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

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: NHRA MISSES ITS ACTIVATION

Man, does NHRA miss Budweiser.

No, I don’t mean because of the free beer.

I mean because of the massive activation Bud bought and brought to its sponsorships of Kenny Bernstein and the sanctioning organization. As I explained in my January column, activation is what a sponsor does to capitalize on having its name on a car, race or series. I’m amplifying activation this month because it’s the essential Business of Racing word you need to understand to be a more knowledgeable fan.

Yes, my friends, those were the days. Those 30 record-setting years when the King of Beers helped make Bernstein the King of Speed. You knew the NHRA circus was coming to town because, if for no other reason, those colorful Bernstein cutout-standups would be positioned where the Budweiser was in supermarkets, convenience and liquor stores, bars and restaurants. And who can forget the TV commercials showing Bernstein’s Top Fueler launching off an aircraft carrier and Shuttle-like from Cape Canaveral?

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: THE IMPORTANCE OF ACTIVATION

 
Make this a New Year’s resolution:

Add the word “activation” to your drag racing vocabulary.  

It’s as important as “holeshot” and “horsepower” to understanding what makes drag racing work. In fact, it’s so important, I’ll focus two columns on activation: Some of the experts explain the basics and tell case studies this month; in February, I’ll  say why it’s something NHRA needs a lot more of – and I mean a LOT more.

Simply put, activation is what a sponsor does to capitalize on having its name on a car, race or series. A high-speed billboard is no longer enough to spread the news. The days of sports marketing being little more than slapping on a decal or sewing on a patch are as long-gone as the Cajun Nationals.

AS WE SEE IT: D. O. Y. SNUB INEXCUSABLE

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You don’t have to be a Larry Dixon, Top Fuel or even a drag racing fan to feel very bleeped-off right now.

You just have to have a basic sense of respect for the sport.

Jimmie Johnson was announced Wednesday as Driver of the Year, as determined by an 18-member national media panel. The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion received 10 votes. John Force got seven nods and Kyle Busch one.

Dixon didn’t get a single vote. Not one.

This is a much bigger deal than Santa leaving NHRAers a lump of coal.

It is an outrage.
 

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: DRAG RACING COULD USE MORE GREEN

12_09_2010_michael_knightThe green lights on NHRA’s competition Christmas Tree have gone out until February. Yet, it’s the time of year when we all see a lot of green, mainly in the form of holiday decorations or gift-buying money racing out of our wallets.

I’ve been thinking a lot about green in recent weeks. The news, and I admit, some post-Pomona mental wandering, have taken me down this road.

Let me start with what is the politically-correct green: As in, environmentally friendly. Most sanctioning organizations beyond the 1,000-foot/quarter-mile confines of Planet NHRA have taken up the cause, at least for the purposes of PR.
 

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: MIKE DUNN IS THE BEST

11-4-10michaelknightI've said it before and I'll say it again: Mike Dunn is the best racing analyst on TV.
 
Sorry, DW.
 
Somehow, Dunn's eye is sharp enough to see what went right -- or wrong -- on sub-four second runs. Before the replay. And that's watching a monitor in the ESPN production truck. That's correct: He never has a direct view of the track.
 
Dunn, with 22 NHRA National wins -- 10 Funny Car, 12 Top Fuel -- also tells it like it is. Remember last year's U.S. Nationals? Somewhere, Howard Cosell is smiling.
 
I sat down with Dunn last month in the ESPN compound at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and asked 10 questions. His answers have been edited slightly for length and clarity.
 

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: WILL THEY DO THE RIGHT THING?

Almost 10 years ago, in another forum, I wrote a column about NHRA’s 50th anniversary commemoration. The banner headline:
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“A Golden Opportunity, Up In Smoke”.

I asked this question:

“When’s the party going to start?”

I said that the promised season-long celebration of speed reminded me of a host who entices guests to attend a dinner with a fancy engraved invitation, then turns cheap by trying to pass off weak tea as bourbon. One Top Fuel champion whispered to me the 50th was a “flop.” When I expressed my disappointment to someone with multi-decades of experience dealing with the sanctioning group, the response was: "You're not surprised, are you?" 

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: NHRA DID WHAT IT HAD TO DO

Sometimes, as a child, I’d speak out maybe a little too strongly in family settings. It was, I guess a sign of what was to come later in life.

Anyway, when I stepped over the line, my grandmother would issue me a loving but stern directive - “Remember your place, young man.”

Her words raced back into my mind as I reported – and reflected – on NHRA’s maneuvering in response to NASCAR’s major schedule realignment for 2011.

Let’s be honest about it: What we have just witnessed was NASCAR reminding NHRA of its place on the U.S. motorsports map.

DRAGS, DOLLARS & SENSE: SOMETIMES CONTROVERSY ISN'T THE BEST SELL

Can’t we all just get along?

Tensions have been running as high as revs lately in NHRA. I guess it’s to be expected considering the season has included: Two alcohol class driver fatalities, a spectator killed, a couple of Pro Stock track issues, and an economy sputtering like a Funny Car on six cylinders.

“I see the fighting on the starting line,” John Force said to me after the event that was anything but Speechless in Seattle. “I know they’re frustrated -- some Pro Stock guys and Warren Johnson’s statements about Ray Charles (being able to see bumps). He made a lot of people mad (Bob Tasca III and Jim Head, to name two), but he didn’t mean it that way.

UP FRONT: HAVING NO RESPECT FOR THAT WHICH CAN KILL YOU

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Let’s acknowledge that Attitude Apparel’s CompetitionPlus.com is largely devoted to the professional categories of drag racing.  Let me also acknowledge that my primary areas of interest are those same pro classes and participants.  That does not mean, however, that I don’t have the utmost respect for sportsman racers, because by and large, it’s considerably more difficult to win in some of the sportsman classes than it may be in the pros.  As much as this might surprise some people, I actually know a bunch of sportsman racers, and they’ve been flooding my inbox with emails, and overloading my message machine with rants about what’s going on in their classes.

Making it as a sportsman racer is an iffy proposition.  The costs of competing are depressingly high when measured against the potential rewards, and 12 hours after you’ve run the quickest elapsed time ever in your class you’re going to find out that three other guys already ran quicker.  Your odds against obtaining a truly meaningful sponsor – one that’ll cover all your costs – are astronomically high.  So all in all, if you’re going to be a sportsman racer it’s going to have to be because you love it.  You love the work, the travel, the hassles, the cancelled qualifying sessions, the after midnight Sunday eliminations, the time away from the family, the lost jobs because you just had to be at that points meet at the other end of your division or the bracket race 700 miles south – all of it.  Because at the end of the day you get to climb into the car and try to prove you’re better than the other guy.

SUSAN WADE: SEATTLE RACE DIDN'T LIVE UP TO THE STANDARD

Ironic, isn't it?
 
Pacific means peaceful, calm, serene, soothing. Pacific Raceways this past Sunday during the Northwest Nationals was chaotic, catastrophic, and risky for the racers and still shabby for the fans.
 
So many troubles marred the 14th of 23 stops on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour that victories by Cory McClenathan (Top Fuel), Tim Wilkerson (Funny Car), and Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) nearly became footnotes. 
 

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