Not sure this is going to affect too many sportsman racers; probably none; but it is noteworthy to admit some misgivings on the issue.
When the NHRA Countdown to the Championship originated in 2007, it came under fire from several proponents of the sport. It almost harkened back to the days prior to 1981 when the NHRA sportsman champs were those who won the final event of the year; some in Texas and finally when the Finals were moved to Ontario Motor Speedway in California. Not to downgrade those who were crowned champs in those days; guys like Joe Scott, Larry Kopp, Bernie Agaman, Bobbie Warren, and others; but there’s no doubt that a fairer system was the accumulation of points earned all year to crown a champ.
As a racer, I didn’t care for the Countdown due to the chance a person could win numerous races early in the year, falter in the six-race Countdown series and fail to earn the championship. Just didn’t seem right; and I have the same feelings toward the NASCAR championship, although that one is even harder to follow than the NHRA model.
However, there is little doubt the NHRA Countdown has created a massive amount of excitement going into both the last race prior to the Countdown (Indy) and the Finals at the end of the year. In the ensuing years after 2007, the Countdown has been tweaked slightly in that it has done exactly what it was intended to do; create excitement for the final races. One only has to look at last year’s Finals where Sunday’s final eliminations more or less determined championships.
If you’re not aware, only the top ten racers in each of the four pro classes after Indy get the chance to race for the championship. Now with the changes they made, should any racer who attends all of the pre-Countdown events and makes at least two qualifying passes; they too will be able to participate in the Countdown. This would mean that a guy; or girl; who might not really have the resources to be included in the top ten after Indy; yet can qualify to race for the championship by means of the aforementioned guidelines.
According to the NHRA release, “NHRA officials made this change in order to better reward driver endurance and encourage participation in regular season events.” Does this sound more like “participation awards;” which my associate Bobby Bennett so aptly put it; rather than performance based? This sort of reminds me about the participation awards now given out in schools. It was either my son or daughter who began playing basketball on a church league where we were told they weren’t going to keep score. What? How do you know who wins and loses?
If I read the release correctly, does this mean that a guy like Terry McMillen; who I’m not pointing any fingers at but one who has been on the cusp of not making the championship in previous years; now knows that going into the first race next week in Pomona, he will be part of the championship drive at the end of the year. All he has to do is show up at each event and make two qualifying passes. Could he; and again just using him as an example; sit back and glide through the year making sure that all he has to do is peak during the Countdown’s final six races? I seriously doubt he would, nor would any other racer; after all, winning is always what this is about. But they could. Could a person who never wins one round of racing qualify for the Countdown? You betcha!
So is this change a good idea or what? - JOHN DiBARTOLOMEO