Sometimes It Takes an 11-Year-Old Girl to Remind Us What’s Good about NHRA Drag Racing

Applauding the NHRA’s good—and fixing the bad—ahead of the first eliminations round of the 2020 season.

Steve Torrence decided he didn’t need to come this weekend to the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, California, to pick up his second Top Fuel champions jacket and ring and compete in the season opener.

Dad and fellow competitor Billy Torrence stayed home, too. Scott Palmer didn’t come because the Torrences didn’t. Same for Funny Car’s Jeff Diehl. And Top Fuel contender Mike Salinas, who finished seventh in the championship last year, said he’ll pass on the first four races this time around.

The Top Fuel class had only 13 cars for its 16-car field at Pomona.

So this 60th anniversary of the season-opening event, one steeped in history at a drag-racing mecca, suddenly became a little anticlimactic until Trystin Greenberg came along. She showed up. And suddenly the sport seemed alive again.

The 11-year-old first-time attendee from Oak Hill, Calif., a student at Medea Creek Middle School, had watched drag racing on TV with dad Peter Greenberg since she was about 4 but never had been to a race. She was busy getting braces on her teeth, earning a black belt in karate, racing go-karts occasionally, polishing her considerable manners and just being a kid.

Young Trystin Greenberg with NHRA Funny Car driver Bob Tasca III at Pomona, California, on Saturday.

“I’m just soooo enthusiastic about all the things that are about drag racing. It’s so amazing. You see that there are no limits. The point of drag racing is to discover. That’s the point of drag racing: discovery,” she said.

She loved gathering hero cards and used parts the drivers autographed for her, posing for pictures with the racers, all without flinching at the piercing engine noises.

She asked Tasca for advice. She shook hands on a deal she proposed to Campbell to take over his Funny Car seat when he retired. She swooned a little over young and charismatic Top Fuel drivers Ashley and Welch.

So what would it take for everybody to be like Trystin Greenberg? What would it take to recapture the glory of the postwar drag-racing phenomenon?

Here’s Trystin Greeenberg meeting her favorite driver, retired Ashley Force Hood, at Pomona.

Young Trystin discovered plenty to enjoy at the Winternationals. She didn’t complain that Steve Torrence wasn’t there. She enjoyed walking through the pits with her dad and friends and soaking up the spectacle. She had the confidence of knowing it’s a woman’s playground just as much as it is a man’s. She enjoyed the show of one racing machine after another zipping down the track at rapid intervals, seeing a winner every few seconds.

She showed up.

Rich Bailey, the marketing director for Justin Ashley’s Top Fuel operation who has brought in actively engaged new-to-the-sport brands as Auto Shocker, saw Greenberg’s passion. But it wasn’t hard for Bailey. He’s kind of a grown-up Trystin. He calls NHRA drag racing “a treasure,” is a longtime sportsman racer himself, can rattle off the strengths of the sport, once worked for the NHRA as a college student and markets the gospel of the dragstrip.

Driver Brandon Welch welcomes a new fan into the paddock at Pomona.

NHRA Saturday Pomona Qualifying, Sunday Pairings
He identified five selling points—ones he relies on every day as he brings marketing partners to Ashley’s team. And Bailey counterbalanced that by suggesting five changes the NHRA might want to consider if it wants to build the sport.

Here’s what he sees that he hopes a growing number of fans will see, as well:

The NHRA Is on the Right Path Because It …

Is interactive: “The great thing about our sport versus the others is our sport is very interactive. People can actually come up to the pits, meet the drivers, get autographs. That goes a long way. This is a very great entertainment venue that we have and anytime somebody that comes out for the first time, they really get it. They have a great time and they walk away wanting to come back again.

“It’s not just having to go up and get a seat in the stands and just watch the race and leave when it’s over. It’s not like that. They’re free to roam about the grounds. They get to go over to the Manufacturers Midway and see some of the new innovative things that are in our sport now. They can get a free drink of Mello Yello. They can sit in a race car and get their picture taken. There’s so many things that they can do,” Bailey said.

Photo Credit: Ron Lewis

By: Susan Wade