As we head into the final months of the 2016 Nostalgia drag racing season, it looks like it’s been a fairly positive one so far; car counts and attendance are up at some of the venues but many others unfortunately are struggling to survive.
For several years now we’ve been concerned and editorializing about shrinking “butts in the stands” at racing events around the country. At the televised “big show” NHRA races it seems to be a toss-up, with several events showing a lot of empty seats on your screen and a few others seemingly ‘packed to the gills’ (an old expression for you millennials to ponder).
There are and always will be shows that every year absolutely rock the house with entrants and spectators. The World Fuel Altered Nationals at Eddyville Raceway in Iowa, Tulsa Raceway Park’s Nitro Nationals, the Meltdown Drags in Byron, Illinois and the big Labor Day spectacular at Mo-Kan Dragway near Joplin are four that come to mind, but many others are struggling to keep the gates open, pay the racers, their operating costs, and all the while hoping to have a little something left over to pay the operator!
A long-time drag racing media person told us that in recent conversations with a number of strip owners and promoters around the country, attendance has been slipping year-after-year despite their booking in better (and more expensive) shows (i.e. nostalgia and modern nitro cars, jets, match-racing, etc.). Many of those he questioned told him that regular bracket racing events are what are keeping them in business.
As a very longtime lover of our sport and former racer and chassis builder, I wish it were only a simple fix to pull those millennials away from their smartphones and the day-long texting and tweeting with their friends or coaxing them away from the 55-inch flatscreen, Xbox 360 and 256 channels of NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL in the airconditioned comfort of home and get them out to a drag race. The percentage of young folks getting their license when they are legally of age has curiously been dropping over the last few years as well as those who actually are buying their first car…amazing stats!
Obviously, big detriments to the younger set’s lack of interest in tinkering with cars (that “tinkering” led several generations to add performance parts, which, in turn, ultimately led to the drag strip to test them) are the high cost of buying and properly equipping an old car to ‘hot rod’ up or the threat of violating the warranty of a newer car by changing anything other than the computer chip (that quick change, of course, doesn’t really promote long-term hanging out with your buds on a summer day in a hot garage “tinkering” like we loved to do…sigh!).
I’ve never signed on to be a “doom and gloom” scribe, but a number of friends (a combination of retired and current racers, a track owner, a couple of promoters and several media persons) who, when last meeting for burgers and cold brew along with a serious roundtable discussion, couldn’t help but agree that we may be watching the beginning of the very end of our sport. I certainly hope not.
Again, we plead with you to bring a son, daughter, niece or nephew, a brother, cousin or friend to a drag racing event. Urge them to bring a camera and leave their “electronics” at home. You could plant the seed that could result in a life-long fan, and that’s what we need. The future of our sport of drag racing is really depending on it!
Nostalgia Drag World - By Connell R. Miller, Editor-in-Chief