‘State of the NHRA’: 10 questions with NHRA president Glen Cromwell

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U.S. President Donald Trump gives an annual “State of the Union” address. Governors of most every state in the union have annual “State of the State” speeches.

NHRA president Glen Cromwell recently gave a “state of the NHRA” interview to NBCSports.com, and like the U.S. President and most governors, Cromwell is quite bullish on where the drag racing organization is presently and where it’s headed.

NBC Sports spoke with Cromwell in advance of the third race of the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, the 51st annual Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida, from March 12-15.

The event is considered one of the four “majors” on the NHRA tour, the others being the season-opening Winternationals (held last month in Pomona, Calif.), the U.S. Nationals on Labor Day weekend and the season-ending World Finals (also at Pomona).

The Gatornationals – or simply “the Gators” or “GatorNats” as many people refer to it – is arguably the second-largest race on the NHRA schedule, behind only the U.S. Nationals.

Here are excerpts from NBC Sports’ interview with Cromwell:

NBC SPORTS: How would you describe the ‘State of the NHRA’ today?

Cromwell: “The State of the NHRA is still very strong. We have a lot of momentum that kind of goes back to 2016. From then to 2020, really, we’ve seen all our key performance indicators going up.

“The only thing that slowed us down last year was we had 15 events that were impacted by weather. You take those out of the mix, and you’d be saying the State of the NHRA is tremendous momentum. The only thing you’ve seen at Pomona and Phoenix (the first two races that have been held thus far this season) is the continued great upward momentum with the sport over the last four years.”

NBC SPORTS: What are the challenges that NHRA still faces?

Cromwell: “This is a challenge for all motorsports series, and I’ll just sum it up with two words: ‘economic balance.’ Whether it’s the guys in NASCAR, F1, IndyCar, they’ll all tell you the same thing, they’re trying to find the balance of healthy race teams, healthy racetracks, healthy properties and of course doing that and keeping the entertainment level for our fans at the highest level. When you find that balance, you know you’ve got it going in the right direction. Are we there yet? No. Everybody’s got their challenges, but I like where we sit as a property/sanctioning body. I think there’s a lot of good things happening, but obviously there’s always a lot of work ahead to make things better. So we will never settle for where we are over the last four years. We are pushing forward on many levels.”

Eight-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher, who has not competed since 2018, earns his fifth career win at his home track, Route 66 Raceway in suburban Chicago, in 2015. (Photo courtesy NHRA)

NBC SPORTS: There has been talk about IndyCar and NASCAR perhaps holding races together on the same weekend at select tracks where both series race. Could you potentially run a weekend series with another sanctioning body? For example, Bristol Dragway is right across the street from Bristol Motor Speedway. Likewise for Route 66 Raceway and Chicagoland Speedway, or The Strip and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Could NHRA do combination weekends with another series?

Cromwell: “We’ve talked about it. It’s been discussed internally. Are the conversations deep into the final (stage)? No, it’s not there. Obviously, all properties are looking at would that be a great opportunity for fans of all motorsports, because at the end of the day, we’re all part of the same family and we all have to grow together. If that opportunity came to the NHRA, and it made sense, would we be open to it? Yeah, we would.”

NBC SPORTS: Could you see a possibility of joint race weekends with other sanctioning bodies in, say, the next three to five years?

Cromwell: “Just discussions are happening. Are we open to it? We’re open to explore the idea. I’d leave it at that.”

NBC SPORTS: One of the biggest challenges all motorsports series face is attracting new fans. What are some of the things NHRA is doing?

Cromwell: “It’s really all about setting up programs for new fans that have never been to our event before because it is a little intimidating at first. We want to make it more welcoming for fans when they buy that ticket and walk into that gate and make sure they have all the information they need.

“One of the things is we plan to start an influencer (social media) program for next year. That touches new people, new eyeballs. We focus heavily on youth, particularly our Youth In Education program (young teens through first two years of college). We’re bringing in about 22 to 25 percent increases on the number of people we’re bringing in through the youth program.

“We’ve also started an exciting new job listing platform, ‘NHRA Launch’ with (former multitime Pro Stock Motorcycle champ) Terry Vance.

“We are also giving private tours for new fans, plus we still have the greatest access for fans in motorsports, where they can walk through the pits and meet and talk to drivers and also get their autographs.”

Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme will be visiting with fans at several races next season. He’s also a part-owner of Austin Prock’s Top Fuel dragster with John Force Racing. Photo courtesy Don Prudhomme.

NBC SPORTS: Attracting new fans is obviously good, but what about older drag racing fans? How do you bring them back out to the tracks or re-attract them and their interest in the sport?

Cromwell: “We will continue programs like the ‘Unfinished Business’ program we had last year at Gainesville, where fans that have been with us since the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, they’ll once again see folks like Don ‘Snake’ Prudhomme, Don Garlits, Shirley Muldowney, Warren Johnson, Ed ‘Ace’ McCulloch and other legends in the sports. … It makes fans want to come back. We have such a strong history and we don’t want to forget that history. We hope to have two legend drivers at many races next year, and that’s very important because we will be celebrating 70 years of the NHRA being in existence next year, as well.”

NBC SPORTS: NASCAR is expected to make significant changes to its schedule starting in 2021, with some races that traditionally are run at one point of the year potentially being moved to a different time of the season. Has NHRA considered moving some of its races at traditional points in the season to other times?

Cromwell: “It’s again the economic balance. At the end of the day, we’re going to look at making adjustments that put the sport in a very strong, bullish position of economic balance, and we’ll look at things.”

NBC SPORTS: Are there any plans to expand the schedule or move into other markets that the NHRA is not currently in?

Cromwell: “We’ve always looked at different markets, but I think right now we like where we sit today. But obviously we’re evaluating our schedule, and we’ll see how NASCAR changes theirs, and we may have to adjust if they make drastic changes to theirs and locations and things like that.”

Two-time defending NHRA Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence celebrates last year’s title. Photo: NHRA.

NBC SPORTS: A number of current NHRA stars are getting up in age, like John Force (70 years old), Doug Kalitta (55) and Ron Capps (54). Can you discuss how NHRA is building its next crop of stars with folks such as Steve Torrence (36), Austin Prock (24), Leah Pritchett (31), Matt Hagan (37) and others?

Cromwell: “We’re going to promote these younger drivers and make stars of them. We’ll balance between John Force and a lot of our stars but also focus a lot on these younger drivers that are up and coming.

“Among the things we’re doing include programs where we’re putting them out in the public’s eye, social media is a big deal and more My Journey’s (2-4 minute behind the scenes videos). As I’ve always said, these drivers that have been with us for a long time, there will be a day when they leave the sport, and I’m very confident we have new, young stars who will come in and fill those gaps, will do a wonderful job and will become stars within themselves.

“It’s like hockey, when Wayne Gretzky retired, people said hockey was done. Then there was Mario Lemieux and then Sidney Crosby came in and Alex Ovechkin. You have stars that will come in and fill those voids.”

NBC SPORTS: What are some of the other things that are encouraging about the sport going forward?

Cromwell: “In addition to new young full-time drivers like (Top Fuel driver) Austin Prock and others, we’re also encouraged that there are more part-time drivers who are coming on the scene, and those who have been part-time for several years are even competing in more races than they typically do.

“We also are very happy with our partnership with Fox and FS1 (the current agreement runs through the end of the 2021 season).

“Really, overall, the sport is extremely healthy, and the momentum is continuing where it has been the last four years.”

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2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston: Eli Tomac retakes 450 lead, Hunter Lawrence tops 250s

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After his Anaheim 2 crash, Eli Tomac was surprised he was not injured, but despite getting knocked down momentarily, he picked himself up, rode to last week’s win and reascended to the top of the SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. This is the third time in three weeks Tomac has topped the rankings.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jason Anderson has back-to-back podiums to his credit and sits second in the Power Rankings. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Last week, Tomac finished second in his heat before winning the Main – and that translated to near-perfect points in the Power Rankings, which award 100 for a win in the feature and 90 for a heat victory. Tomac’s average was marred by the Houston accident when he finished 13th in that heat before settling just outside the top five in overall standings. Racing is about bouncing back and last year’s Supercross and Motocross champion Tomac did just that as he chases a third consecutive title.

Jason Anderson earned his second consecutive podium finish with a third at Houston. He momentarily rolled past Aaron Plessinger into second during a restart following an accident involving Dylan Ferrandis and held that position for four trips around the track until he was tracked down by Chase Sexton. Afterward Anderson faded and finished 12 seconds off the pace, but along with a heat win, he easily leapfrogged Ken Roczen and Cooper Webb, who struggled in the fourth race of the season.

MORE: Eli Tomac rebounds from Anaheim 2 crash with Houston win

Webb held his position by passing Roczen in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Houston. Webb has been solid in 2023 with a worst moto result of seventh in the first Triple Crown race at Anaheim 2, but in order to be considered a solid challenger to Tomac he needs to win either a heat or main this week in Tampa.

Roczen was involved in the incident that sidelined Ferrandis in Houston. Racing for eighth at the time, his bike may have sustained some damage when Ferrandis landed on his back tire, but he was not overly impressive in his heat either with a fifth-place finish. That was enough to drop him three positions in the standings, but he still has Tomac in sight.

After his disappointing heat in San Diego when he crashed and sustained enough damage to place him last, Sexton has roared back. He won the overall in Anaheim 2’s Triple Crown format and narrowed the points’ gap slightly on Tomac. Last week he yarded the field in his heat race and won by a wide margin. A modest start in the Main kept him from getting to Tomac’s back wheel early in the Houston round, and he lost a little ground in the championship.

450 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Eli Tomac
[3 Main; 3 Heats Wins]
85.20 2 1
2 Jason Anderson
[2 Heat Wins]
82.60 4 2
3 Cooper Webb 82.10 3 0
4 Ken Roczen 81.70 1 -3
5 Chase Sexton
[1 Main; 3 Heat Wins]
80.70 6 1
6 Dylan Ferrandis 71.60 5 -1
7 Aaron Plessinger 71.30 8 1
8 Justin Barcia 70.10 7 -1
9 Justin Cooper 68.00 NA
10 Adam Cianciarulo 67.40 9 -1
11 Joey Savatgy 61.20 10 -1
12 Marvin Musquin 61.00 10 -2
13 Malcolm Stewart
[1 Heat Win]
58.75 11 -2
14 Christian Craig 57.20 13 -1
15 Colt Nichols 56.50 14 -1
16 Dean Wilson 49.30 15 -1
17 Justin Hill 39.67 18 1
18 Shane McElrath 36.33 22 4
19 Brandon Scharer 34.00 21 2
20 Logan Karnow 33.33 19 -1

Supercross 450 Points


The 250 East division debuted in Houston and with only one race – and therefore no chance yet to stumble – three of their riders jumped to the top of the chart.

Hunter Lawrence had a perfect week with wins in both his main and heat. It wasn’t without drama, however, as he was forced to jump wide early in the feature to avoid contact with Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut. Without a former 250 champion in the field, it is guaranteed someone new will grace the top of the box at Salt Lake City after the season-ender and it looks like it’s going to be Lawrence’s to lose.

SuperMotocross Power Rankings Houston
Jordon Smith’s last podium before Houston came four years ago in Detroit. – Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

It was more than four years ago that Jordon Smith scored his last Supercross podium in Detroit. Despite finishing second that afternoon, he was battling a wrist injury that eventually sidelined him. More injuries have followed, but Smith was a favorite to win the title in 2019 and he’s shown how well he can ride when he’s healthy.

Debuting third in the Houston SuperMotocross Power Rankings, Max Anstie moved from the 450 class last year to 250s in 2023 and the change has gone better than he anticipated. Finishing second in both his heat and main, Anstie was edged by Smith because he finished second behind that rider in their heat. That is Anstie’s first top-10 since finishing sixth at Southwick, Massachusetts last year on his 450. In that race, he scored fifth-place results in both motos.

Supercross 250 Points

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his graduation into the 250 class was well deserved and he landed fourth in his division and fifth overall in the SuperMotocross Power Rankings. In his first professional Supercross race, he finished fourth in his heat. In a field with twice the talent, he finished fourth again in the main. At Houston, he balanced aggression with patience. Now that he has a taste of that success, everyone will be watching him closely at Tampa to see if he can continue tiptoeing on the line.

Michael Mosiman, Jeremy Martin, and Vialle are tied for fifth in the 250 East division and seventh overall.

Vialle is the most notable of these three because he challenged for a podium position during the Main before making a mistake and falling in a turn. Significantly, this was not only his 250 debut, but his first time in Supercross. As with Deegan, he has generated a lot of attention for the coming weeks.

250 Rankings

This
Week
Rider Power
Avg.
Last
Week
Diff.
1 Hunter Lawrence – E
[1 Main; 1 Heat Win]
95.00 NA
2 Jordon Smith – E
[1 Heat Win]
90.50 NA
2 Max Anstie – E 90.50 NA
4 Jett Lawrence – W
[2 Main; 2 Heat Wins]
89.13 1 -3
5 Haiden Deegan – E 81.50 NA
6 Cameron McAdoo – W
[1 Heat Win]
77.63 2 -4
7 Mitchell Oldenburg – W 77.00 3 -4
7 Michael Mosiman – E 77.00 NA
7 Jeremy Martin – E 77.00 NA
7 Tom Vialle – E 77.00 NA
11 Stilez Robertson – W
[1 Heat Win]
76.75 4 -7
12 Chance Hymas – E 74.50 -12
13 Levi Kitchen – W
[1 Main Win]
73.75 5 -8
14 RJ Hampshire – W
[3 Heat Wins]
70.00 6 -8
15 Max Vohland – W 69.29 7 -8
16 Cullin Park – E 66.00 NA
17 Chris Blose – E 65.50 NA
18 Derek Kelley – W 63.75 8 -10
19 Enzo Lopes – W 63.25 9 -10
20 Pierce Brown – W 61.29 10 -10

* The NBC Power Rankings assign 100 points to a Main event winner and 90 points for each Heat and Triple Crown win, (Triple Crown wins are included with heat wins below the rider’s name). 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 3 AT ANAHEIM 2: Consistency makes Ken Roczen king
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 2 AT SAN DIEGO: Roczen moves up, Chase Sexton falls
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1 AT ANAHEIM 1: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence gain an early advantage