Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Editorial and photos by Tom McCarthy
Motorcycle drag racing, if you look at it from the perspective of yesterday, then look at where we are as a sport today: can you see tomorrow? Can you see what tomorrow looks like for us, as a sport? I’m not passing judgment on this as much as I am presenting some historical moments, worthy of consideration in helping to motivate your interest in having you participate in shaping our future. That’s right, the very future of motorcycle drag racing.
A wise man once told me: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” There is a lot of truth to this philosophy, it’s more accurate than not. So if you’re happy with things the way they are in the sport of motorcycle drag racing, then carry on and this will work for you – for a while. But if you want more and what drag racer worthy of their leathers does not want more, then read on.
Question: motorcycle drag racing today, in 2019 is this as good as it gets? Can we, should we strive for better? What exactly is “Better,” how would you define that? More importantly, how would you get us there, what’s your plan or idea? If you’re just going to complain and point out why we can’t or shouldn’t do this or that; you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution. As Archie Bunker once so eloquently put it “Stifle yourself will ya?” Progressive racers who think outside the box, welcome, but be business minded or go-broke trying.
There, I said it, the dirty word, business and of course I’m inferring the evil of all evils, money. I’m sorry but no ticky-no-washy, that’s life. Not one Top Fuel rig or Sportsman motorcycle is leaving the driveway or garage in 2019, unless the money is present first. It’s not happening folks. I’ve seen some of the biggest names in the sport of drag racing park very prestigious rigs, then sell off everything due to lack of funding – money. You have to keep the lights on at home, first and foremost or you’re not going very far period, nor should you. Take care of home and hearth first my friends.
SO, yesterday’s model of motorcycle drag racing, if you go back to 1970, the first year of organized, coast to coast, all motorcycle drag racing events, when the AMDRA, the American Motorcycle Drag Racing Association began to put together events for “motorcycles only” the AMDRA was funded and backed initially by the NHRA, with whom they were solidly affiliated thanks to Roy Strawn and Wally Parks. Roy had previous experience by organizing events from 1966 through 1969 with Jim Harris, Joe Sway, Jim Milsted and others, with the Mid Atlantic Motorcycle Drag Racing Association. They were a bunch of, “Hey let’s get together a bunch of bike guys and have a race.” So they did and the sport took off from there.
Roy Strawn once told me in an interview that in 1976, when AMDRA had a 26 event, coast to coast schedule etched in stone, they were rain impacted or flat rained out, for half the schedule of events and it bankrupted the AMDRA. Roy lost everything, had to file for bankruptcy and was very bitter about the whole thing, never talked about it or wanted to talk about it for many years that followed.
After the financial disaster of the AMDRA, several new sanctions sprang up, DRAGBIKE! which was once a motorcycle drag racing magazine publication produced by Tom Laughlin, of NY – Tom took his love of the sport and began a sanction by the same name. The International Drag Bike Association or IDBA also sprang up and within a few short years, the NMRA or National Motorcycle Drag Racing Association also came into prominence. Some lasted longer than others, but in the end, it’s always a financial failing that ends a sanction. You see at the end of the day, even racing itself is a business and must be treated as such. No bucks, no Buck Rogers boys and girls. So much for yesterday, now for today…
My point is this: You the racers and fans of motorcycle drag racing, where do we go from here? More importantly how do we get there? I’m not tell you, I’m asking you, most sincerely so, where do you want this sport to go? Is it your hobby, your vacation time spent chasing an adrenalin rush, or your chosen profession (good luck with that)!
I’ve been involved with this sport since 1980 and to this very day I refer to this as the sport that just refuses to grow-up. Motorcycle drag racing, in my eyes, is like a teen-age kid, all the potential in the world to be absolutely amazing, world class, breathtaking, yet will not develop to potential. Why? This sport should be involved in major movies, used in TV commercials, selling kids cereal, part of a soap-opera. After all, who does not know someone who’s been in divorce court over drag racing?
At the root of all this, motorcycle drag racing, as a sport, is a business and it must be treated as such by the sanctions and respected & supported as such by the racers. The racers, not the sanctions, decide who financially survives (or not) each year. Here’s a few things for racers to ponder before they get carried away with wild suggestions.
The ever popular “let’s add this class” is always a hot idea, fun to debate, but if you’re not funding the new class, where exactly is the payout money coming from? And if you think the payout purse is hard to come by, please call your local race track and ask them “How much to rent the track for one full day or weekend to host a drag race?” Track facilities rentals to run an event start at around $9,000/day to as much as $45,000 a day, to rent a drag strip.
Now keep in mind that that track, once you buy a date from one, that’s it, you’re putting cash money down in advance to hold that date, you own it! God help you if it rains or even looks like rain because the internet weather self-proclaimed experts are going to wash out your race before it even happens. Guess who pays anyway and takes the financial hit with zero income from the reserved date? All the traction compound, the police details, track-prep services; that’s all paid for too. How deep are your pockets?
Can we, as an association of motorcycle drag racers, one big dysfunctional bunch of adrenalin junkies, find a way to further our sport? Is it possible for us to one day make motorcycle drag racing more (hold the laughter) main-stream? Is this possible or is this a wild fantasy about some social distortion?
We are all well aware that motorcycle drag racing could do better in reaching out to the public at large. We all agree on this, but can we band together and do this, perhaps make an impact? In the 1990’s Keith “Scooter” Kizer tried an experiment with AMA/PROSTAR, he hired a high-power professional PR Firm to advertise his sanction. For one season Keith spent major money in major markets to try and put fans in the stands. What he found was, by looking at the numbers from previous years, at specific race tracks in specific markets, there was no difference in the attendance numbers. All he succeeded in doing was spending five-six figures of sanction money on trying to attract fans that just were not interested.
Now that was the mid 1990’s mind you. Today in 2018, there are a LOT more people riding motorcycles and going to motorcycling events. How do we tap into this? Can you help, do you have ideas you are willing to foster and cultivate? How do we further this sport or are you happy with it the way it is?
Racers today more than ever need sponsorship dollars to go racing. Advertisers want to see demographics before they invest advertising dollars. Racers need to show a good return on investment if they are to garner advertising dollars.
What can and will you do for our sport, do you want a brighter tomorrow?
It’s a cliché’ but it’s true “None of us is as smart as all of us.”
We need to work together on this my friends. Think, but be prepared to take action, write to your sanction of choice, stand and deliver.
– Tom McCarthy
Until Next time…
– Tom McCarthy