BOBBY BENNETT: PETER CLIFFORD, IT’S ALL ON YOU BRO
Coming into his new leadership role, newly appointed NHRA President Peter Clifford knew he needed to make an impact.
Two weeks into his administration, he's made two key moves which have done just what the NHRA needed.
Right now it looks all good on paper and computer screens.
Clifford has another challenge he needs to address quickly - putting more butts in the grandstands.
Recent moves intended to shore up a better media presence among mainstream publications and a robust new television package, leave Clifford with the bricks and mortar to build a solid foundation on this front.
There's no doubt Clifford has a monumental challenge ahead to bring drag racing back to being relevant in the mainstream world of motorsports. While he touts pride in drag racing being the No. 2 motorsport in the world, the drag racing community should never be complacent in playing second fiddle. There's no reason this sport cannot be No. 1 in due time.
Whether or not the recent initiatives Clifford is credited with began on the Tom Compton watch, the reality is they launched during Clifford's presidency. Possession is nine-tenths of the law.
Haters are gonna hate, and there are some who will find fault in the NHRA for past transgressions, and I admit I have been one of them. But right now, I see a bona fide move to fix certain areas of the experience. The bottom line is they have to start somewhere.
The Nitro Baptism initiative, and although it seemed cheesy to me at the onset, is a move to get new race fans to experience the thrills of drag racing sensory overload up close and personal. My only criticism is it should be done more than once a weekend. We all know drag racing is a sport one best experienced in person and not on television or in other forms of media.
The latest move by NHRA, Nitro School, is another program aimed at educating a new generation of race fans as to the intricacies of what happens in the pits. Some of us diehard drag racing fans, and yes I am still one, need to understand with today's decreasing attention span, we need to supercharge our means of educating new drag racing fans.
It all goes back to the fact I believe NHRA just didn't understand what it was supposed to govern.
You see, drag racing's management for years has had the television model wrong. This was the reason they remained aboard the train wreck of the ESPN television partnership for so long. Television was not going to catch the casual fan and make them excited to come out to the drag strip. I am of the belief, bigger isn’t always better.
In today's business model, they need to get the fan to the race, and let its natural heart-pounding qualities hook them. Ratings should go up immediately with a stable viewership option at Fox Sports.
Case in point, here's a real life experience.
At certain NHRA races I invite those who haven't been to a drag race before and give them a ticket. Once there I try to do my part to educate them on what makes this sport so great. Just the other day I saw the fruits of my efforts when I visited a local eatery owned by one of those first-time attendees who immediately asked if I was in Chicago. He added, "I watched the show on Sunday, and was looking for you."
"You did?" I responded.
"I watch them all the time when I get a chance now," he responded.
Maybe I have rose-colored glasses on, or drinking the Kool-Aid as some might suggest, but I love drag racing and want to see it succeed for generations to come. With NHRA as the so-called leader of our sport, they have no other choice but to succeed or die honestly trying.
All we can hope for is as this NHRA ship starts heading in a new direction, the sanctioning body brings more players to the game who share the same vision, while divesting itself of those who got us into the ice-filled waters in the first place.
We can only hope Mr. Clifford doesn’t make the same mistake a former aspiring sanctioning body president from Texas made back in the 1980s by hiring the best people in the industry and then ignoring their advice.
Neither should Clifford believe his work is done with a great launch.
There’s still the issue, in some minds, of a reasonable means of returning drag racing to the 1320 if you truly want to be considered the savior of the NHRA.