Where Have All the Pro Stocks Gone?
Needless to say, NHRA officials were expecting fallout from Pro Stock drivers and teams when the sanctioning body announced plans last fall to cut the 2019 schedule for the class to eighteen races. Almost immediately Tanner Gray, one of the NHRA's most promising young stars and winner of the NHRA Pro Stock World Championship in 2018 announced his plans to move full-time to NASCAR's K&N East Series as well as to race part-time in ARCA Menards Series. The 19-year old is currently the youngest national event winner and NHRA season champion in the history of the sport. Gray is set to drive for David Gilliland's American stock car race team DGR-Crosley, which also competes in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
Similar to the move that has revitalized the modified division (Pro Mod) of the "door slammers" of drag racing, the NHRA is seeking to relieve some of the financial burden and time commitment of Pro Stock's twenty-four race schedule. Critics say the NHRA is blind to the fact that merely cutting the NHRA Pro Stock racing schedule from 24 national events to 18 will not cut the teams' racing expenses by twenty-five percent. Nonetheless, reducing the burden of a full schedule may make sponsorship in the Pro Stock class more appealing to potential sponsors, since they will be picking up the bills for fewer race weekends. The once highly popular class stills offers some of the closest finishes in drag racing for both ET and speed.
Contrary to what some cynics believe, the NHRA may be taking an important step to save the lower level "Pro" classes by reducing the overall expense of racing in select national events. The E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod Drag Racing Series enjoyed fantastic growth in 2018 following its limited twelve-race Pro Mod door slammer season. The class had solid participation from veteran racers and teams. As for the Pro Stock class, an early defect who earned 21 Wallys in five different NHRA divisions, Bo Butner, has already returned in 2019 to drive Ken Black's Pro Stock Chevy Camaro for K&B Racing. Not a bad decision on Butner's part, as he earned two Wallys in the three Pro Stock events this season.
Anyone who has been around racing knows that as technology changes so do the classes. Unfortunately, Pro Stock and Pro Mod are both very competitive classes that bridge the gap between the Sportsman division and the full-blown Nitro classes. The NHRA has rewritten Pro Stock rules forcing teams to junk carburetors for electronic fuel injectors, eliminate hood scoops, and convert to a new racing fuel. Only time will tell whether sponsorship opportunities and changes in class rules will allow the current group of "Pro" contenders to remain on the list of must "run" classes at upcoming national events.
Hopefully, the success of the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod Drag Racing series will help serve as viable guideline for Pro Stock contenders and fans. Nonetheless, how much this year's change will affect the Pro Stock class remains to be seen.
Photo courtesy of Real Pro Mod.