Our great sport can often be one of great divide between new racers and seasoned racers, young racers and old. We seem to be inept at accepting change, and egos and elitist attitudes prevail, cutting a chasm between those entering the sport and those that have been around the block.
In an era where participation and spectator interest are at perhaps their lowest at any time in history, and a sour public opinion and negative press are around every corner, we find ourselves at a point where solidarity rather than division is the only way to continue to drive drag racing into the future with new racers and new fans. And there are perhaps no greater illustrative examples of this very divide than in the growing sport compact scene and in a once-popular, drag racing-centered television show.
Rich Christensen, the controversial former host of PINKS and PINKS: All Out on the SPEED Channel, was recently thrust back into the spotlight with the launch of his new drag racing-themed show, known as Won & Done, that will soon begin airing on MAVTV. The trailer for the new show quickly made the rounds in the drag racing community, and the story was in fact one of the most-read of the year thus far here on Dragzine.
But it was clear and expected that much of the attention Christensen and his new show were receiving wasn't out of positive viewer interest and support, but of insults and criticism of the new program and its host. The negativity was expected because it followed six seasons of public berating by the drag racing establishment during the run of the two former drag racing programs continues to this day. Racers and race fans that consider themselves 'legitimate' simply did not (and still do not) want to accept and embrace the show for what it was: a grass roots yet high-profile avenue capable of bringing new followers to our sport.
Where else in drag racing, at any point in history, could you find a national event caliber facility filled to capacity with rabid, excited, ticket-buying fans to watch nothing but double-digit elapsed time bracket cars driven by unknown weekend warrior racers. The answer? Nowhere.
Contrary to the sour and often childish opinions of the elitist 'real' racers out there, Christensen and his PINKS programs were anything but detrimental to drag racing. They were in fact exactly what drag racing needs more of.
In 2009, I had the opportunity to attend a taping of the show and observe the clientele firsthand, and I can tell you that the demographic that these events reached were exactly what the NHRA and every other drag racing organization wishes it had, and it was exactly what sponsors, particularly those in the automotive enthusiast market, would like to see more of.
PINKS reached a mainstream audience of automotive and motorcycle enthusiasts that wouldn't typically have an interest in organized drag racing. These were people who knew little to nothing about drag racing, and thanks to these television programs that broke the sport down into an exciting, easy-to-understand, yet still legitimate and safe format, legions of folks were introduced to drag racing.
We're talking folks who may have never thought to turn on an ESPN2 broadcast of an NHRA national event, but thanks to this entertaining avenue that captured their attention, they became fans. I can attest that it worked through people that I know personally. Programs like PINKS, PINKS: All Out, and even Passtime were a virtual goldmine of publicity for our sport any way you look at it. And while the detractors out there on their high horses hope and pray that Won & Done falls flat on its face, for the sake of our sport, it needs to succeed.
Import Drag Racing
"The common theme is that if it isn't a GM, Chrysler, or Ford product with a growling, red, white, and blue, eat-your-heart-out V8 powerplant in it, it doesn't belong. And that's simply pure arrogance."
This same prevailing attitude of resistance to change has crept in over the last decade or so as well with the rise of the import and sport compact segment of our sport. Because the cars are different from what so many are accustomed to, grew up with, and believe to embody drag racing, there's no embracing or acceptance of their participation in organized racing. The common theme is that if it isn't a GM, Chrysler, or Ford product with a growling, red, white, and blue, eat-your-heart-out V8 powerplant in it, it doesn't belong. And that's simply pure arrogance.
Nevermind the perhaps more important fact that these kids need to be at the track so they aren't endangering anyone on the street, but these young people are as much a part of the future of our sport as the teenager that's been handed to the keys to his father's footbrake Dodge Dart or Chevelle, whether you like it or not.
So what if these kids prefer to do it differently than the previous generation? At least they're interested in cars and want to participate, which is a stark contrast from their classmates who can't get their noses out of their iPhones and XBox controllers.
Much like Christensen's PINKS programs, drag racing folk got their jollies for years poking fun at the struggles and ultimate failures of organized sport compact racing series. The commentary was brutal and sometimes even confrontational, and one thing is for sure: it accomplished nothing.
Can you just imagine the thought process of someone in their Honda when they go to the track for the first time, and can hear the jeers and snickering about themselves and their car in the pits and the staging lanes? Or the blank stares and laughs they can see from the track personnel and fans along the fence when they make a rookie mistake? Why in the world would they ever want to come back when they've been treated this way? Perhaps if they'd been accepted as part of the drag racing fraternity rather than looked upon like the stranger that walked into the wrong bar, they could learn a thing or two from the veterans so they don't look like rookies out there. They're one of us, regardless of what they drive. The sooner people can understand this, the better off we are as a whole. Get ready for electric and hybrid cars soon!
There's simply no reason for the egos, the attitudes, and the resistance to things you don't like or understand. Unless, of course, you don't care to see drag racing carry on for future generations.