The National Hot Rod Association is moving forward with its 2021 plans for the Camping World Drag Racing Series season as though 2020 had been a normal year. It wasn’t and 2021, while it currently boasts 23 races won’t be the high-flying and successful endeavor the folks in Glendora expect if they don’t sit down with the racers. Who all have grievances.
The Professional Racers Organization (PRO), primarily representing nitro classes, announced in late summer that they would accede to the initial purse retraction that NHRA implemented and complete the racing season. That gesture of good faith was repaid by NHRA by further retraction of purse monies, right after the biggest race of this or any year, the U.S. Nationals. The way 2020 purses were restructured, racers would be fortunate to be able to afford to race, much less keep their machines in fuel, tires and have rooms available for crew.
The reductions worked okay, just okay, at Lucas Oil Raceway for the bulk of the nitro teams, most of which are based in Brownsburg, Ind., just a short drive from the track. Most shop-based and travel crew live nearby as well. There wasn’t any travel involved in the first four “restart” races, but then teams were required to race in Gainesville, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston and then in Las Vegas where they closed the 12-race season. In some classes, notably nitro-burning, this resulted in short entries.
And when champions were crowned at Las Vegas, the series delivered trophies and celebratory champagne to pit areas. Notably missing? A check. What would normally have been a big part of the celebrations became a nonentity. There was no money given out on-site; I’d be shocked if the teams of Steve Torrence, Matt Hagan’s Don Schumacher Racing, Elite Motorsports for Erica Enders and Matt Smith got a check at all.
And now we’ve learned that Harley-Davidson is departing motorsports, hopefully for a short period. After being with Vance & Hines for 18 years and achieving 10 NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle championships, the gig is up. A prepared statement said it all: “Harley-Davidson’s heritage is rich with racing lore and legacy, and throughout our brand’s history, Harley-Davidson dealers have been the cornerstone of our racing programs,” said the statement attributed to Jon Bekefy, general manager of brand marketing.
“We are excited to continue top support the XG750R racing motorcycle and NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle efforts through our dealers.
“As it leans into a more grassroots approach, Harley-Davidson would like to thank the Vance & Hines organization, the riders, team members, and every individual involved with the Screamin’ Eagle/Vance & Hines NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle and American Flat Track (AFT) team efforts for their passion, commitment and expertise for over a decade of winning competition and championship titles.”
Vance & Hines isn’t necessarily out of the sport, considering their Suzuki engine-building concern, but it’s another sign of contraction in a sport that certainly doesn’t need it.
NHRA did reveal the complete 2021 class schedule for its 23-event season, one that begins in March at Gainesville, with the 52nd Gatornationals. At 17 Camping World national events, there will be three qualifying sessions over Friday and Saturday and final eliminations on Sunday, while five events will continue the 2020 return-to-racing scheduling of two qualifying sessions on Saturday and racing on Sunday. This, NHRA claims, will give a bit of economic relief at Atlanta (March 26-28), Pomona 1 (April 9-11), Phoenix (April 23-25), Richmond (June 4-6) and Seattle on July 30-August 1.
As has been the case for several years, the two nitro classes, Top Fuel and Funny Car compete at every 2021 national event; Pro Stock has 18 events on their calendar while Pro Stock Motorcycle continues its 16-race campaign. The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series returns to a 12-race schedule, including first-time contests at Denver and Brainerd, the NHRA Top Fuel Harley Series has 10 races on their docket while SAMTech.edu Factory Stock Showdown is scheduled for eight races. Everyone opens their season at Gainesville.
Beyond this scheduling, NHRA needs to do some hard, serious thinking about its future. What looked “normal” at the end of the 2019 season and start of this year no longer exists. The big money from Coca Cola Companies is in the ether; John Force Racing is still on the sidelines; Amalie Motor Oil has left the sport and now Harley-Davidson has done the same. Creative thinking is necessary right now, but the corporate shills from Glendora have regularly shown that they’re trying to be too many things to too few people.