The gates at the Texas Motorplex opened Wednesday the 21st time for the AAA Texas NHRA Fall Nationals.
This was the 18th stop on the 22 race tour, starting in Pomona, Calif. on Feb. 24, with the Kragen O’Reilly Auto Parts Winter Nationals. The Full Throttle Drag Racing Series is weaving its way across the country eventually returning to Pomona for the Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals.
Thousands of haulers, trailers, campers, RVs and other modes of transportation broke camp last weekend after the completion of the O’Reilly Auto Part Nationals in Charlotte. N.C. They made their way across the Southern States, some through Memphis, others through Jackson. Whether it’s I-20 or I-30, it is still almost a 1,000 mile trip.
When they left Texas, they were off to Reading, Pa. This is truly a sport for the driving enthusiast; a series of races leading to the grand finale in Pomona where the championship in all the classes is finalized.
Points are earned at each race in all classes. If you don’t race, you don’t get points. So, the more points you have, the better your chance at winning your category and the National Title. That is why during this four-day racing extravaganza you see license plates from every state in the Union.
More than 125,000 people visited our area for the race. This does not include the drivers and crews. Most of these people spent $100 for each man, women and child. That represents a minimum of $12,500,00 financial impact on Ellis County.
Registration and tech inspection for all categories started at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning.
On Thursday, spectator gates opened at 10 a.m., the same time that Sportsman qualifying began. Comp eliminator qualifying session began at 4 p.m. These two classes of racers are really the grass roots of the sport.
Grass roots level are all the guys that race at the local tracks across the country. They are the foundation to the sport of auto racing. Most of you never hear their names, know what they run, where they’re from, or what they do.
NHRA has over 70,000 members with 35,000 licensed competitors participating in 4,000 racing events annually at over 130 member tracts. These guys race every weekend during the season. Some have found their niche and have achieved success in their perspective classes and are content. Others are making their way through the ranks like many of the top drivers have done before them.
All the glitter and the glamour of the sport of racing would not be possible without a tremendous supporting cast. One of the groups of people, an integral part of the production and promotion of the sport, is the Safety Safari. The majority of the crew you see in the yellow shirts at events are not permanent employees of NHRA, but are usually people who have worked at their local track or in the division in which the event occurs. Just a handful of the crew is employed by NHRA to take care of the logistics. Most of the Safety Safari go about their duties unnoticed with no fanfare or appreciation except for today.
Thanks to Apollo Perez the return road at the Fall Nationals was safe and without incident. Apollo is from Sugarland. He’s a truck mechanic and took off from work for four days to work at the race.
“You get a little per diem, some gas money, and a yellow shirt,” Perez said. “It’s not the money, I love the sport.”
Friday and Saturday were packed full of action. A continuous flow of race cars made their way to and through the staging lanes to the starting line. Some were eliminated and some moved up the ladder to the next round of racing. This was not a double elimination bracket. If you lose, you go home. No second chances.
Most of these teams, which included Top Alcohol Dragster thru Super Stock and Stock, came from all corners of the country and are for the most part personally financed. They raced on Sunday and went back to work on Monday.
The Pro categories, which are Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock and Pro Motorcycle, have much larger budgets and have major sponsors. However, with the economy as it is, they have all suffered.
That being said, it appears people will adjust and continue to do what they like to do. This was confirmed by the full grandstands on Saturday and Sunday. Most of the big teams cater to their fans and supporters during the four-day event.
Don Schumacher Racing is one of the most highly visible teams since the U.S. Army is his sponsor. If you watch the sport, you know that Tony Schumacher is the driver and has won seven Top Fuel Championships. Whereever the team goes they are surrounded by men and women of the U.S. Army.
Within a few minutes it seemed you could almost hear someone yell “lights, camera, action.” The production was about to start. The stage had been assembled and rolled out on the starting line. People scurried about making last minute changes and talking on two-way radios. Final barricades were moved into place and security officers took their positions.
All of the dignitaries were ushered into place. Then the photo shoot began behind the stage. Billy Meyers, Kenny Bernstein and Raymond Beadle, Legends of the Sport, were honored. There were lots of photos of the three.
John Force and Kenny Bernstein joined the Class of 2012 inductees to the International Motorsport Hall of Fame. All the drivers for the professional classes were in line and accounted for. Miss Texas, Kendall Morris from Ennis, was present and ready for the big show.
Everybody was ready, the music started and the dance began as Bob Frey took the stage. One by one, each person received his intro and honors were bestowed. It was a controlled explosion. A prayer of thanks was given for the beautiful weather and safety for the day. The Colors were presented and the National Anthem was sung.
Because it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the center of the track, at the starting line, was painted pink with the appropriate white ribbon. Hundreds of people, led by Meyer, Bernstein and Beadle walked the quarter mile to raise money and awareness. Several of the track’s staff were wearing pink.
Drag Racing Association of Women had their annual banquet and auction Saturday evening to raise money benefiting children of parents having lost their lives in racing. This week $75,000.00 was raised in the auction. A pink helmet, signed by all the big names in drag racing, and donated by Terry McMillan, was auctioned, bought and re-auctioned for $30,000.
Sunday, the helmet was given to a breast cancer survivor.
In the midst of all the patriotism, the love of family, honoring our soldiers, worshiping God and caring for the less fortunate, thousands of people from all over the country came together under the banner of the NHRA and participated in this sports spectacular.
Somewhere along the way they even had a race. In the finals, Michael Phillips won Pro Stock Motorcycle, Jason Line won Pro Stock, Cruz Pedregon won Funny Car and Bob Vandergriff Jr., in his 14th final round appearance, took the Wally.
Some say there was just a race in Ennis. There’s much more. And they will do it all over again next year.