NHRA in Trouble?
Nothing says “hot-rodding” like drag racing, but there’s talk among racers wondering one thing: is the NHRA in trouble.
As the largest and longest-standing sanctioned series, NHRA has stood the test of time.
As the world turns its back on internal combustion engines, the NHRA is the shining beacon of power and prestige among hot rodders and drag races.
NHRA Mello Yello Series Top Fuel owner-driver Doug Foley had something to say about this in 2020. He qualified in the top half of the 66th Denso NHRA U.S. Nationals lineup and sixth at the Indy Dodge event just before that—impressive for a part-time team with not one full-time crew member.
While Foley, 56, is proud of that, he’s anything but proud of the way drag racing is headed. Truth is, he was concerned about his sport even before the pandemic hit. His forecast is partly cloudy at best for the NHRA, unless series leaders address a handful of issues.
“Maybe they’ll have nine full-time cars next year, but it will be single digits of how many full-time dragsters there are running the tour next year,” Foley said. “I predict there will be about six races next year that will have 11 or less Top Fuel cars next year. That’s the beginning of the end. As soon as you’ve done that, you basically put the ‘CLOSED’ sign up.
The writing has been on the wall, if you listen to some racers. In 2020, top purses were slashed by 70%. A Nitro Class victory that used to pay $50,000 is now worth only $15,000 for the rest of the 2020 season, but this was in the middle of the pandemic.
Granted, even the well-heeled Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar Series, and their owner Roger Penske trimmed its budget by half for the pandemic version of the Indianapolis 500. Because of its financial loss of at least $20 million without fans in the grandstands, Indy the 500 purses dropped from $15 million to $7.5 million, according to Racer Magazine.
It doesn’t help that NHRA racetracks are closing than Walgreens stores in San Francisco.
In the last few years, Englishtown was demolished. Houston Raceway is shutting down.
Atlanta Raceway is done in 2022 & Route 66 Dragway is also finished.
Other racers say that NHRA is doing just fine. In 2021, TV viewership of a couple of NHRA races was off the charts, performing better than previous peaks a few years ago.
From the coverage I’ve seen, although audience numbers seem to be a tad smaller then it was in the 1990s, but it’s hard to tell for sure. Even if that was the case, smaller audiences at the event aren’t the only measure of how the series is doing.
From where I sit, I wouldn’t be worried at all until NHRA can’t must a full field of racers and/or sponsors start pulling out. Since none of this seems to be happening, 2022 should be an action-packed year of drag racing.
As the world moves to alternative energy, now’s a great time to bring your kids or grandkids to hear the roar of 11,000 horsepower – there’s nothing like it and it’s the only sport you can feel without having to participate.
NHRA is scheduled for 22 events in 2022, which is the same number of events they usually run so by that measure, there’s enough meat on the bone to keep feeding this machine.
We wish NHRA continued success and will be rooting for big numbers in the stands and a huge TV audience. Wally Parks would be proud of what he built, how long it’s continued and what it stands for. Let us all hope it continues to prosper for many more years.