Return Of Top Fuel Among Plans For IHRA

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The IHRA is planning to re-introduce the Top Fuel class as its premier class in 2017. (IHRA Photo)
The IHRA is planning to re-introduce the Top Fuel class as its premier class in 2017. (IHRA Photo)
The IHRA is planning to re-introduce the Top Fuel class as its premier class in 2017. (IHRA Photo)

CONCORD, N.C. — The addition of Mike Dunn as president of the International Hot Rod Ass’n is just one step in a larger plan to restructure the once-prominent drag racing sanctioning body.

That was the message during a media conference call Tuesday with Dunn and other IHRA and IRG Sports + Entertainment executives.

Dunn, a veteran drag racer and a television analyst for NHRA broadcasts on ESPN the last 13 years, was announced as the newest president of the IHRA Tuesday morning. He said the plan and business model presented to him by Chris Lencheski, the IRG Sports + Entertainment vice chairman of the board and CEO, is what convinced him to take the job.

“When Chris called me up and wanted me to be president of the company I kind of wondered why he wanted me to be president,” Dunn said. “Then he laid out his plan, the business model for the company, and I kind of looked at it. The key thing I liked about it was he had a plan to actually get more eyes on the product from a global standpoint and nationally. When I read about it, I said: ‘This has a pretty good chance of working.’

“We never talked money,” Dunn added. “It wasn’t about money. If I didn’t buy into what they were doing, then it wouldn’t matter what the money was going to be.”

Lencheski pulled no punches during the conference call, stating that IHRA has lost a great deal of money over the last few years and that the entire organization knew it was time for a change. IRG has owned and operated IHRA since 2013.

“To be clear, and to work from a position of keeping it real, this company lost millions of dollars,” said Lencheski, who was named IRG’s CEO in November. “Not just last year and not just in this year, but millions of dollars for the last several years. That definition of insanity where you’re effectively doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome was something that myself and the other members of the board looked at.”

That has led to a new mentality within IHRA and IRG Sports + Entertainment, a mentality Lencheski called the “racer first mentality.” Lencheski said he believes Dunn shares that mentality and is the perfect person to lead the IHRA into the future.

“Having Mike Dunn come in here, whom by every definition knows every part of the sport, from a racer first mentality, beyond what he did at ESPN and beyond what he did at NHRA, knowing the tracks and the teams and the sponsors and the licensees, was critically important,” Lencheski said. “Not institutional knowledge, we can go out and buy more tracks. That’s easy when you’re sitting with the check book we’ve got.”

Chief among the projects Dunn and the other members if the IHRA and IRGSE executive team are working on is a plan to bring Top Fuel back into the fold on a full-time basis in time for the 2017 season as part of what is being called the D1 program.

“D1, or dragster one, is an IP (intellectual property) product owned by IRGSE and the IHRA specifically and it will be the new premier class of racing under the IHRA sanctioning agreement,” Lencheski said.

“We’re going to bring Top Fuel in in a little bit of a different format,” Dunn added. “We’re going to bring that back in 2017. We’re going to keep for sure the Funny Car format as it is right now in 2016 and Top Fuel Motorcycles, Pro Mods and the Pro Stocks. We’re going to be evaluating everything. Obviously we’re going to be making some pretty good changes bringing the D1 series into the show. It is going to be pretty interesting.”

Specifics surrounding the return of Top Fuel are still being discussed, but it was noted during the conference call that the purse for Top Fuel will be on the same level as other competitive series when it returns to the IHRA fold in 2017.