Politics in Drag Racing? Or Not PDF Print E-mail
Written by Colin Brassington (aka Brash)   
Sunday, 19 March 2017 15:24

If you follow drag racing, especially the NHRA version, you would no doubt be aware that Top Fuel returnee Larry Dixon was asked to remove his sponsorship decals at the Gatornationals in Gainsville, Florida this weekend. And the angry-at-everything crowd is crying foul. Because of course they fucking are.

Image shamelessly right-click-save-as'd from CompetitionPlus

Larry was running a sign on both sides of his otherwise un-sponsored car for the upcoming World Series of Drag Racing event to be held at Cordova Raceway Park. The Cordova facility is owned by the IHRA. And here as they say, en-lies the rub.

Dixon is predictably crying poor. He’s been booked to run at an exhibition type event to do some good old fashioned match racing. The event runs at a non-NHRA track and on a weekend that the NHRA aren’t doing anything, so he saw it as no problem. Especially since there was no competing logos as a part of his signwriting. He feels he has done nothing wrong. And maybe he hasn’t.

However, the NHRA go to great lengths in their competition rulebook to stipulate strict standards with regard to advertising and promotional subjects. One of the big ones is that they clearly state that the agreements they have with their sponsors are exclusive arrangements, and that you are not to advertise competing brands at national events. Even as far back as the Powerade sponsorship that replaced the longterm championship sponsorship from Winston there was a clause in the rulebook that clearly stated no competing sports drink branding would be accepted. There’s also a little clause in section 11 that claims that NHRA have right of refusal for any signwriting they feel may be detrimental to the organisation. (But they spell it with a "z") And that’s the one they pulled on Dixon to get his stickers covered up.

Now call me cynical, but I think this actually has nothing to do with the content of the stickers on the car, and everything to do with Dixon’s recent appointment to the IHRA’s Professional Competition Advisory Board.

IHRA President Mike Dunn announced this week that 3-time NHRA Top Fuel Champion Larry Dixon, Pro Mod, Funny Car and Top Fuel racer Melanie Troxell and retired Funny Car racer Whit Bazemore will be working directly with Dunn on the professional competition advisory board. The release says that these racers bring wealth of experience to the table with their vast range of achievements. Dixon has won championships and won races as a hired gun here in Australia. Troxell is the only racer who has won races in Pro Modified and both fuel categories, as well as being nominated for ESPN’s awards for best female athlete. And Bazemore was a professional drag racing photographer before piecing together his own nitro Funny Car operation; he later drove for Don Schumacher and in retirement has made a point of being exceptionally outspoken on most aspects of the sport. Seriously, google his name – he has some really good points and some kinda dumb ones.

Dunn said in the release ‘They’re a diverse group. Melanie can speak as one of the top female drivers in all of Motorsports. Whit comes from a side of being outspoken which the sport needs. Larry is one of the most accomplished drivers in drag racing. Their input will be vital the continued growth of the IHRA, and we appreciate them joining our team so we can take advantage of their experience’. And he’s probably right. But I think there’s more to this.

Dunn, I believe, has an axe to grind with the NHRA. After a reasonably successful career as a driver in both Funny Cars and Top Fuel cars, he was their expert commentator for 14 years. Then in October 2015 the NHRA announced they were leaving the ESPN network and taking their whole television package to FOX Sports. And Dunn wasn’t going to be required at FOX. Fast forward three months and the 22-time NHRA national event winner was announced as the new president of IHRA.

I questioned at the time the logic of the move, given that Dunn spent the bulk of his driving career as a professional driver in the nitro categories – to my knowledge he’s never raced a sportsman car, nor has he ever owned the car he was racing. (Please correct me if I’m wrong) Pretty sure he’s also never managed or owned a race track either. But he is the son of drag racing legend Big Jim Dunn and I suppose you can’t spend a lifetime in the sport without gaining some insight on important matters.

One of the first things that the IHRA did under Dunn’s stewardship was to relocate their long time big event ‘World Series of Drag Racing’ from it’s Cordova home to Memphis. This was a move that was roundly criticised then later turned out to be just as bad as many predicted with the event being a monumental failure on just about every account. Come August 2017 it will be back in it’s traditional home of Cordova, Illinois.

And it was signage for this event that Larry Dixon had on his car.

I’m going out on a limb here. I’m going to argue that the NHRA’s actions are entirely appropriate, given the content of their competition rulebook that I explained earlier. But I’m also going to suggest that this move has a lot more to do with Dixon’s joining the IHRA than anybody is saying.

Dixon, despite being a supremely talented driver hasn’t had a full time drive since he left Al Anabi Racing at the end of the 2011 season. He’s had some semi-regular stints for Rapisarda Autosport International both here in Australia and in the US, and he drove for Bob Vandergriff’s team in 2014 and 2015. As a successful driver who wants to be on the tour but doesn’t have a full time drive, he elected to form his own team and go from there. And now that he’s assumed the underdog status, he would be the perfect pawn in this game. He gets signed to the IHRA’s board, gets some dollars to go racing with, puts a sticker on his otherwise unsponsored race car, and then the big, bad NHRA meanies come over and tell him to take it off.

The benefits are twofold:

Dunn therefore gets people talking about the event at Cordova that would not normally be talking about it. This, after all, is the point of sponsorship and marketing. But on top of that, he also makes the NHRA look like the bad guys here. And judging by the outrage I’ve seen on facebook today, that has gone entirely to plan too.

The NHRA were entirely right in their move to make Dixon remove the sign. I can't name any other sport anywhere in the world allows you to promote events that are not related to the one you’re currently at; multi-use facilities aside of course. And while on paper the Cordova event doesn’t compete with anything NHRA does, ‘The World Series of Drag Racing is not a sanctioned race; it’s not a points race, it’s an exhibition race. It’s no different than the Night of Fire that Bill Bader puts on’ Dixon told Competition Plus (who have joined the brigade of outraged torch wielding people on the internet). Except it is different from the event that Mr Bader runs. Bader runs his events at an NHRA track.

Some have called this petty, and pointed to when Tony Pedregon ran with ADRL signage on his Funny Car. The now-defunct American Drag Racing League called itself a sanctioning body, but really they ran their series on NHRA and IHRA tracks and they required competitors to hold one of those to licences.

Semantics? Maybe. But I’m not done yet. The ADRL ran a series of 1/8 mile “outlaw” doorslammer events. These events often had capacity crowds and oversubscribed fields, but they differ completely from the world of an NHRA national event.

As opposed to the IHRA, which since it’s inception has tried very hard to compete directly with NHRA on just about every aspect. And I think this is the issue at hand.

Some have pointed to the formation of, and invitation of NHRA star drivers to the professional competition advisory board that this could mean that the mostly sportsman-style at-present IHRA could be gearing up for a return to professional level racing, and a return to nitro classes. If that is the end game, then the three racers they have added to their panel will be hugely beneficial to them. As will the extra advertising that they have received thanks to this little episode. And the anti-NHRA sentiment that has been stirred up as a result of this little deal certainly won’t hurt.

Or not. I’ve been wrong before. I’m just a guy who loves drag racing calling shit as I see it.

Maybe it’s just the NHRA, who call their national champions “World Champion” despite only competing in one country, not wanting to be associated with a diffent event called “World Series” that only competes in one country.


Honestly, I’m not aware of any other sport in the world that does as much damage to itself as drag racing does. One day, everybody in the sport will stop pushing against everybody else and the sport will prosper beyond the best projections that anybody can come up with. But until then, the sport will continue to run around in circles with the same old problems as it always has.




0 #1 JDA Enterprises 2017-06-18 02:58
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