Regardless of what happens in the future with NHRA and its series sponsor issues, the Professional Racers Organization [PRO] says it’s committed to finishing the season. This proclamation was handed down by the organization, representing professional drag racing teams in the NHRA.
This season has been one of constant adjustments since a pandemic brought the world to its knees back in March. The latest in a series of setbacks, including limited spectator attendance and reduced purse structure, was the revelation of the series that longtime series sponsor Coca-Cola had opted not to honor its existing contract with NHRA.
NHRA returned to racing in July with a series of events with limited attendance at Lucas Oil Raceway outside of Indianapolis, a course of action PRO’s leader Alan Johnson says have involved the owner’s organization.
“We were in almost daily contact with the NHRA talking about the feasibility of getting back to racing,” said Alan Johnson, president of PRO. “The convenience of racing Indy made that a natural choice for the restart of the season. We were also working to make sure we secured full fields of competitors and revised the purse structure with the NHRA since we wouldn’t have fans.
“We wanted to give our teams and sponsors exposure on FOX to restart the season. I was dealing with, the NHRA and Chad Head was communicating with the teams. We would get information, evaluate it, and then offer our suggestions or recommendations back to NHRA. It was working pretty well once we started racing again.”
One thing which has thrown a monkey wrench into those plans was a decision by NHRA to reduce purse structure across the board in professional categories. The NHRA’s announcement, a statement from PRO revealed, took Johnson and his constituents by surprise.
“Following the U.S. Nationals, the back and forth communication stalled, and PRO was surprised by the announcement of a further decrease in the national event payout structure,” the statement read. “A decision made with input from NHRA and independent track operators without full buy-in from PRO. Following the announcement, PRO did negotiate a number of concessions from the NHRA that impacted the revised purse as well as hospitality and ticketing costs to help offset additional expenses.
“PRO understands that the diminished purse affects teams differently based on a variety of factors. PRO was under the impression discussions were still ongoing when the purse announcement was revealed. PRO will continue to look for ways to minimize expenses for all professional teams as the NHRA Mello Yello Series comes to a conclusion.
“Over the past years, professional racers have battled increased costs associated with increased travel/lodging expenses, labor and insurance costs and now reduction of purses. PRO’s goal moving forward will stay consistent to represent its member teams, create an environment which promotes value for our current sponsors, attract future sponsors, provide an exciting and entertaining show for our thousands of fans and maintain reasonable team budget expectations.
“We have reached out to a number of tracks operators to talk about our position with regards to payouts,” Johnson added. “Many of them have been receptive to our concerns or requests. The bottom line is a pandemic has impacted all forms of entertainment including drag racing at the highest level. Race Teams, track operators and NHRA need to race and not lose a ton of money. We are looking at the whole of drag racing and it extends beyond the 2020 season. We encourage maximum participation for the final five races of the season. We are working every day to get as many professional teams to every race. That has been and will continue to be our number one priority.”
Monday’s announcement of Coca-Cola departing the series is one which caught many of the teams off guard when they were notified in a conference call on Monday afternoon.
NHRA President Glen Cromwell said in a statement the series had been notified Coca-Cola had wished to wind down its role by the contract’s end in 2023. Instead, Cromwell said the nearly two-decades-long sponsor used the pandemic “as a pretext to attempt to unilaterally terminate its agreement with the NHRA.”
“We are excited about our return to racing continuing into 2021, our 70th anniversary year, with a strong race schedule, and we will do that in partnership with some of the best sponsors in sports.”
As for PRO, the organization says it will keep working for the greater good of drag racing. Case in point, PRO lobbied to have the Pro Stock division as part of the Dodge NHRA Indy Nationals in August.
“Throughout the months of July and August, PRO continued to have discussions with NHRA about upcoming races at non-NHRA owned tracks and what that would look like with mandated occupancy limits, scheduling and payouts,” the PRO statement read. “As more information was shared by the NHRA PRO understood they needed to make some concessions to ensure professional drag racing continued to move forward as a sport and as a major part of the motorsports industry.
“We understood that we need to be good stewards for the whole of drag racing,” added Johnson. “If there isn’t a national event, then sportsman racers lose out on a national race as well, and our fans lose the opportunity to watch us race. It is in our best interest to race at NHRA national events.”
The PRO Board of Directors comprises team owners and managers including Greg Anderson, Chad Head, Robert Hight, Alan Johnson, Bill Miller, Jim Oberhofer, Don Schumacher, Doug Stringer, Bob Tasca III, Steve Torrence, and Scott Woodruff. The group meets regularly throughout the season to discuss topics of concern for the team owners and drivers to communicate to the NHRA as one representative group.
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— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) September 19, 2020