Motorcycle Drag Racing Overview
Keeping Drag Racing Growing
story and photos by Tim Hailey This article originally appeared in Super Streetbike
Two major American motorcycle drag racing series are going through what they hope are growing pains, and a third struggles to deal with the size it already has. The NHDRO is seeking to expand beyond its limited Midwestern base, mega-huge IDBL is coping with major personnel changes, and the Manufacturers Cup is still trying to figure out how to hustle its raceday schedule along.
Huntsville Dragway operator T.T. Jones (left) and NHDRO owner Brian Welch
Last year, NHDRO boss Brian Welch went to Huntsville Dragway’s Lucky 7-11 race and came back inspired. NHDRO had recently run it’s Grudge Reunion race in Louisville, and Welch was seeing a profitable vision for the future of his organization.
That vision—southern-style, free-form Grudge racing—can be at odds with the class structure that makes up most of an NHDRO event. The two can coexist, but it’s a tough relationship to pull off. NHDRO’s grudge oriented events have been on eighth mile tracks—not perfect for the high-revving Pro Street thoroughbreds that headline the series’ quarter mile events.
Welch scheduled this year’s opener at Huntsville’s eighth mile—the first time NHDRO has raced in the Deep South.
Pro Street champion Bud Yoder and the three-bike trailer he shares with Mark Paquette, Jamie Lopes and class sponsor Terry McIntosh stayed away from Huntsville. Rudy Sanzottera—also a class sponsor and three-bike team leader with his Quicktime Motorsports—left Huntsville pissed off at what he felt was a lack of attention to the track for the needs of Pro Street.
But the series has to make money to survive, and the eighth mile tracks rent for significantly less than NHDRO’s highly professional venues of Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis and Gateway International in St. Louis. Huntsville drew a decent bike count and a pretty good spectator crowd.
IDBL, on the other hand, is struggling with an embarrassment of riches but the loss of its charismatic, hard working leader. Jason Miller started IDBL from the ashes of the MIRock divorce in the offseason of 2014-15. His family’s Maryland International Raceway sold around the same time, and MiIler found himself working within a corporate environment for the first time.
That corporation—IRG Sports + Entertainment—is “owned by TPG, a leading global private investment firm with $70.2 billion of capital under management,” according to its website. That’s a shitload of dough to have your motorcycle drag racing series’ back, yo, and the relationship worked well...for a while.
This past winter, Miller and IRGSE abruptly parted ways. Everyone wanted to know: how would IDBL function without Jason Miller, a micro-manager who did practically EVERYTHING when it came to promoting and running the series?
Within a short while, Atco Dragway—the only track other than Maryland to host an IDBL event—was off the IDBL schedule.
A day before IDBL’s first 2016 event, former track announcer and current website editor Jack Korpela was announced as IDBL’s new President and General Manager. Korpela has been an affable on-again and off-again media personality in the sport since he was a teenager, but decidedly lacks the hands-on experience that Miller has with track and event management, negotiations, sponsor relationships, rule structures, etc.
Larry McBride (left) and Royce Miller at MDIR in July of 2014
This season opening Pingel Spring Nationals, an event challenged by rain and multiple oildowns, was directed by Miller’s dad, Royce—IRGSE’s Chief Operating Officer. Korpela was at his other job as a TV personality for Pittsburgh’s WGAL television station.
All this left IDBL’s sponsors and racers still unsure as to what the future holds for their series. IRGSE CEO Chris Lencheski talks of putting the “International” into this one-track series—taking IDBL events to Canada and Mexico—and a lot of TV coverage. That sounds great, and truly visionary, but there are a lot of dots to be connected between the reality on the ground and these big plans.
The current reality is that IDBL still has the world’s largest motorcycle drag racing fields, but it’s Jason Miller that made it that way and his dad who dove in this past weekend to ensure that—for now—it would stay that way. Can IRGSE take what it has, keep it together, and deliver what it promises?
The same holds true for NHDRO. Can Welch keep his core base of support while expanding into fields where his hard work and risky ventures can yield a profit?
And despite its usual much smaller spring race entry list, the recent Manufacturers Cup race in Valdosta finished one and a half hour short of the track’s curfew in perfect weather. Will they make the race organization decisions necessary to be able to complete their much bigger November event?
The best thing about this rundown of issues facing the Big Three of American sportbike drag racing? The fact that there are three healthy drag racing series competing with each other for the attention of racers, sponsors and fans. And that doesn’t include all of the Grudge and Bracket series that populate the South, and events like Wisconsin’s KOTS. As a whole, the sport has never been healthier, and there’s already talk of more series joining the fray next year. Racers have never had so many quality races to choose from.