DAVE DENSMORE SPEAKS (COMMENTARY): - ANOTHER FINE EXAMPLE OF MISPLACED PRIORITIES
The fact that the High Sheriffs have decided not to replace departed Vice President of Communications Terry Blount, a nice man who apparently misunderstood the essence of his job, calls into question the course on which the world’s largest motorsports organization now is embarked.
Like Geno Effler before him, Blount evidently was operating under the delusion that, as the VP/Communications, he was to “communicate” the NHRA message to the media, racers and fans which, in his short time in Glendora, he managed to do with considerable skill.
He probably thought that by rebuilding eroded relationships with key outlets like USA Today and leveraging the contacts he made as an award-winning writer and broadcast journalist, he had secured a corner office and the proverbial golden parachute to which so many NHRA executives seem to aspire.
Ahh, were it only true. It seems that in the NHRA’s secret handbook of employee conduct the term “communications” must refer only to those internal conversations undertaken between executives of similar status and title. In Blount’s case, that would be NHRA president Peter Clifford and his nine immediate undersheriffs.
Fortunately for Clifford, his Publicity and PR effort is in capable hands, moving forward, with Scott Smith as Director. Unfortunately, with a staff reduced from six bodies to four, the task of sustaining the gains made during Blount’s tenure would be formidable even if Smith and his colleagues were superheroes which, to the best of my knowledge, they are not.
It seems that since the NHRA opted to eliminate Blount’s position altogether, it must plan to spend his six-figure salary elsewhere. I’m just hoping it hasn’t already been thrown into the money pit that is TV.
Call me crazy, but it might be wise to consider re-investing in the NHRA infrastructure, particularly in a Tech Department that currently finds itself in a gunfight armed with nothing more than a Swiss Army Knife.
Don’t get me wrong. To my knowledge, there’s nothing wrong with the current bunch of NHRA tech officials outside of the fact that there simply aren’t enough of them.
Certainly, Glen Gray is eminently qualified to be the VP/Tech Operations having earned a degree in electronic engineering and having worked at Delphi, where he helped develop a variety of high-tech products used in drag racing and other motorsports disciplines. Danny Gracia, National Tech Director, good racer, good man, good official.
Right now, though, it seems obvious that Gray, Gracia and the tech staff are overwhelmed, under-equipped and under-appreciated.
Although there are many factors contributing to the decrease in NHRA’s participant base, the lack of a level playing field is at or near the top. Nobody wants to play on a skewed field.
Nevertheless, if you were to look closely at NHRA class racing right now, particularly at Stock and Super Stock, you might be astounded to find that rules enforcement is pretty much down to the honor system – and that simply won’t work.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not implying that racers are not honorable. It’s just that they tend to play in the gray. They are masters at identifying the areas of rule that are subject to interpretation and then offering up their own opinions as to what officials “actually meant.”
When racers blur those lines, it is the responsibility of the tech department to redefine them.
To do that, there need to be active lines of communication (there’s that troublesome word again) with racers, manufacturers, other officials, even track operators to determine what really is going on in the field. It starts with member tracks but ultimately the NHRA tech department needs more quality people who can talk to those at the grassroots level on a weekly basis, provide the necessary intel and communicate it to Glendora.
It is a labor-intensive assignment and, as we all know, labor ain’t cheap but maybe the Sheriffs could turn in a couple more six-figure salaries from a couple more obscure VPs and use them to hire a dozen new tech people. Just saying.
Of course, equipment is another area in which the Tech Department has been frighteningly outpaced.
For one thing, it already should have its own 18-wheeler(s) outfitted with the most sophisticated equipment available – just like the trailers of the most prominent pro racers. How are you going to stay one step ahead of the racers, which is the goal, if you don’t have equipment at least comparable to theirs?
Ideally, such a trailer would allow a race car, pro or sportsman, to be rolled inside for a complete pre-or-post race analysis. In that way, tech officials could work every race in the same environment with the same equipment in the same location. That not only would improve their performance, it would enhance the integrity of the sport.
Best case scenario would be the construction of three such trailers, one to be California-based, one based in Florida and one in Indiana. Each would be assigned geographically to national events and otherwise commissioned to specific regional races at which it would provide local tech officials with access to the latest technology and insight into the operation of the trailer itself.
Of course, that’s just a pipe dream. There is no money for even one such trailer. There is no money for new tech officials. There is no money for anything, apparently, except TV and suits. And yet every day we are assured that everything is all right. “Move along everybody. Show’s over. Nothing to see here.”
OK. I must be wrong.