DAVE DENSMORE SPEAKS (COMMENTARY): ABOUT AS TRANSPARENT AS A BLOCK OF GRANITE
The NHRA once again has proved that in this era of transparency, it’s about as transparent as a block of granite.
After being MIA for four months, Tom Compton suddenly emerged to announce his retirement and there was no attempt on the part of the NHRA to provide any sort of explanation. According to the NHRA, all of us were told just as soon as they heard the news from Tom. So, apparently, Tom talked to no one for 120 days. Yeah, right.
These, of course, are the same people who later this year will wonder why the media continues to ignore our sport. Duh!
In reality, the credibility that so many worked so hard for so long to create completely evaporated in the informational vacuum that materialized during Compton’s hiatus.
Just ignore it; it’ll go away. If you can just weather the initial storm, people will forget. That apparently was the strategy and, you know what, it’ll probably work, at least in the short term.
It was the late Norman “Moose” Pearah, track operator of some renown, who espoused the theory that you can lie and abuse and subject drag racing fans to all matter of indignities and, a year later, they will have forgotten about it and you can do it all over again.
So, this is the mess that Peter Clifford inherits as the new president. Despite my personal bias against bean counters as presidents, I’m all in favor of giving him a fair chance to implement his vision. However, I think the constituency needs to impose a time limit like they do on building contractors and it should be considerably less than the 22 years given Compton.
I’d say to Peter: “show us the passion; show us the vision but, most of all, show us the money” because if this sport is going to survive – I’m not saying if it’s going to grow, I’m saying just survive – it has to invest.
If there’s no money readily available, as we’ve been told for two decades, then hire somebody who can go find some. As far as I can tell, that person isn’t presently employed in Glendora.
NHRA is so fond of comparing itself to NASCAR when the comparison is to its benefit, which is more-and-more infrequently. Well, suffice it to say that the NHRA is no NASCAR. When I came into this sport in the 1970s, it was possible for the NHRA to compete with the 500 pound gorilla that NASCAR has become. The two essentially were close in numbers and the NHRA actually had an advantage in the geographic diversity of its events.
Today? No way. NASCAR is not afraid to spend money on programs, on infrastructure and on personnel because it knows it will get its investment back, in spades.
As just one small example, consider that the NHRA likes to believe it’s on the cutting edge of social media. Well, NASCAR has 80 people on staff to do what Dana Mariotti tries to do all by herself for the NHRA.
Tell me how you can expect to compete in that environment. It’s like sending Tony Schumacher up to race his Army car against a Jr. Dragster in a best-of-three match race.
The thing is, we have a great product. Peter is right to have seized upon our status as the very first extreme sport. That’s what we were. That’s what we are. It’s just that nobody knows it. NASCAR’s marketing professionals adopt the talking points we should be using as their own and the general public buys into the charade.
NASCAR says they have access. NASCAR says it is the fastest motor sport. NASCAR says it is this and that and no one even questions the assertion. If Wally was alive today, he’d be in their face about some of their claims or, at the very least, he’d be in the face of some of his own employees.
I’ve got nothing at all against NASCAR. I think theirs is a great business model. But I don’t think their product is better than ours. Marketed better? Yes. Better? No.
We should be doing everything possible to learn from the NASCAR people and find ways in which we can cross promote through common sponsorships or common relationships. If you think I’m talking about riding NASCAR’s coattails, well, you’re d*** right. That train at least is on the tracks.
In fact, we should be going to NASCAR races with an entourage, to the Daytona 500, to the Indy 500, the Formula 1 race in Texas. And we should be talking up our product. Steve Earwood and I went to Daytona on NHRA’s behalf every year during our tenure there. We hung out, built on existing relationships with members of the media and fostered new relationships that paid off far down the road.
When the Compton group took over at the NHRA and hired Hill and Knowlton to re-invent drag racing PR because, obviously, no one who had worked in the sport previously had anything to offer. Jerry Archambeault, who later would become Vice President of Communications, was part of the deal.
Archambeault immediately assembled the racing PR representatives who, from the outset, he considered adversaries, and told them that he didn’t believe in relationships; that drag racing should stand on its own merits; that the LA Times, our local newspaper, should have a daily story on the sport, just like it does on baseball, football, basketball and hockey.
In my mind’s eye, that was Day One of the NHRA’s downward spiral. Archambeault alienated the core group of legitimate writers and columnists who, if they didn’t like drag racing, at least liked the way they were treated, the way they were informed and the way they were provided total access to drivers and staff.
Archambeault even assumed an “attitude” regarding the late LA Times motorsports writer, Shav Glick, and that was before he even had met the man. That was just the start. Bill Center of the San Diego Union, who always staffed the Winternationals and the Auto Club Finals, began to lose interest and only wrote a pre-season advance every year if I would hand feed him information about the likely contenders.
It’s a story that was repeated, market after market, to the point that now you could count on one hand the number of legitimate writers and publications who even marginally cover our sport on a regular basis.
So, here we are. Congratulations, Peter, on your new job. And my condolences.