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Enders-Stevens Decision Is Bad News For NHRA

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 23 2014

Pro Stock points leader Erica Enders-Stevens will not race at Sonoma and Seattle. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

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 jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 23 2014
18 Comments

18 Comments »

  • mike says:

    I for one don’t think espn does a bad job. I DVD the race when ever it is on and watch it monday or Tuesday. I don’t agree with adding alcohol classes to the TV package. The casual fan only wants to watch the fuel and pro stock cars. I generally fast forward past motorcycle.

  • keith says:

    one prob is Graham Light bad attitude and i love all the racing but when im watching pro stock which i love they show an interview of a fuel car driver show the burnouts and stuff thats the best part and i dont have anything against john force but omg he himself gets more airtime on espn during a race than pro stock does so just show racing. show cars going down the track show burnouts and why dont you show pro mods everybody has to like them as far as the countdown i think its a joke if the points were like it used to be erica would be hard to beat but the way it is now she can dominate all year and have some bad luck in the last few races and loose thats just wrong she earned her point lead shouldnt be taken away and i have a dvr that i record nhra on but most the time with espn we i try to watch it i have soccer or softball or some stupid stuff for the first 45 min of my recording

  • kevin says:

    NASCAR got at least one thing right..if you do not at least attempt to qualify for each event YOU are not eligible for the playoff format. Simple as that.

  • brian bayer says:

    well im gonna say i believe nhra can bring it around, it needs some serious work though, maybe someone can answer me this, if i recall correctly nhra is a sanctioning body that has we as members should be able to vote on who runs the show, we should really have the final say on who leads the way, so if were not likeing the glendora higher up’s than we should be able to vote them out… the tv coverage is pathetic to say the least, espn-nhra keeps creating these so called rivalrys, this driver said this and he’s mad..blah blah… there cant be any true rivalrys when most of the drivers work for two guys…the don…and force…. with the exception of the kaletta camp and tasca, etc.. 90% of the cars fielded are owned by the already mentioned…we need new teams, or at least single car teams.. how bout courtney force racing, or just ron capps racing?? even if they are still owned by the same people, it might at least make it sound better, right now no one cares about the driver all they hear is the force cars against the shuemacher cars……..and pro stock is just broken thats simple… how bout giving the alkie cars prime time coverage, less fluff on tv and more racing, with true rivalries and charecters to boot!!! they happened to be the third and fourth quickest classes on property. and how bout showing all finals, for all classes, and you can make it fit into the lame two hour coverage….

    • Richard Safran says:

      Thank you Brian. You said it absolutely right. NHRA, Get your head straight and realize that the fuel classes and pro stock are not the only classes racing in your events. The alcohol classes are in many cases as exciting or more so than the fuel classes. You know quite well that you can cut the BS and show the alcohol classes and get more viewers watching you now pathetic coverage. The alcohol classes pay to be in the show so why not show their races. You do an incredible injustice to the alcohol racers and their sponsors.

  • Keith Nelson says:

    It is sad. NHRA caters to corporate sponsorship at the cost of competition (insert Harley Davidson here) and the inability to provide a fair shake to all teams. Who wants to see a finals run made up of 2 DSR or JFR entries. NHRA needs changes and quickly before the TV coverage is preempted by synchronized swimming.

  • Dave Hansen says:

    One of the biggest problems NHRA has is its lack of future racers in the pro catagories if something happens to John Force or Don Schumacher ( auto accident, plane crash, racing accident, cancer, heart attack etc,etc,etc NHRA is up a creek without a paddle. The pro stock racing will be O.K. there is plenty of rich kids that run door slammers. The problem is that NHRA has has crapped on the Alcohol dragster and Alcohol funny cars for so long that the class is a shell of itself from years past this class is were almostall of the top fuel cars come from. If you add up the eentry fees for the alcohol classes at a national event they race for there own money. NHRA thinks that the top dragster will takethe place of the alcohol cars but it wil not. The experience of running the alcohol cars is the stepping stone to running a fuel car. With out that training ground NHRA will fail and fail it will unless it changes the purse money it pays the alcohol cars and the way it treats the number two class it has in drag racing… Let the alcohol dragsters run 500 cu. in. motors like the top fuel cars let them run 4.95 e.t. at 295 to 300 mph and you have a show that T.V. can put on the air. I agree with Erica it costs a lot of money to travel with a team for 3 weeks, hotels,fuel ,food,parts,team members away from there real jobs etc,etc. I know I run an alcohol dragster for 20 years all over the country. Wise up NHRA or you will ruin the sport we all love. See you in Seattle. Dave

  • Don franks says:

    I understand the team position and understand tv delema.
    This is primarily why I’ve always been against the countdown.
    #1 how many one car teams have a chance .
    #2 drag racing season is to short for a count down.
    The original point system was so great….it always came down to et or m ph records having to be set…and always seamed to be a real charge between 2 or 3 teams coming to the wire.
    I think nhra needs to evaluate 2 things possibly.
    #1 smaller teams with budget restrictions.
    Or #2… A class for 1 car teams so to balance the fields better.
    I love the fact more ladies are in the spotlight….The ladies and nhra nascar and indy have really brought alot to the sport….especially nhra where they compete at a high level and show how great and equal they are to the men.
    UNFORTENETLY the great days of real head to head competing and a fair equal field will never be again.
    Thumbs up to Erica and her team for putting the world on edge.

  • Bob Secrest says:

    Yes the tv coverage is lousy. In the same amount of time we could see every round of every class. Whealy poppers are a lot more fun to watch than boring fluff interviews. The real problem is the phony playoff chase. NASCAR & NHRA both added it to boost end of season ratings, forgetting that most fans are interested in the entire starting grid & the entire season of events. Points championships aren’t going to be close at the end of a long season, but showing the entire field instead of just the big money, big names would add enough colorful characters to interest the casual fans.

  • Ed Wright says:

    With money as tight as it is, does it make sense for the NHRA to exclude potential sponsors such as Pepsi from the sport?

  • Liam Bradshaw says:

    It’s become so expensive that even the most talented drivers are having to weigh dollars vs. sense. No doubt about it Erica is the complete package; talented, gracious & attractive. Yes, she doesn’t like to lose & takes it as a personal affront.
    She is a source of revenue to the NHRA & a HUGE drawing card as are Alexis, Courtney & Brittany.
    Sadly, the sport is about to nose-over financially. It cannot go on and do nothing as costs continue to spiral out of orbit.
    If the current trend keeps up there will be no more of the sport.
    This is sad.
    It’s also preventable IF the NHRA ACTS IMMEDIATELY!
    Denial of this fact is no longer an option.

  • Rick Wilson says:

    You know, if the NHRA wouldn’t be such woozes like NASCAR and seed cars after Indy to the EXCLUSION of all the other teams which go to add to the shows the NHRA puts one, only to get stiffed and thrown out 2/3 the way through the season, they wouldn’t have this predicament. I don’t blame her owner at all.

  • Ron O'Brien says:

    Remember who pays for everything…
    The Fans!!!!
    Who buys the sponsors products, the fans! The fans! Need i say more?
    NHRA HQ Better Shape Up!
    Otherwise the NHRA is going to be the next Fossil!!
    I remember NHRA today on ESPN2….
    The fans from each city was involved…..
    Not no more!

  • Brian Young says:

    If ESPN covered NHRA as well as they do little league baseball and womens softball it would

  • Dave Buchanan says:

    The TV ratings are bad because ESPN has pushed NHRA broadcasts back for niche sports as well as time slots in the middle of the night. Ratings will come back with a change in networks. There are fans that are not watching because of the way ESPN has handled broadcasts.

    • Sisto says:

      I agree with this 100%, I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to watch NHRA race that is scheduled, and there is a game of some sort on instead of the racing…..And the race is either late showing or sometimes not at all.

  • Dave Hughes says:

    I don’t blame Elite Motorsport for skipping a couple of meeting on the Western Swing. Erica went out in the second round at the Mile High Nationals. Maybe they need to regroup, conserve funds and make some changes. Don’t worry they will be back to win the Championship. With Rick and Rickie Jones from R J Racecars, they just might have a few surprises up there sleeve.
    Tom Compton from NHRA needs to give ESPN a major shakeup in promoting the sport. Delayed coverage,no Pro mod or Sportsman coverage. They are bloody slack as far as I am concerned.I live in New Zealand and World wide coverage is very poor. And he needs to address safety issues at tracks and take on board some constructive complains by races and teams. Instead of passing out fines like he did to Bob Vandigriff. He lost our respect for him. And I would get in his face too. And I am a Senior Firefighter for over 40 years.

  • Jim A Waits says:

    The “Fix” for this problem is not the NHRA; they have been singulary responsible to be the root cause of the problem. Much has been written about how “Down” the numbers are for the sport of Drag Racing and plenty of good, workable options have been printed. To date the NHRA has done nothing, period.

    Lets start with ESPN2 the broadcast venue for NHRA; the broadcast is terrible. Same “talking heads” same mindless questions to the drivers etc. Split screen during quals & racing that eliminates viewing the start, burnout, pre-stage and launch of the cars: this is 75% of each pass down the track. No ability to see anything of value in the pits beyond the same old, same old hustle and bustle. There is plenty of tech stuff viewers are interested in. No interaction with the fans at all; why ignore the best opportunity to promote attendance by having the locals get their face on TV. Most idiotic is the post-run interview of the NHRA “Favorite” personality. This is stupid beyond words.

    Mostly though the NHRA leadership are “business professionals” not racers therefore being devoid of connecting the sport with the fans and TV nothing will ever change until you get rid of the “Old” decrepid dead wood in Glendora with young “race-minded” leadership.
    Good Luck NHRA.