Bruno Massel Jr., who will make his Pro Stock debut in Pomona, displays the traditional No. 1 plate passed from NHRA Comp eliminator champ to champ throughout the years. He's had it twice, winning the title in 2009 and again last year, and he leads the points again this season.
Reigning NHRA Comp national champ Bruno Massel Jr., who’s currently leading the points in pursuit of a third season championship, will tackle a new challenge when he makes his Pro Stock debut at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona at the wheel of Steve Kent’s Protect The Harvest Camaro. The duo also is planning to share the car next season in partial campaigns for both as part of a two-car team effort with partner Rodger Brogdon.
Massel, a nine-time winner in NHRA's Sportsman ranks, first tested in Kent’s Camaro in late August, just prior to the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, when he spent a day making runs at Gateway Motorsports Park outside of St. Louis, close to his home in Woodridge, Ill.
The decision for Massel, whose title defense in Comp is facing stiff challengers from a trio of pursuers, to compete in Pro Stock is the result of a bad news-good news situation. The bad news is that he has already earned points at the maximum allotted number of events allowed in his class, and ongoing harmonic issues with the potent turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant in his Comp car won’t allow him to try to block his pursuers at any of the season’s final three events — the national events in Las Vegas and Pomona and the year’s final divisional event in Las Vegas that falls between them. The good news is that Kent was able to offer his car to Massel because the Texas-based big-game hunter already had an expedition to Canada planned that weekend.
Massel has had no problem adjusting to the fleet Pro Stock car, and his DD/AT Cobalt has run in the sixes. And although the Comp class runs on a five-tenths Tree as opposed to the four-tenths Tree used in Pro Stock, Massel can fall back on his years in Super Comp, where the Pro Tree is used. It’s been the staging procedure that so far has proved the greatest challenge.
“I have to admit it was a bit humbling at first because the staging procedure is different than what I’m used to with my turbo cars; the foot and hand motions are the complete opposite,” he said. “Thankfully, Rodger, Pete [Smallwood], and all the guys were more than helpful as I got acclimated to driving a clutch car for the first time. It hasn’t come naturally, and I’m still having to think as I do it every step of the way, but I think it will get more fluid and less mechanical with more laps."
Massel will get more time behind the wheel beginning Oct. 17-18 with some test runs in the Pro Stock car at Royal Purple Raceway in Houston, near the team’s home base.
Massel’s 2014 plans call for approximately 10 events, splitting time in the car with Kent, who only had planned a partial schedule for himself. A lot of what will happen depends on financing, but Massel has a strong and long list of backers who have supported his championship efforts in the last decade.
AutoGeek.net, one of the primary backers on his Comp Cobalt and similarly powered dragster, will support Massel’s Pro Stock debut, as well as longtime marketing partners Lucas Oil, Mav-TV, and Chevrolet Performance. The white car will look the same as when Kent drove it at 20 of the season’s 23 races so far this season, with the addition of AutoGeek.net on its nose.
“It’s a just a good fit all the way around,” Massel said. “Not only am I racing with former Comp eliminator racers, but I’ll be driving a Chevrolet that also happens to be part of the Lucas Oil family. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation. Steve and Rodger have put together a first-class organization, and I’m just thrilled to be involved with it.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” added Massel. “Pro Stock has been my goal for years, but I honestly never thought I would get the chance to make it a reality. We’re looking at doing 10 events together next year. Obviously, that depends on funding, but right now, I’m just focused on dropping the clutch in Pomona. I’ve never raced there and always have wanted to, and to be able to run there and do it in Pro Stock is just incredible. I can’t thank Steve Kent enough for this tremendous opportunity."
Massel's powerful turbocharged Cobalt has carried him to nine wins in 11 final-round appearances, most recently at the NHRA national in Brainerd in August.
Asked about his goals for his debut, Massel was cautiously optimistic. "Rodger and Steve have a great car here, but I'm realistic. I want to make the show, and if I get lucky and win a round Sunday, it would be a dream come true," he said.
The drama surrounding Massel's hopes for a third season title in Comp may be resolved by the time the NHRA Finals begins. A trio of racers, including former event winner Alan Ellis, Brandon Huhtala, and recent Dallas winner Don Thomas, have mathematical chances to catch his total of 571 points, but according to Massel, second-place Ellis would have to reach the final of at least one of the three remaining events to catch him while Huhtala and Thomas would have to win one of the three races and go deep in a second.
Regardless of what happens in Comp this season and with his Pro Stock foray next season, Massel definitely will continue to compete for the Comp championship in 2014 with his father and crew chief, former national event winner Bruno Massel Sr.
“We weren’t happy with the way our season ended in Comp, with breakage at our last two events, and Dad said he won’t go out that way, that we need to race at least another year,” said Massel with a laugh. “We’re going to come back and do it right.”