FACTORY STOCK: BACK TO THE FUTURE
DETROIT BIG 3 BATTLING AGAIN
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.