It was Saturday afternoon at the NHRA drag races at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California, and there was a conspicuous military presence. It wasn’t for security reasons, mind you, but for public relations, and in addition to the camo-clad GI recruiters who’d been circulating through the crowd all day there was now a color guard emerging from the staging area, and not only that, a pair of Humvees towing artillery rolled out onto the track apron and up the quarter mile a short distance to take up position. An NHRA official strolled over to the trackside assemblage of media photogs, and told us that we might want to move back some distance from the Humvees and their big guns. “They’re just shooting blanks,” we were told, “but it might be really loud.”
Really loud? Oh, pulleeze. Everything about an NHRA drag race is really loud—and I mean really loud—so that warning seemed a little on the melodramatic side. It also proved to be a monumental understatement—sort of like saying, “You might want to swim away from that shark. It might be really hungry”—when a few minutes later as the last strains of “braaave” wafted off on the balmy Sonoma breeze, the field pieces fired, one, two, with a concussive, ear-splitting bark that humbled even the ungodly decibel level of a top fuel launch. Those reports were chased by a billow of muzzle smoke that likewise humbled even the most ostentatious top fuel burnout of the day, and strictly in terms of spectacle this deal was a real humdinger. Wow, I thought. Cool.
And then the artillery fired again… and again… and again… and again. It was like a war zone then, the smoke so thick it swallowed up the grandstands and the racetrack and all I could see were trackside photogs and officials holding their ears and gasping for breath. Wow, I thought. Enough already.
It was truly an impressive display of sound and fury that played well to a crowd obsessed with sound and fury, and I can tell you that many a bosom swelled with pride and appreciation for our countrymen in uniform. I know mine did, and I commenced to search the crowd for a suitable youth to shanghai and deliver up to the recruiters as a token of my support, but then it occurred to me that there was something not quite kosher about the spectacle I’d just witnessed. How was it appropriate to give the U.S. Army center stage in all of this NHRA pageantry when, in fact, they’re the sponsor of one of the competing teams, one that includes Pro Stock motorcycle pilots Angelle Sampey and Antron Brown? Would equal time be given to other sponsoring entities like Torco Oil or Drag Specialties or Screamin’ Eagle? And if not, why not? And to make matters even more unsettling, the Army-sponsored race bikes—the bikes with the big U.S. Army stars on them—are Suzukis. How did that ever happen? What’s wrong with American machines? And more to the point, why do I have to choose between rooting for the Army and rooting for America?
Even putting aside the question of whether drag race sponsorship is a prudent way for an overstretched military to deficit-spend your grandkids’ hard-earned tax dollars, and assuming for the sake of the discussion that there’s a payoff in PR and recruitment on that investment, how can the Army possibly rationalize putting their stamp on a foreign-badged machine in fierce competition with the Harley-Davidson and S&S/Buell machines produced right here in the Homeland?
The reflex suggestion for putting things right here would be for the Army to put their name and money on a Harley-Davidson—the two made a pretty good team in World War II—but that’s just the reflex and not realistic. Harley doesn’t make their race motor available to anyone at any price, and that’s a shame, but there’s an equally attractive alternative in the form of the S&S/Buell race bike offered as a complete race-ready package by G2 Racing. It’s pure red-blooded American goods, and currently being campaigned by seven NHRA racers including points leader Matt Smith. The Army could put both Sampey and Brown on American bikes for a paltry $350,000—roughly what they pay for a Halliburton porta-pot—and give everyone something to cheer about.
It’s all right here in the diaries.