:::::: Editorials ::::::

KNIGHT: NHRA LARGELY TO BLAME FOR AZ NATS SHORTCOMINGS

Not that it was mentioned or celebrated at last month’s Arizona Nationals -- it should have been part of the pre-race ceremonies -- but the Grand Canyon land is commemorating 100 years of statehood. With the race’s future unclear after next February, however, NHRA and promoter Charlie Allen need to spend at least 100 hours thinking about what this event is supposed to be.

 And can be.

In case you need to be brought up-to-date: As I originally reported in the Arizona Republic, Allen’s lease with the Gila River Indian Community expires in the spring of 2013. Allen says there’s a “1,000 percent” chance next year’s Nationals will be staged at Firebird International Raceway. But all bets are off after that, because Allen hasn’t been making any negotiating progress with the Community, which owns the wildly successful Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino across the road.

The Community also owns the land upon which Firebird sits, near Chandler, not far from Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Allen’s existing deal includes a seven-year lease option at “mutually agreeable terms” but his attorneys have been making less headway than Larry Dixon trying to land a suitable new Top Fuel ride.

KNIGHT: DRAG RACING ONLY NEEDS ONE JOHN FORCE

NHRA doesn’t need any more John Forces.
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Don’t go smokin’ your tires in a rush to run me over, Force fans, because I mean that in a good way.

From a Business of Racing perspective, Big John is a huge positive for the straight-line sport. He’s special. He’s unique. He seems bigger than life. He’s one of a kind.

And that’s my point.

The 15-time Funny Car champion already occupies the available space in the public/media/corporate marketplace reserved for successful, oversized -- sometimes outrageous -- personalities. That works for Castrol, Auto Club, Brand Source and now Traxxas and so they’ve pledged themselves (and their sponsorship money) to Team Force. They don’t need a Force clone to help them sell their products and services.

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: A WAIT AND SEE SEASON

mikehead2

  Happy Newt Year! ???

Too soon to tell, but this much I can say for sure, unlike most of those campaign promises you’re hearing these days:

History teaches us that presidential election years are years of uncertainty and inaction in America. There will be less happening in Congress than on a rain-soaked drag strip, lest one political party gives the other an issue advantage. Al-Anabi Racing made more consequential decisions in December than our elected representatives will in 12 months.

The national motto right now seems to be: Go Slow.

It may well be that way for many of us -- you and I -- as individual consumers. Ditto with Big Business. Despite what could be interpreted as some up-arrow economic data as 2011 ended, we’ll likely be extremely cautious in making major purchasing and financial decisions. We’re not sure who will be the USA’s CEO and how that will affect us as the CEO of our own households.

UP FRONT: FACING UP TO A VERY TOUGH FUTURE

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‘Tis the Christmas Season and on your TV screen is a commercial for Dunkin’ Donuts. A family of four, hideously attired in snowflake-embroidered sweaters, appears at Grandma’s door. As the door opens three smiling faces greet Grandma. The fourth, a teenage girl, not only has a totally disdainful expression on her face, she’s not even looking as she furiously texts away.

Advertising reflects the marketplace, and this is today’s marketplace, where young people are so totally disconnected from their parents that in many instances they merely share living space, not a family life. My daughter told me of a family party she attended that was a dual celebration for the patriarch. It was both his wedding anniversary and birthday. As he received congratulations from the group his three sons sat with their heads buried in electronic devices, two playing games and one texting. When she quietly suggested they ought to give their dad at least some time on this important day, they gave her dirty looks and went right back to punching keys and pushing buttons.

The traditional American family may be a thing of the past, and we have no intention of trying to solve this issue or of explaining how we got here. All that matters is that we’re here now, and unless we can figure out how to reach today’s young people, drag racing may die an ignominious death – and this is no exaggeration.

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: THE BUSINESS TOP TEN

mikehead2

NHRA passed-out its sporting awards at the glitzy black-tie Full Throttle series ceremony in Hollywood last month. Congratulations to the winners and champions in every class. Hope you enjoyed your time to shine on the stage.

Here, however, we put the spotlight on the Business and Politics of Drag Racing, not ETs and MPH.

So, now, I present my list of the Top 10 stories of 2011 in those two categories. Formal wear not required to read on . . .

A DRAG STRIP'S WORST ENEMY: THE MASTERS OF THE OBVIOUS

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DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: WILL THEY ENTICE INTEREST?

mikehead2

I guess we’ll find out next season if Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria and Leah Pruett are good Funny Car drivers.

But there’s a more important question, at least from a Business of Drag Racing standpoint:

Can they move the needle?

That’s what it’s called in the sports marketing world: Moving the needle. As in TV ratings, ticket sales, media coverage, public interest.

I’m not talking about routine sports press attention that otherwise would have gone to Larry Dixon or Ron Capps or Jason Line. I’m talking about publicity on networks and stations and shows and in publications that otherwise wouldn’t give the Full Throttle series one second or one sentence.

DID THE ALMIGHTY DOLLAR KILL THE MAJORS?

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The racers call them “The Majors”, but are they really major?

The drag racing community refers to Indy as the “Big Go” but is it really the “Big Gone?”

When you have twenty-four races, sometimes three in a row, what really makes these events special?

As I see it, nothing.

For all of its zeal to return to the good old days in recognition of the 60th anniversary, the NHRA missed, in my opinion, a chance to exploit the legends who helped build the sport.

The NHRA appears to have forgotten about the one part which made these legends into legends – the events.

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: NOT ALL INK IS GOOD INK

mikehead2

John Force needs to speak up. Don Schumacher doesn’t have two nickels to rub together. Nitro is as safe to drink as water.

Kenny Bernstein couldn’t sell a sponsorship if his life depended on it. Jeg Coughlin Jr. was just an average Pro Stock driver. Every ticket for every Countdown race has been sold.

Katie Couric is replacing Paul Page in the TV booth. Bob Tasca III is buying NHRA and moving the offices to Rhode Island. TMZ has video of Melanie Troxel eating at McDonald’s.

What the . . . ??? !!!

To the above list of bogus-as-a-red greenback sentences, add this:

Any publicity is good publicity.

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: STUFF TO PONDER HEADED INTO THE COUNTDOWN

mikehead2

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. 

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