EXCLUSIVE: AN INTERVIEW WITH GLEN CROMWELL
CompetitionPlus.com's Bobby Bennett talks with the NHRA's President, Glen Cromwell, in what has become a tradition ahead of each drag racing season.
In this interview, Cromwell discusses the excitement surrounding the 2024 season. He mentions the success of the previous season and the momentum it has created. Cromwell attributes his ability to think outside the box to the collaborative efforts of his team and stakeholders in the sport. He acknowledges the sacrifices made by racers during the COVID-19 pandemic and the positive progress made in the sport.
Cromwell expresses optimism for the future of NHRA drag racing and believes it has the potential for significant growth in the next five years.
BOBBY BENNETT: There's a lot to be excited about for this 2024 season, and for NHRA, you guys are bringing in a new series sponsor and carrying along some of the programs that really worked well. What's your thought process going into 2024?
GLEN CROMWELL: Well, my thought process going into 2024 is we're all extremely excited, and as a term, as some of our crew chiefs would say, I feel we're running on all eight cylinders leading into 2024. But truly, Bobby, it starts in 2023. Great momentum coming out of a great season. Our fans came in. We had great attendance in 2023. I believe we have the best fans in all of sports, and you know what? Big credit goes to our racers. Our athletes did a tremendous job of putting on great entertainment and a great show last year, which I think helps build that momentum into 2024. And with that, congratulations to, of course, Matt Hagan, Erica Enders, and Gaige Herrera, who had a tremendous year, and a big congratulations to Doug Kalitta on his first championship. And I think with that, leading into 2024 brings all the excitement with the things that you talked about.
We had some great programs in 2023 that will be expanded. We have the Mission #2Fast2Tasty program that will be participating at the 4-Wides, so we'll be at all the regular season events. And speaking of Mission #2Fast2Tasty, we are welcoming Mission in as our new series sponsor, and we're excited about that. We're excited... Camping World will stay involved for many years to come for obvious reasons. Many of our fans are campers, so it's a good place for Camping World. But Mission will come in with a tremendous amount of activation, both at the track and in the market at grocery stores, getting the word out about this incredible support.
BB - One thing that has become evident in your leadership of NHRA is that you are not afraid of thinking outside of the box. Why does this mentality seem to work well for you?
GC - To be successful, first and foremost, you have to have a great team, and we have that here at the NHRA. We have some great minds here thinking of different ways of doing things, whether it's on the track... Kudos to the team here at NHRA. We talked to some of the race teams about it, so it was a very collaborative idea on this Mission #2Fast2Tasty program. And those are the types of things that you need to do.
But the real answer to that is to be able to collaborate not only internally with the team here at NHRA but with our racetracks and our race teams, and listen to our fans of what they want, what they're looking for, and be willing to take a risk and try new things. And I believe that's what we're doing here at the NHRA.
BB - How hard of a sell has it been to sell your team and stakeholders in this industry on stepping outside of the comfort zone, thinking outside of the box, and being different?
GC - I don't know if it's selling. I'm not selling. We sit and talk, challenge each other, and make very, I would call, calculated moves. It's important. There are so many stakeholders in this sport. You can't make a significant move in this sport [without totally involving everyone]. There's a lot of risk that comes with it. But through a lot of communication, as I sit internally and with our stakeholders, you make good decisions, and that's what you see.
It's not me. It's really the group of our stakeholders within the sport. They want to see new things, and they're willing to do new things. The tracks are willing to take a little risk, and the race teams are willing to take a little risk, but we do that for our fans.
BB - I believe when you look back on your time as the leader of NHRA, the pandemic can very well be one of the most challenging issues anyone leading the NHRA has ever faced. What was the key to survival?
GC - I think everybody made a lot of sacrifices. Every stakeholder in our sport did, and the racers made a big one. They came out, and the purses were lower. We asked them to do certain things, wear face protection and masks at the starting line, and they were very good about following those rules. And they get a lot of credit for the success that we see through COVID, and really a lot of the success that leads us out of COVID, and a lot of the momentum that we're experiencing today.
BB - How close is the sport to being where it should be post-Covid in comparison to where we were before it hit?
GC - I think we're making great progress, but our sights are extremely high for this sport, and I think there's a lot more growth potential at all levels, whether it is spectators, television, or racer participation. Our goals are extremely high, and we're happy where we are today, and we are happy with the momentum that we have. We believe that there is a greater level to be reached in our sport, and that's what we're working towards.
BB - NHRA announced their 2024 schedule with two TBA events. In the past, NHRA always had its series schedule buttoned up and solid. How hard is it to have that uncertainty when you announce a schedule?
GC - Let me take a step back a little and talk about the tracks. As you look at 2024, we're excited. One, we'll be heading back to Chicago for the second year, heading to Joliet. We'll be returning to Richmond, Virginia. We're excited to be joining Tommy Franklin and his team there. Also, I am really excited about going back to Phoenix and the rebranding of Firebird. That is great.
We do have a TBD on the schedule at the moment, which is to be determined, and that's exactly what that means. And we're still working on trying to have 21 events this year, and there's still some opportunity out there. Our plan is to keep that TBD on the schedule until that opportunity does not exist, and then we'll take it off.
BB - We need to address the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the PRO Superstar Shootout. How do you look at that event?
GC - Well, the folks here at the NHRA are extremely focused on our mission and our goals, and that is to grow the sport of NHRA drag racing, the NHRA Mission Food Drag Racing series, the Lucas Oil series, our Summit ET series, our Right Trailers Jr. Drag Racing series.
I mean, we are extremely focused at that level, and that's what we're looking to grow in 2024 and beyond. I think any time our race teams have an opportunity to get money, it's great for them. But I think we're extremely focused on our mission and our goals of growing this sport, and I think that's what we're focused on.
BB - Between this situation of the racers holding their own race outside of NHRA sanction and the challenges of racing in the days post-pandemic, how has NHRA remained focused on the task at hand?
GC -I think you have to have a positive mentality, and you have to believe in what you're doing, in what you're doing for the sport. And I believe we have the best team here at the NHRA. And I think you see some of the progress that is happening in our sport. We work hard, we roll our sleeves up, and we're going to push the sport forward because we all believe in it, and we believe there are better things to come in the near future.
BB - Where do you see drag racing in the next five years?
GC - NHRA drag racing is the greatest sport in the world. It is the fastest, most powerful sport, and the experience that you have at our events is non-comparable. Our racers are accessible; they're superstars. Our racetracks are committed. Our fans are the best. Our team here at NHRA is the best. And I believe this sport has great potential, and I believe we're heading towards that. And I think this sport is going to be much bigger than it is today in five years.