Minter: The Suite Life Should Be At The Finish Line

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 1 2009

The action is at the other end.

The action is at the other end.

By Rick Minter | Senior Writer

Commerce, Ga. – Fans of every sport treasure their traditions. But it’s almost a given that if a sport is going to grow, those traditions have to be tweaked.

There’s an idea floating around in the NHRA – it’s actually been around for years –  that seems to have the potential of attracting more mainstream, NASCAR-conditioned fans. The idea is to switch some of the focus from the starting line to the finish line.

From a NASCAR fan’s way of thinking, the suites at a drag strip are on the wrong end of the race track, at the opposite end of the asphalt from where the cars cross the finish line, often in breath-taking, door-to-door duels at more than 300 miles per hour, followed by the amazing sight of popping parachutes.

Currently there are no suites overlooking and little attention being paid to the finish line among fans at drag strips. But surprisingly many of the NHRA’s old-school drivers see merit in turning the finish line into their sport’s new growth area.

Pro Stock veteran Greg Anderson said he’s not sure exactly why fans crowd around the starting line instead of the other end of the track.

“I guess they want to see the cars when they’re hardly moving,” he said with a chuckle.  He said that when he’s not racing, he’s usually not among the crowd behind the starting line.

“Me, myself, if I want to watch a race I go down by the finish line,” he said. “It gets my blood pumping to see a car come by there.

“When they’re moving at speed at the finish line it’s like a blur going by. You can hardly tell who it is, but absolutely, positively you feel a whole lot more at the finish line. The ground shakes, and you want to jump inside your skin.

“It’s not for the weak of heart. You have to build up a little resistance to it and become brave before you go down by that finish line.”

Funny Car driver Ron Capps said he sees more focus on the finish line in the future.

“That’s where I go when I watch,” he said. “The first track to put suites at the finish line – maybe starting at the 1,000-foot mark and going to the quarter mile – will be a big hit.

 “And I expect [track owner] Bruton Smith will be the one to do it.”

Capps said having quality seating at the finish line would allow the NHRA to showcase one of its great strengths.

“That’s where our sport is,” he said. “That’s where the scoreboard is. That’s where the speed is. That’s what separates our sport from everything else.”

 Capps envisions a time when the grandstands at a drag strip resemble those at a NASCAR race. “I see the sport eventually becoming a coliseum-type event, where it will be all enclosed,” he said. “There’s no reason you can’t pack them in like they do the NASCAR races in Bristol.”

And he believes NHRA’s hard-core fans would eventually accept the changes, especially since it wouldn’t significantly alter what goes on now.

“When we went to 1,000 feet after the death of Scott [Kalitta], the first couple of pairs of Funny Cars got booed,” he said. “But by the end of that session and the second session they were cheering. If the scoreboards hadn’t shown the speeds, no one would have known the difference. I don’t think they’d mind a big change like that.”

From hearing Funny Car driver Ashley Force Hood talk about her recent win at Houston, there’s room for improvement even further down the track, so driver’s emotions immediately after a race victory – or loss – could be better captured and portrayed for the masses.

“I watched the race a couple of days later, and I didn’t even know all that had happened,” she said. “Back at the starting line, my team was celebrating and getting interviewed and there was like a party going on up there.

“And I get out of the car there on the other end, and there were like a couple of people there, and it was very quiet. There was grass in the background. It was like a different world. You go from the extreme of being in a race car and going 300 miles an hour and winning to surreal and quiet.”

But, as Mrs. Force Hood points out, that’s the only place on the property that is quiet.

“There’s no bad spot to watch a race,” she said. “It depends on your preference. When we were growing up, we liked to sit at different places.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 1 2009
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