For the first time in the sport’s history, drivers in Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle will make three qualifying passes in a single day as part of a two-day event this June 22-23 at Virginia Motorsports Park. Qualifying will go Saturday, with eliminations Sunday at Dinwiddie, Va., south of Richmond.

Why now and why Virginia?

“We’re trying something new,” Jeffrey Young, the NHRA’s vice-president of marketing and communications, said. “Having three qualifying sessions in one day is going to make for an incredible experience for our fans. This is a trial run for us. It’s something new and different, and we’ll revisit the decision following the event.

“When discussing these things, we all work together as a team and look for new ways to approach an event. When we spoke to our stakeholders – the race teams, the racetracks and our partners – we all thought (Virginia) was a great opportunity to try a two-day event that included three qualifiers in one day,” Young said.

Many racers, including Funny Car’s Paul Lee and Pro Stock’s Greg Anderson, are all for it.

Lee, an active PRO member and team owner/racer, said, “We did it at Bradenton, and it was very successful. NHRA asked us about it, how it went, and we told 'em it went great. Fans never left the stands. We got action all day long. It was great. Fans loved it. At least the fans I've talked to, they loved it. They had action all day. It was, like, non-stop. What's better than that? That's a good show.”

He said that was one of PRO’s goals with the Superstar Shootout.

“That was one of the things we wanted to try, because we think this doesn't make sense to make one run on Friday and two on Saturday. And then also, we have too long of a turnaround time between runs. Fans don't want to wait three, four hours for the next run. We said, 'Let's do it.' Quick turnaround and it worked out,” Lee said.



That rushed servicing, he said, was “no different than an NHRA race day where there's quick turnarounds. We just did it at a qualifying session. It was awesome, and I'm glad NHRA has taken the initiative to try it out, because I think the fans are going to love it.”

Five-time Pro Stock champion Anderson certainly did.

He said, “I love it. I love that deal. I wish we do that more often. That's definitely what most of us racers would rather do. Instead of stretching it out for three days, we'd much rather do it that way. So that's great. And I hope it opens a lot of people's eyes that it can be done and it's a better way to do it. It’s the right move. They’re scared to do it, but I'm telling you, I really believe it's the way to go. They’ll be surprised that you can make money at it this way. This is a better way than what we do.”

Buddy Hull, the Funny Car division’s resident philosopher, said, “I think it’s a good experiment. I think it’s a trial-and-error thing. Our sport is powered by fans, so we want to get as many fans as possible coming to our events. The more fans, the more opportunity it creates for all of us as drivers and owners. The NHRA is doing a good job at trying to discover what fans want the most.

“I think some teams are going to really enjoy it, because it is a simulation of what it would be like to go all the way up to the semifinals on race day. And I think some teams maybe will dislike it because of that exact same reason. There are going to be some mixed reviews from both fans and teams,”

Hull said. “Overall, I come from a school of thought of ‘If you’re not trying new things and you’re not attempting to make something better, then why are you doing what you’re doing?’”

Pacific Raceways operator Jason Fiorito has demonstrated his willingness to think in non-traditional ways, with among other decisions, the Pacific Technology Center that’s adding relevance and longevity to his racetracks. But he said the notion of a two-day national-event format wouldn’t serve his particular market well.

“I just don't know if that would play in our market as well as it's playing in other markets,” said the host of July’s Northwest Nationals. “Every market is different, and one point is the length of travel that it takes to get to Seattle. We're a very, very long pull. Our market is an important one. But it's also much different in geographic location and maybe in population base and demographics, as well. I would never second-guess anybody in their market."

Anderson would challenge that take on the situation. 

 “I don't know that that's true. I think fan-base wise, it's a better deal. First of all, we don't get the fans that are here today, they don't come all three days anymore. They don't cost too much. So they pick one day, maybe two days. Right?," he said.

"So if you shorten a three-day event to two, they're going to get all those same people. They just condense into two days. That's my opinion. So I think it's a better deal. You've got more people on the grounds each day. That's how I think it'll go.”

But Fiorito continues to buck the trend and confound conventional wisdom.



“A big deal for PRO was adding back in that fourth qualifying session [at Seattle] because of the needs of their sponsors, their hospitality, and kind of a guaranteed minimum purse to justify a shorter drive. Getting rid of Friday does mitigate some of the expenses, certainly both in prize money and staffing, but in our case, I think we're going a little bit the opposite direction.

“We're adding a qualifying session back in, adding lights to put on what we hope will be a phenomenal show at night. We're making the decision to increase our expenses and put on a longer and what we hope will be a better show to attract more spectators. We have to do all we can to put on the best show for the fans to make it worthwhile for PRO and their sponsors and create an experience both for in-person and on TV that we hope will really play well.

"So we're just taking some risk here, for sure. The NHRA and Pacific Raceways are sharing that risk, but we feel like adding to the show is a better play in our market, and we're probably the best to judge what will and won't play in our market," he said. "And other folks are better situated to make those decisions in theirs. I'd never questioned what somebody else is doing in terms of what's best for their market and their fans. We're all business people, and we have to do what's best in our own little niches in the country.” 

“We haven't specifically sat down with PRO or NHRA to contemplate a two-day event. I think my knee jerk, if that conversation were to happen, would be to hesitate in our market,” he said. “I think knowing what I know about PRO and its desire to have four qualifying sessions up here, my guess is that they would hesitate to support a move like that. I don't know that that conversation would gain a lot of traction in our market, but we're always willing to entertain any ideas that keeps the sport healthy and profitable.”

Maybe surprisingly, small-budgeted team owner Terry Haddock said he’s not a fan of the shortened race weekend.

“I don't particularly care for it. When you abbreviate something, you usually take something out,” he said. “At the end of the day, the guy that's selling beer at the concessions, he gets one less day of selling beer. The fans get one less day of racing. I don't know, but I don't know what the decision-making process is.”

“Some say it's to save money, but buying plane tickets on Fridays is more expensive than Thursdays and Wednesdays. So I don't know that that's going to help anybody. It does probably save one night at hotels. I don't know that it's any good for us,” Haddock said. “Our team has improved so much that can we do three [qualifiers] in a day? Yes, we can. But we're trying to get better at doing this, and when you rush, you make mistakes.”

Hull concluded that whatever happens, “hopefully someone understands that they need to track what's going on. They need to poll the fans, find out what they like, count the heads, count the dollar bills. It's got to make dollars.”