40 YEARS IN DRAG RACING JOURNALISM CREATED A HALL OF FAME CAREER FOR PHIL BURGESS
National DRAGSTER editor Phil Burgess believes in fate.
Burgess, the editor of the longest-running drag racing publication, has captained the NHRA periodical five times longer than anyone who has captained the ship before him. He recently celebrated his 40th birthday in this position.
“I tell people National DRAGSTER was born in 1960, the same year I was,” Burgess said. “Maybe I was just born to do this. I don’t know anything else. Before I came to work at NHRA, I had worked a few other jobs, nothing that was ever satisfying, and this opportunity s is presented, and it just feels like a second skin.
“I don’t know what else I would do. I’m not going to retire and travel around the United States in an RV. I’ll be sitting at home watching the races, maybe wanting to write stories on this subject. “
Besides, how would one retire from a dream job that doesn’t even look like a job?
“I think when you look today, people don’t keep their jobs that long anymore,” Burgess said. “Back then, in the 1930s, 40s, it wasn’t uncommon for a guy to work 30, 40 years in a factory with no name. I don’t think that’s a thing anymore, but honestly, and that It may be cliché to say this, but I still love her just as much as day one, and that’s the truth.
“The only way to stay somewhere is if you are enthusiastic and work with good people. There are bad days, there are bad days for every job, but overall when I walk into the office and I slip behind this desk, I’m like, ‘Let me check my email or my social media, see what’s going on. Let me see who’s calling me, who’s texting me, what’s hot, what’s wrong.
“In our business, you get this stuff because there’s breaking news, and there’s things happening or going to happen or rumors of things happening; those things just keep you going. dynamic. When you do this daily, it doesn’t feel like 40. I feel like not too long ago I was the fresh-faced little punk who walked in and thought that he knew all about drag racing and was still learning every day.
Indeed, Burgess has seen the sport change. When he arrived in the mid-1980s, drag racing was about to take it to the next level, expanding to new venues and growing far beyond his 12-race schedule. At the same time, series sponsor Winston was expanding its influence in the corporate world of drag racing.
Burgess witnessed the growth of the fuel and Pro Stock worlds to the point where major sponsors were indispensable for full-time teams. He was there to tell it all.
Change has always been a constant in drag racing, but so has politics. Separating sports politics from his love of straight-line play has been a challenge.
“I think we all see things happen, whether it’s in sports or politics in general, that you disagree with,” Burgess said. “Because of my job and my job description, people know that I work for the NHRA, and people know that National DRAGSTER is going to be positive when it comes to saying things about the NHRA.
“Other people can be embroiled in a controversy that throws the NHRA in the wrong light. For me, I love the NHRA, even though I haven’t worked here. It’s just great. I think we Let’s do wonderful things. Like everyone, there are things that I don’t always agree with one hundred percent, but I am able to keep politics out of the way.
“I prefer to focus on the joy of sport, the thrill of acceleration, the thrill of competition, the one-on-one thing that only drag racing has. I mean, nowhere else. You could talk pitcher vs. batter, it’s kinda one vs. one, but this sport is really one vs. one. It’s just that kind of competition where I’m going to prove to the guy next to them, ‘I’m better. than you.’ ”
“It’s the pure element of human competition, just beating the guy next to you. For me, I just try to focus on the glory of the sport, these beautiful machines and these fearless riders who go out and break the rules. laws of physics in some It’s not hard to enjoy this part and put the rest aside.
Burgess is considered Hall of Fame material by many in the industry for his efforts to paint the picture of drag racing in his words and presentation. Achieving Hall of Fame recognition would be a dream come true for Burgess, but it was far from his reason for getting into drag racing journalism.
“We can’t do something forever,” Burgess said. “I’m going to do this while I can. I’m still as passionate today as I was when I was a teenager, as a 10-year-old kid who got his first Hot Wheels car and saw Don Prudhomme and Tom McEwen , and I’m still so excited about it. So, no, it’s not really on my radar. I’m still able to do it. I feel like I’m able to do it at a level of pretty high skill and meeting deadlines and managing all the other stuff.”
Although Burgess plans to practice his craft for as long as he can, that doesn’t mean he has no eye on the future of drag racing journalism.
“There are people there, people we just don’t know, who may not have thought about the opportunity to work here,” Burgess said. “All it really takes to be good at anything is passion. Passion takes you through midnight deadlines and hard work, travels and rains and all that you suffer when you do this work. You find someone with a passion, and you can find the next one anyone.”
Burgess knows that no one, not a drag racer, executive, or racing fan, can truly understand the highs and lows associated with being the voice of drag racing news.
“I think you really have to be in that seat to do it,” Burgess said. “There are challenges. Obviously in the position I’m in, there are a lot of masters to serve. There are a lot of…especially now that our staff isn’t as big as it used to be. , I’m wearing a lot more hats. I mean, a lot of people have been since the pandemic. You’re the one balancing everything. It’s like, okay, you’re trying to do this, and you’re trying to find time to do that, and you’re trying to make this guy happy, and maybe you made a mistake, and you’re trying to make it up to somebody.
“You have advertisers and sponsors to consider, staff members. It’s a lot of balance. Until you sit in an editor’s chair and try to decide ‘what is the appropriate story to be in my magazine” or “what’s the tone of this story” or the worst thing is to reject something submitted because it doesn’t meet your standards or your style or you think it’s the wrong message to your readership. You don’t want to. You appreciate everyone who contributes to what you do, but not everything can go away, unfortunately.
With the advent of the Internet and its introduction of websites and electronic publications, Burgess took his game to the next level by maintaining the relevance of print.
“It’s no secret that a lot of them are gone, but National DRAGSTER is still here 62 years later. Part of my goal is to still keep that. It’s still a great magazine, still a profitable magazine, and I want to keep it out there because our readers, they love it. I mean the internet is awesome, and what you get on sites like Competition Plus is awesome, but some people still like the print magazine, so I’m there for them. I mean, I always read the… I get the Los Angeles Times delivered to my driveway every morning and I prefer to read it that way.”
Burgess had to adapt to another aspect of an ever-changing digital world: social media and video content. It’s a world filled with constant demands.
“It’s exciting to watch this, but there was a time in the early ’70s, someone didn’t know who won a National event until National DRAGSTER showed up,” Burgess said. “If you were lucky enough to have your local newspaper maybe print the agate, you might have known ahead of time or wanted to wait for the monthly magazines. But there was a time when National DRAGSTER was the way a lot of people found out who had won a national event. That was the case when I came here.
“Obviously the internet came in the mid-1990s, and it turned everything upside down. I still believe in the power of print. It’s what people want to hold in their hands and put on their walls or show their friends or whatever. But no, to be able to find those other media, the Internet, it’s just fantastic to get that news out right away.
“Obviously with the print magazine you’re limited on how many pages you can have, how long the stories can be, how many photos you can run. I don’t have that problem with the internet and digital formats, so that’s what I love about it, it allows you to tell a longer story without running out of space, so to speak.
“The video… I think everything got better. It’s one thing to quote someone. Sometimes you can’t get the inflection of their voice the way you want, in the way they speak, his accent, the way he emphasizes certain words. Video allowed people to see them and be there, for all intents and purposes, where print just can’t.
“I’ve adopted them all. I feel like the old dog that can learn new tricks and adopt them, and I think the long-form videos people are making are really exciting and some of the ones that are more digestible to people, which you can just press play and sit in your chair and watch it rather than flipping the pages I don’t know what the next big thing is, but whatever it is, I’m ready for it.
For Burgess, forty years in drag racing and seeing it change has prepared him for anything that comes his way.