One man dictatorial rule hasn’t fared too well in the Middle East in recent months, but the daydream of “King for a Day” has been a popular wandering in America for generations.
Who among us hasn’t sat back and thought: “What would I do if I had all the power for 24 hours?”
Yes, in NHRA, Kenny Bernstein is the “King of Speed.” But just for fun, at a recent Full Throttle series national event, I walked the pits and asked some of my drag racing friends the obvious question:
“What would you do if you were King of NHRA for one day?”
Kenny Bernstein: “One thing I’d do is make sure it’s a level playing field out here. Especially for Top Fuel and Funny Car, because of the cost. We’re close to that but there are areas I think we could be better. Mainly the parts-and-pieces rule, where you obsolete something for no reason. It’s like, ‘Joe’s got it so I’ve got to have it.’”
Matt Hagan: “Some things you’d like to change but never will because the tracks aren’t long enough. But they’re working hard at the safety stuff and that’s what matters. I think the four-wide is kind of dangerous but that’s just me. I know Bruton Smith is a great promoter and is doing wonderful things for the sport. I just think it puts us in a tough situation. When things are going bad in our car we can click it off, but in that deal, you’ve got to go to the end no matter what happens because you can’t see the car beside you.”
Paul Page: “I’d figure out how to speed up the show, eliminate the down time, compress it so I could get to live television. I want the show to roll. I want it snap. I want it to constantly move. I want to bring in the electronics that exist in other sports. An example would be the signage that you see in a basketball arena on the mezzanine level or balcony level that goes all around. I’d have that kind of signage down the side of the wall and I’d put reaction times and 60 foot and eighth-mile speeds. I’d really dress up that starting line as the place to be, make it pretty. I’d try to speed up the program but I’d slow it down in one respect: Long, smoky burnouts. We are in the entertainment business. Why not do those things that obviously please the crowd?”
Robert Hight: “If you go to a NASCAR race there’s probably more things for a fan to do. I took my daughter to Fontana and there was a place for kids to get into a bubble and fool around. There’s a lot of different entertainment there. I believe we need to entertain the fans a little better. Pre-race over there is spectacular and you need to have something like that here, like a concert, something to break up the day a little bit.”
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Jack Beckman: “Give Jack Beckman perpetual win lights.”
Ron Capps: “I would add in-car cameras to the top 10 cars on every run like the NASCAR guys do. You can actually attach yourself to those drivers.”
Larry Dixon: “I would run three qualifying sessions on Friday, race on Saturday, and have a rain date on Sunday and have all our shows live on Saturday night.”
Bob Tasca: “The one element of our sport that is an issue is television. When you look at NASCAR, and how that sport has grown, it offers itself up perfectly for TV. I’d focus on the TV and spreading the word because you have to see it and smell it to believe it.”
Antron Brown: “We’ll make it interesting and see what all these teams can do: We’ll have a $1 million drag race. There will be no more conservative tune-ups. It will be, ‘Let’s get it on!’”
John Force: “If I was king -- and I’m not because Bernstein is -- and (NHRA President Tom) Compton is our boss, but if there was anything I could do, I wish I could get the masses of all categories to sit down. There’s a lot of people working but there’s a lot not listening. I wish that I could get them all to have a true meeting. And I don’t mean like they’re having in the White House, Republicans and Democrats. Let me talk government real quick: Let’s get it right. If our parties don’t come together, we could be, for the first time in history, really in trouble, because there’s too many wars we’re fighting and too many are using the political system to fight to get their party in or out. I ain’t takin’ any side. But if they keep playing these games and don’t pull together as a country, we’re going to get in trouble. If they don’t start getting together, instead of trying to prove somebody’s right or somebody’s wrong, then we’re going to get in trouble. And I worry about drag racing sometimes. All the parties -- NHRA, PRO, sponsors, even the fans -- need to focus because there’s a five-year process here, that if we don’t get out of this recession, drag racing could change as we know it. Why do you think I offered relief to my sponsors? You think I went out and said, ‘I want to cut your money!’? No. I’m reevaluating that maybe I’m spending too much. Ford taught me that lesson, that your money can change, and you can still win. What happens is, as money keeps coming, and everything grows, you learn how to spend it and you believe that’s what it takes. Perfect example, you can go to my home and I’ve got 30 jackets. I’ve got eight pairs of shoes. But there’s kids out there with shoes that’s got holes in them. All you’ve got to do is learn to live like that. I’m not saying you’ve got to live with poverty. What I’m saying is we get used to, ‘Oh boy, more shoes, more race cars, more money, more pay.’ I found so much fluff in my (operation), I’m giving it back to my sponsors.”
(All together now -- deep breath!)
For the record: If I wore the crown, I would:
1. Pay $500,000 to the U.S. Nationals Top Fuel and Funny Car winners and $1 million to the Full Throttle champions in both classes.
2. Phase-in live TV coverage of the semifinal and final rounds, starting with the “major” national events.
3. Schedule a series of town hall-style fan forums, which would include senior NHRA executives and an assortment of drivers, team owners and sponsors.
4. Design and implement a pro-active and aggressive national PR push to build relationships with non-racing media and decision-makers, such as columnists, sports editors, program directors and station managers.
5. Ban sunglasses and pulled-down-to-the-ears caps during TV interviews. People want to SEE the athletes, which helps reveal their personalities, and establish more of an emotional connectivity between the driver and the public. That’s good for the sport.
What do you think?
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