WADE: A Gift That Could Keep On Giving

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Susan Wade.

SNOHOMISH, Wash. — Wally Parks used the Boy Scouts of America Handbook as a guideline 70 years ago when he founded the National Hot Rod Ass’n to keep the streets of Southern California — and those with the racing itch in the post-war car culture — safe.

A few years before his passing, he said he was astonished to see the huge enterprise it had become, with all the moving parts and passion that generates electricity at every sensory-overload experience that is a drag race.

As the NHRA plans a year-long celebration of its 70th birthday this season, why should it not, in the spirit of Wally Parks, take a surprising approach and dedicate itself to doing something meaningful for its racers?

After all, a scout promises to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. And part of the Boy Scout motto is to help other people at all times.

Why not plan a twist on this birthday party?

Instead of receiving gifts, the “birthday boy” could give something valuable to its guests who show up? It’s better to give than to receive, anyway. Even if the NHRA in 2020 had far less revenue than the $93,599,685 it earned in 2019 (according to its public disclosure copy of its 990 tax form from the Internal Revenue Service), it still could afford to give to the racers.

The friendly, courteous, kind and cheerful part doesn’t cost a dime. And if Camping World and its CEO, Marcus Lemonis, regard the NHRA as a valuable property with which to associate, NHRA executives might remember Lemonis’ philosophy.

Lemonis said, “You know, it’s funny — when you’re kind to people and you’re thoughtful and you communicate well and you lay out what your goals are and you’re respectful of their goals, magically, business is a lot easier. When you go into business with very much of ‘What can I get out of it? How’s this going to work for me, singularly?’ in any business, it usually doesn’t work out.”

If that’s not motivation enough, consider the tremendous resource Lemonis is. One professional-class racer told SPEED SPORT that former NHRA series sponsor “Coca-Cola was too big to care.”

Well, Coca-Cola no longer is involved and Lemonis does care. Yes, he’s a businessman — one who has made his mark not by simply taking but rather giving. And he had a feasible and meaningful idea that the NHRA could latch onto that would fulfill the mission statement it provided for the IRS: “Preserve and promote the sport of drag racing” and “Improve business conditions in the sport of drag racing … and promote and advance the common business interests of those engaged in the sport.”

In a constructive vein, Lemonis already has outlined what the NHRA can do to help. He said it applies to NASCAR as well.

“I don’t think the sanctioning bodies in either case do enough to educate the teams, to train the teams and to guide the teams on the business of sponsorship and corporate relationships,” Lemonis said. “I almost want to host a seminar for a day or two for literally creating the road map so that people understand: Here’s how it works. Here’s how the associate sponsorships work. Here’s how the primary works. Here’s what you’re supposed to do. Here’s how much you have to ask for. Here’s what you should expect. … All those variables. I don’t think we do enough of a job to map that out for people.” Such an educational session, he indicated, would target the smaller teams, the ones “who don’t have the weight of money behind them to function.”

Lemonis said, “If there’s anything I was concerned about or critical of, it would be that. There’s a difference between somebody who has sold sponsorship and knows how to do it and a company who sponsors things telling you what they actually want.

“You even can take it down to: What are the drivers supposed to do? How are they supposed to interact? And what’s too much? How do you overdeliver and underpromise? How do you go above and beyond to make that corporate sponsor feel like they’re getting not a good return on investment but an exceptional return on investment? And I don’t know if anybody’s sort of mapping that out. You’ll see me play a very, very active role in that process.”

NHRA officials certainly wouldn’t want to be accused of having a cavalier let-them-eat-cake attitude. It’s an idiom that would indicate the privileged are oblivious to the plight of the more modest among them and don’t care about their needs.

But goodness, who says a top NHRA executive who draws an annual salary, for instance, of $708,589 or $682,623, can’t be generous, right?

The NHRA literally can serve cake and maybe even Bill Bader’s legendary $1/pound ice cream from the Norwalk, Ohio, drag strip. Have some fun, but this ongoing birthday party could show the NHRA is trustworthy, loyal and helpful.

And maybe somewhere, Wally Parks would give his successors a salute for carrying on his mission.