DANC­ING WITH THE DEVIL

NITROUS OPENED THE DOOR FOR THE PRO MODS OF TODAY

Drag Racer - - Over Center - Text and Photos by Rod Short

Nitrous Opened the Door for the Pro Mods

Today

IT WAS A WARM SAT­UR­DAY NIGHT WHEN PRO STOCK QUAL­I­FY­ING DREW TO A CLOSE AT AN IHRA NA­TIONAL EVENT MANY YEARS AGO. A NUM­BER OF NHRA STARS HAD CROSSED OVER TO RUN WITH THE MOUN­TAIN MOTOR BOYS, AND DID SO WITH SOME SUC­CESS. ONE HAD JUST FIN­ISHED THAT FI­NAL SES­SION AT THE TOP OF THE FIELD WITH A STRONG 7.29 ELAPSED TIME. AS THE NEXT GROUP OF CARS PULLED INTO THE WA­TER BOX, THE FANS STILL IN THE STANDS HEARD THE AN­NOUNCER EX­CLAIM, “TH­ESE ARE JUST SPORTSMAN DRIV­ERS. DON’T LOOK FOR THEM CARS TO RUN AS QUICK OR AS FAST!”

Those leav­ing the stands sud­denly stopped as the speaker an­nounced a 7.24 elapsed time from one of that first pair. Jaws dropped and heads turned—just like they do today—as those cars that be­came today’s Pro Mods changed drag racing for­ever.

What led to this rather sud­den change? Nitrous, of course. Many point to Bill Kuhlman break­ing the 200-mph bar­rier back in 1987 as the tip­ping point, but that train had al­ready left the sta­tion and had a full head of steam by that time. The real story goes back as far back as the ’60s and even ear­lier as ac­cu­sa­tions about the use of nitrous ox­ide sur­faced within USAC and NASCAR.

Drag racing grad­u­ally re­dis­cov­ered nitrous in the ’70s. Mike Ther­mos and Dale Vaz­na­ian saw the trend and cap­i­tal­ized on it when they formed Nitrous Ox­ide Sys­tems, Inc. in 1978 and lead

in the devel­op­ment of a safe and re­li­able sys­tem. Teams be­gan to no­tice as re­sults be­came bet­ter known. Some of the ear­li­est ap­pli­ca­tions of nitrous ap­peared in fuel racing, par­tic­u­larly in Funny Car, be­fore it was even­tu­ally out­lawed.

In 1981, “An­i­mal” Jim Feurer ran a small-block Cleve­land in AHRA Pro Stock and even­tu­ally won two cham­pi­onships in that se­ries. Dave and Karen Smith won the 1982 AHRA Pro Stock cham­pi­onship with a nitrous com­bi­na­tion and Dave Chel­bana be­hind the wheel. Rel­a­tive un­knowns such as Rob­bie Van­der­griff, Charles Car­pen­ter and others started to be­come house­hold names with moun­tain motor nitrous com­bi­na­tions in Tri-Five Chevys. Fans couldn’t get enough of watch­ing th­ese cars, and others jumped quickly on board as match race op­por­tu­ni­ties abounded.

When Kuhlmann broke 200-mph on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions with a 615-ci sportsman kit en­gine, the ge­nie was out of the nitrous bot­tle. Nos­tal­gic body styles, col­or­ful per­son­al­i­ties, con­tro­versy, ri­val­ries and, of course, amaz­ing per­for­mances made Top Sportsman the dar­ling of the drag racing world. By 1989, it be­came an IHRA pro­fes­sional class known as

Pro Mod­i­fied.

Next time, su­per­charg­ers and blow­ers change the Pro Mod sta­tus quo.

/ Charles Car­pen­ter won the hearts of Chevy fans when he was the first ’55 Chevy in the sevens with this pass in 1986, run­ning a 494-inch nitrous en­gine. Car­pen­ter won three Su­per Chevy crowns while match racing heav­ily and making spo­radic ap­pear­ances in IHRA.

/ Carl Moyer was a win­ner on the IHRA Pro Mod cir­cuit with this Rick-Jones-built ’57 Bel Air us­ing a Sonny’s nitrous moun­tain motor. Moyer re­tired in 2001 when Bob Rieger bought the ma­chine to race it in NMCA Pro Street.

/ Af­ter the UDRA se­ries in the Mid­west, “An­i­mal” Jim Feurer be­came one of the first to use nitrous in AHRA and UDRA com­pe­ti­tion. He was a crowd fa­vorite with this Ford 672-pow­ered Mer­cury Ze­phyr in IHRA Top Sportsman, win­ning the first ever Quick 8 at...

/ When Bill Kuhlmann be­came the first to break 200-mph with a home-built Ca­maro in 1987, Top Sportsman ar­guably be­came drag racing’s most pop­u­lar doorslam­mer class, eclips­ing even NHRA Pro Stock. That surge in in­ter­est even­tu­ally led to heads-up, no...

/ Norm Wizner’s ’57 Fair­lane was a se­ri­ous match race ri­val for Rob Van­der­griff and Charles Car­pen­ter and made oc­ca­sional ap­pear­ances in IHRA Pro Mod. Jon Kaase built its 605ci wedge, which con­sis­tently ran in the low 7.40s at 190-plus mph.

/ Nostal­gia body styles, in­clud­ing this ’38 Chevy with a Char­lie Buck nitrous com­bi­na­tion driven by Chris Cline, fanned spec­ta­tor in­ter­est dur­ing in the mid-’90s by run­ning in the sevens at 200-plus mph.

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