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Nitro Shots: The Magic Number Shall Be What?

Racing costs money. Lots of money.  The more races one runs, the more money it costs to cover personnel, transportation, disposable assets like fuel, tires, and other high-wear parts, and overall wear and tear on the vehicle. In pretty much no form of high level racing does the potential income from winnings – and that’s potential, no guarantee – cover those costs.

In most cases, high-level racers need to find a backer, corporate or otherwise, willing to write the checks to cover those costs. Corporate-type backers determine how much they are willing to contribute by figuring out how much the same amount of exposure through another channel of advertising would cost. Return on investment, ROI, is the concept that they use to justify the expense because they are generating exposure, goodwill and business equal to television or print ads. What that boils down to is that there is a limit to the number of zeroes they will put on the check.

If one company won’t write a big enough check to cover the number of races a racer wants to compete in, they can find a second company to write another check, pay the expenses out of their own pocket or sit out a few races. There will always be full-time, high-dollar teams, and smaller, independent, part-time teams. It’s the balance of those teams and the total number of both types that should be the concern of the sanctioning body.

Ideally, a sanctioning body would want to see just above the full field number of cars showing up at every event on their tour. Just above so that qualifying for the race actually matters for more than just filling out ladders and determining lane choice in the case of drag racing, but at least a full field to put on the best show for their fans.

How many events scheduled on their tour has a direct influence on the number of cars showing up. Too many events, and the number of teams that can afford to run the full schedule shrinks, and maybe even the number of teams trying to do a part-time schedule. Right now, the NMCA is running six events for a season. PDRA has a slate of eight races. NHRA has 24. It’s a whole lot easier to find backing and come up with enough money to run six or eight races than it is 24, even considering NHRA is a bigger stage and therefore more appealing to corporate America than PDRA or NMCA.

Granted the class and the cost thereof also has a hand in things. It’s less expensive to run some classes than it is to run others, even within the same sanction. A Pro Stock Motorcycle costs less than a Top Fuel dragster. However, it also costs less because Pro Stock Motorcycle runs only 16 of the 24 events while Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock are on the docket at all 24.

Does Pro Mod enjoy a higher car count because a shorter schedule makes it possible for more teams to run all the races? (Photo courtesy NHRA media)

Pro Mod runs 12 of the 24 races. The class constantly gains popularity, and while you’d think it would be great to keep expanding the schedule to include them at more events, there is an acknowledged and understood tipping point.

Right now 26 or more cars show up at each event hoping to make the 16-car field, but adding more races increases costs. Some full-time runners now would definitely scale back. Car count would drop as full-timers became part-timers and part-timers began to cherry pick just a handful of races to run, and they wouldn’t necessarily be the same handful for all. Part-time Joe might run two races over here while Part-time Charlie ran two other ones over there, further diluting car count at each event.

Suddenly 12 or 14 cars would be showing up instead and it would look like, well, Pro Stock. Pro Stock is broken and needs to be fixed, many fans say. Look at the low car count, they say. Team owners have come out and said it’s hard to sell a sponsor on the class because the costs to run 24 events are higher than sponsors can justify for a return on investment. Is making the Pro Stock schedule shorter, like Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Mod, the answer to cut the costs enough to raise the car count?

It’s not as simple as it sounds though and it puts the NHRA in a tight situation. It’s bound to make fans unhappy at the tracks that would no longer have Pro Stock, particularly for tracks that host just one race per year. If your favorite driver is Erica Enders or Jason Line and you are no longer going to have the opportunity to see them and maybe meet them, you’re going to be unhappy. You might reconsider your decision to go to the race. That doesn’t help NHRA.

Your also going to have to convince fans at those tracks that they aren’t getting less bang for their ticket-buying buck. They are getting fewer classes but their ticket doesn’t cost any less.

It also creates a scheduling headache for NHRA having three part-time pro classes trying to figure out which ones to run where. You have to make sure at least one of those classes is still on the schedule at each track. You can’t expect anyone not to be angry if you take Pro Stock away from a track that already didn’t host Pro Mod or bikes. They’d be left with just Nitro for the pro classes.

It’s just simply a lot easier to add races to a class that was already part-time than it is to subtract races from one that was full-time. But is a shorter schedule the answer that Pro Stock needs?

Hey Y’All, Watch This:

In most forms of racing you can’t win at the start, but you absolutely positively can in drag racing and Bo Butner did, cutting a perfect light on the start of the final against Greg Anderson in Norwalk. He needed it. It was the precious time gained leaving the start that allowed him to get the win over the faster Anderson.

NHRA on TV:

ProgramDate/TimeChannel
MOPAR MILE-HIGH NHRA NATIONALS
QualifyingFriday, July 21, 8:00 PM ETFS1 (Live)
QualifyingSunday, July 23, 9:00 AM ETFS2
EliminationsSunday, July 23, 3:00 PM ETFOX (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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One comment

  1. Ain’t technology great!