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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

Drag Racing or Formula 1?

An Aussie Fan's Thoughts on the
Inaccessibility of U.S. Pro Drag Racers

Hi Bill,

Just read your update on your trip to Richmond for the NHRA Race and the dilemmas you faced when trying to track down the stars of the pro classes. Its becoming a culture among the sport that is more and more like F1: very closed door. Which I think is really disappointing because it is the paying public who make these guys, and drag racing was never about being behind closed doors. 

I traveled to the US last year, attended the Seattle race at S.I.R., and was fortunate enough to have passes and we secured our seat in the bleachers. The prices though I thought were outrageous! And as a fan who cruised a lot of the pits and took a lot of photos, I was very disappointed that I did not see the likes of Eddie Hill, Bernstein, or Force that whole weekend, except walking up the return road, waving to us all. I met up with some of my Aussie compadres over in Seattle and we all drove to Sonoma together; they had been to the US before for racing so I was the novice out of us and in awe by its presence! A circus is an understatement! 

Scotty Cannon amazed us; the way he worked the fans, his constant banter, and intrigue made him a clear favorite in the nitro ranks. He raced a Top Doorslammer here in Australia during ‘97/'98 before taking the car built here by Murray Anderson back to the US to run. He was a firm favorite here as well, a pretty nice guy. However, I do believe that his business tactics at times can leave something to be desired! Joe Amato shocked me by the way he flippantly brushed off the crowd; there were heaps of fans lining up, all clamoring for their hero's autograph. After a few, he just re-capped the texta and went into the trailer, never to return. A few sour faces were seen on the crowd, and I don't blame them.

As a fan in Seattle, I found it to be exciting and new. Plus in Australia, we do not have races of this capacity anywhere. We do not have manufacturer displays like yours or the racing ability. So there was a lot of intrigue on my part, but I was let down. I was let down 'cos I went to the races to see my heroes; heroes like Force, Dixon, Prudhomme, Bernstein, etc., and well, they weren't around. Larry yes, he works on the car so any Dixon fan can see him work all day; signing is another thing. 

But I can understand the fact that when one is working on the car, it's a case of go, go, go, and fan demands can be overlooked. I know that ‘cos I am with a nitro car. Prudhomme wasn't really ever about. I never saw the others and I never saw Capps either. I thought to myself how "F1" it had become; what kind of culture was being developed here?

In Sonoma, I was on the other side of the fence. I was a crewmember so I had it easy; those guys were totally accessible to me, well pretty much. We were the rookies at Sonoma last year (Peter Russo, Aussie F/C) so we created a lot of intrigue. We were also lucky that the team owners have made firm relationships in the US from many previous trips with the likes of the Etchells', Richards', Medlens, Hofmanns and Denshams to name a few. So, we had a good footing to begin with. We were lucky that people wanted to help us; not many of the younger guys, but a lot of the guys that I mentioned before were more than willing to lend stuff, show us, and generally pop on over to the pit area and take us through some motions. 

Ronnie Swearingen was there, as were Lance Larsen, Al Hofmann, and his wife Helen; it was great. I was there amongst my heroes: laughing with them, mucking around, eating vegemite on toast with Ronnie! In the pit lane, we were approached by Force -- my first contact with the man! He was interested in the Aussies and wanted know who we were. So, he came up before we ran and introduced himself to Pete, Helen, and the rest of us. Before I knew it, I had my hero Force standing in front of me saying "Hi! I'm John Force; nice to meetchya!" and I somehow managed to blurt out my name in an audible fashion!

While we waited in the staging lanes I'd go and take a few pics; I was amazed by how many of the drivers make themselves hidden by sitting in the tow cars. And how some of them have signs on their trailers saying when they'll be available for fans.

I was lucky ‘cos I got to view things from both sides; but how many people have that chance, huh? I don't know why the NHRA pro drivers make themselves so inaccessible; it's so not drag racing! I follow F1 and I expect that kinda stuff from those guys ‘cos they have developed that elite attitude from the word go. So when they sign, God, it's a bonus! Some of them don't even sign, so if you can get into the paddock (if you know someone) you can get anyone's you want; ‘cos then you're on their ground!

I can't wait to go drag racing in the US again this year. If I had the money I'd be back for Seattle and Sonoma this year ‘cos Pete is running those races. But with my job, I have to wait ‘til November! (So if you know anyone willing to sponsor a F/C, let us know ‘cos we need some!) I love it to pieces; I love the atmosphere and the buzz, and I love the fans, ‘cos when you're out there on the start line, and you look up and all you can see is 40,000 people screaming for your car it's amazing! They helped make us in the US; we didn't do anything fantastic, but they helped make us welcome.

Think I have rambled enough now! C-ya on the start line and watch out for the Funny Car Refugee! By the way, Steve Harker is going great; it's a hard task, but he's doing great! So he should, too. Drag Racing in Australia doesn't deserve top racers like him or Cowin or Russo; the way that sport has been butchered of late it is no wonder many have considered other avenues! But don't get me started!

Catchya later,

Rachel Ratliff

 

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