Baseball has the Green Monster at Fenway Park, the façade at Yankee Stadium, the ivy at Wrigley Field.
Football has the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, and even the blue turf at Boise State. Basketball had the parquet floor at Boston Garden and now at TD Garden. Golf has the island green on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. Tennis has Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Horse racing has the twin spires at Churchill Downs. Boxing has the unmistakable aura of Madison Square Garden. Oval racing has the Yard of Bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The hot dog eating contest has Coney Island.
Even the most laid-back of casual fans recognize these venues.
What is drag racing’s equivalent?
Not sure? Me neither.
NHRA needs one.
More than one, actually.
I’m not talking about the idiosyncrasies of lanes that challenge the talents of drivers and tuners. What I’m talking about here is look in our appearance-obsessed society.
I can immediately identify the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on TV. Even an occasional NASCAR observer most likely could tell Daytona, Talladega and Bristol. I bet anyone who has watched 10 minutes of motorsports in his/her life could point to the HD screen and correctly say, “That’s the Monaco Grand Prix.”
But, honestly, doesn’t every drag strip pretty much look the same?
And, honestly, isn’t that a problem?
Consider what attracts your notice on supermarket shelves: Million$ are spent on packaging to make similar products stand out to shoppers.
Doesn’t it make sense for Gainesville to clearly differentiate itself from Vegas? Indy from Englishtown?
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On this we can all agree: When the ESPN2 cameras are on at the Four-Wide Nationals, everyone knows that’s Bruton Smith’s zMAX Dragway, near Charlotte. To me, the only other place that carries that sort of instant ID is the geographically blessed Bandimere Speedway, set as it magnificently is up against the Hogback leading to the Rocky Mountains west of Denver. That spectacular setting is what makes Thunder Mountain, site of the Mopar Mile-High Nationals, my favorite drag racing locale. (I’m OK with those who would put Bristol’s Thunder Valley in the same category.)
For all the complaining about who ESPN does and doesn’t interview, here’s a more fundamental issue for a more popular presentation of the Full Throttle series -- emphasis on “series” as in many events -- on TV. I’ll use Paul Page’s own words, as quoted in my May column:
“The problem . . . it’s the same shot. You don’t have the variety . . . there’s a lot of sameness there.”
Translation: In these days of supersonic hype, “sameness” is a polite way of saying “boring.”
I can’t see where it would be very difficult to, at a minimum, paint a large and wide P O M O N A right on the track in front of the Christmas Tree. Plenty of NASCAR speedways headline themselves in such a way.
How about some innovative use of logos, graphics, colors? If a football field can be blue, why does every racetrack have to be black?
How about some out-of-the-box thinking on this subject?
Page, who has broadcast many sports and just about every type of racing ever invented, had another entertainment-oriented suggestion. Here’s what he said in this space last month:
“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.”
He’s right. Surely the sport has reached a level where it can go beyond what has become the stale standard in terms of scoreboards and big screens. Which, by the way, given modern technology, aren’t so “big” anymore.
The area that draws maximum attention -- the starting line -- is a great place to start.
How about a building for sponsors, officials and media that looks more like Trump Tower than public housing? A symbolic faux red carpet as a pathway of honor for the racers and cars from the lanes to the line, bordered by cheering fans? A small viewing platform for celebrities right above the Tree, accessed by a gleaming spiral staircase, ringed by gold handrails? High-end stadium-style box seats angled behind the burnout zone?
A karaoke stage where drivers are required to perform for the crowd during oildowns?
Seriously: I’d like to see Tom Compton commission an NHRA Committee on Creativity to come up with some eye-catching visual ideas for its venues.
Fast. Before too many more eyes glaze over at the sight of another generic black-topped strip.
It would be good for The Business of Drag Racing for the public to quickly tell Route 66 from Reading. Just as it can Fenway from Wrigley.
What do you think?
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