Money, it’s a gas, grab that cash with both hands and make a stash. Money, Pink Floyd
It is all about the budget if you want to run a nitro class, the never ending pursuit of sponsor dollars. Some have and some want. But here we come to a situation where we will see if the last few years of Drag Racing have helped or hurt the sponsorship hunt.
The emergence of “super” teams occurred during a time of stagnation in the NHRA, the growth of teams like DSR, JFR and Kalitta Motorsports were all a good thing. When the sport was at it’s weakest at least there would always be a reasonable car count in Top Fuel and Funny car. We now come to a crossroads, the sport is on a rebound. Full credit to the NHRA itself. It weathered the storm, got a new TV package and has made some good investments in the future. The question is, can the Nitro classes improve their numbers?
We will never see 20 or 25 sponsored Nitro teams at the track, it’s unnecessary. A good solid 16 to 18 would be ideal. As it is now, we have a good 8 to 10 cars on the grounds that can win on any given weekend, but for all that we still have some events that can only pull 14 or 15 cars to even try and qualify.
But now the “Super team” problem. How does Joe X go in front of a sponsor to get a deal, and rationalise to them the reasons for the money, if almost all the winners are from a mega team? There’s no denying that on any given race weekend the chances are it’s going to be a DSR, JFR or Kalitta Racing team in the winners circle. Is that a bad thing? No that’s the objective, that’s the whole reason they show up. Where does that leave the independent? How do they justify a sponsorship when Joe X is going up against the mega teams?
And we come to this weekend. As most of you know, Terry McMillen and Leah Pritchett are tied for the 10th and last spot in the Countdown. On paper and in person both of these 2 deserve to get in. They both display hard work and have massive fan support. Terry runs a independent team with great sponsors and Leah after a turbulent start has landed on the DSR mega team in the 4th car with some pretty good sponsors of her own. Every win or success by an independent is a win for the little guy. Every win or success by Steve Torrence or Tim Wilkerson is a plus for the sport as a whole because it gives other Independents something to point to and say “look, it’s hard, but we have a chance” and that goes a long way to a sponsor. No sponsor expects to win every weekend, nor should they. But they should at least know that their dollars are going to have at least some success.
Luckily there is a long line of potential Nitro cars out there that would be a factor on the tour with a little corporate money. Guys like Jim Campbell, Chris Bennet, Steve Palmer, John Bojec and Brandon Welch and a whole host of Alky class drivers like Tedesco, Sanford, Westerfield and Ferre who have at least dipped a toe in the Pro ranks. Any of these teams could and would make a major sponsor very happy, but they need to have a product other than first round loses every week to sell.
Of course not to mention the teams as well. No one wants to go out to the race track every weekend, no matter how much you love it, only to put the car on the trailer after the first round week after week. So even if they don’t win the Wally, it is great to see guys like Jeff Diehl make the semis twice this year and Bojec making the semis once last year.
You have to hand it to Jim Dunn racing. look back over just 2016 at the names on the side of that car, Mooneyes, Oberto, Circle K, Alo just to name a few off the top of my head. It must be a logistical nightmare. They are at every event, ready to go. Are they a threat to win? No, but they put on a great display for the sponsor and can go rounds with a little luck. I imagine that they would like a little stability with their sponsors, but the job they do with what they have is phenomenal. It really is a model others could use given a lot of hard work.
So..bring on the little guy, The more Wally’s for Wilkerson, Pedregon and Torrence the better, show that in a pit area dominated by Super teams the independent has a shot.
As far as McMillen and Pritchett, may the best team win. I can make a strong argument that for the sport, it’s better if Terry gets the spot and a win for the little guy. I can also make an argument that it’s good for the sport if Leah wins. So who knows?
Be Safe and Have fun