WILD AT HEART

GOOD TO SEE PETER XIBERRAS MAKING A COMEBACK TO TOP FUEL AFTER HIS MASSIVE CRASH AT SYDNEY DRAGWAY IN MAY 2018

VICTOR BRAY

THEREíS a race meeting coming up at US131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan in late June thatís being billed as the richest in the history of racing. The winner walks away with a cool US$500,000. No, thatís not a misprint Ė $500,000. The runner-up pockets US$25,000, and semi-finalists each take home US$10,000.

I reckon if you lived within 500km of the track you would want to go there to either race or just have a look. There are races already offering US$100,000 to win, but US$500,000 takes the cake. Obviously, there is a smart promoter and PR team behind the event, and I bet they will be praying for good weather and a good crowd.

So, hereís a hypothetical question: You make it to the final eight. Do the eight of you hold a meeting and decide to split the money, or not? Me, couldnít. Iím a racer and a bit of a gambler, so Iíd go for broke. If you can get that far you might as well take your chances and have a crack at taking out first prize.

I see that Supercars is toying with moving to a summer series. Part of the reason is believed to be due to the domination by the AFL and NRL during the winter months. I think there is some merit in both ANDRA and 400 Thunder also looking at changing their calendars. Drag racing, unlike most forms of motorsport, suffers from the fickle nature of the weather. We get both ends of the spectrum. Up north they have hot, often monsoonal weather for six months, and down south, six months of cold and at-times freezing weather. We need to have a rethink as to whatís the best for the sport, not only for the racers but the spectators as well. The two Sydney Dragway and Willowbank meetings in January this year saw spectators sweltering in 40įC-plus temperatures. To me, it makes sense to move either or both meetings to March or September when it is cooler. We need to consider weather patterns across the country and come up with some changes.

We need to also look at the timing of the Winternationals. They have talked about changing the date several times, but the consensus is that most people want to see it remain as the final event on the racing calendar. A couple of years ago there was talk about the drag racing season starting in January and running to December and becoming a calendar-year series. The proposal got howled down and no one is game to bring it up again. But look at Supercars. The Bathurst 1000 is arguably the most important event on the motoring calendar. It runs with three rounds of the championship season remaining, and no one seems to get all hot and bothered. The Bathurst 1000 is big enough to stand on its own two feet. Similarly, so is our ĎBathurstí, the Winternationals.

I think everyone involved in drag racing was shocked when Tony Schumacher, eight-time Top Fuel champ and one of the biggest names in the history of the NHRA, was sidelined for the first couple of rounds of the 2019 NHRA season due to lack of sponsorship. When the US Army announced in July 2018 it was splitting with his team after 18 years, everyone thought, well, that happens; letís wait and see who will come on board instead. But after seven months, when no new sponsor came to the party and Tonyís father Don Ė who is not short of a dollar Ė decided to keep his wallet shut, it was a shock of seismic proportions.

To many, it was a wake-up call for the sport, one that canít be ignored. Sponsors are light on the ground and nothing lasts forever. In America, there are many teams that race out of their own pockets and pick and choose what races to go to. The situation here in Australia is similar. We have a handful of teams that have outside financial assistance, but for many racers itís a passion, a sport and at times an expensive hobby.

In Australia we have Supercars sucking up most of the sponsorship dollars. Sure, they have plenty of events and a good TV package, but I reckon their biggest asset is the way they promote the drivers and teams to the fans Ė similar to F1, IndyCar and NASCAR.

GOOD TO SEE PETER XIBERRAS MAKING A COMEBACK TO TOP FUEL AFTER HIS MASSIVE CRASH AT SYDNEY DRAGWAY IN MAY 2018

Iíve been fortunate to have had a strong fanbase through most of my career, and I believe a lot of thatís from being featured in advertising for events. It wasnít just me either; this was the era when Jim Read, Jimmy Walton, Graham Cowin and many others raced. We regularly competed in front of crowds numbering in the 10s of thousands; at some events like the Nationals at Calder Park, well over 50,000 turned up.

Unlike most motorsports, drag racing is a fragmented sport, with so many professional classes, so focussing on the drivers makes sense. In Supercars they are pushing the likes of Jamie Whincup, David Reynolds and the kids coming through like Scott McLaughlin, Nick Percat and Chaz Mostert. The days of Holden versus Ford are dead and buried.

In drag racing itís almost as if all the promoters are afraid to start pushing the drivers as the star attractions. What are they afraid of? In NASCAR and the NHRA, itís about the drivers, not the cars. But in Australia, we are still pushing the same old line: ĎCome and see Pro Slammers and nitro-breathing Top Fuel cars going 500km an hour.í Ho-hum. That ploy worked in the distant past, but not today.

When Kelly Bettes became the first woman to win a Top Fuel title, it created a perfect situation for the sport to take advantage of in the promotion around events. Coming up we may have the possibility of three women racing each other in Top Fuel: Kelly Bettes, Ashley Sanford from America, and Rachelle Splatt. What a terrific marketing and advertising opportunity to exploit and get crowds to turn up! However, that opportunity most likely will be squandered. Instead, weíll probably just see the usual pics of Top Fuel, Pro Slammer and maybe Pro Alcohol cars on the event poster in the advertising ahead of the meeting.

Good to see Peter Xiberras making a comeback to Top Fuel after his massive crash at Sydney Dragway in May 2018. Peter suffered some spinal fractures, and after surgery, a couple of weeks on his back and lots of rehabilitation, he got behind the wheel for the first time recently. From all accounts, it went well, and another Top Fuel car out on the track is a real boost for the category. The team plans to return to racing at the Santoís Super Thunder meeting at Pete Willowbank and good this luck. month. s Welcome back