Some long-time drag racing fans when appalled with the NHRA playoff change, Countdown to One, was launched in 2007. Points accumulated during the regular season were wiped out. Some thought a six-race championship run was too much like the NASCAR Sprint cup 10-race package—Chase for the Sprint cup. Others thought points earned throughout the season should stand at the end of the season.
Many fans just simply couldn't get used to the fact that points were erased and a new set of points and competition determined a champion in each class.
Sanctions like NASCAR and NHRA making the decisions were soon pleasantly supported by increased interest from many fans. At first, many drivers complained of the new system too, but as time went on, they were converted by the experience of making the playoffs and then having a fierce dash for the championship.
Then many NASCAR and NHRA fans embraced the competitive scheme as well.
Drivers learned a new season strategy. For the majority of the season the goal was to make the playoffs. Once qualified for a championship run, drivers were ready to go all out for the big prize.
The question is, does a driver’s mindset adapt to the changes, or do some yearn for the good old days of padding points all season long?
The best way to know about what's in a driver's mind is to seek quotes on the subject.
John Force, Antron Brown and Ron Capps shared their competitive thoughts for analysis.
“I love the championship, the whole reason for the countdown,” Force said. “To have the championship tied up by Dallas—nobody wants to go to Pomona if the championship is already won. What they did was change the Countdown like NASCAR did, making it a dogfight right to the last race. It's been a dogfight every year.”
Ten drivers in each professional class roll into Charlotte, the first race of the six-pack playoff at zMAX Dragway, with a new slate. Indeed, some had built a huge point deficit in the first 16 races, but were among the Countdown finalists with a new chance. Force pointed out what that means.
“If you're behind and the points are restructured, you like that too,” Force said. “You get a shot at it. A lot of times, the car will just come around and run. You don't know why.”
Force eagerly shared his analysis of the system.
“The fans love it,” Force said. “They get to go to every race and follow it. Like a football game. They follow the playoffs, just like the Super Bowl. Somebody wins a championship, and they go to the playoffs in the Super Bowl. That's why they have a Super Bowl. Keeps them motivated, locked to the TV, radios and Internet.”
Sometimes a team mindset won’t benefit results. Antron Brown explained.
“We learned a valuable lesson in '09. (It) was definitely a year we came in the Countdown with over 200 points lead then it got wiped away. We went there and we were racing, but I think our mindset was that we put so much pressure on ourselves where we qualified, We just messed ourselves up.”
Ron Capps has been close to winning championships and explained his experiences.
“We learned that you got to approach it just like NFL approaches playoffs or baseball or anything else,” Capps said. “You got to get in it first to win it, and then you got to approach it as 'now is the time'.”
Brown has learned how to approach the Countdown to One.
“In the Countdown,” Brown said. “You have to go there and be poised, be in that zone, medium zone, not too high, not too low, treat it like every other race we have this year where we have nothing to lose. We're going to go in it and we're going to be in the offensive mode, not the defensive mode, we're going to look at the track and attack the track for whatever it can handle. That's what has got us successful so far this year. We're going to continue that on and attack it that way and see where the chips fall."
Capps sees a big reality.
“Realistically now with the competition, you have one bad race and you're probably not going to be fighting for the championship,” Capps said. “You got to have a car that's capable of going up and conditions on both sides. When it's warm, you got to be able to be one of the guys that's going to scoop up those small qualifying points. But when it cools off, like Redding, you got to be able to step up in cool conditions and set a national record when the conditions are there, gain the extra 20 points."
Force sees much going into the first race of the Countdown at zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina.
“They know how to promote,” Force said. “I'm going there to win. We’re going to run the 9/11 car. I unveiled it yesterday. I was there with 12 people yesterday that were right in the heat of that battle. When they interview me and I talk about crashing and being on fire, we're not heroes. We're just people that do our job and entertain. Do we lose lives every now and then? Yeah. We lost Eric Medlin. It can happen.
“But you look at military men and women, firefighters, police, every day on the street. They sacrifice. Their families sacrifice. I followed 9/11 on TV for years, but it was just amazing to meet these people. They're not braggarts. They don't even want to talk about it. They just come there because they are asked. They're going to be on the starting line with that car.”
It’s likely many eyes will be on Force and other hot rod contenders during NHRA eliminations —at the track or on ESPN2 next Sunday, Sep. 18 at 8:30 p.m. ET.
FYI WIRZ is the select presentation of topics by Dwight Drum at Racetake.com.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes and information were obtained from official release materials provided by NHRA and team representatives.