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Nitro Shots: How Many Youth Is a Movement?

One of the most talked about issues in the NHRA, just like in other series is the challenge of getting young people interested in motorsports. With drag racing, generating that interest is not only about the fans, but also about the participants. More than one driver of a certain age has looked around and feared for the future of the sport when they realize how many of their competitors are in the same 40 and over age bracket.

But how many younger drivers are really out there? This look is just at the Mello Yello Pro classes so note we’re focused at the top of the NHRA ladder. There are certainly younger competitors coming up through the sportsman ranks or running in junior dragsters, the place were a number of these current drivers got their start but it’s hard to nail down a solid percentage.

Troy Coughlin, a rookie in Top Fuel this year, is one of two drivers in the class under 30. (Photo: NHRA)

Starting in NHRA Top Fuel, the under-30 crowd is made up of Troy Coughlin, Jr., 26, and Leah Pritchett at 28. It’s only two full-time drivers, for now, but that’s in a class made up of about 10 full-time competitors who go to every race. A 20 percent slice of the pie is pretty good.

Honorable mention for the over-30 but under-40 crowd in Top Fuel goes to Steve Torrence, 33, Shawn Langdon, 34, and Brittany Force, who just missed the cut at 30. Richie Crampton, a full-time runner last year, and Dom Lagana, a part-time competitor, also fall into this group.

In Funny Car, there are two drivers in the under-30 category: Courtney Force, who is 28, and rookie driver Jonnie Lindberg, 27. The 30-40 group is made up of Matt Hagan, 34, Alexis DeJoria, who squeaks in at 39, and her teammate, J.R. Todd at 35.

Pro Stock under 30s include Vincent Nobile at 25, Drew Skillman, 29, Alex Laughlin at 28, and Tanner Gray who is just 17 (he turns 18 on April 15). Chris McGaha, 37, Erica Enders, 33, and Deric Kramer, 31, make up the 30-40 group.

Pro Stock Motorcycle has 10 riders under 40; five of those are under 30. It’s another impressive total for a series that has only so many full-time participants.

If you add all the Pro classes together, that’s a total of 13 competitors who are under 30 and another 16 who are under 40. Most of these drivers and riders are running a full schedule. That means you’ve got 29 competitors across the four classes when roughly 68 total riders and drivers show up for an event, a total that translates to about 43 percent under 40.

Yes, many of the biggest stars of drag racing are still over 40 these days. Drag racing, unlike some other forms of motorsports, does seem to favor age and experience over youth. But is there truly a problem with a lack of young drivers coming in?  Those percentages would seem to suggest that there’s not.

So is recent history, then in NHRA just a case of the over 40 drivers being in their prime and therefore dominating? Or does the series seem to favor older drivers because there are seats available to them due to a lack of younger available talent? Those drivers are certainly out there, trying to compete but whether they can topple the older veterans is another matter altogether.

Greg Anderson took home a nice check and bragging rights as winner of the K&N Horsepower Challenge for Pro Stock drivers. (Photo: NHRA)

What’s News?

Along with the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals last weekend, the K&N Horsepower Challenge for the Pro Stock class was also contested last weekend in Las Vegas. Fan Vote winner Erica Enders came in as the eighth and final seed and took down top seed Jason Line in the first round. But it was Line’s teammate, Greg Anderson, who hung on to score the win in the bonus race.

 

 

Hey Y’All, Watch This

Consider the two ends of the Pro Stock spectrum. Here is Tanner Gray winning his first Pro Stock race in just his fourth outing in the class last weekend at Las Vegas.

On the other side of the coin is four-time Pro Stock world champion Greg Anderson. Anderson, 56, is shown here wishing for exactly what Gray represents – an influx of youth into the sport.

NHRA on TV

ProgramDate/TimeChannel
LUCAS OIL NHRA NATIONALS
QualifyingFriday, August 18, 9:00 PM ETFS1
QualifyingSaturday, August 19, 7:00 PM ETFS1
EliminationsSunday, August 20, 2:00 PM ETFS1 (Live)

About Toni Montgomery

Toni Montgomery
A writer for Frontstretch since 2002, and editor since 2006, Toni heads up the NHRA coverage for the site. She’s responsible for post-race coverage in the weekly Pace Laps multi-series round-up along with the weekly Nitro Shots column featuring news and features from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. An award-winning writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni freelances with both writing and web design in North Carolina.

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