not set well with Jeff.

Bill called him back and Jeff said, "What are you doing?" Bill said,
"I was painting barrels." In a very condescending tone of voice, Jeff
said, "Really? Do you think we give you money, presents, sponsor
signage money and paint so YOU can paint barrels? If that reflects
your management style, then maybe we should be working with someone
else! You should be worried about selling tickets and working at
putting butts in the seats? You should be worried about 'creature
comfort features!" Bill said it made him mad that Jeff had talked to
him that way and he told his secretary, "Don't EVER tell anyone I'm
out painting barrels again!"

Bill continued, "But Jeff's words haunted me. I found every time I
turned my back on the office it cost me money! I am a 'hands-on' guy,
I LIKE painting barrels, I like putting up fence, I like erecting
grandstands…any kind of physical work. Jeff focused me in the right
direction. He taught me marketing and how to prioritize what I did
with my time, the difference between marketing related versus
operations related. He taught me that phrase, 'creature comfort
features' and to focus on your sponsors…the guy who pays to sell his
wares to the market created by the racers and fans; your customers…the
racers who pays to race and your fan…who pays to watch the racer."

"He included the 'suitcase' promoter in with the customers…the
promoter who travels from coast to coast putting on events such as
Super Chevy, Fun Ford and all the others. Jeff, his wife Claudia and I
became closer friends," explained Bill. "I could call the 'Byrd Man'
on the phone and ask him a question about anything." But Jeff was that
way with ALL track owner/operators…media people, too. I know…for I
sure did call him quite often! He helped me more than any other single
person I ever met in drag racing.

When I started publishing Quick Times Racing News, the only
experiences I had ever had doing anything like that was watching the
girls at my local newspaper put together ads plus…I loved to write and
I loved drag racing. Jeff taught me more about advertising, marketing,
publishing and how to relate to people other than the racer (which was
always my priority). But I had to deal with all those other people and
he taught me how.

He was always forthcoming with his advice and he answered every
question I ever asked. Had it not been for the wisdom he imparted to
me, I don't think I would have made it when I went out on my own! He
not only shared his knowledge with me…as I have said before, there
were times he literally lifted me out of the depths of despair. He
refused to allow me to have the doubts which could have made me quit.

He was my greatest champion because he knew my publication was
important to the people who really keep drag racing alive and well…the
little guy racers. The first thing he did was have RJR buy the back
page of my paper and the check always came at the beginning of each
year. Had it not been for that, I would NOT have made it through those
long winters with very little other revenue!

Jeff was out of drag racing for many years after the government
mandate to take cigarette advertising out of sports. But drag racing
was always his favorite…he loved drag racing. His love of drag racing
was the only thing which stood between Bristol Dragway and the heavy
'destruction' equipment…he single handedly saved that track. He saved
it at what 'could have been' a great cost to him but he loved our
sport so much, he was willing to take that chance. He believed in this
sport and its people…ALL its people! True…he was the President of
Bristol Motor Speedway and both tracks were his work, but he worked so
hard to save the drag strip, you wouldn't believe it even if you knew
the whole story.

The first time I went to see Jeff after he took over operations in
'Thunder Valley,' he was in a trailer on the left side of the drive
going into the facility. This was a little trailer which had been used
for many purposes over the years…'will call' office, tech info
headquarters…many of you have had to go in that little trailer to get
your tech cards, etc. At the time Jeff took the job, it was the ticket
sales office…with several people doing nothing but selling race
tickets by phone…mostly for the speedway. I kind of crinkled up my
nose and thought, "Jeff's office is in HERE?" I asked for him and he
heard my voice.

He didn't wait for someone to tell him I was there, he came right out
and got me! He seemed SO happy to see me! He took me back to his
little bitty office in the back of that trailer and you know what was
hanging on the wall? Not a photo of Dale Earnhart, not Adam or Richard
Petty or Mark Martin or any NASCAR racer! There was a wall size poster
of John Force doing a burn out! In all the years he had been gone from
drag racing, he had not lost his love for it! Force was just getting
started in the Pro ranks when Jeff became the Winston Drag Racing Man.
They hit it off right away and remained great friends through all
those years.

When John learned I was writing this memorial, he didn't mind getting
on the phone with me while he was in the staging lanes at Norwalk
Raceway getting ready to make a qualifying run! He talked to me until
he had to get in the car to make his run! He did this because he had
such high regard for Jeff! "You know I raced with Jeff from his
Winston Drag Racing days and he always treated us like family. He was
a great guy and he did a great job because he spent money at times
when there no money to promote the races to make sure the crowd came
in. He always treated you fair," said John.

"There were a few times I got mad over stuff. I would run to the tower
and cry to him and he would take me outside. He would laugh and I
would say, 'How can you laugh when I'm in this crisis?' Jeff would say
to me, 'Because Force, you are in crisis ALL the time! The reason I
put up with you is because I know how much you love the sport and how
much you want to be good at this!' I was terrible in the early days
when I met him and he would just laugh and say, 'You'll get there
someday, you'll win someday!'"

I said, "He would calm you down, wouldn't he?" He replied, "That's the
truth! I would say, 'Why are you laughing?' And he would say, 'You're
not really mad, you just want to come off like you're mad and you're a
tiger.' You are always fair, you look at both sides of a situation.'
And he would always calm me down. And I won the biggest race of all
right there with him at Bristol…a quarter million dollars! I beat the
dragsters…it was like he was just amazed." Jeff said, "You just pull
things out of a bag no one else can." "I won all the Invitationals! In
fact, I almost won New England but my daughter beat me in the final.
At least a Force won it!" and he laughed.

When Jeff became the general manager of the Bristol racing complex,
there were NO plans for a drag strip there! Thunder Valley was going
under the 'dozers! Jeff is the ONLY reason we still have a Bristol
Dragway. He saved it because he loved it and our sport. When he got to
Bristol, Bill Bader, one of the owners of IHRA, went down there and
talked to Jeff. Jeff was the person who advised Bill to go NHRA!!! An
IHRA owner with an NHRA track! What a combination!

"One of the reasons I respected him,' says Bill, "was because he would
tell you what was right for YOU! He knew if he didn't tell you the
truth, he would lose a friend. He ALWAYS told me what was right for me
and to how to fit that very properly into the relationship with him,
with IHRA, NHRA or whatever! Jeff was very loyal. He was no nonsense,
he was definitive in his thoughts and immediate in his responses. He
worried less about peoples' feelings and just told them the truth and
he understood they would understand that."

I don't like to say 'No' to someone, I don't like to hurt peoples'
feelings, but IHRA taught me I had to be more direct," Bill continued.
"Jeff taught me and others, how to handle really BAD situations and I
have had a few. Jeff NEVER turned me down on any question I ever asked
him and I don't guess he did anyone else, either. He was the only NHRA
track operator who called me and welcomed me into NHRA and
congratulated me. Some others may have talked to Billy but Jeff is the
only person who ever talked to me about joining NHRA!"

Jeff invited Bill to come to Bristol so he could show Bill some of the
things they made mistakes with in re-building Bristol so Bill could
avoid making the same mistakes. He said, "Get yourself on a plane and
get down here!" Bill took Bill, Jr. and their contractor and flew to
Bristol. Jeff not only had Bill talk to Bristol staff members, he gave
Bill their drawings and the blueprints for skyboxes, showed him and
explained to him why "you will NOT be happy with pre-fab sky boxes."
He showed Bill the pre-fab boxes, then the built-in-place buildings
and how much nicer they were.

He laid the drawings out, said "Do this," and "Don't do this." He had
Bill talk to his management team on their philosophies of how they
took care of their customers, their fans and any other guests,
including sponsors. Bill loved Jeff's idea about hiring a manager
whose salary was tied to the profits…even to put him on a percentage
basis. Bill added even more to that when he got back to Norwalk and
they now have the Bader Family Guarantee. He told me, "If you are
unhappy at Norwalk Raceway for ANY reason, we give you your money
back, no questions asked!"

Jeff did it one better…he had his employees carry their personal check
books with them at all times and if someone complained, if they were
unhappy and wanted their money back, the employee would write you a
check on the spot and he would reimburse the employee later! Bill
remarked, "That does two gives a person confidence and a
comfort level knowing their problems are going to be resolved and
taken care of immediately. No one had to worry about jumping through
hoops, filling out forms, sending in a written complaint and all that
crap to get satisfaction!"

"Second, it demonstrated a commitment on the behalf of the employee so
the person who was receiving the refund would say, "Wow, this person
is going to pay me out of their money and they have the ability to
make those decisions. When I heard that, I said, "You S.O.B., you
outdid me!" I had NEVER thought of doing that…it never occurred to me.
HE told ALL employees to resolve problems on the spot!" Bader has had
his Bader Family Guarantee since 1985 but Jeff carried it even

Red Whitmore, who worked under Jeff at Bristol said basically the same
things about Jeff as everyone else has except he did say Jeff was a
great politician, "It takes a great politician to be able to make
everyone happy, but Jeff was more than that. In all his dealings, no
matter who it was, he was honest, caring and understanding. Ralph
Seagraves…the original Director of Sports Marketing as well as T.
Wayne Robertson who held that position for many, many years, both
looked up to Jeff and felt very lucky to have him working on the
Winston team."

"He would help racers…even to the point of helping push their cars! He
would even came out and helped cook for the employees at Bristol's big
races! I know Jeff loved doing things like that…in that respect, he
and Bill Bader are a lot alike! Everything with Jeff was one on one."
Tod Mack told Red, "You are SO lucky to have Jeff here!" Jeff cared
about every person who came through those gates no matter who they
were. Jeff understood it was important for a track to cater to the
grass roots racer in order to survive.

I wrote in an editorial one time if a person really wanted to be
successful in the sport of drag racing, they had to listen to 100% of
everything everyone wanted to tell them. Then they could take 98% of
what they heard and trash it. The 2% left is what is really important.
But you have to listen the 98% because those people are always
complaining and telling you how to run your business. The 2% are the
ones who seldom speak but when they do, they have something important
to say. Jeff KNEW that to be true, he practiced it every day and it
made him one of the greatest successes of any single person in drag

Bruton Smith started Speedway Children' 'Charities in 1982 and every
track he owns has to have events each year specifically to raise money
for the children's charities. Every track is allowed to run their
Children' 'Charities and events the way they see fit. Jeff's wife
Claudia told me, "Jeff was SO passionate about the Childrens'
Charities…he loved giving back to the community and especially to
children. We do all our own fund raising and every penny goes to
Childrens' Charities." Claudia is still running the Bristol Motor
Speedway and Bristol Dragway Childrens' Charities…it is her passion as

Even though all Bruton's tracks are involved in Childrens' Charities,
Jeff is the person who came up with the Christmas light show at
Bristol which has been such a huge hit. Now they all put on a
Christmas light show each year. Bristol Motor Speedways' Childrens'
Charities support non-profit childrens' organizations within the
community around the speedway in 16 counties in northeastern Tennessee
and southwestern Virginia. For information on the 2014 Speedway
Children' Charities events and schedule; go to

As far as this writer is concerned, Jeff Byrd's legacy in drag racing
will never be surpassed. He loved racing and drag racing in
particular. He LOVE being the president of Bristol, he always loved
interacting with people…ALL people. He was full of great ideas and
loved sharing them with anyone who would listen and especially those
who put his ideas into practice. And he loved listening to YOUR ideas,
he always knew he could learn something, too. Jeff is gone from us too
soon, but we can keep his legacy alive by practicing what HE taught us
and by supporting Bristol Dragway AND Speedway Childrens' Charities in
any way we can. We can keep Jeff's memory alive and honor him by
following his lead and being the kind of person he taught us to be.