For 25 years, I’ve had a strange near-far relationship with the National Hot Rod Association.
Near, because the NHRA was founded in 1951 as a spinoff of this magazine created by thenEditor Wally Parks, who later hammered me to include more NHRA in HOT ROD. I’ve met many drag-racing stars of the past and am acquainted with a handful of the current pros. I’m tight with NHRA announcer Brian Lohnes. David Kennedy, a HOT ROD editor of the recent past, now works in media for the sanctioning body. NHRA has always been on the edge of my professional life.
Far, because I never embraced Wally’s desire for HOT ROD to be a voice of the NHRA. Reason: Professional dragracing coverage wasn’t selling magazines, and the audience seemed uninterested. I was on the bandwagon of “NHRA has jumped the shark” versus the so-called golden years. I even did a story about how I’d rewrite rules for many classes. I’d lost the passion I had as a teenager when I’d sprint from the parking lot to the starting line to watch every second of classes from Top Fuel to Stock Eliminator. In the days when I ran HOT ROD, I probably didn’t attend more than a half dozen NHRA National events, and when I did it was for media reasons, sanitized behind the wall of VIP treatment.
Maybe that was the problem. Over the past three years, I’ve sensed a positive shift toward the NHRA. As much as the sanctioning body may be loathe to admit it, its past drama over banning Street Outlaws stars brought some much-needed attention, as did the general interest in drag racing brought about by that TV show. Pro
Mod has helped. Fox live has broadened the audience. The grandstands are packed again.
In February, I took my 10-year-old to the NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, where as a little kid I’d become a fan. I bought general-admission tickets for me and my son, who two years prior declared drag racing boring because “dragsters don’t look like real cars, there are too many people on the starting line, and it takes too long between races.” That was his opinion from the tower suite. Turns out he needed a blast of nitro from cars passing him at 330 mph in the top-end grandstands. All of a sudden, he got it. In the second Top Fuel pass he ever watched from trackside, Brittany Force piled into both walls and there was a 45-minute break. My kid waited.
NHRA puts on great entertainment. They play music Wally would have never approved and they keep the information rolling on the Jumbotrons. The drivers are interesting once again (though you have to dig deep to get to know them and, in my opinion, social media and driver name branding are still areas for improvement). The cars are becoming more interesting as well with the popularity of Factory Stock, which you should look into if you’re not a dragster/ flopper fan or if you think
Pro Stock is lame. Geoff Turk ran the first 7-second time for an NHRA Stock-class car as certified at the NMCA Bradenton event, and everyone is looking for a 7 in NHRA competition.
It’s worth following.
I can criticize NHRA for
Pro Stock rules, handicapped classes, low coverage of Stock classes, and so on. I choose not to any more. I’m stoked by what’s happening that’s positive and it makes me want to be a fan again. I think you should, too. Go to a race and find out why.
[Above: Here I am on the show-opening track walk.