Barnstormin’: Pro Mod Is The Deep End Of The NHRA Competition Pool Now, Get Used To It

Barnstormin’: Pro Mod Is The Deep End Of The NHRA Competition Pool Now, Get Used To It

I loves me some pro mod. As a kid that grew up in the 1980s and hung on the words of the drag racing magazines that flooded into the house each month, pro mod was this weird and wonderful thing that was born in the south and seemed about as wild and crazy as anything that had come down the drag racing pipe. As it turns out it was and today it has advanced to the biggest leagues of the sport. It has done so on the sweat, blood, and twisted chassis of generations before just the way other classes have evolved.

That being said the performance evolution of pro modified has been virtually vertical over the last few years and in my opinion the (now) E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series presented by J&A Service has been a massive driving force in that.

I am writing this after coming off of what was an epic weekend of pro mod racing at the 2018 Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals where nearly three dozen cars were on the properly trying to punch into 16 spots. It was the type of situation that you hear the old guys talk about back in the day with top fuel and funny car. There was not a weak runner in the bunch. The Gainesville surface proved tricky and qualifying, now four sessions worth, was as vicious and crazy as anything I can remember in the two decades I have calling races in this sport. It gets harder every year and yet more and more cars are trying to jump into the series. Why?

 It’s deadly simple. Since the first day this sport existed, drag racers have sought out the hardest and toughest competition they could find to see who was best. The same thing happens today. This isn’t about being part of the cool kid club or doing it for the sake of appearances. This is to prove that you’re one of the meanest, most well-tuned, hardest running cars in the world.

Even more crazy is the fact that the NHRA pro mod series is one of the last bastions of quarter mile pro mod racing. There are some regional series out there but the reality is that the vast majority of pro mod racing being done in this country is being done on the eighth mile. In taking nothing away from those racers, let’s just admit something factual. Quarter mile racing is harder. At the most basic level it is harder on parts. Don’t believe me? Ask those racers who have made the transition over from eighth mile to quarter mile competition. Mess up the fuel situation on a blower car in the back half and you’ll have a Chernobyl like situation on your hands. The same goes for a turbo or nitrous car as well. While these cars do not run nitro, running them as hard as they will go through the last 660’ is tough, tough stuff.

I witnessed what I thought was the peak of pro mod during the years I spent with the IHRA. I witnessed about as many cars show up for those events as show up for our NHRA events and figured it could get no better. Back then of the 40 cars showing up maybe 10 had a chance to win. 20 were cannon fodder and 10 were capable of an upset if all things were perfect. I had no idea what was to come a decade in the future.

Some of the greatest names who have ever been in this sport are now wholly invested in pro modified. Frank Manzo, Rickie Smith, and Pat Musi to name a few. Guys who have innovated in the fields of blown alcohol racing, door slammer racing in general, and a guy who has brought more to the realm of big inch nitrous motors over the last few years than perhaps anyone. This is no longer a class of men and women who are still trying to “figure it out”. It’s as big and bad as anything else on the grounds of the events they participate at. The truly interesting thing is that you can ask those three or any other driver, crew chief, crew person, or car owner out there and they will tell you to a man or woman that winning in pro mod is among the hardest things or the hardest thing they have done in racing. You need to have the guns loaded on every qualifying and eliminations pass. Or else.

Those of you who have followed this class since it’s true birth in 1990, its initial appearance in the world of NHRA drag racing in 2000, and its growth into a 12 race series with as a four round Sunday eliminator with as many qualifying opportunities as the other major competition classes have to be smiling. I know that I am. But here’s the weirdest part. I don’t think we’ve hit “peak pro mod” yet. I know of at least a half dozen really strong racers that want to fight for a way in. I know of at least three professional level competitors that are planning on building cars for the series and competing. Why? Because they know how hard it is. These people are well aware that they’re angling to jump into a piranha tank with bacon flavored swimming trunks on but that’s the state of affairs these days.

The remnants of Shuffletown Dragway are just down the road from zMax Dragway in Concord, North Carolina. It is one of the places the class was born on humid Saturday nights back in the late 1980s. Shuffletown is being swallowed up by nature and the pro mod class has become a force of nature in the drag racing world. How ironic is that? The cars today are a long way from the overpowered, underchassied machines that competed at Shuffletown and while some may lament that fact, I think it rules. Pro Mod is on the big stage and they’ve earned every inch of it, one crazed run at a time.


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17 thoughts on “Barnstormin’: Pro Mod Is The Deep End Of The NHRA Competition Pool Now, Get Used To It

  1. Chris Hardesty

    I think its great they finally have gone to 4 qualifying passes and a 16 car field! Along with the Top Fuel Harleys the fans are starting to stay in the stands just a little longer between Pro rounds for some very exciting racing!

  2. Blu67RS

    I’m very happy with this outcome!! still I can relate to your Shuffletown story by following Earl & Camps old east coast “Wild Bunch” gang. They used to run on many, very questionable racing surfaces

    1. jerry z

      Remember the “Wild Bunch” racing at E-town many moons sgo. My favorites were Camp’s Chevy Luv and the Silver CJ5, both supercharged!

  3. Ted Stone

    Let\’s not leave out Sonny Leonard, Charlie Buck, those great East Coast Pro Mod engine builders.

  4. love the door cars

    especially the blower cars, you hear them coming and they’re really cool
    when the blower hat is higher than the roof line I get to see some locals
    a few times here in NE Ohio at TRP its only 1/8 mile tho

    1. B C

      speaking of engine builders, Ronnie Hutter still builds a pretty stout motor,
      albeit a turbo !!

  5. Josh

    Among the many things the class has to offer, the great commentary from the announcers adds a lot to this deal as well. It’s good to hear people with knowledge and passion for the class on the mic. Keep up the good work. If you could fit Kepner in the mix that would be a hell of a crew

  6. Fred Bates

    Pro stock rules! I enjoy standing near the finish line and see, hear and feel them crossing the line like great screaming airships.
    So why aren\’t they covered on TV when we have gas powered carbuated prostocks which are as boring as watching cars leaving a toll booth 2 at a time. I\’d rather be jumping in the \’piaroha tank wearing bacon flavored swimming trunks\’ (that wish-I\’d-ah-wrote-it line you can find in the above article).

    1. Jeff

      Apparently it\’s been awhile since you have been to any races…, pro stock has been fuel injection for the past 2 years.

  7. RockJustRock

    You need to give a passing nod to Pro Street. The concept was a doorslammer with as much engine as possible on the street because you couldn’t do it on the strip. Camp Stanley used to show at Car Craft Street Machine Nationals.

  8. notta kennedy

    As the nitro classes rapidly fail and the boring Pro stock classes fade away in 2018, these pro mods are the last, best, and final class that can attract fans to the drag strips.

    Lets see which sanctioning bodies are smart enough to capitalize on this class before their tracks get turned into affordable rent housing.

  9. Will

    One of the godfathera of promod lives near me. The one and only mr 200mph Bill khulman. That dude needs i interviewed and put on bangshift or something
    If you think the 1970s had the market on barnstorming and match racing talk to bill sometime

  10. RockJustRock

    I see this as Brian recapitulating for getting all moist, dewy and overexcited at the Sweet 16 RVW race. I kinda said “But we coulda had Pro Mods!”

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