Saturday was a Halloween Eve Horrow Show at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. I was there for the NHRA Nationals, and I have never, ever, seen such a bizarre day at any racetrack ever. Crash-after-crash, oildown-after-oildown, incident-after-incident resulted in hours-long delays in both qualifying sessions. Pro quals were to wrap around 4:30 p.m. but were still running at 9. I felt sorry for Jeff Wolf, writer-on-deadline, for the Las Vegas Review-Journal!
In a sense, this is the downside to strong car counts, because some of the machines were held together with spit and gum. I respect anyone who wants to be a racer, but . . . There was a lack of professionalism in some cases, and a lack of respect for the sport as a whole. I thought the crowd was very good Saturday and excellent Sunday, but . . . while, there definitely was some GREAT racing (Matt Hagan vs. John Force, 1-2 in Funny Car points, in the finals is one example -- Force won), I don't think four-second bursts of terrific racing can overcome long, terribly long, delays as far as cultivating repeat customers is concerned.
Some well-funded racers had issues, too. Robert Hight got sideways on his last run and failed to qualify. On that same run, Jeff Diehl turned sideways, the throttle stuck, and he had a huge accident. Happily, he walked away. Every drag racing expert I asked, ranging from NHRA "voice" Bob Frey to senior VP of competition Graham Light, said they had never experienced a day like it. I sure haven't, including the most wacko days I've ever spent at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was Example One why drag racing can't have live TV.
This isn't a rip on NHRA, although I continue to believe dropping the fines and point penalties for oildowns was a mistake, and a decision that MUST be reversed. No question NHRA's Safety Safari did the best they could to get the track ready under most trying circumstances. I would say, however, NHRA must make a very careful, round-by-round review -- and not allow regional competitors to return, the ones who have proven they simply can't or won't put a reasonably prepared machine on the track. It was more than lack of budget. There were some who exhibited lazy work, and the result of that lack of work ethic was a terribly embarrassing national event. LVMS said Sunday ticket holders can come back free for this weekend's Lucas finals.
I talked with Light about this late Sunday afternoon. A couple of times he rightful pointed to the stands and said, "Those are the most important people here." He said he did send a couple of teams home. Don't be surprised at some response from NHRA before Pomona. In fact, from a PR standpoint, I'd say there is no choice.
I'm glad none of the accidents ended in injury. Taken as a whole, it was the worst racing event I've ever attended in my life.
P.S. -- Summit Racing Pro Stock team owner Ken Black made his racetrack return following a stroke . . . Nicely done: Video tribute to Jeff Byrd during pre-race ceremonies.
FAST LINES: Entertainment media reports say NBC is developing a NASCAR-themed family drama, The Crew, for the next TV season. NASCAR's cooperation is being sought, including use of logos, etc. To me, the timing doesn't seem too good for such a project, although I understand NASCAR would like the exposure and some revenue. But no one should think this would be the next Days of Thunder. If the TV show bombs, it will be just another talking point on how NASCAR's popularity has gone downhill . . . Congratulations to Paul Page, who recently received the Sagamore of the Wabash, the state of Indiana's highest honor . . . How far have standards of conduct fallen? Look no further than Jon Stewart calling the President of the U.S. "dude" to his face. This lowering of the bar hurts all of us . . . Please look for my NASCAR story in this Sunday's Arizona Republic. Mark Armijo and I will have coverage of the Phoenix International Raceway events all next week. If you're not in the state to buy the paper, check us out on http://azcentral.com/ .
[ more next Monday . . . ]