NHRA MOVES “MOUNTAINS” TO SAVE PRO STOCK RACING— AGAIN!
Big motors to the rescue?
“WE ARE LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING THE MOUNTAIN MOTOR PRO STOCK CLASS RUN AT AN NHRA NATIONAL EVENT,” SAID NHRA VICE PRESIDENT OF COMPETITION NED WALLISER. “There's been some interest in incorporating these cars into our current Pro Stock field. In order to determine if that's even a possibility, we need to see these machines perform under the same conditions as our Pro Stock category.”
That was the announcement from NHRA's Competition Department just prior to this year's U.S. Nationals. It caused almost as much excitement from former IHRA Pro Stock racers and their fans as when Pro Mod was announced as an exhibition class for the 2001 U.S. Nationals. Based on conversations between NHRA and Pro Stock racers, it appears that, barring something unforeseen, NHRA will soon announce it is adding “Mountain Motor” to its Pro Stock class for 2019!
NHRA and its Pro Stock racers have known for several years that the immense amount of money required to build and race a competitive, 500-inch, big-block-powered Pro Stock is hindering the class. At the end of the 2017 season, the lack of full, 16-car Pro Stock fields at national events was a problem that needed to be addressed.
NHRA's initial solution was to limit the number of national events at which Pro Stock would participate or reduce the qualifying fields from 16 to eight cars for the 2018 season. Neither was acceptable to the Pro Stock teams.
In an attempt to keep the class relevant, the major players in Pro Stock—KB Racing, Gray Motorsports and the Elite Motorsports teams—reportedly guaranteed NHRA a minimum of 16 entries at every national event and agreed to race for a smaller purse. The result has been full Pro Stock fields.
So, what caused NHRA to even consider allowing Mountain Motor Pro Stocks to become part of its premiere Pro Stock class? There are many factors at play. These include the fact that three of the NHRA star Pro Stock racers are contemplating leaving the class at the end of 2018. The $45,000 per-event expense of renting a competitive 500-inch Pro Stock motor for 24 races might also be another reason.
Rising star, 19-year-old Tanner Gray, who is in contention to be the 2018 NHRA Pro
Stock World Champion, is reportedly going to give up his NHRA Pro Stock career to race in the NASCAR K&N late-model stock car series in 2019. There is also a strong indication that Drew Skillman and 2017 NHRA Pro Stock World Champ Bo Butner won't return.
The likelihood of these teams being replaced by currently legal 500-cubicinch entrants is extremely remote. Thus, NHRA decided that what the class needed was a bigger pool of racers from which to draw. The organization approached the former IHRA—now PDRA Mountain Motor Pro Stock—teams to see if they had interest in competing as an NHRA Pro Stock racer: They do!
So, what do current NHRA and Mountain Motor Pro Stock racers think about the idea of adding Mountain Motor Pro Stocks to the current NHRA program?
We went to the U.S. Nationals and talked to drivers and owners from both sides. Some of them wanted to go on the record; others didn't. We got some interesting and informative answers.
GREG ANDERSON •
NHRA PRO STOCK SUMMIT RACING EQUIPMENT/KB RACING
“I'm all good with it. I like the concept; it's going to throw a wrinkle into it. It's going to be hard to govern them week to week to make sure they are equal. That will also bring attention to the class. It will bring something new to the class, some excitement and some more cars to the class, and that's what we need. I don't see any negatives to it. We will just have to see down the road to make sure one group doesn't have an advantage over the other— that's the key. It brings variety to the class, it's going to bring attention to the class. That's a good thing."
JOHN MONTECALVO •
MULTI-TIME IHRA PRO STOCK CHAMPION
“We have been welcomed here [to the U.S. Nationals] with open arms. Everyone at NHRA has been very good to us. Our cars look a little different, sound a little different and bring something new to the class. I'm sure you saw that all the NHRA guys were up there on the line, watching us when we ran. I think mixing the two cars together would be a good thing. Everyone wants a little controversy. Without that, things get boring. If they can find a way to make both kinds of cars competitive, I think it would be good for the
sport. If NHRA can give the 500-inch motors a little and slow us down a little, and adding weight [to Mountain Motor cars] is not even being considered, some people talked about that, but that is not the answer. Keep us where we don't have to make a bunch of changes.
“What it is going to do is bring more people into the class. Some of these guys running Top Sportsman are spending a lot of money already. If they can go down to Sonny [Leonard] or [Jon] Kaase and buy a motor to run Pro Stock, they might want to come over here and run Greg Anderson or whoever and be part of a professional class without spending a lot more money. I think some of those people might step up and go Pro Stock racing.”
[Editor's Note: We did some research, and the cost of a brand-new Sonny Leonard Mountain Motor Pro Stock engine is approximately $125,000, ready to race. We couldn't find a competitive 500-inch NHRA Pro Stock motor for sale, but you can lease one for the season ... for around $1,000,000 for 24 races.]
BO BUTNER • 2017 NHRA PRO STOCK WORLD CHAMPION
“We need to come in and be honest, run hard and see what these Mountain Motor cars can run. It's hard to bring someone in and slow them down; we need to speed up the 500inch cars. We need cars—whatever it takes. If everyone will put their heads together and get them close, it will work. We need to make the cars a little more unpredictable and make our cars faster, and the fans will love it. I just don't know how many of those guys can run the full 24-race circuit; I struggle with that. We need cars—period—so ... whatever it takes.”
ROYCE FREEMAN SR. • ELITE MOTORSPORTS NHRA PRO STOCK
“I think it is the best thing in the world that could happen to Pro Stock to combine these two groups of cars. We ran Mountain Motors for five years before we came to NHRA, so we know a little about those things. We will have to do a few things to the 500-inch motors to make them faster; they can do two or three things to the Mountain Motors to slow them down about 15 hundredths, do two or three things to the 500-inch motor to pick them up 15 hundredths, and we are there.
“Give us [NHRA Pro Stocks] the hood scoop back and a couple things. We can pick up 15 hundredths pretty easy with these motors if NHRA will help us out a little bit. This ‘setup' we are running right now ruined the class. Erica [Enders] set the speed record at 215 with carbs; those Mountain Motor cars are running 220 to 221 out there today.
“The NHRA drivers are all for this. I haven't heard anyone against it. It will be a great deal for all of us. All we have to do is get NHRA to figure out how to get them equal and make it a driver's race—whoever lets the clutch out first. I know all those Mountain Motor guys. They are good people. They want to run quarter-mile; those motors aren't made for
eighth-mile. Those Mountain Motor guys are in hog heaven here.
"They haven't been on a track like Indy. If you noticed when they ran, every NHRA driver was out there watching those guys run to get an idea of what they can do. Right now, they are running about 25 hundredths quicker than we are. Take a little from them and give us a little, and it will be great for the fans and for the class. We will do whatever we can to help make this work.”
SCOTT “WOODY” WOODRUFF •
JEGS DIRECTOR OF MEDIA AND MOTORSPORTS
“I was personally very pleased with what I saw with my own eyes at Indy regarding the Mountain Motor cars. There were a lot of eyeballs watching these cars, and I think they put on a great show for their class. Everything from the way the cars sounded to how they looked could clearly be seen and heard as a difference to the current Pro Stock cars. NHRA has done a very good job with the parity in Pro Mod with three different power-adders. I know that NHRA could also be successful in creating parity if Mountain Motors were included for use in NHRA Pro Stock. Having the cars run at Indy was good for everyone involved.”
CREATING A LEVEL “PLAYING FIELD”
The inclusion of Mountain Motor Pro Stocks into the NHRA Pro Stock class is a marriage of necessity. Without the inclusion of these entrants, the future of NHRA Pro Stock in its current form is uncertain. It has become a class made up almost entirely of Camaros, where a driver's reaction times win more races than the car's performance.
So, to save the Pro Stock racers and the class, NHRA essentially is considering making obsolete the insanely expensive 500-inch Pro Stock cars by inviting the much more affordable, quicker and faster Mountain Motor Pro Stockers to the party. The fact that Ford Mustangs are competitive is a bonus for fans.
One other serious advantage to a Mountain Motor Pro Stock racer is that engines are easily obtainable and relatively inexpensive compared to an NHRA-legal variant. Sonny Leonard and Jon Kaase are the main engine builders for the Mountain Motor racers. A turnkey Sonny Leonard GM or a Jon Kaase Ford or Hemi is in the $125,000 range.
According to Pro Stock racer John DeFlorian (Jerry Haas Race Cars' lead foreman), his Sonny Leonard Chevy is good for 30 laps before it needs freshening. We have heard the same information regarding the Kaase Fords.
The main issue NHRA faces going forward is,
How will it slow down the 6.20/225 mph Mountain Motor Pro Stockers and get the 6.40/210 mph, 500-inch NHRA cars more horsepower so they can compete?
We queried an engine builder (who asked not to be identified) connected with one of the NHRA engine leasing groups regarding the disparity between the two engine types. Given the fact that 800-plus-inch Pro Stock motors easily make a lot more horsepower and torque than a 500-inch Pro Stock motor, what could be done to equalize them?
His reply? If the NHRA removed some of the current restrictions, the 500-inch motors could make more power and be competitive. He said that allowing bigger-throttle body/fuel injectors, repositioning the location of the injector and doing away with the rev-limiter of
the 500-inch motors would pick up an extra 50 horsepower. He also thought the gas that Mountain Motor racers are using would help the 500-inch cars make more power. He added that at higher elevations, the 800-plus-cubic-inch motors would have a big advantage over the 500-inch motors, and they would have to figure that out.
Fortunately for the Pro Stock teams and fans, NHRA should have no problem creating a level playing field for all concerned. This is because it has been able to accomplish exactly this feat with the Pro Mod class, which has three distinctly different engine combinations (blowers, turbos and nitrous) competing in one class.
One of the big concerns for the current NHRA Pro Stock teams is, Will this rule change solve the lack of entries that brought on the current Pro Stock situation?
We believe that having enough entries will be the very last problem the NHRA has to solve. In the future, the class's problem won't be lack of entries; rather, the problem will be too many teams and not enough space. Will there be an influx of Mountain Motor teams attending all 24 national events? Probably not, but there will be many racers who will go to 12 or 16 races a year, which will keep the fields more than full.
There are many wealthy hobby racers in the NHRA Pro Mod and Top Sportsman classes who are spending, or have invested, as much money in their programs as some NHRA Pro Stock teams.
The Pro Mod teams get to call themselves “pros,” but they don't get treated as such.
Pro Mod winners aren't invited onto the podium with NHRA premier class winners at the conclusion of each event. They get
The future of Pro Stock looks better than it has in 20 years. For the last three decades or so, GM and Chrysler have dominated Pro Stock ... The Ford brand will now be competitive with Chevy and Dodge in Pro Stock. Now, we will see “small-block” 500-inch Pro Stockers racing against 800-plus-inch Pro Stockers.
limited TV exposure from the NHRA broadcast compared to what the Pro Stock racers receive.
Pro Mod teams are currently expected to enter all of a season's races and pay the entry fees in advance. The Pro Mod organization's members are responsible not only for their own purse, they also have to deliver to NHRA a $50,000 sponsor for each race. Top Sportsman racers face greater identity issues. It is conceivable there are racers in both those classes who would gladly take the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of, and race in, one of NHRA's three elite pro classes and have the opportunity to be on the winner's podium with the stars of the NHRA.
The future of Pro Stock looks better than it has in 20 years. For the last three decades or so, GM and Chrysler have dominated
Pro Stock. Ford-powered
Pro Stocks with a chance to win disappeared when Bob Glidden retired. The Ford brand will now be competitive with Chevy and Dodge in
Pro Stock. Now, we will see “small-block” 500-inch
Pro Stockers racing against 800-plus-inch Pro Stockers. (Perhaps former champ Allen Johnson can be persuaded to build an 800-inch Chrysler and return to Pro Stock.)
Concerning the possible future of NHRA Pro Stock featuring a healthy injection of Mountain Motor Madness— to quote ZZ Top: “The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades!”
NHRA invited a group of Mountain Motor Pro Stocks to its Indy party, and John DeFlorian won the special event.
John Konigsh brought his Mustang to the Indy Pro Mod gathering.
What to possibly expect when walking through the NHRA Pro Stock pits in 2019—a Sonny Leonard 800-plus-cubic-inch Chevy; a Kaase 800-plus-cubicinch Ford; an Elite 500 cubic-inch GM
The NHRA Indy Long Distance Award easily went to Aruba's Trevor Eman.
A preview of U.S. Nationals Pro Stock 2019? Dwayne Rice's Mountain Motor Camaro lights 'em up.