BOBBY BENNETT: WELCOME TO THE PARTICIPATION TROPHY ERA
The NHRA’s decision to revamp the Countdown to Championship has many scratching their heads, including me.
It’s not hard to see what NHRA is hoping to achieve; they want to inspire more participation and competition amongst the teams they expect to follow them along a not always financially feasible 24-race schedule.
As many people and I see it, Glendora doesn’t want a part-timer to manipulate the system to be in contention for the championship. If this were NFL football, imagine if a team forfeited three games in the 17-week schedule, and still made the playoffs, it would make a mockery of the playoff system.
One really can’t blame NHRA for wanting to preserve the integrity of its so-called second season.
The NHRA created the Countdown to the Championship with the intention of manufacturing drama to a championship format, which could be anything but compelling, with racers clinching titles with multiple races left in the season.
Last year created the drama NHRA has sought since they introduced the format in 2007.
Multiple drivers were in the running in all four divisions for the title. But it was the one true part-timer being in the mix which stuck in the craw of NHRA’s plan.
If Billy Torrence had won the 2019 series championship, it would have wrecked the legitimacy of the format. However, just being in contention cast a pall on the idea.
With NHRA’s adjustment of the format, they didn’t necessarily make it harder for a part-time team to gain inclusion into the championship mix, they merely opened the door for more participants who honestly didn’t earn their way into the mix.
If you finish in the top ten, you’ve earned your spot regardless if you ran 14 or 18 races.
Now, in the words of NHRA, “As in previous years, the top ten drivers in each of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series categories at the conclusion of the NHRA U.S. Nationals will earn positions in the Countdown to the Championship.
“New for 2020, drivers in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series who meet a minimum set of requirements will also earn their place in the playoffs.
“In NHRA’s Top Fuel and Funny Car classes, collectively referred to as “Nitro,” drivers who compete at all 18 events in the regular season and run a minimum of two qualifying sessions at each event will also earn their place in the playoffs.”
If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it is a duck. It’s participation trophy time.
In this case, if you come to work every day and work at least half of the day, you are eligible for Employee of the Year consideration.
I have to wonder if someone gains a provisional into the Countdown should be proud or embarrassed. It’s almost like, you didn’t qualify for the race, but because you come to every race you get a provisional into the field out of loyalty.
Hey, wait a minute here. Isn’t it the NHRA announcers who brag drag racing is an earn it every time sport where there are no provisionals? Well, there are now.
If NHRA truly wanted to squelch the part-time contention for titles, and ensure participation at logistically unreasonable events like Epping, at Race #17 on the schedule, all it had to do was borrow a page from the “I” side as the announcers like to say.
About two decades ago, the once viable IHRA had a means of ensuring a part-time teamS had little or no chance of winning a title without running the full tour.
They gave a significant bonus at the end of the season for perfect attendance.
Back then, the issue was no one wanted to make the long tow to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, for an event, which was very profitable for the series. In this case, the racers we’ve talked to feel Epping is not feasible for them to attend, and in many cases, are considering skipping it altogether.
Holding a points bonus over the heads of championship-seeking teams is undoubtedly a means, but it holds very little leverage over teams which can still sit out Epping, ala Leah Pritchett, and still qualify for the playoffs.
The schedule at 24 races is simply too tough in today’s sponsorship-challenged world. As long as the series is making money on a 24-race schedule, there's no incentive to shorten the tour.
And since more money for the racers, which could fix all of these ills, seems not to be an option, preserving the integrity of the Countdown by being more inclusive isn’t the answer for what is supposed to be an exclusive group. Or should a team which never won a round, but made two passes each race get in the Countdown.
Preserving the integrity isn’t achieved by awarding Participation Countdown Berths.