The 2020 season was supposed to be a yearlong salute to the Pro Stock class, which was celebrating its 50th year of competition. All sorts of special promotions for fans were planned, as were television, web, and print features across NHRA media properties.
Then COVID-19 happened to all of us and, regrettably, most of that went by the boards. We did have a regular Legends of Pro Stock feature in each issue of NHRA National Dragster and a few articles before March, but not much after that.
Early in the year, I began work on the story below, which was planned to run in National Dragster in April-ish, but never did as things changed rapidly for all of us. I never found the time to complete it until now. While I have a well-known (and not-repentant) love of nitro cars (hey, I was a product of 1970s SoCal), I still love Pro Stock, too.
I hope you enjoy it.
A history of Pro Stock models
Although it’s pretty clear that the Chevrolet Camaro has become the body style of choice in Pro Stock over the last decade, it certainly wasn’t always the case.
The 50-year history of Pro Stock includes a dizzyingly diverse cross section of manufacturers and models who have participated in NHRA’s “factory hot rod” class since its inception in 1970. Over the decades we’ve seen participation in the class from just about every major domestic brand, including American Motors, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Chrysler, Dodge, Ford, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Plymouth, and Pontiac, and many of those have seen at least four to five different models on the track.
Bill Pratt, who maintains an incredible database of historic race cars at his DragList.com website, partnered with me to produce this unique article, which tracks every model that has seen Pro Stock action on the NHRA quarter-mile. This article would not be possible without him. Thank you, Bill. I also received invaluable stats help from the one and only Bob Frey, who kindly shared his extensive race-wins list. Thanks, as always, for the assist, Bob.
While win totals reflect through the end of the 2020 season, the number of entries for specific models was based on the start of the 2020 season.
Models (total entries): Hornet (29), Gremlin (20), AMX (5), Javelin (2), Concord (1)
The Kenosha, Wis.-based manufacturer is a bit of a cult phenomenon both on the streets and on the strip. Other than their Javelin/AMX line, AMC cars like the Gremlin, Hornet, Pacer, and Marlin were not the sexiest cars out there, but the manufacturer did experience some success and popularity on the track, earning five victories in NHRA competition. (The last AMC Pro Stocker to hit the track was owned by Missouri-based AMC dealer Brian Rodekopf, who ran his Hornet with nitrous in AHRA competition.)
The star: Former Chevy die-hard Wally Booth was AMC’s go-to guy as he fielded AMX, Gremlin, Concord, and Hornet Pro Stock entries. Booth also scored all five of the manufacturer’s Pro Stock victories, including the first, in his Hornet, at the 1974 Gatornationals, at the prestigious U.S. Nationals in 1976, and AMC’s final win, at the 1976 World Finals, where he defeated Dave Kanners’ Hornet in the only all-AMC Pro Stock final in NHRA history. Booth finished third in the 1976 standings, the highest ever for an AMC driver.
Models (total entries): Buick Regal (4), Skylark (3), Skyhawk (2)
Buick has the distinction of being the first company founded as part of General Motors (1908), but its Pro Stock history is short. Although the Skylark had been part of the Buick family since 1953 (the Roadmaster Skylark convertibles), it was what was the so-called second-generation (1968-72) Skylarks that ran in Pro Stock’s earliest years, with New Hampshire-based Bob Judd in 1971-72, though the 430-powered Judd’s Speed Shop cars were too heavy to win much. Buicks didn’t appear back on the NHRA Pro Stock scene until the late 1980s, with Skyhawks and Regals driven by Buddy Ingersoll.
The star: Gotta be “Bad Buddy.” Ingersoll made waves in NHRA Comp racing with his 200-mph twin-turbocharged six-cylinder Buick Regal and Skyhawks (he actually ran the turbo’d Regal, reportedly built from an ex-Warren Johnson Cutlass) in IHRA Pro Stock in 1986 before it was quickly outlawed after scaring the bejesus out of the competition and tried to bring gas-and-carbs versions to NHRA. Partnered with Floridian Jeff Velde, their Regal made history at the 1989 Chief Nationals in Dallas, where it became the first Buick to qualify for an NHRA Pro Stock show, a feat they repeated numerous times in 1990.
Model (total entries): Eldorado (4)
America’s great luxury car, and once the measure of success of its citizen owners, the Cadillac is woefully underrepresented on the dragstrip, but Caddy fans can thank Florida-based Alston chassis builder Mike Senia for it being there at all. The car, named “Beyond Criticism," debuted in Gainesville in 1983 with Tim Takash at the wheel, and Carol Hobson drove it at the 1984 Gators. Ed Dixon drove it in 1985 and reportedly crashed the car beyond repair.
The star: Undoubtedly Senia. We like your style, man.
Models (total entries): Camaro (1,631), Vega (530), Monza (153), Cavalier (134), Beretta (131), Nova (117), Cobalt (104), Lumina (31), Vega Wagon (17), Chevette (9), Monte Carlo (8), Citation (6)
One of the iconic U.S. carmakers also has been an iconic figure in Pro Stock racing with 16 world championships (including 2020), four more than former GM stablemate Pontiac. With 11 different models, Chevy is well represented with everything from coupes to sedans.
The Camaro, which represents 25% of all NHRA Pro Stock entries over time, has been there from the beginning in 1970 when Bill Jenkins won the first title at the Winternationals, and it’s still the dominant model today with the last six straight championships. Interestingly, after Jenkins won Camaro’s first two Wallys at the 1970 Winternationals and Gatornationals, a Camaro did not find the winner’s circle again until 1978, when Richie Zul, fresh off a short stint driving the Reher-Morrison Monza in 1977 after Lee Shepherd’s crash, won in Columbus in a big-block Camaro previously campaigned by Joe Satmary, beating Bob Glidden in a classic Chevy versus Ford duel on an 8.76 to 8.73 final-round holeshot.
Also worth noting is that despite Chevrolet’s class-monopolizing numbers, the manufacturer didn’t win a single NHRA Pro Stock event title in 1986 or 1991, nor — stunningly — from mid-1992 through mid-1998. Between the late-1990 Dallas event and the St. Louis event in mid-1998 (nearly eight years!), Chevy won only once, with Bruce Allen in the Reher-Morrison Super Shops Lumina at the 1992 Le Grandnational.
Still, the Camaro owns more than twice the wins of any other model in Pro Stock competition (see chart).
The stars: With a class-leading 330 wins to its credit among 37 drivers, where do you even begin to talk about Chevrolet stars? Well, with Jenkins, of course — who ran nothing but Bowties (Camaro, Vega, Monza, Camaro) for himself and his drivers — up through four-time world champ and Chevy stalwart Lee Shepherd, and on to current stars like Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Jeg Coughlin Jr., and Erica Enders (all four of whom have driven outside the Chevy family).
While Anderson and Line each own 23 Chevy event wins, Anderson’s four championships all came in Pontiacs, as did two of Line’s three titles. And while you can’t dispute what Jenkins meant to Chevy in the 1960s and 1970s and Shepherd’s 1980s Bowtie badassery, Chevy’s biggest Pro Stock stars, at least from a statistical viewpoint, are Enders and Coughlin.
Enders has as many championships as Shepherd (four) but three more national event wins (29 to 26), including the Camaro’s milestone 200th victory at the fall Las Vegas event. Coughlin “only” has three Chevy world champions, but his 38 national event wins are top in the class. (Acknowledgement also to Kurt Johnson, whose 29 Chevy Pro Stock wins tie him with Enders for second overall.)
Models (total entries): LeBaron (8), Imperial (7)
The Mopar mothership corporation had its own brand line beginning in the mid-1920s, but its cars were never Pro Stock favorites and racers chose Plymouths and Dodges. Chrysler spun the Imperial (and the Imperial-badged LeBaron, before it became a front-wheel-drive platform) off to compete in the luxury-car market. Despite its promise of “rich Corinthian leather,” takers were few and far between, at least in Pro Stock.
The stars: Larry Peternel was the modern-day Chrysler banner waver, running his Hemi-powered Imperial at NHRA national events in 1982, ’83, and ’84, and was joined by Bill Dempsey for one year, 1985, while current Pro Stock crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia was one of several B-1-powered LeBaron drivers in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Models (total entries): Dart (244), Challenger (94), Stratus (88), Avenger (79), Demon (67), Charger (36), Daytona (35), Neon (28), Colt (18), Omni (11), Dodge R/T (2), Coronet (1)
Dodge also was there from the start of Pro Stock in the 1970 season with Hemi-powered Challengers and Darts and won the championship in 1971 with Mike Fons’ Challenger. "Dandy Dick" Landy scored Dodge's first Pro Stock win at the 1970 Summernationals in York, Pa.
A lot of Pro Stock teams have put Dodges in their garages, as 12 different Dodge models have run in NHRA competition, led by popular Dart, which was all but abandoned after the middle 1970s until a resurgence in the mid-2010s, and is still in competition today in the form of die-hard Alan Prusiensky.
The stars: After Fons’ Hemi Challenger won the 1971 crown (albeit in the era when winning the World Finals made you the champ), Dodge had a long drought between titles before Darrell Alderman won back-to-back crowns in 1990-91 (in a Daytona) and ’94 (in an Avenger, with “Dodge Boys” teammate Scott Geoffrion finishing second) with B-1 power.
Almost two more decades passed before teammates Allen Johnson and Jeg Coughlin Jr. won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013 in their new Hemi-powered Avengers. Johnson is probably the marquee’s gold-star performer, with all 27 of his wins coming in Dodges, and seven of those coming in the span of 10 seasons at the Dodge-sponsored Mile-High Nationals, where A.J. and father Roy were the “kings of the mountain” throughout the 2000s.
Models (total entries): Pinto (245), Maverick (163), Mustang (164), Mustang II (88), Thunderbird (56), Probe (54), Fairmont/Futura (21), Escort (8), Pinto Wagon (3), Shelby (2), EXP (1)
Although the Maverick was Ford’s initial Pro Stock offering in the class’ 1970 debut season, when NHRA opened the class to sub-compacts beginning in 1972, the Pinto took over and galloped to glory with drivers like Bob Glidden and Wayne Gapp in the saddle (although Gapp did briefly switch back to the team’s forward-thinking and successful four-door Maverick in 1974). The late great Don Hardy built many of these fabulous Fords, including all of Glidden's cars from 1972-83 and the Gapp & Roush Taxi.
Despite its popularity in the market, the Mustang never was a great Pro Stock car (accounting for just five of the brand’s 91 wins), but Ford instead found unlikely success from sedans like the Fairmont and Thunderbird, mostly under the command of Glidden. Glidden won 30 times in the Thunderbird and Frank Iaconio once (1986 Winternationals), making it the brand’s dominant winner. The Probe coupe is second, with 20 wins, all by Glidden, including his 85th and final victory at the 1995 Englishtown event.
The stars: Although pretty much every Ford Pro Stock conversation begins and ends with Glidden — he owns 78 of Ford’s 91 Pro Stock victories — Don Nicholson won Ford’s first NHRA national title at the 1971 Summernationals in his 427 SOHC Maverick and his 1977 world championship in a Mustang II, and Gapp contributed six wins in Pintos and Mavericks.
Models (total entries): Cougar (19), Zephyr (9), Comet (9), Capri (3), Topaz (2)
Ford’s little brother made a habit out of rebadging famed Ford models (Maverick/Comet, Mustang/Cougar, Fairmont/Zephyr, Escort/Lynx, Tempo/Topaz, etc.) and a few of them actually made their way into Pro Stock, though none made it to the winner’s circle.
Among the brand’s racers were Roy Hill (who ran both the Capri and the Topaz); “Fast Eddie” Schartman and Canadian Barry Poole, both early 1970s users of the Comet; the Scribner Bros (Tom, Dick, and Harry) and Jim Cunningham, who ran the mid-era, non-Mustang-clone version of the Cougar; and Lee Hunter and match-race maven “Animal Jim" Feurer, who ran the Fairmont-like Zephyr during Glidden's Fairmont heydays.
The star: Hill was probably the marquee Mercury man, as he ran two different models (both with sponsorship backing from Budget rental cars). Although he did not enjoy a great deal of success with the make in NHRA competition, he did drive the Topaz to a pair of IHRA wins (the World Nationals and Mountain Motor Nationals) in 1986 and to the PHR Championships win in 1985.
Models (total entries): Cutlass (312, includes 18 cars from the Cutlass Ciera submodel), Firenza (23), Calais (9), Starfire (8), Achieva (1)
Another of the hallmark General Motors divisions, Oldsmobile has a strong history in the class, and although it didn’t start there until a dozen years into the class’ existence, Oldsmobile Pro Stock racers have cranked out an even 100 victories in NHRA Pro Stock competition, and 88 of them came with the popular Cutlass model that cut (get it?) through the air with precision belying its boxy shape. The much swoopier Starfire (Olds’ version of the more popular Chevy Monza) and Firenza had a few takers, most notably Warren Johnson, who broke the 180- and 190-mph barriers with his cars. Carburetor manufacturer Barry Grant ran the only Achieva, in 1995.
The star: Although Jeg Coughlin Jr. did a lot of winning (20 event wins plus the make’s last championship, in 2000) in Olds Cutlasses, it was “the Professor” who made Oldsmobile cool again beginning in the early 1980s with the 1984 development of the Olds DRCE (Drag Race Competition Engine) combination for his Hurst/Olds that still is the base for today’s Pro Stock engines, and he won three championships in four years in the mid/early-1990s (1992, ’93, and ’95) with his ACDelco and GM Performance Parts Olds Cutlasses.
Fifty-four of W.J.’s 97 wins came in Oldsmobiles from 1982 through 1995, including his first, at the 1982 Summernationals. He also piloted that same Starfire to the first 180-mph clocking later that year at the Golden Gate Nationals in Fremont, Calif., and wheeled the GM Goodwrench Firenza to the first 190 at the 1986 U.S. Nationals. And, of course, son Kurt recorded Pro Stock’s first six with his Olds Cutlass at the 1994 Englishtown event.
Models (total entries): Duster (258), Cuda (140), Barracuda (117), Arrow (50), Volare (22), Horizon (4), Road Runner (2), Scamp (2), Sapporo (1), Laser (1)
The 1-2 fury of the Plymouth and Dodge Mopar attack dominated Pro Stock’s first two years, where the two makes conspired to help Mopar win 12 of the class’ first 15 events in 1970 and ’71, with 10 coming from the Sox & Martin Plymouths (nine wins for Sox in a Barracuda and one win by the Herb McCandless-driven S&M Duster) and the other two by the Dodge Challengers of Dick Landy and Mike Fons.
Unfortunately, those 10 Plymouth victories in the first two years comprise just shy of the maker’s 21 Pro Stock wins, with the majority of the balance (seven wins) coming from Bob Glidden’s lone year in a Plymouth, in an Arrow in 1979. In fact, from mid-1973, when Butch Leal won in his Duster at Le Grandnational, Plymouth didn’t win again until Glidden scored in the Arrow at the 1979 Winternationals, and Plymouth’s last Pro Stock win came with Glidden at the 1979 World Finals, more than 40 years ago.
The Volare’s greatest moment came at the 1979 Mile-High Nationals, where Randy Humphrey stopped Glidden’s yearlong winning streak (or, rather, Glidden stopped himself with a red-light) en route to beating Sonny Bryant’s Camaro for the race title. Rick Holladay and Ed Miller had the Dart-derivative Scamps in 1971, and Tom Owens ran a Sapporo in 1981 with the last of the destroked Hemis, and Mike Oppen the lone Laser in 1986.
The stars: Although there are many, it’s hard to mention “Pro Stock” and "Plymouth” without including “Ronnie Sox” in the same sentence, so I won’t. After runner-upping behind Bill Jenkins at the first two events of 1970, Sox was Pro Stock, winning nine of the next 13 over two seasons and was in the final of 11 of the 15 total events. He won the world championship handily in 1970 and, had it been a true points-based season, would have walked away with 1971, too, after winning five of the six first events, but was upset by Mike Fons in the semifinals of the winner-take-all World Finals in Amarillo, Texas. Sox came back to win the season finale in Ontario, Calif., to complete an impressive six-of-eight season.
Models (total entries): Trans Am (322), Firebird (321), Grand Am (109), GXP (86), GTO (69), Grand Prix (65), Formula (22), Astre (8), GX6 (7), J2000 (1), Sunbird (1)
Like the Camaro for Chevrolet, Pontiac iconic pony car, the Firebird, is responsible for the bulk of its Pro Stock entries and wins. According to DragList, there have been 665 Firebird-class machines, with Trans Ams (322) and Firebird (321) being eerily close in volume plus 22 Firebird Formulas. The Trans Am, of course, was the performance version of the base Firebird, with wings and scoops and stuff, while the Formula had Trans Am performance in a sleeper Firebird dressing.
Pontiac’s 246 wins are second only to Chevy’s total, and 90 of them came in a Firebird flavor of some sort, launched by Butch Leal’s win at the 1985 Southern Nationals. Sixty-six wins went to the GXP that was the preferred Pontiac between 2008-12, 62 were won by the 2001-05 Grand Am, and 27 to the 2005-07 GTO. Kenny Delco’s only career win (1990 Gatornationals) is also the only win for the Grand Prix, in Paul Rebeschi's entry. The Astre was Pontiac’s version of the popular Chevy Vega but had few takers, most notably Canadian Bert Strauss. The Yuill Bros. has the lone Pontiac J2000, a radical-but-not successful machine that featured a lift-off body in 1982, while the only Sunbird belonged to Floridian Bob Dickson in 1988.
The stars: The 43 of his 97 wins that Warren Johnson didn’t earn in an Oldsmobile came in a variety of Pontiacs, with 27 in a Firebird (1996-2000), 14 in a Grand Am (2001-05), and one each in a GTO and GXP (2006 to his last win in 2010), and three world championships, but he’s not the make’s star. That honor goes to Greg Anderson, who collected 74 of his 94 wins in a Pontiac between 2001 and 2012, including the brand’s milestone 200th win at the 2009 Brainerd event, and won four of the maker’s 12 NHRA championships. Anderson’s stablemate, Jason Line, also won two championships for Pontiac as did Jim Yates, with Mike Edwards rounding out the dozen with his 2009 crown.
BY THE NUMBERS
Different manufacturers to win
Different body styles
Most body styles (Dodge)
Least body styles (Cadillac)
Different body styles to win
Camaros (most popular)
Most championships (Chevy)
Most wins (Chevy)
NHRA PRO STOCK WINS BY MODEL
|Pontiac Grand Am||62|
|Pontiac Grand Prix||1|
I’d be remiss in devoting a story to Pro Stock cars without saluting legendary chassis builder Don Hardy, who passed away Nov. 30. He was 80.
Based for years in Floydada, Texas, Don Hardy Race Cars built and modified cars for drag racing over three decades, including for 15 national championships. He built famed cars like the first “Rambunctious” Dart for Gene Snow, the Gapp & Roush four-door Maverick Pro Stocker, and a dozen cars for Pro Stock legend Bob Gidden, who drove five of them to world championships.
Hardy was named Car Craft Magazine’s Professional Chassis Builder of the year five straight years (1977-1981). After he retired from building cars in the mid-1980s, Hardy developed engines and generators to run on bio-gas and shipped them all over the world.
Hardy is survived by his wife of 17 years, Carolyn; daughter Dedra; son Donald; stepson Aaron Wilson, seven grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren.
You can read more about Hardy’s amazing career on the business’ website, with an in-depth article by the great Ro McGonegal from the May 2002 issue of Hot Rod.
I'd also be remiss (and possibly fired ... j/k) if I didn't remind you Pro Stock-loving fans about the recent re-issue of our The History of NHRA Pro Stock book, which was updated to current specs at the start of the season and can probably still be yours in time for the holidays through Amazon.com.
Phil Burgess can be reached at [email protected]
Hundreds of more articles like this can be found in the DRAGSTER INSIDER COLUMN ARCHIVE