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					PHOENIX TO BECOME COUNTDOWN EVENT IN 2011

Written by Michael Knight
Friday, 20 August 2010 09:00




There will be a major change -- and a major new market -- in the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle
Countdown championship when the Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway moves
to Oct. 14-16 from the late February date it's had since 1990.
 
The Arizona Republic reported exclusively in its Friday edition that Firebird will host the fourth of
six Countdown events next year. The story said the date change will be made official when
NHRA releases its complete 2011 Full Throttle schedule later this month.
 
Also, for the first time, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class will compete at Firebird.
 
Attitude Apparel's CompetitionPlus.com has confirmed the Republic's report.
 
The move is a direct result of NASCAR's significant realignment of its 2011 Sprint Cup
schedule. Phoenix International Raceway will host the first race after the Daytona 500 on Feb.
27. Since 1990, that usually has been Firebird's place on the NHRA calendar, but NHRA Vice
President of Communications Jerry Archambeault admitted two weeks ago the drag racing
group would not compete head-to-head against NASCAR in the same market.
 
NASCAR considers the post-Daytona 500 date to be valuable because, historically, it has
attracted increased TV ratings and national media attention.
 
“To be in the Countdown, we think that’s really cool,” said Charlie Allen, the president of Firebird
Raceway. “We’re thrilled. I would use the expression ‘tickled-pink,’ but maybe that’s not a very
common expression any more. But we are.
 
“We’ll be right in the middle of the Countdown. There will still be a lot of (drivers) in the
championship hunt but nothing will be decided. It will be a race that will have a lot of impact.”

NHRA President Tom Compton was not available but Graham Light, senior vice president of
racing operations, responded by email to the newspaper's request for a comment.

“Originally, Phoenix was a fall event (1985-1989),” Light wrote. “To position it back in the midst
of our Countdown makes perfect sense given it brings another major market into the six-race
playoff format.”

Phoenix, which also has the NASCAR Chase semifinal in November, will join Charlotte and
Dallas as the only market areas to host both a Countdown and Chase race. It's likely team and
series sponsors will react favorably to adding a large and demographically-diverse market area
to the Countdown.
 
"We've always felt that, early in the year, we might miss out on some promotions," Allen
admitted. "For example, next year is NHRA's 60th (anniversary), but it won’t start until
Gainesville. Pomona and our event would not have been in the big 60th promotion. Now, we’ll
be part of it, and can take advantage what the other tracks are doing."



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PHOENIX TO BECOME COUNTDOWN EVENT IN 2011

Written by Michael Knight
Friday, 20 August 2010 09:00

 
Firebird faced competition in February from other important regional events, such as the
Phoenix Open golf tournament, the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction, and the start of
baseball spring training. In October, football will be in season, including the NFL Arizona
Cardinals and college programs at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona.
 
"We're in a big city and you have everything going on here," said Allen. "I don't think it's going to
change our promotion, but we're aware (of football)."  
 
Allen also expressed hope the October date will "get us farther into the (nation's economic)
recovery" and that will help ticket sales.
 
Seven-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher reacted favorably when informed of the
news.
 
"I think it's fantastic," said the U.S. Army driver, who has achieved three of his record 65 wins at
Firebird. Also, that's where -- in 1999 -- he became the first NHRA competitor to break the 330
(330.23) mph barrier.
 
"I think everything should be in a major market, especially the Countdown. This is the second
biggest motorsport in the world. We should be treated like it. Again, because of guys like
Charlie, who build these racetracks, they deserve some benefits every now and then. Charlie
has been at the beginning of the year and it’s tough to fill the stands at the beginning of the
year. There’s no real order or rivalry that early.
 
"Hopefully, it will give Charlie and the racetrack a big crowd at the right time."

Schumacher added he's in favor, at least occasionally, of scheduling different tracks as
Countdown events.

"I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all," he said. "I think it’s good for the sport. Some of the tracks
are not owned by NHRA and they put their heart-and-soul into it and deserve to have a shot at
the Countdown, which was designed to keep people watching and make it more intense at the
end of the year."

Track Vice President Franki Buckman said plans are to continue the National Time Trials. The
Trials have traditionally been a major pre-season testing opportunity in January but Buckman
said next year's dates haven't been set.   

In a $200,000 project, both lanes were repaired following last February's controversial Arizona
Nationals. Pro Stock drivers Gordie Rivera and Vinnie Deceglie lost control and flipped and
drivers complained of what Mike Edwards described as "white-knuckle" track conditions.
Officials decided to stop after just one round and the event was completed in Gainesville, Fla.

Wayne McMurtry, who retired as NHRA's facilities vice president and now is a consultant, was
involved in the work. Allen said McMurtry's recommended concrete and asphalt specifications



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PHOENIX TO BECOME COUNTDOWN EVENT IN 2011

Written by Michael Knight
Friday, 20 August 2010 09:00

were followed.

After the first 180 feet of concrete, 30 feet of concrete was removed and replaced. Grinding was
done to much of the concrete, up to the 700-foot mark. Asphalt, which begins after 700 feet and
extends past 1,500 feet, was milled and repaved.

Local events have resumed and Allen said drivers have been positive.

"We’re having comments on how smooth it is," said Allen. "I spent a huge amount of money on
surveyors when we redid the track. They did what they call ‘stations’ every 10 feet, which is very
unusual; usually it’s every 25 feet.

"I sucked it up because I wanted to find out exactly and they did computer graphs and all that. It
turned out really nice."

Allen said he continues talks with the Gila River Indian Community to exercise a seven-year
contract extension after his current lease expires in mid-2013.

The ripple effects of NASCAR's schedule realignment, including changes to its Nationwide and
Camping World Truck calendars, have caused other series to react. The Indy Racing League
already has adjusted three previously announced 2011 dates. It's expected several other NHRA
National events will have at least date changes.




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