THE DEBATE OF NHRA PRO STOCK'S FUTURE CONTINUES
There’s been plenty of talk this season about the state of Pro Stock because of the low car count numbers.
Graham Light, NHRA’s Senior Vice President of Racing Operations spoke exclusively with Competition Plus.com about the health of the class.
“At this point we don’t any solid plans,” Light said. “We’ve talked to a lot or racers, manufacturers, different individuals getting ideas. We do have concerns for the category, the car counts are dropping and that’s a concern. It’s a professional category, Pro Stock has been here a long time and we want to do everything we can to revive it. There’s been ideas of car counts and engine packages, just a number of things, but it has to be a category that has fan interest, and that will result in more television coverage, which then results sponsor interest, participant interest. That’s our goal. There’s nothing, at this point, that is set in tone for 2018.”
Some Pro Stock drivers talked about the importance of having more manufacturers in the class, which Light addressed.
“It’s a combination of many things, it’s a big jig-saw puzzle,” Light said. “Certainly, Ford, Dodge, Toyota if they were in and played the game it would add some variety and a reason to cheer for one car over another, but also the excitement and entertainment value for the fans is what is there. It’s a number of things. It’s not just brand identification. It is male versus female racer. It is good guy versus bad guy racer. The performances are spectacular for the engine combinations for gasoline-powered cars to run over 200 mph. That is faster than almost any other form of motorsports, but they are competing with 330 mph nitro burning Funny Cars and dragsters, so it is a challenge, and we certainly want to do whatever we can to have this category become healthy. We’ve talked to a lot of team owners, drivers, crew chiefs, manufacturers and nobody has the one answer that’s going to fix it all otherwise we would be going down that path, but there will be some changes.”
Part-time racer Kenny Delco likes the possible idea of shortening the Pro Stock schedule.
“It makes it more affordable,” Delco said. “It’s expensive to go to these races.”
Matt Hartford believes more money paid out at national events is the answer to Pro Stock’s woes.
“The solution really is more money,” Hartford said. “What it cost to run one of these cars for a weekend, even if you win the race you don’t even cover a third of what it cost to run for the weekend. So, with qualifying money being $5,000 is not enough. We can’t even get airplane tickets, get the truck and trailer here and hotel rooms for $5,000 just by qualifying and losing in the first round. The money needs to come up first and foremost, but at the end of the day you have to look at it, this is Indy and there are 21 cars here, so there are Pro Stockers out there we just all need to come out and support the class.”
Johnny Gray, who raced Pro Stock in Indianapolis, and had his son, Shane and grandson, Tanner in the class with the Gray Motorsports team, offered his assessment of the class.
“I don’t think anything will happen with it at this point,” Johnny said. “If you’re running full-time and you’re running a team to go for a championship, it’s not much cheaper to run 18 than it is to run all of them. You’ve still got to have all the people, you’ve got to do the same R and D. It’s a little cheaper but not much. People like Greg (Anderson) and Jason (Line) with Summit, if Summit cut their sponsorship it would hurt them bad. If we lose one big team out here we’re going to be in big trouble with the Pro Stock class. The whole key is to try to keep some cars out here. See if we can get some enthusiasm back in the sport. It’s not just Pro Stock, the fuel classes are hurting too.”
Jason Line, the reigning Pro Stock world champion, offered the plight of his class.
“I don’t know, it’s hard to say. We talk about it all the time, everybody does,” Line said when asked about how to improve Pro Stock. “We have great crowds, TV is good, participation is not. It costs a lot of money to do this, to run this sport. I try not to complain about it because I think NHRA is doing the best they know how to do. But I don’t have an answer either. I know something needs to change, not just for Pro Stock, but racing in general, but I don’t know what that answer is, but something needs to change.”
Vincent Nobile is in favor of a Mountain Motor Pro Stock class.
“I’m all for the Mountain Motor Pro Stock idea, bringing in another set of cars, weight brakes, just like Pro Mod and Pro Stock Motorcycle,” Nobile said. “You have unlimited cars coming to those races and it seems to work for them, having a weight differential, but for whatever reason seems like the teams here don’t think it will work, why? I don’t know. It works for Pro Stock Motorcycle, it works for Pro Mod and they have full fields at every race. I kind of find it silly that you would want to keep things the way they are and potentially lose you class and now you don’t race at all in few years. Or, you make a change and you have a class that’s thriving again. It worked in the past, Pro Stock used to be like that and that just kind of faded away, but it is obvious we need car count. You just make that rule change and you automatically have 10 more cars come here, so that’s a no brainer to me.”
Nobile does have some knowledge about the Mountain Motor Pro Stock class.
“I’ve driven one once before and my dad (John) has driven them a lot,” Vincent said. “He raced IHRA and won a championship in the class over in 2004. I think it would be good all-around, it would certainly bring interest to the class. You would have big Mountain motors against 500-cubic inch engines. It would just bring a ton of interest and more so in interest it would bring car count. We wouldn’t be going to races, praying their 16 cars. This is supposed to be a professional sport and professional category and you’re going there, knowing you’re going to qualify. It’s just not as competitive as it used to be.”
John Nobile also offered his opinion about the plight of Pro Stock.
“What they are trying to do is bring excitement to the class as you know with the burnout thing (“Pro Stock Battle Of The Burnouts: Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em” initiative taking place at Indy). (Friday) Vincent laid one out there and they (NHRA) is trying and what I think they should do is invite Mountain Motor Pro Stock to come race with us,” John said. “Put weight on them and have them come race with us. I absolutely think it can work. It worked before and it could work again. I raced both classes, NHRA, IHRA and the only difference was about 300 pounds of weight in the car. I don’t know what they wouldn’t do it. They did talk about at there was some excitement about it and for some reason they decided against it. Graham Light and (NHRA president) Peter Clifford they are really smart guys and I think they will do something to help the class.”
The creation of a Mountain Motor Pro Stock class is something Johnny Gray doesn’t believe will fix Pro Stock.
“It’s a cycle,” Gray said. “I think they’d get a whole lot of cars out there right off the bat, but then what would happen is Gray Motorsports, KB, the bigger teams would go back and start picking at the mountain motor stuff going faster, faster and faster,” Gray said. “No offense to those guys but those guys would get outspent in a short period of time. They wouldn’t be competitive anymore and they’d quit coming. Same thing that happened to Pro Stock. Pro Stock outspent itself. Greg (Anderson) and Jason (Line) are good friends of mine, I think the world of them but I guess if you want to point the finger at anybody and say, ‘you guys destroyed the class,’ it would be them. Because KB came in and spent a ton of money, went out and dominated the class so the only way to compete for those other teams was to go out and spend a bunch of money and there’s just not that much money out there. Even the guy that’s making a little money out there, not doing too bad in life, can’t afford to come to one of these things. We can’t get any TV coverage to speak of so in turn, we can’t get sponsors.”