The champ: It wasn’t easy, but Steve Jackson managed to successfully defend his 2019 championship in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. The COVID-19 pandemic shortened and radically altered the schedule for Pro Mod racers, but Jackson rolled with the punches and put together a solid season with two wins in three final-round appearances. Jackson lost in the final round of the season-opening event in Indy but finished strong with a win at the NHRA U.S. Nationals and later the Dodge NHRA Finals in Las Vegas. The final margin of victory over second-ranked Brandon Snider was 31 points.
Jackson came into the NHRA Pro Mod class with a lot of fanfare and a not-so-subtle air of confidence, but so far he’s delivered the goods with back-to-back titles. Now, an even bigger challenge lies ahead in the quest for a third title. Jackson’s supercharged Camaro is often among the quickest cars in the class, but the arrival of the ProCharger centrifugal supercharger last season has changed the landscape of the class, and he’ll likely have to dig even deeper this year in order to achieve the same result.
The challengers: The name of the game in Pro Mod is parity, so there are many who’d like to consider themselves the heir apparent to Jackson’s crown. For starters, there is Brandon Snider, who won the Dallas event and made a strong run at the 2020 title. If not for an unfortunate DNQ at the U.S. Nationals, Snider’s supercharged Corvette might be sporting the No. 1 on its windows.
Former champions Khalid alBalooshi and Mike Castellana also figure to be in the mix. alBalooshi is one of the drivers who made the switch to the ProCharger engine combination and at times had the quickest car in the class, although his results often didn’t show it. With another year to familiarize himself with the combination, he should expect an improvement.
Three-time champion Rickie Smith is also someone who can’t ever be counted out. Smith had previously announced plans to race with the Elite team this season, but those plans have apparently fallen through. To that end, it’s likely Smith will continue racing his own nitrous-assisted Camaro, the same car he drove to a victory in Gainesville. Last season, Chad Green also scored a win for the nitrous oxide contingent when he drove to his first NHRA Pro Mod win in Indianapolis. Green defeated Jason Scruggs in a battle of first-time NHRA finalists.
One former champion who will not win the 2021 title is Mike Janis, who abruptly announced his retirement from driving this winter due to a medical condition. In his place, grudge racer extraordinaire J.R. Gray will take over as a driver with Janis and his son, Mike Jr., as tuners. Also new to the class this season is small-tire racer Lyle Barnett, who will race as a member of the Elite Motorsports team.
Where to see them run in 2021: Gainesville, Atlanta, Charlotte 1, Richmond, Norwalk, Denver, Indy, Charlotte 2, Dallas, and Las Vegas 2.
2020 TOP 10 FINISHERS
1. Steve Jackson
2. Brandon Snider
3. Khalid alBalooshi
4. Mike Janis
5. Chad Green
6. Jonathan Gray
7. Rickie Smith
8. Kris Thorne
9. Jim Whiteley
10. Clint Satterfield
2020 EVENT RESULTS
Indy 2 Chad Green; (r/u) Jason Scruggs
Indy 3 Jonathan Gray; (r/u) Bo Butner
Indy 4 Steve Jackson; (r/u) Todd Tutterow
Gainesville Rickie Smith; (r/u) Mike Janis
Dallas Brandon Snider; (r/u) Steve Jackson
Houston Justin Bond; (r/u) Brandon Pesz
Las Vegas Steve Jackson ; (r/u) Khalid alBalooshi
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