UP FRONT (COMMENTARY): A RUDDERLESS SHIP

 

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NHRA president Tom Compton hasn’t been seen in public since the week following the Gatornationals. In the midst of all the speculation, which had been taking place largely in the background, another web site posted an article claiming to be an accurate depiction of what’s been going on. I won’t comment on the veracity of that article because I don’t honestly know what’s true and what’s mere speculation. But I do know this. The National Hot Rod Association’s mishandling of this situation is more than astonishing. It’s one more egregious example of their arrogance (“Only we know what’s best for drag racing.”) as well as their total lack of understanding of how things work in the modern corporate and media worlds.

If Mr. Compton is suffering from a debilitating illness, if a family member is dealing with a major crisis, or even if, as has been claimed by some who swear they know the truth, that he’s dealing with problems that can only be solved through extended care in a specialized facility, NHRA needs to publicly say so, in detail.

All of us have experienced turmoil in our lives at one point or another. It might have been a family member dealing with an illness, an older relative or friend slipping into dementia, or even someone dealing with a difficult substance abuse problem. In each and every instance we’ve reached out to offer help and support, but there’s a major difference in that friend or relative disappearing from view as opposed to the president of what’s constantly touted as being the largest motorsports organization in North America disappearing from sight. Our friend or relative has a very different expectation of privacy than does someone in as prominent a position as is Mr. Compton. The higher up the ladder you are in sports, politics, entertainment or the corporate world, the more your every move is going to dissected, observed and commented upon by the public. That’s just the nature of things, particularly in a world of 24 hour news and scandal reporting on the Internet, which has become the driving force behind news dissemination in 2015.

While I have been taking NHRA to task about various topics for almost 50 years, I want it on the record that I personally like and respect Mr. Compton. I’ve enjoyed a series of private meetings and phone calls with him over the past few years that have been informative and productive. One such discussion resulted in two important safety-related rules changes that Mr. Compton had been (justifiably) unaware of, and he moved swiftly and decisively to correct them.

But, regardless of Mr. Compton’s current personal situation the NHRA managers are being incredibly naïve in the way they’re trying to obfuscate the truth. Within the last 24 hours two CompetitionPlus.com journalists, working independently of one another, received responses from NHRA personnel to their queries about Mr. Compton’s absence with identical, word-for-word answers. This, clearly, demonstrates that someone inside 2035 Financial Way is trying to orchestrate what’s said by any NHRA executive, and just as clearly, this continuing refusal to provide meaningful answers isn’t going to fly in either the short or long term.

The NHRA is a business partner with every sanctioned facility, particularly those that host Mello Yellow Series events. They are also business partners with Coca-Cola, Lucas Oil, Chevrolet, Mopar, Traxxas and any number of other supporting manufacturers. In actuality, even if there’s no direct business connection, NHRA is also “partners” with every team sponsor, from FireAde to Matco Tools and beyond. No one wants to be affiliated with a business venture in which one partner is actively trying to hide some truth from the other. Those partnerships are destined to fail because at some point that partner is going to demand to know what’s going on. If they don’t get a full and complete answer, they’re going to seriously consider whether or not they want to continue working with an entity that doesn’t tell them the complete story.

The NHRA isn’t a publicly traded company, so the “rules” that apply to them aren’t the same as those that apply to someone like the series sponsor. But when an important annual dinner meeting with that sponsor isn’t attended by the organization’s president, with no real explanation for his absence being offered, it sets a tone of secrecy that no one can be comfortable with. NASCAR isn’t a publicly traded company either, but imagine the uproar if someone of the stature of Mike Helton were to disappear for 11 weeks. Does anyone working in Glendora think that responses offering no details and seemingly untrue, or at least unproven “details” of that individual’s absence will be accepted by the media?

Unfortunately, like so many other situations we’ve seen involving NHRA, from the HD Partners fiasco to the sudden and irrevocable departures of too many title rights holders (Prolong, Goody’s Headache Powders, et.al.) to bother listing, this latest idiocy is just another example of how little they know and understand about the world of 2015. Is there really a new and unannounced hierarchy at NHRA? If there is, why hasn’t there been an announcement of that change? Is Mr. Compton’s absence only temporary? Has he been replaced, or is he about to be?

If we were business partners with NHRA – and in some ways we really are, much to our everlasting regret – we darn sure wouldn’t be pleased with the way the organization is mishandling this situation. As an individual for whom I have great respect as a business manager and organizer put it earlier today, “More than anything, this sordid episode is a clear marker that NHRA considers itself as reportable to no one nor group... That the head of PRO and the head of (the) track operators (group) were not convened in private to talk about this shows NHRA's belief and operating culture that it can define such a matter as private.” How wrong they are.

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