When I finished the story, I began to think about how the perception of the sportsman racer today has changed as opposed to say, well, sometime in NHRAís early years. Back when I began my career in drag racing, a traveling sportsman racer was one who would go from Atco Dragway to Vargo Dragway on the same weekend. Or one who would actually race at divisional events in two, different divisions in the same year. Imagine that! Clyde "Shifting" Harnish, Harry Luzader and Pete Shadinger were among the best sportsman racers of their time (late 1960ís and early 70ís, and they only traveled out of their own back yard to go to Indy for the Nationals, a race that two of those guys won by the way. And, of course, the sportsman racers of that era were never sponsored by a national company. In fact, most of them werenít sponsored at all. There was, of course, the ubiquitous, shoe polish lettering on the side of some of those cars, announcing that "Bobís Garage" was the main sponsor. But, in most cases, the sponsor was the shop that the racer owned. Or, at best, the one where he worked. In short, most of the early sportsman racers did it all out of their own pocket and in their own back yard. My, how things have changed.
As I look back at the 2001 drag racing season, I realize that the line between "professional" and "sportsman" racer is a very fine one, indeed. No longer is it true that the only professionals are the racers are who compete in Top Fuel, Funny Car or Pro Stock. No longer are the sponsorship dollars restricted to those top, three classes. No longer can it be said that "you canít make a living" as a sportsman racer, because you can. If you donít believe me, just ask Dan. Of course, his line at the awardís ceremony kind of put it all into perspective. He said, "When I told my wife that I wanted to quit my job at Xerox and go racing fulltime, you can imagine that she was all for it. She thought that it was the smartest thing I could do." Yeah, right. As loving, and supportive (and stunningly attractive) as Donna is, Iím sure she had some reservations about this sudden, life style change. Of course, for them, it has all worked out rather well. It hasnít been too bad for some of the other new-breed of sportsman racers, either.
The point that Iím trying to make is that, as NHRA heads into its 51st year, there are a lot of opportunities for racers, even those in the sportsman classes. And, while it isnít exactly a sellerís market, yet, I do think that you will begin to see more and more companies getting involved as sponsors of sportsman racers. I say this because I know several teams who are actively pursuing various companies in an effort to get support for their racing activities. Sure, itís a labor-intensive process, but if this is what you want to do, it can be very rewarding. From a sponsorís point of view, it can
Races like Dan Fletcher should be a motivation for others who hope to follow in his footsteps. Dan has shown that you can get sponsorship for your car, if you are prepared to work for it. With the advantages of financial help come responsibilities, too, but Iím sure that any racer who can cut a .500 light (or a .400), and run right on the dial, can also figure out how to give his or her sponsor their moneyís worth. Develop a game plan, or a marketing plan, and stick with it and you, too, can be racing for a living, even if youíre a sportsman racer. While it is important that you deliver what you promise, I donít believe that itís important that you learn how to write articles for "National Dragster." But then, thatís just my opinion. For what itís worth, after the first of the year, Iíll write an article on how I think sportsman racers could go about getting, and keeping, a sponsor. Like I said, take it for what itís worth!!
There is one more thing. If you check out Danís article you will see a picture of
me, single-handedly changing the engine in his car at Bristol. My back still hurts
from that little episode and I still havenít heard from his lawyer. But I know I
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