One ADRL racer decided he had a legitimate complaint, and he did just what Pro Stock owner -driver Larry Morgan would have done. He took his beef right on the spot to the sanctioning body’s head honcho.
In this case, that happened to be Larry Morgan.
At first a reluctant choice as President when new owner Jeff Biegun resurrected and reshaped the ADRL, Morgan vowed to do what he has long urged the NHRA to do: take care of the racers. And when this fellow racer expressed his criticism, Morgan proved he cared.
“There were some issues with the track. It wasn’t the guy’s fault. Honestly, 150 other racers made it down the track. But you know what? Who wins if we argue with the guy and make him mad? He never comes back to our race. So do we win? No,” Biegun said. “We gave him a free entry to the Rockingham race. And he said, ‘I’ll see you at Rockingham.’ So we all won. But Larry will tell you repeatedly, ‘I want to do what’s right for the racer.’ That’s what wrong with our industry: people aren’t doing that. They’re doing what’s best for their wallet. That’s not how this works. Larry, he’s the proponent of the racer.”
With a laugh, Biegun said that’s why Morgan most likely had been hesitant to become President of a sanctioning body: “I think he was afraid that the tables might be turned: now he’s the guy in charge. And if he doesn’t do something right, then they’re going to come back to him.”
But he said Morgan has handled such situations well. That’s because, Morgan recognizes, he said, what some promoters have forgotten: “Without the racers, we’re standing here by ourselves.”
Unfortunately, with the ADRL prior – I’m going to say it politely – there was a lot of B.S. going on. And people got tired of it. That’s not what Larry Morgan is, nor am I. – Jeff Biegun, ADRL
That’s why Biegun – the Jupiter, Fla.-based owner of RJS Safety Equipment and Seat Belt Solutions and partner in a June 2016 merger with Performance2Way Racing Communications – tapped Morgan to run the ADRL. It had been in financial tatters and marred by disrespect in its previous version, and Biegun wanted to re-establish its upstanding reputation.
“I was looking for somebody who had fan appeal and who was honest. Unfortunately, with the ADRL prior – I’m going to say it politely – there was a lot of B.S. going on. And people got tired of it. That’s not what Larry Morgan is, nor am I. So I looked for a guy I knew who could further what we do, who had the ability to come to work for us, and he was the guy. He was my first choice.
“Larry’s an honest guy. If there’s something not right and he’s critical of it, he’ll be critical of it. And that’s OK. I think he warmed up to [serving as President] after a little bit. I kept prompting him, because he is the right guy for the job. He loves the sport. He’s been in the sport forever. Even with all the trouble they’re having, he still comes back to the [NHRA Pro Stock class] and invests his money. He’s just the right guy for the ADRL, and I’m thankful he came on board.
Morgan behind the wheel of Brad Anderson’s Chevrolet Camaro in the J&A Service Pro Mod Series. Photo courtesy NHRA/National Dragster
“He’s just a great guy, just an honest guy. When you ask him a question, you don’t have to leave there wondering if he was telling the truth. He’ll always tell you the truth. I hear him interact with these racers out here. Forty years of experience – he’s always telling ’em things that might even work against him because they’re racing against one another. But he doesn’t care. He just wants to further the sport. That’s why I like the guy.”
Morgan had expected this year to be one that took him from his comfort zone, one that presented new adventures. But being ADRL President wasn’t exactly where he thought his career would take him. He started 2017 by jumping into the NHRA-affiliated J&A Service Pro Modified Series, leaving the Pro Stock class to drive Brad Anderson’s supercharged Camaro. He made his debut in April at Houston. Morgan returned to the Pro Stock class at the U.S. Nationals in September and hasn’t raced in the Pro Mod class since then. In the meantime, he took on the ADRL responsibility, surprised by Biegun’s offer.
“When he asked me to do that deal, be President, I thought, ‘I’m not a President.’ But what I am is acquainted with everything that goes on out here in drag racing, even starting at Top Fuel all the way down. I know all the people, and I can help him there,” Morgan said. “But am I a President? I don’t think so. But I can do whatever he asks me to do. And I try to.
“It’s not challenging,” he said. “It’s common-sense stuff. Don’t beat the guy up that’s coming in the gate and charge him $150 for a ticket.”
He’s just a great guy, just an honest guy. When you ask him a question, you don’t have to leave there wondering if he was telling the truth. He’ll always tell you the truth. – Jeff Biegun, ADRL
While that might sound like a deliberate slap at the NHRA, Morgan’s sole mission, he has said repeatedly, is to advance the sport and give racers a cost-effective, safe, and equitable place to race. His intention is not to go head-to-head with the NHRA or PDRA or IHRA, nor is it to become a dictator. Still, it’s impossible for him to ignore the observations he has made since he began Pro Stock racing in the late-1980s, and it’s necessary to use comparisons to shape his vision of a “racer-centric” platform.
“NHRA is so worried about saving Top Fuel and Funny Car that they overlook the rest of the people, starting in Pro Stock, Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, and Comp – all those people that spend money here. They forgot those guys,” Morgan said. They’re his [Biegun’s] customers. They’re our customers [at ADRL]. They’re their [NHRA’s] customers. They just forgot about them, though. Until they open their mind and figure out that we all need to be together, it’s going to fly apart.
“That ADRL, that’ll be the best thing, trust me,” he said. “We’re trying to do it right. We’ve got to make it economically fair for everybody to do this. That’s what we got to do.”
He said the NHRA decision-makers “had better realize that drag racing is a show. It’s what we’re doing with the ADRL. It’s a show, whether you like it or I like it or Jeff likes it or anybody likes it.”
Casting a glance at the sun-scorched fans faithfully filling the Texas Motorplex grandstands last month, Morgan said, “Those people are here when it’s 90 degrees, they’re going to be happy being there for three hours max. That’s impossible to put a show on. That’s how we feel at ADRL: we’re making a show out of it and making the best we can out of it for the fans – and making it as inexpensive as you can do it. The deals of $150 tickets and all that is over. I hate to say it, but it is.
“The NHRA has reaped all the benefits you can reap,” he said. “Now we, as individuals, have got to figure out how to get people in the stands – us, NASCAR, anybody with motorsports.”
Stubbornness could be the downfall of motorsports programs.
“The problem you have is [sanctioning bodies] were raised to do it one way and they don’t want to change,” Morgan said.
[The NHRA] had better realize that drag racing is a show. It’s what we’re doing with the ADRL. It’s a show, whether you like it or I like it or Jeff likes it or anybody likes it. – Larry Morgan
Morgan has shown he can adapt. He took on a Pro Modified assignment, then the ADRL presidency, at age 62.
“What I’ve done, working my rear end off my whole life, still is appealing to me,” he said as he prepared to take his Pro Stock Racerdirect.net/RJS Safety Camaro to the starting line for qualifying. “But it doesn’t make sense. There’s no money in it. We’re just trying to make this deal good for everybody.”
Morgan and Biegun are grounded in the sometimes-grim facts that few will become rich from drag racing. However, they’re motivated by value, return on investment, and simply having fun while helping fellow racers.
“You have to enjoy what you do,” Morgan said. “If [Biegun] doesn’t come out and have a good time and promote all the companies he’s got – and thank God he’s got a lot of ‘em – it would make no sense for him to torture himself. He lives in Jupiter, Fla. He has a boat on the ocean. Does this make sense? His business is motorsports. He supplies [seat] belts and safety equipment. He’s Racerdirect.net. It’s a company where you can buy parts. That’s his business, and he wants to enjoy doing that.
RJS Safety Equipment owner and ADRL CEO Jeff Biegun (right)) at the 2016 PRI Show.
“But coming here [to the NHRA] to do it and running Pro Stock, we want to make that work. But is it possible? I don’t know. We’re trying to do it,” he said. “Does it make sense? No, it probably doesn’t make sense. Does it make sense for him to get exposure? That’s the only way we can get exposure.”
By the time Morgan turns 63 years old Nov. 21, Thanksgiving will be two days away. And he has much to be thankful for – including, he might say, the fact the 2017 racing season is over in both the NHRA and ADRL. He truly has more for which to be grateful, most of all the opportunity to help grant his own longtime wish for an affordable, welcoming racing venue.