Many motorsports look for ways to get fans more involved with their genre of choice, to the point where folks want to experience what it is like to be where the driver is. So why exactly is NHRA punishing a driver and keeping him from giving fans, potential sponsors and investors in having that experience?
The National Hot Rod Association made the startling announcement today that Top Fuel driver Larry Dixon was indefinitely suspended from any competition in the Mello Yello and Lucas Oil drag racing series.
Dixon has spent most of the last week in Las Vegas showing off his new “Nitro x 2″ nitro dragster, now sponsored by Traxxas. It’s the first two-seat top fuel dragster that will allow a passenger to ride behind Dixon down the track and experience what it’s like to go the 1000-foot distance.
Talk about the ultimate “baptism by nitro” moment.
But then, that is where the story gets a bit murky, and unanswered questions suddenly come to the forefront.
How exactly did Dixon bring a car that supposedly was inspected and approved by NHRA when in fact, it wasn’t? But then the other question that comes with this isn’t directed at Dixon, but instead to the sanctioning body itself. The NHRA may need to be asked things such as, “Who inspected this chassis without our knowledge?” Another question that could be directed at NHRA is, “Would you ever approve a chassis that could cause liability issues?”
Obviously the most important question that has yet to be answered is that of is the chassis tag actually real, and if so, when and where did it take place.
Dixon has used the chassis before in promotions, but he’s not using it for competition. He’s even made passes down the track in testing, although did so at an NHRA-sactioning track, a mistake on his part.
But it’s not as though this car will be lining up to take on Antron Brown or Courtney Force any time soon. For one thing, no sanctioning body will let a fan, or anyone for that matter, ride along in a car for competition. The risks so far outweigh the rewards, why even consider it?
But then suddenly, NHRA says Dixon can’t even compete in the sport that pays his bills, especially when he’s trying to procure sponsors. So who’s hurting more?
NHRA may be the one hurting because they are taking away a major opportunity to get exposure.
NASCAR has long had ways of people to get the experience of being a passenger, or even a driver, in a stock car. Ever hear of the Richard Petty Driving Experience? IndyCar has a two-seat car that leads the field prior to the green flag, driven by Mario Andretti. The car never goes overly fast, never puts anyone at risk, and won’t ever be competing against the likes of Tony Kanaan any time soon.
Even the world of monster trucks have trucks that have a passenger, sometimes even a bigger roll cage to fit two passengers, that are built exactly to the same standards for safety. Take the passengers out, and the truck can go right into competition, no changes needed.
So what is NHRA doing suspending a driver that could bring in more fans with his unique car?
Maybe they are trying to avoid one public relations fiasco by having potential sponsor representatives suffer trauma when going that fast without any prior experience in doing so. But then at the same time, they have created another by suspending a driver and not giving any more details as to why.
That’s not saying that Dixon is also at fault for this as well.
The chassis builder who built the car, Murf McKinney, builds quality cars that would never intentionally jeopardize the driver nor sanctioning body. But when the car had an NHRA inspection sticker shown, all these questions as to when it was approved, and who did so, automatically began swirling. NHRA at the time did not have any inspection requirements for a two-seat, top fuel dragster. Yet, according to sources, the sticker on the car is current based on the date issued.
So is Larry wrong for displaying the car, or trying to showcase it at an NHRA event when it wasn’t approved? It could be argued that way, but NHRA could also be wrong with just outright saying he couldn’t, before hearing his side to the potential exposure, not to mention the increased potential of new sponsors and fans.
There is a lot of murky water in this entire situation, and no one is going to win from it.
Dixon can’t earn a living doing what he enjoys, especially when it’s his own team that he’s competing with and now has Traxxas as his sponsor. NHRA, then, is getting all the negative publicity because of the suspension and it only continues to get worse from here. Fans are upset at the suspension, and with less people coming out to the events, that means less sales opportunities for sponsors and tracks.
The bottom line is this: there is a lot of questions that will need answered at some point from both Dixon and NHRA. When the inspection certification was done, who was the one to do it, and whether the chassis was modified after the fact lead the way.
Dixon then needs to answer if there is a vendetta against NHRA, or anyone in particular that works for NHRA. He also needs to answer of what his next move will be until he is reinstated.
NHRA will certainly have to answer whether he will ever be reinstated, especially after all that has transpired.
There is a lot more to this story, and once more details come, there will be even more questions to follow. It is never ending, and that’s the unfortunate reality for the NHRA and Dixon. This situation will never go away. It will always linger.