NHRA drag racing fans are some of the most passionate fans I’ve found in any professional sport.
If they perceive something is wrong with the sport, they’ll be the first to voice their opinion, to the point of oftentimes forcefully criticizing the sanctioning body, especially online.
On the flip side, when it comes to making changes, I honestly believe that in most cases, the NHRA tries to do things with the best interest of drag racing fans at heart.
Which is why I’m giving kudos to NHRA officials for their decision to return to race at Topeka, Kansas this weekend. NHRA felt it important to bring racing back to America’s heartland despite so many potential obstacles.
First off, Heartland Park Topeka has been embroiled in ownership issues for the last two years. But with new ownership that took over last December, many of the problems in recent years have hopefully been resolved and NHRA’s return this weekend means it will keep coming back for many more years to come.
Second, NHRA did something that on paper doesn’t make a lot of financial sense: In this day and age, to hold a race without a major entitlement sponsor can make a costly proposition already all the more costly.
Third, go back in time to near the end of last year. When the NHRA announced the 2016 season schedule, Topeka was conspicuous by its absence from the schedule.
Instead of the usual 24 annual national events, NHRA initially announced a 23-race schedule, minus Topeka.
But NHRA also realized just how important a market Topeka is and how important race fans are not only from central Kansas, but also places like Wichita, Omaha, Kansas City and others within a several hour ride of Heartland Park. It wound up working with new track ownership to assure a return for 2016 and before you could say “it’s a new track record,” Topeka quickly was put back on this year’s schedule.
And rightly so.
NHRA could easily have walked away and likely saved itself several hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. It could have foregone having to essentially promote the race itself (which it did with last year’s race).
But NHRA chose not to, and its officials are to be commended for that.
It did not turn its back on fans that for more than 20 years had loyally supported the annual return visit of John Force, Antron Brown, Ron Capps, Erica Enders and so many stars on the NHRA circuit.
Drag racing is about winners, not losers. Sure, one driver will always win and the other driver will always lose in a head-to-head battle down the 1,000-foot or quarter-mile two-lane.
But NHRA didn’t want there to be any losers in all this. It didn’t want fans to be disappointed. It didn’t want to alienate thousands of fans that planned vacations or annual visits to the track and had done so for several years.
And let’s not forget it didn’t want to forget about all the fans that collectively spent tens of millions of dollars over nearly the last 30 years to buy tickets race after race, year after year.
It took guts for the NHRA to step forward and not back away from Topeka and fans that enjoy coming to Heartland Park. For many of those same fans, Topeka may very well be the only NHRA national event they attend in-person each year.
It took a significant financial commitment from the NHRA to go forward when it could have saved a lot of money by just letting the event die a quiet death. Likewise for the new track ownership and management. They know the NHRA was one of the biggest events on its yearly schedule and worked hard to bring the sanctioning body back to Topeka.
Frankly, I have no idea whether NHRA will make a profit or even break even this weekend, but this isn’t about profits or breaking even. It’s about giving loyal fans what they want – excitement, drama and the ability to hang out with their favorite drivers in the pits – the same thing they’ve wanted and enjoyed for many, many years.
And that’s something you can’t put a price on.
Sure, it’s easy for fans or media to criticize some of the moves NHRA makes, particularly those types of moves that prove to be unpopular.
But this time, the NHRA (and the new ownership of Heartland Park Topeka) deserves praise – and a lot of it – for doing the right thing for all the right reasons and for the right people: the fans.
Bravo, NHRA, bravo.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski