Historians may recall in motorsports history incidences of racers threatening or enacting event boycotts, typically looking for better payouts, addressing safety concerns, or other issues. Drag racing’s most recent of standoffs, however, is unique.
Weeks back, a group of Nostalgia Top Fuel racers, self-titled the All American Fuel Dragsters (AA/FD), announced its plan to boycott the NHRA’s annual National Hot Rod Reunion, a Heritage Series points event, at the Beech Bend Raceway Park. The disagreement was not due to payout, safety, or anything of the sort, but rather, was because the AA/FD group offered to increase the purse with its own sponsor. In turn, though, it asked the NHRA to expand the field from the typical eight cars to 16.
Bob McLennan, President of AA/FD, explained, “We started to get a lot of interest in the Bowling Green race approximately three years ago. For midwestern cars, this was their California reunion event of sorts. We approached NHRA with an A show and a B show format for the cars that didn’t qualify. Their response was that they would look into it, but at that point, the answer was no.”
McLennan explained the hierarchy of the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series. The annual eight-event series has two races controlled by the NHRA, the California Hot Rod Reunion and the National Hot Rod Reunion, which are at issue. McLennan notes that if offered this opportunity, any of the other six dragstrips who primarily produce their own Heritage events would have been likely to accept this offer.
Fellow AA/FD racers such as Jimmy Young invested considerable time and resources in helping fellow front-engine nitro racers become part of the fold, in order to grow the class. “Some had large engines or fuel pumps and magnetos,” McLennan explains. “Jimmy didn’t condone that. If you’re going to race fuel dragster, make it NHRA Heritage rules legal, and I’ll help you.”
We had brought together some additional purse money. Most notable is Young, who came up with a $10,000 sponsorship from Custom Floaters to put into the purse. Even with that, we got no response. – Bob McLennan, AA/FD
So with the Heritage-legal car population growing and talks with the NHRA dormant, efforts to expand the group’s Beech Bend show were also hampered by the passing of key individuals, NHRA management changes, and the pandemic. But with the world emerging from said pandemic, the AA/FD group unveiled an eye-opening proposal to the NHRA.
Frustrated, talks among the AA/FD leadership trickled down to the racers, who presented a united front, firm in the stance that they would not attend the Bowling Green event if the NHRA didn’t listen to their offer. McLennan sent out a press release detailing the additional money offer and announcing the intended boycott if the NHRA denied the request.
“It breaks my heart that it has come to this with NHRA,” McLennan had said in a statement during the negotiations. “We have offered to double the Top Fuel Dragsters for this race, and NHRA wants no part of it. We have asked for a 16-car ladder versus the current 8-car ladder. We’ve even brought in a private sponsor to offset their costs, but NHRA has drawn a line in the sand, and they will not change the event structure to allow for more money and more cars.”
“Well, that got their attention,” McLennan says. “I received a call from retired NHRA board member Graham Light, and I pled my case and our offer. We went back and forth on issues like additional pit space, increased time allotment, and other things. Ultimately the conversation resulted in a simple ‘no, we’re not going to change it.’ ”
With that, McLennan decided he was hellbent on putting together an alternative event with the money the group had generated. “We searched and found the Midwest Drag Racing Series event at World Wide Technology Raceway, which welcomed us to participate.”
McLennan says, “It was a good race. The quality of cars was incredible. It was an 1/8-mile format, but the midwest racers have no problem with that. We pulled out all the stops with a big AA/FD group barbeque and an on-track photo session with the cars. Things never done before.”
The AA/FD show was impressive. While the show was originally intended to be four rounds of eliminations, the group ultimately competed in Chicago-style eliminations for the sake of time, spreading the self-created purse further between the entrants. A total of 15 dragsters were on hand. Two chose to attend the Bowling Green event.
Performance numbers were strong. Wisconsin’s Jim Young ran a stout 3.75 at 211 mph to lead a field that included entrants from as far away as California, Texas, and Georgia. A strong showing of midwest-based entries from Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Michigan filled out the program. The final round saw Michigan’s Shawn Bowen take on Californian Jim Murphy. Both had run a 3.93 in qualifying (Nos. 2 and 3), but when it counted most, Bowen ran a 3.81 at 198 to take down Murphy’s right-there 3.86 at 207.
The AA/FD group is solid. Online naysayers to the group’s efforts said that the Front-Engine Top Fuelers take up to much time and are problematic. With a timer in-hand, we logged their first-round statistics and noted that only 3 minutes and 40 seconds transpired between each pair. One oil-down stretched the overall time frame, but the mandatory ballistic diapers lessened that time blow for the crowd.
The AA/FD group set out with honorable intentions to better its product and, more importantly, better the sport. In the end, it put its money where its mouth is, standing firm against circumstances it felt were not in its best interests to drive future change. And while we can hope that both sides will seek an amicable resolution to the matter in the future and bring them together once more, its united defiance on Father’s Day weekend in the summer of 2022 will be remembered for quite some time.