Fast Start

Jul 13, 2011

The 2011 drag racing season is well under way and we wanted to know just how it’s doing for business. After all, we all are dealing with an unstable fuel market, jobs are still wavering and the overall economy is far from out of the woods.

It’s not all doom and gloom, but facts are facts and we wanted the facts on how this season is playing out. So we asked product suppliers serving the drag racing how they see the season so far.

Current Events

Our first question was about just that-this season.

Peter Miller, president of Transmission Specialties, pointed out an always important factor: participation. “The car counts in the major series are better than expected so far this year,” he says.

Jesse Powell, director of marketing for Aeromotive, agrees.

“So far, it’s been very strong. Car counts have been up. Business has been good for us in this market, which tells us that guys are racing, building cars and pushing forward,” he says. “No one seems to be timid or scared to progress. Things may not be as strong as they were a few years ago, but I think we have all learned that you cannot put your head in the sand. You have to keep moving and trying to grow. Doom and gloom doesn’t help anyone.”

And not only are racers racing, but fans are watching.

“Attendance doesn’t seem to be off the charts this year, but I have to believe it’s better than the past couple of years,” he continues. “Most people will tell you that we are back to our core. It’s the real racers that race no matter what, the diehard fans that live for this stuff and a core group of parts manufacturers that understands this market and make it their livelihood. That’s what drag racing has come back to. It’s awesome! Sure, we want to grow this market segment and we are seeing signs of that now, but as it stands, it’s a great family and one that we are proud to be a part of.”

Of course, different regions see different results, and Duane LaFleur, motorsports sales manager of Jiffy-tite Co., notes that the market is still rebounding.

“What we have seen so far this year is lower car counts in some of the classes,” he says. “I’m not sure why that is-if it might be the high fuel prices still or if the economy is causing this. As far as sales go, we have seen an increase over last year, which is encouraging.”

And some race classes are even experiencing positive growth.

“For the most part, I think it’s business as usual,” says Seth Temple, senior applications engineer at BorgWarner Turbo Systems. “Drag radial continues to grow and has produced some very competitive racing within the American V-8 classes.”

What’s New

We asked our second question about any surprises seen this season.

Powell says, “Growth. We’ve been very impressed with the growth and the resiliency of this industry over the last few years. For the first time in a long time, our industry-including drag racing-experienced a setback with the fluctuation of the economy. And in an industry that is predicated on a ‘hobby’ or a ‘want-to’ sport, we’ve continued to innovate and grow despite all of this. I think this innovation and desire for success is what has brought new companies and players to drag racing (and) this segment of the market.”

And those good vibes are even attracting new players, he adds.

“RoushYates is a perfect example. While they obviously have a strong brand and heritage in (circle track) racing, they have typically not been involved in drag racing. But look at them now. In the past two years, they have really started to make a name for themselves bringing to market new engine packages and parts designed specifically for drag racing. If they didn’t see a potential for real success here, they would not have put forth the effort or the investment to do so.

“That is a real testament to all of us in this industry. Our ability to reinvent ourselves and welcome new companies, markets and even sometime competitors into our industry in order to foster growth is an anomaly and might just be what sets drag racing and our industry apart from others. It’s certainly what has kept us strong.”

LaFleur notes that racers continue to push the envelope when it comes to new ways to go fast.

“Racers are looking for new, innovative products,” he says. “We receive feedback from racers and our customers looking for new ways to simplify their plumbing and how to continually improve their safety as well.”

The positive pace the drag racing industry has shown so far in 2011 is bringing a smile to suppliers.

“The fact that many racers are still headed to the track every weekend, with this uncertain economy and predominately doomsday nightly news, is a pleasant surprise,” Miller says.

Outside Influences

Next, we asked about any outside factors that may be impacting the drag racing market.

“The economy still seems to be a factor to many of the racers and sanctioning bodies,” says BorgWarner’s Temple. “Many of the car classes are still low on headcount. I think this can be attributed to higher gas prices and higher temperatures.”

Fuel costs are a common concern for those who like to use it to go fast.

“Clearly, the cost of gas has impacted the racing industry,” notes Miller of Transmission Specialties. “It is difficult to justify traveling 400-plus miles to a national event when your local track is 30 miles away. Take the cost of gas and add the inclement spring weather across the country for 2011 and car counts are difficult to judge accurately as racers are not interested in sitting around in 2 or 3 inches of rain on a weekend. The weather has made it difficult to complete a three-day race this spring.”

And when it comes to traveling, it’s not just the fuel, but the time away from home and work that can have an effect, notes Jiffy-tite’s LaFleur.

“The amount of time (racers) need to take off of work seems to have an impact. The events that are two or three days (weekends) are manageable for the racers, but when you have to take Wednesday off to be at the track Thursday and Friday, it makes it hard for some of them to do this.”

It’s nothing those in this market haven’t heard-and experienced-before.

“The economy, gas prices, etc., etc. It’s the same ol’ hat,” says Powell of Aeromotive. “It’s to be expected. How much is it affecting racing? I’m not really sure. I think that these factors have changed the way people race, but it hasn’t changed whether they race. People may not race as far away. They stay closer to home. They might enter their car in local races they may have not considered before.

“I also think that guys are starting to build more multi-platform race cars-cars that can race in multiple sanctions or classes, which extends their opportunity to race competitively at a reduced cost,” he adds. “Purpose-built race cars can be expensive and if you’re going to race it a lot, you have to be willing to travel and be willing to accept that expense.”

On the plus side, Powell says, the attention vehicle manufacturers are paying to drag racing is having a positive effect on the sport.

“I think the OEs’ involvement in drag racing has really fostered growth over the past few years,” he explains. “From Pro Stock to all the new stockers, the OEs (Ford, GM and Chrysler) have always had their roots in drag racing and I think that is what always made drag racing elite and kept propelling it forward. With these guys back in the fold like they are, it brings new attention to our sport and breathes new life into it. It also brings new enthusiasts to our market that may not have found their way here on their own. This is critical for our future and it’s made the last few years a lot of fun.”

Fast-Forward

Lastly, we asked our sources to take the current season into consideration and then predict the market’s outlook moving forward.

“I feel things will continue to pick up,” says LaFleur. “There are a lot of people that have race cars and they have invested a lot of money into them. They are not just going to let them sit in the garage and collect dust. These people have racing in their blood and if they will not be attending the large sanctioning bodies’ events, they will race the big-money bracket races. They are racers and will always be racers. They will be back.”

And if the economy stays soft, there’s always the opportunity to repair rather than replace.

“When money is tight, the trend is to repair what you have, as opposed to purchasing a new unit,” says Miller. “This has led to an increase in repairs/renovations of transmissions and converters and a decrease in new sales. We would expect this trend to continue throughout 2011.”

Oh, and there’s the little thing about going faster.

“With the onset of new product launches, we expect to see lower ETs and higher mph,” Temple predicts.

Finally, Powell may have the best idea for all of us in the market.

“We’re about as positive as we can be right now. I think you still have to be cautious and careful, but you can’t help but be excited about the potential,” he says. “We’ve tried to learn from the last few years and from our peers, ultimately to be successful. We’re going to continue to race and push the envelope. It’s how we learn and how we develop products.

“In order for us to continue to be the innovator, we have to be out there. We have to understand the problems for ourselves and learn from our peers. If we do this, we can engineer solutions and this is how we will grow and how we will contribute to the growth of this market and to the progress of drag racing.”

The season so far is looking mighty bright. And as we write this, gas prices are starting to drop. Good racing is back and hopefully here to stay!