As a guest on an Indianapolis radio show several years ago, Tony Schumacher talked about living just north of Chicago O'Hare International Airport.
"Those planes probably are pretty loud, aren't they?" the host asked.
"I can't hear a one of 'em," Schumacher joked, alluding to audio damage from being around earsplitting, 7,000-horsepower Top Fuel dragsters.
Maybe he was teasing. Maybe he was half-joking. But that was idle radio-show chatter, entertainment shtick. The truth is that drag racers take ear-protection precautions seriously.
Spectators need to do the same, according to Niles, Mich.-based Just Plugs. The company has signed agreements with O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis and The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The announcement comes in time for Just Plugs to market its products at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals during Labor Day weekend and the Oct. 29-Nov. 1 Las Vegas Nationals.
“There is perhaps no bigger rush than being on the starting line of an NHRA event when two cars with a combined 14,000 horsepower blast down the track,” Just Plugs CEO James R. “Cricket” Butler said. "But as exhilarating as it is, it’s also unbelievably loud. The crews of NHRA teams wear hearing protection for a reason. Fans should too, and we’re giving them a cool way to do it.”
But just like sunglasses, earplugs are becoming a fashion statement -- and a vehicle for guerilla marketing. Its Website, www.justplugs.com , referred to the company's "quest to make hearing protection fun and functional" and said, "Just Plugs continues to develop unique and effective designs that can be customized with corporate logos."
The soft-coated, foam-cell earplugs carry a Noise Reduction Rating of 30. Because few people understand or care about such a consumer label, the selling points are the unique shapes and corporate-branding opportunities. Some are shaped like sparkplugs, some like racing tools, and others like beverage bottles. And the company promises additional choices soon.
Just Plugs products already are available to drag-racing fans at Brainerd International Raceway and at International Hot Rod Association Nitro Jam venues. They're sold on the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, the World of Outlaws Late Model Series and the UMP DIRTcar tours, as well as at races sanctioned by the National Tractor Pulling Association (NTPA), United States Hot Rod Association (USHRA) Monster Jam, and Monster Energy AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) Supercross.
Just Plugs is promoting its inaugural "Just Plugs Hear No Evil" Sweepstakes. The nine-month campaign will conclude at the Oct. 23-25 IHRA Nitro Jam World Finals at Rockingham (N.C.) Dragway.
Safety is as critical as style, though., for these NHRA facilities want to tell their fans, "Y'all come back now, ya hear?"