Glen Cromwell calls them “40,000-foot projects.”
That’s how the first-year president of the National Hot Rod Ass’n describes “more strategic-level, long-term, five-, 10-, 15-year plans.”
Curiously, though, those aren’t the ones that preoccupy him. Instead, they’re the ones that helped elevate him from senior vice-president of media and marketing to his current position.
The 40,000-foot projects are reserved for Cromwell’s predecessor, Peter Clifford, who transitioned after 31 months as president to the freshly minted niche of chief executive officer.
“One of the things that we do very well is we come out and we run races. We’re a great sanctioning body. We’re great promoters,” Cromwell said. “But we get caught sometimes in the day-to-day operations. And you need to have vision.”
Clifford has opted to slide into the role as Keeper of the Vision. After all, he presided over the epic switch from the ESPN broadcasting partnership to one with FOX Sports — featuring all-in-house production. His new-fan-development initiative laid the groundwork for a season that has seen nine sellout crowds.
He simply felt more comfortable continuing to work on missions such as expanding marketing partnerships, whittling costs for teams, reaching out to younger and diverse audiences and collaborating with new media platforms.
Meanwhile, Cromwell says handling the day-to-day operations “fits well for me.”
He’s NHRA’s fifth president and first since founder Wally Parks to have any on-track experience, albeit not drag racing. The Michigan native grew up at road racing venues, watching his father compete in SCCA events. His own behind-the-wheel experience consists of go-kart racing.
Before joining the NHRA administrative team as the Pacific Division director in 1997, Cromwell worked for five years for PACE (now Feld) Motorsports, using his Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Ferris State University to dive into promotions, advertising, tickets, PR and contracts for such ventures as Supercross, thrill shows, Monster Trucks and truck-and-tractor pulls.
So, like Clifford, Cromwell, 52, brought a varied skill set to NHRA and built an even broader spectrum of knowledge in drag racing.
As a division director, he said, “I worked a lot with the racers, the sportsmen, the member tracks. I did that for about two-and-a-half years because I really wanted to learn this sport. So I really learned the sport from the ground up. That’s our base. I think if you want to be part of an organization and be part of a team to grow the sport, you have to understand it from the ground up. I think you have to understand what Wally’s mission was in 1951.
“It starts with safety and getting kids off the street, providing a safe haven for people to race. That is a big part of our sportsman racing, our teen racing, our member tracks. You have to learn that and you have to have respect for that before you move up.
“Then, because I had a marketing/advertising, kind of a promoting, background, I wanted to work on the marketing side,” Cromwell added. “So I moved over there around 1999-2000 and became director of marketing, then kind of moved my way into more roles with hospitality and merchandise, and really handled everything off the track.
“I would do the layouts and the advertising, the merchandising, the promotions, everything you could think of that was behind the grandstands. So I built a lot of experience and understanding of all the stakeholders in this sport — our fans, our race teams, our track partners and our sponsors — and how they are an important piece. You really need to understand the roles they play in this sport. I learned that over many years.”
Then he immersed himself in the broadcasting segment of the industry. He got in on the ground floor of NHRA’s relationship with FOX Sports in 2016. Last year, he took over that part of the business and worked closely with Ken Adelson, NHRA’s vice-president and executive producer and chief content officer, and FOX to understand TV programming.