Winning the NHRA Bid – Behind the Scenes

Written by J.K. Kelly on October 4th, 2018

An Excerpt from FUELIN’ AROUND. Release date 11/1/18.

In NHRA championship drag racing they had seen some racers start down a dangerous path. Very exotic, very expensive and potentially dangerous fuels were showing up at fuel check. The NHRA maintains a list of Approved Fuels that can be used in the classes specified. There were probably fifty fuels on the list from ten different manufacturers and that could make tech cumbersome. As some of these exotics began to show up more and more the NHRA put their foot down and banned some of the ingredients that were being used. Citing safety concerns and reducing the skyrocketing costs of racing for the first time ever they put “Official Fuel of NHRA” title and entitlements out for bid. Spec fuel sales for many of the classes, requiring each competitor use that product exclusively, and exclusive on-site fuel sales rights at their National Events were part of the package. VP, Sunoco (World Wide), and Larry Coogle Industries trucks had been parked at many of those big races. The company that won the bid would be the only ones allowed at the Nationals to sell fuel.

Remember that big and boisterous rep from Union 76, Bill Broderick? Well there he was walking around one of the NHRA events we were all working. Union 76 did NOT have a rig on site and probably had only one or two fuels on the Approved List. The look on his pompous, overconfident face told it all. You could tell that this guy, who felt he was something special over in the NASCAR Winners Circles, thought he’d be there in our world soon acting in the same capacity. Apparently nobody told him this wasn’t circle track racing. It was drag racing and considering VP had won ALL NHRA Pro Stock Car World Championships and 80% of the cars at the track were on VP, we had no intention of losing one race let along this bid.

Fred and Steve worked their butts off preparing the bid. They most certainly asked all of VP’s good friends to show their support and encourage the NHRA to award us the deal and keep the highest quality race fuels they had ever seen available at the events. The clock ticked and ticked after the bids had been sent in. Now all we could do was wait, and hope. Sunoco had beaten my ass in the Northeast with the DIRT bidding twice now so I wasn’t very optimistic. But guess what, VP won the NHRA bid! We beat out two major refiners, Union 76 and Sunoco. Little David was doing okay and he had friends.

Spec fuel for some of the classes meant that the NHRA tracks that held regional events would have to allow VP in to at least provide fuel availability to those classes. We had a lot of pushback from Sunoco loyalists but over time not only did they negotiate with us and let us in but eventually a great number of them switched their race fuel business over to VP once their renewals came up. Not only did the bid win us the notoriety but we picked up big sales in peripheral business. I’m sure Sunoco corporate wasn’t too pleased with losing the bid or the sales but I’ve been told there was only one distributor who really cared either way and that was World Wide and Frank and Stevie Lesueur. They were accustomed to traveling the country and following the circuit. Nitro was a big deal for them too and now it was gone. I can honestly say that I never gloated. It’s a karma thing and it’s also unprofessional. I will admit however that I did give Bill Broderick a one-fingered salute and a smile the next time I saw him.  JK

"A truly riveting read from cover to cover." - Midwest Book Review

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