As Racing Changes, It’s Time to Celebrate the Racers

“I want to race where I’m celebrated, not where I’m tolerated.”

That’s a direct quote from three-time NHRA Camping World Pro Stock champion Jason Line, who departed the category at the close of the 2020 season. Both he and five-time Pro Stock titleholder Jeg Coughlin Jr. exited professional straight-line doorslammer competition at the end of one of the most difficult season NHRA has faced in its modern era.

When the Coronavirus pandemic hit, just as the series was beginning its third race of an intended 24-contest campaign, NHRA looked pretty healthy, competition-wise. There were cars in all professional classes, newcomers were joining the series – especially in Pro Stock, which was welcoming second generation racers Aaron Stanfield, Kyle Koretsky and Mason McGaha, among others. Many of the older competitors were beginning to hang up their gloves, giving the younger drivers opportunities they might not have had in previous years.

At the start of the year, Mello Yello, a Coca Cola Companies product, was NHRA’s naming sponsor and was designated to continue through 2023, when it was up for contract renewal. Then the virus hit and, along with it, the world – racing and otherwise – turned upside down. Coke left, NHRA sued, and mega-star John Force elected to park his four-car nitro team for the balance of a year that restarted in July at Indianapolis, normally the home solely of the vaunted U.S. Nationals.

Once Coca-Cola and its Mello Yello brand declined to continue its participation in NHRA activities, the series was thrown a Twitter-based lifeline by Marcus Lemonis and his Camping World brand. It’s now the naming sponsor for all NHRA professional activities outside Pro Mod and Top Fuel Harley.

But cancer continues to infect NHRA drag racing and it is centered in Glendora, California, a site that might have worked for the so-called nonprofit in its earlier years, but the expense of having headquarters in this highly-taxed state has been more than problematic for NHRA. It pays its top employees more because the cost of living in California is so high.

And now, it barely pays the people who race. And who mightily pay to race. Payouts dropped precipitously during the pandemic and are not being returned to the racers. As Line so aptly states, the racers are being tolerated, not celebrated and the exodus will continue as racers are unable to pay their bills.

Look at the contraction at Don Schumacher Racing, which now has two Top Fuel entries for Antron Brown and Leah Pruett, two Funny Cars with Ron Capps and Matt Hagan at the wheel. Both Funny Car standouts Jack Beckman and Tommy Johnson Jr. are on the sidelines, as is the most successful Top Fuel racer in history, 85-race winner Tony Schumacher.

John Force Racing returns in 2021, but as a three-car team for family members John Force, Brittany Force and Robert Hight. Austin Prock got left out in the cold without sufficient backing, but is still working with the team and could engage in some future Top Fuel contests. Team Kalitta remains with three cars in play for Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon (Top Fuel) and J.R. Todd, the 2018 Funny Car champ who can race either a flopper or a rail.

The amount of money these teams spend to compete in NHRA is astronomical and sponsorship is a necessity. For the Don Schumacher’s, John Force’s and Connie Kalitta’s of this world, there has to be some return on their massive investments in personnel and equipment. Right now they don’t have the sponsorship necessary to operate at the highest level. And much of that blame rests in Glendora, where mismanagement has caused many of the issues that force racers to stay home.

“I didn’t enjoy racing Pro Stock anymore,” Line said as he prepped the cars of Greg Anderson and Kyle Koretsky, both of whom are racing in the 2nd annual CTECH World Doorslammer Nationals at Orlando Speed World Dragway. To get his racing fix, Line is returning to the sportsman ranks and having fun again. In part, he puts blame on the out-of-touch executives who are minding their business but not remembering who got them where they are today.

The issues NHRA is going through aren’t solely in its house. Every form of motorsport is going through change that need to occur and those changes have been exacerbated by the pandemic and by America’s civil unrest. Still, it is apparent NHRA’s executives are running the business to benefit themselves at the expense of the racers. If NHRA intends to survive, it needs to do a proper handbrake turn and put its house in order to make racing less of a financial and enjoyment drain to its participants. The changes NHRA makes need to be fueled by the views of its participants. NHRA needs to celebrate, not just tolerate its citizenry.

 

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About Anne Proffit 663 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

18 Comments on As Racing Changes, It’s Time to Celebrate the Racers

  1. California’s cost of living doesn’t quite explain salaries ranging up to $900k. Nor does COVID account for dubious mgt. decisions that leave us with Chevy-powered Mustangs and Mopars in Pro Stock, weak and subsidized fuel fields, “qualifying” sessions that consist of rich owners juggling for upper-half position amongst themselves, lopsided first-round “races,” etc., etc., etc. I hope the Big Show survives, but bracket racing is more competitive.

  2. This article spells out what sportsman racers have been saying for years. The only difference is now it is hitting the professional ranks as well.

  3. If NHRA won`t listen to a 4 time NHRA World Champion, it makes you wonder who they will listen to? They need more management that were racers, rather than “suits” with no personal racing background.

  4. Its about time someone said what needed to be said. Camping World should buy the whole deal and kick Glendale to the Curb.

  5. NHRA stopped thinking of the racers just about the time that Wally Parks passed away. They even treat the subscribers to NHRA.tv like crap. They didn’t offer any sort of compensation to the subscribers, even in view of the shortened season. You have to admit when it comes to screwing people, NHRA has figured out a way to do it to everyone equally.

  6. Wake up folks, the writing has been in the wall for years. The racers, vendors and the spectators have been treated poorly for too long, especially at Bruton Smith owned tracks. Do you suppose Graham Light’s timely departure is a coincidence? The NHRA is paying for his arrogant, condescending attitude. ……it’s a shame for all of us…..yet predictable.

  7. Hey, thanks for telling us the true story. These sanctioning bodies in all forms of racing just keep saying how great everything is when we all know better. Glad to see some reporters not afraid to dig into the real facts and seek out those people like Jason who can finally say what they think.

  8. The racers have been shouting out those exact words fir a few decades n is and this story hits the mail on the head. I race in Div1 in New Jersey and Pennsylvania tracks and expenses are getting out of reach for the regular Joe to go racing. It seems all NHRA cares about is taking our money and hiding,something needs to be done with new management and marketing people.
    COME ON NHRA WAKE UP.

  9. NHRA has been mismanaged for years. That’s what happens when bean counters are put in charge as opposed to those with racing backgrounds. Nobody forced the mega teams or any other teams to race for reduced purses last year.They did it of their own volition.It’s hard t be a victim when you volunteer.

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