BOBBY BENNETT: WE NEED TO RETHINK 50-MINUTE TURNAROUNDS

Written by Bobby Bennett.

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Is the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series flirting with disaster for a better future with 50 minute turnarounds for live television broadcasts?

Until this year, 75-minute turnarounds have been the norm for the last decade or so, and while the time limit was a challenge at first, teams adapted. Even though they were rushed at times after sustaining major damage in a previous run, they managed to do so in a reasonably safe manner. Impending weather often crunched the time to 60 minutes, a challenging and accepted proposition, was on the ragged edge of doable.

Fifty minute turnarounds have been attained already this year, however observing the process reveals potential danger lurks in the most routine of procedures. While none of these endangerments have become realities after just two events doesn’t mean reality isn’t waiting for the most inopportune time to attack.

You can only play with fire so many times before you get burned.

The one time an inattentive race fan is injured by a team scrambling to make up 25 lost minutes of time is the very moment one of drag racing’s longest running and most marketable traits could fall under serious scrutiny.

While there is no doubt the teams have ratcheted up their between rounds routine, including the race back to the pits to get to work, one simple error could result in a huge loss.

One team, challenged by the 50-minute edict, team has informed its drivers to remain in their firesuits and limit “at the rope” time.

Even worse, God forbid, if the wandering fan is an unsupervised child who is injured or killed, insurance companies who underwrite drag racing could easily mandate the “every ticket is a pit pass” mantra become a campaign of yesterday.

In the world of motorsports interaction with fans, the NHRA’s program makes NASCAR’s look like a prison with the drivers and teams serving as inmates to a limited number of visitors.

In racing venues such as New Jersey, where the State Police actively operate the racing operations, could a serious or even fatal pit accident make a tow vehicle driver a criminal?

While breaking the NHRA’s longstanding pit road speed limit might be the only way a team can adhere to the race officials’ newest experiment, it could also put the NHRA at risk if the proper enforcement isn’t carried out.

Additionally, the loss of maintenance time creates a hardship for lesser funded teams largely due to a loss of attention to detail in maintenance, puts the driver at risk and makes their chances of successfully making more than one round on race day nearly impossible. Single runs on Sunday don’t represent what drag racing is about.

There’s no doubt drag racing needs live television to move forward. The NHRA understands the value in a live broadcast and the majority of its followers do too.

A live show can be worth its weight in gold, marketing-wise and could be the difference in the sport paying for coverage and getting paid. An increase in revenue could mean more money for the teams.

Some feel a better mousetrap could be achieved if the NHRA, racers and fans are willing to accept a break from tradition. Does drag racing really need four qualifying sessions?

Would drag racing benefit from a format where Friday presents two sessions and Saturday delivers a combination of last ditch qualifying and the first round of eliminations?

Sunday has the potential, with eight professional cars in each class, to run a live broadcast in the same time required to run a NASCAR Sprint Cup broadcast. The race teams could return to 75 minute turnaround with the between rounds broadcast time filled with Lucas Oil sportsman drag racing [another unique drag racing presentation], Saturday first round highlights and pit notes.

Losing a qualifying session wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Hurting a race fan, a driver or the quality of the sport for the sake of live television, would be.

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