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

 

 

Pro Stock, Into the future?

If I look at the state of Pro Stock, what do I see? Low car counts, no significant sponsorship and very little corporate support. I ask myself “Is this a healthy class?” and the answer has to be “NO”. Despite the often glowing commentary coming from the announcers, the reality is it’s a bleak situation and shows no sign of improving.

First of all Let’s look at the fields, I went back to Charlotte and double checked. Only once were there more than 16 cars on the grounds with a spread of .47 to .85 between 1st and 15th with 16th getting in with no time, of those maybe 6 cars with a realistic chance of winning. Fact is, most first rounds are a walk and the racing starts in round 2. Is this the “good close racing” I keep hearing about? The point is this, Enders, Skillman and Brogdon are all on record not committing to the full season for one reason or another; time, funding, etc etc. If those three cars don’t show up, we have short fields,maybe as few as 13 cars and that’s not good for anyone.

Just for fun, lets flip over to Pro Mod Atlanta for a comparison (No Pro Mod in Charlotte), between a .87 to a .00 from 1st and 16th, but more importantly 27 cars tried to make the show, and that’s the thing. The tougher it is to get in, the better the racing can be. I’ve always said, the best day to be at the track is Saturday for the final shot to get in. And that’s true for any class.

Did the NHRA make a huge mistake back in 1986 when they banned Buddy Ingersoll and his Turbo Buick from Pro Stock? Of course they did. They doomed the class to continue for decades with a 500 inch V8 that is no where to be found in a “stock” car, and frankly the DRCE has never been found in a production car. Buddys V6 turbo was a stock block engine and an amazing piece of craftsmanship. I’ve heard that it was the manufacturers all the way down to the drivers who complained and that’s why the NHRA banned the car, but whatever the case you have to look at the class and wonder “what If”. We could possibly be looking at a whole other class right now.

I’ve also heard those same manufacturers are to blame for not wanting wholesale changes to the class today; but let me ask “what manufacturers”? Ford? last I checked it’s been quite a few years since we had a Competitive Ford running. Mopar? With 3 cars flying the Mopar badge I would hardly call that a significant presence, so unless we’re going to change the name to Pro Chevy I suggest we put the manufacturers on the back burner if and when we make changes.

The current 500 cubic inch Pro Stock engine is a marvel of engineering, but also a doomed outdated piece of hardware, with only two possible uses (Pro Stock and a few Competition Eliminator cars) a new team coming up has to look and think, develop or lease a Pro Stock engine and all that entails? or buy a Pro Mod engine race ready to go out of the box at a fraction of the cost?

BTW, quick check finds to lease a Pro Stock engine for a season is going to cost the team between $700,000 to 1.2 million, and to buy a race ready Pro Mod engine is $87,900. Where are you going to spend your money?

Whats the answer? I’m not sure, but I’ll give you a couple ideas.

First, maybe power adders seems like a simple idea. Bring the powerplants more in line with Pro Mod but with more stringent body rules. The cost of a Blower motor compared to a 500ci PS engine is laughable Bring the cost down on the engines and draw more teams into the class. I wouldn’t go Nitrous simply because you can’t buy a Nitrous car off the showroom floor, but you can buy a Blower and Turbo car, fuel Injection is a no brainer. Should have been in the class for decades already.

I think the best solution for car counts and close racing in “Pro Stock” is an idea I’ve heard several dismiss out of hand, but let’s stop and look at the merits; Chevy, Dodge and Ford already produce turn key Stock and Super Stock production cars. I wonder what a Jason Line could do with a Blown 350ci 530 horsepower factory engine? Or what could Allen and Roy Johnson do with a 426 Hemi race V8? More importantly perhaps, what could Billy Glidden do with a Twin turbo 302ci Mustang? The point is these are all cars available right off a showroom floor, that with some finesse could easily be running low 7’s, they run mid 8’s out of the box. Win in Sunday, sell on Monday.

One more thought, what if we could entice Toyota to join the ranks in Pro Stock? We have already seen a willingness to compete in other NHRA categories and other forms of Motorsports, I don’t know the line up well enough to pick a body style, but they race Camry’s in NASCAR and if there’s a 2 door model, it might make a good looking pony car. As well as a welcome addition to the class.

Are these the answers? I don’t know, but any way you look at it, from sponsor dollars to car counts the class is sick. As it stands now, I’d like to see Pro Mod elevated to an equal Pro status as the other Pro classes, with a full 4 qualifying runs and full Sunday eliminations. The cars and fans are there to do it. But lets revitalize Pro Stock and keep one of the staple classes relevant to 2015 and beyond. I hope against hope that in Pomona 2017 we see a whole new reinvigorated class appear.

Be safe, Have fun.