Opportunities in Nostalgia Drags

Mar 17, 2010

It’s quite the phenomenon and shows no signs of slowing its incredible growth. We’re talking about the Nostalgia Drag market and the rising popularity it enjoys.

Sporting numbers OEM builders can only dream of, Nostalgia Drag racers make up the fastest growing racing market these days. So we asked a number of our manufacturer sources how shops and stores can get in on this opportunity.

What’s the Attraction?

Our first question was about understanding the popularity-just what is the attraction here?

Callies’ Duane Boes gets right down to the core when he says, “Racers of that era are at a point in their lives where they have discretionary money to spend. This same demographic exists in the fan base as well; these events bring back a lot of good memories for the spectators. Nostalgia racing allows fans to reconnect with their old heroes. This type of racing is less expensive and more social than some of the all-out classes. These two issues combine to make this a low-stress format for the competitors.”

Egge’s Del Austin also believes that Nostalgia Drags truly live up to their name.

“The early days of drag racing were just so much fun, and just about anyone with a car could participate,” he says. “The early days were part of the whole car deal. The big growth of the car hobby and racing after WWII grew into faster and faster cars, and there were places to race. Then Vietnam came and the world changed, including for the car guy. Drag cars and drag racing changed. The dragster changed to rear engine (and) Funny Cars (fuel coupes) became special one-offs.”

Money, he says, changed the sport. And now some people want to revisit the “good old days.”

“Racing became expensive. The quicker the cars went, the more parts they used and many racers had to park their racecars,” he explains. “Now the racers from the 1950s and ’60’s are a little older and having a great time reliving their past. The younger crowd loves the diversity of the racecars. NHRA has done a great job of keeping the history alive. Nostalgia drag racing just keeps getting bigger and bigger with many ‘new-old’ cars being built.”

Chris Alston’s Chassisworks’ Lino Chestang says it’s the simplicity of the sport that’s attractive.

“Nostalgia drag racing represents a simpler time when creative thinking and good execution brought you lower ETs,” he says. “You could run a competitive car without the deep pockets of Corporate America. I think that’s a lot of the appeal, especially to the old-school drag racers and even the younger generation of racers that grew up hearing the old stories and becoming familiar and comfortable with the older technology.”

BDS (Blower Drive Service’s) Norma Iskenderian adds, “Drag racing is a very exciting sport. It’s about the speed, the sound, the smell of nitro and that makes this old heart pump. But what makes Nostalgia racing so popular is that unlike the Pro Series, it is very accessible to anyone who wants to race but doesn’t have the big sponsors backing them and has to use his own nickel over and over again.”

Quick Fuel Technology (QFT)’s Shane Montgomery says the sport spans the generation gap.

“Nostalgia drag racing has a certain appeal that seems to draw all age groups. Young people at the race track are seeing something out of the ordinary and perhaps a little quirky with neat retro graphics/lettering and engine combinations that are not mainstream anymore,” he says. “For older people that have followed the sport over the years, they are reminiscing at the sight of older cars or performance trends they knew and grew up watching. Somewhere in the middle of a young and old crowd is the motorsports enthusiast that can appreciate what Nostalgia Drags are about and how they were the beginnings of what we call drag racing today.”

Hot Products

Next, we asked what products are the hot sellers for this market.

Iskenderian from BDS says, “The ticket items are snouts, gear couplers, pulleys and belts. Some of these parts will need to be replaced or changed. BDS has released a new Nostalgia blower that has been performing beyond even our expectations.”

Chestang from Chassisworks says, “Products that improve safety, reliability, and performance without disturbing the nostalgia appearance and feel of the car are big movers. Chassisworks offers complete Nostalgia and roadster chassis kits and roll cages designed specifically for late 1920s through 1970s American cars and trucks. Our ladder-bar and four-link kits have always done well in the Nostalgia market. The addition of direct-replacement adjustable shock absorbers from our VariShock product line have offered an improved level of suspension tuning for the ’50s to ’70s Nostalgia market and have steadily been gaining market share.”

Montgomery from QFT points out, “Of all the Nostalgia Drag merchandise that is out there, the most popular segment that I have seen in my experience is the clothing and souvenir market. Hard parts and equipment are something that most people are not going to purchase unless they are already a part of the scene, so clothing is the easiest way to be a part of it all. We’ve all been to the Nostalgia races and seen how well the T-shirt guy does.”

Austin from Egge adds, “Vintage race/performance parts, along with just about any good vintage engine parts (are strong sellers). There is a need for just about anything that makes a Nostalgia car run. These cars use up parts. Not as quickly as current drag cars, but they still need good parts to run.”

And Boes notes, “For Callies, the big-block Chevy is by far the most popular engine family being utilized. The Mopar Hemi and the small-block Chevy are popular as well.”

Getting to Work

Our next question was probably the toughest: we asked what challenges or pitfalls do retailers need to know about when serving the Nostalgia Drags market.

Chestang begins: “Nostalgia racers may be very set in their ways and not extremely willing to step up to a more modern improvement of the older technology. On these tough sells, we really place an emphasis on the improved safety, reliability and tuning capabilities of the newer components. Chassisworks has made a strong effort in applying the knowledge gained from decades in the racing industry to benefit the Nostalgia market and vehicles.”

Austin notes that finding the exact part needed can, at times, prove difficult.

“Producing/marketing the wrong parts (and) not marketing to the correct customer (are the main challenges),” he says. “The market is pretty strong right now, but Nostalgia drag racing is based on history and the market may peak and then decline-although there are no signs of this happening anytime soon.”

Boes says, “For the most part, engine builders will not see these engines in as often for freshen-up work. On the other hand, the Nostalgia guys are big on finding accessories that are true to the period in which the vehicle was actually made.”

And Iskenderian adds, “The most important factor in selling products is to make sure you know your customer. These racing teams are on a shoestring budget and so go for the long-term relationship. Don’t try to oversell; what they lack in funds they make up for in knowledge.”

Montgomery suggests getting to know the customers and the products.

“I think some of the challenges retailers face are the same as always-how do you provide the right product to someone with discretionary income?” he says. “Being at the right event with the right stuff is always the key. But knowing the trends and how your potential customers buy is also important. If there’s something you see an interest in, you need to react early and also provide people with an alternative means of purchase. Having an online outlet is a good example of an alternative that some of your competitors might not have. This would enable you to drop-ship something to someone who might not want to carry the product with them or if you are currently out of stock.”

Forward to the Past

So with all this in mind, how can shops take advantage of the opportunities? Our sources say basic business practices can get great results.

“Attend a Nostalgia event or two during the year,” Boes says. “The Nostalgia group is a tight niche (and) advertising in a Nostalgia-oriented magazine can be productive as well. If you advertise, be sure to mention a specialty.”

Chestang says it’s about knowledge, too.

“Firstly, shops must be well-versed in all eras of drag racing technology and can benefit from working with a manufacturer that can supply the majority of the products for a Nostalgia vehicle build or modification,” he says.

Iskenderian offers straightforward advice: “Have products on the shelf and be ready to ship same-day.”

Montgomery recommends focusing on the participants as well as the vehicles.

“Like I mentioned earlier, you need to watch trends and gauge what people are interested in. Speed shops could benefit immensely by offering wearables or collectables in addition to the hardcore speed parts. Gifts and collectables will also open an entire new customer base because families will now be more apt to shop for dad or their husband.”

And Austin says to play to your strengths. “Shops that have knowledge and experience with vintage engines should market to this group. Shops that do race engine work should market to this group.”

Nostalgia drag racing’s smoky burnouts are still getting fans and racers wound up. And there’s still time to get into this lucrative market. You can join the many racers and fans having plenty of fun-and selling more is always fun.