Several National Hot Rod Asscoation drag racers who appeared on the worst idea for a show ever, Street Outlaws, have been warned that their competition license may be suspended for going on the show. Problem is, several members are still booked to appear on the show and this sudden change in policy enforcement comes at just the wrong time.
Street Outlaws is awful even by Discovery standards. And I'm talking about a network that had an Eaten Alive special where a guy didn't even get eaten alive. We live in an era of television where Geordie Shore exists. That's right: we don't just have Jersey Shore, we have knock-offs in other countries. Oh, and I can watch that Flipping Las Vegas lady install marble countertops in a former crack-house in the 'hood. (Anybody else guilt-binge-watch that one to look at the company owner's cars? Dude's a Porsche guy, but I digress.) We have cameras following random "housewives" for no good reason in an attempt to rile up some drama-llamas who can put your average NASCAR fistfight to shame in terms of overacting for the cameras. This is an era where people are famous for no reason: no talent, no stand-out characteristics of any sort, but rather, they're famous because they're on TV and there's nothing good on right now. Shall I go on, or have I made my point?
In other words, there is a lot of competition for the biggest derp on television, and I'm still going to argue that Street Outlaws is the worst.
It's all down to how the show promotes itself: it claims to be a look inside American street racing, and thus, it directly promotes a dangerous, illegal activity. It's not just a bunch of scripted herpaderp, but it's a bunch of scripted herpaderp that legitimizes street racing. It's on television! These guys don't run over someone's grandma on the show.
But because it's "reality" TV and not straight-up fiction, folks eat it up. Take a look at the comments on the Street Outlaws Facebook page and try to argue that it isn't promoting fightin' it out on public roads. You can't.
It's straight-up pandering to the types of people who look for any rationalization to gloss over the fact that they don't care that other people don't expect them to be racing on a public road, which is d-a-n-g-e-r-o-u-s in a way that I can't even believe some hemorrhoid of a TV exec greenlit the concept in the first place.
Hey, look! Not a drag strip! Curbs! Trees! Stuff to hit! Yeah, that's not the best idea in a souped-up Mustang going flat-out.
The NHRA is absolutely right to crack down on the show, and that's what they've done. Letters sent to competitors (the full text of some you can read on 1320Video.com's Facebook page) reiterate the fact that the NHRA was founded to give racers an alternative to dangerous public roads.
Less than two dozen letters have been sent out, according to Hot Rod. The few that have been received have been enough to get the word out. They also argue that participation in the show glorifies street racing, which is an activity the NHRA directly opposes for obvious reasons. As such, they are threatening to indefinitely suspend the NHRA Competition License of anyone who appears on Street Outlaws or any similar show based on Section 1.3.1 of the NHRA Rulebook regarding participant conduct.
Haterz (with a "z") are claiming that the NHRA is only doing this because Street Outlaws gets better TV ratings. These haterz also have the IQ of a piece of couch lint. Anyone with a functioning brain can see that the NHRA is not only a completely different kind of broadcast, but that yes, racing outside of a proper venue is an easy way to get you or someone who doesn't expect you to race there severely injured or killed.
"That's an inaccurate supposition. It's like apples and oranges," NHRA Vice President of Public Relations and Communications Geno Effler told Hot Rod. "We are not the same type of broadcast and are on at different times and days. We don't share any sponsors, and by the way, our ratings this year are up, not down. The heart of the matter is that we don't promote street racing in any form in any way."
If it's not completely obvious by now, I don't have a lot of empathy for anyone who'll drop a butt-ton of cash into building a car but somehow can't scrape up the dough for entry fees to safe, legal venues to race. Take it off the roads.
Moreover, the NHRA doesn't appreciate getting accidentally associated with the show through the appearance of members' cars.
"There have been NHRA members who have appeared the show [Street Outlaws] with their car and you can clearly identify their NHRA numbers and decals," Effler said to CompetitionPlus.com. Effler argues that the NHRA sees its members as ambassadors for the sport, and those members shouldn't be associated with a show that purports to be about street racing.
The problem is that the NHRA is sending these out mid-TV-season, when some members have signed up to appear on the show or have episodes coming out in the future. Whoops!
Letters went out during the NHRA's offseason, but some competitors' episodes are yet to air, and others have contractual obligations to the Discovery Channel regarding upcoming appearances. Those racers feel trapped by the NHRA's sudden crackdown.
"I think what they're doing is wrong, but it's not worth it for me to give up my NHRA license," explained competitor Mike Murillo to DragZine.
Granted, some competitors on the show, including Murillo, knew something was afoot before now. Murillo told DragZine that NHRA officials approached him about the show and the consequences of participating in it back in early Fall 2014.
Several others who've appeared on the show, however, don't currently have NHRA licenses, but were thinking about getting into the NHRA drag radial races. This is where the NHRA's hard stance backfires: show competitors wanting to take their talents to a legal venue are now questioning whether they'll be allowed to at all.
Finally, it presents a problem for the more famous names who've appeared on the show. "If these guys lose their NHRA license, the guys who get paid for appearances, they probably won't be allowed to do so at NHRA-sanctioned tracks," Murillo told DragZine. "These are just regular guys trying to make money for their families."
Street Outlaws, of course, is a totally scripted reality show. For example, when they brought a Neon to the 24 Hours of LeMons at MSR-Houston last year (with a great "Pee-On Neon" theme, complete with a standing mannequin on top), the chatter in the paddock was about how someone had disconnected a fuel line to spray gas all over the place for the cameras. Uhhh. Eek?
It's not real street racing, either: competitors attest that there are fire and medical crews on site and filming locations get shut down just as they would for any other TV show using a public stretch of road. There's still the issue that using a regular road doesn't have all the safety precautions that a purpose-built drag strip has, but competitors appearing on the show aren't completely stupid.
Many of them even wear a lot of the safety gear for their runs anyway, TV show with lax requirements or not. For those appearing on the show, "Street Outlaws" is a controlled environment and an opportunity to promote themselves as racers. As flawed as the show's concept may be, it still reaches a wide audience on a major cable network. If you're looking for sponsors, here you go: instant publicity.
"The racing is real," Murillo explained to DragZine. "But it's TV. It's way different than what people think of as street racing."
The other problem is that the crew behind the show actually has some talent. They build some cool stuff. Even the notoriously fickle LeMons judges called them one of the best-behaved TV shows they've had come to a race. They're misguided in going along with the show, but they're certainly not stupid. They build and race well, but they need to stick to venues like LeMons: actual racing facilities. Not public roads, where some fartknocker is going to try to emulate them.
Murillo told DragZine that the show has "brought excitement back" to drag racing, as many folks were sick of watching nothing but million-dollar budgets have at it. That's another positive: the Street Outlaws guys are, in fact, building some great stuff on a budget and showing that it's possible to have a fun, fast build that doesn't require a trust fund and/or oil money to pull off.
Here's what needs to happen with the show: ditch the streets from Street Outlaws. Ditch any pretensions of it being a look into the seedy underground of American street racing, because that's not what it is, and advertising it that way only causes problems.
The NHRA should be offering to help the show out on this instead of shutting them out entirely. Put Street Outlaws on legal venues where their talent can shine in a safer environment, and the problem goes away. Fans of the show still get the drama of the builds and the lead-up to the races, and the idea of taking it to a track gets a boost.
Likewise, the NHRA isn't completely in the right on this, either. When you suddenly change policies (or how policies are applied or enforced) mid-season (even if it's mid-TV-season), people get mad. Spare the current participants scheduled to appear on the show the round of suspensions and make it known far and wide that anyone after this season of Street Outlaws who does the show in its current less-than-kosher format will be promptly banned from competition. A crackdown needs to happen, sure, but now is clearly not a fair time to do it. [Update: See additional clarifying information from the NHRA below.]
As for the racers who have upcoming appearances scheduled on the show, "that racer would be wise to communicate that to the NHRA," Effler responded to CompetitionPlus.com.
So, Discovery, when can we expect the "no more BS" policy to go into effect? This show seems like a prime example of everything new CEO Rich Ross claimed to be against.
Update: Geno Effler from the NHRA reached out to us over this story and clarified that this isn't a change in policy at all, but rather, an enforcement of the current policy. We've clarified a couple references to a "change in policy" above to reflect this. While some racers felt as if there was a change, it's more of a crackdown on an existing rule if anything. Effler wrote:
To clarify, the NHRA didn't "suddenly change policies." The rule being broken has been right there in the rule book for a long time. We just wrote a letter reminding those racers of the rule and the potential loss of their competition license. Again, we're aware of the show's production schedule and we've explained to those racers that future violations of the rule will put their license at risk.
Furthermore, racers who have already filmed episodes for the show shouldn't be worried about losing their licenses, and folks who've done episodes in the past shouldn't feel as if they're preemptively barred from NHRA participation. Any action that will be taken by the NHRA applies to appearances in the future, not those already made, filmed and put into production.
Why is the crackdown happening now on a show that first aired in 2013? The NHRA's logo started popping up on cars on the show more often, and the NHRA wants to have zero association with what Street Outlaws claims as its subject matter. Effler wrote:
When this show debuted, we wrote to Pilgrim Studios and expressed our opposition but received no response. We wrote again last year and received a similar non-response. In the last year, cars with NHRA logos and competition numbers became more visible on the show — a direct violation of our trademark. That implied endorsement was unacceptable, and we communicated that point to the production company. What eventually followed was the letter to the racers.
It sounds like they are, in fact, doing everything they can on their end to keep themselves off a show that promotes dangerous activities on the street, and being as fair as they can be to the racers involved after all. No one's had their license revoked yet for being on the show.
Section 1.3.1 of the NHRA rulebook, as quoted in the letters, is a catch-all on behavior that doesn't specifically mention street-racing-themed reality TV, so I can see where competitors may have been confused as to whether participation on the show was fine or not. If anything, the letters serve as a necessary clarification of the rule and how it will apply to appearing on Street Outlaws.
These letters, among other discussions, are a point-blank heads-up, and that's absolutely the kind of communication the NHRA should have with its own membership before any punitive action is taken.