Since as far back as the year 2000, when I was a pimply faced teenager, I have been making the pilgrimage to the 4&Rotary Nationals for a two-day blowout stretching over, first, Labour weekend, and then Queen’s Birthday weekend when it made the shift to avoid the rain. For the past 22 years, the format has remained the same, with the show at the ASB Showgrounds on the Saturday and then drag racing on the Sunday at Meremere. It has been the status quo since long before I started attending, and no one would have blinked an eye if it stayed that way. But, if, like me, you have been attending a long time, then you will have noted the everdwindling turnout of pro imports at the drags.
It’s no secret that the import drag racing fraternity in New Zealand has shrunk considerably, and without headliners pushing the limits, the crowd numbers have also headed in that direction. It’s the big guns that put bums on seats and with only a handful of local cars really pushing the limits these days, the Sunday just didn’t have that electric feeling it once did — for me, anyway.
In many ways, what has happened to import drag racing is reminiscent of what happened in traditional circuit racing during the early years, when upwards of 70,000 attended the New Zealand Grand Prix at Ardmore. It was new, it was exciting, and there was no shortage of guys building wild cars to get in on the action.
Now, I know many of you will recall the Nationals when traffic lines stretched back to the Bombays to get into the venue. It literally ground the state highway to a halt that Sunday. It was like this because drag racing at the highest level is extremely exciting to watch — it’s about as unpredictable as a sport can get, and it pains me that the sport didn’t become as big as it is in the likes of Puerto Rico. But I’m hoping that numbers will replenish once everyone finishes having kids, building houses, and creating businesses — but more on that another day.
But, in the interim, the dwindling numbers on both sides of the Armco at the Nationals spoke of a wider shift to a more accessible type of event for the youth: Chrome Expression Session, which has sold out two years running. It’s the type of event where anyone can hit the track and have a ball behind the wheel, all while your mates are sitting right there with you. It’s the new yardstick for a build, and it doesn’t require the investment that building a drag car does. This way, you can have 400–500kW, a much lower specced driveline, and still retain a WOF on that window.
I’m not saying that the rise of this type of event has resulted in the decline of import drag racing, but I do see why the team behind the Nationals (and Chrome) made the decision to create a new Nationals Sunday at Pukekohe Park Raceway.
This event will sell out, and I’m hoping that it will see a return to glory days of the early ’90s NZPC track days at Pukekohe. It’s given the Nationals a new buzz, which will see people getting involved in both days once more. And, hey, the drags aren’t dead by any means; they have just been shifted to later in the season, giving guys a longer time to get prepared, and I’m picking that there will be some serious Aussie contenders crossing the ditch, too. I think this move was the right one, and I’m looking forward to the new three-day format and blasting around Pukekohe with you all.