Last week NHRA announced that Justin “Big Chief” Shearer would compete in the Pro Mod class at the U.S. Nationals with his “Crowmod” race car. The response has been, as you might expect, interesting. First, from the Shearer side of the equation, have come the complaints that Big Chief has sold out, cozying up to the big, bad NHRA. Some similar rumblings have come from the NHRA side as well.
The Cliff’s Notes explanation on the whole deal, in case you missed the blowup last year, is that when some cars appeared on the hit Discovery channel show Street Outlaws, with visible NHRA logos, that theNHRA took offense at the idea that some might think they were OK with the street racing portrayed on the show. In reality, the show is a portrayal of street racing, on a closed street with safety crews in place, but still, it does preach the idea that street racing is cool. Letters were sent to anyone appearing on the show who happened to hold an NHRA competition license stating that if they continued to appear on the show, NHRA would pull their license.
The response, to say the least, was not a PR dream for NHRA given the huge popularity of the show and the fact that the stars publicly posted the letters on their social media pages. They came off looking like a bully. At the time, there was also an observation made by many that if the NHRA was so opposed to street racing and wanted to get racers off the street, pulling their license to compete at the track was not the way to do it.
Fast forward to this year, and perhaps new management has a lot to do with this change of course, but a rethinking on the NHRA stance happened. The original goal of NHRA founder Wally Parks was to encourage racers to get off the street by providing a safe and controlled track environment instead. In that vein, it was decided that the better option would be to reach out to the Street Outlaws and encourage them to come to the track instead, and so an olive branch was extended to Shearer, who agreed to come to the NHRA event in Englishtown earlier this year. While there, Shearer filmed a PSA for the NHRA discouraging street racing and encouraging would-be racers to check out the offerings at their closest NHRA facility. Shearer received the red carpet treatment, including the opportunity to meet and talk to many of the teams during the weekend.
It has to be obvious that this was the next logical step in the process, to not only have Shearer talk about racing with the NHRA, but to welcome Shearer himself to lead by example and do so. It has, however, caused rumblings on both sides. To address the Shearer side first, he has made no bones in the past about the fact that his dream is to be a professional drag racer. Drag racing on the grass roots level might be very accessible but reaching the professional level is just as difficult as in any other form of racing. If you are Shearer, you seize any opportunity to make that happen that might come your way. The fame he has gained from his show combined with the open door shown to him by the NHRA is getting him a step closer to making that dream a reality. Can’t blame him for seizing that opportunity. Who wouldn’t?
From the NHRA side, yes, they are embodying the mission laid out by founder Wally Parks, but let’s also be blunt about what else is going on here. Street Outlaws stars have been appearing at races all over the country and packing the stands. At the end of the day, NHRA also needs to put butts in the seats so yes, likely they wanted a piece of the pie that other promoters have been enjoying for the last couple of years. Can you blame them? And if they can do it while staying “on message” to the reason for their existence, that’s a bonus.
What this comes down to is a mutually beneficial relationship for both sides. Sometimes mutual benefits make for strange bedfellows.
* FOX Sports will add 30 minutes of live NHRA coverage this Saturday, August 20, on FS1 to cover the rain-delayed Top Fuel and Funny Car final rounds postponed from Seattle. Both divisions are set to finish off the final Seattle matchups during qualifying for the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals this weekend from Brainerd. Tune in from 3 to 3:30 PM ET to see Antron Brown and Steve Torrence contest the Top Fuel final while Ron Capps and Del Worsham face off in Funny Car.
Pro Stock also needs to complete a final from Seattle with Vincent Nobile and Aaron Strong competing. This matchup will take place over the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis on Labor Day weekend.
Driver Profile: Matt Hagan
Category: Funny Car
Hometown: Salem, VA
Date of birth: November 18, 1982
2016 car: Mopar Express Lane/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger R/T
Crew chief: Dickie Venables
Team Owner: Don Schumacher
Career wins/runner-up finishes: 20/19
Best points finish: 1st in 2011 and 2014
Career best ET: 3.862, Topeka, 2016
Career best speed: 335.57, Topeka, 2016
2015 – Got off to his best season start ever by winning the first two events at Pomona and Phoenix.
2014 – Won second NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car world championship; won four times in six final round appearances, including three wins during the Countdown.
2013 – Earned a category best five victories during the season.
2011 – Won his first Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Funny Car world championship; became the first Funny Car driver in NHRA history to break the three second mark with a national record-setting run of 3.995.
Follow Matt: @MattHagan_FC on Twitter, Matt Hagan on Facebook
Some Things Most People Don’t Know About Matt: Matt was an all-around athlete at Auburn High School in Christiansburg, Va., his hometown where he still resides. He was a defensive lineman and an all-district center on the Eagles football team. He’s also proven he can drive more than just a Funny Car. In 2012, the year after he won his first championship, he got the opportunity to drive a drag boat, with which he reached a speed of 172 mph, and a monster truck, which he managed not to flip! Matt also kept a day job, just in case this racing thing doesn’t work out. He owns a 1,000-acre cattle farm in Christiansburg where he raises more than 400 head of cattle and grows their feed. Matt isn’t afraid to get dirty either. He’s a hands-on rancher and can handle every chore on the farm.
Hey Y’all, Watch This!
Here is the PSA Justin “Big Chief” Shearer filmed for the NHRA earlier this year.
Here’s another video double-feature this week with one of our Frontstretch exclusive videos. Sticking with the Matt Hagan theme, the driver took some time to tell us about his first win.
Word of the Week: Supercharger
An air/fuel compressor driven by the engine’s crankshaft. It builds pressure in the engine and increases horsepower. It’s also called a blower. Top Fuel and Nitro Funny Cars use superchargers, as do a number of other classes. They are also one of the three types of power-adders permitted in Pro Mod.
NHRA on TV:
|AUTO CLUB NHRA FINALS|
|Qualifying||Friday, November 10, 6:30 PM ET||FS1 (Live)|
|Qualifying||Saturday, November 11, 6:00 PM ET||FS1 (Live)|
|Eliminations||Sunday, November 12, 4:00 PM ET||FS1 (Live)|
The Frontstretch Countdown to the Countdown – Win a VIP NHRA Experience!
Click here for more information and to enter. Deadline to enter is 9 PM ET Monday, September 5, 2016.