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by Larry Roberts

May 15, 1998

I recently received a press kit from the National Import Racing Association (NIRA) that described an event that's soon to take place for foreign car owners. Two organized tours will leave from opposite ends of the state of California and meet in Bakersfield the Saturday before a scheduled import-only drag racing meet at nearby Famoso Raceway. The NIRA will host a party at a local travel hotel that night for the tour participants. The mass get-together is designed to foster camaraderie among foreign car owners and develop a sense of "oneness" among the participants.

As I read it I was struck by how much it sounded like the seminal days of sports cars and hot rods. Fifty years ago, sports car owners participated in the same sorts of events which were put on by clubs formed and operated by amateur enthusiasts.

But while the NIRA was no doubt originated by enthusiasts, I soon learned that the operation is a slick, smooth-running organization owned by The Peterson Companies, publisher of Motor Trend, Hot Rod and a host of other participation sports magazines. The focus of the organization is to capitalize on the fact that an entire generation of young adults has developed its own version of the ancient and honorable American sport of hot rodding.

Today's "street rod" is usually a Japanese Pocket Rocket (Honda Civic, Acura Integra, Toyota Celica, etc.) whose owner has tricked it out with high performance suspension and body pieces to make it lower, faster and more "in" cosmetically. And the reason for the selections is obvious: the cars are available, affordable, licensable and insurable.

It's virtually impossible to build a classic '32 "Deuce" Ford coupe or roadster street rod anymore and use it as an everyday driver. The parts necessary to build a new/old Deuce from the ground up would have to be reproduction parts (very expensive bits and pieces), and its assembly would take a great deal of work and fabrication skill. At its completion, the product would be almost impossible to license in most states and the insurance premiums would be astronomical. The obvious alternative for youthful enthusiasts is something that's ready-to-run and easy to customize. And in our burgeoning economy, these youthful, unmarried "gearheads" have plenty of discretionary income to spend on their automotive habit.

This fact has not been lost on the automotive aftermarket auto parts world and over the past few years, an entire industry has developed to accommodate this particular market. Wheels, tires, bolt-on "ground effects" body panels and tuned exhaust system are all available and these in turn have spawned specialized shops to do the installations and modifications. There are two of these specialty shops successfully operating in my own relatively small town.

It was inevitable that an organization like the NIRA would develop that would bring these young kindred spirits together. The NIRA has branches in many parts of the U.S. and is expanding at a rapid rate. Its acquisition by Peterson publications in 1997 undoubtedly was a major factor in its expansion. Super Street magazine is devoted to the sport of contemporary imported car drag racing and allied events and the NIRA has its own web site at

The NIRA is the modernized offspring of the sports car and hot rod clubs of my own youth. I can only hope that the kids of today are getting as much fun and enjoyment out of the sport as their grandparents did 50 years ago.