Less than three weeks into his new job as NHRA president, Glen Cromwell faced his first crisis.
Old Bridge Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J., announced in mid-January it was dropping its drag racing program but remaining open. Quite suddenly, the 49-year tradition of the Summernationals was history, replaced by an land-lease opportunity to park cars on raceway property.
The NHRA was forced to drop one of its 24 national event sites, a stunning development for the sport.
“The Summernationals have played an important part in our heritage and we hope that fans in the area will try to make it to another one of our events,” Cromwell said at the time. “Our focus remains on making the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series a memorable experience for our fans, racers, sponsors, partner and tracks.”
Cromwell’s experience with NHRA kicked into high gear. An NHRA employee at various levels since 1997, the Ferris State University graduate and his NHRA staff worked quickly. Within two weeks, the Glendora-based sanctioning body announced Virginia Motorsports Park would return to the national circuit and be the new venue for the event.
“I’ve always been a fan of racing. When I was hired in 1997, I felt like I could make a difference and help to grow the sport,” Cromwell said. “I still feel that way today.
“While it is a last-minute addition, we want to provide a great experience for everyone there. It takes a lot of focus and coordination to pull off a large event when we start planning more than a year in advance. But I have full faith in our team and in the track. It’s going to be great!”
Cromwell’s appointment to succeed Peter Clifford was viewed as a positive by many. Among them was Dallas Gardner. the second NHRA president and chairman of the board.
“Glen takes the helm of NHRA at an exciting time, with all of our metrics on the upswing,” Gardner said when Cromwell was promoted. “With the forward momentum created by Peter Clifford’s leadership, including leading NHRA’s transition to producing its own television programs in-house and creating an entirely new broadcast and media organization, Glen will be able to build the sport even further.”
His promotion was welcomed by one of the most high-profile owners in the sport.
“Glenn’s been involved in the NHRA for a lot of years, he’s worked his way up the ranks into management,” said Don Schumacher, who fields three Top Fuel dragster and five Funny Cars. “He’s got a great knowledge and a great foundation of experience in NHRA and I look for him to take the sport to the next level.”
Robert Hight, the defending Funny Car champion and president of John Force Racing, also gives Cromwell a thumbs up
“I think the NHRA made a good decision putting Glen in this position. The guy has worked at every level of the organization from top to bottom” Hight said. ” He also came from an entertainment company where they were packing stadiums and arenas with fans. The guy knows how to promote.
” I was at the St. Louis Auto Show and (Gateway track owner) Curtis Francois said he is very excited about working with Glen. When you have racers and track operators, excited you know you are going in the right direction.”
Cromwell was NHRA’s vice president of national event marketing prior to his promotion late in 2017. so he was familiar with sponsors and track partners. Yet, Cromwell and NHRA were surprised at the number of tracks wishing to replace Englishtown on the schedule.
“While it is a last-minute addition, we want to provide a great experience for everyone at Virginia Motorsports Park,” Cromwell said while preparing for this weekend’s Winternationals at Pomona. “It takes a lot of focus and coordination to pull off a large event when we start planning more than a year in advance. But I have full faith in our team and in the track.”
Cromwell is very personable. When he was Division 7 director, he had a reputation of walking the pits and speaking with drivers and crew members. It was the start of a reputation as a listener.
“I learned very quickly that listening is key. Our drivers, partners and fans are passionate about drag racing,” said Cromwell, a resident of the Inland Valley with his wife Brenda and two children. “I’m still learning and listening. I hope that my long tenure with NHRA is an asset, but I also know how important it is to have a talented team.
“It’s not about my rise to the top. It’s about the continued growth and success of the sport we love.”
His rise to the top was the result of many steps at regional tracks along the West Coast and Hawaii.
“When I came in as the divisional director, I always got out onto the staging lanes to shake hands, to let them know I was there and working for them,” said Cromwell. “I have a passion for this sport. I know that sportsmen racers are really the foundation and I knew they were important. I spent time with them, an even though I’ve on to the marketing side, I still have Division 7 racers come up to me and talk about different subjects.
“At the end of the day, you want to be here to grow the sport and put your life into it. You put your heart into it and good things can, and will, happen.”
Among the most pressing current concern is the run-off area. Several years ago, with an eye on safety, NHRA cut the distance from the traditional 1,320 feet to 1,000 in Top Fuel dragster and Funny Car. Although cars continue run into the sand trap at the end of the track, there have been no deaths since Scott Kalitta in Englishtown on June 21, 2008.
“We are fortunate to have the best safety crew, tech and competition professionals in motorsports,” said Cromwell. “When we started racing nitro classes to 1,000 feet, we upgraded the run-off traps at the same time. We are always evaluating every aspect of drag racing and we will continue to do so.”
Cromwell is eager for the challenge.
“Right now, it’s all about getting more eyeballs on the sport. That means really focusing on everything drag racing touches to make sure it’s compelling and entertaining,” he said. “It’s my philosophy from Day One in NHRA that it’s the team that you put around you that really elevates things, it’s not really me putting my fingerprint on the sport, and I’ve never looked at it that way.
“I’ve loved NHRA ever since I started as a division director and I feel honored to have the opportunity to lead this great organization, I can’t wait to really get started and to continue to grow the sport and lead the NHRA team.”
Louis Brewster can be reached at email@example.com
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