2021 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - PRO MODIFIED NOTEBOOK
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - OH, WHAT A FEELING! - On drag racing’s biggest stage, Jeffery Barker picked up his first career victory in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service, racing past back-to-back world champ Stevie “Fast” Jackson in the final round at the prestigious Dodge//SRT NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
The Pro Mod race, which was presented by ProCharger, was the seventh of 11 events during the 2021 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service season.
In a thrilling final round, Jackson left first but Barker tracked him down in his nitrous-powered Bahrain 1 Racing/Lowe Toyota Camry, going 5.742-seconds at 251.67 mph to beat Jackson’s 5.785 at 248.29.
“This is absolutely perfect,” Barker said. “There’s so many people to thank, including Khalid alBalooshi and Stevie Jackson. I would not be here if it wasn’t for Stevie Jackson. This is the best weekend ever.”
Barker reached his first career final round in the class by racing past Doug Winters, Brandon Snider and No. 1 qualifier Rickie Smith.
Jackson, who had won at the U.S. Nationals in two of the previous three years, reached the final round for the fourth time this season and 21st time in his career by knocking off J.R. Gray, Jim Whiteley and Jerico Balduf. Jose Gonzalez maintains the points lead in the class, with Jackson moving to second. He trails Gonzalez by 66 points heading into the final four races of the year.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service returns to action Sept. 17-19 as part of the DeWalt NHRA Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - THE TRICKSTER DELIVERS A TRICKSTERS TREAT IN FRIDAY QUALIFYING
RICKIE’S BACK - After sitting out over two months from the NHRA Pro Modified Series, one of its more decorated veterans returned with a profound statement. “Trickie” Rickie Smith, a critic of the NHRA’s efforts to maintain parity amongst its four power adders, drove his way to the provisional No. 1 qualifying position on Friday at the Dodge NHRA U.S. Nationals, stopping the clocks with a 5.750 elapsed time at 249.35 miles per hour.
“I’m glad to get back,” Smith said. “You know, Bobby, I’ve raced all my life. I’m ready to go racing. It’s just, those other races are a little far off, and rules are pretty far off, and just no use going. So, we decided to step back up and see if we can get back in the groove here.”
Finding a groove in the midst of what Smith deems a sliding scale of parity enforcement has been a challenge for the iconic drag racing. So much of a challenge, he says, severe tire shake is easier to deal with than politics.
“Heck, I can fix a tire shake,” Smith admitted. “I don’t have the money to fix politics.”
Smith figures if he can’t beat them, he might as well join them. He confirmed a new supercharged car is under construction at Jerry Bickel Race Cars.
“I’m building a supercharged car, and I’m just getting ready for next year,” Smith said. “If they don’t get these rules right over here, I won’t run much over here next year. I’ll just run outlaw stuff and some of the big-money races and things like that.
“That’s the reason my nitrous car, with me being a little heavy in the car, is built NHRA legal. It’s just; I’m way overweight to run outlaw-type events or anything else for my nitrous car. I’d be competitive here with any nitrous car because we can put weight in, but if I want to go run somewhere else, I got to do a blower car, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Smith longs for the days when drag racing wasn’t so complicated, such as the days when he ran a Modified Production Maverick at the
“Nothing like it is now,” Smith admitted. “You know what I mean? It’s a lot of money out here. A lot of people got a lot of money, and to race this class, and it’s getting tough, you know? And it ain’t there I can’t race with them. I can win when I’m competitive. I proved that other places I go race. If I can run with you, I can win with you. But when you’re outrunning me .03 to .05, it’s hard to win in this day and age. A lot of good drivers out here.
“So, I’m just watching. Hopefully, NHRA gets this rule package right this winter, and we can all go race next year, and have some good time, and get a lot of cars back in the class. So it ain’t just me. I’m glad right now; I’m not the crying baby. The blower guys are the crying babies. They’re finally getting treated the way I’ve been treated for the last four years.
“They don’t like getting outrun three and 400ths. So, they’re the ones doing the crying. And it’s pretty funny when it all gets down to it, but we’ll see where it goes. And hopefully, [NHRA] will do what’s right and get this class back under order. If it don’t, it ain’t going to be just me. There’s a lot of other places. There’s a lot of places you can go run a Pro Modified car. A lot of places, for big money. So, it’s up to NHRA whether they want this class to survive or not.”
LIVING THE DREAM - Friday wasn’t the first time small tire superstar Lyle Barnett had driven a Pro Modified car at an NHRA event. It was, however, the first time Barnett had raced at the prestigious NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
“I don’t think it gets any better than this,” Barnett said. “It still doesn’t seem real. I had to put this thing in the burnout box and turn the tire over, to realize how real it is. This is something I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid, and to be here driving a Pro Mod for Elite Motorsports and Modern racing, a brand new sponsor on board this weekend, Motion Raceworks. Doug, Andy, Brian, and everybody at Motion have been really good to me throughout my racing career, and they continue to support me.
“It’s cool to debut them here at the U.S. Nationals. So we’re excited, just hoping to go out there and make a good show.
Barnett made his NHRA driving debut back in March at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. Not only is Barnett’s experience at the U.S. Nationals the first one before Friday, but he’d also never even been through the gates of Lucas Oil Raceway Park.
“To make my first pass here in Q1 and Pro Modified in the NHRA at the U.S. Nationals is something to be proud of,” Barnett said.
The intimidation is very real.
“I was told when I started this deal that the most intimidating pass I would make is the first one at the Gators,” Barnett explained. “I remember how nervous I was. And surprisingly, I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be. I’ve made a lot of runs since Gainesville and we made several runs this week. So I feel comfortable in the car, but it’s still a big stage. The old heart was pumping in my throat.”
Barnett put himself solidly in the field, qualifying provisionally No. 7 with a 5.915, 240.85.
BUSINESS TO BUSINESS - Doug Winters learned the importance of business-to-business relationships a long time ago. As a result, he’s debuted a score of new sponsorships over the years he’s been drag racing, dating back to his days of racing the old Super Chevy Nitro Coupe division.
“We get a sponsor in a certain industry, and then we go to some trade shows and we get to know their competitor,” Winters said. “Not only their competitors but the companies that they deal with.”
Winters latest example is Stinar, a ground support company his previous sponsor Minimizer purchased.
“We’re meeting a lot of Ground Support Equipment people by having them out to the racetrack,” Winters explained. “We’re getting to know them. They’re getting to know us. So it’s just a kind of a continuum of different sponsors all in the same category.”
There was a time when Winters’ Stinar-sponsored ’69 Chevelle was a lone wolf of the body style. There are three in competition this weekend. The more, the merrier, he says.
“Anytime there’s a nostalgia body I hear, I’m going to like it,” Winters admitted. “I don’t care if it’s a ’69 Chevelle or a ’53 Corvette or whatever it is, as long as it ain’t a late model Camaro, I’m happy with it being out here.”
THE NEW APPROACH - For decades, Mike Janis tuned and drove his race cars. This season has brought forth a new chapter in his racing career.
Janis has settled into the role of car owner and tuner following his doctor’s orders following an angiogram procedure to step aside from driving. J.R. Gray took over as driver at the start of the season.
“I actually am enjoying it,” Janis admitted. “A lot less pressure and love working on it. And we got a good driver. I truly am enjoying it, but don’t get me wrong, I did some testing over the summer in the car, made like 10, 12 hits on it and you know, I could get back in it in a heartbeat. It is what it is.”
Janis admits being a former driver; there’s a penchant to try and drive the car while standing behind it.
“You’re over there trying to,” Janis explained. “Yeah, don’t do it. Lift, lift, lift,’ but it’s just, yeah, for sure.”
An easier pace suits Janis easier these days.
“It was a lot, driving the car and then the truck,” Janis said. “It’s definitely relaxing now to a point, that part of it, not having to worry if, cutting a light was the biggest thing, because as you’re getting older, it is harder and harder. And now it’s one less thing we have to worry about.”
Janis doesn’t rule out the possibility one day; he may return to the driving role. If he does, it would likely be as part of an expansion of his JanCen team.
“I think there’s a good possibility,” Janis revealed. “We’ll see how it plays out this year and beginning of next year. I’m just on blood thinners. The only reason I can’t drive. So other than that, I’m good.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF INDY - Back-to-back world champ Stevie “Fast” Jackson knows full well what performing at a high level at the Big Go can mean, winning at Indy two of the past three years.
Make no mistake, Jackson needs a win. He’s currently chasing red-hot Jose Gonzalez, the man he beat in the final round at Indy in 2018, but the historic race has seemed to bring out the best in him.
“Indy has always been special to us, and it’s time to let this car eat,” said Jackson, who has 12 career wins in the class.
Time is running out, considering this weekend’s event is the seventh of 11 races this weekend.
Jackson ended first day qualifying as third quickest with a 5.782 elapsed time, at 247.34 miles per hour.
YES WAY, JOSE - Jose Gonzalez has won the past three races in the class as he looks to win for the first time in Indy and get a step closer to winning his first world championship in the class.
A victory in Indy would be a big moment in Gonzalez’s standout career, and he’s certainly a favorite after an incredible run driving his ProCharger-powered Q80 Camaro. Gonzalez already has four victories this season, leaning on a strong team that has his car running ahead of the pack no matter the setting or weather conditions.
He won both races where the NHRA Pro Mod class was making its first-ever appearance (Denver and Brainerd), and he’ll try to extend his unbeaten streak to a fourth straight race spanning more than two months. Remarkably, Gonzalez hasn’t qualified worse than third this season, showing the impressive consistency of his car.
“When you have guys like Brandon Snider, Jackson and Justin Bond, and everybody who races in this class, you have to be on your game,” Gonzalez said. “They’re not going to cut you any (breaks), so as much as I can do, I try to do it for the team. But it’s not me — it’s this team. (Tuner) Steve Petty has had this car on rails since day one, and it’s just been amazing.”