Is a 2-State Solution the Best Thing for Australian Drag Racing? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Colin Brassington (aka Brash)   
Wednesday, 14 June 2017 21:09

Some confusing media releases popped up in the last couple of weeks regarding the upcoming season of Australian drag racing. As explained on DragNews Australia in much more detail, a pair of announcements that really should have been good news were poorly received because they were so badly written.

Image borrowed from DNA / Cackling Pipes without permission

It's approaching two years since Australian drag racing entered its darkest hour. And for those who love our sport, it has been a very long hour. The war between ANDRA and the big tracks has claimed many casualties, the first of which was a true National series. Though a lot of good equipment was sold off cheap by disgruntled racers, and so many of the remaining racers stepped up. Silver linings and small wins I suppose...

It's not like the sport was in a bad position at the time mind you; the debt that DRAG Ltd left behind was almost paid off, the viewership on Sunday afternoons’ TV show was up and growing, and performance barriers were continuing to fall. Just the things that we like to see. So how did things get so bad so quickly?

As with any major spat both sides blame the other while claiming total innocence. And like most major spats, the truth lies somewhere in between. There’s been enough bandwidth devoted to discussing this elsewhere so I won't cover it here. But the war has gone on long enough and claimed enough casualties. Both parties claimed that only they could take the sport to the next level, but neither really had much chance with the other working to undermine their every move at the same time.

400Thunder claimed they'd take drag racing to the future, but really went back to 2009, with events at no more than 3 tracks and no media or free-to-air television coverage despite what their grand plan promised. Meanwhile ANDRA continued more or less as they had been with their Sunday afternoon tv slot and pushed the live streaming angle.

Both sides have their proponents, both sides have their detractors and in fairness it's relatively easy to see where most of the opinions on either side came from. But this doesn't solve anything.

This is why I propose what I call the 2 state solution.


What I propose would see the top level of Australian drag racing remain a two-championship sport, with 400Thunder running from November to March and the ANDRA series running from March to November. And run them both under ANDRA sanction and rules to promote competitor participation and crossover between events/series. This way we get the best of both worlds. Please allow me to elaborate.

One of the early flash points was the calendar for the National championship. The promotors group wanted a financial year type calendar (July/August to June) while ANDRA wanted a calendar year type calendar (January/February to November). While both have their attractiveness, the fact of the matter is that during the third quarter of the year it is not possible to hold successful events at most of the tracks in the country. This has resulted in a mid-season break of sorts in previous years; either that or the peculiar circumstance where the break between in-season rounds is longer than the break between seasons. Now while there's not really any getting around this, scheduling major events at Darwin, Alice Springs, Mackay, Benaraby and Springmount in this time of year can close the gap in the calendar significantly. The drawback is that these facilities are simply so far away from anywhere else.

But the dual championships also facilitates the solving of another contentious issue: the format of the events.

400Thunder have been pushing what they call the "Twenty20 style" 3 Round Format type of events. More action, more of your favourite drivers and a more rapid spectacle they claim. And that's the big advantage of a 3 round format event from a fans' perspective - they get to see their favourite drivers every round. Nothing sucks more than getting to the track on race day and finding out that your favourite didn't make the 8-car show or went out in the first round. (Except for maybe getting to the track and finding out they're not there at all, as has been the case a lot lately, but I digress).

My personal opinion of T20 cricket aside, it does appeal to a different type of cricket fan; one that isn't necessarily interested in the more traditional Test Match or One Day formats. And that's what 400Thunder have been hoping to achieve with their events - to attract new fans or reach out to those who used to come to the track but don't anymore.

Counter this with the traditional format. Two pull into the stage beams, the winner advances and the loser goes home. Tournament style eliminations has been the backbone of the sport since the beginning, and like the Test Match, rewards the racer that has performance, reliability, and staying power with the spoils. And it's this simplicity that it holds over the 3round format, in that you can easily pay attention from the hill and understand how things are going and where everyone is. While spectators at 3 round format events need the commentators to tell them who is running for the event win.

And here is another parallel with cricket, while the new format reaches beyond the usual fan of the game, many traditional fans see T20 as a fad that is destroying much of what they love about the game. And so goes the argument between fans of the 3 round format and tournament eliminations racing.

Another clashing point has been the metrification of the sport by 400Thunder. Australia is the only place where competitive drag racers are given metric terminal speeds. And while I will concede that it's easier to explain to somebody from outside the sport that a with a Pro Stock car with an normally aspirated 6.5L V8 accelerates from 0 to 323km/h in under 7 seconds, if you watch closely the eyes of the dyed-in-the-wool-lifetime-fan glazed over, while the crew is busily trying to work out if what I just described was indeed a 400ci car running 200mph. Others who have long been involved have their calculators at the ready so they can understand the gravity of a 510km/h pass in Top Fuel or a 416km/h pass in Top Alcohol.


Scotty Cannon's Murray Anderson-built Studebaker at Willowbank Raceway, circa 1997. Image from DragList

If you were involved in the sport during the early to mid 1990s, then you likely have fond memories of international racers competing at our events. And indeed some of my earliest childhood memories are seeing Kirk Kuhns' and Jim Campos' Pro Mods race against Victor and Zap; and Peter Russo and Jim Carter racing against Gary Densham's nitro Funny Car. Scotty Cannon's tour was another great night at the track, as were the early jet car tours that saw Chuck Haynes bring out a couple friends each year. This was a great time to be a drag racing fan, and by adopting a brief summer series - coinciding with the winter shut down of the NHRA tours - we can potentially see the summer tours make a return. Especially if all the promotors are talking to each other and working towards the betterment of the sport!

Running separate series also has the advantage of being able to trial other different formats. The Santo's Super 3 event at Willowbank has seen the trial of heads up .90 brackets. While most racers will admit they want to race Heads Up, the costs involved to compete in traditional Heads Up classes prove prohibitive. While this writer doesn't think that replacing our vast array of Sportsman classes with six Heads-Up brackets between 6.90 and 11.99 is a logical solution, this would and has provided a formal way to trial these sorts of format at a large event but outside of the traditional championship events.

ANDRA have traditionally been very controlling regarding the format of their National events, and non-championship categories running at these events has traditionally been frowned upon. Which is somewhat of a shame, because there are plenty of competitors in the non-traditional brackets that would love to be on track at a major event. Factory Xtreme put on a great show for a couple of years at the Winternationals for a couple of years up to 2014; and I'll admit to being a big fan of Outlaw Radial racing, and many similar classes would thrive if given the opportunity to race at the major events. Radials, imports, 10.5 cars, the shortened format allows space on the program for these guys to strut their stuff. And the best time to do that is right before the main draw cards. Who knows, maybe if these events can get enough of a following nationally, we might even see a national series for some of these categories. I know I for one would love that.

It would also be a nice benefit for some racers who have largely been caught in the crossfire of the split. The Jamboree and APSA competitors, many of whom kept the licence for their local track, but have needed to obtain the other licence, log book and tech inspection for specific events. I can't tell you how many times I've heard of people who unloaded their things at the track and only then realised that they needed another licence and tech inspection. And while ignorance of this is no excuse, it's also a situation that should not have ever been able to happen.

The 2 championship solution also gets around the somewhat confusing policy of 400Thunder of needing to have the word "Thunder" in the name of every event (except the Winternationals) and running the 3 round format exclusively at every event (except the Winternationals). Seriously, am I the only one who doesn't understand this?

Anyway, all of this is just an idea. It might not even be a very good one. I'm just a guy who wants to see drag racing prosper. I don't see this as the perfect solution but it's a start. I'd love to hear your ideas on this, or other solutions to our sport's problem.



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