Pro Stock..the future?

You know I had it made in the shade, thinkin that it’s not so bad after all
That’s when I woke up, smelled the coffee.- Heavens Trail, Tesla

You know, I’ve started and stopped this column 3 times already. Revising it down, rethinking some parts, but the reality is how do you break down a class that is so broken into a few hundred words? Sure, if you listen to NHRA world, everything is fine. The racing is great and there’s more to come. But is the class really ok?

There was a time when Pro Stock was “King of the Doorslammers”. In terms of performance and stature after the nitro classes they were it. But with the welcome addition of Pro Mod and even Top Sportsman the luster has come off the class. No longer are they the quickest and fastest door cars on the grounds. In most cases no Pro Stock car could even qualify for a Pro Mod show and would be lucky to be in the top 10 in a Top Sportsman field.

2014 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Hmm, Stock Camaro

camaro

Pro Stock Camaro…seem legit? The first problem is above. These are the “Factory Hot Rods” but I don’t see to much that compares between those 2 cars. I’m not sure when the NHRA decided it was its’ job to equalise the aero for the manufacturers. But when you take away brand identity, a sticker across the windshield is not enough to give it back, in fact you shouldn’t need the sticker at all. If it’s a Camaro, it should resemble a Camaro.

The recent rule changes are baffling in that it’s not clear what the objective was. To improve performance? No the cars are as expected, slower; to improve appearance? No all you’ve accomplished is making them look like turbo Pro Mod cars.

The problem is fan appeal. The average fans don’t get the class anymore, it has become very cerebral. You have to understand what is going on under the body, you have to understand what is going on in those 500 cubic inches. If the class is going to grow and survive they must bring back the fans, with a clear understanding of what is happening on the track. A heads up 500 inch class is not enough anymore.

If we allow that these are not the quickest and fastest door cars at any event, then maybe we need to accept that and rebuild. Lets get stock body dimensions out there, lets get stock pieces under the hood. Why do we need big tire, 4 link tube chassis cars, have you seen what some other sanctioning bodies are doing on a 10.5 tire? Have you seen what NHRA Factory Stock is doing? Several of those Factory Stock guys have stated that at the right weight they could be in the 7″s. What is better, a mid 7 in a stock bodied car, or a 6.50 in a modern Pro Stock car? When it comes right down to it, that’s a second, and I’ll sacrifice that second for a stock appearing Camaro.

Video Credit Robert Jackson.

 

One of the refrains you hear a lot from the NHRA is “Just wait, there are more cars coming” as if the car count was the problem. But the car count isn’t the problem. The fans in the stands don’t know or care if there’s only 15 Top Fuel cars on the grounds, they sure as hell don’t care that there’s only 14 Pro Stock cars. Would it be nice to have full fields? of course. I spend a lot more time at Regionals than I do Nationals. As a matter of fact it’s 3 to 1.  I’m not sure who the NHRA is asking, but the answer I get most often when I ask Sportsman if they are considering the jump up to Pro Stock is NO. To paraphrase two competitors in particular (1 running Comp and 1 running Top Sportsman) -No, why would I abandon a competitive car, that I can win with for a class that’ll bankrupt me and I’ll have zero chance at winning, and if the fields do grow, I may not even qualify for.  I can’t argue with that logic. The NHRA needs to consider that many Sportsman already consider themselves touring Pros, even if they don’t have a Pro class designation.

NHRA needs to just throw away the current rule book, look at the big picture of what people are doing with Stock bodied cars across the spectrum of Drag Racing and reinvent the class. For some reason there’s a resistance to elevating the Factory Stock cars into a new Pro Stock (even though that’s where the Factory support is) they need to evaluate the need for 500ci engines and the big tires. They need to look at screaming small blocks, 10.5 tires and gasp…clutch your pearls, turbo 4 cylinder Hondas or Toyotas.

Carey Bales Turbo 122 Cubic Inch 2016 Honda Accord.

 

Out of all this, 4 things give me reason to think I’m not the only one who see’s a problem with Pro Stock.

No. 1  V. Gaines stepping away. His stated reason was he’s not having fun anymore. Now sure, some could and have argued that V was older and would probably have stepped aside soon anyway and I’ll admit I was surprised he raced this year. I had heard 2015 would be his last year, but still for a guy who only raced for fun to quit so abruptly was a big surprise.

No. 2  I recently was live messaging with a friend who is a Sportsman racer and crews on a Pro Stock car part time. As the Pro Stock qualifying session ended and the fans started to get in their seats for the Nitro sessions, his last comment to me was and I quote “This class is really on life support, the fans don’t even come to watch us race anymore”

No. 3  In the June 3rd National Dragster column, Peter Clifford (Pres of the NHRA) called  the changes to Pro Stock a “Miss”. So that gives me hope that at least the higher ups in the NHRA know there’s a problem, even as the Public relations folks are spinning a pretty picture.

And 4th, maybe the most damming of all. In a recent Competition Plus poll a whooping  72% of responders said that Pro Stock was dead. If that doesn’t say a lot, I don’t know what does.

http://www.competitionplus.com/drag-racing/news/survey-says-readers-weigh-in-on-the-state-of-nhra-pro-stock

Is there hope? Of course, as long as you have the men and women out there  still supporting the class, There’s always hope, but we are going to need a major overhaul to the class to bring the fans back to the seats. I suggest we start to look hard at the rulebook now to get ready for the 2018 season with a new look Pro Stock, more representative of the cars on the road in North America today.

Be Safe and Have Fun

 

 

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DSR…Nitro and some great racing.

“When I drive that slow, you know it’s hard to steer, And I can’t get my car out of second gear” Sammy Hagar, I Can’t Drive 55

After 7 races this season it looks as though it has the potential to be one of the most competitive seasons ever. Team Kalitta is sitting with 3 wins, JFR has 4 and DSR has 3, plus add 1 each for Leah Pritchett and Steve Torrence and a surprising 2 for Tim Wilkerson. It’s still relatively early in the year and for as great as those numbers are the list of who hasn’t won is pretty impressive. Del, JR, Shoemaker, Langdon, Johnson Jr. It’s really pretty crazy, but shows how tough it has become to win a Wally this season.

One thing that stands out so far is the tenacity of Leah Pritchett this year. The shutdown of BVR was a surprise and Leah had to scramble to secure a future, even just short term. Despite all the drama, at least to the public, she carried herself with dignity and grace that represented her ambitions. It has been amazing to watch her take step after step in achieving her goals and at the same time try and remain focused on the task at hand at the racetrack. To go from her ride at BVR to the Lagana Brothers car, back to her BVR car and into a DSR car..what a complete challenge for her. It’s hard enough driving a Top Fuel dragster, much less 4 in as many races. But if anyone doubted her drive and desire I think they can put that to rest.

I have heard that Leah will be in the DSR car for at least 2 more races and I have no doubt she will find the funding to continue; I just hope it comes before she has to park for a couple races. It just wouldn’t be the same without her out there.

smax

Are we sure Smax Smith isn’t really Sammy Hager in disguise?

DSR has been a little bit shocking this year. I think of them as a cutting edge, best of everything type of team, but the really slow uptake on the 6 disk clutch has been strange to watch. Most, if not all competitive teams in 2015 had already switched to the 6 disk, while at DSR only Matt Hagan’s team was running it full time. It seems that they sacrificed long term gains for short term performance and now they are trying to catch up to the rest of the teams. After 7 races to only have 3 wins out of 7 full time teams is pretty surprising.

Drag Racing

While on the topic of DSR. It sometimes startles me on social media to see the distaste for DSR. “Oh they win too much” “It’s all about all the money they have and not fair” and so on. The reality is..if DSR went away there goes 7 sometimes 8 top flight Nitro teams. Do you really want to see a field without those cars? That is one smart organization over there, and Mr Schumacher understands that he can’t be the whole show. Terry McMillen wouldn’t have made Atlanta without DSR ready to help him out and frankly Leah wouldn’t have a ride for now without the depth of that group. So instead of focusing on what you don’t like about the team, focus on what’s good.

This far into the season a couple drivers really stand out. Brittany Force for one. It always seemed like Brittany was a good driver, just not really into the whole atmosphere of racing full time. I don’t know why, but that was the vibe I got from her.  I have to say, bringing in Alan Johnson to the team was a breath of fresh air for them. She seems a lot more at ease with the team, the car and the whole experience of racing. The first win then adding a second win really showed a side of her I hadn’t seen before, and I hope we see more of it. I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that now they have a group of guys who can speak the language of Top Fuel at the highest level. Hats off to John for getting that all worked out, and allowing the dragster team to step up in a big way.

 

After the John Hale explosion I can’t wait until the last of the old style Dodge bodies are gone. Simply too dangerous.

NHRA All Access. I can’t speak highly of this enough, not just as a way for viewing the races, but a great tool for the racer to use at any level. Think about it, a sponsor now has a way to directly watch their dollars in action, in real time. You can say to the sponsor here, you can see the level of competition you are involved in and you can watch live as your dollars compete. Just set them up with a subscription and bingo, direct sponsor contact. Even if they don’t watch all day, a simple text to say “hey, we’re in the lanes ready to go, turn on All Access and watch.”. I know when I watch I see guys like Sherman Adcock and instantly reference Peak antifreeze in my mind. With just a little work put in I think it can and will become an invaluable addition to a sponsor program.

Well, here we go into the meat of the season. The Summer months are upon us. I think it’s 5 races in 6 weeks. Here’s to the rest of the season keeping up with the first 7.

Be Safe, Have Fun.

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Indycar, Haas F1 and The U.S.

You know it’s interesting watching Indycar try and rebuild its fanbase. The drop in attendance and viewership since the fabled split into IRL and Champ Car was sad to watch as both parties battled for teams and title rights. There’s no denying that it was a major blow to the sport that it hasn’t recovered from. For the most part it is some pretty good racing, but yet it is struggling to put people in the seats and watch on TV.

I wonder if Indycar wouldn’t be better served cutting the schedule down, focus on what works and growing slowly? This season has 16 races on tap, with 3 already in the books. St Petersburg, Phoenix and Long Beach. The Phoenix race was very poorly attended , with estimates on the generous side around 20,000 while the NASCAR race was around 45,000 in a track that seats 51,000. But both St. Pete and Long Beach both had well over 100,000 on site. As we look forward we can count on Indy and Toronto having good crowds, the rest will be a crap-shoot.

The races that do well are the ones that bring the full carnival atmosphere and spectacle into the community, with the fanfests and sponsor displays. The week in Long Beach has been a marathon of activities. In this day and age of racing, it’s not enough to roll into a community, set up and race; the fans want more. If we look towards Nascar and the pre race activity’s that surround all their races and understand all the commitment that it takes to make a race successful. The driver meet and greets, the race car displays, the hauler parade as well as all the at the track activity’s. Just look at Daytona and the new Daytona rising build. The Icon of Nascar tracks recognized that it needed to give a more fan friendly experience and it delivered.

It appears that the Indycar drivers are willing to do what’s asked of them, and the teams are up to helping as well. I know CFH racing is always up and ready to display when asked.  It’s up to Indycar to figure out how best to use their assets to grow the sport.

Because, even though, and it always surprises me, they seem to have an endless supply of Major sponsor dollars. Sooner or later those will dry up if there is no TV ratings growth and race attendance. Already we see Toyota with a major commitment to Nascar and the NHRA, and there are the ever present rumours of another major car manufacturer looking at Nascar. Indycar needs to look at cutting races, focusing on what works and growing with solid steady moves that don’t hurt them, but help them. Even if that means a short term suspension in some markets.

North America has a long and fabled history of “Indycar” style open wheel racing, it would be nice to see it return to some of it’s past glory.

senna

Aryton Senna in the rain. (Montreal)

Haas F1. What an interesting development. F1 has never been the darling of American Motorsports, all you need to do is look back at all the failed attempts to put a solid race here in the States. I was sure that Indy would be the place where F1 would find a permanent stable home. How could it fail, it’s a legendary racing venue, known worldwide. You say Indy around the globe and people think racing. Nascar, Indycar..a Keystone NHRA racetrack just up the road and surrounded in the state by legendary short tracks, but it wasn’t to be. The myriad of reason are to numerous to list here, except the worst one. “the track was not a good F1 track”..if this was truly the case it’s the worst excuse ever. A track can be fixed, rebuilt correctly. It wasn’t the track that killed the Indy F1 race.

But regardless of that, we have an American team. I’ll admit, I wasn’t very keen on the team, for the simple reason that I couldn’t figure out how they could get the American public on board. Except for 1 race a year in the U.S. and the race up in Montreal there is very little chance of direct interaction with the team. But that’s changed a little. There is a way to generate interest and support now. I know I’m on board.

Haas F1 took the rule book, designed a conmen sense team around it and have had a surprising amount of success early in the season. But this has sparked some of the established F1 teams to cry foul. Really, just whining about how could Haas have success while we are mired back here struggling to get any traction in the sport. The way I see it, Gene Haas has done a masterful job putting this team together, when you really look at the nuts and bolts of his decisions you have to give him credit. He shunned the traditional way teams are assembled and broke the mold creating his.

Suddenly, it has become very much a case of us vs. them in the world of F1, American ingenuity vs. traditional methods. I can totally see heading to the Montreal race to show my support, as I can imagine anyone in the Texas area for the U.S. race.

I would suggest this to Haas F1. The merch they have available is very F1 centric and designed as most of the other teams, you have deviated from the norm in creating your team, now deviate in terms of your merch.  I suspect many others would totally buy Badass Haas F1 gear. A kick ass Grosjean shirt or Haas F1 hat, look to Stewart Hass Racing for inspiration and take cues from them. They now how to sell the American public products to support their favorites.

As for the F1 race at Circuit of the Americas, look, at the end of the day the race has got to support itself, we almost lost it when Texas cut it’s government subsidy’s for the track, and ticket prices are outrageous. The cheapest price to walk in the gates, general admission is set at $179.00 with a high of $1,539.00 for Club grandstands. You have got to get those ticket prices down. For comparison, Montreal has a range from $65.00 to $649.00 and that’s in Canadian dollars.

It’s really been since Michael Andretti raced in F1 that Americans had something to root for, and now we have a team of our own, let’s get behind them and keep tabs on how they are doing, I’ll see them in June, hope you get a chance in October. We owe it to Mr. Haas for the effort he put forth.

pits

For WFO Joe, Gerhard Berger’s Ferrari Ride. #28

Be Safe, Have fun.

 

 

 

 

 

Kyle Busch and The Duck Guys.

It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.  It’s not what you got, it’s how you use it.

Cannonball Run, Ray Stevens

 

cobbIf you were to take the New York Yankees and let them play the Buffalo Bisons what would you expect? You’d have to give the advantage to the Yankees, they come into the game with the best coaches, players and support staff – in other words it would be a wildly unbalanced matchup. The Bisons would obviously try their best but it would be massively unfair.

So when Kyle Busch goes down to race in the Xfinity series or the Camping World trucks it’s the same situation. He has the equipment, the sponsor dollars and the crews that a Sprint Cup team has, hell even better than some Sprint Cup teams.  It’s not an even playing field.

All you have to do is look back a couple weeks to the Fontana Xfinity race. Kyle blew a tire on the last lap, on the back stretch and still finished second. He was that far ahead. it’s just not a fair fight.

Should there be Sprint Cup drivers racing in the Xfinity or Truck series? I still have to say yes. If we look at those series as feeders for the Cup series, every lap that the guys run is more experience for the younger guys running those series full time. You can’t learn to race Dale Jr. or Harvick unless you race them for position. The Texas race last year was a great example of that. Eric Jones and Dale Jr. raced hard for a lot of laps, gaining valuable experience for young Jones.

Kyle puts such an emphasis on winning, that’s what he wants and strives for, but it’s not becoming. Padding your win total on the backs of the youth and rookies does not impress me. Would Harvick be happy to win and Xfinity series race? Yes of course, but it’s not the be all end all for him. It’s a fun afternoon getting a look at the track for the next day and exposure for his sponsors.

The one thing I would say about those guys running in the lower series is this, if a Cup driver wants to run that’s cool, it helps the up and coming drivers. But the cars they drive should not be tied to them or their Cup teams. In other words Kyle could drive a Toyota, but not for Gibbs and if he wants to drive a Truck, fine but not in KBR, let him drive a Tri Star racing Toyota, or a Thor Sport Racing Toyota – even the playing field a little bit. In the long run, he helps the teams learn set-ups they may never have thought of, and maybe sell some sponsors on the race cars that a calibre driver like him or them can attract.

Kyle wins this years in the lower series don’t impress me, they seem bullying, he has the better teams all around. You expect him to win those races. I would be more shocked if he constantly finished in the bottom half of the field. If he wants to impress, lets see him win in a Jennifer Jo Cobb truck, or a Derrike Cope car.

Are you really surprised at the outcome of the Phil Robertson “Invocation” at the Texas NASCAR race?  I wasn’t. This is a guy who is anti woman, anti gay and racist in general. Heck, you can even hear him blasting vegetarians. He follows a strict interpretation of the bible and is not shy about expressing those views, as is his right. The problem comes when NASCAR lets it happen on their watch. There was nothing in his speech that represented the racers or fans there that night, as is the tradition. I’m not a religious guy, but I have no problem with a good invocation before the race. Wishing for good weather and safety for all, always with a nod to our servicemen and women is a great tradition. I even got a kick out of the “My Smokin Hot Wife” preacher. But what Robertson did was a full on political statement and frankly offensive to those in the crowd and or watching on TV who wasn’t a Christian Conservative.

Is this NASCAR’s fault?  I don’t know. When you sponsor a race you get a package that allows for certain things. But after the recent spat of bad press having nothing to do with racing, maybe you reconsider who is speaking on national TV to your audience. If as you (NASCAR) say, you want an all inclusive sport, you really need to control your message a lot better.

Be Safe and Have Fun..

NHRA March 2016

As we head into the 4th race of the 2016 season we have had some note worthy events happen already. Leah Pritchett and Brittany Force scoring their first wins and Clay Millican and Terry McMillen are the only Top Fuel drivers with no first round loses. As a matter of fact out of the last 8 Top Fuel semifinalist, only one has had a win previous, the rest would have been first time winners. 6 Nitro Wallys and 6 different winners, that’s good racing right there.

DSR, what a surprise, after 3 races they have one Wally to show for the season. I was sure that in the off season they would test and run the 6 disc clutch, but at Pomona the team put out a picture of a clutch pack, and to my surprise…it was a 5 disc, is this the norm for the team or just a one off picture? One thing for sure, other teams have shown that once you get a handle on the 6 disc clutch it gives you the consistency you need to win (see Team Kalitta and Del Worsham). There hasn’t been a DSR Top Fuel car in the semis yet and only Ron Capps has scored a win. Rough sailing for sure.

Pro Stock, this needs it’s own column, so watch for that “coming soon”

NHRA All Access, what a great idea and definitely something the hardcore fans will want. I admittedly was hesitant at first. The Audiocast and Live timing on the App and Website are notoriously trouble plagued and I took a wait and see approach to the new service, but after one race the reviews are good.  Some reports of trouble on some devices (android)  but on Apple and PC platforms so far so good. For 100 bucks to see all the action on the track from Friday to Sunday it’s a must have, plus the added benefit of getting the track audio feed all day.

I will never understand the allure of ‘No Prep” racing.

If you like it or not, as the NHRA goes, so goes Drag Racing. The IHRA and PDRA and the other series all have a niche in the sport, but the Big Daddy is the NHRA.  If those series want to see growth they better hope that the NHRA succeeds. The IHRA is not now and won’t in the near future be in a position to put anything in the national spotlight, in press or on TV. It’s the NHRA that puts the sport out to the masses.  It would benefit all involved to speak and come to an understanding on how to move the sport forward as a unified body, each with it’s own place, but moving towards a common goal.

The new TV package. Fox Sports has done a stellar job of covering the races. Are there rough edges? Sure, it’s a new project and you have to expect these things. I have always been sceptical that Drag racing could be a “Live” TV sport. There are simply too many variables during the day, but so far it seems like Fox is ready and willing to roll with the punches and get a great looking product out in a timely manner.

I’ve heard over and over again “bring back Mike Dunn”.  OK I get it, he’s a voice we’re all used to but personally I think the change was good. It reminds me of the distinction we hear on the NASCAR side of things. What makes the addition of Jeff Gorden into the mix awesome is that just last season Jeff was behind the wheel. All his insights are current and up to date. A lot of the friction we hear between him and Darrell Waltrip comes from that. When was the last time Mr. Waltrip was behind the wheel in competition? It’s been a couple decades and the same for Mike Dunn and Tony Pedregon. Tony is a fresh voice with up to the minute knowledge, as he gets more accustomed to the role the better he will be.

The staff at a Drag race are always the unsung heroes, the guys and gals that get there early to set up, spend countless hours over the weekend keeping things flowing in bad to worse weather.  I couldn’t tell you the name of the official who mans the 660 foot mark, or who drives the ATV to push the cars off the track. But I could tell you the name Buster Couch, Rick Stewart and Mark Lyle, our chief starters. For no fault of their own they can make headlines. They would rather not, but it happens time to time. That’s the responsibility they take on themselves, to control the racing and when something goes wrong the questions get asked of them. All 3 have had the utmost respect of the racers and fans but this is a hats off to the whole staff, we may not know your names, but we appreciate your hard work and dedication.

mark lyle

Much has been written about the loss of Mark Lyle, and rightly so.  I thought I’d share a little anecdote with you as my memorial.

It was Epping of 2015 and I happened upon Mark in the staging lanes early on Saturday. The racing hadn’t started yet and he was kind of holding court, chit chatting with a few fans. Someone asked him about track safety and what he watched for. He responded that he watched for parts, how the lane was looking, how the starting line was holding up, etc etc. I kind of interjected myself and asked Mark what he was most afraid to see, thinking he would say parts of wings coming apart or oil hitting the track, he responded that what he was most afraid to see was what he didn’t see. He had to go and we thanked him and moved on.

Fast forward to Norwalk in July, it was a Friday. The day was over and we were headed out from the pits when we ran into Mark again this time at the top of the staging lanes as he was walking back towards a trailer I think. He saw me and asked if we saw the Matt Smith run and I knew instantly the one he was referring to, Matt had made a run, and being the sharp guy he is got the attention of a Safety Safari worker and halted the action on the track, even though the next pair had fired. Matt knew that a few bolts had come loose from the front brakes and were on the track somewhere; clearly a danger. The crews went out and found the nuts and bolts and racing resumed. Mark looked at us and said “I’m afraid of what I don’t see” if Matt hadn’t said something those bikes were seconds from running.

I thought it was pretty cool that at a different race track, a month later he had remembered that little conversation from Epping enough to spot us and make the connection and chit chat a little more. Truly a class act.

Be Safe, and Have Fun.