Photos courtesy IHRA

Mike Dunn working to take International Hot Rod Association to next level in drag racing

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He isn’t Dunn by any means. Rather, he’s just getting started.

On Wednesday, veteran drag racer and broadcaster Mike Dunn will celebrate his first anniversary as president of the International Hot Rod Association.

And while both he and the organization have undergone some growing pains over the last year, the future is looking bright.

The West Palm Beach, Florida-based IHRA is the second-largest sanctioning body in drag racing. While Dunn made his biggest impact in both racing and broadcasting with the larger National Hot Rod Association, the IHRA presents a unique challenge that he is enjoying.

ihra-president-mike-dunn“Good drag racing is good drag racing, it doesn’t matter (if it’s NHRA or IHRA),” Dunn said. “I came into this with an open mind.

“(IHRA) was a good show but trying to get people to come was a challenge. One of the reasons why is it has gone through so many different undulations over the years with different ownerships and stuff, I think the IHRA fan just didn’t know what they were getting anymore because the program had changed.

“We want to get fans to come back out and see what the IHRA is all about and look at the racing that exists and see that it’s good.”

Admittedly, the IHRA has taken somewhat of a step back in 2017. It has placed national event championship racing — including Top Fuel and Funny Car — on a one-season hiatus.

“We hit some bumps in the road the first year,” Dunn admits. “We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We didn’t get the TV package signed in time, so we decided to postpone the pro series until 2018.”

Rather, the IHRA will focus this season on its lifeblood, and from where the organization sprung from — the Sportsman ranks — with the Summit Sportsman National Championship series.

“A lot of our fans, especially our core fans, have some type of connection to Sportsman racing, local racing, bracket racing or them going out there racing or they know a family member that races, or a friend or a cousin,” Dunn said. “It seems like the fans I deal with all have that connection and it all goes back to Sportsman racing. It’s the foundation of the sport and what we all build on.

“We had to make a complete change to make it more viable, and we took the Sportsman Series, which was good, and I believe we made it better. We changed the format around and have gotten great response off of that.”

The 2017 SSNC schedule, which will run from February through September, will feature 30 races, two per weekend at 15 IHRA-sanctioned tracks in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Ohio.

The season opening race is this weekend at Immokalee (Fla.) Regional Raceway.

The IHRA announced Monday that 13 of those race weekends will be streamed live online on ESPN3 as part of a multi-year agreement that will expand to include the return of professional class national events in 2018.

But IHRA Top Fuel and Funny Car fans won’t be completely overlooked in 2017. Dunn noted that there will be special exhibition appearances by select Top Fuel dragsters and Funny cars at several of this season’s 15 SSNC events.

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During his own driving career, Dunn recorded 22 NHRA national event wins in Top Fuel and Funny Car, as well as one win in IHRA competition.

After retiring from driving, he spent 14 years broadcasting NHRA races on ESPN. Shortly after NHRA chose a different announcing team when it moved to Fox Sports in 2016, Dunn received a call from Chris Lencheski (CEO of IHRA parent company IRGS+E).

“Chris said he wanted me to be president of the IHRA,” Dunn said, adding with a laugh, “so I said to him, ‘Why would you want to do that?’”

But the more they spoke – a conversation that lasted more than 10 hours over several days – Dunn warmed to the idea.

“Chris told me his plans and what he wanted to do,” Dunn said. “I liked the plan and said I definitely could help a lot. We have some good people in the IHRA. I made a few suggestions and we just went from there.”

As Dunn begins the second year of his three-year contract with IHRA, changes and upgrades will continue. In addition to next season’s return of the pro series for Top Fuel and Funny Car, one of the biggest items on Dunn’s IHRA agenda is international expansion.

“The IHRA is the International Hot Rod Association and I’d like to see it more of an international series and international entity,” Dunn said. “We went into Australia last year, we sanctioned some tracks down there and the 400 Thunder Series and have gotten a nice jump in memberships off of that. That’s become very successful.

“We’re trying to figure out how we can incorporate that into a championship series and into other countries. The logistics to do that are challenging at best, but we have some ideas on how possibly to do that as we build.

“We’re not going to obviously jump right in and have a Formula One-style series for drag racing off the bat because we’d lose a lot more money then. But there are some ways I think we can get creative to establish our foothold, like we’ve done in Australia and we’re looking into other areas like New Zealand, Asia, Mexico and have some events in Canada. That’s what I envision.”

Dunn knows that taking on the NHRA – he calls it “the other organization” – is somewhat of a David vs. Goliath battle. But at the same time, he still sees room for growth for the IHRA even in the NHRA’s shadow.

“The NHRA has a good product and they pretty much have the domestic side locked up,” Dunn said. “We’d be nuts to try and go head-to-head with them because they have a good product and they have the resources.

“But that doesn’t mean we can’t go into different markets, have a little bit of a different look and try to create new things. I’d also like to get new fans involved.

“I’d like to see drag racing just grow, period. I believe I can do this. I have the right people and the budget to do it … and let them go out and do their jobs.

“Even though we had some missteps and are restructuring this year, I still believe in that philosophy.”

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Robert Hight extends Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons

Photo: Gary Nastase and Auto Imagery
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MORRISON, Colo. (AP) Robert Hight beat Tommy Johnson Jr. on Sunday in the Mopar Mile-High NHRA Nationals at Bandimere Speedway to extend his Funny Car victory streak to 13 seasons.

Hight topped Johnson with a 3.995-second pass at 317.57 mph in a Chevrolet Camaro SS for his 38th career victory.

“We definitely struggled through the first few rounds and we were lucky to get those round wins, but I have a great team who figured things out and helped get me to the winner’s circle,” Hight said. “It’s definitely a long-time coming and we hadn’t had much luck, but today we had some luck and we hope this continues throughout the Western Swing.”

Antron Brown won in Top Fuel, Drew Skillman in Pro Stock, and Eddie Krawiec in Pro Stock Motorcycle.

Brown edged teammate and No. 1 qualifier Leah Pritchett with a 3.792 at 319.82. He has three victories this season to push his career total to 64.

Skillman raced to his second straight victory and the fifth of his career, beating points leader Bo Butner with a 6.916 run at 198.15 in a Camaro.

Krawiec topped Matt Smith with a 7.145 at 188.28. The Harley-Davidson rider has two victories this season and 38 overall.

Sauber confirms Matsushita for Hungary test as well

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Honda junior driver Nobuhiro Matsushita will have a run with Sauber F1 Team on the second day of the Hungarian Grand Prix post-race week test, in the team’s C36 chassis.

Sauber’s engine selection for 2018 is up in the air. While the team announced a switch from year old Ferraris to Hondas, this was done under prior team principal Monisha Kaltenborn and rumors have persisted the deal may be off, or wasn’t fully done in the first place.

That Matsushita is running at this test for his first day in an F1 car – Gustav Malja will run on day one – could indicate the Honda switch isn’t yet a dead topic.

“When I was four years old, I was fascinated by Michael Schumacher, watching him racing in Formula 1. Since then my dream was to become a Formula 1 driver,” he said. “I am very excited about my first Formula 1 test and I am really looking forward to driving the Sauber C36-Ferrari at the Hungaroring – it is a great opportunity for me. I hope it will be a productive day for the team as well as for myself, so that I can learn as much as possible. I would like to thank the Sauber F1 Team for making this happen.”

New team boss Frederic Vasseur, formerly of Renault, gave his take on the test.

“I am pleased that Nobuharu has this great opportunity. He deserves the experience of his first test in a Formula 1 car. Ever since his debut in Formula 2 with ART Grand Prix, I have been following his progress closely, and have watched him advance his performance from year to year. With this Formula 1 test, he comes one step closer to his dream of becoming an F1 driver one day.”

Renault confirms Robert Kubica will test in Hungary

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Renault Sport F1 Team has confirmed Robert Kubica will make his return to a current Formula 1 car in the post-Hungarian Grand Prix test, which will only continue to fuel the hype train for a possible race return.

The Pole has undertaken two tests in recent weeks with older cars but this day in the Renault R.S.17 will provide the team a chance to evaluate him in current machinery to gauge his race level fitness.

It’s a story that has got the F1 world buzzing in recent weeks as Kubica, injured in a rally accident before the 2011 season, has made a comeback to restart his racing career.

Poor Nicholas Latifi, also confirmed for the test that runs the Tuesday and Wednesday after the Hungarian Grand Prix, will be undoubtedly overlooked as a result.

Jolyon Palmer will race in Hungary this weekend at least but whether the Brit continues beyond the summer break that follows afterwards remains a question mark.

Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean to launch cookbook

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Haas Formula 1 driver Romain Grosjean may be one of the sport’s most promising talents on-track, but he also has a burning passion off it: cooking.

Grosjean may have been spent a good part of this year cooking his brakes, but you’ll now be able to cook bakes instead…

F1’s resident foodie is set to release a cookbook alongside wife Marion Jolles in the coming weeks, as announced on his Facebook page.

Grosjean currently sits 13th in the F1 drivers’ championship with 18 points to his name, helping Haas to match the points total from its debut season after just 10 races in 2017.