NHRA: New president Peter Clifford full of ideas to get drag racing back on-track


While questions continue to surround the abrupt retirement of NHRA president Tom Compton, replacement Peter Clifford has the experience and apparently plenty of ideas already to get the sport of drag racing moving forward and out of neutral.

Over the last several seasons, it is no secret that the NHRA has experienced several challenges, including:

1) Attendance issues at a number of tracks.

2) Was almost forced to cancel an event just days before it took place this season (Topeka in May).

3) A significant turndown in both national and local media coverage in the 24 markets the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

4) An increasing number of fans have been very vocal in their frustration over inconsistent TV coverage (particularly airing times).

Clifford, who was appointed president on Wednesday and has has been with the NHRA for 18 years, most recently as vice president/general manager and chief financial officer, appears ready to hit the ground running like a high-powered Top Fuel dragster.

His comments during Wednesday’s national teleconference announcing his appointment as NHRA president give the indication that this was something that had been in the works for quite a while.

Compton had been conspicuously absent from national events since late February, prompting the organization to take the unusual step in early June of issuing a media release that he was taking time away to deal with unspecified family and personal issues.

Those issues apparently were significant enough that it prompted his retirement from NHRA at the age of 56 and after 22 years of service to the organization.

While we may never know the real reason why Compton stepped down, Clifford feels confident that he can reinvigorate the sport in quick fashion.

“Over the last couple months, the leadership team at NHRA has worked on a number of initiatives, and we’re eager to roll them out over the next couple of months,” he said in Wednesday’s teleconference.

Those initiatives include:

1) Improved TV coverage. This will include bringing production of race broadcasts back in-house starting next season. Clifford also hinted there could be a change in TV coverage. ESPN has covered the sport the last several years, but fans have complained vocally about airing times, scheduled channel changes or last-minute changes to the airing schedule.

2) Improve participation in the Sportsman (amateur) racing ranks, as well as support of member tracks where those Sportsman drivers race. “We know we need to develop more Sportsman racing going forward, and we have a plan to do that,” Clifford said.

3) Expanding – and finding new – sponsorships. “We’re going to be adding more resources to this area, and we’re going to have some announcements on that, as well,” Clifford said. However, that could be a difficult sell, as a number of teams have lost long-term sponsors in recent years, most notably 16-time Funny Car champion John Force, who parted ways after last season with Castrol Oil after nearly 30 years, and with Ford after nearly 20 years. If Force couldn’t keep his long-time partners, how will NHRA find new ones? Fortunately for Force, he was able to bring in Peak Antifreeze, Chevrolet and Monster Energy to his four-car team for 2015.

4) Expand media coverage. This could be even more difficult than finding new sponsorships. With significant declines particularly in newspaper and web site staffing over the last several years, NHRA press rooms have grown increasingly empty. “We want to make sure we get the coverage that we deserve as the No. 2 motorsports property in the country, and we have a plan in place to do that,” Clifford said. “We’re going to be adding some resources, and we’re excited about that, as well.”

5) Improved competition at national events. With classes such as Pro Stock having difficulty getting a bare minimum of 16 cars to show up for national events, this could be the biggest challenge of all for Clifford. While it wasn’t all too long ago that NHRA considered expanding the schedule, don’t be surprised if it cuts the current 24-race schedule to 18 to 20 in 2016 to play to the strongest markets it has.

6) New fan development. NHRA has attempted to attract new fans for the last several years with mixed results. “Our goal is to get more people exposed to our sport in order to increase participation and to add fans,” Clifford said.

Clifford has a big job ahead of him, no question. Compared to Compton, Clifford has to become more proactive and start forging new partnerships and relationships.

Most importantly, he has to find a way to sell the sport to the next generation. While high-profile drivers like Courtney and Brittany Force will help, NHRA needs to start grooming even more younger talent and put them in the spotlight.

Unfortunately, both the current and next generations have so many distractions vying for their time and money, drag racing hasn’t been as high on its priority list as it might have been when their parents and grandparents were there ages back in the day.

There’s no question that a lot of work has to be done within NHRA to get it back down the right track. Its problems are not unique: other motorsports series such as NASCAR and IndyCar are battling similar problems.

But given the ideas, enthusiasm and forward vision Clifford seems to have, the world’s fastest sport may just start picking up some of the speed it’s been missing.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Motocross season opener: Jett Lawrence rockets to the top

SuperMotocross Rankings season opener
Align Media

As the SuperMotocross season heads outdoors, the NBC Power Rankings change significantly with results from the Motocross opener at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. The Power Rankings assign a numeric value to each individual moto (90 points maximum) as well as the overall standings (100 points) and averages that number over the past 45 days. Included in the Power Rankings are results from the final five Supercross rounds, which fit into that 45-day timeframe.

Dylan Ferrandis finished on the podium in his first race back after experience a concussion in Supercross Round 4 at Houston. – Align Media

It didn’t take long for Jett Lawrence to rocket to the top of the SuperMotocross rankings – only about 74 minutes in fact. Lawrence dominated his first moto and beat his teammate Chase Sexton, the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross champion, to the line by 10 seconds. He had to fight a little harder for the second moto win as Sexton stalked him throughout the race and ended up less than a second behind.

Beginning this week, we have added the SuperMotocross points’ ranking beside the rider’s name and in one fell swoop, Lawrence went from being unranked in the 450 class to 26th. To qualify for the inaugural SuperMotocross’ guaranteed 20 positions that automatically make the gate for the three-race championship series, Lawrence needs to be inside the top 20 in combined Supercross and Motocross points. The bubble is currently held by Justin Starling and Lawrence needs to make up 44 points to overtake him.

Sexton’s second-place finish in the overall standings at Fox Raceway marked his ninth consecutive top-five finish. After the race, Sexton compared the battle he had with Lawrence to the one he experienced with Eli Tomac in last year’s Pro Motocross championship. These two riders had a significant advantage over the field in Pala, but there is still a lot of racing to be completed.

MORE: Jett Lawrence wastes no time, wins first 450 race

After missing 13 rounds to a concussion, Dylan Ferrandis told NBC Sports that he was not going to do anything risky in the season opener at Fox Raceway. If he dialed back his effort at all, one would be hard-pressed to notice. He finished third in both motos and was third in the overall standings. Ferrandis began the weekend just outside the top 20 in combined SuperMotocross points and climbed to 19th. In the next few weeks, he will get a little more breathing room over the cutline and then challenge for wins.

Adam Cianciarulo’s three-race streak of top-five finishes ended with a sixth-place overall at Fox Raceway, but that was enough to advance him one position in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings and land him eighth in the combined points standings. His individual motos were moderate, but Cianciarulo is still battling the effects of injury and a nagging loss of strength in his wrist.

Aaron Plessinger returned from injury in the Supercross season finale to finish second at Salt Lake City. He added another top-five to his season total and now has six of those in the 13 rounds he’s made. With Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac not currently racing in Motocross, Plessinger has an opportunity to rise to the third seeding in short order.

450 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Jett Lawrence (26) 93.33 NA
2. Chase Sexton (1) 92.36 1 -1
3. Dylan Ferrandis (19) 89.00 NA
4. Adam Cianciarulo (8) 82.89 5 1
5. Aaron Plessinger (5) 81.20 9 4
6. Justin Hill (9)
Not racing MX
79.75 8 2
7. Ken Roczen (4)
injured | Not racing MX
79.13 3 -4
8. Jose Butron (30) 75.67 NA
9. Lorenzo Locurcio (29) 75.00 NA
10. Eli Tomac (2)
74.50 2 -8
11. Dean Wilson (10)
Not racing MX
72.88 7 -4
12. Cooper Webb (3) 71.17 6 -6
13. Jerry Robin (32) 70.33 NA
14. Justin Barcia (6)
70.00 4 -10
15. Kyle Chisholm (15) 65.36 11 -4
16. Dante Oliveira (36) 65.00 NA
17. Shane McElrath (11)
Not racing MX
63.63 12 -5
18. Ryan Surratt (38) 63.33 NA
19. Josh Hill (13)
Not racing MX
62.38 13 -6
20. Justin Starling (20)
Not racing MX
62.13 19 -1

Motocross 450 Points

A bad start to Moto 1 at Fox Raceway was not enough to deter Hunter Lawrence. Neither was the fact that he was riding with sore ribs after experiencing a practice crash earlier in the week. He was a distant 10th to start the first race and for most of the 30 minutes, it seemed he would finish off the podium. Lawrence did not win the 250 East Supercross championship by giving in to hopelessness or pain, however.

Lawrence picked off one rider and then another until he found the battle for the top five in front of him at the halfway point. Once the field started to lap riders, Lawrence used the opportunity to continue forward through the grid. He passed third-place Jo Shimoda with two laps remaining and challenged Maximus Vohland for second on the final trip around Fox Raceway, but had to settle for the final spot on the podium. Lawrence dominated Moto 2 and claimed the overall victory in Pala.

Justin Cooper made his first start of the season at Fox Raceway and earned enough NBC Power Average points to climb to second. Partly this was due to consistently strong runs in both motos and a 5-4 that gave him the fifth position overall, but he is also not weighed down with moderate Supercross results. It will take a week or two to see where his strength lands him on the grid.

Motocross 250 Points

In only his third Pro Motocross National, Haiden Deegan scored a second-place finish in the overall standings. – Align Media

RJ Hampshire may feel he has something to prove after finishing second to Jett Lawrence in the 250 SX West division. He certainly rode like that was the case in Moto 1 and easily outpaced the field on his way to victory lane. In Moto 2, he crashed twice on Lap 1 and dropped back to 39th. It took half of the race to get inside the top 20 and salvage points. By the end of the race, he was 11th and while that was enough to get him on the overall podium, it cost him points in the NBC SuperMotocross Power Rankings.

Haiden Deegan surprised the field in Houston in his 250 Supercross debut by finishing fifth. At the time, he said his strong result was because there were no expectations. He echoed that statement after the Motocross season opener. His second-place finish in the overall standings was enough to project him five positions up the SuperMotocross Rankings. In 11 rounds in the combined series, Deegan has earned seven top-fives and a worst finish of eighth.

Jo Shimoda did not make his first Supercross race of 2023 until late in the season. He finished fourth on the hybrid track of Atlanta, which had some similar elements to Fox Raceway. His fourth-place finish in Moto 1 of the Motocross opener made it seem likely he would score an overall podium, but a sixth in the second race cost him points in the NBC Power Rankings in a field that promises to be extremely tight.

250 Rankings

Driver (SMX rank) Power
1. Hunter Lawrence (1) 89.56 2 1
2. Justin Cooper (42) 84.67 NA
3. RJ Hampshire (3) 83.67 3 0
3. Haiden Deegan (4) 83.67 8 5
5. Jo Shimoda (16) 82.33 7 2
6. Guillem Farres (46) 79.33 NA
7. Levi Kitchen (6) 79.11 5 -2
8. Max Anstie (5) 77.83 12 4
9. Max Vohland (8) 77.50 14 5
10. Enzo Lopes (10) 76.00 11 1
11. Mitchell Oldenburg (13) 74.25 16 5
12. Carson Mumford (19) 71.22 17 5
13. Jordon Smith (7) 70.56 9 -4
14. Ryder DiFrancesco (48) 70.33 NA
15. Chris Blose (12) 67.00 13 -2
16. Chance Hymas (27) 66.00 19 3
17. Tom Vialle (9) 65.78 18 1
18. Jett Reynolds (55) 63.33 NA
19. Michael Mosiman (28) 62.33 20 1
20. Garrett Marchbanks (64) 59.00 NA

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner in Supercross and overall winner in Motocross. It awards 90 points for each Moto, Heat and Triple Crown win. The points decrement by a percentage equal to the number of riders in the field until the last place rider in each event receives five points. The Power Ranking is the average of these percentage points over the past 45 days.

POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 13 AT ATLANTA: Justin Barcia leapfrogs the Big 3
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 11 AT SEATTLE: Cooper Webb, Eli Tomac overtake Chase Sexton
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 10 AT DETROIT: Chase Sexton narrowly leads Webb
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 8 AT DAYTONA: Chase Sexton unseats Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 7 AT ARLINGTON: Jason Anderson narrowly trails Eli Tomac
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 6 AT OAKLAND: Perfect night keeps Eli Tomac first
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 5 AT TAMPA: Chase Sexton, Cooper Webb close in
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 4 AT HOUSTON: Eli Tomac rebounds from A2 crash, retakes lead
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Ken Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage