The 2019 season is in full swing, and we have already enjoyed many positive experiences. I want to focus on something that was new for 2019. For three races in a row, we experienced the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series without Pro Stock, and it was obvious something was missing.
First, I want to commend the Mountain Motor Pro Stock teams on an excellent show. I enjoyed meeting John DeFlorian, who was the first ever Mountain Motor winner. Both he and Charlotte winner Chris Powers were guests on my WFO Radio podcast, and they got the full Mello Yello Series “Winnerview” treatment — cool cars, great people, and very fast speed. I completely understand the allure of these cars, and they certainly deserve a place in the National Hot Rod Association. That having been said, I missed Pro Stock.
I want everyone to know that I completely understand that my opinion may not be popular or the majority opinion. I had a great time in Houston, Charlotte, and Atlanta. Many of the Pro Stock personalities got involved in other ways. Erica Enders set the mph record in her Elite Pro Mod Camaro, making her the Queen of Doorslammer Speed because she also has the Pro Stock mph record. Jason Line ran his Buick GS stocker in Charlotte. Brian “ Lump” Self worked at both Mountain Motor races as crew chief for DeFlorian and brought home a Wally. Good times were had, and many of the same people were involved, but there was an obvious absence.
Since I was a kid, I have always loved Pro Stock. I really started paying attention just as the 500-cubic-inch rule came into effect. Lee Shepherd and Frank Iaconio were early favorites, soon to be followed by Warren Johnson and Butch Leal. I rooted against Bob Glidden but understood his greatness. He was never a villain, just someone who beat my favorite racers — often. At my early races, there were always faster and louder cars, but Pro Stock was a different kind of thing. And, whatever kind of thing it was, I got it.
Pro Stock is different from the other top classes of drag racing in many ways that fans might not notice or even care about. Those differences make Pro Stock, well, Pro Stock. For instance, Pro Stock teams must always be on constant search for something. There are two races. The race on the track and the development race that happens everywhere else to find an edge. I know that the cars are not as “factory” appearing as they once were, but they are still the factory hot rods I grew up with. When Pro Stock comes around the corner, there is a group of people that come with it that are doing something inherently different than most everyone else.
Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Mod, Mountain Motor, and Factory Stock are all essentially playing the same game: make too much power and then control it as best as possible. They have more power than they can use. It’s awesome, but it’s not Pro Stock. In Pro Stock, they can never have enough power, and whatever power they have, they need to find a way to use every single drop of it. This causes endless testing and research. Pro Stock is a challenge that brings out the best in its teams and drivers.
After all that research, development, and testing, Pro Stock teams hand the car over to the driver, who must deliver a victory. Reaction time is critical and gear shifting must be near perfect or defeat is likely. How cool is that? Think of recent championships by Tanner Gray and Enders. They have been defined as much by the driver’s ability as the car’s acceleration and speed. I know I’m pitching Pro Stock pretty hard here. Not everything can be simple. Some things just require a deeper understanding, and Pro Stock is one of them. The problem has been that because they are developing top secret stuff to gain an advantage, and we cannot know what they are doing to find it, some fans have lost interest. It becomes a vicious cycle.
I’m hoping that this experience of not having Pro Stock for a few races has been a reminder of how much they add to the Mello Yello Series show. After all, you cannot miss something that is not gone. Now that the schedule has been reduced to 18 races, we have already seen an increase in car count. I’m hoping that this turns out to be exactly the right number of races to give Pro Stock teams the opportunity to show why we loved those cars in the first place. I’m looking forward to hearing that undeniable sound of their near-perfect engines spinning at 10,500 rpm while the drivers try to hit the perfect shift rpm and destroy each other on the starting line. Pro Stock, I missed you.
Joe Castello is an NHRA staff announcer, host of the “WFO Radio NHRA Nitro” podcast, and co-host of Performance TV on the Velocity Network. He is a track championship-winning bracket racer who started his racing and announcing career at Miami-Hollywood Speedway Park in Miami. Castello and his father own a ’78 Pontiac Trans Am with NHRA Super Street aspirations. Readers can listen to the “WFO Radio” podcast on anything with an internet connection and contact Castello on Twitter @WFOJoe or via email at [email protected].