Enders-Stevens Decision Is Bad News For NHRA
The decision by Elite Motorsports to sit out the next two NHRA national events is understandable. But, it’s also highly troubling.
Elite owner Richard Freeman made the decision public on Sunday at Bandimere Speedeway, site of the Mopar Mile-High Nationals. He said that his driver, Erica Enders-Stevens, would not compete at events in Sonoma, Calif. and Seattle.
Enders-Stevens has won four events in 2014, is the Pro Stock points leader and has already clinched a berth in the Countdown playoffs.
With the berth in the bag, Freeman has decided to sit. His stated reason was to better prepare for the Countdown, which begins in mid September in Charlotte, N.C.
“This has been the game plan for us from the start,” Freeman said.
“We’ve got some things we want to work on to prepare for the last few regular-season races and especially the Countdown. I really believe we’ll still be in the points lead, even skipping Sonoma and Seattle, or we’ll be close enough to get that No. 1 ranking back in the two races before the Countdown starts.”
Of course at the heart of the decision are economics. Elite has no primary sponsor so skipping the final two events of the NHRA’s Western Swing will save the team money.
And that is the understandable part.
The troubling part is the potential damage such decisions could have on the NHRA.
The NHRA, like all American racing series, continue to go through tough economic times. Sponsorship money is tough to come by for both teams and the series. And nobody is handing the NHRA billion-dollar television deals.
Even the top teams are being affected. John Force Racing is scrambling to replace longtime cash source Castrol, for example.
Might other teams who lock into future playoffs follow Elite’s lead and decide, why run a full schedule? What’s the incentive for spending money on a playoff berth that you already own?
Could this become a trend in the NHRA? Might late-summer NHRA events become watered-down to the point of being unpalatable?
This coming weekend in Sonoma, fans will be buying tickets for an event in which the Pro Stock points leader and one of the biggest stories of the year in the NHRA, will not be competing. Same thing the week after in Seattle.
Many fans, one suspects, may not care. Many may care. Especially Pro Stock lovers, Enders-Stevens lovers, female driver loves who bought tickets before Sunday’s Elite announcement. Today, some of those folks may be wondering if the time has come to become former fans.
And what must ESPN be thinking in the wake of Sunday’s announcement? A series which has been iffy in terms of ratings in the past could be even a little more iffy the next two weeks/broadcasts.
The situation puts the NHRA in a tough spot. What can Tom Compton and his folks in Glendora do?
The obvious solution is to legislate against skipping races.
But doing that assumes that teams like Elite actually have enough money to compete a full season, but are skipping races simply to fatten already healthy bank accounts. Without seen teams’ books, who knows if that is the case or not?
Might the NHRA opt for scheduling fewer events in the future? There are some stops on the schedule that are suffering hard times at the turnstiles. But fewer events and, hence, diminished exposure, could produce a whole new set of economic problems.
The only real solution for this problem is a massive resurgence of interest in the NHRA and a consequent injection of cash by way of a real television deal.
And in these times, that means there probably is no real solution.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at email@example.com Comments