FAC­TORY STOCK: BACK TO THE FU­TURE

DETROIT BIG 3 BAT­TLING AGAIN

Drag Racer - - Contents - Text by Jeff Burk Pho­tos by Ron Lewis and Chris Haverly

Detroit Big 3 Back in Pro Rac­ing

NHRA MADE A DRA­MATIC DE­CI­SION IN 2017 TO CHANGE THE FOR­MAT OF THE FAC­TORY STOCK CLASS (FOR­MAL TI­TLE, THE SCHOOL OF AU­TO­MO­TIVE MACHINISTS AND TECH­NOL­OGY NHRA FAC­TORY STOCK SHOW­DOWN). NHRA orig­i­nally added the F/S class to the Stock Elim­i­na­tor menu. The sanc­tion­ing body sched­uled a few F/S races as part of Stock Elim­i­na­tions at se­lect events. For 2018, NHRA has given the class a boost by sched­ul­ing stand­alone F/S races at seven na­tional events. Adding a cham­pi­onship, Sun­day elim­i­na­tions and pos­si­ble TV ex­po­sure will only raise the class’s pop­u­lar­ity. NHRA didn’t give the F/S cars pro­fes­sional sta­tus, but it has im­proved the class’s sit­u­a­tion as a point­pay­ing Sun­day elim­i­na­tor in 2018, join­ing Top Fuel, Pro Stock, Funny Car, Pro Mod, Ni­tro Har­ley and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

The el­e­va­tion of Fac­tory Stock to a “fea­tured cat­e­gory,” as­sum­ing its own place among the stan­dard NHRA elim­i­na­tors, can be di­rectly cred­ited to the invention of the class by long­time racer and an­nouncer Bret Kep­ner, who wrote the rules, and then-ADRL Pres­i­dent, Tim McAmis, who agreed to add a Su­per­Car Show­down to the ADRL in 2012. At the U.S Na­tion­als that year. NHRA adopted the class and re­ferred to it as the Fac­tory Stock Show­down. (The Fac­tory Stock classes were added to Stock and Su­per

Stock Elim­i­na­tors in 2014.)

The Fac­tory Stock Show­down fills a gap in the NHRA lineup that re­quires a true fac­tory hot rod doorslam­mer class. Once tube frames, fiber­glass bod­ies and ex­otic en­gines be­came the norm in Pro Stock (Bill Jenkin’s tube-framed V-8-pow­ered ’72 Vega comes to mind), it rapidly de­volved from fac­to­ry­built stock-bod­ied race cars with en­gines avail­able from the lo­cal dealer into a class of pur­pose-built race cars with very lit­tle con­nec­tion to fac­tory cars. For ex­am­ple, the 1998 Dodge Neon Pro Stock en­try was based on a four-door front-wheel-drive four­cylin­der car. The prob­lem was the Pro Stock ver­sion was a two-door rear-wheeldrive car with a 500-ci Hemi. Did the Mopar Pro Stock pro­gram pro­duce a sales spike of the econo-box Neons to drag rac­ing fans?

Detroit au­tomak­ers started build­ing high­per­for­mance 600-800-hp su­per­cars al­most a decade ago be­cause the mar­ket de­manded it. Those fac­tory hot rods com­peted in

NHRA’s Stock and Su­per Stock Elim­i­na­tor, but those elim­i­na­tors don’t have the au­di­ence that an au­tomaker re­quires to sell cars. By that time in his­tory, Detroit au­tomak­ers had dras­ti­cally re­duced spon­sor­ships of

Pro Stock. Both Detroit and NHRA wanted a class that was at­trac­tive to au­tomak­ers and po­ten­tially in­creased NHRA’s ticket-buy­ing doorslam­mer fan base. The prob­lem was that at the time no such class ex­isted and there weren’t con­crete plans to de­velop one.

NHRA’s Pro Stock class be­gan in 1970 un­der sim­i­lar aus­pices as the Fac­tory Stock cat­e­gory al­most 50 years later. It was a way to un­leash the true po­ten­tial of body style/ en­gine com­bi­na­tions the man­u­fac­tur­ers were of­fer­ing (in dif­fer­ent forms) to the pub­lic. In the late-’60s and ’70s, car deal­ers like Tasca, Mr. Norm and oth­ers ad­ver­tised and sold a large vol­ume of fac­tory hot rods. A gear­head couldn’t walk into a Chevy deal­er­ship and buy a Ca­maro that ran as hard as Grumpy Jenk­ins’ ma­chine, but he cer­tainly could buy a big-block Ca­maro with a four-speed and im­i­tate “Da Grump” at ev­ery stop­light. To­day a cus­tomer can or­der a Chevro­let COPO Ca­maro iden­ti­cal to those com­pet­ing in the SAM Fac­tory Stock Show­down.

The same sce­nario ex­ists with the guy who sees Carl Tasca haul ass in his Co­bra Jet and gets in­spired to waltz into a Ford deal­er­ship and buy the same Su­per Co­bra Jet Ford that Carl races. These are the kind of sales that make Detroit in­vest in a drag class or elim­i­na­tor.

HOW THE FAC­TORY STOCK CLASS CAME TO BE

In 2012, Tim McAmis, who had re­placed Kenny Nowl­ing as pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Drag Rac­ing League, came to the re­al­iza­tion that the ex­ist­ing ADRL pro­gram didn’t gen­er­ate enough in­come to be prof­itable. He ex­pressed his con­cerns to long­time friend and then ADRL an­nouncer Bret Kep­ner, ask­ing if he had any ideas. Turns out Kep­ner did. His idea was to de­velop a heads-up pro pro­duc­tion car class for high-horse­power

sedans. McAmis liked the idea and told Kep­ner to de­velop rules for the class and he would add it to the sched­ule. Kep­ner con­tacted Mopar drag rac­ing leg­end Jeff Teu­ton, a Louisiana Dodge dealer with deep ties to Detroit au­tomak­ers plus the vast ma­jor­ity of Stock Elim­i­na­tor rac­ers na­tion­ally, and added him to the ad­min­is­tra­tive team. An amaz­ing fact: the orig­i­nal rules Kep­ner wrote in 2012 re­mained un­changed, even when NHRA adopted them for its Fac­tory Stock class.

Kep­ner spent the next six weeks de­vel­op­ing the class rules. This in­volved hun­dreds of hours of phone calls to Ford, Chevy and Mopar high-per­for­mance brand man­agers, not to men­tion the days it took gath­er­ing info and gain­ing sup­port nec­es­sary to in­clude for­eign au­tomak­ers who were in­vited to com­pete. All even­tu­ally bought into the pro­gram.

At the time, one of the prob­lems the class faced was that Ford and Mopar were heav­ily into the fac­tory hot rod scene with Mus­tangs and Chal­lengers, while Chevy’s COPO pro­gram was merely a racer’s dream. (Chevy hadn’t yet de­cided to of­fi­cially pro­duce the COPO). Even­tu­ally Kep­ner and McAmis con­vinced Chevy high-per­for­mance’s Dr. Jamie Meyer that the class was go­ing to hap­pen, and it would re­sult in con­sid­er­able free PR for Chevy, so GM went for­ward with its COPO Ca­maro pro­gram. One of the ma­jor rea­sons the Big Three ap­proved par­tic­i­pa­tion in the class, ac­cord­ing to Kep­ner, was be­cause ADRL de­clared that it wouldn’t ask the man­u­fac­tur­ers for fund­ing. Yet, the cat­e­gory was de­vel­oped to com­bine an ag­gres­sive me­dia cam­paign for the con­cept and the race re­sults, which would range from in­dus­try in­sid­ers to main­stream pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing Mo­tor Trend, Road & Track and USA To­day, all of which car­ried re­ports from the se­ries. In re­turn, the man­u­fac­tur­ers would in­clude news of the Su­per­Car Show­down in all in-house and out­side me­dia re­leases. The man­u­fac­tur­ers also or­ga­nized every­thing from deal­er­ship dis­plays to pub­lic­ity di­rected at deal­er­ships through­out the scope of the ADRL’s na­tional events, in­clud­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion of free event tick­ets. ADRL pro­vided a Su­per­Car Show­down web­site and Face­book group plus video fea­tures and event cov­er­age.

NOW WE’RE RAC­ING, BUT NOT FOR THE MONEY

One of the main rea­sons McAmis and the Detroit car mak­ers em­braced the class was it cost both par­ties vir­tu­ally noth­ing. The pro­gram was unique in two ways: The teams weren’t re­quired to pay en­try fees or buy pit passes, and the ADRL wouldn’t post a purse for the class; the Fac­tory Stock rac­ers, un­der the guid­ance of Jeff Teu­ton, funded their own purse at each event. Ac­cord­ing to Kep­ner, the win­ner’s purse var­ied from noth­ing to $5,000. The ADRL did hire two tech­ni­cal of­fi­cials whose only job was to po­lice the se­ries and work with all in­volved on new parts and en­gine com­bi­na­tions as they were de­vel­oped.

The first race for the new class was the 2012 ADRL opener at Royal Pur­ple Race­way in Hous­ton, Texas. Five teams were en­tered: Chris Hol­brook,’12 Su­per Co­bra Jet Mus­tang; Bo But­ner, ’12 Su­per Co­bra Jet Mus­tang; Joseph Teu­ton, ’11 V-10 DragPak Chal­lenger; Kevin Helms, ’11 V-10 DragPak Chal­lenger; and David Buck­ner, ’09 360 V-8 Chal­lenger.

But­ner, cur­rent NHRA Pro Stock World Cham­pion, was the win­ner of that first Su­per­Car Show­down. It was agreed upon by the rac­ers that the first sea­son of the pro­gram wouldn’t in­clude a point se­ries due to the po­ten­tial of fluc­tu­at­ing min­i­mum weight rules as com­pe­ti­tion was equal­ized. How­ever, But­ner won five of nine ADRL events and ap­peared in six fi­nal rounds.

Although no 2012 ADRL SCS race drew more than six com­peti­tors, a to­tal of four dif­fer­ent Ford and Dodge driv­ers won at least one na­tional event and eight dif­fer­ent com­peti­tors ap­peared in a fi­nal round. More­over, 20 dif­fer­ent teams at­tended the nine-race se­ries. In mid-sea­son, Chevro­let an­nounced it would be­gin pro­duc­tion of COPO

Ca­maros and com­mit­ted its re­sources to ADRL’s Su­per­Car Show­down pro­gram. In June of 2012, NHRA an­nounced it would host a Fac­tory Stock Show­down show­case race at its U.S. Na­tion­als. The Fac­tory Stock Show­down used nearly the ex­act rules and min­i­mum weights the ADRL man­dated. The pro­gram fea­tured nine en­tries and was won by But­ner.

WHAT HAP­PENED TO THE ADRL SU­PER­CAR SHOW­DOWN CLASS?

In 2013 it ap­peared both the ADRL and NHRA ver­sions of the Show­down could co­ex­ist and grow suc­cess­fully. How­ever, when Nowl­ing re­turned as head of the ADRL in 2013, he dropped the class. I asked Kep­ner what prompted this de­ci­sion. He gave me some insight

into the story and re­ferred me to an in­ter­view I did with Nowl­ing for Drag Rac­ing On­line in 2013. Nowl­ing as­tounded those who were fol­low­ing the progress of the class in both as­so­ci­a­tions by mak­ing it clear he was com­pletely un­fa­mil­iar with any as­pect of the cat­e­gory.

When Nowl­ing was asked about his de­ci­sion to drop the Su­per­Car Show­down he ut­tered a se­ri­ous gaffe, “We’d like to de­velop a heads-up class for cars like the COPO Ca­maro, Ford Mus­tang and Mopar Chal­lenger—none of this su­per­car stuff.” He ended any fu­ture with the man­u­fac­tur­ers by stat­ing, “We’ve talked to peo­ple at Ford and GM about a class like that,” ap­par­ently com­pletely un­aware of ADRL’s direct in­volve­ment with the Big Three for the past year in the cre­ation of the class, which lead, in turn, to NHRA’s de­vel­op­ing its own new­est cat­e­gory.

Nowl­ing’s state­ments stirred con­fu­sion and anger among rac­ers, fans and man­u­fac­tur­ers, and dropped the en­tire Su­per­Car Show­down squarely in the lap of NHRA. Kep­ner de­clined Nowl­ing’s of­fer to con­tinue his in­volve­ment in the ADRL and of­fered as­sis­tance to NHRA, which had al­ready dis­cussed an ex­pan­sion of the Fac­tory Stock Show­down for 2013. It was ironic that Nowl­ing never un­der­stood the lack of par­tic­i­pa­tion by for­eign cars in ADRL’s SCS pro­gram. Their in­clu­sion was solely to al­low Detroit to boast of its dom­i­na­tion of a class that was open to any su­per­car in the au­to­mo­tive world. The USA To­day ar­ti­cles ex­tolling But­ner’s Mus­tang reach­ing 60 mph in 1.52 sec­onds and hit­ting 100 mph in 3.26 sec­onds, quicker than any other pro­duc­tion car in his­tory, were de­signed for just that pur­pose.

THE NHRA FAC­TORY STOCK STORY

Although Kep­ner cre­ated the class for ADRL, with lob­by­ing by the Su­per­Car Show­down rac­ers and most likely Detroit au­tomak­ers, NHRA man­age­ment was per­suaded to bring the cars in as an ex­hi­bi­tion class at the U.S. Na­tion­als. In re­search­ing this story I asked Kep­ner his thoughts re­gard­ing NHRA adopt­ing the class. He said he con­sid­ered the de­ci­sion a tremen­dous com­pli­ment and a vin­di­ca­tion of the class. His only con­cern was NHRA al­low­ing wheelie bars. His rules specif­i­cally barred their use. The Su­per­Car Show­down cars were fa­mous for their spec­tac­u­lar sky-high launches.

A case could be made that the 2012 U.S. Na­tion­als in­tro­duced the class and cars to the main­stream me­dia and fans. NHRA ti­tled the event The Fac­tory Stock Shootout and named the class Fac­tory Stock. Nine teams par­tic­i­pated, eight Mus­tangs and one Chal­lenger (Ca­maros were not yet avail­able). The win­ner of that first race was But­ner, who had quite a sea­son in Fac­tory Stock rac­ing. He won more than half the ADRL F/S races and the Fac­tory Stock ex­hi­bi­tion race at Indy.

At the 2017 U.S. Na­tion­als there were 21 Fac­tory Stock en­tries and a 16-car qual­i­fied field, half of them COPO Ca­maros. David Bar­ton, the #1 qual­i­fier at 8.158/164.91 mph, was al­most a sec­ond quicker and 15 mph faster than 2012’s #1 Paul Candies’ 9.049/149.70.

Of note, the Na­tional Mus­cle Car As­so­ci­a­tion added the Fac­tory Stock Show­down to its na­tional event se­ries. Com­pet­ing un­der the name Fac­tory Su­per­Cars Elim­i­na­tor and uti­liz­ing NHRA rules, it has drawn fields of up to 17 cars in its first two sea­sons, at­tract­ing a to­tal of 121 en­tries fea­tur­ing all three man­u­fac­tur­ers.

THE FU­TURE OF THE NHRA FAC­TORY STOCK SHOW­DOWN CLASS

Af­ter six years of “spe­cialty” races, NHRA ex­panded the scope of the FSS to four events a sea­son as a fea­tured event. Last year it elected to make Fac­tory Stock a fea­tured class in 2018. This is what Kep­ner and the Detroit fac­to­ries en­vi­sioned all along.

Dur­ing the 2018 NHRA sea­son, F/S teams will race at seven na­tional events, in­clud­ing class elim­i­na­tions on Sun­day, cre­at­ing more ex­po­sure on the NHRA TV broad­casts. Give NHRA man­age­ment credit for el­e­vat­ing F/S to premier sta­tus and se­cur­ing a spon­sor for the class.

NHRA sees its po­ten­tial, and it’s likely the fact that F/S is the only NHRA class Detroit au­tomak­ers are heav­ily in­volved in that helped se­cure its el­e­va­tion to a more per­ma­nent po­si­tion. There will be con­sid­er­able fac­tory in­volve­ment and help for par­tic­i­pants in the class. It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how the in­creas­ing fo­cus and in­fu­sion of cash will im­pact the fu­ture of this new pro­gram.

David Bar­ton, 2017 Fac­tory Stock Show­down Champ (far lane), faces off against Carl Tasca.

Erica En­ders-Stevens (far lane) has taken to rac­ing an F/S in her spare time. Here she’s rac­ing Kevin Skinner.

Even though F/Sers are plenty stout, how must Leah Pritch­ett feel step­ping from a Top Fueler to this Chal­lenger?

These are ex­am­ples of the types of Chevy, Ford and Mopar en­gines em­ployed for F/S com­pe­ti­tion.

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