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

3 comments:

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