It is only 9 a.m. in New York City, but it’s already been a busy morning in what promises to be another hectic-yet-profitable day for Eddy Hartenstein and Tom Compton, the chairman and the president of NHRA Pro Racing, which has sped past NASCAR as America’s No. 1 racing series and is riding the wave as the country’s hottest sports marketing property.
The two execs hurry to their dragster-long limo after a very positive breakfast interview with editors of the Wall Street Journal. The Journal is readying a Page One story on how drag racing, the most American of all American motorsports, has zoomed to national prominence after Hartenstein’s HD Partners bought NHRA in a $121 million deal announced five years ago this month. Warren Buffett was quoted in Forbes last week as praising NHRA’s forward-thinking and innovative business plan. Hartenstein and Compton are flooded with invitations to be featured speakers at business conferences -- CEOs everywhere are asking, “How did you do it?”
(Rumor has it Compton -- hotter than an exhaust header among CEO headhunters -- just iced an offer to become commissioner of the National Hockey League. He couldn’t afford the pay cut.)
Corporate America has fallen in love with the straight-line sport. Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Hyundai and Nissan have factory-supported teams, making NHRA the biggest and most important racing battleground on earth for the automakers. Porsche -- yes, Porsche -- is studying it. Apple, Starbucks, Panasonic, AT&T, FedEx, General Electric, Lowe’s, Subway, Exxon Mobil and Walmart are among the series’ newest sponsors. The legendary beer wars have returned, with Budweiser and Miller again backing prominent teams. And now a record number of fans are taking sides in the burger battles, with McDonald’s vs. Wendy’s in both the Top Fuel and Funny Car classes. Jegs.com says the drag racing boom has quadrupled its mail order business.