JUST SAYIN

Chevy High Performance - - Con­tents - BY: Brian Lohnes

Long live NHRA Pro Mod rac­ing

There are few things on this green earth that I like bet­ter than see­ing 30+ Pro Mod­i­fied cars at­tack the quar­ter-mile dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing at NHRA Mello Yello Se­ries na­tional events. It is one of the sin­gle great­est shows in drag rac­ing, and just when you think that it couldn’t get any bet­ter, it does. The par­tic­i­pa­tion in the class con­tin­ues to grow. Rac­ers are leav­ing other se­ries to come into the NHRA fold, and the equip­ment keeps get­ting faster and faster each year.

For those of you that do not know, Pro Mod­i­fied is a drag rac­ing class that is unique to the sport be­cause of the fact that it is pop­u­lated with full-bod­ied cars run­ning heads-up and a mul­ti­tude of en­gine com­bi­na­tions are used. By the NHRA rules, 900+ ci en­gines that use ni­trous as a power-adder are al­lowed, blown al­co­hol en­gines that mea­sure to just over 520 cu­bic inches are al­lowed, and tur­bocharged en­gines of the same 520ci size are also part of the game. Ru­mor has it that cen­trifu­gal su­per­charg­ers will en­ter the fray in 2019, which would give fans an­other combo to root for.

With over 30 en­tries on the list at any given event, sim­ply qual­i­fy­ing for the show is an ac­com­plish­ment in and unto it­self. Reg­u­larly, points lead­ers do not make the cut. Reg­u­larly, past class cham­pi­ons are spec­tat­ing on Sun­day. And reg­u­larly, we are all shocked to see that the un­qual­i­fied cars could ef­fec­tively have their own awe­some event in and unto them­selves.

All of this stuff makes me re­ally ner­vous for the long-term fu­ture of my fa­vorite class. Seems like the dumb­est thing, right? Wrong.

Does any­one re­mem­ber what Pro Stock looked like in the early 2000s? It looked pretty much ex­actly like Pro Mod does now. Among the num­ber of cars show­ing up, the num­ber of peo­ple pro­vid­ing en­gines, the num­ber of chas­sis builders mak­ing cars, and the killer qual­i­fy­ing ac­tion, there are many par­al­lels. While Pro Stock has never been as wide open as Pro Mod in terms of the num­ber of win­ners, it was a rad­i­cal show that ev­ery­one loved. Now? Now, there are 16 Pro Stock cars at ev­ery race and that is largely in part to the teams them­selves cir­cling the wag­ons and help­ing their low­er­funded brethren get to events that they oth­er­wise would not make.

Pro Mod has one of those fun­da­men­tal is­sues right now and it is kind of an ele­phant in the room: Spon­sor­ship.

Like the glo­ri­ous big car-count days of Pro Stock, Pro Mod is largely filled with suc­cess­ful busi­ness­men who love drag rac­ing as a hobby. There is not a lot of mo­ti­va­tion out there for guys to hus­tle spon­sor deals. Sim­ply put, they can af­ford to do it them­selves and don’t need the ad­di­tional work of hus­tling other peo­ple’s money.

There’s a lot of risk there. Why? Ba­si­cally, one can track the de­cline in Pro Stock at­ten­dance waves with swings in the econ­omy. Guys who have enough scratch to go rac­ing in a Pro Mod on their own dime are smart enough to know when they should no longer do that when busi­ness soft­ens. It cre­ates sit­u­a­tions where boom and bust pe­ri­ods are di­rectly re­lated to the num­ber of race cars at events.

This is not to say that spon­sor­ships save it all, but at the end of the day, classes with healthy lev­els of

spon­sor­ship have weath­ered the storms of time in far bet­ter fash­ion than those who have small amounts or none at all.

So, how do we “fix” this from be­com­ing a prob­lem? It has to be a joint ef­fort be­tween the rac­ers and the sanc­tion­ing body. More pro­mo­tion and a bet­ter pro­file with the sanc­tion al­lows those mo­ti­vated to sell spon­sor­ship loads more op­por­tu­nity to ac­tu­ally do it. The road is usu­ally long to putting these types of deals to­gether, but when ev­ery­one walks in lock­step it is bet­ter for ev­ery­one.

Re­mem­ber how I men­tioned above the idea of Pro Mod be­ing more wide open than Pro Stock ever was in terms of peo­ple who could ac­tu­ally win on a race-to-race ba­sis? The state­ment stands as fact but there are cer­tain truths that can­not be de­nied. One of them is that guys such as Rickie Smith, who do noth­ing but drag race for a liv­ing, as they are sup­ported by spon­sors, will al­ways have an ad­van­tage over a guy who leaves the of­fice a day early to get to the race and then flies home on Sun­day night to pick up where he left off at work. As Scotty Can­non once ex­plained to me, a man who swings a base­ball bat seven days a week is go­ing to be a bet­ter hit­ter than the guy who does it once a month.

NHRA Pro Mod is in great shape these days. I’m greedy in the fact that I want these days to go on for­ever … don’t you?

Just Sayin’ Brian Lohnes is an NHRA Na­tional Event Staff An­nouncer, host of Mo­tor Trend’s Put Up or Shut Up, and co-owner of Bang­shift.com.

Photo: Bruce Biegler

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