I guess the big news this past week in the sport of drag racing, bracket racing in particular… I guess you can assume what that’s about. The largest advertised purse ever paid out in the history of our sport, regardless of class, was the $525,000 paid to the winner of the SFG race this past weekend in Michigan.
I didn’t attend but kept a close eye on it through the MotorMania.TV website and whatever Facebook posts; of which there were numerous; I saw. In case you’ve been living under a rock the past week, the event drew in over 600 entries with from what I saw, over 700 for one of the races which bookended the main event held on Saturday. The outcome of that was racing at all hours of the night until early morning of the following day.
Obviously, it was a grand slam home run for the promoter not to mention 19-year old Gage Burch who defeated former Million Dollar Race winner Johnny “Bracket Racer” Ezell in the final. And the fact that Mr. Burch was driving a door car; or truck as it might be; which have typically been fodder for the many dragsters which show up, makes it even more impressive if you ask me. But I’ve never really sat down and put a pencil to the numbers to see just how much of a home run was hit. It is obvious that Mr. Burch didn’t walk out of there with $525,000 as purse begins to be split up when the field gets down to double digits; 10-20 cars. None of that is really anyone’s business other than those who had a dog in the fight. Regardless, it was still an impressive event.
However, racing to all hours of the night is going to takes its toll at some point. Let’s face it, most of us are asleep by 9:00 these days anyway. That being said, I’m no longer a fan of nighttime racing. Yes, we’re all getting older and it’s harder to see at night, but that’s not why I’m not a fan. My concern is that we’re playing a game of thousandths-of-a-second which is hard enough to see in the daytime, let alone at night. Then there’s the concern of overlooking something on your car because it’s too dark to see once back at your trailer.
The next concern I have is “Are we racing for the money or the trophy.”
When I started racing (no wise-guy old-guy comments) we raced for trophies. Then one track operator began paying $10 or a trophy. Naturally I had enough of those plastic things so the $10 began to look more inviting. Then another track operator began paying more than just the $10 and we were off racing with them. Ron Leek at Byron Dragway offered a then unheard of $5,000-to-win event in Illinois, and I think you can guess where we went.
Now the truth is that very few will ever see a profit from drag racing, even if you were to win the whole $525,000. Well, maybe $525 will help you show a profit for the year but… We’re now seeing racers abandoning the normal weekend events to save up money to attend one of the many high dollar events which are held on just about any weekend of the year. The result of that is the dwindling car counts for a regular old run of the mill Saturday or Sunday race. Why run for $1,000-to-win when you can race for $10,000 or more?
A little bit of history… When the local weekend events ran classes like Super Stock, Comp. Modified; the classes now run at NHRA nationals and divisionals; you’d end up with a lot of the heavyweights of the day running every weekend locally. Then the nationals and divisionals became more inviting, so those heavyweights abandoned the local tracks leaving track operators to scratch their heads finding an alternative. They found it in bracket racing. Maybe history is repeating itself with bracket racers abandoning the local events to run for the big dollars where the competition is getting tougher with each passing race.
I can remember days when if 100 cars showed up in the staging lanes for first round, you could probably choose 25 of them who would be down in the late rounds. Nowadays, if 100 show up, at least 99 of them are competitive enough to win. Blame it on whatever you want, but that’s the truth. Which means everyone is capable of winning, so why bother running for the aforementioned $1,000 when you could easily hit a big one? Makes sense.
The only concern is the money gets easily spent, so what do you have left? Now I will tell you that I’m the first one who will choose to race for the money. After all, if I’m going to win something, why wouldn’t I go for the money. But sometimes I have to question that too. What sane person wouldn’t. Then again though, if we were sane… oh forget it.
What’s the answer to all of this? Not sure.
I do think that drag racing; at least in the form of bracket racing; is becoming no different than high stakes gambling. Each year millions of people venture to places like Vegas and AC with the dreams of hitting it big. Very few do but they all continue to go. I only hope these high dollar races continue to sustain interest from the bracket racing public. Because the only way they’re able to pay out the purses they do is through high entry fees. They certainly aren’t making it on the spectator gate. Although when you think about it, how popular are any of the high stakes’ poker tournaments seen on television? Watching them to me is like watching paint dry unless I know someone who’s in it. Yet I’m sure they’re gathering enough ratings to make them viable at least for cable TV. Maybe one day, high stakes bracket racing will be as popular.
I know for me, watching a bunch of grown men; if you want to call them that; run well over 100 mph and more at the finish line trying, to tighten up the stripe by a mere thousandths-of-a-second seems more impossible than attempting to draw a straight 21 at the blackjack table. That said though, it’s getting pretty hard to put up a run package in the single digits. -John DiBartolomeo