Yes, it’s Countdown time. To be the most knowledgeable fan you can be, however, the on-track action isn’t all you should be thinking about these days. Here are some Business of Drag Racing issues to ponder during the inevitable oil downs and rain delays:
The economy. National and world financial markets are more volatile than nitro fuel. Will there be enough cash around for all events to have full fields? What announcements will we see -- or not see -- on new or renewed sponsorships? Who will -- or won’t -- be able to come back in 2012? How much has the collective net worth of team owners declined in the last month? (That last question might be the most important.)
Consumer confidence. It fell in August to the lowest level since May 1980, according to Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan research data. If people don’t feel good about their financial future, they are less likely to spend on non-essential items. Like drag racing tickets. Will NHRA’s playoffs play in front of an embarrassing number of empty grandstand seats? Discount (or free) deals for military members and children make for good PR and smart business, but honestly, these days, they aren’t the kind of innovative sales/marketing promotions the sport requires.
Girl power. Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria are scheduled to make their nitro Funny Car debuts. What they are able to accomplish going down the strip is one issue. From an industry standpoint, the larger question is can they attract media attention that drag racing otherwise wouldn’t get, or just take airtime/space that Countdown drivers would have received? That second scenario might leave some worthy competitors -- and their sponsors -- with a bigger headache than Tequila Patron could induce.
Full Throttle. Sprint steps-up its overall advertising, marketing and PR support for the Cup series during the 10-race NASCAR Chase. Is it too much to ask Coca-Cola’s energy drink brand to do a little more on behalf of its NHRA program during the Countdown? I fear the answer is yes. Analyzing this from my own industry experience, I continue to believe FT’s title sponsorship has significantly under-performed the sport and been an overall disappointment. The next time someone representing FT meets, calls or E-mails me, it will be the first time since Coke signed-up in 2002 with the Powerade brand.
Arizona Nationals. New to the playoff schedule after two decades with a February date, Firebird International Raceway needs a successful Oct. 14-16 weekend, perhaps more than any other venue. Following the tragic fiasco of February 2010 -- and with the expiration of its lease on the horizon -- this track is nearly desperate for good crowds and great racing. Drivers and tuners will be challenged by their first passes on the lanes repaved at a cost of $200,000. I’m most concerned, though, about the $48-$85 Sunday ticket prices given Valley of the Sun home values have dropped like a cylinder block in the Grand Canyon. Phoenix International Raceway, meanwhile, has gained goodwill -- and sales -- with a $25 NASCAR Sprint Cup ticket.
Kenny Bernstein. As much as any racer, anywhere, he understands the necessity to “win” for the sponsor in the marketplace and media before the first round of final eliminations. Still, on-track success is what it’s all about (almost), and Kenny and son Brandon are still trying for that first Wally in Copart.com’s blue colors. Lots of teams “need” a win, but among the big-time players, perhaps none more than the father-son Bernsteins -- last in the winner’s circle for Budweiser at Richmond in 2009.
Hall of Fame. Kenny Bernstein, Keith Black, John Force and Lee Shepherd made the list of 20 nominees for the International Motorsports Hall of Fame’s 2012 class. A maximum of five names were permitted on the final ballot (due Aug. 31) for election to the Talladega, Ala., shrine. (Full disclosure: I am a Hall voter.) Will any be chosen? Such recognition is good for drag racing and reinforces its legitimacy with the general public and mainstream media.
Pontiac GXP. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who looks at NHRA with more than a quarter-mile perspective who thinks it’s -- I’ll be polite and call it “awkward” -- that an out-of-business brand accounts for so many entries. Isn’t Pro Stock’s purpose to showcase what Detroit is selling to the general public? Yes, I know, GM’s re-organization and the economy have caught-out a lot of teams. But I hope reports that a Chevrolet Camaro bodystyle is coming becomes reality -- fast! After all, NASCAR’s champion car won’t be a Matador.
All that glitters. Some promoter should grab some quick publicity -- and guarantee his winner’s circle photos would be published nationally -- by ripping a story straight from today’s financial headlines and paying his prize money in gold bullion.
What do you think?
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