Story by Phil Hutchison and NHRA Communications
Photos courtesy of Mick Smallridge, NHRA, and Hutchison and Kubicke
In late 2007, the NHRA announced that it was forming a committee to represent the Sportsman racers and to improve communications between the racing body and the racers themselves.
This new group, the Sportsman Racer Advisory Council (SRAC) was designed to maintain the level of communications between participants and race officials. The SRAC would provide a means for discussing and evaluating rules and race policies and procedures pertaining to Sportsman racing at all NHRA events.
Each NHRA division would have representatives from the Alcohol, Competition Eliminator, Stock and Super Stock, the 0.90 classes. Top Dragster and Top Sportsman, classes that were starting to gain in popularity in all the divisions, also had a representative.
The five representatives from each division were determined through online polling by each division director. Representatives were not limited to drivers only as crew chiefs and owners were also allowed apply for the position.
The Northeast Division reps were: Mike Kosky in Alcohol, Frank Aragona Jr in Comp, Super Stock and Stock were represented by Evan Smith, John DiBartolomeo was the 0.90 class rep, and Mick Smallridge was the Top Dragster/Top Sportsman representative.
The initial meeting was held during the 39th annual ACDelco NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway in March of 2008. Several of the 35 committee members attended in person, and the remainder participated via teleconference. NHRA President Tom Compton, NHRA Executive Vice President/General Manager Peter Clifford, NHRA Senior Vice President-Racing Operations Graham Light, and each of the seven NHRA division directors — Bob Lang, Bill Holt, Jay Hullinger, Craig Hutchinson, Rob Park, Jonathan Adams, and Mike Rice — were in attendance. Since the first meeting, a yearly conference call takes place between all the principal players and if needed, additional meetings have been held within the divisions’ themselves.
As of 2012, other than Kent Hanley representing the Stock/Super Stock group after Evan Smith moved down to Florida, the D1 reps have not changed. This is a testament to the quality of the reps and trust the racers have given them. NDR was curious as to the goings on within the council and what, if anything has transpired for the 2012 season.
Recently at the Lebanon Valley LODRS I approached some of the D1 reps and suggested a series of stories from their perspective. This is the first installment of that series.
NDR’s Phil Hutchison, Maple Grove T/S winner Ryan Ondrejko and Mick Smallridge
Top Dragster/Top Sportsman rep Mick Smallridge from Plainfield CT. was instrumental in making the Top Sportsman series in D1 the success it has become as he brought in a major backer in Foxwoods Resorts and Casino as a sponsor for the series. As our first SRAC representative to be interviewed, Mick sat down with NDR and gave us his perspective.
What made you volunteer to be the Rep. for Top Sportsman and Top Dragster?
In 2008 NHRA introduced the (SRAC) Sportsman Racer Advisory Council; they were searching for someone to be a Rep. in each Division for each class. At the time I already had a lot on my plate and was not sure if I should take on another commitment, but many felt that I should at least run for the position due to the fact that I had been involved since the very beginning. Originally a few people ran for the position but with the help of my many supporters I was voted in as the Division 1 Top Sportsman & Top Dragster Rep.
No real issues these days….. But back when we first started the Top Sportsman Series it was very hectic at times but that was because it was all new and I knew that in order to make the Series a success I needed to address and try my best to resolve any issues that came up. I somehow managed to do it all but it was a real challenge at times and it defiantly did not help my Racing Program, the fact that I’m not currently racing helped with my decision to continue to be the Rep.
How have the other Racers responded to you being their Rep.?
The Racers have been Great! They remember and appreciate everything that we have done for Division 1 Top Sportsman & Top Dragster over the years. The overwhelming majority recently voted to re-elect me to continue to be their Rep. for the next two years, which is something that I really do appreciate.
Has this position helped the Racers and the NHRA?
I really do feel that it has helped everyone involved, it gives us the opportunity to pass along any questions or concerns to NHRA. We have teleconference call meetings with the other Division Reps. that have also included Graham Light and Tom Compton from NHRA at times. We have a Great group of Division 1 Reps. everyone works well together and we all try our best to do whatever we can to benefit the Racers. It has also been a great pleasure to work with Bob Lang, Dave Mohn and everyone at the Northeast Division.
You were instrumental in getting Top Sportsman in the NED, how did that come about.
We really wanted to see Top Sportsman in Division 1, at the time it was only in a few other Divisions. I had talked with Bob Lang a few times about the possibility of adding the class to his program, he was very interested but we needed a Series Sponsor to make it happen. So we then presented a proposal to my primary sponsor at the time and at first they said no but after some begging and convincing they agreed to support the Series, it all worked out well in the end with them receiving a great deal of exposure and the fact that we had a Top Sportsman banquet at their venue each year which brought them back above and beyond what the Series cost.
With the help of Lex Dudas from Maple Grove we kicked off Top Sportsman at the 2004 Dutch Classic, we had horrible weather and still had a ton of cars show up. We then started the Series in 2005 and were rewarded with Great car counts, Great payouts and some Great points battles. With the Top Sportsman Series proving to be a success it then paved the way for the addition of the Top Dragster Series that has also become a Great program. A ton of effort and money went into starting this whole thing back in the day but I’m very proud and pleased with what we have accomplished with both classes over the years. Both classes are here to stay now…… thanks to everyone supporting them.
When are you coming back to racing?
Man…… That’s a good question, I’m really not sure at this time, we have some things in the works for the future, which could be very cool. When the time is right I would like to return to the Drivers seat but the time is just not right at this point. I have been involved in the Sport of NHRA Drag Racing since I was 9 years old and I have pretty much raced something – somewhere since the mid to late 80′s up until 2009 when my Sponsorship agreement ended, so to be honest the break has been refreshing.