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The Most Complete List

by Craig Murto, Inside Motorsports (1997)

If you've ever competed in a professional drag racing event, chances are you're on Bill Pratt's list.

What started as a handwritten, penciled list of racers kept by a 14-year-old fan in Cleveland has become possibly the most complete list of drag racers anywhere in the world.

"I've been interested in racing since the early 70s," Pratt said. "I started making models and getting Hot Rod Magazine."

And he began keeping records of professional drag racers. His meticulous record keeping is now the Drag Racing List, which is published quarterly and lists about 20,000 drag racers in every professional category from around the globe. It is also his website, WWW.Draglist.Com, from which net browsers can subscribe to the quarterly for $10 per year [actually, it's free! bp]

Listing every racer he can find from the 1950's on up, Pratt admits nonetheless, "it has a lot of holes in it."

He fields between 20 and 50 emails each day from racers, ad agencies, and fans, who ask questions or leave information Pratt uses to update the list. He averages about 175 "hits" each day on the web site, and expects nearly 80,000 in 1998.

To say that the 39-year-old Waldorf, Md., resident is involved in the sport is an understatement. He handles public relations for Maryland International Raceway, where he also acts as the track announcer.

He began getting involved at the track in drag racing as a teenager at Thompson Dragway in Standardsville, Ohio. He mostly worked as a mechanic on the 1967 Pontiac LeMans that he and a friend, the driver, took to the track. That lasted until the two joined the Navy.

"Our thought was to get in the Navy, save some money, and build a Pro Stock Vega," Pratt said. That dream never materialized, and Pratt spent 20 years in the Navy, much of it floating around on the U.S.S. Nimitz. There he became a telecommunications specialist, a field in which he currently works as a consultant.

Once off the water, Pratt settled down in Maryland, and proceeded to compile his list. When he first attempted to sell it, in the mid-80s, he met Tod Mack, who not only raced Funnycars at the time, but also owned MIR. Pratt wanted permission to sell his list to the fans packing MIR's stands.

"He was impressed with the book," Pratt said. "He asked me if I'd be interested in writing stories about the track." And so Pratt's part-time career in PR got started. That kept him at the track, often in the tower as races unfolded. Pratt developed a deep understanding of his sport, and often rattled off facts about drivers as they approached the line. The track announcer, Lewis Bloom, surprised Pratt one day with the opportunity to provide color commentary over the microphone.

"He got so tired of me talking about these racers in the background, he shoved a microphone in my face and said, 'Don't tell me, tell the fans,'" Pratt recalls.

In that way, Pratt became the color commentator at the pro shows from the late 80's until 1990, when Royce Miller began leasing MIR. Some of his favorite memories come from those times.

One of the biggest highlights of his life in racing was when Duane Nichols put together the United States Super Circuit in the late 80s, Pratt said. "He tried to make a go of turning the top sportsman cars into a professional circuit," Pratt recalled. "That was fantastic, getting to meet all my racing idols."

The very first USSC event was held at MIR. Racing greats such as Bill Kuhlmann, Robbie Vandergriff, Norm Wizner, Mike Ashley, Ronnie Sox and "Animal Jim" Feurer were some of the racers who participated.

"It was like the beginning of Funnycars all over again," Pratt said, noting that the top sportsman cars of the day developed into the Pro Mod category.

"I got to hang out with some of the writers I'd been reading." John Asher, Jeff Burk and Brett Kepner -- the man who came up with the name "Pro Mod" -- were some of those writers Pratt got to meet.

In fact, Kepner now helps Pratt with the list. Originally he saw an ad for the book, ordered it, and was impressed, Pratt said. So impressed he helped Pratt by adding some of the more obscure racers he was familiar with that Pratt had overlooked.

But Pratt doesn't miss much. His web site is sophisticated, and offers users the chance to buy nostalgic videos and photos online, produced by long-time drag racing photographer Ray English.

Drag racing weaves its way into Pratt's personal life. His wife, Denise, to whom he's been married since 1989, supports his involvement. "She's into it," Pratt discloses. "She'd rather I wasn't on the computer so much, but at least she knows where I am."

In fact, Denise Pratt's father, Don Fender, along with Darrell Zimmerman, founded the first dragstrip in Colorado. Zimmerman went on to become the NHRA's Division 5 director.

The couple has two children; Jason, 6, and Emily, 3.

"They love it," Pratt says. "They both love going to the track, and they both love Bunny Burkett."

During the week Pratt calls the action as a telecommunications consultant, and expects to be working on the upcoming problems computers world-wide will experience when the calendar rolls into the year 2000.

"Although there's a kid in New Zealand who said he's cracked it," Pratt said. "It's going to be a daunting task."

He's a self-taught programmer, and much of the knowledge that helps him in his work he obtained while attempting to computerize his drag racing list. He's even developed a computer drag racing game with which players can choose to be any drag racer Pratt lists.

"Everybody that we've got currently we put them on a disk," he said. "The player can select a car in any category of his choice and race against anybody in that category." For $10 the game can be yours, and it, too, is available on the web site.

The site takes time to manage, though, and Pratt admits it's not easy. Family obligations beckon, and he does his best to answer. His six-year-old plays soccer, for instance, and such activities take time. "I'm probably on the computer about five hours each night, after they go to bed."

He says he'd "like nothing more than to stay home and build an empire" with his drag racing interest, but he realizes that may not happen. "I really don't think I'll make a lot of money out of it, it's too specialized a thing," he admits. "Only a small group of hardcore fans need to know what Joe Blow in Cleveland ran in Iowa."

But improvements to the web site are in the works. Pratt would like to create "hyperlinks" to many of the names on the list, enabling the user to click on the name and see a picture of the driver's car.

The list might not even exist to be improved if it weren't for Danny White, Pratt said. A bracket racer and Sunday school teacher in East Texas, White "brought the list back to life" when Pratt stopped doing the book for a couple years when he became so busy doing consulting work during Desert Storm that he "fell off the face of the Earth." Now White is the research editor for the Drag Racing List.

"He does most of the paper research," Pratt said.

The list "doesn't list winners and losers," it lists "that driver in that car for that year."

"I'd eventually like to make a snapshot of each year since 1950," Pratt said, although he doesn't keep track of racers by sanction. "I don't care if a guy can only afford to run one weekend a year. If he's out there, giving it a shot, he's got a place in my book."

And that includes the "quicker bracket racers," Pratt said. He has begun allowing the bracket racers to list themselves on the web site. "I can't go out and solicit those guys, but if they take the time to fill out the form, I'll list them."

Pratt has experts from around the world who help verify those lists and update them. "They know their local guys better than I do."

And Pratt receives subscriptions to publications such as National Dragster and Dragster Australia in return for a subscription to the list. "They see it as a valuable resource," he said.

Some of the people who value Pratt's work may surprise you. Robert Post, the technology curator for the Smithsonian Institute's Museum of American History, "is a big fan of the book," Pratt says.

by Craig Murto

 

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