Tuesday, March 4, 2014


In case you missed it on Competition Plus.com, we're sharing their recent piece featuring (SGE approved) Whit Bazemore's take on the state of North American drag racing. We found Whit's comments worthy of your immediate consideration, so are posting them here, as a courtesy. Please scroll down to view Part Two of this unprecedented Double Feature. Thank you.  


Apparently, drag racing is dying a slow death. Ask anyone even remotely involved, and you will hear a multitude of reasons why and even more reasons about what needs to be done to save it. The fact that so many people see a perceived problem means the problem is real. Truth is, you don’t have to be a marketing genius or the world’s best tuner to see the problem, although I bet most tuners actually couldn’t care less. It isn’t really their job, anyway.

The metrics used to measure health in the sport are steadily trending downward. The number of spectators, television viewers, race cars, teams and sponsors are all down. The number of dollars the remaining sponsors are willing to spend, the number of feet in the length of the track and the number of races that count toward the championship: all down. You get the idea. Even ET numbers are steadily decreasing, which is part of the problem. The only number increasing is the cost to participate.

This is not meant to be a slam of the NHRA, although ultimately they do control the rules, marketing, and sales, all of which affect the appeal of the sport. But the big team owners also have a strong say, and unfortunately they have historically often put their own well being before the well being of the sport itself. It is a very shortsighted approach.

My thoughts are presented as a conversation starter. Like you, the readers of Competition Plus, I love the sport; we all have passion, and we all want it to be as successful, healthy and entertaining as possible. But, some of these thoughts might be unpopular among my friends who own teams, or tune competitive cars, and even among some of you. That is all okay.

The metrics of reaching and communicating to the consumer have drastically changed in the past five to ten years, and are continuing to change – almost daily. We live in an entirely new world. Painting a racecar and getting a 5 to 1 return via television exposure is no longer effective. Getting a 2 to 1 return is a total joke. Now is a great opportunity for NHRA and the sport to create change for the better, to be progressive instead of reactionary, and lead one of the most American and exciting forms of motorsports into the future of this new world. It is time to recapture the core audience while at the same time, put the sport in front of a potential new audience, ideally to drastically increase it’s value. Now is an opportunity to look far into the future and define where the sport can be in three, five, ten and even 20 year’s time. To actually define what the sport is, who watches it, and who gets to play and why. One thing is almost guaranteed: the sport, as it is today with the current rules package (which defines the entertainment product), as well as how it is currently marketed, will continue to have a very limited appeal and reach.

Some numbers are sobering. Compare two Ford athletes: Ken Block, professional rally driver, and Courtney Force, one of the most promote-able young stars of the NHRA, arguably second largest form of Motorsport in the U.S.

Facebook likes       YouTube views (most - single video)      Twitter

Block: 4,127,319    59,700,357 San Francisco Gymkhana      345K

C. Force: 35,775 B  95,231 ESPN-Nude shoot                       53K

Obviously, a big rethink about television, marketing and our audience is in order. How to market our sport to gain “eyeballs” in this new world is a big subject and a conversation for another article. Instead, this addresses my ideas for improving our product, which is actually the first step to improving its reach.

The NHRA Product:

Let’s look at the fuel classes. Is our product all it can be? My answer: No! The biggest reason, in my opinion, is credibility. The sport just does not have the credibility it once had. Consider:

· The fans don’t respect the drivers as much as they used to.

· Many (but not all) drivers are boring corporate clones (this has been talked about ad nauseam without affect).

· The cars are seen as easy-to-drive. Lots of rookies are instant winners, driving for big, well-funded teams without having much, if any, experience. When marketable, seasoned veterans are passed over or replaced by novices, it says something about the value placed on today’s drivers.

I believe improving the product begins with the drivers.

Our drivers have to have credibility and ideally be superstars. At the very least, they have to be relevant. Yeah, the sport itself is a draw, like all sports, but the biggest sports in the world revolve around superstars. Look at golf, soccer, tennis, F1, football, cycling, and apparently, rallying! Look at NHRA in its heyday. We had - and worshipped - Garlits, Shirley, Snake, Goose, and Bernstein, among others. I would venture that all of these still have more name recognition than all but one of today’s racers.

People relate to people, they feel emotion and identify with other people, they want certain people to win – or lose. There absolutely must be that bond. The public has to care about the result, not just come to see a race, but come to see who wins, and who loses. This is so critical, yet so misunderstood and overlooked.

And today, unfortunately, the drivers are the most irrelevant they have ever been.

How do we fix it?

The first step to making the drivers more relevant is to make them matter more. The cars must become harder to drive. A driver’s talent and value has to be measured by more than just being able to press a pedal a few .01’s quicker than the next guy. The public just doesn’t relate to that, plus we don’t do a good job of explaining it anyway. While fuel cars are as quick as ever, (but not really quicker… a certain Matco Funny Car ran in the 3’s to 1000ft way back at the World Finals in 2001) I can tell you they are more automated, more forgiving and easier to drive than ever before. It is really hard for a driver to screw up a run these days. A driver can’t smoke the clutch out of it (with the car barely moving when the clutch is let out so that the crew guys have to push the car through the water box), and they can’t destroy it on the burnout because the throttle stops are set so low the things can barely smoke the tires, meaning today’s drivers have zero throttle control. Zero. You also can’t lock up the clutch at the wrong time, shift at the wrong time or hit the fuel lean out too soon. Hell, you can’t even forget to set off the fire bottles if it is on fire, or gasp, opt to drive to the end of the Gainesville track without pulling the chutes run-after-run just because you want to go faster for longer. No, the car pulls the chutes – and shuts off - for you. I understand the reasons why this is in place, but there has to be a better option that allows the drivers to drive the way they chose to, while still offering an incapacitated driver some sort of protection.

Unfortunately, all of these automations insinuate that today’s drivers are so untalented they can’t do this stuff on their own. Today’s rules have created a perception that fuel drivers are idiots, incapable and easily replaceable monkeys, and everyone knows it. Some drivers, in fact, are not very good, but the rules allow them to still exist, and “just be so happy to be here.” Ugh. And worst of all, the track is only 1,000 feet long. How brave does one need to be to drive a fuel car today to 1000 feet? My opinion is not very. For sure, in spite of the awesomeness of the car’s performances, fuel drag racing is a very neutered version of its once glorious self.

Apparently, the American public agrees, as does the hardcore drag racing fan. No matter how quick, loud and fast the cars are, is that enough to return the sport to health and to a growth model? No. The fans vote with their time and their money, and they have voted.

Many of these changes have been made in the name of safety. But I know I am not the only veteran who thinks this stuff has gone too far.

Of course, safety is a great thing. I fought to make tracks safer for most of the later part of my career. Ironically, it was an uphill battle that did not endear me to many. Racetrack safety is a black and white issue, and that means compromise is not an option. For example in 2006 many teams were testing in Topeka on Monday after the race, yet there was only one safety person at the last turnoff, wearing an open-faced civilian fireman’s helmet with–get this–gardening gloves. You can imagine what I said to the guy. A funny car driver stuck in a fire for any stupid reason would have died, as would a Stock class racer, because the track was woefully unprepared. I didn’t have the horsepower to get anything done, other than to have the local fire truck move to the other end, and I decided another full pass was out of the question for me. Personally, I was disgusted at the time, mostly because no one else seemed to care.

Now, we race to 1,000 feet, have auto-shut off everything and the teams have spent huge sums of money on safety equipment, but I bet even today, like at Englishtown in 2008, there are still moments similar to that day in Topeka, where simple responsibility can make a bigger difference than any equipment added to a car or any shortening of a race track. It is common sense.

Safety changes should not be made at the expense of the sport itself. It is a very fine line; drag racing is dangerous. It is and it always will be. If a driver can not hit the chutes, fuel shutoff, and fire bottles at 320 mph while in a raging inferno with the tires burning off, then maybe they shouldn’t be in there in the first place. And when things do go wrong, as they inevitably will, the track should be as safe as possible, the personnel should be trained and prepared and the driver’s own ability should come into play.

I digress. So what changes would make the driver more relevant? Simple:

· Slow the cars down. Just a little. But not in an artificial way. You have to slow them down, but at the same time, make them more exciting to drive – and watch. Not just slower and more boring. Not with a rev limiter. Instead, take away a lot of down force. Prep the tracks less. Put the cars more on edge. Make funny cars look more like real cars, which does two things. First it creates more fan and corporate interest, and secondly, it aids in reducing the downforce. Maybe have a smaller, harder tire. One mag of limited power. Less wing on top fuel cars. It is so easy and such common sense. What is the downside? They will go slower, and be much harder, but way more fun to drive. The cars will be “looser,” will float around some, and will actually require more steering input on almost every run. Yes, these are similar to the nostalgia rules, but so what? Bring it. Along with a return to the quarter mile. It goes without question.

Make the driver responsible for locking up the clutch. You can have as many stages as you want, so long as they are non-automated; the driver has to do it. This is very important. Bad drivers won’t be around very long, opening the door for good ones, and new guys, perhaps some guys like Adam Sorokin. People want to see the best drivers competing and that, in turn, gives the sport credibility. Maybe John Force has won 16 championships because he IS the best pure driver, with the best team, but under these proposed rules, there would be no question. One thing for sure, “average” drivers would win way fewer races and certainly not any championships. When “not very good” drivers win championships, as has happened a few times, it has a very negative effect on the sport. It calls the credibility of the entire sport into question. As it should.

Average the qualifying times. This is so simple and it would have a huge impact on the excitement of qualifying. No more shutoff runs. And, most likely a few of today’s fuel car drivers would crash during the course of the year. But this would certainly add a lot of excitement and drama, and definitely showcase real talent. The fans would identify more with real talent as opposed to today’s faux, manufactured and overly marketed perception of talent. It comes back to the credibility issue. The cool thing is the really hungry, yet inexperienced, driver would have to work harder to learn the skills required. Hunger and desire would play a bigger role, the way they used to. Yes, I mean Courtney. She would excel sooner rather than later, I think. Same, probably with Alexis, but some others might not be so willing to apply themselves.

Make throttle stops and pushing the car forward illegal. In fact, make the driver do everything once the car has started. No one should be allowed to touch the car except to fix a leak or address a minor mechanical problem, much like it has always been.

Drivers who have earned a place in the sport based on merit are more likely to speak out and allow their personalities to show through like the in old days, when Tharp, Muldowney, McCulloch, Prudhomme, and just about everyone said it like it was. It was way better entertainment, for sure. Remember Senna? Earnhardt Sr.? How about Snake after losing? Those guys were not insecure about losing their rides. The few remaining hired fuel drivers of today could be replaced in a moment, and because the cars are so automated, they would hardly be missed. It is by design. Believe me when I tell you they are very, very aware of this. Anyone with a few million can most likely have their jobs and they know it. And when it happens? Well, Dixon, Dunn, Cory Mac, Troxel, me, Bernstein Jr, and many others can tell them where to get the best deal on a new television, so they can best keep up with their old rides. The irony is that outgoing, and even controversial personalities, drivers with real stories, end up being an asset to a team, and to the sport as a whole, because fans can relate to them and latch on - or off - as is sometimes the case. Villains, too, attract fans and a following. The driver with a personality and a story becomes more relevant. And perhaps the “black hat bad guy” is most important. Yes, I know.

These are my ideas to make the sport more exciting, and the drivers more relevant.

You can’t manufacture rivalries, like the ESPN producer and announcers try to do these days. No faking it. It doesn’t work. It’s not credible. It. Just. Doesn’t. Work.

Take the Hofmann and Force rivalry for example. It was real. Real hate was involved. Hate is an ugly word, but you know, the truth is the truth. It was the same with me. I hated the diving and I hated losing. When Force and I refused to stage in qualifying in Vegas, 2001, it was as real as it gets. We both put our lives on the line in the heat of the battle; we both ran out of fuel and blew up. There was always respect, but a very strong dislike, which I have been told, was extremely compelling. Capps and I could have had a great, public rivalry too, because we really did have a pretty good private one. He hated losing to me, perhaps more than anyone else, and I to him. But it was never allowed to blossom, because, as I was told, “you guys are teammates.” Really? I always thought my teammates were the guys bolting my car together between rounds; everyone else is competition – and thus the enemy.

Where is that stuff today? Not at the drag strip, that is for sure. And it needs to be.

I hope this provokes thought and conversation. Long-term, out-of-the-box, creative thinking. Big picture stuff. Because big changes are needed. A total re-think of what the sport is, how it is run and who gets to play and why. Even how and where it is televised (perhaps it is time for a television partner who has a real vested interest in the success of the sport). People who are smarter than me need to think this through, and hold firm to their beliefs. You can’t have the genius crew chiefs dictating the rules. One genius has said he’d rather have the cars race remote control. Seriously! Yeah, that’d sell a lot of tickets. Build more motors and let others dictate the rules please.

If it is to survive, much less grow, big changes need to take place.

Everyone knows something must be done. “Short-term pain for long-term gain,” or something like that. It won’t be easy, but tough decisions seldom are. The long-term health of the sport is at risk. Let’s fix it.




Spring has sprung and Squirrel Season has officially begun. The forest pranksters are back and on the attack! (Todd Schorr image)

Items I have thoughtlessly tossed into my toolbox: Locks, socks and chickenpox. And Douglas is welcome to all of it. (Image found online)


It was a lark. A base sophomoric acting-out of minuscule import. When we put the first squirrel on the SGE payroll as a fuzzy metaphor of ourselves, we envisioned a one-shot gag that might be good for a grin and nothing more. The manic public reaction caught us completely off guard and has steadily steamrolled in the interim. And since becoming overnight superstars at this year's Super Bowl, the SGE Squirrels have fostered their own industry and are moving merchandise through it, as if through a goose. Today, your SGE shrine isn't complete without these must-haves:


Yes, this is an ad for the Squirrel Phone.

Radio Shack, in conjunction with NASA, is developing a robotic squirrel, to hit the market this summer.


This is just nuts. I don't know that the squirrels themselves have cashed in on any of this swag, but they've certainly been well exploited. Good for them.


We thought the fantastical squirrels could use some realistic counterpoint, so the toolboxes were added shortly afterward to help balance the load. As it turned out, the squirrels still overran the boxes, in fan mail anyway. But the boxes are every bit as much "us" as the squirrels, so they remain. This year's Toolbox Freakout spotlights the collection of one Kevin Perry in Ventura, California. You may know him as Kiwi Kev, owner-builder of countless race cars (including the legendary Nasty Habit Willys gasser) and myriad wildass hot rods. Kev makes a lot of tools and parts too, though most of his tools are too big to fit in a box. We'll allow that, this one time. Kev's shop has soaked up a lot of ink and bandwidth, but just in case you missed it...

And that's just the shop.
The driveway is usually pretty interesting, too. 

Kiwi Kev and his Nasty Habit.  (Photos courtesy of Kiwi Kev)

Thanks for the inspiration and entertainment, Kev. We'll check in again sometime, once we've digested this. Whew... (Photos courtesy of Kiwi Kev)




It's still winter in Panama, Iowa, and Beth Main and Tim Jones are still building their respective project cars - a T speedster for Beth and a Comp Coupe for Tim - both of which have recently been featured on this blog. Just getting to the parts store can be a challenge in the Midwest winter, but they don't sweat it - they just hitch up the team and go shopping. Beth demonstrates here.

At this point, Beth is considering dog power over the 'banger currently scheduled for her speedster. You do what you gotta do - when in Panama... (Photos courtesy of Tim Jones)

Meanwhile, in Nebraska...    (Photographer unknown)

... and in Wisconsin...                                                 (Photo by Ansel Adams)



It happens to the best of us. The President and First Lady of American Hot Rodding, SGE pals Lance and Diane Sorchik, were beaten down by 2014's eternal chill, and suffered such a wicked case of cabin fever that they finally gave up and flew the coop. They evacuated their snowbound northern New Jersey home and blasted off to Hawaii a couple of weeks ago. SGE International correspondent Mr. X embedded himself in a herd of rabid Hawaiian paparazzi and caught the action, enhanced here by the Sorchiks' own private vacation photos. Crank up your electric blanket and get decadent vicariously through these pictures of paradise.

Finally waving goodbye to New York City (AKA Shakey Town, The City of Big Shoulders, and The City of Brotherly Lights), after a lengthy snow delay on the tarmac.

It didn't take Lance all day to sniff out some interesting tin during a layover. You don't need a security X-ray to see the wheels whizzing in his head.

 Paradise at last! Cute kids, too.

A rare dash of snow made our heroes feel right at home.

The motel amenities were at once familiar and exotic. 

The tropical waters seemingly triggered a cosmic reversal of Lance's personal evolutionary chart, rocketing him back into a near-primordial state... 

... allowing for this amazing reunion with some long lost ancestors. The backwards ball cap is from Englishtown Raceway, circa 1977. Bonus: The scuba tank is now toting fuel in the trunk of Lance's '33 roadster.

While in the neighborhood, Lance crossed paths with Marty Lau, proprietor of the 808 Speed Shop in Kailua on the island of Oahu. Lance tagged Marty, "A really talented young guy, who's living his dream. His shop was full of cool projects..."

What does a dyed-in-the-wool trad custom guy drive? Marty's choice is this clean-and-mean Chevelle.

The secret entrance to Warren Chamberlin's Hilo hideout, on the Big Island. The Sorchik's propensity for finding these human needles in a haystack the size of the Pacific ocean borders on supernatural.

Sure enough, Warren and Lance were amigos from the get-go (I think that's Hawaiian for Fast Friends). It just figures that Warren is a New York transplant. Lance on Warren: "He was more than cordial to Di and I - a couple of strangers who, out of the blue, contacted him and asked to come to his place so we could look at his stuff!"

Warren's drivers reveal a Pentastar slant, so to speak. 

The '50 Dodge coupe just received this dual quad 513" transplant (a bored and stroked '68 440 with all the fun stuff, trailed by a 727 and 8 3/4 with 4.10s). No heavy Hemi heads for Warren - he's now strictly a Polynesian head hunter (these are aluminum Edelbrocks).The front axle was made at the Pearl Harbor shipyards back when, and Traction Masters provide some weight transfer. Warren built it, "To the 1962 NHRA rule book." Hilo's incessant rain hasn't allowed for a proper test drive yet.

Warren keeps pretty busy in the shop. And he stocked it with enough crusty treasure to convince the Sorchiks that the true paradise lay under this roof. His current '37 pickup project sits at the forefront.

Warren gives the First Lady the tour. Imagine his jangled nerves, knowing the surrounding bushes are alive with excitable natives, press, and Secret Service. Hopefully, Warren read the protocol guide beforehand. 

And just like that, their meter expired and the Sorchiks came crashing back into the reality of a New Jersey February. They've re-acclimated now and are nearly recovered. The poor dears. Keep them in your prayers. 

Life is back to normal now, but even non-stop sub-zero shoveling is a warm fuzzy funfest, when hanging loose in a fresh Hawaiian shirt. (Photos courtesy of Jumpstart Graphics and Mr. X )



It's no secret that I'm a lifelong supporter of women in motorsports and am willing to do whatever it takes to help any estrogen-powered entry to the winner's circle. But I didn't see this coming: Motormouth Ray found this piece online and alerted me immediately. When I saw it, my day came to a screeching halt. I was absolutely mesmerized by what I saw. The loonies at Studio Diip (I believe it's a division of Electro Mechanical Components) acting on a hunch, invented this fiendishly simple way for a fish to drive its tank around. Finally! I have a vested interest in such matters, as Saint Shellski and myself have an amazing Blue Heeler/Border Collie mix, known to the world as Sheila The Wonder Dog. Sheila is an excellent navigator and fancies herself an above average driver, but I respectfully disagree. She's good, but not great. I suspect the holdback to be the inherently flawed paw design, unsuited to the steering wheel contour. So this fishy breakthrough instantly caught my attention. Now to transfer this technology to canine use... Testing will commence as soon as funds allow.

This mobile aquarium (an Arduino-controlled robotic car) is powered by a beefed electric motor. What else would you expect from EMC? Check the badass rolling stock and suspension. This is one stylin' goldfish.

A simple webcam is attached to the kart and monitors the fish's position, sending data through a battery operated Beagleboard, which converts the fish's direction to the vehicle's steering mechanism.

The star of the show. You can't really tell by this shot, but it's busting moves like Mario Andretti in there!

Quoting from EMC's website, "Specifically, the system uses the contrast of where the fish is within the tank against the bottom of the encasement to determine its position, whereupon commands are sent to the Arduino for moving the car in that specific direction." So the fish goes left, the car goes left, etc. The video shows the fish in total control of the car, as it cruises around the office, dodging water coolers, wastepaper baskets, and dozing office workers. It didn't hit anything, violate any traffic laws, nor spill a drop of water.

If a goldfish can navigate an office full of personnel, then a dog (with its much larger brain mass and actual extremities) should be competitive on the autocross in a suitably equipped race car. That just stands to reason. The Blue Heeler/Border Collie mix is a herding breed, capable of lightning cuts and other running back maneuvers. I think my Model A project is about to get an Arduino and Beagleboard upgrade (along with a mailman air freshener and dogbone radiator cap). Sheila will be unbeatable on the track! Watch this space for test results. (Photos and imagery courtesy of EMC)

See the spellbinding video at: http://www.electronicproducts.com/Electromechanical_Components/Motors_and_Controllers/A_fish_that_can_steer_its_tank_around_the_room_because_why_not.aspx

Aspiring race car driver Sheila The Wonder Dog. Note body architecture suitable for bucket seat. She's a natural. But she sometimes has one goldfish too many... (Scotty shot)