Here's a shocker…the NHRA is in a no-win situation again. I know of no other way to describe the current nitro situation that has reared its ugly head over the last couple of months. Unless you've been living in a cave over the past couple of years, it hasn't been hard to take note of such un-winnable situations as the Pro Stock Truck lawsuit and the shortcomings in a legal situation with upper management.
The latest tempest centers around the NHRA's decision to halt any outside competition for the nitromethane producers currently accepted in the nitro-burning classes. This decision has plenty of racers up in arms and very angry. But, hey, they're just racers; they'll adapt and move on.
Seems like I heard that same thing uttered once before. If I rack my memory I might come up with where I heard that one once upon a time. Oh yeah. I think that comment went something like, “they're just racers - kill the class as a pro division and put them in Comp eliminator. It doesn't matter if we give them any advance warning…they'll adapt.” We know how that one ended up.
So does the nitro deal have anything to do with Pro Stock Trucks?
I think the NHRA is opening themselves up to another lawsuit, and that could be very detrimental to the sanctioning body and the sport. Now, there are some that say the increase is exactly what the rich teams need, and they couldn't care less because it doesn't affect them. Think again. It doesn't matter if you are a racer or a spectator, it will affect you. I will explain in detail later on that.
So how did this whole mess start? It all began when a fuel distributing company whom we'll call Seller A brokered a deal with the two major nitro producers to become the only supplier of the reputable nitromethane produced by one domestic and one foreign manufacturer, which in this case happens to be in China. Seller A sold the American made version, while a Seller B labeled and sold the Chinese version. When the foreign product began to make major strides in performance at a cheaper price, and the domestic producer became upset by the loss of profits, Seller A went to the foreign producer and cut a deal to sell their product exclusively, while at the same time keeping their domestic pipeline flowing. In the end, Seller A had the only game in town and Seller B was never given the opportunity to sign up for another game. Immediately the price increased by $250 a drum.
The convenience of terrorist activities made it easy for some to
hide behind the issue of homeland security, and this was a prime
example. When inquires into those claims were made, those involved
stated that it now cost extra money to take the steps necessary
to keep nitro out of the wrong hands in the aftermath of the Oklahoma
City bombing. In the case of drag racing, they have mandated that
only one designated team member is allowed to purchase the fuel.
For the life of me, I still cannot figure out how assigning one
rep from each team could make the price increase that much in that
short of time, especially since the terrorist action quoted as the
reason for the change occurred nearly a half-decade ago. Things
just don't add up to me.
One major team owner took it upon himself to seek out a cheaper alternative, brought it in and tested it with positive results. This would have created an alternative to the more expensive fuel, but it took less than two weeks for the NHRA to make a decision not to allow the newly-imported nitro. They further added that any team caught using undocumented sources would be banned from competition, at least for one event.
Again, the NHRA may have been looking at the big picture. In the past, another Chinese-imported nitro had been tested and adversely affected the health of some of those that worked with it. Then of course, there has to be the fear that a less-than-pure source of nitromethane being transported down the highway could become volatile at any given time and put the lives of many innocent people in the balance. All it would take then is a convincing politician and power in politics and drag racing could be without nitro altogether. There's no doubt that the NHRA had developed a comfort level with the two companies.
Comfort level or no comfort level, however, the decision can lead some to believe there may be something going on behind the scenes while the actual truth may be just the opposite. Whether some want to admit or not, based on scenarios and alleged cover-ups in the past, the NHRA just doesn't seem to be getting the benefit of the doubt anymore. It didn't help their effort when they issued a press release naming Seller A as the continued “official fuel & gas supplier” of nitro shortly after the new fuel (outside of the established two) was imported, thus denying the opportunity for any competition in the market. Regular racing gas is still a wide-open market, however, and racers can bring their own supply in for now.
The “official” moniker is something that is widely used in all of motorsports, but it's making some very leery of the NHRA's actions. One manufacturer expressed concerns that he feared being put out of business on the NHRA side if the sanctioning body ever decided to allow certain “official” manufacturer status for their product. Remember, one tire manufacturer already got up on the hides after being excluded from Top Fuel, which has a spec tire.
Sometimes, professional or unprofessional, I wish the NHRA and the sport of drag racing would raise a middle finger to any company or companies that try to hold it hostage…but, hey…what can you do? Politics really stink.
Now how does this affect anyone outside of those teams in the nitro
ranks? Well, it will increase the cost of doing business. One team
owner said his bill would increase at least $25,000 from this cost
increase alone and that's only at the current level. That could
double or triple. Of course, that's going to increase the amount
of money needed to field the teams, which is going to lean on a
market already strapped for cash. In case you haven't noticed, the
door isn't exactly getting broken down with companies wishing to
give the sport money. If there had, there wouldn't have been as
much underhanded tactics being used to gain the AT&T Wireless
deal floating around the pits.
All of the above factored in, that will also drive up the cost
of tickets and sportsman entry fees. Take a guess and try and figure
out who that will affect.
And before you think, Good - let nitro go away, who cares, well,
think again. The average spectator (non-gearhead) could care less
about Pro Stock or the sportsman ranks. They want the thunder and
lightning of nitro.
Of course, this won't affect the IHRA or other venues that run
nitro unless an enterprising company is willing to seek out another
source of nitro.
Then there's this potential problem of a team owner that could be forced to sit on a reported 1000 drums of nitro. Businessmen don't take kindly to losses when unfair decisions are made that affect them, case in point, the lawsuit in Arizona between the Pro Stock Truck Association and the NHRA.
Just once, I wish the NHRA would get themselves in a winning situation
aimed to bring victory to the racers. After all, isn't that what
the NHRA founded on?
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