One of the main issues facing the drag racing world today is change. Not that there’s too much of it, but that our sport is afraid of it.
From the early days in the 1950′s when salt flat speed devils took their hot rodding exploits to the abandoned air strips of south California, our sport has been one of spiraling costs and unbalanced degrees of spending from the top qualifiers to the non-qualifiers. The “Haves” and the “Have Nots”, if you will. Through the 1970′s and into the 1980′s, costs and spending discrepancies were on the rise but didn’t play as much of as role in who won and who never won. But today, as costs have spiraled out of control and sponsor money is about as dry as the Aral Sea, it’s a topic integral to the health of the sport. The problem is, no one wants to address it out for fear of the repercussions of disturbing a working – albeit crippled – formula.
Let’s take NHRA Pro Stock, for example.
In 2011, Competition Plus Editor Bobby Bennett wrote an editorial piece that pinpointed what the “factory hot rod” category needs to bring itself up to modern day automotive standards and significantly reduce costs at the same time. His proposal revolved around the use of production engine blocks and cylinder heads, turbochargers, and electronic fuel injection – and in my opinion, he was spot-on in his assessment.
But just imagine if NHRA Vice President of Competition Graham Light waltzed into the Pro Stock pits one Friday morning and said, “sorry guys, some really nice stuff you’ve got here, but you won’t be able to run it next year.”
But just imagine if Graham Light strolled into the Pro Stock pits one Friday morning and said, “sorry guys, some really nice stuff you’ve got here, but you won’t be able to run it next year.
Many of the Pro Stock teams today have invested millions of dollars in their in-house engine programs, chassis catered to the carbureted 500-inch engines, and large inventories of parts designed for the same. The teams who don’t have their own engine programs still have hundreds of thousands and even millions in equipment that revolves around the current rules formula for the category. As such, switching things up isn’t just a simple matter of re-writing the regulations and mailing out new rulebooks. There’s a lot of skin in the game.
But a change is necessary.
The cost of competing in Pro Stock today has skyrocketed out of control and the number of entries has dwindled significantly from a decade ago. To add to that, the very production cars that they represent don’t come with big blocks or carburetors anymore. Some never did.
The problem with change is the “what-if” factor.
Despite the out-of-control costs, the professional fields at NHRA national events are still full or more than full 99% of the time, and during these unsettled times, the NHRA doesn’t want to rock the proverbial boat unless they have to.
But let’s draw comparisons to the stick-and-ball world.
Every decade or so, professional sports franchises find themselves at the end of long-term contracts with their aging core of players, and while often still at the height of their game, they’re released to the free agent market as the cost to retain them simply outweighs their value to the team. These franchises then turn to the draft for young talent that will allow them to rebuild their team from the ground-up with fresh new faces and with significantly lighter contracts.
These teams have no intentions of being competitive when they dump their big-name players and begin to build anew, nor do they expect to be good two, three, four, or perhaps even five years later. But eventually, their gamble pays off; and it often pays off with world championships by a squad that couldn’t win a game to save its life five years earlier.
Despite the out-of-control costs, the professional fields at NHRA national events are still full or more than full 99% of the time, and during these unsettled times, you don’t really want to rock the boat unless you have to.
I only use Pro Stock as one of the high-profile examples, but there are countless categories across the spectrum of drag racing where changes – some small, some more significant – are needed for long-term success. The one and only Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity is rather fitting: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I get the plight of series organizers. If my livelihood and the livelihood of others hinged on whether a gamble to switch things up worked or not, I’d be hesitant to rock the proverbial boat too. But some of the greatest success stories in history come from thinking several years out rather than what’s right in front of the decision makers.
This comes from a St. Louis Cardinals fan that’s content seeing No. 5 play in an Angels uniform.