NHRA shakeup: Tom Compton retires as president, Peter Clifford named successor

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In a surprise move, the National Hot Rod Association announced Wednesday that president Tom Compton has retired after 15 years as the sanctioning body’s chief executive officer.

Longtime NHRA executive vice president and general manager Peter Clifford has been named to replace Compton. Clifford becomes only the fourth president in NHRA’s 64-year history.

Dallas Gardner, former NHRA president and now Chairman of the NHRA Board of Directors, made the announcement of Clifford’s promotion Wednesday morning to employees at the NHRA’s Glendora, Calif., headquarters.

“Peter Clifford will be an outstanding president of the NHRA,” Gardner said in a NHRA media release. “Peter’s faithful and effective service to all constituents of the NHRA family will ensure a spectacular new era for everyone who loves our sport, and he brings a passion for the NHRA that is unmistakable.

“Peter is most deserving of his new appointment and we know he is more than up to the challenges and opportunities on the horizon.”

Peter Clifford has been named the new president of the NHRA, succeeding Tom Compton, who retired after 15 years at the helm of the sanctioning body. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

Clifford joined NHRA in 1997 as vice president and chief financial officer. He is also a member of the sanctioning body’s board of directors.

“I’m honored to accept the privilege and responsibility of leading the NHRA today and well into the future,” Clifford said.  “I have an incredible passion for the sport and will bring a great work ethic to my new role, at or away from the track.  My complete focus is to build our future. Our best stories are still to be told.”

No reason was given for the 56-year-old Compton’s decision. He has been noticeably absent from NHRA events for more than three months, prompting the sanctioning body to take the unusual step nearly a month ago to issue a press release that Compton was “away for personal and family reasons.”

Compton was installed as NHRA president on Jan. 1, 2000, succeeding the retiring Gardner. Compton helped lead NHRA’s continued growth into the 21st century, but the last few seasons have seen challenges including attendance levels at several tracks, and inconsistent TV coverage.

Compton preceded Clifford in the same role as vice president and CFO when he joined NHRA in 1993.

“Today the NHRA announces Tom Compton’s retirement,” Gardner said in a statement. “The NHRA thanks Tom for leading it during 15 years of progress, growth and success.

“Tom was named president in 2000 and since then has advanced our organization and sport in ways that will provide lasting benefit for our teams, drivers, sponsors and fans. Just as important, the NHRA has an immensely bright future with exceptional opportunities that we are ready to explore. As the NHRA embarks on its next chapter, we wish Tom and his family all the best.”

In a statement, Compton said his decision to retire came “after much thought and careful consideration of my own interests, those of my family and those of the NHRA itself. The more than 22 years I spent helping to build the great team, strong partnerships and robust operations the NHRA now enjoys makes this decision a difficult one.

“I want to thank everyone, including the NHRA, its partners, sponsors, track owners and operators, and all other NHRA-affiliated individuals and organizations for their generous and much-appreciated contributions to the success we’ve all enjoyed together. I am honored to have been an integral part of this collective effort, am proud of our collaboration and achievements, and am confident in the continued success of the NHRA in the years ahead.”

 

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Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of the water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”