SUSAN WADE: TOM COMPTON’S SPEECH THAT WASN’T . . . BUT SHOULD BE (2)

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"Breaking News: This is an ESPN Special Report. We pre-empt the regional volleyball game to bring you this special presentation.

"We're in Glendora, California, this evening for a State of the Sport Address. We're here before a joint session of Professional and Sportsman Racers. The National Hot Rod Association Board of Directors – drag racing's 'Supreme Court,' if you will, has been seated. The NHRA department heads are in place. And now we'll hear from Graham Light, the NHRA's senior vice-president of racing operations, who serves as the NHRA's Sergeant at Arms, and he'll introduce Tom Compton.”

Light enters and in the customary loud announcement, calls out, "Mister Speaker, the President of the National Hot Rod Association!"

The doors swing open and Tom Compton strides in, shaking hands with team owners and racers as he makes his way to the stage. Once the applause fades, he greets his distinguished guests and begins to lay out his agenda for the sanctioning body.

 

 

 

 

 

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susan_01.jpg

"Breaking News: This is an ESPN Special Report. We pre-empt the regional volleyball game to bring you this special presentation.

"We're in Glendora, California, this evening for a State of the Sport Address. We're here before a joint session of Professional and Sportsman Racers. The National Hot Rod Association Board of Directors – drag racing's 'Supreme Court,' if you will, has been seated. The NHRA department heads are in place. And now we'll hear from Graham Light, the NHRA's senior vice-president of racing operations, who serves as the NHRA's Sergeant at Arms, and he'll introduce Tom Compton.”

Light enters and in the customary loud announcement, calls out, "Mister Speaker, the President of the National Hot Rod Association!"

The doors swing open and Tom Compton strides in, shaking hands with team owners and racers as he makes his way to the stage. Once the applause fades, he greets his distinguished guests and begins to lay out his agenda for the sanctioning body.

"Since Wally Parks founded the NHRA in 1951," Compton says, "we have seen tremendous growth, thanks in large part to a revolution in technology and new paradigms, new ways of thinking. That includes new ways that Corporate America decides where and how it will invest its marketing resources. It involves new expectations the American public has for its entertainment. It means new ways of serving our member tracks and their local business associates and fan bases.

"An increasingly unpredictable economy poses obvious new challenges. With this growth and with these challenges comes much responsibility.  

“We are aware in 2014 that this sport of drag racing is at a critical juncture. We have a thrilling product, and we have many quality marketing partners. But we cannot afford to be complacent. We cannot take for granted that if we show up at the racetracks for our Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events – or even our Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series sportsman exclusives – the fans will show up and pay hard-earned money to watch us race.   

"Americans feel an incredible tug-o’-war on their entertainment dollars -- in an age in which we find ourselves having fewer disposable-income dollars to begin with. We need to improve our fan experience and our racer experience. We have identified a number of areas in which we are working to make some radical changes: the television package, the ticket price structure, the mix of classes and the program format, an elevated standard for facilities (just as Major League Baseball has instituted and enforced), sponsorship procurement assistance for race teams, reducing the costs of racing,  a summit meeting with media members – reporters, photographers, and public-relations representatives -- to improve their experience and increase coverage, establishing a more youthful fan base while valuing our faithful fans from down through the decades, and measures to preserve safety while upholding our competitive integrity.

"These needs are great. Frankly, we have neglected some of these areas and tried less than successfully to keep up with needs in other areas. We own accountability for decisions that, in retrospect, proved to be poor ones. We own accountability for letting some relationships become shabby. However, we pledge that we always will try to do what is decent and right and fair for racers and sponsors and member tracks and fans.

"We will understand the cost that team owners must incur in helping us present the world's greatest motorsports program. We will recognize that the fans, too, spend their precious dollars to support us, and we will treat them with dignity. We will honor our marketing partners and remain vigilant to give them their money's worth. We will respect the media -- not become defensive when reporters take us to task for problems that are avoidable and fixable, not carry on an adversarial relationship with photographers and P.R. representatives. We will listen and be grateful for the interest each has shown. We will understand that all of us involved love this sport and want to see it progress.       

"We will make changes. We have to. The drag-racing world – the world in general – as we have known it is demanding a new way of conducting business. But it is an overwhelming list, and we can't check off the 'Taken Care Of' box on each item overnight.

"The National Hot Rod Association needs your patience and your help. We urge the media, fans, sponsors, racers, and member tracks to work with us as we tackle these legitimate concerns one by one. Sometimes when an avalanche of ideas crashes down on us here in Glendora, the very fury of those ideas causes its own problem. Sorting out the genuinely feasible solutions from the impossible ones takes time, deliberation, and co-operation from a coalition of resources. Shouting on Internet forums and name-calling and ultimatums add only to the problems and not to the solutions.

"We at the NHRA indeed are eager to try new ideas. At the same time, we need a supportive community that will grant us the flexibility to implement programs and procedures. We might need to tweak those decisions. We might discover that the course we have chosen in response to a particular problem isn't the best one, and we will want the courtesy of being the first to admit that we need to go in another direction. Some individuals scream for change but when change arrives, they complain about that, too. All we ask is that when we settle on a direction in which to go, the drag-racing community pulls in the same direction with us to make that decision pay dividends. Wiser decisions are made in peaceful conditions rather than in noisy, chaotic urgency. Give us that freedom.

"In return, we at the NHRA promise to act. The book in The Bible's New Testament is called 'The Acts of the Apostles,' not 'The Intentions of the Apostles.' We promise we will act. We promise we will not ignore problems. We promise we will make changes. We will not merely appoint ad hoc committees, and we will not burn valuable time studying a problem. We will prioritize our problems and one by one will make a decision to begin measures that will strengthen our organization.

"We know we are capable of doing this. The announcement of the Countdown to the Championship in 2007 is a perfect example. Our NHRA leaders fashioned the format, which was a radical departure from tradition. It shocked the racers and team owners and surely surprised the fans. Some immediately criticized it. Some right away embraced it. Even a year or two later, some factions still were comparing 'the old system' with 'the new system.' That was understandable. Getting used to change often takes extra time. However, the Countdown seems to be a popular decision, and teams seem to enjoy crafting their own strategies that take shape throughout the season. The point is that we took charge, made a decision without wringing our hands or polling the delegation. We instituted it and it works and everyone is relatively content with the decision. We can proceed with confidence that we are capable of making the correct decision. But we request of you the freedom to meet our challenges head-on without a cacophony of criticism.

"Together we know we can restore this exciting sport to the level it enjoyed during its highest peak of popularity. We can spike again and maintain that high level of competition and value-added for sponsors. We can deliver a quality package for fans at the races and watching via television. But in happens only when we work together and respect each other. The respect goes both ways.

"So in conclusion, I urge us all to take a deep breath, call a moratorium on widespread criticism, and forge ahead in a new spirit of collaboration. With the dawn of a new NHRA will come the assurance of many more sunny days and years ahead.

"Thank you and good evening.”

The ESPN reporter says that in a gesture of teamwork, the opposition response has been waived.

“The president spoke of a 'new NHRA' and called for calm and cooperation," the reporter says. "In exchange, he vowed that the NHRA will act on fixing its troubles, that it no longer will pretend all is well. That is a major concession from the NHRA. The president is under pressure, but he took a bold step in owning responsibility for the State of the Sport and in acknowledging specific changes need to be made. The president offered an olive branch to his critics with a goal to -- in his words -- ’forge

head in a new spirit of collaboration.' We will see how that progresses during the coming months.

"This has been an ESPN Special Report."

 

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