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The Daily DRAGSTER

Before the internet made it obsolete, we used to produce -- literally overnight -- a daily newspaper for each day of the U.S. Nationals. Really!
31 Aug 2007
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

After a travel day yesterday, the National DRAGSTER staff is here in Indy en masse to cover the Big Go not only for a regular weekly publication but also the annual Daily DRAGSTER publication, which is distributed free to fans Saturday, Sunday, and Monday and recaps the previous day's action, both on and off the track, in words and photos.

This is the 20th year that the staff has produced the Daily, and as you would expect, things have changed quite a bit in how it's produced in the light-years since 1988. I think technology years are kind of like dog years, where technology from one year ago sometimes might as well have been from seven years ago.

Of course, back then, there was no Internet or e-mail, and I'm guessing that the only people who had laptop computers were really wealthy people. We banged out the copy for the first Daily on typewriters in the base of the Parks Tower, then faxed the pages to a local printer. Longtime DRAGSTER photographer Richard Brady set up a temporary darkroom to process film and print photographs, which we hand-carried to the printer. By the time we got there, the printer's typesetters, who had no familiarity with drag racing, had taken our crude faxed copies and retyped them, so extra-special attention had to be paid to names and such. It was pretty much an all-night affair, but seeing those first copies that Saturday morning was one of the most rewarding experiences in my time here. I have this photo tacked to my bulletin board of the entire Daily staff and Wally Parks in the winner's circle here holding up that first issue (that's me, third from the right in the back row). And they said it couldn't be done ….

We did pick a pretty good year to start, as amazing performances abounded in 1988, not the least of which was the Gary Southern-driven Top Alcohol Dragster that dominated the field because it was sporting the first PSI screw-type blower. Southern, a throwback to days of yore, punctuated each win by thrusting his hand high into the air in the lights, flashing the V-for-victory symbol, no easy feat at more than 220 mph. Although we were grizzled veterans of tight deadlines for the weekly, for many of us it was our first experience in a daily's tighter-still pressure.

Those were exciting times for the Daily back then because the Internet for the masses was almost a decade away. Many of the fans in the stands and racers in the pits got a lot of their need-to-know information from the Daily. Today, of course, most fans can follow the action and get in-depth coverage on a number of Web sites and watch the highlights each night on ESPN2. The Daily has become a bit of a dinosaur in that aspect, but it's still an immense source of pride for NHRA and the Publications staff, which is why we still produce it.

I'm happy to say that's it's gotten progressively easier over the years. The second year, we actually had correcting typewriters and a dedicated (if cramped) trailer parked behind Parks Tower. Within two years, and as desktop publishing began to sprout to life –- National DRAGSTER went to desktop publishing in late 1988 -- we moved the operation to our host hotel, where we rented a two-room suite and filled it with Mac II computers (6800 processor, 16 MB RAM … oooh!) borrowed from our Wisconsin-based printer and driven down to Indy before the event. The "darkroom" also moved with us to the hotel, perched in the bathtub in Richard's room.

We did it that way for a long time, constantly refining the process -– fueled by bags and bags of sugary snacks -- that ultimately grew to include photos that we had processed at a local one-hour photo. All of this sped up the process a bit, but there still were many times I didn't crawl into bed until 4 a.m. and was up at 8 to start it all over again.

The addition in the mid-1990s of Friday and Saturday evening qualifying sessions really caused an upheaval in how we produced the Daily because the day ran so long that it became impossible to cover each day in-depth as we had. That, coupled with the Internet's growth, forced us to shift to shorter stories and more photos to make the deadlines.

About five years ago, we shifted all of the production aspects (layout, copy editing, etc.) to Glendora, so that the staff here could concentrate on producing the stories rather than also editing, proofreading, and designing them. With e-mail, instant messaging, and a private network that none of us could have dreamed about in 1988, the transmission of text and photos is instantaneous to the gang who remains home. Today in Indy, the staff sits in neat rows in the media center dutifully pounding out their copy on powerful laptops as each evening concludes and then can actually have a respectable dinner instead of the vending-machine supper of yore.

The entire deal is wrapped up before midnight in California and transmitted electronically to a printer in nearby Greenfield. By 6 a.m. local time, the issues are on the grounds at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis for distribution at all spectator and pit gates.

This year, as we work to keep the Daily a meaningful and somewhat unique publication in the instant-information age, we've made some subtle changes to the way we report the day's activities that we hope will make it a useful tool for fans and racers.