NHRA Casts Wider Net With Developing New EV Class

The NHRA’s motto is “Speed For All,” and with its new EV class in the grassroots-level Summit E.T. Series, director of competition Ned Walliser simply is casting a wider net for the sport.

He’s emphasizing the “all.”

“Quite frankly, we’ve had electric rules in the rule book for quite some time, a number of years, actually,” he said. “We’re trying to embrace more of those customers, as you see them increase throughout the country. So we’ve added a category to our Summit E.T. Series for all of our divisions to utilize within that Summit E.T. Series.

“There are several electric vehicles that race within our various member track programs, but we did not have a category for them, per se, in any of our sponsored series. And that’s why we wanted to develop that for the Summit E.T. Series and making a fifth category for all the division directors to utilize, to try to attract those customers from the local areas of the 120-plus member tracks and get them out there on a weekly bracket series, get them involved on a divisional championship and some way, shape, or form include them into a national championship as time goes on,” Walliser said.

The move makes the NHRA the only form of motorsport on the continental U.S. that has a specific place for EV racing. Europe has the Formula E Series, and the global Extreme E Series has attracted attention with only two of its five races in the books. So that’s a forward-thinking feather in drag racing’s cap.

But Walliser said, “I’m not 100 percent sure on all of what’s out there, but we’re not trying to carbon-copy what other people are doing. We are seeing what the OEMs are doing, what all the manufacturers, what direction they’re headed, [and] want to embrace that. But at the same time, we’re not replacing any category that exists as we know it today. We’re simply adding to. As we see from the racers’ standpoint, from a spectator standpoint, from the sponsor standpoint, from any enthusiast’s standpoint, there’s all different kinds. So for us to embrace the EV side, as well as Stock Eliminator all the way to Top Fuel, I think it just proves that the NHRA has all of those people’s best interest at mind.”

While certainly the NHRA is happy to be an industry leader in EV racing technology – or at least in showcasing it – Walliser isn’t focused on the fact the Summit E.T. Series could be a trendsetter.

Just the same, he said, “We hear the same from the OEMs. The same comments have been made. And again, our goal is simply to address all of those customers – from racer to spectator to sponsor to enthusiast supporter or whatever it may be. We just want to incorporate them all.”

He allowed that the establishment of the new EV class is a cross between the “If we build it, they’ll come” concept and a call for it. It was partly hearing “We’re getting more and more of these cars. You really need to get a class” and partly deciding, “Hey, this is cool. Let’s offer this and see who’s interested.”

Walliser called it, “a little bit of a hybrid. I think it’s a little bit of both. Yes, we had member tracks that were attracting several electric cars on a Wednesday night or a Tuesday night or a Friday night program that they had at the racetrack. And I think there was a ‘Hey, we need to pay attention to this (situation). We need to make sure we attract these individuals to our track,’ as well as us seeing what the OEMs are doing, seeing what the industry is doing.

“We will never replace nitromethane or alcohol drags for the existing categories as we know them all the way down to Stock Eliminator. Those categories are the backbone of NHRA. But to wrap our arms around and incorporate all forms of racing, we just felt the need that we could start out with one category in the Summit E.T. Series and hopefully attract those OEM participants that have electric vehicles, and they can come out on a weekly basis, participate at the local track, (get) a little more support locally, and potentially run for a national championship.”

The sanctioning body continues to fashion a final rules package. However, one thing Walliser wanted to emphasize is that it is a class for an EV machine exclusively.

“We have rules for purpose-built cars. I mean, you can build an electric car. The series we’re talking about for the Summit E.T. Series are for OEMs only. It would be an EV only, not a hybrid or not any form of ICE, or internal combustion engines,” he said. “And we are working on competition guidelines with the division directors to make sure that we have all seven divisions on the same page, but those will be announced sometime soon. But overall, this category is for OEM cars, without alteration. It’s not for a purpose-built electric car. The Summit E.T. Series is for OEM type cars to race all four corners of the country, all seven divisions, and all 120 member tracks. So that’s our goal.”

It’s uncertain – perhaps even to the NHRA – exactly how many which automakers will be represented when the class emerges next year.

“Quite frankly, we’ve had electric rules in the rule book for quite some time, a number of years.”

“We’ve have several,” Walliser said. “I’m going to say it’s not just the typical OEs that have been participating as we know it here at NHRA, from Toyota, Ford, Dodge, Chevy. Those would be the ones that have typically participated, as we know it in recent years. There are additional and far more people interested from an OE side in the development of not only this category, but potentially a purpose-built category sometime down the road,” he said.

That discussion might be getting the cart before the horse. Walliser said, “That would be Step 2, if you will. Step 1 would be the Summit E.T. Series. Step 2 could be a potential purpose-built electric vehicle, whether that be a door car or a dragster, whether it has E.T. limits or whether it’s unlimited, there is a huge potential for electric racing and a performance demonstration from extreme torques that are generated from an electric motor to, quite frankly, experienced speeds. We’ve seen upwards of 200-plus miles an hour out of a car already, and we’ll see that develop. It really comes down to developing a rules package for purpose-built cars to make sure that we keep safety and performance in mind.”

At first glance, it would seem like the class might appeal to younger racing enthusiasts who have been working with imports. But what we have seen in exhibitions, notably with General Motors’/Chevrolet’s eCOPO Camaro and the Ford’s all-electric Mustang Cobra Jet 1400, it’s a movement masterminded by the veterans.

“It’s really about speed for all. There are younger people involved on the EV, no different than history repeating itself from when we came back in the late ’40s and ’50s and you had all kinds of ages involved in hot rodding, from teenagers all the way to older adults,” Walliser said. “There’s really no difference in the EV. I would say in the EV side, it’s an attraction that probably leans to the younger side, but there are several of our customers that are not in their teens but certainly have an interest in EV.”

Walliser tackled the topic of whether fans will see 16-car fields by saying, “The Summit E.T. Series is hosted by all 120-plus member tracks. So they run whatever car count they have within that category. It could be from two cars to 140 cars in a given bracket. So, that said, there’s also a discussion amongst the division directors to include racing one another from other member tracks.

“You’re racing for points at your track racing against other contestants at other tracks and trying to broaden the horizons on a racing nationwide rather than just racing your local tracks. So there’s a lot of discussion within that. And those competition guidelines hopefully will be coming out soon.”

With a new twist to drag racing comes the possibility of new, non-endemic sponsors for teams and for the NHRA.

“Certainly has potential,” Walliser said of the thought. “That’s probably a better question for Brad Gerber [NHRA vice-president of sales and chief development officer]. But the interest level from the manufacturer standpoint, whether that is the manufacturer of the automobiles or the manufacturers of safety equipment or the manufacturers of components for electric drives, electric motors, batteries, and all the components utilized in EV racing, we are seeing a huge interest. So who knows what that will develop into? But we certainly have great relationships and great rapport with all of those and hope to continue that as we want to carry their thought process and all of their concerns when we’re developing any rules package.

What he’s more certain about is that “you will see demonstrations at specific events, national events, whatever it may be, as we move forward. And who knows? Maybe we’ll be crowning a national champion on this Summit E.T. Series in 2022. And that would be pretty cool to showcase at one of our national events.”

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