DRIVERS AS STARS IS THEME OF NHRA’S NEW TV INITIATIVE
We were held back for years and years. As much as we love Wally Parks and all he did, he was way behind the curve. He believed that the cars were the stars. He said that – I’m not making this up. The cars can’t be the stars. People are the stars. NASCAR recognized tat right off, and the cars became insignificant. It was Richard Petty. It was all these guys and all of the personalities. I for years tried to get them to do that, and they laughed at me. But we got behind 20 years. . . .
Notice the cars. You go in my museum and you see every car’s got ‘Don Garlits Wynns Charger’ or ‘Don Garlits Kendall’ or whatever. It’s always got ‘Don Garlits’ up there. The cars today aren’t like that. They have auto parts or Budweiser or some big sponsor’s name. And the driver’s name is real tiny, and you’ve got to look for it. Well, the average person watching the race isn’t looking for it. It’s got to be thrown in their face. So these guys are not getting their proper recognition. They’re trading their chance for getting recognized by the general public for the sponsorship money. In my day, the sponsors wanted to be associated with me. They didn’t want to be by themselves. I [asked someone], ‘Do the sponsors not want that today?’ He said, ‘All they care about is exposure on TV.’ That’s too bad, because it isn’t good for the sport. You notice Ashley Force wrote hers pretty big on the roof of her Funny Car. You don’t miss it.” - Don Garlits, in a 2006 interview with 1320 TV
It appears the cars no longer will be the stars.
Signaling a bit of a departure from traditional NHRA thinking, sanctioning body President Glen Cromwell told Competition Plus Thursday of a seismic shift in marketing.
Cromwell revealed the NHRA plans to launch an aggressive media initiative, promising to promote the drivers through a variety of viewing platforms rather than highlighting the sport’s richly diverse hot rods.
The goal, he said, is to maximize the number of individuals who watch the in-house-produced FOX / FS1 NHRA broadcasts, to drive traffic to the weekend race-coverage broadcasts. “More eyeballs” is the operative phrase these days for Ken Adelson, the NHRA’s chief content officer and executive producer of the telecasts.
Cromwell said that during the offseason the NHRA “readjusted” Adelson’s creative direction.
“He’s going to be tasked with what we call ‘secondary programming.’ We’re going to proactively look for programming -whether it’s through the Discovery Channel, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, or a whole list of platforms. It’s to push the personalities of the drivers. We have so many diverse personalities. And we believe there are platforms out there who would love to do stories and hear the back-stories of these racers. FOX has been a game-changer since 2016. But we have to build the personalities. So we’re going to look at opportunities. That can help grow the personalities.
“We think that can help grow our base that will come to FOX and FS1,” he said. “If we can get people to watch on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday and learn more about our drivers, they’ll be more intrigued to watch our Friday, Saturday, and Sunday shows. So you really have to build on that. You can’t sit and wait for that to happen. We can sit here and say, ‘The personalities are a big piece of it,’ But you’ve got to go sell them. We can’t sit and wait for people to come to us. We’re going to proactively sell these drivers and these stories.”
Cromwell underscored that the purpose of these broadcasting projects is not to overshadow the current weekend FOX and FS 1 NHRA broadcasts, but rather to supplement them and to drive a larger audience FOX’s way.
“We have a unique sport,” he said. “The cars are different [from each other]. There are people who really enjoy the different styles of cars. For me to say the cars are not the stars could be taken out of context. I think there are fans who like the diversity of the cars. That’s important. The drivers, the personalities, have to be the focus.”
He said he and other NHRA executives met Thursday with “a big company in L.A.” to discuss opportunities.
Cromwell used the early 2000s reality show “Driving Force” as an example of one type of non-race program that the NHRA might pursue.
“Look at ‘Driving Force’ and what that did. It was on for a short time, but it really helped John Force and Laurie and the girls [Ashley, Brittany, and Courtney]. There was minimal drag racing [footage] in that show. It was about John and the family. But it made people intrigued about who they are and then they would tune in to ESPN to see who they were,” Cromwell said.
So to some people, the cars still might be the stars. But the personalities will be the brighter ones in the drag-racing galaxy.