NHRA TECH DEPARTMENT HANDS OUT NEW PARITY RULINGS AFTER ONE RACE
The NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle, Pro Modified, and Factory Stock Showdown classes made their premieres last weekend during the Amalie Oil Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla. Within four days of victories by Andrew Hines, Todd Tutterow, and Drew Skillman, the Technical Department had handed out rules designed to bring parity to all three classes.
Three-time and reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith described his class’ mandates that added 15 pounds to his new EBR bike as “knee jerk” measures. In Gatornationals qualifying, Smith set the national speed record (201.76 mph), then Andrew Hines broke his own six-plus-year-old national elapsed-time standard (6.720 seconds) and won the race against his Harley-Davidson teammate Eddie Krawiec. And Smith’s question for the Tech Committee was “Why do we get penalized for working hard and doing our jobs?”
After learning of the decision regarding Pro Mods, turbo shaman Harry Hruska wondered why the NHRA reduced the minimum weight of nitrous-aided entries with a lock-up converter from 2,450 pounds to 2,425 pounds. He was especially perplexed, considering the three nitrous-powered racers – Bob Rahaim, Chad Green, and Khalid Al-Balooshi – performed well in qualifying, which is arguably harder than navigating the eliminations ladder. They were respectable mid-pack starters in a category whose DNQ list read like a Who’s Who of Pro Mod drivers.
And the Factory Stock Showdown class received this change from the NHRA:
“Based on SAMTech.edu NHRA Factory Stock Showdown performance numbers from the first race of the 2019 season, the NHRA Technical Department is increasing the supercharger top pulley size on the 2019 COPO 350 combination from 3.350 inches to 3.500 inches and the 2019 Cobra Jet 327 combination from 3.250 inches to 3.500 inches. This will decrease the 2019 COPO 350 combination supercharger overdrive from 147.5 percent to 136.6 percent overdrive or 10.9 percent. Additionally, this will decrease the 2019 Cobra Jet 327 combination supercharger overdrive from 146.2 percent to 128.6 percent or 17.6 percent. As a reminder, no other changes may be made to all approved superchargers, including but not limited to: upper or lower pulley sizes, gear ratios, cases, rotors, et c.. All other permitted combinations in the SAMTech.edu NHRA Factory Stock Showdown will remain unchanged.”
The rule changes went into effect immediately.
The following reaction to the new parameters is by no means a complete sampling of racers and opinions. But here is a look at how the two pro classes responded to Thursday’s news:
Pro Stock Motorcycle:
Based on Pro Stock Motorcycle performance numbers from the last portion of the 2018 season through the first race of the 2019 season, the NHRA Technical Department is increasing the minimum weight of the Harley Davidson, Victory, EBR and Buell motorcycles from 625 pounds to 640 pounds. All other motorcycle minimum weights will remain the same: (Suzuki, 2-valve, 107 cid – 590 pounds), (Suzuki, 2-valve, 113 cid – 600 pounds), (Kawasaki, up to 107 cid, 2 or 4-vavle – 575 pounds).
Three-time and reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith drew a contrast between fulltime racers for whom the sport is a livelihood and their counterparts who don’t depend on racing for a paycheck.
He said, “I think it’s a whole knee-jerk thing that NHRA has done. They really didn’t do their investigation. And I don’t really know what they’re looking at. I just don’t think it’s the correct move to do. We are fulltime racers. We have our own engine program. Not one Suzuki team out there has their own motor program. They all rely on Vance & Hines to give them power. They are hobby racers. Yes, they travel the circuit and follow the 16 races. But when they get home from a race, they go to a normal job. That’s not right by doing this to the guys that this is how we make a living.”
That brings up the point once again that if a racer is dissatisfied with his or her performance on a consistent basis, he/she might want to research the available options that could help produce better results. That’s no knock on any brand, racer, or tuner. It simply means that if a practice is producing the same sub-par or undesired results, it’s reasonable to suggest a change in approach. That likely would increase the cost for a team, but an improved performance could generate some greater benefits. It depends how competitive and committed a racer is. That is true, by the way, for any class.
“Our S&S bikes, the bodies that we run, all that stuff can be bought, right from the manufacturer. They can have it within two months’ time and build it and go just as fast as we can, if that’s what they want to do,” Smith said. “The problem is all these guys got old equipment. The Suzuki guys, the only one that’s got a new frame is Jimmy Underdahl, and it was built last year. Everybody ese’s Suzuki stuff is at least seven to 10 years old, the chassis. They’re not spending money. They’re relying on Vance & Hines to give them power. And they’re hobby racers, because they just want to come and run in the pros. Yet they gripe and complain when they don’t run fast. And they don’t do their homework when they’re at the house.
“That’s what p----- me off more than anything: NHRA has penalized the people that this is how we make a living. We run NHRA. We support NHRA. But we get penalized when we do the jobs we’re supposed to do,” he said. “Drag racing is about going fast and going as fast as you can and winning. Yet we get penalized for that, because now we’re going too fast and one brand can’t keep up? I mean, that’s just not right.”
He said Jerry Savoie phoned him and said he disagrees with this latest ruling. Smith said Savoie told him, “They don’t need to slow y’all down. They need to help us speed up.” Smith said he agreed: “Take the weight off the Suzuki guys. If they can’t get down in weight, then go buy some carbon-fiber bodies or go buy some titanium stuff to put on your bike. We’ve done that. I spent probably 100-grand in the last year, getting lighter carbon-fiber bodies and titanium bolts to be able to get down to the weight that we’re able to run [competitively].”
Smith definitely is not in any way at odds with Savoie, but as an example, he cited Savoie’s team, which recorded a 6.744-second elapsed time at the Texas Motorplex in 2015. The quickest bike after Savoie’s was Eddie Krawiec’s in qualifying at 6.816 and Karen Stoffer’s 6.814 on race day. “And yet they didn’t get weight added to them when they did that. They were more than five-hundredths faster [than Krawiec and .049 better than Stoffer],” Smith said. “And if they went that fast three years ago, why can’t they go that fast now? The quickest they went this [past] week was an .82. They’ve got the power to go that fast. Either the engine supplier’s not giving them the power they had three years ago or the people tuning the bikes right now are not doing their job. So don’t penalize the other teams that are doing their jobs.”
Because the Tech Department reached back to the latter part of the 2018 season, Smith addressed his performance at the Finals: “We ran fast at the last race of the year, and we won the championship. But we were saving that motor that we found a little power in it. We saved it for the last race. I went a 6.75 [-second E.T.] and L.E. Tonglet and Jerry Savoie went 6.82s. [Savoie had a 6.835, following Tonglet as the highest-qualifying Suzuki racers.] Were we quicker than five-hundredths? Yes. But I was three-hundredths faster than anybody else. So I had just found something that was good at the time. Then we come to [the Gatornationals] and it’s mineshaft conditions and the V-Twin guys hit the tune-ups, and there were less Suzuki people than there normally were . . . and just because there were two teams there that didn’t run good, now we get penalized.”
His wife and teammate, Angie Smith, said in a Twitter and Instagram post, “200 mph makes our #nhrapsm class look very appealing to the fans!!! Adding 15lbs to the vtwins will cut our e.t and mph back... I thought we were supposed to advance with the times and technology... I guess I’m incorrect!!”
On the other end of the spectrum was Steve Johnson, who told Competition Plus, “It might make two or three hundredths. Every little bit helps, but this is our [the Suzuki riders’] way back.” Later he posted this message on Facebook: “What a FANTASTIC day!!! While I'm traveling . . . I get a text (actually a few of them) saying, ‘NHRA changed Pro Stock Motorcycle rules.’ . . . Thank you NHRA. Waited 20 years for a rule like this. They added 15 lbs. to the Pro Stock Motorcycle Association Inc. . . . It opens the class up to more people. 160 to 175 lb. riders that use to watch can now come out and race NHRA. Thank you again #nhratech. Thank you so much to all that pushed for this new rule.”
Among the Suzuki racers are Jimmy Underdahl, Kelly Clontz, Katie Sullivan, Andie Rawlings, and Jianna Salinas.
Four-time series champion Krawiec simply said, “It is what it is at this point. It’s really not worth complaining about.”
Based on E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series Presented by J&A Service performance numbers from the last portion of 2018 through the first race of 2019, the NHRA Technical Department is reducing the minimum weight of Nitrous assisted entries with a lock-up converter from 2,450 pounds to 2,425 pounds. All other minimum weights will remain the same: (Nitrous-assisted without a lock-up converter - 2,425 pounds), (Supercharged entries - 2,600 pounds) and (Turbocharged entries - 2,650 pounds).
Like Matt Smith with the bike class, Pro Mod’s Harry Hruska used the term “knee-jerk” in response to the new rules that favor his class’ competitors with nitrous-aided engines. He said, “That’s just a knee-jerk reaction because someone’s complaining that they didn’t do well at the first race. Historically, they make adjustments after three races, not one race. I just think that, unfortunately, NHRA may have made a move on something [when] we don’t really understand the parity yet. The first race was a phenomenal racetrack that no one ever sees and we’ll probably never see that track for the rest of the year or those conditions. Records fell across the books. Regardless of what power-adder it was, I don’t know that it’s fair to make any adjustments for any power-adders, even though it was an all-blower [supercharged] final and the turbos didn’t really do all that well and no one really did that well.
“When I left the racetrack, my feeling was that wow, we had amazing conditions and the guys who were able to take advantage of it won the race. They’ve always got some type of a reason they come up with, but I don’t think the nitrous competitors really showed their capabilities at the end of the year last year,” the turbo-powered driver said. “Everyone goes through ruts. I’ve been in a rut for multiple races. Last year I had a horrible season, yet I came out there and ran my best run probably of all of 2018, and I didn’t test or make any changes. I made a few changes, but in 2019, I went out there and ran really good and strong, not as good as I wanted to, to qualify. But I actually had a really good event, and I look forward to the next race. I’ve just got to work hard and work on my program and not complain.”
Besides, he said, “I thought that the nitrous cars went pretty doggone fast. There were three nitrous cars, and they were able to qualify. You can’t say that about turbo cars. You can’t say that about blower cars. I don’t understand – there’s a lot of great cars that didn’t qualify. I thought the nitrous cars did pretty well. I don’t understand why there needs to be change when they’re qualifying. In Pro Mod, if you qualify, anyone can win.
“It’s pretty unusual for the Nos. 1 and 2 qualifiers to win. It doesn’t happen very often; it just happened to happen last weekend. [Winner Tutterow and runner-up Stevie Jackson were the Nos. 2 and 1 starters, respectively.] Chad Green, with a nitrous car, is No. 5 in the points. I don’t understand why he needs an adjustment. Is it because he’s not No. 1 in the points? I don’t know. And Balooshi, he lost on the tree in the first round, with a .126 light [against Green’s stout .028]. And you’re complaining? I don’t understand.
Hruska said the NHRA is “always changing how they do things, which is very confusing for the customer, which would be the racer, and for the fans, who really want to get engaged in all this. It’s really hard for us to understand what the program is when it changes with whoever seems to be complaining. They tell us they’re going to do it a certain way, and then they don’t. So we don’t really know how that’s supposed to happen.”
Steven Whiteley, who races with a supercharged engine, noticed that the nitrous-aided contingent at Gainesville last week was small but said three “qualified and fairly decent, I believe. Depending on the conditions, it’s a dance on which power-adder will be the top dog. Will it affect us? I guess we’ll have to see how Texas [Race No. 2 in the series, at Houston Raceway Park] goes. Managing all three power-adders will forever be a challenge. If NHRA feels that’s best, then that’s just how it is. They are always playing with weight, overdrive, and boost, Sometimes it’s a good call, other times not so much. NHRA Pro Mod will always be the best racing in the Pro Mod world. We all show up to NHRA to win. That will always be the same, regardless of the rule packages.”
Hruska, who said he’s “sort of close to the Factory Stock Showdown” program, acknowledged that throughout 2018, complaints arose that certain cars had clear horsepower advantage.
“They knew. They knew it before the race [the Gatornationals] ever started. They definitely knew there were some parity issues. It has been showing up dramatically. I don’t know that’s the case in Pro Mod. I don’t know that we showed there were parity issues.”
For now, all three affected classes will have parity – evidently until somebody thinks they don’t.