One of the most common questions I get asked by inquisitive well-intentioned folks is, “how much does it cost to run a professional NHRA Nitro Funny Car?” My sarcastic, blunt, and rather truthful answer is typically, “everything you have!” I’ve decided to take a brief pause from my recent blog series of “The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done,” to give everyone a rare and broad view inside the inner financial workings of a self-funded independent professional drag race team. While these numbers may seem impossible to overcome from someone looking from the bottom up, don’t let them dissuade you from achieving your dream. I remember very clearly standing next to my dad several years ago at the national event in Las Vegas, Nevada as we surveyed Steve Plueger’s Nitro Funny Car operation. We compared our current assets from our Nostalgia Nitro Funny Car and did the mental math to try to surmise if it was possible for us to make the transition to the professional ranks. The answer was simply, NO! The cost to build a car and prepare a team ready for competition was well beyond our limits. I felt very defeated in that moment knowing that my lifelong dream and ambition was simply unachievable. Two years later I would find myself driving back from purchasing my “big show” nitro funny car. What was impossible to see from the bottom up had become a reality in two years. The point is, it doesn’t matter where you are today. Believing in your dreams and yourself will lead you to your goal. Stay strong, have faith, work hard, and believe that you can achieve.
WHAT RACES ARE YOU GOING TO ATTEND?
I sit here today in complete anguish reading all the reports from my fellow racing friends as they load up their fleets of tractor/trailers and head out for the kickoff of the 2018 race season, Nitro Spring Training in Phoenix, Arizona. Teams will make numerous test runs in order to prepare them for the Winternationals the following weekend. The No Mercy Nitro Funny Car is mostly complete and ready to kick-off the year apart from a few items still being serviced, but yet, we will not be attending Nitro Spring Training. Unfortunately, at our level, we cannot afford to test with no possibility of receiving a payout. We have to be very careful about which races we attend and how we maximize our planning in order to sustain our operations. It is very easy at this level to put yourself in a hole early in the year and not be able to continue racing.
The No Mercy Racing Nitro Funny Car team is not a full-time team. We all have full-time jobs or businesses and work very hard to make all of this a reality. We come together most weekends to service and prepare the car for the next planned date, whereas the professional full-time teams spend their week days in the shop refining each component of their racing machines. It isn’t an optimal situation but when you’re attempting to accomplish something like this, you make the sacrifices you need to in order to achieve your goal.
Scheduling is a real struggle sometimes. As most of you may already know, we also campaign the Pure Heaven III Fuel Altered that is owned by Grandpa Leon Fitzgerald. This can present scheduling conflicts as we also have to service, prepare, and attend racing events with that hot rod. The beginning of 2018 presented a scheduling problem for us as we wanted to test the fuel altered, attend the Phoenix National event with the “big car”, and enter the March Meet with the fuel altered. Those events were scheduled three weekends in a row with two of them being Thursday – Sunday. While we would love to race that many weekends in a row, it’s not realistic for us to be able to service each car and be ready for competition.
THE CAR HASN’T EVEN BEEN UNLOADED AND WE’VE ALREADY SPENT…
The following figures are rough examples of what a team like ours spends to simply prepare for a national event. Sponsorship will offset these costs and make a considerable difference in our ability to attend a race event. These marketing partners are the catalyst in us being able to race and we are sincerely grateful for their contributions. Long standing relationships, such as DJ Safety, allow us to not only utilize top-notch safety products, but also allow us to continue chasing our dreams. Something as simple as tooling can be extremely expensive to procure, but thanks to the amazing support of NSTS LLC, we have been outfitted with industry leading Snap-On tools.
- Recertification Costs – Several components on the No Mercy Nitro Funny Car must be sent back to the manufacturer and certified as safe for operation every year or two. While they are there getting a new SFI sticker they are also refurbished for the season. While it can cost a few thousand dollars to recertify and renew all these components for a season, the added expense is shipping. We typically will spend close to $600 in shipping costs alone just to recertify equipment
- Tractor – It makes financial sense for our team to lease a tractor to pull our semi race trailer. Due to our limited schedule, this saves us considerably over owning our own tractor. A weekend of leasing costs approximately $1,200 but can be considerably more if we travel longer distances
- Diesel – It usually costs us somewhere between $200 – $800 in fuel costs depending on distances travelled
- Hotels – We must book hotels from Thursday – Sunday for the race weekend and the total cost can average between $2,000 – $3,200
- Rental Car – Arriving at the track in a semi truck and trailer makes it difficult to transport our crew of eight folks. Therefore we will rent a minivan and one or two of the crew guys will graciously bring their own vehicles. While a $200 bill for a weekend rental car may not seem like a lot, it certainly adds up throughout a season
- Airline Tickets – Depending on the location of the race, our team can spend an incredible amount of money transporting the team from their homes to the track. Because we are a small team, most of our races are within a day drive. This does factor into our decision regarding travelling longer distances for an event
- Tuning advisor and Crew – NMR has an amazing crew of folks that volunteer their time. We are great friends and enjoy the camaraderie and company of each other so it is a time we look forward to as each of us is part of something much bigger than ourselves. We do pay a consulting fee for a tuning advisor until we can learn all the aspects of tuning the car ourselves
- Nitro – A weekend of racing at a national event can take approximately two drums in order to make it through the 1st round. A drum of nitro cost approximately $1,200 but has gone up drastically recently due to limited production
- Consumables – NMR is proud to run Redline Oil and with their marketing partnership we save a considerable amount over normal prices. However, this expense along with numerous other consumables (spark plugs, rings, bearings, clutch floaters/discs, etc.) can equate to over $3,000 per race
- Tires – One of the most common questions asked by fans is how much do the tires cost and how long do they last. A set of Goodyear rear slicks can run close to $2,000 and can last up to 10 runs. We do sometimes have the opportunity to run new slicks for some of the pro teams that want us to scrub them in. If we mess them up, we buy them
- Unexpected costs can be absolutely brutal for a team like ours. Replacing trailer tires is just one of those things that goes with racing but when our trailer generator developed a massive oil leak and had intermittent electrical problems we weren’t ready for the exuberant cost to repair. That was not an expense we anticipated at the beginning of 2018 and was a setback for our team
- Connecting Rods – A set of brand new connecting rods can cost $1,200 or more depending on brand
- Pistons – Brand new pistons can cost $800 plus
- Wires, cables, air lines/fittings, computer equipment, and mandatory updates can easily add thousands of dollars in expense by the end of the year
- Zip ties, brake cleaner, gloves, rags, sealants, silicones, etc. all have line item costs that drive the expense higher and higher
I can continue to list all the expenses we encounter as a race team but I wanted to give everyone a brief look at a few of the costs associated with running a nitro funny car. Any financial advisor or investor would scoff at the absurdity of this undertaking, but it is with a true passion that we chase this endeavor. This is an investment into our future as we believe that as long as we can prove we have the drive and desire, someone will eventually believe in our cause and become a marketing partner set on proving the Cinderella story that a low-buck independent team can rise up and finish in the NHRA top 10 with the right funding. Sponsorship is the key to running a professional NHRA Nitro Funny Car.
WHY DON’T YOU GET A SPONSOR?
As absurd as it may sound I have had people ask me that exact question, “Why don’t you get a sponsor?” Most think that getting a sponsor at our level of competition would be a simple task. I can’t tell you just how difficult it can be. Let me explain first what we are up against. Most of the full-time professional teams have a staff of elite professionals that are highly reimbursed for their skill in procuring sponsorship. Many have years of experience in the field and an executive contact list with some of the highest levels of companies across the United States. They are partnered with highly effective marketing teams that specialize in the ability to provide metrics and ROI that businesses are seeking. Mega-corporate, multi-car teams can leverage business to business relationships among sponsors that can sometimes result in negating the cost of sponsorship. These teams have a proven track record including won races, championships, and numerous other accomplishments. They also have a legal department and plenty of canned agreements that help secure long term deals that solidify their income stream.
As the owner/driver of the No Mercy Nitro Funny Car I’m also the sole marketing and sponsorship contact for the team. I’m my own legal team, and I negotiate all our contracts with potential sponsors. Additionally, I service and repair the car, order parts, plan our logistics, and stay apprised of tuning decisions. I do all this in addition to my full-time career as a Flight Test Engineer and my role as a father and husband. Needless to say, I wear many hats and use effective time/task management skills to ensure that the NMR team can continue chasing our dream. While it may sound like I do a lot, it’s really all the fantastic NMR teammates around me that make this possible. They volunteer and work extremely hard to put all of our plans into action. They also wear many hats and contribute in countless ways that would cripple our team without them.
I’ve been contacted by plenty of “specialists” who offer their help but it all comes down to cost, and sometimes that cost can make the difference between attending a race or staying home. Additionally, nobody knows my story as well as I do. I spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force flying most of that time in combat missions so I could chase my passion of racing nitro funny cars in the NHRA. Fortunately, the service provided a career path that allowed me to race while serving and has also afforded me a generous income after retirement due to my specialized skill set. I’m very grateful for everything the military has done for me.
HOW MUCH DO YOU NEED
I’ve sat in the seminars, listened to the podcasts, read the articles and books. Plenty of experts preach all the ways to attain a sponsor but yet they tend to contradict themselves. For a team like NMR, it is really difficult to forge a path forward and know exactly how to present ourselves to a potential marketing partner without knowing their particular requirements. It is extremely hard to provide the metrics a sponsorship is looking for if you aren’t racing and making yourself known. It’s also difficult to be out racing and making yourself known without the sponsorships. Some companies prefer booklet binded proposals with professional renderings and ROI stats as a decision point for sponsorship. These can cost thousands of dollars to only find out you don’t have enough social media followers. It’s tough to have a social media following if you’re not out racing. It’s tough to be out racing if you don’t have a sponsorship. Are you following the trend?
The last rumored amount for a full-time sponsorship for an NHRA top ten team can cost approximately $3 – $5 Million for 24 races. That’s a bargain compared to other motorsports racing. No Mercy Racing just needs a break. Someone who believes in our passion and our ability to overcome the impossible. WE WANT YOU!
Like I stated in the beginning, don’t let these numbers or the difficulty acquiring sponsorship dissuade you from your passions or goals. We all started from somewhere. John Force was a truck driver and now he’s built an empire. If you’re driving a junior dragster wondering how you will make the transition to the next level, you will figure it out. I’ll never forget how one of the first guys who helped me when I built my first alcohol funny car was astonished how I overcame obstacles. He’d come over to help work on the car and I’d be griping about how I needed a clutch. The next weekend he would come over and we would be installing the clutch and discussing how I needed a blower. Next weekend, we were installing a blower. Before long we were rolling that car out into my front yard and spinning it over to fire for the first time.
I stay strong. I have faith. I work hard. I believe…and I will achieve
NMR will be releasing exciting news over the next few days regarding our 2018 schedule and we will be looking for marketing partners that believe in our dream and passion. Join our team, and let’s show them what we can do!
We’ve completed the burnout and now it’s almost time to light the top bulb as I continue the next part of my series, “The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done” (Part 4) – Pre-Stage……coming soon.