Tell us a little bit about your background in drag racing?
Scott Gardner: I grew up in a family that was active in drag racing, so it has really been a part of me as long as I can remember. In those days it was all class racing on the local level. Once I got old enough to have my first car (1965 Mustang) I raced it at our local track in the E.T. Brackets and was fortunate enough to win seven events in one season and the championship. After college my brother and I raced a Pro Stock car at United Drag Racers Association (UDRA) events. So, I have seen many sides of being a participant.
Give me a little bit of personal background about yourself away from racing?
SG: It really didn't take me long to figure out that I would probably be a better promoter than racer. Even when I raced with the UDRA I was actively involved in the administration and promotion of the events, including a stint as Vice President. From there the natural progression for me was becoming a track operator. The old saying is when you grow up 'do something you like.' For me, it's always been about racing. The only thing that is more important to me is God and my family.
What has being a track owner taught you that you can bring over to the IHRA?
SG: Well, being a track owner I see things a bit more clearly now from all angles (racer, track owner and sanctioning body). The experience of being a track owner tells me that IHRA needs to be sure we are partnering with track operators who are committed to success and that we need to help any track operator that is struggling. Having a national event in a good market is important, but we also have to have good partners committed to good customer service and production of the events.
What are your immediate observations about the state of the IHRA and what are some of the first things you want to accomplish?
SG: I see that our staff has a strong desire to be the best in the industry. They have, as I do, a strong desire that IHRA remains committed to our track operators and our sportsman racers. The real foundation to the IHRA is both of those. My short list of things to accomplish includes increased sportsman participation and membership along with member tracks. In addition, it's important to me that we bring an element of competitive racing to our Nitro Jam National Events.
Talk about your vision for the sportsman racer here with the IHRA?
SG: My vision is that we continue to build programs that are sportsman friendly and fair. On the grass roots level, the programs need to reward the local racers who support their individual tracks on a regular basis. On our Pro-Am and national level we need to be sure that we are operating in a standard that meets or exceeds the expectation in the industry. Good track preparation/facilities, rules, administration and conduct are key.
Being an owner of multiple tracks now overseeing an organization that sanctions more than 100 member tracks throughout North America, what would you like to say to current member tracks about the series and programs here at IHRA?
SG: Simply put, we have outstanding programs at IHRA. I was amazed and actually hadn't realized all the benefits that came with being an IHRA member track. Additionally, we work hard to have an 'open door policy' with IHRA track operators. Having had a lot of experience as an operator myself, I believe I can also help those operators who have been struggling by providing ideas and suggestions on improving their businesses.
One of the most exciting elements in 2014 is the return to traditional drag racing and the expansion of the professional program in Funny Car, Pro Stock, etc. What is your vision for the Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series and professional competition over the next few years?
SG: From my viewpoint our National Events need that competitive format to keep them interesting. However, we have a responsibility to be sure our pro classes remain affordable for that type of racer. We can't allow our format (rules and classes) to become cost prohibitive which would limit the number of racers and ultimately raise costs for people to attend our events. That mix of losing racers and raising fees is not good and, as history has shown, will lead down a path of destruction.
It is exciting to see the national event schedule continue to expand, how excited are you to see the IHRA return to traditional markets such as Rockingham and Maryland, in addition to visiting your own track at Cordova?
SG: It is great to get back to some of the tracks/markets the IHRA has had good history with. In addition, these tracks have good management which helps to ensure success. As far as Cordova, I can tell you the staff there will pull out all of the stops to ensure we have a great and successful event.
If I am a potential sponsor, track, or racer thinking about giving IHRA a try, what would you say to them?
SG: I would say the proof is in the pudding and you won't know until you try. In other words I'm extremely confident in how we operate and that we can prove we are the best for tracks and sponsors to be associated with and for racers themselves. It's our goal with everyone to serve them the best we can each and every day.
Where do you see the IHRA in 10 years?
SG: Our industry badly needs the IHRA to thrive. Our model creates a format for that to happen. We are going to the market differently than ever before and we will continue to expand in years to come. In 10 years I see the foundation of the IHRA (the sportsman racer and track members) to be stronger than ever and our National Events to be the most entertaining and affordable racing events in the world.
What are your long-term plans for the IHRA?
SG: I have a huge responsibility to maintain our foundation while growing this organization to the next level. We need to control expenses, increase income, present quality racing events with first class customer service and entertainment.
What do you want to say to the racers and fans of the IHRA as the new president of IHRA?
SG: I want to thank them for being a supporter of the IHRA and ask them to help us spread the word about all of the good things we bring to our sport. I know many of them have lived through changes with this organization in the past. With that I want to reassure them I am looking out for their best interests as we adjust how we do business. It's going to take a lot of hard work and there will be some dips in the road, but the product will be much better.