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Happy birthday, NHRA.com: 10 years of online coverage of our sport
The way we were ...
The way we were ...
Back then, the Internet boasted 25 million computer users around the globe; today, the number is estimated at 938 million.
The launching of NHRA into cyberspace was the result of the early prodding of a computer-science student at
With the tentative approval of then NHRA Vice President Neil Britt, the duo sketched the early elements of the site, which included news, event and television schedules, a track directory, national indexes, links to major sponsors that had websites (early pioneers included Goodyear, Valvoline, and DuPont), rules revisions, and contact information.
The initial launch comprised about 150 pages and included a preview of NHRA's weekly print publication, National DRAGSTER (including the text of selected stories), as well as a photo gallery of cars.
1995: Getting our feet wet
"There weren't a lot of people who even had e-mail addresses back then," recalled Burgess, who still is actively involved with the website, which today comprises hundreds of thousands of pages. "I shared the URL with some friends I'd met in an online chat group on AOL, guys like Division 2 Super Street racers Bob Williams and Craig Ridenhour, and sought their input, and Michael used his friends in the DragNet mailing group. We got some great feedback."
The initial attempt at providing "instant" race results is a far cry from today's sleek presentation. The first race "covered" by the new site was the 1995 Fram Autolite NHRA Nationals in Sonoma, whose results were little more than final-round info posted immediately after the event.
"Back then, we didn't have the ability to post our own information," said Burgess. "I remember calling the T2K office on the East Coast and reading them the results, which they posted. Back then, there weren't many HTML editors available to the general public, and most of the coding was done by hand in Notepad. Still, being able to get the results online, even in their brief format, within an hour of the event was a miraculous accomplishment."
Results from divisional races were often not posted until the following day when the division director could fax the information to the National DRAGSTER office. Here's an early example.
For that year's U.S. Nationals in September, the staff pulled out all the stops and provided the first round-by-round results. Obviously, the site has come a long way.
1996: Instant results, E-Ticket! are born
The service eventually became Summit FastNews, with which a strong relationship and working partnership still exists. The results, arranged then by round rather than today's sortable stats, also included embedded links for QuickTime video clips from the final rounds provided by longtime member Bob "not the announcer" Frye, who still provides NHRA.com with video clips. That first year, 1996, clips were only available for the season-opening and season-closing events, and the downloads page carried the following warning: "The videos vary in file size from 1MB up to 5MB and may take from 10 to 60 minutes to download." Obviously, this was back in the day when a 14.4k modem was fast.
Throughout the years, Frye, who works in the multimedia arena, has optimized the clips for smaller file sizes and quicker downloads despite clips that are considerably longer than their predecessors.
At that year's U.S. Nationals, the NHRA.com staff put up digitial versions of its onsite daily newspaper, Daily DRAGSTER, for fans to read. This was a tough year, as we lost Blaine Johnson and Elmer Trett at the event.
1997: First webmaster, more new features added
Race coverage continued to improve when photos were added to the multimedia section from the events, beginning with the Winternationals, as was a preview notebook and class-by-class notebook section, which debuted at that year's Arizona event and included a MapQuest feature for directions to the track. Entry lists also were added that year (example).
The first special-edition site, www.usnationals.com, was developed to cover that year's Big Go as a stand-alone site and featured daily trivia quizzes (with prizes) and historic video clips and photos. Most important, it marked the debut of the first live audiocast over the Internet. The format was repeated for the 1998 Winternationals. \
1998: Team reports and custom results; April Foolishness
The 1998 Madison event also marked the debut, in beta form, of the current race-results format, which allows fans to select by class, by day, or both; it made its official debut at the next event, in Denver, albeit with a horrid color palette that thankfully was replaced at season's end.
Here's a look at a typical 1998 home page, complete with retro logos.
1999: Improved race-day coverage, Geiger comes aboard
More photo galleries began to be posted from most events. Initially, the photos were supplied by Pontiac and Pennzoil of just their drivers — remember, this is long before everyone had a digital camera — but by year's end, NHRA was able to offer daily photo galleries at select events.
The year ended on a downer when Roe returned to
The 1999 home page began to take on some familiar elements, such as the audiocast link and other event information.
2000: We Have Ignition (and a new name and webmaster)
A bold, new black design was implemented and carried out site-wide, as evidenced by the Winternationals coverage.
In June 2000, NHRA.com launched its first special mini website, a special section devoted to John Force's pursuit of Bob Glidden's all-time mark of 85 wins. John Force: Chasing the Record chronicled his race to the record with a rolling count-up image that changed with every win until Force finally scored his 86th Wally at that year's
Throughout the year, work also was heavily under way in preparation for the 2001 season, which would mark NHRA's 50th anniversary. Burgess and Friar hatched an ambitious plan to chronicle the 50 years through reprints of old news articles from each of the years as they had been printed in National DRAGSTER. Burgess pored through thousands of issues of ND for the 10 most important or interesting news stories of the years, which were then either scanned (using optical character recognition software, which often had trouble reading the older issues) or retyped by hand. Burgess also read dozens of early issues of Hot Rod Magazine to fill in NHRA's history from before the 1960 launch of National DRAGSTER, working with NHRA founder Wally Parks to create the most accurate portrayal of the 1950s NHRA scene ever published.
Late in the year, NHRA ended its long relationship with goracing.com, which had been acquired by Action Performance, and moved its website to an outside host, AT&T.
2001: Celebrating the 50th, mourning 9/11 losses
During the course of the year, NHRA.com chronicled events surrounding the golden anniversary, such as a reunion of original NHRA officers at the spot where NHRA was first incorporated in 1951, NHRA Day in Los Angeles, which was highlighted by Frank Hawley taking L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan for a spin down Los Angeles Street in his two-seater dragster, and, of course, a special third event at Pomona Raceway, the Pep Boys 50th Anniversary Nationals.
After much disappointment with its AT&T hosting arrangement, NHRA.com partnered with Primedia's GR8RIDE family of websites, which promised to provide hosting, design, and online advertising and sales solutions for NHRA.com, allowing the site to handle the massive traffic that had developed as the site's popularity – and the popularity of the Internet itself – continued to grow.
The site got another facelift complete with an exciting Flash movie and menu system created by Friar and the vehicle of a randomly loaded drag racing hero in the top left corner. (Note: This archived page will not display 100 percent correctly as some coding is missing, but all elements are present.)
Also early that year, the web team launched a stand-alone site for the NHRA Sport Compact Series that featured news and racing results from that popular segment of the sport. Through necessity, Burgess became the editor of the site and throughout the years worked to forge alliances with other sport compact sites such as UrbanRacer.com to get NHRA's foot in the door with racers and up to speed on technology and personalities.
At year's end, "Big Daddy" Don Garlits edged John Force for the top spot in the Top 50 Drivers final list. Few people, including Force, could argue with the results.
2002: Site blue, Forever Red, Notebook read; division sites added
That July, the popular NHRA.com Notebook was launched (original page) to bridge the big gap between legitimate front-page news stories and trivial notes of all sorts that otherwise might not have had a home.
Perhaps the biggest project of the year was the introduction of websites for each of NHRA's seven divisions, which also were launched late in the year. Hosting all of the websites in-house allowed implementation of a user-friendly content-management system (CMS) that enabled division personnel to add content without having to know HTML. Friar handbuilt a compact CMS that worked until NHRA purchased a full-blown program the following year.
2003: More sites added
In February, NHRA moved its website to Ultimate Internet Access, a local hosting company that for the previous four years had proven itself by providing Internet services to the NHRA main and satellite offices. UIA had the redundant telecom partners NHRA required, and its staff was knowledgeable and local.
In April, the web team completed work on a stand-alone site for the
With the division sites firmly entrenched, NHRA decided it was time to bring in-house the websites for its owned tracks: Atlanta Dragway, Gainesville Raceway, Indianapolis Raceway Park, National Trail Raceway, and Pomona Raceway. Planning began that year, and, because many of the sites were complex, much coordination with track personnel was required to get the projects under way.
NHRA also rolled out a special website devoted to its Jr. Drag Racing League, featuring news, information, and results from the series.
Fischbeck was replaced by Ken Sklute and Racers Edge Photography at the
2004: Special event sites added
The team also had the sad duty in midyear of creating a special mini site devoted to the passing of popular Top Fuel star Darrell Russell that was updated throughout the year with news about services, reflections, and benefit events.
2005: New members section, new sheriff in town
Friar's last official duty was the completion of another extremely ambitious project, a special section for NHRA members that was launched in February and gave NHRA members the ability to access special features and listen to national event audiocasts for three days instead of just the traditional Sunday-only program. Members were now able to find events and tracks near them based on ZIP code, communicate with NHRA's Membership Services department, and much more, and racers also had custom points tracking. It was a major project, fraught with complications and enhanced security features, but the section launched successfully and registrations have been impressive.
Other new features were added in 2005, including the immensely popular Geiger Counter, authored by (of course) Geiger, which debuted in April (and already has nearly 100 entries), and the NHRA.com blog, which opened in April to keep visitors abreast of new features and other site-related news. The team also opened its salute to Warren Johnson's final full season behind the wheel for his School's Out tour, tracking his season to date and sharing his memories from the tracks along the NHRA tour.
The season also proved to be among the frustrating because traffic, driven by various methods, including a partnership with ESPN.com, surged by 30 percent, overwhelming NHRA's database servers. NHRA CIO Doug Caton and the NHRA Information Technology department, assisted by Davidson and Friar, spent hours optimizing tens of thousands of lines of code, and Caton purchased a powerful new SQL server to meet traffic needs well into the future. The final work was completed last week, ensuring a happy 10th birthday for motorsports' first full-time site and ensuring its continuing legacy.
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