Texas Gov. Rick Perry, second from right, chatted with John and Brittany Force at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals. Perry, who was attending his first drag race, was a guest of AAA Chairman of the Board Tom McKernan, second from left.
NHRA President Tom Compton, second from left, joined the Forces and McKernan in welcoming Perry to the event. (Gary Nastase photos)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was an honored guest Saturday at the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at Texas Motorplex at the invite of good friends Tom McKernan, the chairman of the board of AAA, and Texas Motorplex owner Billy Meyer. Perry met with drivers in the pits and staging lanes and stood on the starting line during Funny Car qualifying to watch Robert Hight’s AAA of Texas Mustang. It was the governor’s first trip to an NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series national event.
“I’ve been asked a half-dozen times to come out before but always had a conflict, but I’m glad it worked out that we could be here today,” Perry said. “It was great to see the grandstands full of happy Texans. We’re sorry about that rain yesterday, but we really needed it.”
Although it was the governor’s first trip to a big-league drag race, he’s no stranger to drag racing – invoking the name of legendary “Big Daddy” Don Garlits in his heyday – or to fast cars. As a youngster growing up in Texas in the 1960s, he and his friends would devour Hot Rod magazines on the newsstand at the local drugstore and dream of owning a hot rod of their own.
“We’d go in there and look at the magazines, and it would have been like my mom looking at the Sears catalog dreaming of what we’d like to have,” Perry said with a nostalgic grin. “My dream car was anywhere between a ’69 and a ’72 Chevelle SS with a 396.”
He has also been the guest at the Formula 1 event at the new Circuit of the Americas in Austin and at NASCAR races at Texas Motor Speedway, so he has other experiences to compare to NHRA Drag Racing, although it appears that there’s no contest in the governor’s eyes.
“I’ve been on the deck of the USS Reagan when an F-18 launched, but I’ve never done anything like this that assaulted all of my senses,” he said. “The feel, the sight, the smell are really something. Someone can tell you about what it’s like to be at a drag race, but it’s hard to describe. I’m going to go home to my wife and try to explain how intense this was, and I know I’m going to do a really poor job.
“I like that the sport also is highly technical. I was in the pits and the drivers and teams are all very friendly. I went into the AAA technology van, and it’s science, technology, engineering, and math. The Army has its recruiting efforts here, too, so it’s clear that the NHRA does a good job of reaching out to the community to help kids understand that there’s a great future in this business. Not only is it a lot of fun, but there are some good-paying jobs.”
The governor cites a favorable economic climate for the expansion of business and racing in his state, and it’s clear that he’s passionate about that and keeping it that way.
“The great thing about having so many nice venues in our state is that fans get to experience a wide variety of motorsports. They’re all different, but I’m sure there are some NASCAR and Formula 1 fans here today, too, and over the last 12 years we’ve really been focused on keeping taxes reasonable, a regulatory climate that’s fair and reasonable, and a legal system that doesn’t allow for over-suing, and we continue to appropriately fund accountable schools so that you have a skilled workforce, and the businesses come and they expand because of our business climate.”
No trip to an NHRA event would be complete without meeting NHRA legend John Force, especially because the John Force Racing teams count AAA among their sponsors.
“What a character, and what a great family man and champion,” said Perry. “His daughters are just wonderful, and so is Robert Hight. They’re great folks.”