MEYER'S TEAM PROVING YOU CAN TEACH OLD SANCTIONING BODY NEW TRICKS, INCLUDING FRIDAY-NIGHT QUALIFYING BONUS CASH
It’s clear that NHRA drag racing’s primary industry is neither automotive nor sport. It’s entertainment.
The majority of individuals involved in the Camping World Drag Racing Series would say, as NHRA President Glen Cromwell did, that “we are in the entertainment business.”
Texas Motorplex General Manager Andy Carter – whose “Stampede of Speed” week-long, community-celebration prelude to the NHRA’s Oct. 7-10 Texas FallNationals at Ennis, south of Dallas, is well under way – has recognized that. More than that, he has done something about it.
His mission is to turn more people into drag-racing fans, using tactics the 70-year-old sanctioning body hasn’t tried before, and he’s embracing the entire community and sport to come together.
One thing that has attracted the racers’ attention in a large way is a $15,000 bonus to the provisional No. 1 qualifier in each professional class Friday night – before the adrenaline-fueled action ends with a starting-line after-party for fans and racers.
The extra twist to the format is that Friday qualifying at this event will consist of two sessions, for four overall. That used to be the norm, but since COVID has triggered all kinds of changes in the sport, events have featured a total of three qualifying sessions.
Top Fuel racer Justin Ashley said he figured he has a better-than-average chance to get that extra $15,000 for his Davis Motorsports/Smart Sanitizer-Vita C Shot Dragster team.
“The Motorplex is an all-concrete track and a really nice facility. It is going to be packed with fans. We ran well there last year. [Current crew chief] Mike Green at the time was tuning for Tony Schumacher, and he ran well there last year. We know what we are capable of at this race. We know the track will be fast,” Ashley said.
“Having that $15,000 bonus on Friday night along with four sessions is huge,” he said. “That extra session gives us the chance to go for it all on Friday night if we do what we need to in Q1. We really have a good opportunity to go for that $15,000.”
Ah, but competitor Antron Brown, like every other racer on the property, has visions of himself earning that $15,000 bonus.
“We’re excited to get to Ennis early for the Stampede of Speed and take some batting practice swings on Wednesday,” the three-time Top Fuel champion said, referring to an unprecedented test session on the same racetrack within the week prior to the actual competition. “We’ll get it back together and bring out the ‘Tools for the Cause’ pink Matco Toyota Dragster. We’re excited about the activities and the 15 grand up for grabs on Friday night in Ennis.”
So that pot-sweetener has resonated with the racers.
But Carter has used country-music concerts, a cattle drive through the downtown streets of Waxahachie, bull-riding exhibitions, BBQ contests, beer-tasting opportunities – all things Texas, as well as untamed drag-racing shootouts – to lure fans to the Motorplex and to the sport.
“We’re going to build this into a Super Bowl-sized type of event, where there’s things going on in town every day, not just at the track - in our whole area. And we're going to have a pretty good-sized trade show here this year. On behalf of NHRA, we're inviting all the small tracks to come in and sit down with NHRA and learn what's going on for the future. We all do it at major-event tracks every year, but those guys don't get to do that kind of stuff. We're going to do the same thing the next day with major-event tracks. We’ve got one day that's just for local businesses in the area to come out and sit down and we can all brainstorm on ‘How do we make this a bigger community event?’” Carter said.
“I came from the rodeo background, and you got a lot of these communities and their rodeo comes to town every year and the whole town just turns out for it.” He recalls rodeo events for which local stores and restaurants got into the festive spirit that swirled around the rodeos. “And that's what we want to see here, drive that economic boost to the area with this event.”
He said with golf’s Byron Nelson Classic at Dallas, “You have a group called the Salesman's Club, and there are a bunch of volunteers that go out and help get sponsors and drum up business for the event to get people in the community excited about it. Same thing with rodeos. In every little town it's usually built as a committee of volunteers, town leaders, and people in that community. And we, as the sport of drag racing, have never done that. It’s just run like a business and NHRA comes to town, we do our deal, and it's not involving the businesses and the city leaders and everybody in the community. And that's what we really hope to accomplish with this, this first year of showing them what we can do and driving business to them and hopefully get them on board with us doing the same thing.”
His aim, he said, “is to give something to everybody.”
From the racers’ perspective, $15,000 for the provisional qualifying lead is a wonderful place to start.
The remaining events are scheduled for the Stampede of Speed:
Tuesday, October 5 - Inaugural NHRA Texas Stampede of Speed Shootout
Racing rivals from across the region will compete in the Stampede of Speed Shootout that features the Top Sportsman, Top Dragster, and Pro Mod classes. The Top 16 Sportsman and Top Dragsters will battle it out with a winner-take-all Shootout to end the day. Pro Mods from every association including NHRA will battle it out in a first-ever, no-rules, anything-goes battle to be the quickest at the Stampede.
Wednesday, October 6 – NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series Pro Invitational (9 a.m. – 6 p.m.), Pub Crawl and Movie night with The Snake (6 p.m. – 10 p.m.)
See the fastest, most powerful race cars on the planet make test laps in advance of the NHRA Texas Fall Nationals. The stars of the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series will be on site, preparing for the fourth race of the NHRA Countdown. This first-ever for NHRA open schedule test session is a chance for curious motorsports fans to get a taste of the ground pounding excitement that will play out Friday-Sunday.
Join the stars of the NHRA as they sample local brews and eateries in Waxahachie on a walking Pub Crawl followed by an exclusive showing of the film Snake & Mongoose featuring drag racing legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme hosting an in-person Q&A and autograph session.
Thursday, October 7 – Texas Fall Nationals sportsman qualifying (9 a.m. – 6 p.m.), Fan Fest in downtown Waxahachie (6 p.m. – 9 p.m.)
Racing action continues at Texas Motorplex as the NHRA Texas Fall Nationals officially begins with Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series qualifying action. Following that, the popular and free Fan Fest event will begin in downtown Waxahachie, highlighting race cars, interactive games, live music, and family fun. A massive driver autograph session will be the highlight of the evening, which will be capped off with a fireworks show.
Friday, October 8 – Friday Night Live at Texas Motorplex
For the second year in a row, Friday Night Live will turn the traditional qualifying schedule on its head as music, exhibition runs, and a special guest D.J. will surround the Friday night NHRA pro qualifiers as they try to run to the top of their respective categories at speeds of more than 330 mph in less than four seconds. The night will conclude with a free after-party on the starting line.
Saturday, October 9 – Final Qualifying for NHRA Texas Fall Nationals
This is the last day for teams and drivers from across the country to make the highly competitive 16-car fields. Teams will have only two chances to make the show or be relegated to spectator status, so tension will be high as the competition jumps to a new level. The annual DRAW auction accompanied by a concert will begin following racing action.
Sunday, October 10 – NHRA Texas Fall Nationals Race Day
Following a massive opening ceremony, the top drag racers from around the country will be racing to get one step closer to a series championship at the only playoff race in the state of Texas. Hundreds of thousands of dollars will be on the line as well as the chance for a place in racing history. The pits, as always, will be open for fans to mix and mingle with the racers throughout the day. At the conclusion of the event, fans are welcome to join the winners circle celebration on the starting line, where the the largest fireworks display of the week will close the Stampede of Speed.