NHRA President Channels Wally Parks to Pull Series Through Rough Waters
Credit: JERRY FOSS NHRA / NATIONAL DRAGSTER
It's been a tough year for everyone in motorsport, especially those in charge of running the shows. This also includes NHRA President Glen Cromwell.
Shortly after the start of the season in Pomona, California, a pandemic broke out in which he had to decide several questions: Are we starting again? When? Where? In states that allow spectators? Cromwell isn't a newbie, but let's face it - no one saw this coming and no one really knows what to do.
The NHRA ends with the shortened schedule for 2020, which is complicated not only by the coronavirus but also by Coca-Cola. The title sponsor, Mello Yello, the Coca-Cola-operated soft drinks company, suddenly ended its participation, claiming that the NHRA did not maintain the contract end during the pandemic.
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
The NHRA sued what Cromwell announced in a September 21 letter to competitors that partially stated, "Today we filed a lawsuit against The Coca-Cola Company in the US District Court for the Central District of California, Cromwell wrote. We have never filed a lawsuit like this in our history, and we never expected to have to take action against such a longstanding partner. We value relationships with our sponsors. We don't act lightly. However, we firmly believe that we have no other option to protect our rights and interests of our racing community, particularly the racing drivers whose pursuit has been funded in large part by this agreement. "
Mello Yello's contract ran until 2023.
A day later, a grim situation suddenly looked like a tweet from Marcus Lemonis, TV star and CEO of Camping World, a prominent NASCAR sponsor: “Hey @NHRA, we at @CampingWorld are not afraid of our commitment to racing ... let's sit down and talk about sponsorship ... we're good for it, just ask your friends at @NASCAR. "
Log in to NHRA.com and you won't mention Mello Yello. It was replaced by the "NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series" in a "multi-year contract". That was easy.
But maybe a bit bittersweet, given Mello Yello's constant support since 2002. "It's hard to comment," says Cromwell. "Coca-Cola has been part of our family for almost 20 years. I'm disappointed."
To say it was a roller coaster year for Cromwell, who was named NHRA President in late 2017, is an understatement. With a few repairable exceptions, the competition itself was solid.
"The race was spectacular at every level," said Cromwell. “The two-day format created a new strategy in sport and increased the pressure on the crew chiefs and drivers, who need to be reinforced. We're seeing some great races side by side. And we're seeing some solid auto numbers. "
To make matters worse, in some states the NHRA and the fans are welcomed with open arms. In other cases, the race is essentially prohibited.
Credit: JERRY FOSS NHRA / NATIONAL DRAGSTER
"We are fully aware that we are in the middle of a pandemic," said Cromwell. "It's a challenge at mass gatherings and we're doing everything in our power to work with state and local governments and follow their protocols to keep our fans and stakeholders safe."
Which falls into his lap.
“I just got off the phone with (motorcycle team owner) Terry Vance. He said, "Man, I'm sorry for you." I said Terry, I'm not sorry. This is not everyone's fault. It's not that our leadership team made a crazy financial decision and this has affected our sport. Our leadership team and NHRA membership have really teamed up to race again.
"I think everything we do today brings us into a great 2021. I think it really gave us a head start and the upper hand. So I said, I'm not sorry. We just have to be." Good guide, and urge you if we have to and we'll be fine. This pandemic will pass and we will be in a better place. "
Part of that stepping stone is that Fox TV, which is set to show NHRA races through 2021, has just signed up for more. “Fox has extended our contract until 2026, which is indeed good news. And they are committed to launching a new round of benefits in 2021 that will get us involved in NFL games, making us the entry or successor to games that are designed to generate bigger audiences and attract some new fans to the sport. "
Cromwell didn't jump into the position of NHRA president from any other business or sport - he invested 20 years making it to the top. “I grew up in a racing family. My father drove SCCA - MGA twin cams, which were and still are quite rare at the time. I wanted a career in sports - I've played everything from baseball to soccer to hockey. After I went to college I got a job at a company called SRO Motorsports that has gone through a lot of changes, and you know it today as the Motorsports Field.
Which is a unique company in itself. Feld started as part of Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey and moved on to productions such as Monster Trucks, Supercross and Disney on Ice.
"Back when it was SRO," Cromwell said, "it was owned by Madison Square Garden, then it was Pace, Live Nation, Clear Channel - numerous name changes were made." It gave me a background in the business side of motorsport and in 1997 I accepted a position with NHRA as director of the Pacific Division, one of seven geographically organized divisions. I did many of our basic programs for about two and a half years and then moved to the marketing department. I really touched every part of the business within the NHRA, from marketing to advertising. I worked my way through licensing and television. Just touch any piece of it. "
“We have so many different philosophies here at NHRA - we have numerous stakeholders and we have our fans, we have our sponsors, our partners, our racing teams, our racetracks ... you have to be able to work with them towards a common goal and expand the sport.
"That's one thing I learned that gets me a little buzz instead of bringing someone in from the outside: I've done almost everything - when I was the department head, I was all out there in Bakersfield, Sacramento, the tracks out there that did Programs like Junior Dragsters, the Federal Modul series, and the Jegs All Stars work - it has given me the opportunity to work with a lot of people.
A schedule was put in place that was the biggest headache for Cromwell and the crew.
"I set one in June, then a new one in August, and it is now being decided by state and local officials whether we can hold an event that has the ability to let some people in," he said. "In Gainesville, for example, we were allowed to be 50 percent full."
He's announced the schedule for 2021, kicking off the season later in the year than usual in March and in Gainesville instead of Pomona.
Cromwell has a model as he navigates deep rough waters through professional drag racing.
"It goes back to our founder Wally Parks," said Cromwell. "He had a real gift for communication and the appreciation that our sport is a family sport." I try to be as like him as possible. I remember once when he wanted to go on stage at our banquet and I said, "Wally, where are your notes? Do you need a teleprompter?" He said, "Look, kid, I don't need any notes." spoke from his heart for 30 minutes, remembering name by name. He finally thanked everyone for their hard work and walked away. I shook my head what an amazing person he was. Heart and passion, that was what he had. And that's what it takes. "
With a new sponsor (Camping World), the expansion of a national TV package with FOX and a schedule for 2021, the NHRA is on the rise. Or are you? Join the discussion in the comments section.
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