Rumor Mill

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

MICHAEL KNIGHT: BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

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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.

MICHAEL KNIGHT: ANYONE HAVE A PLAN TO GROW THE SPORT?

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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.

UP FRONT: DRAG RACING IS (W-H-A-T-?) TURNING THE CORNER

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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.

BOBBY BENNETT: NHRA’S DECISION HAS PSM IN A NO-WIN SITUATION

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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.

MICHAEL KNIGHT: NHRA SHOULD STILL REACH OUT AND TOUCH SOMEONE

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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."

MICHAEL KNIGHT: TODAY'S DRAG RACING STOCK REPORT

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Stock -- as in investments, not cars or motorcycles -- dominated the mainstream media in May. The Dow kept going down, Down, DOWN on daily bad news about the banks in Europe. Where’s Urs Erbacher now that I need him for a comment? Political instability and the Euro crisis meant Greece was the word on Wall Street. What say you, Chris Karamesines?

The over-hyped Facebook IPO left buyers who quickly lost money Redfaced or Facebroke. It’s already referred to in the financial history books as the Facebook Fiasco. And when people talked about Chase, they didn’t mean  NASCAR’s playoffs.

Seems to me this is a good time to take stock of drag racing at roughly the Full Throttle season’s mid-point. But remember, as a wise broker once told me: Never fall in-or-out of love with any one pick. What goes up will eventually come down. And vice versa.

SUSAN WADE: MEMORIAL DAY OBSERVATIONS THROUGH DRAG-RACING FILTER

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"This is no battle, no waged campaign. This is pastime. We must be devout in our observation of the pain that allows us to laugh, the fallen who allow us to run, for those who never returned that we may now come together. This reverence we commemorate is a sentiment heavy on our hearts. This reverence we do not take lightly.
 
"We dedicate our longest march to the endless march of our United States Armed Forces. They landed on hostile shores so we could run on the beach. They battled machines of fascism so we could use fast machines for play. They charged into the unknown so that we may know freedom.
 
"What once was Decoration Day is now our day of memorial. But for this weekend and this time, we stand not in a state of grief but in reflection and proudly state, 'America, united, shall endure. "
 
- Ken Squier-narrated tribute to America's military, aired on SPEED TV Sunday

SUSAN WADE: NHRA NEEDS MARKTING IDEAS? WATCH BRUTON SMITH

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It took 96 editions of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race for someone to come close to trumping it as "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing."
 
But Bruton Smith just might have done it.
 
The proof will be in the performance this Sunday, 90 minutes before the green flag waves to start the Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup Series race at Smith's Charlotte Motor Speedway.
 
Don Schumacher Racing's Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown will perform side-by-side burnouts for the NASCAR crowd -- a first for stock car fans, who have seen burnouts before but never have experienced sensory overload in stereo.
 
Fox Sports TV motorsports analyst Jeff Hammond, a five-time Cup series champion as crew chief or crew member, will be the "official starter" as the 8,000-horsepower dragsters fire up on an unprepped surface.

SUSAN WADE: CAPPS HAS HIS LIST; WE HAVE OURS

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With a perfect tag-team performance Sunday at Atlanta Dragway, Don Schumacher Racing's Ron-and-Rahn put the Funny Car smackdown on the smokin' hot Robert-and-Jimmy tandem and halted their John Force Racing reign.

After Ron Capps and his Rahn Tobler-tuned NAPA Dodge Charger Funny Car defeated Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang in the final round of the Summit Southern Nationals, Capps shared some frustrations -- with qualification.

"We love those guys," Capps said of Hight and his JFR team. "Tobler and Prock went to dinner here not too long ago. They're good friends, and Robert and I are good friends. We had dinner last night and watched the UFC fight. I told them at the other end [Sunday], 'You guys bring everything I got out when I have to race you.' "

However, Capps let his annoyance spill out: "I got so tired of hearing about Force [Racing] winning every race. I got tired hearing about Robert. I love him but I got tired of hearing about him on this race streak"

BRANDON MUDD: BERNSTEIN, FORCE PROVIDED A PERFECT NHRA INTRODUCTION

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This week, along with six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion owner Richard Childress, NHRA Full Throttle Series champions John Force and Kenny Bernstein were inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala.

The credentials of this trio cannot be argued. At all. Childress was a perennial top-ten driver in NASCAR prior to becoming an owner. He won his six titles with the late Dale Earnhardt, who was inducted into the Hall in 2006. He has won titles in all three of NASCAR’s top series and continues to be one of the strongest and most respected owners in stock car racing.

Force’s 15 Funny Car titles eclipses any driver in the history of NHRA. With his victory in this year’s season-opening Winternationals, his win total is at 133, a benchmark in the sport. His team, John Force Racing, has also won titles with Tony Pedregon and son-in-law Robert Hight. So far this year, they have won all six of the races run in the Funny Car class.

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