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

SUSAN WADE: NHRA NEEDS MARKTING IDEAS? WATCH BRUTON SMITH

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It took 96 editions of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race for someone to come close to trumping it as "The Greatest Spectacle In Racing."
 
But Bruton Smith just might have done it.
 
The proof will be in the performance this Sunday, 90 minutes before the green flag waves to start the Coca-Cola 600 Sprint Cup Series race at Smith's Charlotte Motor Speedway.
 
Don Schumacher Racing's Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown will perform side-by-side burnouts for the NASCAR crowd -- a first for stock car fans, who have seen burnouts before but never have experienced sensory overload in stereo.
 
Fox Sports TV motorsports analyst Jeff Hammond, a five-time Cup series champion as crew chief or crew member, will be the "official starter" as the 8,000-horsepower dragsters fire up on an unprepped surface.

SUSAN WADE: CAPPS HAS HIS LIST; WE HAVE OURS

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With a perfect tag-team performance Sunday at Atlanta Dragway, Don Schumacher Racing's Ron-and-Rahn put the Funny Car smackdown on the smokin' hot Robert-and-Jimmy tandem and halted their John Force Racing reign.

After Ron Capps and his Rahn Tobler-tuned NAPA Dodge Charger Funny Car defeated Hight and his Auto Club Ford Mustang in the final round of the Summit Southern Nationals, Capps shared some frustrations -- with qualification.

"We love those guys," Capps said of Hight and his JFR team. "Tobler and Prock went to dinner here not too long ago. They're good friends, and Robert and I are good friends. We had dinner last night and watched the UFC fight. I told them at the other end [Sunday], 'You guys bring everything I got out when I have to race you.' "

However, Capps let his annoyance spill out: "I got so tired of hearing about Force [Racing] winning every race. I got tired hearing about Robert. I love him but I got tired of hearing about him on this race streak"

BRANDON MUDD: BERNSTEIN, FORCE PROVIDED A PERFECT NHRA INTRODUCTION

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This week, along with six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion owner Richard Childress, NHRA Full Throttle Series champions John Force and Kenny Bernstein were inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Ala.

The credentials of this trio cannot be argued. At all. Childress was a perennial top-ten driver in NASCAR prior to becoming an owner. He won his six titles with the late Dale Earnhardt, who was inducted into the Hall in 2006. He has won titles in all three of NASCAR’s top series and continues to be one of the strongest and most respected owners in stock car racing.

Force’s 15 Funny Car titles eclipses any driver in the history of NHRA. With his victory in this year’s season-opening Winternationals, his win total is at 133, a benchmark in the sport. His team, John Force Racing, has also won titles with Tony Pedregon and son-in-law Robert Hight. So far this year, they have won all six of the races run in the Funny Car class.

BRANDON MUDD: ENOUGH ALREADY, FORCE

mudd brandonI like you, John. I really do. I like your team members and crew chiefs. I like your drivers; Robert Hight, Mike Neff, Courtney, Ashley, Brittany; all have been very nice to me anytime I’ve spoken to them or needed anything, whether as a member of the media or the PR director at a track. John Force Racing is a class act.

Which makes me wonder why your team has suddenly decided that the NHRA Full Throttle Series Winner’s Circle is their personal sandbox. Why won’t you let other drivers in your sandbox, John? There have been six races thus far in the season and JFR have won them all. You, at the Winternationals, Robert took the next FOUR STRAIGHT (definitely a little rude, but whatever), and Zippy entered the fray last weekend in Houston.

On paper, you have a weakness: Courtney. She’s a rookie. She’s a GIRL. And she earned her first-ever round win against YOU, the most decorated champion in our sport. And she continues to win rounds.

What’s your problem, John? I know for a fact you’re a good guy. I know of the charities you donate to. I’ve seen you take kids and their families behind your pit area for personal meet-and-greets and autograph sessions. I’ve seen you at the ropes talking with the fans far longer than guys a third your age.

KNIGHT: OH, WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN

mikehead2It 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.

UP FRONT: INEXCUSABLE…AND WE’RE NOT EVEN SURPRISED

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This will be the shortest Up Front editorial I’ll ever write for CompetitionPlus.com. And I promise to keep it that way.

There is absolutely no excuse for the pit-parking situation at Royal Purple Raceway in Houston this coming weekend, none whatsoever. The blame for this situation falls at least partially on the heads of the track ownership, but more solidly on the seemingly empty heads in Glendora, who clearly failed to think this through before relegating professional competitors to a second-rate pit area on the grass.

In the last five years the amount of pit space relegated to the heavily sponsored fuel teams has been on the increase, and dramatically so. Despite the fact that team owners pay for the privilege of housing their increasingly massive hospitality areas next to their pits, things have gone beyond the point of being questionable and have reached the point of ludicrousness.

One of the primary selling points that NHRA Drag Racing has with potential sponsors is the direct access to the drivers that the fans enjoy. Ours is the only motorsports endeavor in which this is the case and believe me, it’s a very important point. However, when hospitality space increases to the point where those very same fans are forced to walk an additional quarter to half mile to see their favorite driver (and that distance is no exaggeration), it’s time to re-evaluate the whole situation.

BOBBY BENNETT: IT'S JUST CHANGE, NOT THE END OF THE WORLD

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There are some who never accept change and those who see change as growth.

Those unwilling to accept change will never embrace 1,000-foot drag racing, nor will the Countdown to the championship be a source of pride. And, don’t mention drag racing while running four abreast, the once a year style of racing is a definite jolt to those willing to fight for the past and never defend the future.

Throughout their history, professional baseball has  changed; professional football has changed. And, their fans aren’t staging boycotts just because big league baseball has adopted interleague play; or, pro football changed the format of the overtime session.

Granted the National Football League never shortened the football field but if we are going to compare apples to oranges, in the interest of fair reporting, they never had a football player run off the end of the field and lose their life; not that I am aware of. They did, when players were coming up in later life mentally incapacitated because of head injuries, implement new rules controlling tackling. In fact, they are discussing doing away with the age old tradition of kick-offs in the name of safety.

In drag racing, for many it is safety be damned in the name of tradition.

KNIGHT: TALKING BUSINESS WITH JEGGIE

He’s baaaaaack.

Yellow means Jegs at NHRA Full Throttle events, so finding Jeg Coughlin Jr. at the Arizona Nationals was easy.  It’s good news for the drag racing series that the four-time Pro Stock champion is back after a one-year hiatus, in the Jegs.com Mopar Dodge Avenger.

Coughlin -- and his family -- are important figures in the straight-line sport for several reasons. Jeg is one of -- I’d say THE -- best driver in the class, without the advantage of the outright fastest car. His opinions are well considered and well stated. And I’ve always appreciated that the powerhouse that is the Jegs.com mail order business has put money back into drag racing -- including getting contingency award cash into the hands of sportsman racers.  

Coughlin and I sat down in his motorhome at Firebird International Raceway for 10 questions. His answers, in some cases, have been edited slightly for length and clarity.

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.

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