J.K. Rowling could learn a thing or two about suspense from the NHRA Countdown to the Championship. If she had, old Harry Potter might still be casting spells and playing Quidditch or whatever it is he does.
As the Toyo Tires NHRA Nationals enters day six, rain is still falling on Maple Grove Raceway, and the final spots in the Countdown are still not decided. I doubt that even the most optimistic of the Countdown faithful could have hoped for drama such as this, where one spot remains open in each of the four Pro classes and the tension just builds and builds with each raindrop that further delays the climax.
I'll be honest: I wouldn’t have given Doug Herbert, Del Worsham, V. Gaines, or Chris Rivas very good odds coming into the event, but right now I'd say that all four could very easily respectively bump out David Grubnic, Jim Head, Larry Morgan, and Craig Treble.
(Just spoke to Grubnic PR guy Todd Myers, who tells me "Grubby" is sitting at home awaiting the outcome "more nerve-racked than he lets on ... we all are.")
We knew going into the weekend that Sunday's forecast looked bleak, but then again we've all been around long enough to know that meteorology is a less exact science than clutch tuning, yet no one really planned on being in Reading through Tuesday.
I've been checking in with ND reporters Brad Littlefield and Kelly Wade, who remain sequestered at MGR waiting for the verdict. Most of us frequent travelers know how to pack for our trips, putting in only what you know you're going to need with a cautious backup if the weather looks iffy, but now everyone is probably down to their "travel-home-day" socks at best.
Kelly, our newest addition, is certainly getting a trial by fire; she also was at the Seattle soakfest earlier this summer and arrived in Philadelphia without her luggage, which thankfully showed up later. She's still in the meet-and-greet stage with some of the teams as they get to know her and vice versa (I was going to write that she's still getting her feet wet as a reporter, but even I can't bring myself to double entendre her that badly), but she's making the most of her time there. "The good news is that with the weather like this I got to meet a bunch of cool drivers/riders, and they just talk to you on a different level when they're bored like this and there aren't fans around," she told me.
As tough as rain delays are for the teams, fans, and officials waiting them out, they can be equally problematic for National DRAGSTER's weekly printing schedule. It's been a while –- since the 1999 Englishtown event -– since we've had a Tuesday finish, but at least we knew going into that day the weather was good. We're not so sure about today.
When it actually did begin to rain Sunday, I had a series of calls with key members of the DRAGSTER team to discuss possible scenarios for this week's issue, talks that have continued and plans that have been revised in the days since.
As you may recall from earlier columns, National DRAGSTER goes on the presses at Conley Publishing in Beaver Dam, Wis., each Wednesday and Thursday. Half of the magazine must be completed Tuesday and sent electronically to Conley and the other half Wednesday. We plan each issue so that the news sections -– Bits from the Pits, Pro results, etc. -- print last, allowing them to be as up to date as possible.
Typically, with a normal Sunday completion, the reporters will either write their stories on their laptops on the plane ride home Monday or later that night at home, then polish them Tuesday morning before turning them in. They also may have spent some time during the event writing up the "notebook" portion of their eliminator stories, interesting tidbits that aren't part of the main story.
But in a situation like we have today, they're as stranded reporting-wise as they are travel-wise. With the forecast daunting, do they spend the time now writing the story as if the race is not going to complete in time for our deadlines, or wait?
Because the printer needs to know each Monday how many pages each issue will contain, we've already committed ourselves to presenting the usual three pages per class. I made that decision yesterday afternoon knowing that with as much racing as is already in the books, we could tell a pretty good story whether or not another tire turns before our drop-dead editorial deadline of Wednesday morning. And even if racing is completed Wednesday morning, with the three-hour time difference, we could still present completed stories in this week's issue.
In years past, we might have gone ahead and just presented a couple of pages of racing to this point and decided on full coverage the week after, but with all of the Countdown drama and with this issue also serving as the main souvenir issue for the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals, we want desperately for it to be complete with the Countdown to Four fields set. As I mentioned in the last installment, I've been working on an analysis story of the Countdown, relating how each of the finalists made the field and how those who missed didn't, and, needless to say, that story's still sitting here on my screen not quite finished. I've taken the liberty of writing versions with Herbert, Worsham, Gaines, and Rivas in and out, so I just need for that to actually happen before I can file it. If we don't race today, I'm going to have to scramble and change the format a bit to accommodate the unknown, which unfortunately will be the known by the time people read it. Such is the dilemma of a weekly print publication.
Stay tuned …