Monday, June 15, 2009


RINGING THE BELL: NHRA President Tom Compton stands at the podium of the New York Stock Exchange last week to ring the prestigious -- if ceremonial -- opening bell. Full Throttle series drivers (left-to-right, amidst sponsor executives) Eddie Krawiec, Bob Tasca III, Ashley Force Hood, Tony Pedregon, Morgan Lucas, Karen Stoffer and Antron Brown joined Compton. It was one of those moments that helps draw mainstream, non-sports, media coverage to drag racing. And, gain it added respect in corporate, media and public sectors. See NHRA on Fox Business, with Alexis Glick, here:

NASCAR, like America and the world, is changing before our eyes.

I hope you have noticed.

While there's new political leadership in Washington, D.C., down in Daytona Beach, Fla., there's the same leadership but with a changed philosophy. With Sprint Cup at Michigan last weekend, I couldn't help but remember it was only one year ago, at the same track, that NASCAR held its infamous and what came to be known as its "Shut Up and Race" meeting with drivers. But it was only a few weeks ago that France, Helton et al called a Town Hall meeting with drivers and owners to hear varied opinions on the issues of the day. That's about as close to a 180-degree turn as you're ever likely to see in NASCAR.

With TV ratings down like a flat Goodyear at the Brickyard, empty seats (Michigan's worst-in-the-national economy made it surprising that many people showed up at MIS), and now manufacturer cutbacks born of bankrupt GM and Chrysler, Brian and Mike and Co. had better be open to suggestions.

Of course, Michigan also marked one year since Dale Earnhardt Jr. found his way to a victory lane. The sport's most popular athlete finished 14th Sunday, and now is 12th-27th-14th in three tries with new crew chief Lance McGrew. He's 255 points out of the last Chase position and it's difficult to imagine how he's going to make it. I can't help but wonder the magnitude of erosion of Junior's passionate fan base if his terrible slump continues. That would be yet another WWF-style body blow to NASCAR and especially Fox, TNT and ESPN.

If one needed any more proof of how the NASCAR landscape is moving, the organization now is planting trees in "a program to help capture the carbon emissions produced by racing. Under a pilot program that will expand significantly next year, NASCAR will plant 10 new trees for each green flag that drops during NASCAR Sprint Cup Series events" read the announcement.

CEO Brian France called it a "first, important step in an ambitious five-year plan to significantly reduce the environmental footprint of NASCAR, while raising awareness of conservation among fans.” It's said all Cup tracks will be involved by next season with the purpose of mitigating "100 percent of the carbon emissions produced by the race cars competing in their Sprint Cup Series events."

It's only in recent times that NASCAR began using unleaded gasoline. (!) (I could hear Scott Atherton chuckling all the way from Le Mans.)

Now, it's even being hinted that officials are open to some CoT modifications. While they hadn't built a stone wall against the garage-area tide of that idea, the decision-makers weren't exactly welcoming the talk, either. (Hence, "Shut Up and Race.") Best to bring on those fixes, because Michigan wasn't exactly a buzz generator, entertainment-wise, even though typical MIS fuel mileage issues produced an interesting last lap.

Will the changes in Washington and Daytona make our country, and the stock car sport, better?

I don't know. In fairness, it's too soon to know. But I do know we'd all be screaming for the leaders to "do something" if they had simply chosen to stand still.
Following such legendary Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing drivers as Mario and Michael Andretti, Nigel Mansell, Paul Tracy and Sebastien Bourdais isn't the most stress-free task I can think of. But that's what Graham Rahal is doing. The McDonald's Honda driver will be the Newsmaker of the Week guest on my radio show, The Race Reporters, this Wednesday at 7 p.m. EDT on .

Media panelists will be: Holly Cain, of AOL Sports; Mark Armijo, Arizona Republic contributor; and Tim May, of the Columbus Dispatch.

The show will re-air several times during the week. Check the daily listings on the PowerUpChannel home page for those dates/times. Please use The Race Reporters information page to bookmark the show, sign-up to receive an "E card" with news of upcoming guests, and to hear the show's promotional spot: .

The Race Reporters podcast is on iTunes:
Here's a link to my June "All Business" column in Drag Racing Online. It's part two of my look at ESPN2's NHRA coverage:

[ Graham Rahal news nugget and radio show audio link later this week . . . ]