Want To Get Performance? Just Follow The Money


Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports

Guest Columnist

Ninety-four-year-old Wally Parks is the founder of the National Hot Rod Ass’n and the Chairman of the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum, presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California. Along with a dedicated staff, the former editor and editorial director of Hot Rod magazine created drag racing. He is the only living founder of a major motorsport in America.

Founder: Wally Parks founded the NHRA in 1951.

Halls of Fame: Parks was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1992 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame the following year.

Time was, not too many decades ago, when if you wanted to make impressive improvements to increase your car’s performance, you had the cylinder head milled for higher compression, your flywheel lightened and the camshaft reground, and you added a carburetor or two with a homemade intake manifold — for performance or just for looks.

Those were the olden days — before speed shops and exotic parts emporiums, or the convenience of mail-order purchases. And when a few courageous manufacturers of power-inducing equipment began making parts for a new market that was not yet established. Wire wheels were fast becoming popular as skinny tires went out of fashion, to be replaced by what were commonly called “balloon tires.”

An emerging market, stimulated by early car magazines, was in the realm of street machines, closely following the end of World War II and commonly referred to as “hot rods.” Roadsters, coupes, sedans and open-touring cars were included in the surge of activity — much of which was encouraged by the formation of car clubs. And ‘one-ups-man-ship’ was a motivation that inspired nightly gatherings, later called cruise-ins, by car owners assembled at the local drive-in stands.

And then along came drag racing — short-distance acceleration races, usually a quarter mile, on unused taxiways and legally closed-off roads. It was an activity new to many areas, but with the endorsement and support of civic and law enforcement leaders, it was adopted as an effective means for encouraging safer cars and safer driving.

Growing side by side with this car phenomenon was an industry that offered endless accommodations in speed, performance and safety equipment. It served both street-driven and on-track enhancements and was an ongoing source of new creations — some that became popular almost overnight. A by-product of this evolution was seen in the formation of a new organization called SEMA — the Speed Equipment Manufacturers Ass’n, later changed to Specialty Equipment Market Ass’n and now one of the world’s largest automotive trade organizations.

Today, the performance equipment industries continue to serve street-rodders, car customizers and drag-racing participants around the world. And with its membership of more than 80,000, the National Hot Rod Ass’n, formed in 1951, lists some 5,000 events annually at 140 member tracks in the United States and Canada.

Most weekend events draw 150 or more contestants, while NHRA’s 45 special events that take place in seven field divisions account for 350 to 800 entries each — and its NHRA POWERade Series of 24 National events in major markets average from 500 to 1,000 contenders.

In addition to the countless millions spent on racing cars and bikes (some with multiple vehicles), crew members, trucks, trailers, motor homes, hospitality units, travel, food and lodging, the costs of today’s drag racing are no less than phenomenal. Yet its popularity continues to climb.

To provide these essentials — and to ensure the continuity of top performances among its 200-plus classes of competition, NHRA has become a valuable source of sales for participating industries — many that it helped to create and which are solid, side-by-side contributors to its current stature as the world’s largest motorsports sanctioning body.

(Original Print Date: June 20, 2007)

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