How many NHRA national events will actually happen?
Well for a couple of months, we had the bliss of having a 'schedule' that seemed reasonable. I think we all hoped the COVID-19 would be subsiding dramatically and most states would be opened up enough to allow enough spectators to make NHRA National Events possible.
Well, here we are as the NHRA 'reboot' is about to kick off, and the COVID-19 situation has not exactly subsided, nor has the political and media circus surrounding it.
Here's where I insert my political disclaimer - I will only include politics in this on how they relate to whether or not a race may be able to happen in a state, not in regard to either party being right or wrong. If you want to argue about politics and how stupid the other side is, there's about eleventy billion other Facebook pages and websites you can argue till you're blue in the face. This post is not about or for that, we're talking drag racing!
The axe has already dropped on the Flav-R-Pac Nationals in Seattle. Most everyone I talked to after the schedule was released that it was a marginal proposition at best. Those concerns ended up being true as Washington state still has not reached a phase that will allow large gatherings. "Phase" and "Large Gatherings" are the keywords moving forward in this post.
NHRA added two events in Indy with limited spectators allowed to be able to take advantage of Fox network time they had purchased for the Western Swing. The event purse money is being covered by the year end purse fund. Luckily Indiana is allowing outdoor gatherings with social distancing. While this is good for the classes running them, there are no Top Alcohol or any other sportsman classes running these events.
With Seattle already off the schedule, the Mopar Mile High Nationals in Denver, Aug. 7-9, would be the next stop on the tour. While Bandimere Speedway has had sizable crowds for their Regional event and most recently a jet-car event, they are all over the Denver news and locking horns with Jefferson County. There were court-ordered stipulations prior to this past weekend's jet-car event that the county is saying were violated. Jefferson County is now saying they will pursue legal action against Bandimere Speedway. Track owner John Bandimere is against the regulations and was quoted Saturday, "This is not a drag race, it's a rally for freedom," he said Saturday. "I pray for Gov. [Jared] Polis that he would get some wisdom."
This is pure speculation on my part, but I would put a low chance on the race happening at this point. At least on the currently scheduled date. As we will point out, there's plenty of evidence that will point to future dates possibly being open. I would mark Denver in the Highly Unlikely column.
Next up would be the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd, Minn., Aug. 14-16, which is the next Top Alcohol national event scheduled. Unfortunately, it does not look like Minnesota state politicians are anywhere close to allowing any kind of 'large gathering.' The PGA 3M Open Golf Tournament is scheduled for July 23-26 in Blaine, MN, just north of Minneapolis. The state recently rejected a proposal to allow a limited 6000 spectators on their 250 acre facility. Only essential workers to the tournament are allowed, so it will be TV only. With Brainerd only three weeks after, it certainly does not bode well. Couple in the fact Brainerd is known for "The Zoo" campground, unfortunately, I would mark Brainerd in the Highly Unlikely column as well. So that makes us 0 for 3 on scheduled national events.
The Menards Heartland Nationals in Topeka, Kan., Aug. 21-23, right now has a slugger's chance of happening. Kansas state is allowing large outdoor gatherings with proper social distancing protocols. Obviously as we've all learned, EVERYTHING is subject to change in 2020. I don't have a "Highly Likely" column for that reason, but I will chalk Topeka in the "Likely" column. This is a Top Alcohol national event. So that will be the first one back and the second for the year (if my predictions are correct). **UPDATE 7/8 - Kansas officials are shutting down the Kustom Kemps of America Leadsled Nationals car show in Salina, Kan., which was scheduled for July 23-26. This is the same weekend as the Double Divisional/Regional scheduled in Topeka. Will definitely have to keep an eye on this situation. If they shut down the divisional, it would definitely shift this race to the Unlikely column.
The Southern Nationals in Atlanta is next on the schedule, Aug. 28-30. With Coca-Cola headquartered in Atlanta, this is a very important race for NHRA. Georgia was one of the first states to reopen and has been one of the most aggressive states in reopening. Large outdoor gatherings and events are allowed at the moment, so I would put it in the Likely column. Top Alcohol was recently added to this event so this would be the second event after the reboot and third for the year.
The Denso Spark Plugs US Nationals in Indy is next up Labor Day weekend. Although Indiana is not fully open, the state is allowing outdoor gatherings and events at 50% capacity. With that in mind, I would put this in the Likely category, which would make Indy the third Top Alcohol race back and the fourth total. It will also host the Jegs Sportsman All-Star event.
If you're scoring, that was a nice run of three in a row to make NHRA 3 for 6 on scheduled nationals. The Mopar Express Lane Nationals in Reading, Pa., Sept. 11-13 is not looking great. While all of Pennsylvania is currently in the highest level 3 of reopening, that level does not allow outdoor gatherings over 250. There are no other phases in the current Pennsylvania reopening plan. There's time for that to change, and hopefully that does allow limited capacity outdoor events by then. While there may be some negotiations and considerations, 250 to the amount of spectators needed for an event to be viable is a very large gap. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm putting Reading, a Top Alcohol event, in the Unlikely category. If you don't see Pennsylvania officials drawing up new reopening phases in the very near future, I will move this into the Highly Unlikely category. That would put Top Alcohol still at three national events since the reboot and four total for the year.
The NGK Spark Plugs 4-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, N.C., are next up, Sept. 18-20. North Carolina is currently 'paused' in Phase 2 of reopening, which only allows outdoor gatherings of 25. Unfortunately, it looks like the much-awaited and debated debut of Top Alcohol 4-Wide racing will have to wait until 2021. Given the political climate of the state and the current reopening phase, I would mark this event in the Highly Unlikely category.
The NHRA reboot finally returns where it left off in Gainesville, Fla., for the Amalie Oil Gatornationals, Sept. 25-27. While Florida has been one of the early states to reopen, they are currently 'pausing' things due to a recent surge in cases. They are currently in Phase 2, which according to my best interpretation, would allow up to 50% capacity with strict social distancing guidelines. With that in mind, I would mark this race in the Likely category. This is a Top Alcohol national, so that would be the fourth event since the reboot and fifth total for the year.
The AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals, just outside St. Louis, over the state line into Madison, Ill., is next Oct. 2-4. This is an "Odouls Race" as I like to refer to them, since there is no Top Alcohol. Illinois is currently in Phase 4 of their reopening plan, which is the last phase before full-reopening. Phase 4 currently limits outdoor gatherings to 50 people. The plan does state that limit can be adjusted based on 'data.' Still, basically the state would have to be wide open to allow large gatherings, according to the currently posted plan. Given the political climate of the state, I would have to mark this race in the Highly Unlikely column.
The Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn., is next on the schedule, Oct. 9-10. Tennessee is pretty open right now, especially for outdoor events. Pretty solid in the Likely column (no Top Alcohol).
The tour then swings to Dallas, Texas for the AAA Texas FallNationals, Oct. 16-18. Texas has been one of the early states to reopen but currently has paused the reopening and is limiting outdoor events. However, being a Texas resident, There is a lot of time between now and then, but I would have to lean that given the political climate of the state, the race is solidly in the Likely column. With the next weekend staying in Texas for the Mopar Expresslane Spring Nationals (fall version....) in Houston, mark that one as a solid Likely as well. Both races are Top Alcohol races so that would be fifth and sixth national event after the reboot and sixth and seventh total for the year.
From Texas, the tour heads west for the final two events on the schedule. On the schedule being operative words. First up is the Dodge Nationals at The Strip in Las Vegas, Oct. 30-Nov. 1. At the moment, Nevada is not opening past their Phase 2, which does not allow spectators at sporting events. There's a lot that can happen between now and then, so it's really a push, but given the political climate of the state, I would have to have it leaning unlikely at the moment. This is a Top Alcohol event and would be the eighth total national event for the year.
The AAA Auto Club Finals in Pomona, Calif., is the final stop on the tour, scheduled for Nov. 13-15. Given the political climate of California and LA County, I hate to say it, but this is about as firm in the Highly Unlikely category as any. The LA County Fairgrounds have been used for relief efforts as well.
So if my projections are right (I hope I'm dead wrong on the Unlikely's), that's nine of the 16 scheduled 'reboot' races (two of those are the Indy races). For Top Alcohol, that would mean six more national events this season, with a possible seventh in Las Vegas. That would mean only eight total national events for Top Alcohol in 2020.
This was all compiled looking at each of these state's reopening plans. Another major outbreak could derail everything. Not to mention, the closer we get to traditional flu season, I think we can expect things to be on edge to say the least. I don't think it's unlikely to see the season end in Dallas.
I hope every one of you stay healthy and we can hopefully get back to "normal," whatever that is going to be, in 2021. In racing terms, there's a whole lot of metal in 2020's oil filter...