The efforts to finish the 2020 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing season began in earnest by the Professional Racers Owners Organization (PRO) leadership team weeks before the July 8-9 Indianapolis national event. Working in conjunction with the NHRA, members of PRO communicated with Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock team owners and drivers to talk about options for completing the season. The goal was to ensure the teams could commit to race, fields would be full for a national television audience on the FOX broadcast network and state mandated safety and health concerns were met. Originally, the plan was to host two national events at Lucas Oil Raceway but a third was added when the Denver NHRA national event was postponed.
“We were in almost daily contact with the NHRA talking about the feasibility of getting back to racing,” said Alan Johnson, president of PRO. “The convenience of racing Indy made that a natural choice for the restart of the season. We were also working to make sure we secured full fields of competitors and revised the purse structure with the NHRA since we wouldn’t have fans. We wanted to give our teams and sponsors exposure on FOX to restart the season. I was dealing with the NHRA and Chad Head was communicating with the teams. We would get information, evaluate it and then offer our suggestions or recommendations back to NHRA. It was working pretty well once we started racing again.”
One example of PRO’s successful lobbying was the addition of Pro Stock to the third race in Indianapolis which was previously the NHRA Mile High Nationals, a non-Pro Stock national event. Throughout the months of July and August PRO continued to have discussions with NHRA about upcoming races at non-NHRA owned tracks and what that would look like with mandated occupancy limits, scheduling and payouts. As more information was shared by the NHRA PRO understood they needed to make some concessions to ensure professional drag racing continued to move forward as a sport and as a major part of the motorsports industry.
“We understood that we need to be good stewards for the whole of drag racing,” added Johnson. “If there isn’t a national event then sportsman racers lose out on a national race as well and our fans lose the opportunity to watch us race. It is in our best interest to race at NHRA national events. We were in discussions with the NHRA about payouts for the rest of the season heading into the U.S. Nationals.”
Following the U.S. Nationals the back and forth communication stalled and PRO was surprised by the announcement of a further decrease in the national event payout structure. A decision made with input from NHRA and independent track operators without full buy-in from PRO. Following the announcement PRO did negotiate a number of concessions from the NHRA that impacted the revised purse as well as hospitality and ticketing costs to help offset additional expenses.
“We have reached out to a number of track operators to talk about our position with regards to payouts,” said Johnson. “Many of them have been receptive to our concerns or requests. The bottom line is a pandemic has impacted all forms of entertainment including drag racing at the highest level. Race teams, track operators and NHRA need to race and not lose a ton of money. We are looking at the whole of drag racing and it extends beyond the 2020 season. We encourage maximum participation for the final five races of the season. We are working every day to get as many professional teams to every race. That has been and will continue to be our number one priority.”
PRO understands that the diminished purse affects teams differently based on a variety of factors. PRO was under the impression discussions were still ongoing when the purse announcement was revealed. PRO will continue to look for ways to minimize expenses for all professional teams as the NHRA Mello Yello Series comes to a conclusion.
Over the past years professional racers have battled increased costs associated with increased travel/lodging expenses, labor and insurance costs and now reduction of purses. PRO’s goal moving forward will stay consistent to represent its member teams, create an environment which promotes value for our current sponsors, attract future sponsors, provide an exciting and entertaining show for our thousands of fans and maintain reasonable team budget expectations.
The PRO Board of Directors is made up a diverse group of team owners and managers including Greg Anderson, Chad Head, Robert Hight, Alan Johnson, Bill Miller, Jim Oberhofer, Don Schumacher, Doug Stringer, Bob Tasca III, Steve Torrence and Scott Woodruff. The group meets regularly throughout the season to discuss topics of concern for the team owners and drivers to communicate to the NHRA as one representative group.