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

WHEN COMMON SENSE FAILED TO CROSS THE ATLANTIC

A first-grader is suspended and faces expulsion from an Ohio elementary school for taking a plastic knife from the school cafeteria. The school board said the plastic knife violated the school’s zero-tolerance policy for weapons.
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In Dallas, a 97-year old woman was arrested, handcuffed, hands behind her back, and taken to jail. And her transgression was . . .? She failed to pay a traffic ticket.

Tommy Johnson Jr., an American drag racer with an impeccable reputation, not mention natural talent, travels to Europe to compete in the FIA’s Top Fuel Series. He wins every race not cancelled by ran rain, and with two races left in the season and needing only one round to clinch, he’s stripped of his license.

The message handed down Wednesday is that Johnson’s appeal of a 24-month suspension was reduced to 12 months but he was considered guilty of violating the series’ anti-doping rules, even though they believed there was never an intent for the doctor-prescribed drug in Johnson’s system to be used as a means of performance enhancement.

Johnson’s plastic-knife violation or unpaid parking ticket, his zero-tolerance infraction, was for having a Dexedrinbe in his system to treat a severe case of narcolepsy, a sleeping disorder which can put its victims to sleep without warning.

This is hardly the condition you want untreated when someone is behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler, much less an 8,000-horsepower, nitro-burning dragster.

PACIFIC RACEWAYS' DECADE OF UNKEPT PROMISES WEARING THIN

 08_18_2011_pacific_wadeFunny Car veteran Ron Capps is an old drag-racing soul in a young body. He has joked many times that he was "born too late," for he has an incurable fondness for the glory days of the sport, the days before corporate involvement (as beneficial as it is) dictated the culture.

Seattle is one of his favorite stops on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, for it has its own legend, its own free-wheelin' vibe.

Just as clearly as he can see the fir trees that ring Pacific Raceways, he almost can see promoter Bill Doner, like Monte Hall on "Let's Make A Deal," bargaining with fans who drove up to the front gate and had no money for admission: "What do you have in your car that we can trade? Anything good in the trunk?" Capps can hear the rock bands playing. He can picture "the free living or whatever you want to call it." Etched in his imagination, thanks to tales from Don Prudhomme and Ace McCulloch, were the crazy burnouts with frenzied fans beating on the cars as they backed up.

"It's when things must have been a lot of fun," Capps, a California native, said. "It's sort of like going to Indy or for me like going to Pomona, where you look around on the ground and say, 'Wow, Jungle Jim probably was pitted here. I love it. I love this part about it."
 

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: IS IT TIME FOR A FAN EXPERIENCE UPGRADE?

08_18_2011_knightIt’s a statement as simple as a Wheelie bar and as important as a Wally trophy:

Other than safety, The Fan Experience should be the No. 1 priority for NHRA and its national event promoters.

Is it?

Are the sanctioning organization and its track operators doing ALL that can reasonably be done to make that happen?

Honestly, I don’t think so.

UP FRONT: THE TROUBLE WITH ESPN

 07_22_2011_asherBy and large ESPN2, or as they themselves list it in lower case, espn2 (which, if nothing else, probably speaks volumes about what the network, ABC and Disney itself thinks of the operation), has done a pretty good job of covering the NHRA Full Throttle series.  The super-slow-motion shots of dragsters and Funny Cars leaving the starting line provide a view of the action that's impossible to see in person.  In-depth pitside interviews have become markedly better since the reporters stopped throwing fat ones right over the plate than even the dimmest drag racer could hit out of the park.  Pertinent, pointed questions demanding real thought on the part of the interviewee before he or she spits out a canned answer has made for better television, and that's what we need.  The one thing no one in the ESPN family of channels can do is attract more eyeballs to the shows, but as those shows get better one can always hope that word of mouth will help pull in more viewers.

While ESPN can't force people to watch the shows, they could certainly do a lot to help, but they don't.  Getting a mention of anything NHRA on Sports Center results in leaps of joy within the offices in Glendora.  You would like to think that drag racing would be a regular part of Sports Center, because why wouldn't the flagship station want to help promote programming on its sister station, but it rarely happens.  Things are so bad that I can't remember the last time I saw drag racing news on the crawl on any of the ESPN stations, but then again, I don't watch 24/7.

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: DRAG STRIPS NEED DISTINCTION

Baseball has the Green Monster at Fenway Park, the façade at Yankee Stadium, the ivy at Wrigley Field.
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Football has the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Green Bay, and even the blue turf at Boise State. Basketball had the parquet floor at Boston Garden and now at TD Garden. Golf has the island green on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. Tennis has Centre Court at Wimbledon.

Horse racing has the twin spires at Churchill Downs. Boxing has the unmistakable aura of Madison Square Garden. Oval racing has the Yard of Bricks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The hot dog eating contest has Coney Island.

Even the most laid-back of casual fans recognize these venues.

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: KING FOR A DAY

06_02_2011_knightOne man dictatorial rule hasn’t fared too well in the Middle East in recent months, but the daydream of “King for a Day” has been a popular wandering in America for generations.

Who among us hasn’t sat back and thought: “What would I do if I had all the power for 24 hours?”

Yes, in NHRA, Kenny Bernstein is the “King of Speed.” But just for fun, at a recent Full Throttle series national event, I walked the pits and asked some of my drag racing friends the obvious question:

“What would you do if you were King of NHRA for one day?”

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: GETTING TO KNOW PAUL PAGE

I met Paul Page for the first time in the late 1970s at the old Trenton Speedway in New Jersey. We got to talking while waiting for the crossover gate to open at a USAC Championship Trail race. A couple of years later, when I became CART’s communications director, we started working closely together and developed a long-term friendship.

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Michael Knight

Page began at WIBC Radio in Indianapolis in 1968. In 1977, while on assignment, he was almost killed in a helicopter crash near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That same year he took over as anchor of the worldwide Indy 500 Radio Network on short notice when the legendary Sid Collins died in May; in fact, he was Sid's hand-picked successor. Paul was the race's "voice" for 15 years and also called the action on NBC's early CART telecasts.

BOBBY BENNETT: THE ADRL WILL SURVIVE

 3-31-11bobbyonADRLDrag racing has a way of separating the wheat from the chaffe, which is why this news outlet spoke little publicly about the off-season turmoil swirling around the ADRL.

It was our belief as a staff, the first race in Houston would tell the story without having to offer our opinion.

The results are in – the ADRL is moving forward in a strong and healthy manner.

We couldn’t make the same statement in December. No one really could either considering the ADRL’s cone of silence eminating from the management level.

After two very successful events, Houston and Palm Beach, those who reserved judgement made the right decision.

UP FRONT: IT’S THE WORLD WE LIVE IN

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Who would have thought sex could kill you? Considering the virulent STDs of the 21st Century, it definitely can. It’s the world we live in.

Who would have thought some school districts would be trying to institute drug-testing programs for middle schoolers? It’s the world we live in.

Who would have thought those nascent testing programs would have expanded to the point of being a part of every day American life? It’s the world we live in.

And who would have thought we’d see the day when our sports heroes would be vilified for their alleged use of PEDs, and iconic athletes with names like Bonds, Armstrong and Clemens would be facing trial for lying about it? It’s the world we live in.

The drug testing of competitors on the NHRA Full Throttle Series has been in effect for so long that it’s an accepted part of drag racing. It’s the world we live in.

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: THE NHRA DID THE RIGHT THING WITH NEWEST BOARD MEMBERS

I’m one of those who, in the interest of good corporate governance, had been saying for years NHRA needed to add “outsiders” to its Board of Directors. That is, people not dependent on checks mailed from Glendora, Calif., to pay the mortgage and feed the family. As opposed to the “insiders” like Tom Compton, Dallas Gardner, Peter Clifford and Graham Light.

That said, I’m sure I’m not the only one who said, “What?!” when Ken Clapp and Michael C. Cohen were elected to the Board last December.

I’ve never met Cohen, a Los Angeles attorney. But I’ve known Clapp a bit over the years, as a key NASCAR West Coast operative, and confidant of Bill France Sr. and Jr. Clapp -- an energetic 72 -- has owned as many as a dozen short tracks and says he’s promoted more than 8,000 days of events ranging from stocks to drags to AMA, World of Outlaws, Indy Cars and just about everything in-between.

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