No, I don’t mean with the drivers, but with the teams.

Matt Hagan scored the win for DSR at this year’s Winternationals

In my opinion, the NHRA is the most diverse motorsport with a television presence in the US. However, watching this weekend I was shocked at how thin the fields are now.

There are three teams that are consistently competitive in the nitro categories. They are as follows:

Top Fuel:

Don Schumacher Racing

  • Leah Pritchett
  • Antron Brown
  • Tony Schumacher

Shawn Langdon (under contract but not currently racing due to sponsorship issues)

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John Force Racing

  • Brittany Force

Kalitta Motorsports

  • Troy Coughlin Jr.
  • Doug Kalitta

Funny Car:

Don Schumacher Racing

  • Ron Capps
  • Jack Beckman
  • Tommy Johnson Jr.
  • Matt Hagen

John Force Racing

  • John Force
  • Courtney Force
  • Robert Hight

Kalitta Motorsports

  • JR Todd
  • Alexis Dejoria

Every weekend those three teams fill 15 of the 32 spots in the bracket in the nitro categories. The only drivers/teams not already mentioned that won last year are Tim Wilkerson (FC) and Steve Torrence (TF). That’s it. 17 competitive cars in the two top classes.

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I’m a casual fan of the NHRA and not an expert by any means, but here’s my opinion why it is this way. Nitro racing is all about data. These cars have an extremely small window to run in. Too little power/clutch and the car shakes the tires and doesn’t get down the track. Too much power and the car smokes the tires and doesn’t get down the track. Add to that the fact that these cars are tuned to the hundredth of a second and the more data you have, the better chance you have to set your car up properly. Don Schumacher Racing gets 3-4 looks at the track each session per category and 7 overall. That’s 28 runs before eliminations start. All of their crew chiefs have access to each others data (during qualifying at least) to help their setups. A single car team gets one per session.

Richie Crampton was left without a ride this year after Morgan Lucas Racing shut down

Economies of scale also come into play. Per-car costs are lower when you run multiple teams.

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It has gotten harder and harder for teams to stay in the game in recent years. 3 highly competitive nitro teams have closed the doors over the past two years. Last year it was Alan Johnson Racing and Bob Vandergriff Racing. This year it was Morgan Lucas Racing. Without solid funding to make lots of passes and gather lots of data; teams can’t afford to keep their programs going.

What’s the solution? I wish I had one. It’s hard to see a sport that is claiming to have it’s best exposure and TV ratings have such a small pool of cars to pull from.