Each year, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend is the Greatest Day in Racing. Every fan knows it. You can start your day with Formula 1 and the Monaco Grand Prix, then follow that with the Indy 500 for INDYCAR and the Coca-Cola 600 for NASCAR. For the really devoted there’s a fourth event, the NHRA Kansas Nationals. It was a beautiful plan, the perfect bookend to a great day of competition. NASCAR might overlap NHRA, which was scheduled for 10:00 p.m. ET so that folks could come watch after their race was over. If NASCAR ran long? That’s what DVRs are for.
What a great decision for drag racing, except for the fact it wasn’t a beautiful plan, after all. When viewers switched to ESPN2 after the NASCAR race ended, what they found was a college baseball game that had been delayed — not the NHRA. That baseball game played until just after 11 p.m., a full hour after their broadcast was supposed to start. But that’s OK; we can still salvage this mess. Viewers can still stay up and watch NHRA, as most of them have off on Monday. At the very least, they can reset their DVRs, right? Except that ESPN must have thought the viewers already gave up because instead of going to the NHRA broadcast that was delayed, without a single word about NHRA, ESPN2 switched over to SportsCenter instead.
The broadcast finally came on after 11:30 p.m. ET with no explanation for the additional delay and after a whole lot of grumbling from unhappy NHRA fans on social media. If there was some delay in editing, ESPN could have at least run a crawl on the screen saying the NHRA broadcast would begin after SportsCenter. The bottom line is that this situation is not acceptable for a major motorsports series. The discussion constantly turns to how to grow an audience and generate interest. Certainly, burying the broadcast in the wee hours of the morning on the biggest motorsports Sunday of the year is not the answer. Angering existing fans and making it impossible for new ones to find your race is not the answer either. If anything, it’s part of the problem when the topic of weak television ratings comes up.
The folks who work on the broadcast clearly love what they do; they try to make it the best possible show they can. Conveying the excitement and atmosphere of an event on TV also is an issue, but it’s a different one for another day. It’s the people who bury those broadcasts in obscure time slots or who pre-empt them for other sports, ones that realistically can’t be that much more of a ratings gainer than NHRA who aren’t helping. The problem is it catches drag racing’s top series in a no-win situation. It won’t get television respect without turning in strong ratings, but it won’t ever grow the ratings without some consistency in programming.
Something’s got to give.
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Driver of the Week: Richie Crampton
Category: Top Fuel
Hometown: Adelaide, South Australia
Date of birth: July 9, 1980
2015 car: Lucas Oil dragster
Crew chiefs: Aaron Brooks/Rod Centorbi
Team Owner: Morgan Lucas
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 4/0
Best points finish: 9th in 2014
Career best ET: 3.710, Topeka, 2015
Career best speed: 328.54 mph, Brainerd, 2014
2014 – Won two races, including the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals; one No. 1 qualifier; qualified for championship Countdown; won the Automobile Club of Southern Ca.
Some Things Most People Don’t Know About Richie: He’s not from around here, although most people by now probably know he is originally from Australia. Crampton was so passionate about the sport of drag racing, in particular the Top Fuel cars that he came from the other side of the world to pursue his dreams.
“Drag racing in Australia is very popular. Obviously, it’s smaller scale. There’s less cars, less sponsorship opportunities and less racetrack venues. Australians love drag racing, there’s a pretty big following and that’s kind of where I got my feet wet. I started drag racing when I was 16 with my family, with my dad. One thing led to another and I really wanted to be around a Top Fuel car and work on one. I ended up getting a job with a team in Australia that traveled to the U.S. to compete for 18 months so I came over here as a crew member on an Australian team. We had some mixed success and when they decided to head back to Australia, I was able to find another job out here working for Don Schumacher Racing.” Richie Crampton, explaining how he ended up drag racing in America
Safety was the topic of the week last week after some occurrences at Indy, particularly the role of INDYCAR’s Holmatro Safety Crew. The NHRA Safety Safari also found their way into the conversation. So what is the Safety Safari?
Originally a four-man crew called the Drag Safari in the 1950s, they were formed to educate racers at drag strips across the country and traveled in a station wagon pulling a trailer with all the gear they needed to stage a race. Things have changed a bit since then. Today’s Safety Safari, considered one of the best crews in the business, travels with a fleet of tractor trailers to all NHRA Mello Yello Series events. They bring track maintenance equipment, electronic equipment, firefighting and safety equipment, and a track dryer with them. Once on site, they serve both to prep the track and provide the best possible racing surface (fans in Kansas last week saw them quite a bit for this function given the off-and-on rain showers) and to act as part of the team of first responders for on-track incidents.
The team arrives on the Monday before a race weekend and spends all week grooming the track surface for the race. During race weekend, the Safety Safari works in tandem with local EMTs and medical personnel to respond to accidents, unlike the Holmatro Safety Team which brings its own medical personnel. But having a crew like the Safety Safari on hand, responding with lightning speed to accidents on track and familiar with the cars and safety equipment, is of great comfort to Mello Yello Series drivers.
Believe it or not, the primary braking method for Top Fuel and Funny Cars is the parachutes you see deploy once the cars cross the finish line. Robert Hight from John Force Racing explains how drivers activate those chutes and why they work as well as they do to stop those 300 mph cars.
Number of the Week: 325.06
The new national speed record for Funny Car, set by Courtney Force last weekend in Topeka. The track and conditions favored the floppers all weekend, as E.Ts were also quick – 15 runs were posted in the 3-second range over the course of the weekend, starting Friday night and continuing right through eliminations.
Where to Watch
NHRA drag racing takes a break this weekend and returns to action June 4th through 7th for the Toyota NHRA Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey. If you like your drag racing extra fast, don’t miss this one. This track tends to see some of the best times and speeds of the year.
Program Date/Time Channel AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS Qualifying Friday, November 10, 6:30 PM ET FS1 (Live) Qualifying Saturday, November 11, 6:00 PM ET FS1 (Live) Eliminations Sunday, November 12, 4:00 PM ET FS1 (Live)
***Win a VIP NHRA experience with Ron Capps and the NAPA Auto Parts team at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol! Click here for more details and to enter.