:::::: Editorials ::::::



He had the megawatt smile.
He drove an incredibly quick and fast ground-pounding Top Fuel dragster -- the coolest, most extreme race car on Earth -- first for legendary boss Don "The Snake" Prudhomme then for another drag-racing pioneer, Don Schumacher, with the National Hot Rod Association's biggest team.
He won 10 races and set the national speed record at 332.18 mph.
He even earned the 2008 International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel championship, getting his license just six days before the season started, then winning the first two events within 20 days.
He exuded an almost childlike enthusiasm for the sport, a passion for rolling up his sleeves and helping his racer friends -- sportsman and pro alike -- work on their cars on a day off.






Promises, Promises.   

Those two words have come to mind two times in recent weeks, for two dramatically different reasons.

Once was when one of my musical favorites, Oscar and Grammy award-winning lyricist Hal David, died. David was famous for his collaborations with composer Burt Bacharach and singer Dionne Warwick. All of us of a certain age have sung along: “What’s It All About, Alfie?,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?,” “What Do You Get When You Fall in Love?,” and other classics like “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

And, yes, there also was his Broadway hit, “Promises, Promises.”







asher05.jpgWhen the economy went south in 2008 almost every American went through at least some emotional and/or financial anguish. Some lost their homes and retirement savings, while on the business side some companies were forced to close their doors. Most tightened their belts and continued moving forward. Some of the nation’s largest financial institutions continued to rake in huge profits while going to great lengths to hide their legal and ethical transgressions, some of which were the tipping point for the financial crisis in the first place. It could be said of at least some of those institutions that greed caused them to lose sight of their publicly stated ethical standards. The result is they may never recover the trust the public once had in them. The National Hot Rod Association has acted in the same manner.

The result of the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing that the NHRA has undertaken with at least three companies has resulted in an ethical lapse of astounding proportions. They’re the kind of lapses that were unlikely to have happened under the leadership of founder Wally Parks. If anything, Parks had a pristine vision for the NHRA that included high standards, fair competition and honesty in dealing with the racers, sponsors, media and fans. Those standards have been effectively trashed by recent developments.

The first ethical lapse was an indicator of things to come when carburetor manufacturer Barry Grant bought legality for his products by sponsoring the Pro Stock Challenge. Grant’s Demon Carburetors had been deemed illegal time and time again by the NHRA Tech Department and the suspicion is that a rival aftermarket manufacturer was behind the banning of Grant’s carburetors. There’s no doubt that they viewed Grant as a threat to its Pro Stock racing business, with a lawsuit partially based on an alleged patent infringement ultimately playing a role in Grant’s business going under.






The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Unless a major gaffe by NHRA is corrected, this is where the Pro Stock Motorcycle division is headed – to hell.

The gaffe, which clearly has stabbed the division right in the heart, is the fact Harley-Davidson sought exclusivity with one team, which they got in exchange for their status and eventually money.

If the aim in the NHRA’s bending of the rules to suit Harley-Davidson’s activation plan was to improve the class by leveraging the brand name, attracting other manufacturers and inspiring additional sponsorship, it has failed miserably.

The lofty goals envisioned with inking the deal have been replaced with sinking racer morale, distrust of the sanctioning body and a tech department struggling to maintain pseudo parity.




There are times when I miss being a 13 year old kid with an insatiable drag racing appetite. Sometimes we get lost in our adult perceptions using the past as a barometer for the future.

There are times when youthful enthusiasm is a better approach than age and treachery. Thanks to a ten year old girl whom I never met, only read about—my opinion changed.

If you haven’t read Susan Wade’s excellent article about Olivia Byer’s enthusiasm to join her mother, Coca-Cola exec Sharon Byers in the unveiling of the Mello Yello sponsorship for the 2013 NHRA Championship Drag Racing Season, you should.

Before I hit the first keystroke, I was seeking to find a way to criticize yet another brand as series sponsor.

I wasn’t sold on the Mello-Yello series assignment. In fact, I was dead set against it. Many of our readers were too as evidenced by an informal Facebook poll.




Be careful what you wish for.

That’s my advice to NHRA fans who say they’re happy Paul Page won’t return as anchor of ESPN2’s national event coverage next year.  

I exclusively broke the story of Page’s ouster from the booth -- and let’s be clear, it wasn’t his choice to go -- on Wednesday evening, Aug. 15 here on CompetitionPlus.com. It didn’t take much longer than the time Tony Schumacher needs to run 1,000 feet for social media and message boards and chatrooms to start smokin’. Many seemed pleased, and while I’ve read all the comments, I’m still scratching my head like a tuner trying to figure out a 150-degree left lane at Bandimere Speedway.

Those who say Page -- most famous as “voice” of the Indianapolis 500 -- isn’t a “drag racing guy” apparently don’t realize his NHRA broadcast experience goes all the way back to 1973. And that, before the ESPN business suits ever cashed an NHRA check, Page was working with the late Steve Evans and Don Garlits on the old TNN shows produced by Diamond P. And Page’s collaboration with ace analyst Mike Dunn seems to me as good as, oh, I’ll use Ron Capps-Rahn Tobler as an analogy.



Good news: The sanctioning organization has a comprehensive plan to grow the sport well into the future.

Bad news: That sanctioning organization is NASCAR, not NHRA.

I know. I KNOW! You’re not surprised.

But the length and width and height and depth of the difference between these two businesses -- and their management teams -- when it comes to dealing with next week and next month and next year and next decade is Grand Canyon-esque in dimension.

The stock car company has been flat-out on-the-gas in recent months. NASCAR restructured its communications, media and marketing operations and added lots of staff. This as a result of what it learned from a major (and expensive) research project that included demographically and geographically diverse consumer focus groups, fan interviews and candid conversations with top industry stakeholders. Key areas explored: Public relations/marketing; social and digital media; attracting the next generation of fans; improving the at-track experience; building the star-power of drivers.



Some headlines continue to cry doom (“Will Fragile U.S. Economy Shatter?” USA Today July 23), while others indicate better times ahead (“In Latest Data on Economy, Experts See Signs of Pickup” New York Times July 13).

Considering this is an election year you can pretty much toss out any economic predictions emanating from either political party. Forgetting simple veracity for the moment, politicians aim to get elected and are therefore likely to say anything they feel will garner voter support.

Since the economy tanked in 2008 all of motorsports has suffered a reversal of fortunes to some extent. NASCAR, which numerous media outlets were already reporting as “topped out” even before the crunch, seems to have taken the biggest hit, at least if what we see on television is to be believed. There can be little doubt spectator attendance has seriously declined at venues as diverse as Daytona, Charlotte, Sonoma, Dover and Indianapolis. At many races, large sponsor banners cover significant seating areas, yet there still remain legions of empty grandstands. More than one media outlet has pegged NASCAR’s decline as high as 30% in ticket sales.

Indycar racing has also suffered at the gate, due at least partially to the series itself, which lacks excitement and recognizable American driver names. The series may be as international as Formula 1, but that doesn’t get it with an often jingoistic American audience.

While Indycar officials were certainly proud of the attendance and television ratings generated by the Indy 500, they are loathe to recall the so-called good old days prior to the CART-Indycar split, and who can blame them? In those days more than 200,000 paid to see Pole Day and almost 100,000 showed up for Bump Day. In these times the crowd count is closer to 10,000 for Pole Day and considerably less for any bumping action that now comes the following day. And, like it or not, the departure of Danica Patrick to NASCAR has definitely had a negative impact on their TV ratings. She was the hook that drove their coverage, a point insiders at Indycar will acknowledge, even if they do so off the record.



Harley-Davidson forced the NHRA into a no-win situation when they signed to become the official motorcycle of the NHRA, which in turn, has produced the same result for the other teams outside of the Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle pit area.

Harley-Davidson made it clear to the NHRA they don’t want any team other than Vance & Hines to represent their brand. The point has been made clear, in not so uncertain terms, if the NHRA pushes the issue, they will spend their money elsewhere.

When George Bryce and S&S Cycle designed and submitted their V-Twin bike, they gained NHRA approval with the stipulation the bike was available to any team in or looking to enter the Pro Motorcycle class; which Bryce agreed upon. The NHRA's agreement with Bryce was directly opposite of their agreement with Harley-Davidson.

One can only surmise the NHRA was desperate enough for money, they accepted the terms from Harley-Davidson which clearly is against the rules governing other manufacturers.

Clearly, the tail wagged the dog and this season appears to have complete and total control.



Ray Bradbury, to the best of my knowledge, wasn’t into motorsports. But the death last month of this true genius of the science fiction genre got me thinking about drag racing.

Specifically, the way NHRA is -- and isn’t -- telling it’s own often-amazing tale.

Bradbury, 91, was perhaps best known for his classic The Martian Chronicles, published in 1950 -- just one year before Wally Parks founded NHRA. I find that timing an appropriate coincidence since hot-rodders of that day probably would have thought 325 mph runs at 1,000 feet a fantasy from the far side of the moon.

Bradbury’s writings foreshadowed, in part, the reality of our modern communications tools and choices. Not only that, but also the consequences they would bring to our society, and even to our humanity. As the New York Times’ observed: “In the drive to make their lives smart and efficient, humans, he feared, had lost touch with their souls.” The obit included this Bradbury quote:  "We've got to dumb America up again."