George Elliott answered questions from reporters on Saturday morning, prior to the start of third round qualifying for the Prolong Super Lubricants Spring Nationals presented by Parts Pro Performance Centers George Elliott's professional ...
George Elliott answered questions from reporters on Saturday morning, prior to the start of third round qualifying for the Prolong Super Lubricants Spring Nationals presented by Parts Pro Performance Centers
George Elliott's professional background involves many years as an executive for Argus Publishers and Diamond P Sports television. The Oldsmar, Fla. native served as Chairman of the Board for the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) from 1991-1994. He is currently a board advisor and executive committee member of SEMA. He is also a Hall of Fame inductee of that organization. He received the Man of the Year award from the Racers for Christ International Organization in 1990 and the International Show Car Association (ISCA) awarded him the Founders Award in 1993 for 30 years of leadership in the high performance industry. Last year Elliott received the George Hurst Drag Racing Journalism Award for outstanding accomplishments in the great sport of drag racing. Elliott's racing resume includes first place finishes in the Baja 1000 and the inaugural Baja 500, an AMA district 37 motocross championship and a lifetime of drag racing. Elliott was hired as IHRA's President in early March, 1997.
With the incredible turnout in Pro Modified will there ever be a 32 car field? Elliott: I think in the near future you will see a 32 car Pro Modified field. In talking with some of the racers, I believe the commitment is strong enough that we would go ahead and make a commitment to it. We recognize how important the round money is to these guys because it is their business. Perhaps what might change is how we start first round. It might be in a Saturday Night of Fire round. Those are the things we are still unclear on. But I certainly see the reality of a 32 car field.
Please talk about IHRA in general. What are some good things, and what things need to change? Elliott: The primary thing that we're looking to improve on the short term is things for the fans. Trying to get the show to happen quicker. Even though we're under a little bit of weather now, I hope everyone recognizes the effort and energy that's going in to keep the track dry so when we are able to race on it there's very little down time. Generally speaking it will take three hours to dry a track, even with a good staff. We've doubled up on equipment and personnel. We're trying to make sure the fan gets more bang for their buck. We have a laser show tonight and fireworks and a very good Night of Fire to add some performance to the program. It's really the show that's of utmost importance right now to the fan. The racers have assured us that they're going to do everything they can to make that show. Upgrading facilities around the country and making sure the fans feel comfortable here and have clean restrooms. They have food that's good and they can bring the family. We're really going to be looking for family involvement in IHRA racing all the way through it.
You've expanded with two races this year, going to Illinois and back to Michigan. What do you envision in 3-5 years for IHRA? Elliott: We're certainly looking to a stronger program as far as the number of events. I hate to put a number to it because it all depends on how quickly we find the quality tracks. The right comfort features that the fan likes to have. I would certainly like to see IHRA around 12 events by 1998. I think that's very possible.
IHRA has traditionally been an east of the Mississippi organization. Is there any interest in expanding nationally and into Canada? Elliott: Yes we are looking at some tracks in Canada right now. That is a very strong possibility for 1998. We do have a lot of West Coast tracks calling us to become sanctioned. We are a sanctioning body so whether or not the national tour goes to the west right now I don't think that's in the forecast for 1998. I do think we can certainly work toward a stronger national circuit.
What about motorcycles? Elliott: We've had some conversations with the Harley-Davidson Pro Stock motorcycles, and the Top Fuel motorcycles will be running at Norwalk (Ohio, World Nationals). I have no problem with the NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycles. The question is can that group of racers handle going with both circuits. If they can, and want to run with IHRA, then we can find programs for them. Nothing is closed.
How about sponsorship for the Quick 8 programs? Elliott: We are running the Quick 8 (Top Dragster) this weekend. We hope to have sponsors confirmed for both of those. I'm optimistic that we will do that.
What about some of the names of sponsors rumored to sponsors those Quick 8 programs -- can you speculate on what those might be? Elliott: No, not yet.
Talk about the relationship with the Bristol Chamber of Commerce for the Autumn Chase Nationals. Is that a one-year deal, or a long-term relationship? Elliott: We're talking long-term with the Autumn Chase Nationals. It's something that the Chamber has really wanted to do for some time. The timing that made it happen was right. It's a terrific relationship and we're very proud to have the Bristol Chamber involved. I think it's going to help us with our marketing. It will be very strong for our community relations as well, especially in building our family image. It's one of the best things to happen to IHRA.
Will Top Fuel run at that event? Elliott: Top Fuel will run at that event. That has not been officially announced, so you guys are getting that as a scoop. We believe that Top Fuel is a very integral part of IHRA Snap-on Tools Drag Racing and I do plan to have it at that event.
Will that be a points event? Elliott: I'm expecting that to be a points event. If it doesn't upset the schedule of the Top Fuel competitors who were perhaps not expecting to be here. I think if it's a national event, it should be a points event.
Could you comment on Bruton Smith's involvement with Bristol Dragway and how does IHRA interact with him? Elliott: My only meeting with Bruton has been very brief. While Bruton has only been a sight developer I think he's brought a big change in scenery to the Bristol area. Every day that I drive to work it seems like there's something new. It's almost like a stage set. I think Bruton is one of the most positive things that have happened to motorsports. I hope that will reflect in dragstrip operations and in the sites that he has dragstrips, like Sears Point. I hope he puts his touch into all of those.
Any possibility that Sears Point (Sonoma, Calif.) will become an IHRA event facility? Elliott: There's been no discussion. I guess it's only if it would make economic sense for them to make a change. Right now I think NHRA puts on a very good show at Sonoma. That's just a business decision that right now I don't know the answer to.
What happened to change all the speculation that Bruton Smith would convert this dragstrip into a parking lot? Elliott: I don't know. I guess that might have been just that -- speculation. That might have been someone trying to second-guess Bruton Smith. I don't think that's a smart thing to do.
Prolong is one of the most aggressive retailers in the country. How will the relationship with Prolong affect IHRA? Elliott: It's purely a sponsorship relationship as it has been in the past. The Prolong Acquisition Group is Elton Alderman and Tom Billstein, (IHRA's) Chairman and Director. That's really a separate venture on their part. The participation in sponsorship is very aggressive and tremendously helps IHRA. They send in their marketing team to help. We call it guerrilla warfare. You've probably seen the signs and banners and working the stores and things of that nature. They go out to the community and work well there. They are a tremendous asset to the marketing program with IHRA.
Is this the strategy for IHRA to increase its fan base? Elliott: Absolutely. As an example, they're very conscientious of charitable offerings and we've had the Bristol Boys and Girls Club that will be coming out for the weekend, that might not be able to attend the races otherwise. There's discount ticket programs in place. Those plans help bring new people into our sport. It stimulates new excitement and interest. We did a Race Against Drugs program (Bristol, Va. Middle School) and that was a tremendous success. Prolong has been very aggressive with that.
You've got some real colorful drivers and great personalities. Are you going to promote those drivers more and sort of follow NASCAR's lead? Elliott: Definitely. I think one of the philosophies that we'll have is to enhance the celebrity status of our drivers. We have young stars like Richie Stevens and Stuart Evans coming up. Richie has come from the Junior Dragster ranks and now is a professional driver. We think that is a real testimony to the value of a Junior Dragster program and IHRA is going to develop a Junior Dragster program here in the very near future. There's certainly a lot of reason that we can go Junior Dragster racing and cultivate future stars.
What about the future location of IHRA headquarters. Are you planning to move from Bristol? Elliott: It's still up in the air. Space is an issue right now. We are expanding our staff as rapidly as we can with the marketing and media people. What ever it takes to do the job right we have to make an expansion and of course space is a problem right now for us.
This is quite an event isn't it? Elliott: I've been to Bristol several times with the Super Chevy Show and I'm so impressed with the community, the fans and the enthusiasm. There's a lot of electricity here. As you see with even the weather being somewhat threatening, it doesn't seem to slow anybody down. It's like they know we will get this show in and we will get this show in.
Do you foresee a great future for IHRA? Elliott: I wouldn't have come over here if I didn't think there was the potential. This is one of the easier places to be optimistic. There's so much potential with the IHRA. What makes that optimism for me is the loyalty of the participants right now and the loyalty of the fans. The phone calls I get are so positive. The enthusiasm of people that IHRA pumps through their blood.
Do you plan to keep a strong sportsman program? Elliott: You have to have a good sportsman base. That's the foundation of any sanctioning body. We will continue to try and develop better programs. Not that there's anything wrong with the existing programs but I think anytime we can improve anything we will.