SIX MONTHS IN, CROMWELL FACING THE CHALLENGES HEAD-ON
Glen Cromwell took the wheel of the NHRA's vehicle understanding there could be no rear view mirror.
For Cromwell, serving as the first blue-collar NHRA President since Wally Parks, holding the leadership role in motorsports largest sanctioning body is not just a job. It's a passion. While he shoulders many new responsibilities with his new role, he understands there's a team in place ready and willing to help him.
"I get the benefits of having Peter Clifford still here as our CEO and he’s been a tremendous mentor in guiding me through the first six months, which has helped a ton," Cromwell admitted. "You add that with just a great team, our leadership team, and it’s just a great team that is around me. I don’t think I have time to sit back and really think about it. We have and continue to develop a very forward facing and we’re always thinking ahead of what we can do to make things better for all of our stakeholders and the entire sport."
Cromwell is a go-getter, an attitude which comes from his days of working in field operations for the NHRA. One thing he's had to learn in his first six months on the job is while e strongly believes his vision for the future of the NHRA is a good one, patience is a virtue when it comes to implementing the game plan.
"I think the older you get, you become more patient," Cromwell said. "I do understand that this is a big sport, big property, and when you do want to make changes, it takes a lot of communication and teamwork. I’ve learned a lot of that. I think that’s the big part is we all learn here quickly you have to be patient and include all the different stakeholders on anything that you want to change."
One of those objectives, Cromwell admits, is working to win over those who may have given up on the NHRA. The biggest thing he believes is the natural entertainment value the sport provides.
"It’s great today, and I think we’re going to make it even better in the future," Cromwell said. "I think we are doing a great job pulling a lot of those people back that may have decided not to go two, three, four years ago. We are seeing that through our attendance numbers, our TV numbers. All of what we call our KPI’s, our key performance indicators, are up and I think that speaks volumes. That speaks that people are coming back and we’re getting new fans. A lot of it is it starts with the product and I think the product is great racing happening today."
Preserving the future is a crucial reason Cromwell felt it was essential to slow the nitro cars down. He knew when the cars hit 340-miles per hour it would take nitro racing down a pathway it could likely never recover from.
Firstly, sources close to the NHRA's technical department alluded that 340-miles per hour treads closely to the limits of SFI specifications for some parts. The need to slow the cars initially became about safety.
"NHRA is responsible for the safety of the sport," Cromwell said. "We felt with the cars approaching 340 that it was getting into a place where we weren’t comfortable with. We saw some explosions that were happening at the beginning of the year that were very violent. Not that that doesn’t happen all the time in the past, but we felt we needed to make a change. We work closely with PRO and they were great to work with. They understood our position."
Changing the level of track prep, Cromwell felt, was the easiest option available to the teams. While one simple change in an engine configuration might seem like an easy fix, there would be multiple changes to adjust to the one change forcing teams both sponsor-rich and poor to spend money.
NHRA confirmed they changed the track prep application by decreasing 10-percent while speeding up the delivery to the racing surface.
"We’ve seen success from it with bringing the speeds down, less wear and tear on parts and pieces," Cromwell said. "We’ve had less explosions. So we’re happy with the results and from a byproduct of doing that, we saw kind of a leveling of the playing field."
An equally important aspect of the traction prep adjustment has been a leveling of the competition somewhat.
"A lot of our single-car teams have actually done pretty well, and in Norwalk, to have Blake Alexander win Top Fuel is pretty evident of that. The racing is great, great side by side racing, 300 plus mile an hour. The personalities are coming out.
"The other thing with the track prep is it really has challenged the crew chiefs which is part of the sport. Innovation and creativity will always be a big part when we make decisions. We want that and we know that’s a key part."
Slowing the cars down was essential for the long-term health of nitro racing.
"Car counts are a big part of what we look at and we were getting to a point where getting full fields, that wasn’t good enough," Cromwell explained. "To have 16 cars we believe does not create excitement and entertainment in the sport. We need more cars, more participation, we need that qualifying session number four to be exciting, who gets in and who gets out. I think over the past few years, we’ve lost that in a lot of our pro categories, primarily the fuel and the Pro Stock car classes. I think in doing what we’ve done, we’ve already seen some success, some more participation, evident of the car count in Norwalk."
Cromwell is a significant piece in the changing of the guard at the NHRA, a new generation.
"I think it’s just a typical succession plan that all companies have, not just NHRA," Cromwell explained. "I mean, you look at any company, it’s just a part of life. Graham’s been here 34 years, and he’s done a wonderful job. He is going to spend the next phase of his life with his family, and he deserves every bit of that. Bringing in this new group, we’re excited about. Josh Peterson comes with 14 years of experience. He’s a former engineer with GM and has a wealth of institutional knowledge here at the NHRA, so we’re excited with him.
"We’ve got Ned Walser who comes, who used to work for us as a division director, and our director of operations. You know, with those two leading the charge, I think it’s a great team. We also built some resources on the marketing side. We brought in Jeffrey Young from the PBR, professional bull riding, with a strong event marketing background, and he’ll work with the current team, Evan Jonat and Kristen Wentzell and Jessica Hatcher. It’s kind of a younger team, but it’s building for the future."
Cromwell confirmed his ascension to the leadership was a matter of many conversations with Clifford, and promoting from within seemed to the best avenue for the NHRA.
"This is not about me, this is about the sport, this is about growing, and this is about a team of people, including racers, media, NHRA members, and fans," Cromwell said. "We will grow it together, we will challenge each other to make it better, and that’s my philosophy. I’ll live it ’til the day I’m no longer here. Will I lead a team? Yeah. I’ll lead the team, but my job is to put the right people in the right place and make sure that we are forward thinkers and that we are not scared of change.