Race Weekend Central

Nitro Shots: The NHRA Media Game

Communication is the name of the game. It’s all about how you get your message out there. One might say that a primary focus of the NHRA these days is an overhaul of how that happens, on television and more modern media alike. It might be the new television partner that spurred that, but whatever the reason, the more things are upgraded, the more apparent the need to do it becomes.

First there is television. The NHRA is no longer the X-Files of the ESPN world, working somewhere in the basement at odd hours as kind of it’s own entity with little support from the rest of the organization. It’s moved up in the world with FOX Sports. It still doesn’t sit in the big office—that’s where NASCAR sits—but at least it’s on the same floor.

There will be a slight ripple most likely with how this weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals are being covered, but we’ll see how that plays out. The first two rounds air live starting at 11 a.m., then the show, in its entirety, will play taped-delayed on FOX Sports 2 at 6:30, and then, for those who do not get FOX Sports 2, it will air one more time starting at midnight on FOX Sports 1. (All times EST.)  It does leave a slight ESPN flavor with that last airing, but that’s toned down a bit with the earlier offerings perhaps.

Of course if you subscribe to NHRA All Access, the video streaming service will bring you live coverage all weekend long. There’s that 21st century modern media thing creeping in again. It’s new this year and apparently so far it’s been a hit. I confess that I do not have it (not a reflection on the NHRA, rather a reflection on my very poor internet connection that keeps me from subscribing to any streaming service), but I’d love to hear from some who do.

On the digital media side, oh so important today, NHRA has announced a revamp of its website, nhra.com, to be done in time for the 2017 season by Lightmaker, a digital agency that also produced IndyCar’s website as well as those of other sports properties. The idea is to make the site more modern along with being more mobile and fan-friendly. Just be careful – NASCAR has at times made its site a hot mess.

The other key element these days is social media. The new shorter video clips are a big improvement. If you have missed a race, check out NHRA’s YouTube channel and you can usually catch the big highlights in short, bite-sized pieces. I do think there is room for some improvement though in other social spheres, particularly Twitter.

This next bit of input comes from personal experience. For those who don’t have All Access, Twitter is still a popular way to follow the action during eliminations. Yes, there is a mobile app with live timing, but it can be glitchy, sometimes leaving Twitter as the best option. It’s great when certain media outlets are tweeting out pass by pass results, but it’s not always dependable if those outlets are not onsite for the weekend. Most of the Nitro teams are pretty good, but as you get into other classes, the feed gets pretty sparse. NHRA does tend to tweet out the matchups for the next round, but it feels like half the story.

Give NASCAR its due when it comes to the excellent work leveraging modern media channels. It’s good to see NHRA trying to move in that direction because it’s a big win for fans. Disgruntled fans are usually complaining about not being able to see a race or find information and using these outlets better will fix much of that.

What’s News?

Australian NHRA fans will now get to enjoy television coverage of the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series through one hour shows airing on FOX Sports Australia. The shows will feature coverage of the exciting moments of each event and in addition to events going forward, fans will have access to all previous events from the 2016 season.

Drag racing is popular in Australia, particularly Top Fuel driver Richie Crampton who comes from Adelaide, Australia.

“This is the best news I’ve heard all week,” said Crampton. “All my mates will be excited. It’s hard to match the fans here in the U.S., but Aussies are about as close as you can get. They love drag racing just like Americans do. This is top-shelf stuff, and it will help a lot of sponsors too.”

* Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Matt Smith will compete in his milestone 200th event at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals this weekend. He made his debut in 2002 at the U.S. Nationals. Smith scored his first win in 2006 at Englishtown and won the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship in 2007 and 2013. He is the son of Pro Mod racer Rickie Smith and the father and son team both won their respective class championships in 2013.

Driver Profile: Tommy Johnson, Jr.

NHRA 2016 Tommy Johnson Jr headshot courtesy NHRA

Category: Funny Car
Hometown: Ottumwa, Iowa
Date of birth: April 6, 1968
2016 car: Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: John Collins
Team Owner: Don Schumacher

Career Highlights:
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 13/22
Best points finish: 3rd in 2014 & 2015
Career best ET: 3.885, Epping, 2015
Career best speed: 327.51, Topeka, 2016

2015 – Won at Chicago and Seattle; six runner-up finishes; three-time No. 1 qualifier.

2014 – Returned to full-time competition for the first time in six years with Don Schumacher Racing’s fourth car, an effort sponsored by Terry Chandler in support of Make-A-Wish; won at Bristol; No. 1 qualifier at Chicago finished a career-high third in points.

2008 – Finished 18th in points in last full season in Funny Car.

2007 – Was No. 1 qualifier and race winner to sweep the weekend at Englishtown.

2005 – Won season opening race and finished sixth in Funny Car points.

2002 – Made four final round appearances.

1999 – Joined Joe Gibbs’ Funny Car team and won first Funny Car event at Reading.

1995 – Best Top Fuel points finish of eighth in his final full season in Top Fuel.

1993 – Scored first professional victory at Seattle in Top Fuel; finished top ten in season points for the first time.

Follow Tommy: @TommyJohnson_Jr on Twitter, Tommy Johnson Jr. on Facebook, @tommyjohnson_jr on Instagram.

Hey Ya’ll, Watch This:

Let’s stick with our feature driver for the week and hear from Tommy Johnson, Jr. about his first win. Seems fitting given he’s our most recent Funny Car winner. What’s that he said about Father’s Day? Wasn’t that just this past Sunday? When he won?

Word of the Week: Staged

Last week we pre-staged, this week we finish getting ready for the start and stage the car. This means that the front wheels are lined up on the starting line, rolling into the second starting beam that lights up the staged bulb which is either a yellow bulb directly under the pre-staged bulb, or the bottom half of the blue circle at the top of the tree. Once the drivers complete staging, the amber lights leading to the green light may start.


QualifyingFriday, November 10, 6:30 PM ETFS1 (Live)
QualifyingSaturday, November 11, 6:00 PM ETFS1 (Live)
EliminationsSunday, November 12, 4:00 PM ETFS1 (Live)

About the author

A writer for Frontstretch since 2002, and editor since 2006, Toni heads up the NHRA coverage for the site. She’s responsible for post-race coverage in the weekly Pace Laps multi-series round-up along with the weekly Nitro Shots column featuring news and features from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. An award-winning former writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni works in web design and freelances with writing in North Carolina.

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