It’s hard to believe the sport of drag racing died 30 years ago back in 2020. A sport which was founded about a century ago by Wally Parks when he was the editor of another defunct print magazine, Hot Rod. For those of you unfamiliar with the sport, it was two guys, and sometimes gals, lining up next to one another and racing from a standing start to a quarter-mile down the track.
Could the death have been attributed to that coronavirus in 2020? Some of you may not be old enough to remember then, but it appeared as if a deadly virus began in China and made its way throughout the world infecting hundreds of thousands and killing almost as many. There was no vaccine or drug available as of then, unlike today. People were urged to stay inside away from others and wear masks when in public to stop the spread of the disease. Hard to believe with the medical breakthroughs we have today that that would have been effective, but it apparently was. In any event, the pandemic created a world-wide economic disaster.
Back then, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) was the sanctioning body which put on 24 major events a year with an emphasis on cars powered by nitromethane fuel. It was pretty explosive and maybe likened to a bomb going off inside the internal combustion engine. They also ran a bunch of other classes but none that garnered the excitement of the fans like nitro.
That year, 2020, they had already run two of their national events before one in Florida, termed as the Gatornationals in March. It was a day before that race was to begin when President Trump (yes, the businessman) called for a lockdown of the country. The NHRA was then forced to postpone the Gatornationals. There were more of their national events “postponed” with a revised schedule to begin as early as August, which never really materialized. The problem was that in addition to drag racing, all other sports were put on hold and the American public was painfully forced to watch reruns of past sporting events on the dozen or so sports channels they had back then. Imagine that happening with the 63 sports channels we have today?
Some sports returned and played with no fans in the stands. The problem was that most of those included financially sweetened television rights packages, paid by television to continue. The NHRA had nothing like that for their events and instead relied on fans to pay the actual purse of the event. Drag racing without fans meant no income for the organization, and with no income… well, I guess you can imagine what happened.
Oh, try as they might, as there was a number of “plans” floated about to help the fledging sanctioning body, but none were successful. Drag racing still continued in a number of local venues but then the glut of population began to make the tracks more profitable from a real estate standpoint than a race track. At one time there were over 200 sanctioned drag strips in operation across the US, not to mention dozens more unsanctioned facilities.
In 1980, the US population sat at 226-million. By 2020, it was 330-million. Now in 2050, the number is 900-million. With more people than places to house them, the sell-off of race tracks made more sense to property owners which closed up whatever remaining tracks were left after the economic shutdown of 2020.
And powered by the internal combustion engine, which had its own pollution issues, drag racing succumbed to its injuries. Efforts to revive it with race cars powered by electric motors failed to generate any fan excitement due to their lack of noise. Mindful of the expense of racing itself, a number of competitors just outright quit, and the lack of young people who became more interested in video games than the automobile might have been the final nail in the coffin. RIP Drag Racing 2020.
…Okay, wait a minute. What is this BS? Hopefully you made it down this far in the read, but as you can tell, it’s just that, BS. Drag racing will not die. It has taken on a life all its own, so that even if the NHRA were to go out of business; highly unlikely but; you’d still have a ton of small track facilities and events taking place. It may be true that we don’t have too many first generation kids getting involved, but there are a ton of second, third and sometimes fourth generation who want to be involved. As long as there are at least two people who want to face off to see who is the better person, drag racing will always live.
At least we all hope so.
Our thanks to Tommy Lee Byrd for the photos of Shuffletown Dragway and Hudson Drag Strip in North Carolina from his book Lost Drag Strips: Ghosts of Quarter Miles Past. To order teh book, visit https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Drag-Strips-Quarter-Cartech/dp/1613250452