NHRA PRO MOD FRONTRUNNERS NOT INTERESTED IN REPLACING PRO STOCK
The race fans have spoken.
To a couple of the NHRA Pro Modified frontrunners, what the race fans wish for isn’t exactly what they would like to see in real life.
On a number of message boards and in an increasing number of Facebook debates regarding the state of NHRA Pro Stock, those vocal fans call for the NHRA to replace factory hot rods with the Pro Mods.
Danny Rowe and Rickie Smith, two of the leading NHRA Pro Modified racers, have in not so many words stated, “Thanks but no thanks.”
The NHRA's Pro Modified series currently runs a 10-race schedule which is just fine for supercharged racer Rowe, who runs as part of a two-car team with Steve Matusek.
"I will say we are very comfortable with the schedule we run now," said Rowe, who serves on the board of the Real Pro Modified Association. "Now I believe a few of our racers would like to do a few more events, but not a full 24-race tour. We would like to see our series grow but not to that point."
Pro Modified, first created and debuted under the IHRA sanction, was adopted as an exhibition category in the NHRA in 2001 with five races. Since then the schedule has blossomed to as many as 12 races in seasons past but no more than ten since being recognized as an official series in 2010.
The NHRA has always used their sportsman grading system to limit the number of entries in the Pro Modified division. In the past two years the system has required the NHRA to create a waiting list for some of the more popular venues on the tour.
"I feel we have a growing class, and there's a lot of support for it, which is good," Rowe said. "Even though Pro Stock has been around forever, I think the class has moved away from the vanity it used to have."
The unpredictability of the Pro Modifieds, as opposed to the consistency of the Pro Stockers, for straight passes has often been drawn as a reason for the perceived popularity for the multi-faceted Pro Mod division.
"I think Pro Modified has become more relatable," Rowe said. "You have the turbo cars out there, the new body styles, the old body styles and all of the combinations provide enough of a variation where it gives the fans a reasonable choice of what to pull for. You have young people out there who like the turbos, new Corvettes, while you have the older people, like myself, who like the superchargers ... the zoomies, and the nitrous cars. We have just used this diversity to broaden our audience."
Rickie Smith, a champion in both the Pro Modified and Pro Stock divisions, warns fans to be careful what they wish for. The 12-time drag racing world champion counsels if those fans were to get their wishes granted, it would ultimately lead to the death for the Pro Mods as they know it.
"Right now I have a two-man team, and we are considered touring professionals,” Smith said. “Most teams only have part-time crews and I do not think the sponsorship money is out there for these teams to make that kind of investment.
"The part that people don't understand is if those Pro Stock teams come into Pro Modified they are going to take it to the next level. That would ruin Pro Modified, and you'd have Pro Stock all over again. Then you'd be lucky to have 16 cars show up. Then your 10 who were fighting to get in the Pro Modified show will decide it ain't worth their time to even show up."
Smith said the minimum cost just to be a part of Pro Modified would elevate to an estimated minimum of $1.5 million just to have “skin” in the game. The veteran, who says he is close to the end of his career, admits being considered a Mello Yello professional series doesn’t mean as much to him as having a reasonable series to run with a commensurate investment.
"I don't care if I am called, or considered, a pro class or not,” Smith said. “I am glad to have a big crowd to race in front of. I can tell you if NHRA parked Pro Stock or did something to damage the participation, and made it unappealing to Greg Anderson, V. Gaines or Allen Johnson, or the Grays, and they came over to Pro Modified, in 90 days I would be unable to compete and probably no one else except maybe Troy Coughlin or Danny Rowe. Then I am not so certain they'd want to spend that kind of money, either."
Pro Stock racer Allen Johnson says he’s seen the posts, and let it slide.
“Everyone has their opinion, some like Funny Car and some like Top Fuel,” Johnson said. “Some even like Pro Stock. I would probably challenge them to come and work a weekend with us and they might not have the same feelings. Other than the brute force of the Pro Modifieds, there’s not a whole lot of difference. Those cars are just a little harder to keep on the track.”
And while Rowe acknowledges it’s the unpredictable nature which seems to be the draw for Pro Modified, he understands his class is close to walking a fine line between having fan appeal turn to racer appeal.
"We have to walk a fine line from making our cars so predictable, but then the class is getting so competitive where you face that double-edged sword of cars running consistent," explained Rowe. "In the old days, you came to the starting line ready to show everyone what you had and tried to run a big number. Now the primary concern is getting down the race track and remaining consistent. I would like to see the NHRA open up the doors to picking up the pace and run quicker, but all the while doing it safer."
Championship Pro Stock team owner Richard Freeman says he’s not a fan of the current Pro Stock 24-race schedule. However, when it comes to Pro Stock and the idea of replacing it, he agrees with Smith in his belief that any move like this could be detrimental to both classes.
“Pro Mod has its place,” said Freeman. “Let’s just say if NHRA were to replace Pro Stock with Pro Modified, the ones who are now running Pro Modified with the exception of maybe some of the elite would not run it because the people in Pro Stock will emerge at the top of the list. It would end up at the same place.
“What people don’t understand about Pro Stock is the majority of these people do it for a living. They eat, sleep, drink and live this stuff. Pro Stock is certainly not a weekend warrior mentality. I have people who work for me full-time and this is all they do to make our program better. At the end of the day, this is what happens.”
Larry Morgan, who has often been labeled as a Pro Modified driver trapped in a Pro Stock car, says he understands why the Pro Modified guys wouldn’t want to upset the apple cart. He said the thought of fans clamoring the Pro Modified to replace Pro Stock concerns him more than bothers him.
“I don’t know that would happen but I can guarantee those guys running Pro Modified don’t want it to happen,” Morgan said. “They don’t want to be in the shape we are in now. They have a 30 minute television show, and we get about 15 minutes. If you’re looking for money for sponsorship then that’s the best way to do it.”
Smith, whose career began as a Pro Stock driver in 1978, has some sage advice for fans who wish Pro Modified onto the larger stage.
"Pro Modified is the best it's ever been and probably the best it’s ever going to get right now," Smith said. "We have plenty of cars and pretty close racing. But I think it says a lot when someone, like me, who has been racing out here like this could be pushed out in months."
"If you want Pro Modified to replace Pro Stock, you had better be prepared to kill the class as you know it."