What the NHRA has that NASCAR doesn't

September, 21, 2009
09/21/09
3:57
PM ET

CONCORD, N.C. -- Top Fuel driver Antron Brown took a few joking jabs at John Force's outrageous personality and then exchanged high fives with the 14-time NHRA Funny Car champion.

"You won't see that in NASCAR," Brown said with a laugh.

You won't see a lot of things in NASCAR that you see in the NHRA. The stage on which Brown sat was a perfect example. There was an African-American in Brown and a woman in Ashley Force Hood.

And they weren't there just for show. Brown entered this past weekend's playoffs at zMax Dragway as the top seed in Top Fuel. Force Hood was ranked in the top five in Funny Car and made it all the way to the final before losing to teammate Robert Hight.

There isn't an African-American or a woman in NASCAR's top series, Sprint Cup. There isn't anyone close to that level, which is why many in the sport are pushing hard to get IRL darling Danica Patrick to make the jump.

The closest NASCAR comes to diversity in Cup is Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished third in Sunday's Chase opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The NHRA garage is much more diverse as well. You'll see more races and nationalities in one trip through the paddock than you'll see in a dozen trips through a Cup garage.

That the NHRA is ahead of NASCAR in diversity shouldn't come as a surprise. It is much cheaper to get into the sport as a competitor and a fan. It's also easier for more diverse groups to relate to drag racing. Who didn't have an old Chevelle or Nova -- or the 2000 version of that -- they raced as a teenager?

"Drag racing is not about being a diverse sport; it's about being available," Brown said. "Anybody can go out and do it. It cost thousands and thousands of dollars to have a modified car. If anybody drives a midget car around a paved oval or dirt track, you've got to have $45,000 for an engine.

"Now you tell me what middle-class family in this economy can afford to do that."

It's an unfortunate reality for NASCAR. The sport could use somebody like Brown. If Brown weren't having so much fun and success in NHRA, he would love to give stock cars a shot.

He recalled driving a truck in a NASCAR-type test event several years ago.

"They said, 'Let's see how you do against guys that run NASCAR all the time," Brown said. "I started off in a group of about 15, seventh or eighth quickest. By the end of the day, I was the quickest. I was two-tenths off the track record."

Force Hood, by the way, has no interest in NASCAR. She likes going 300 mph too much and doesn't need the attention that would be put on her for being a woman.

Here, she's just a driver.

"The focus is not on [diversity here]," she said. "We can really focus on the drivers and skills and not that other stuff we don't have any control over. We have control of our team and how we run our car. That's how the pat on the back should be, and that's where it stays here."

And there are lots of pats on the backs, more so than you typically see in NASCAR. That was Brown's original point -- that despite intense competitions, the drivers seem to enjoy each other more.

"Like in NASCAR, they're serious over there," he said. "Full blown. I've been around them. They want to eat each other's chicken dinner all the time, man.

"Like I love Jimmie Johnson. He's always quiet and gives a great interview, but sometimes you want to see him let his hair down. Come out of the shower and have some fun. ... Sometimes when you look at them over there, they don't look like they're having a lot of fun."

Yes, unfortunately, there's a lot of things you'll see in the NHRA that you won't see in NASCAR.

But maybe one day ...

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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