Drag Racing as a drug and the future of drag racing

My wife calls me a pessimist because I see dark clouds and say it looks like rain. Sure, it doesn’t always rain but experience says it’s a very good indicator so I call myself a realist.
What does this have to do with cars? Bear with me.

Since I was old enough to read my dad’s Super Stock & Drag Illustrated magazines I’ve wanted to drag race. Last August I finally built a car specifically to fulfil that desire and stomping the go pedal on my Ford Country 1957 Ford is a thrill that only intensifies with more passes.

I grew up playing competitive sports and since an elbow injury sidelined my squash game nearly eight years ago I haven’t had anything to replace the juice that good competition provides. Racing does that and the power and noise of it is intoxicating. When you lose a lot can be blamed on the car but just as much blame, probably more, can be heaped on the driver. The chance to measure your progress — whether it is increasingly quicker reaction times, E.T.s or top speeds — happens every time you stage. It’s a blast.

But sometimes I worry about the health of this sport in Canada. One of the reoccurring themes at events I’ve attended in the past year and a half is plenty of guys racing but not many paying to watch. Isn’t this where track owners make their money? In Canada sanctioned 1/4 mile tracks are few and far between and some are not in such great shape.

Recently while watching Youtube videos of a nostalgia funny car event in Calgary I noticed how empty the stands were. This is the most exciting class in a burgeoning nostalgia race scene and yet in the clips I watched almost nobody was there to see it. Add to that the city of Calgary badly wants the land and you have a track that might not be around when the lease runs out in 2012.

One of the biggest crowds I’ve seen in the past two years was at an Arm Drop Live event hosted by Pinks All Out host Rich Christensen at Toronto Motorsports Park. Some guys hate the Pinks host but track promoters probably love him. We have a one-time annual event on Vancouver Island called Thunder in the Alberni Valley which takes place over two days at the Alberni Valley Airport. There are good crowds at this event every year rain or shine, but the once-a-year nature of the event is probably the main reason.

The island’s last true ¼ mile drag strip, Van Isle Dragways, closed in the 1970s and nobody’s stepped up to replace it yet. I see the same thing at local stock car tracks – lots of room in the stands on any given Saturday night. I once had a conversation with a track owner who said putting together races was mostly a money losing proposition. He had to rent the track to corporate track days or host music concerts to make money. It can’t be a good thing when the people most interested in what is happening are the people

driving the cars on the track. As racers and track owners we need to figure out how to get the crowds back to the races. We can’t just show up, have our fun, and go home anymore. There are far too many simple minded politicians, local officials and “environmentalists” targeting motorsports and old cars as irresponsible remnants of an oil-drenched past. It makes it easy to shut down tracks when there is no percentage in owners putting up a fight. It also makes the construction of new facilities an almost non-existent possibility, at least in Canada.

The recent resurgence of seldom used airports for semi-regular drag racing events is a sign there is participant interest in the sport. But these are usually non-profit events successful thanks to entry fees and local sponsor contributions.

Growth, improvement of equipment or facilities and even increased frequency of events is hampered by being non-profit. Add to that you’re at the mercy of local officials who have, in some cases, begrudgingly made the facility available in the first place.

Sanctioning bodies such as the NHRA and IHRA seem to have healthy participation and fan attendance but as in any sport the grassroots participation is a good indicator of the future health of a sport.

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Drag Racing as a drug and the future of drag racing

  • September 6, 2015 at 9:16 pm

    my comment is probably too long to fit into this box but lets try. Paying crowds is not the place to start in this endeavor. people that love cars can and would happily part with the money to keep quarter mile racing alive. there are people who build em and there are people who buy em but they all want to see how fast they will go. I am currently building a car and am at least still a year away from finishing but there are already a lot off people lining up to race me.
    where am I going to test my car. how will I know if it goes straight. how will I tweek the carb without doing it on public roads. im on the island in Qualicum .the land of retired old guys with wicked rides. I unfortunately am not retired and I need my drivers licence to survive . we here on the island are geographically restricted and we need to be able to fend for ourselves without travelling on a stinking ferry. there are so many of us now here I cant believe that we cant get our shituff together to get a strip where we can have fun , be safe , test our cars , race with friends , and introduce our kids to motorsports.
    there must be enough of us that if we all put our heads and cash together we could do it . Most of us im sure are not rich. we cant support a pro race car. we have our own cars of all types. we are grass roots as rich c would say . but we would all pay $250 bucks to test our cars against our friends or along the way as we tweek and build in a safe and legal place . I know that I would if there was a place anywhere between vic and Campbell that I could go to play with my car I would be happy to pay $250 for a Friday night and Saturday till noon and im only talking about maybe 8 runs in all. you could squeeze a lot of 250 payers into a weekend
    Is this idea really that impossible ?

  • February 21, 2016 at 2:21 am

    Terry you hit the nail on the head !!!
    As an old drag racer I have the same concerns as you what will happen to our sport and tracks in the future ? Trust me I am the opposite of you I am a true optimist so when I start to worry we all should start worrying !

    Yes we have the car counts at our tracks but empty seats ,this is not good since that is how tracks made their money in the past !

    My home track is Saskatchewan International Raceway just a few miles south of Saskatoon Saskatchewan. The track was built in 1966 by a gentleman named Les Howard .
    Les had a vision and the man loved drag racing . He liked racing so much that in the 1980’s Mr. Howard built his home right out the back of the staging lanes. Now that is commitment !!
    SIR will be celebrating it’s 50th anniversary this August 17-20th 2016. Sir is the oldest continuously run sanctioned 1/4 mile drag strip in western Canada !!
    Please visit the SIR website to see more on the track history . In 1993 Les sold the facility to the non-profit club known as the Saskatchewan Drag Racing Association. (SDRA).
    This in my opinion was the main reason the track has survived through thick and thin mostly thin like most tracks after the hay day of drag racing .
    Because it is run by people who love the sport the racers themselves and they take no salaries per say.
    Some members in the past have even jumped in to secure loans when the track was first purchased to repave it and buy new timing equipment !! I believe that the SDRA members past and present has kept SIR alive .
    there were tracks in Calgary which have now gone bigger multi racing facilities that have lost their battles with land developers or being shut down due to noise even if the tracks were there years before.
    To address the other fellows comments !! here is a quick comment to build a drag strip today it takes at least 1.5-2.0 million just to get a reasonable track built if someone donates the land !! I live in Regina and we have tried to help or get someone to partner up with us to get one in our city and over the last 50 years it has never happened !!
    The city here has land just outside the city where the stock car track and motor cross are located but we have never been successful in getting even with the free land !! no one can raise enough money !!

    This is why we must keep SIR alive I truly believe that is our only hope to keep drag racing alive in Saskatchewan and if we lose SIR even after 50 years I do not think we may see another. It does not matter that we had drag racing royalty come through it’s gates such as TV Tommy Ivo or Jerry the King Ruth, Gordie Bonin Kenny Achs , Frank Rupert ,Abe Loewen and others a list a 1/4 mile long I am sure !! Yet none of that matters today. Today street classes and the addition of the jr. drag racing league help a lot because parents and grand parents want to see their kids race !! In Saskatchewan it also helps that we do not have a lot of other sports to try for our entertainment dollars except for the Saskatchewan Rough Riders football club !! hehehe do not want to go up against the Riders !!!

  • November 20, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    We used to go through tech weigh the car and give the cubes. We were put in a class with the same tech. Your car had to be at the top of its class to win. That was competition.
    They stopped that. You could run anything, you ran against your own ET and people stopped attending.

    When a Ford falcon runs the quarter in 24 seconds and you have time for a cigarette while your watching 1 pass people stop coming and tracks close.

    When the weekend is over and the only ones who made any money is the insurance company tracks close.

    When track owners are uncivilized and cant be trusted tracks close. You end up seeing the same 5 cars every weekend. People go back to the street.

    We have closed highways everywhere in the country. Politicians claim they want drag racers off the street. Why cant we utilize these roads in cooperation with the county and province.

    Ive been around this sport for awhile. It will survive. If we cant find ways of keeping it legal it will be on the street.


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