There has been plenty of news in the political arena for Australian drag racing over the past few days and much of it has been a little confusing, so I'm going to try and clear it up into simple terms.
The first announcement was for the 400 Thunder Series expanding to a range of new tracks including Hidden Valley, Calder Park and Adelaide (negotiations remain ongoing for Perth). This was met with concern about sanctioning from racers at these venues and questions about ANDRA's ongoing role in the pro aspect of the sport.
What the release didn't expand upon was that those tracks are likely to continue under ANDRA sanctioning, with the 400 Thunder Series supplying the TV and other promotional aspects. The Summit Sportsman Series would also continue under the ANDRA banner.
What should have been a positive announcement and a thawing in relations between 400 Thunder and ANDRA was unfortunately lost.
The reality is that the war is over for the hearts and minds of the pro racers. 400 Thunder has the lion's share of racer support and whether that is for geographical or ideological reasons doesn't matter. The ANDRA pro rounds this season lacked the support needed for it to be a viable alternative.
The two sportsman series are a different matter. Travelling support seems to be better for the ANDRA Summit Series. The Winternationals has scored some big numbers but it's also important to remember that the Winternationals is the Winternationals – it's Australian drag racing's Bathurst. It could run under no championship whatsoever and still get competitors.
Regional venues have embraced the ANDRA sportsman offering and provided a great many rounds to chose from. 400 Thunder wasn't particularly interested in the sportsman side of the sport when the war began and that is fine.
The second release came from ANDRA on Tuesday, indicating a change in the structure of the organisation. CEO Grant Goodall will move to a board position, making his own role redundant. Competition Manager Brett Stevens will become a General Manager. These follow other reductions in FTEs at ANDRA including in business development and media. The war of sanctioning bodies has no doubt taken a financial toll, costing ANDRA large member bases in Queensland and New South Wales.
Like the previous release, this should also be viewed as a good thing. If ANDRA can bring down costs enough to be attractive to tracks currently under the IHRA then we will be on our way to having one sanctioning body in place again. Indeed the tracks asked for ANDRA to strip down to its core functions. I don't buy into the argument that ongoing competition is needed – it's inefficient to have two administrations in one niche sport and better for everyone concerned to have one source for safety, insurance and tech.
IHRA is providing low costs for racers, but ANDRA currently provides something of a crutch for a services gap in tech and safety. A total collapse of ANDRA would see costs eventually increase for IHRA.
Moreso than costs, personality conflicts are likely to remain an ongoing issue between ANDRA and the IHRA tracks. While these personalities on both sides remain at war, chances of compromise are small. And ultimately compromise is what we need, because 100% one side or the other is not the best solution.
This dark era for Australian drag racing needs to be called to an end and an armistice drawn up. I don't want to rant without providing a solution, so from this dumb drag racing fan:
400 Thunder to assume the management rights for the pro racing categories and support its growth at all tracks.
ANDRA to become a lean safety and tech organisation and the tracks to support this by returning to a single Australian sanctioning body.
ANDRA to continue management of the Summit Sportsman Series, which could return to Sydney, Willowbank and Springmount.
Racers to back each organisation and make an immediate decision to unite, bring the fun back to the sport and promote it positively at all times, beginning a campaign to attract new people to drag racing – which will now be 'open for business' yet again.
What would my dream press release read like? Something like this:
AUSTRALIAN DRAG RACING BORN AGAIN
The search for new drag racers is on as Australian drag racing gets set to launch for a united 2017/18 season.
The 400 Thunder Series for professional drag racers will take in tracks around the country next season as all major drag strips look to host rounds of the championship, alongside the popular Summit Sportsman Series which will head to more venues than every before across the cities and the regions of Australia.
A free to air TV and live streaming package will put raw and wild Australian drag racing back into the homes of the nation with the message being clear: we are back and we want you!
Fresh initiatives are being put into place at all venues to encourage new drag racers to come and try the sport, as well as incentivising spectators to return to the track and witness the ground shaking show that only drag racing can provide.
The Australian National Drag Racing Association will be there to provide quality safety and technical support for its licensed racers and has granted the 400 Thunder Series the rights to declare national champions for the pro brackets.
Drag racing provides some of the most unique thrills in motorsport and it is that energy that thousands of fans and racers across the country will get to experience once more – this sport is staged and ready to launch!
- Luke Nieuwhof