Two-Day Events Are a Silver Lining to NHRA’s 2020 Revised Schedule

Two-Day Events Are a Silver Lining to NHRA’s 2020 Revised Schedule


Independent NHRA team owners Jim Maroney (Top Fuel) and Cruz Pedregon (Funny Car) have discovered at least one silver lining in the revised 2020 schedule that has pared six events from three days to two.

They could save significant money.

Races at Houston, Bristol, Norwalk, Seattle, Topeka and Reading will feature (for the pro classes) a format with two qualifying sessions Saturday and eliminations Sunday. The NHRA cited “a number of economic and logistical factors that have come into play as we rework the schedule” for the condensed competition timelines.

But before privateers such as Maroney and Pedregon get excited about racing becoming more affordable, the sanctioning body doesn’t appear to be testing the waters for a possible two-day format for 2021 and beyond.

These six 2020 events, however, could offer a look at how well something like that might work, perhaps with a Friday-Saturday format with Sunday used as a rain date. But Jessica Hatcher, the NHRA’s senior director of public relations and communications, said, “The simple answer is not at this time. We are all focused on the current situation at hand and how to make the best out of a tough situation. The sole focus when creating this schedule was to offer the most robust schedule possible while trying to incorporate some flexibility, since there are so many uncertainties right now.”

Maroney suspected as much.

“No, I don’t think it will be the new normal,” the Gilbert, Arizona, racer said. “Too much money is made on a three-day event. I don’t think track owners will want it.”

Maroney added, “There is absolutely a cost savings to this; I would guess somewhere around $50,000 an event for the big teams. As far as the independent teams, like mine, I see it as an advantage. I think you’ll see the smaller teams qualifying higher up the ladder. A couple things will contribute to this. First, the big teams won’t be ‘swinging for the fence,’ as they will be more concerned about getting down the track. So their performance will drop off slightly. Second, you’ll see (some) big-team cars not qualify because of tire smoke or parts failure.”

While a Friday-Saturday show with a Sunday rain date might seem tidy, Maroney didn’t think it is as sensible as it might sound.

“That might be a viable option if there is rain in the forecast,” Maroney said. “But it would be a nightmare to handle for ticket sales. Even though the racing might get done, it will be difficult to keep fans happy. The last people we want to upset is the paying ticket fans. Without them none of us would exist, especially the big teams. We would all end up like me, being ‘hobby racers,’” Maroney, 51, said.

Pedregon, the two-time Funny Car champion who is in his 28th season, had a slightly different take. He was more excited about the possibility of that interim format morphing into the business of staging events.

“I hope so,” the Brownsburg, Indiana-based owner-driver said. “I think it’s in the best interest of racers, race fans and even the NHRA. We are in a different time economically, and Fridays aren’t what they used to be, so why not?”

He gave a hearty thumbs-up to the notion it would save precious funds: “Yes! Plus, as a racer, I prefer to race in front of a packed house. So if you condense the event to two days, maybe that will happen—plus, again, the economics of it makes sense.”

Pedregon, 56, said that “Sure!” he’s willing to ditch the traditional design. “Some regions of our country lend themselves for Friday-Saturday events as opposed to Sunday race days. So the sanctioning body has to look at each region and not treat them all the same and adjust to what works best for that particular part of the country.”

Tyler Crossnoe, vice president at Virginia Motorsports Park, south of Richmond, was excited that his facility was going to have Friday night qualifying for the first time in its history. But the late-May event was scratched from the revised schedule.

Crossnoe said, “We were extremely excited to burn the scoreboards down with nitro cars under the lights for the first time ever and use some of our very special items that are unique to our facility only. But that just makes the wait even longer and harder until 2021, when we are back on the schedule and bring forth all of our ideas into one blockbuster NHRA event the next time we get the opportunity to do so.”

Although Crossnoe says he really loves the idea of Friday night qualifying, he wasn’t willing to concede that a two-day event was more desirable, at least not from a track operator’s point of view.

“I truly believe that for the NHRA national event to show maximum profitability for the host facility, you need to have all three days of ticket sales, especially without a title and/or presenting sponsor attached to the event,” Crossnoe said.

“For the racers, this could be a cost-saving measure in many ways—parts, racing fuel, tires, salaries, hotel rooms, F&B (food and beverages), apparel/uniforms and more. On the other hand,” Crossnoe said, “this would bring one less day of apparel sales to each team’s souvenir trailer, removing funds from the teams.

“For the racers, this could be a cost-saving measure in many ways …”

“From a driver/celebrity standpoint, two-day events will be very tough to make all of their VIP experiences and sponsor responsibilities along with driving the car, signing autographs for general admission fans and dealing with the pit-reporting side of the events for the television cameras. With a condensed racing schedule, a condensed driver schedule comes with it, and with that it will begin to create a distance between the fans and the drivers—the last thing that needs to happen at the professional level.

“Now, I will say, three sessions of pro qualifying on Friday with the last one in prime-time conditions at night, then four rounds of eliminations with the finals under the lights and nitro flames billowing near the height of the wings on Top Fuel and nitrous oxide flames coming out of the zoomies on Pro Modified entries blasting down the quarter-mile in hopes to hoist an NHRA Wally in the winner’s circle—yeah, that makes the hair stand up on your neck,” Crossnoe said.

“Figure out a way to make it cheaper on the host facility, figure out a way to make it cheaper on the race fan buying the ticket (and) the racers in the pits will have an easier time finding corporate companies to jump back into the sport of drag racing and give those companies more avenues to spend more money, helping events with more title sponsors and more signage programs at the facilities year-round,” he said.

“When the ticket is more affordable for the casual fan, the grandstands fill back up for the entire event (not just one day) and more facilities are successful across the board, and then the upgrades/updates that everyone loves becomes easier on the facility to make. It’s all a domino effect. And when the first domino falls in the right direction—hang on for the ride—drag racing will be back on the upswing after this pandemic and soon return to the top of the motorsports ladder.”

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