NHRA President Glen Cromwell Has Reasons to Be Excited About Series' Future
NHRA president Glen Cromwell says that he can't remember being more excited at the start of a season than he is right now.
Cromwell hopes that the best is yet to come for the drag racing series, and TV might be the game changer.
The hope inside the NHRA offices is that the next TV deal will help teams and their partner race tracks.
Glen Cromwell, who has been with the NHRA for 25 years and has served as the sanctioning body's fifth president since 2018, likes to use the word "excited" to talk about where the series is in 2023.
"I think things are in a really good place," Cromwell said. "I've been here for 25 years, and this is probably the most excited I've been at the start of a season. I give credit to the NHRA racing community.
"Coming out of COVID in 2021, like everybody, we worked together from the race teams and the racetracks, our partners, our fans, our employees—we all kind of came together as a stronger racing community. By that happening, it's really put the sport in position of strength. We had a good year in 2022, and the momentum continues to keep moving upward in 2023."
One reason for that optimism comes from what would have been considered a truly unlikely source just a few short years ago. Three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart came into the series as a team owner last year, and this year he's doubling down by running for the season championship in the Top Alcohol Dragster class.
Stewart is clearly lending more than just his name to the series. He's walking the walk.
"Tony has been great," Cromwell said. "He's been a great ambassador in this sport. You know, I think he's still learning. But what makes him so special is his intensity to learn something new. He wants to make sure he's the best, whether it's on the track, whether it's as a businessman, whether it's a race team owner—he is a perfectionist, and you can't ask for anything better to have someone like that involved in your sport."
Then there's new partners at Endeavor Streaming and Mission Foods, who are adding to the mix. Endeavor has added its expertise to upgrading the NHRA.tv livestreaming experience. Mission Foods is sponsoring a Saturday of race weekend #2Fast2Tasty NHRA Challenge where semifinalists from the previous race weekend will race against each other in a rematch for all professional categories with some more money and championship points at stake for the teams.
"It's designed to put the best of the best face to face, week in and week out," Cromwell says of the Challenge. "If you look at our sport, sometimes our top athletes, our top stars may race head to head on a Sunday and not race that person again for weeks or months, or maybe never. It's a redemption-style race on Saturday, and it lets them have a second chance
"The people who benefit are the fans. I think it's going to grow personalities and create some nice content in between our races to talk about. It also gives back some money to the race teams. I don't care what sanctioning body you're with, we have to have healthy race teams. Anything that the sanctioning body or properties can do to funnel money back to the product and race teams is good, and it's healthy."
The addition of partners like Mission Foods, Tony Stewart Racing and Pep Boys (sponsor of this weekend's All-Star Callout) also helps bring more eyes and in turn more dollars to the sport.
Cromwell and the sports insiders, however, know that the recent additions could pale in comparison to what could be a boon for the series after its current TV deal with FOX ends after 2026. It's a nearly decade-long pay-to-play deal that's given the NHRA same-day race coverage and a handful of live events each season.
The hope inside the NHRA offices is that the next deal could be a deal where the money flows in the other direction through a TV rights deal. With the growing number of streaming services getting into the live sports game, it's a realistic—and, yes, exciting—possibility that the series and its teams could be entering a new era after the 2026 season.
"That's what we're all working for," Cromwell said. "We talk internally here about getting a TV deal that is going to be lucrative enough that we can funnel some of those dollars back into the race teams and race tracks. That creates health.
"We think right now, our partner with FOX, we're extremely happy with them. They've done an awesome job, and we hope we stay with them for many years to come. But, come 2026, and obviously before that, we'll be negotiating in the best interests for the NHRA and their stakeholders."
"I've talked to the race teams, the race tracks. It's a common conversation for us as a sport. We'd love to get to a position where we're getting a rights deal, one that we can funnel those dollars back into the sport, to help create healthy race tracks healthy race teams, for sure."
That's music to team owner and three-time Funny Car champion Ron Capps' ears.
"We'd always love to have more," Capps said. "Listen, NASCAR guys are making big, big big dollars, both owners and drivers. But guess what. They're in a whole thing where they're having meetings and groups and organizations and unions to figure out a way to get more to them. So, it's all relative.
"Of course, we'd love to have more money. We recently got a notice from NHRA that they're raising a little bit more on the season end, and it's a work in progress for everybody I think."
Capps said the the owners and crew chiefs who make up the Professional Racers Owners Organization (PRO) in the NHRA are doing what they can to help the sport grow and be even more attractive to future sponsors and even TV partners.
"They are very, very on top of a lot of things like that that have helped the sport grow, and there's a good communication right now going on. I think we're going to see that get better and better, and Tony Stewart's part of it.
"It's only getting better from what I see."