At the newly renamed Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in Chandler, Ariz., last Sunday the stars of the NHRA were again ready to push their rockets to the limit and sometimes over it.
In the season’s first race the sport’s biggest star John Force had again won the Funny Car class. Force – an over-exuberant and what some might call crazy old man – is 64 years old. At Wild Horse Pass Force was eliminated prior to the final round, but the diverse nature of NHRA competitors shown through. Perhaps more than any other form of racing or any other sport, drag racing has succeeded in the push for diversity.
The Pro Stock final at Phoenix consisted of Allen Johnson and V. Gaines – both grey haired gentlemen well past the half century mark in age. Funny car consisted of Funny Car champion Robert Hight against Alexis DeJoria – a young female with a pension for tattoos and going fast in the other lane.
DeJoria beat Hight to claim her first career win and notch another success story for females in NHRA competition. As DeJoria was celebrating her victory, the Top Fuel final came to the line. In one lane was the excitable Antron Brown, the sport’s first African American champion. In the other lane was Brittany Force, the daughter of legend John Force, who was looking for her first career win.
On this day Brown got the better of Force, taking the Wally home from Wild Horse Pass. As he rounded the corner he went over and hugged first-time winner DeJoria in a moment showcasing exactly what the NHRA is about.
Here was an African American male hugging it out with a Caucasian female who had claimed her first career win, and it was no big deal. The NHRA has succeeded with diversity ever since Shirley Muldowney aimed to race and beat the boys (and did) in the 1970’s.
“Cha Cha” became a three-time champion at the sport’s highest level in the Top Fuel class. With the proof that a female could succeed, during the last 10 years the NHRA has seen an onslaught of new female talent come into the sport and succeed in all of the sport’s top classes. Among them are Angelle Sampey, Karen Stoffer, Katie Sullivan and Angie Smith in Pro Stock Motorcycle; Erica Enders-Stevens in Pro Stock; Ashley Force-Hood, Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria in Funny Car; Melanie Troxel, Hilary Will, Leah Pritchett and Brittany Force in Top Fuel.
For Brown’s part he has been a trailblazer when it comes to African Americans in the sport of Drag Racing. Having broken the sport’s barrier and becoming its first African American champion, Brown has paved the way for others who will no doubt soon follow.
NHRA as a sport is perhaps the most diverse on the planet when it comes to age, race and gender. The beauty of competition allows for all these different groups of people to come together, as sports should do. Go to any NHRA race and the grandstands portray this same diversity. It is a beautiful sight to see all the different groups united under one common event.
The NHRA’s diversity success story is one that should be appreciated by many and followed as an example by other sanctioning bodies within sport. Although little steps have been taken by others, the National Hot Rod Ass’ remains far, far ahead of their rivals in diversity success.
They have made a sub four second pass while the others just smoke their tires.