Geiger Counter: Nitro on the water
Considering my chosen profession, there aren't many motorsports "firsts" left for me, but I still managed to cross one more massive item off my bucket list this past weekend when I attended my first Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series event at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
What a treat, and what a wonderful way to spend the weekend. From Series Director Mike Chastain to the hardworking Rescue Crew to the people driving and working on the race boats, I could not have had a better time or felt more welcomed.
The racing was insane. I was lucky enough to witness a world record pass in the premiere Top Fuel Hydro class when Bryan Sanders reached 268.40 mph during his race-winning 3.451-second pass. The rooster tail of water coming off his boat was at least 100-foot high all the way down the 1,000-foot course and the crowd went nuts.
All the categories were cool to watch, and I love the old-school way each boat has a boss name. "Nitrochondriac," "Shazam," "What A Tomato" (driven by a dude named Pizza, for real), "Top Secret" and "Desperado," just to name the winners, gives you an idea of the fun these folks are having out there on the water.
I don't know where one can find a better entertainment option. For a $20 race day ticket, fans get non-stop excitement from five pro categories -- Top Fuel Hydro, Top Alcohol Hydro, Top Alcohol Flat, Pro Modified and Pro Outlaw -- and six Sportsman classes -- Pro Eliminator, Top Eliminator, Modified Eliminator, Stock Eliminator, River Racer and Personal Watercraft.
I strongly recommend attending an event (check out the 2017 schedule at LucasOilDragBoats.com) and bring some friends. It's a really laidback and fun environment and the racing was superb.
Geiger Counter: March Madness of a different variety, NHRA losing its grip on reality
NHRA has done a lot of really stupid things over the years but asking three-time world champion Larry Dixon to remove a sponsor sticker because it promoted an event at a non-NHRA track is pretty damn asinine.
There are so many reasons this was a poor decision by Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Graham Light. First of all, let's think about the show NHRA currently presents to its fans. For a pricey $74 a head, fans attending this weekend's Gatornationals get to watch 15 Top Fuel dragsters compete for the trophy. That's the same number of dragsters that showed up at the first two races of the season. A full field, of course, requires 16 entries, so fans have yet to see that this year.
Racing for the first time as a team owner/driver, Dixon managed to make it out to this event with a little help from Lucas Oil and Cordova International Raceway, the offending group he was forced to remove from his car. The rest of his expenses, in fact the majority of his expenses, are coming out of his own pocket.
Longtime fans will remember that Dixon started as a crew guy and worked his way into the driver's seat of Don "the Snake" Prudhomme's dragster. He wasn't born rich and hasn't become wealthy as a driver. He's racing because he loves the sport, and his sponsors and fans love his passion.
The sticker he was forced to remove promoted the 64th annual World Series of Drag Racing at Cordova, which takes place Aug. 25-27, and therefore does not conflict with any NHRA national event. Cordova is an IHRA track, the sticking point of this whole deal.
"Once upon a time, like back in the '70s, there was a big rivalry between NHRA and IHRA," Dixon said. "But that was 40-plus years ago. The IHRA is sportsman only this year. They are running zero pro categories. The World Series deal is a one-off spectator show. I can't understand how the NHRA can feel threatened in any way by this deal."
Ironically, and in a delicious twist of fate, the stink raised by the laughable insecurities of NHRA has given the World Series of Drag Racing way more publicity than it would have received if nothing had ever been said. Several major news outlets have picked up the story, making NHRA look utterly pathetic for forcing Dixon's hand.
Peter Clifford and staff, please listen to the fans -- worry about things that directly affect the product you are selling and leave the racers to raise the funding they need to keep this circus tent up. You are the King Kong of drag racing. This event isn't going to affect your bottom line in any way. You have incomplete pro fields, for goodness sake. If Dixon wasn't here you'd have 14 dragsters. Please let common sense prevail.
Geiger Counter: Too insane to turn away -- Top Fuel Harleys
(March 5, 2017) I have really enjoyed watching the daredevils in the Top Fuel Harley category at the first two national events of the season, and judging by the reaction of the crowds, and the incredible coverage FOX TV has been giving the exhibition class, I'd say I'm not alone.
What's really neat to see, as a long-time professional observer of drag racing, is the multitude of professional drivers that make their way to the starting line when the bikes are running. Maybe it's the novelty, but I tend to think it's more about the massive amount of respect and wonderment fellow drag racers have for these brave riders.
Just watching the competitors suit up gives you a real indication of how crazy these racers must be to ride one of these 1,000-horsepower, nitro-burning Harley-Davidsons. Aside from the steel-toe boots, gloves and helmets that most bikers wear, these racers add a spine protector, extra-thick leather suits from Vanson that feature fire retardant material on the right leg because that's where the header belches out huge flames during the run, and a bulletproof Kevlar vest as a final form of protection against any sort of catastrophic engine failure.
Did I mention the riders feel the need for the Kevlar vest because they stretch themselves out like Superman over the 200-inch motor? Yeah, there's that too.
There are no roll cages or even emergency runway foam lining the sides of the track. These dudes are simply hanging it all out there.
"We do everything we can to keep the riders safe," said team owner Craig Caulk, who plans to join the tour in Houston with rider Brian Jernigan. "But the old adage in our class is that there's two types of Top Fuel Harley riders -- those who have wrecked and those that are going to wreck. These things are just so wild it's just about certain something will happen during a given race season. We just aren't smart enough to stop."
That's the spirit!
If you want to keep score, Rickey "Sharky" House of Humble, Texas (the "H" in silent, by the way) is your current points leader on his Nitro Shark Harley having won Phoenix and taking runner-up honors in Pomona. He is 20 points ahead of Tarheel Jay Turner, who beat House in Pomona after Rickey red-lighted in the final. Sharky also is my neighbor in Texas as he lives in the town next to mine (I'm a few miles away in Kingwood). I'm quite sure this motivates him to no end.
As for elapsed times and top speeds this year, well Rickey has been the quickest so far, running a 6.227 in Round 1 in Phoenix. Canadian Mike Pelrine has the best speed, topping out at 227.84 mph, also during Round 1 in Phoenix.
Do yourself a favor and pay attention to this class when you come to your next NHRA race where they will be running -- basically, all the ones where Pro Stock Motorcycle does not compete -- or watching the races on FOX. You will not be disappointed.
Geiger Counter: Giving credit where credit is due
(Feb. 22, 2017) I like to give credit where credit is due, so I wanted to take a minute and thank NHRA President Peter Clifford for having the foresight to move up Friday's qualifying sessions in Pomona to beat the incoming rainstorms.
I took a moment to say something directly to Peter during the race and he was quick to deflect my praise to his staff but everything starts and ends at his desk so I'm giving him most of the credit.
While it might not sound like a big deal, for the NHRA it actually set a new precedence because in my two-plus decades covering the sport, it had never happened. They'll shuffle the poor sportsman racers around like they are useless chattel, but they always try to keep the pros on schedule. Even when everyone in the free world knows it's going to rain buckets at "X" o'clock, in the past they simply would not move the pros around for anything.
I once had this (paraphrased) conversation with a past president.
Me: With today's text and e-mail systems the way they are, why don't you guys move up today's sessions to avoid rain and simply text all the drivers and crew chiefs your plans.
PP: We can't do that.
Me: Why not?
PP: We're a professional sports and pro sports don't do that.
Me: Seriously? I'm an Astros season ticket holder and they'll move a 7 p.m. start to a 1 p.m. start at 10 a.m. on the day of the game if they feel like it gives them a better chance to get it done. They do it multiple times a season and the stadium has a roof! They'll do it to help people avoid street flooding.
PP: Umm, well, uh…we're not going to do that. We never have before so that's the way we do it.
Me: #$%@^&* NHRA!
By Peter taking the steps to move Friday's sessions forward the fans benefitted the most by seeing a lot more action than would have taken place if NHRA stuck to the original schedule. We still lost some pairings to rain but not near as many as we would have.
To date, Peter has my respect. Not just for this move but for his willingness to listen, attend all of the events and go into each pit to say hello and talk with the drivers and team owners. I also think he has done a masterful job getting NHRA on FOX TV.
There is lots left to improve, but so far so good for this regime.
Good job Peter and staff.
GEIGER COUNTER REBORN
(Feb. 20, 2017) For many years I wrote the "Geiger Counter" column for NHRA.com. I'm pleased to announce it will now be resurrected here at DragRacingEdge.com, the online home of Drag Racing Edge magazine. Thanks to Brett Underwood and John DiBartolomeo for giving me this chance to once again stretch my journalistic legs.
We have big plans for this website with a goal of bringing our readers the best in drag racing news from a number of different areas. We will lean heavily on unique coverage of NHRA pro and sportsman racing, but we'll also include news from all the other sanctions around the world, including other forms of drag racing like the wildly popular Lucas Oil Drag Boat Series. Who knows, we may even cover RuPaul.
Everything you will read here is a complement to Drag Racing Edge magazine, which has become a "must read" item for drag racers and fans in just over a year of its existence. If you haven’t subscribed to the magazine, I encourage you to do so through an easy-to-use link on this site.
This column is my way of bringing readers a different perspective of any number of drag racing topics. Having covered and lived this sport for two decades, there are lots of things I see and hear that will be fun to share with all of you. Everything you read in this column represents my own thoughts, not those of Brett, Johnny D or anyone else affiliated with Drag Racing Edge.
While it's been quite awhile since I wrote the Geiger Counter for NHRA.com, I still have fans reach out to me at the races and/or online to tell me they miss my column. It's humbling to say the least, and I hope you tell everyone it's back so we can really grow this thing.
Finally, a quick explanation of the column's name. Sure it's a play on my last name and the little machines named after inventor Hans Geiger (no relation that I know of, at least he didn't leave me any money), who designed the Geiger Counter device, which detects radiation. More importantly, I use the name to honor my late father Jack Geiger, who penned the original "Geiger Counter" column in the Rome Daily American newspaper in Italy, where he kept expats up-to-date with sports news from the United States back in the 1950s and '60s. Dad died when I was 9 so sadly I don't remember much of our interactions any more but I like to think I inherited my love for writing from him.
Come back often. It's going to be a great ride.