At the end of the 2013 season, things turned south quickly for professional eighth-mile drag racing. What had grown into a thriving sub-industry, affecting racers, tracks, fans, and businesses, was abruptly put on hold. That was until a handful of determined investors fanned the flame of eighth-mile doorslammer competition, birthing a new organization that would carry on the legacy introduced nearly a decade before.
Since it was revealed that the ADRL is planning to make a comeback, rumors have been swirling about the future of both the original professional eighth-mile series and its successor, the PDRA, with many suggesting this would be the final season for the young organization. At the PDRA Memphis Drags in mid-August, Race Director Bob Harris assured everyone that the series isn’t going anywhere, while also readily admitting that it has work to do, hinting toward changes for 2017.
Now in its third year, the PDRA just closed the books on its best race yet, Dragstock XIII at GALOT Motorsports Park. And while many unknowns still wait to be seen for the future, PDRA leadership asserts they are as committed as ever toward their goals.
Nobody ever knows the full future. What we do know is our plan from day one has been to make PDRA a viable organization that stands on its own that everybody can be proud of. – Jason Scruggs
Scruggs, Franklin and Harris all debunked rumors that the owners had only planned to give the series three years to turn a profit before shutting down. Harris asserts that as long as they receive support from racers and sponsors the series will be active. Still, the powers that be admit that the PDRA is not where they had hoped it would be by year three, estimating that the organization is probably a year behind what they had anticipated.
“The first year we had a great reception to what we were doing,” Franklin elaborated. “The second year we got hammered by weather all year long. It’s almost like we didn’t even have a second year, is the way I feel. Coming into the third year, we had some weather issues at the front, but we haven’t missed a race. We’ve shown our dedication to putting the races on and not having to reschedule or cancel.
“When you roll this thing all the way back to January of 2014, that was the whole goal of the PDRA: to create a good place for racers to race,” Franklin added. “It wasn’t about a business venture. It was purely about having a solid place for people to race. I feel like we’ve done that. It’s just getting the next piece in place, which is getting the spectators, and then sponsors, to come. Then we can continue to grow the purses and do the things that make more racers come back out to compete. We all know that the purses deserve more. It’s just that today doesn’t lend itself to fund more.”
There’s no hesitation between the owners on whether or not they will continue to fund the growing series. Again, amidst rumors to the contrary, Scruggs insists that the PDRA is and will be “financially sound,” pointing out that no one has gone unpaid in the history of the PDRA.
“That being said, yes we would love for the PDRA to make money,” he continued. “If it were to make money, we could put it right back into the racers’ pockets with bigger purses, better championship fund, those kinds of things. Maybe even a TV deal one of these days. That would be the ultimate goal.
…as we stand today, a blind man can see we haven’t made the progress we need to make. We’re growing, changing, and trying to do things to get in the right direction. – Jason Scruggs
What the series lacks in other areas, it makes up for in racer support. Scruggs happily noted the car counts and that feedback from the racers themselves has been almost entirely positive. Harris also applauds the PDRA for creating a racing family second to none in drag racing.
But what will it take for the PDRA to survive financially? The owners and staff are taking a hard look at that this year and adjusting their sights accordingly. Sponsor support, which is a major hurdle for an untested series in its beginning, has been consistent and largely comes from industry companies, Harris points out. The plan now is to grow the PDRA fan base so that the organization will have more appeal to companies outside the drag racing niche.
“The biggest thing we haven’t done right is work social media to its fullest potential,” confessed Harris. “I’m old school. I don’t get into social media like [fellow promoters] Jason Miller or Donald Long. We haven’t used social media to our advantage. We are using it now. You can reach people by radio and TV, but at the end of the day you go to Facebook and SnapChat and Instagram, you can reach anybody you want to and do it through direct contact. That’s one of the things we’ve not taken advantage of that we are taking advantage of now and will be even more so next year.
“We are a great drag racing organization and the fanbase is just starting to realize what we’re about,” explained Harris. “A lot of that has come just in the last three or four races when we’ve spent a lot more time and energy on social media. We’ve target-marketed the areas we’re going in and brought awareness to that area letting them know we are the PDRA; we have the greatest and fastest eighth-mile cars in the world.”
Our marketing plan has completely changed. Inside the doors, we’re really excited about where we’re headed and what’s going on. – Tommy Franklin
“Drag racing itself has become predictable and we’ve lost that edge,” continued Franklin. “We’ve got plenty of people inside our organization who aren’t streamlined, predictable people. We’ve got to use that, giving the public the chance to relate to these people. I think drag racing as a whole just has to be reintroduced. But, if you’re going to reintroduce it and have a boring product, you’re better off not introducing it at all. You’re just running another customer away. So, as we introduce the PDRA to people, we have to make sure they have a heck of a time and come away talking about our event.
“Most every race, people talk about how good the racing was. But for the first time, coming out of GALOT, everybody’s saying, ‘Oh my gosh, that was the best time I’ve had.’ Everybody was pumped up. Standing on the starting line, hearing the crowd roar, waiting on the next race with their camera phones out — it was the Millennial Woodstock. You could see lights all over the place. It was a great vision to see, and to see that everybody was in it. That place was electric. They were standing on their feet, screaming, and they had a great time.”
…I do know that if they [ADRL] come out with a series that’s very similar to what we have and they run anywhere near the same dates, it’s not going to be good for anybody. – Jason Scruggs
While the PDRA is avidly working toward the future of the series, the possibility of a merger with another organization is never out of the question. ADRL recently announced its intentions to run a 1,000-foot series, and PDRA leadership states it has no interest in changing from the current 660-foot structure, making a merger between those organizations highly unlikely.
“I talked to Kenny a few times,” stated Scruggs, who also pilots the Pro Extreme ‘Mississippi Missile’. “At one time he was talking about helping us. Then they announced they’re doing the ADRL deal. I can guarantee we’re not planning on going anywhere. At the same time, we want to do what’s best for the racers and the sponsors. We don’t want two competing series on top of each other and nobody wins.
“Drag racing as a whole has been in kind of dire straits for the last ten years. We need to make drag racing great again, as Trump would say. If that means working together down the line, maybe we have to work together. I don’t know the answer. But I do know that if they come out with a series that’s very similar to what we have and they run anywhere near the same dates, it’s not going to be good for anybody. As far as what the future holds, I can’t predict that. We have to do what we set out to do: make the PDRA bigger and better every race.”
“We’ve actually been approached by two different organizations that wanted to merge with us,” Harris confirmed. “We didn’t see the benefit for our racers. Whether it’s tomorrow or ten years from now, unless something comes up that benefits our racers – the people that have supported us the last three years – then we’ll just be who we are. I can’t see us merging with anybody right now. You never say never, because you don’t know what tomorrow’s going to be, but I know for 2017 we’re moving forward just like we did in 2016.
We’ve actually been approached by two different organizations that wanted to merge with us. We didn’t see the benefit for our racers. – Bob Harris
Scruggs agreed, confirming with certainty, “the PDRA is going to be around in some shape or form. It’s not about the owners. It takes everybody to have a good series and that’s what we’re all about. I just want all the racers to know that Tommy and myself, the owners and all the staff, really appreciate what the racers have done to support the PDRA.”
“We’ve provided a great place to race,” seconded Franklin. “Having great racing is thanks to the teams. They’ve brought the cars. We’ve provided the stability to know that they’re going to have that place to be. Now there’s all these rumors that we’re not here tomorrow or not here next month, but all that is is rumors. The real truth is everybody just needs to be behind us and push us to grow.”