NHRA hosted sell-out crowds on Saturday at Las Vegas, the fifth time it has done so this year. The house was also filled to capacity during Four-Wide weekend in Charlotte, Atlanta and Epping on Saturday, while Sunday sold out in Sonoma. It’s definitely a positive sign to see a good turnout in markets all across the country.
Television ratings since moving to new partner FOX Sports have been up compared to recent years, and some of that has undoubtedly been due to time slot. The NHRA is no longer stuck playing hours after the actual event has ended, or even worse, somewhere in the middle of the night when potential viewers have long headed off to bed, having to get up for work on Monday morning.
OK, so live isn’t always exactly all live, but at least the finals are most of the time. There is a big difference between watching an event that wrapped up hours ago, with results readily available through a multitude of outlets, and watching one that is coming to a conclusion, with winners being crowned, in real time.
Yes, NHRA owes some of the ratings success to NASCAR. The highest ratings came for events that followed directly after a NASCAR race. Having the 800-pound gorilla as the opening act, particularly when there isn’t a strong alternative like the NFL to switch to after NASCAR ends, clearly helped. Hopefully some of those people returned when NASCAR wasn’t the lead in.
Despite some struggles with car count at a few events, over the last several there have been enough cars to actually send home non-qualifiers. Contrast that to earlier races this season when several classes were running 14-car fields or less, with multiple first-round byes.
It sucks a lot of the air out of qualifying when it’s not for anything other than determining your pairing and who gets lane choice because everyone is going to race. It’s much more interesting when teams actually have to perform or risk not racing, especially in a sport that does not have a provisional starting system. NHRA doesn’t care if you are the number one guy in the points. If you aren’t fast enough, you don’t race.
It also affects the show on Sunday when the drivers qualified at the top of the field get an automatic pass to round 2. NHRA drag racing lends itself more to upset wins than any other motorsport. No one is guaranteed to make it out of round one because anything can happen. Well, unless you don’t have to actually race anyone, that is.
The question is, do these three factors combine to paint a picture of a healthy and growing motorsports entity? How much of a success was 2016?
* Doctors have determined that Alexis DeJoria suffered a concussion in a qualifying crash in Las Vegas and as a result, DeJoria has been sidelined from this weekend’s final event in Pomona. She missed two events earlier this year after fracturing her pelvis in a crash at Sonoma. The team will still compete at Pomona with substitute driver Jeff Arend behind the wheel.
Driver Profile: Jack Beckman
Category: Funny Car
Hometown: San Fernando, CA
Date of birth: June 28, 1966
2016 car: Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: Jimmy Prock
Team Owner: Don Schumacher
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 24/25
Best points finish: 1st in 2012
Career best ET: 3.843, Dallas, 2016
Career best speed: 334.15, Seattle, 2016
2015 – Funny Car points runner up; scored seven wins, a career best; won U.S. Nationals; won Traxxas Nitro Shootout for the second time; five time No. 1 qualifier, including four-in-a-row from Sonoma to Indianapolis.
2012 – Won the Traxxas Nitro Shootout.
2012 – Won first Funny Car world championship; set national performance record for speed and E.T. at Reading; earned three wins.
2008 – Won three of seven final round appearances; remained in contention for championship until the final race of the year.
2007 – Won the $100,000 bonus event for Funny Car in Indianapolis.
2005 – Competed in Top Fuel; raced to semifinal finish at Englishtown.
Follow Jack Beckman: @FastJackBeckman on Twitter, Jack Beckman on Facebook, @fastjackbeckman_fc on Instagram
Some Things Most People Don’t Know About Jack: Has taught more than 7,000 aspiring racers as a consultant at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School; licensed in 12 different NHRA categories; veteran of the U.S. Air Force where he achieved the rank of sergeant; cancer survivor.
Beckman offers military style challenge coins at each NHRA race. He sells them for $100 each and then takes them along in the car during the race, signing and returning them afterward. All of the money goes to the Infinite Hero Foundation.
Hey Y’All, Watch This:
Another trifecta of videos this week as we prepare to wrap up the 2016 season. The next group to address the question of what they’d change about NHRA drag racing is this week’s driver profile subject, Jack Beckman along with his Top Fuel teammate Shawn Langdon and Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson.
NHRA on TV:
Program Date/Time Channel DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals Qualifying Friday, March 31, 6:30 PM ET FS1 Qualifying Saturday, April 1, 7:00 PM ET FS1 Eliminations Sunday, April 2, 6:00 PM ET FS1 (LIVE)