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Welcome to the National DRAGSTER blog, er, I mean column

23 Jul 2007
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor
DRAGSTER Insider

What, another blog? No, not exactly. Even though all of the cool kids are doing it and it’s the trend that’s sweeping the nation, I’m going to resist calling this new column a blog. Even though Tommy Johnson Jr. is being gifted by fans with peanut M&Ms and “Bloggin’ Bob” Wilber gets more fan mail than Del Worsham, I’m not going to succumb to that style of journaling.

I’ve thought for a long time about offering an online column like this, if for no other reason than it’s the kind of column I’d like to read as a fan of the sport. National DRAGSTER, the official publication of NHRA, has been published for nearly 50 years and has built a reputation for fairness, accuracy, and quality that is zealously guarded by the current staff. Because of this doctrine, we’ve developed outstanding relationships and trust with drivers, teams, and sponsors from all classes, and the give and take is still fascinating to me all these years later.

For more than 20 years, I’ve sat in the editor’s chair at National DRAGSTER, and for the last dozen, I’ve also been the editor of NHRA.com, which I helped create way back in 1995. (All this, and I’m still three years shy of 50. Such a deal.) It’s one of those dream kinds of jobs for a drag racing fan, which I was long before I was interviewed by Wally Parks himself way back in the summer of 1982, and which I remain today. I feel like my enthusiasm is as high now as it was then and that I bring that to the pages of ND each week, and it’s that kind of thing I hope to share here. Between our weekly preview and this column, I hope that if you're not a regular subscriber, you'll become more interested in our publication; if you're already onboard, I hope this column will make your weekly reading even more enjoyable.

Although the outline for this column is still a little sketchy in my mind, I hope to deliver here, on a fairly regular basis, a lot of different things. You might read about the stories the staff is working on for the next and future issues or background on how the whole issue comes together, and you might become privy to cool insider information or “listen in” on some of the phone calls we make and receive each day as we hunt down the news.

Okay, so much for pleasantries, introductions, and explanations … now the column can really begin.

The calendar on the wall says it’s Monday, but at National DRAGSTER, it’s actually Wednesday. No, we’re not in some type of time-space continuum, it’s just that our workweek runs Thursday to Wednesday and some of the non-news-gathering staff get two days off in the “middle” of the week, on Saturdays and Sundays. The rest of us work sometimes seven days in a row for stretches at a time, especially if you’re covering one of the national events.

It takes a staff of about 40 people each week to make the magic happen. That includes my merry band of editorial staffers -- writers, copy editors, and the like -- and the photo, advertising, production, and administrative departments. Hopefully you’ll meet some of them here in future columns. (In the accompanying photo, that's me in the center of the front row, flanked on my left by our boss, Vice President-Publications Adriane Ridder, and Director of Advertising Sales Jeff Morton and on my right by Photo Editor Teresa Long and Production Manager Matt Hurd.)

Each issue ships to our printer, Conley Publishing, in Beaver Dam, Wis., in two parts -- the first, containing the middle of the magazine and mostly material we’re able to write and produce before each weekend (such as Sportsman coverage or Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events from the previous weekend’s events), leaves Glendora on Tuesday; the second half, containing the current event's Pro coverage, Bits from the Pits, front-page news, etc., heads out Wednesday. When I say “heads out,” I don’t mean that in the literal sense because all of the pages are transmitted electronically, in PDF format, to the printer. In “the old days,” when the stories were physically pasted onto boards with X-Acto knives and wax, someone had to make a run to the airport each of those two nights so a box of “boards” could catch the last flight east. Now, if you’ve ever lost your luggage -- and who hasn’t? -- you can imagine that from time to time the box of next week’s ND pages ended up somewhere other than Wisconsin, and it has. That often meant anxious hours waiting to see if the box turned up in, oh, I don’t know, Paris, France -- don’t laugh -- or biting the bullet and redoing all of the pages. Sending them electronically has thankfully eliminated that hurdle.

Anyway, so today is Wednesday/Monday, which means half of the gang -- writers Brad Littlefield and Kelly Wade -- is headed back from Seattle, where we somehow dodged the weather bullet to at least get the Pros done. The photo team -- Photo Editor Teresa Long, Marc Gewertz, and Richard Brady -- had to stay to shoot the large amount of Sportsman action still on the docket. Their travel plans are unknown at this time as wet stuff continues to fall on Seattle.

Brad and Kelly have no doubt already begun work on their Pro coverage, working at either the hotel last night or on the plane today and will finish up Tuesday morning in the office. Kelly also is bringing back all of the film and digital media cards, which on a non-rain race would have left the track Sunday night with a staff member. We’ll then decide which photos will go with the stories and decide on this week’s cover; the current favorite is Jack Beckman, but we’ll have to see all of the images first.

In the meantime, the staff that did not attend the event is copy editing and proofreading the material that ships tomorrow, including Denver Sportsman results and some pretty cool features that you might be interested to read about. The first is a “what-if?” story by Todd Veney, in which he extrapolated the theoretical win totals of some of the greatest stars of yesteryear, including Don Prudhomme and Don Garlits, to try to figure their potential win totals had they competed in a 23-event schedule like today’s drivers. The numbers are eye-opening. Another interesting read should be John Jodauga’s first-person interview with Top Fuel racer Bob Vandergriff Jr., which took place as Vandergriff, pretty much a scratch golfer, tried to teach JJ, a non-golfer, how to play golf. It’s the latest in a series of articles we call “teach me”; you might remember Robert Hight teaching me to shoot trap, the late Eric Medlen showing Candida Benson how to rope calves, and former ND writer Bruce Dillashaw’s flight lessons with Doug Herbert.

Each Tuesday, we have a post-event debriefing with the traveling writers to determine stories that need to be chased down and the event’s Memorable Moments, By The Numbers, and other event-related material. I’ll also have my regular post-race chat with Mike Dunn to work on his Final Take column. I’ll be back tomorrow with some more info on all of that and other stuff.