NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

John DeFlorian Jr. surprises in Pro Stock cameo appearance

No one was as shocked as John DeFlorian Jr. when he got the call to race a GETTRX-branded Pro Stock car at the Gerber Collision & Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals. It had been 30 years, but DeFlorian found his footing and upset apple carts on Sunday with a performance that won't soon be forgotten.
27 May 2024
Kelly Wade
John DeFlorian

No one was as shocked as John DeFlorian Jr. when he got the call to race a second GETTRX Pro Stock Chevrolet Camaro for Matt Hartford at the Gerber Collision & Glass Route 66 NHRA Nationals presented by Peak Performance. It had been 30 years since he'd driven a 500-cubic-inch-powered Pro Stocker, but he found his footing in qualifying and upset apple carts on Sunday with a performance that won't soon be forgotten.

The assignment was simple: shake the bugs out of the new car that had been troubling Hartford since the beginning of the season, while also elevating visibility for Hartford's sponsor, GETTRX, during the event that hosted the GETTRX Pro Stock All-Star Callout. 

While the request was straightforward, it was a tall challenge for the gentleman who has been shop foreman at Jerry Haas Race Cars for the past 36 years. While DeFlorian has raced various other classes, most recently and actively in the Mountain Motor Pro Stock class, traditional Pro Stock hadn't been on his radar since 1991. 

"We only went to three races back then, and we never had any power, we were never even a threat to qualify," said DeFlorian. "Just to have the opportunity to run at an NHRA national event was a pretty big deal to us."

Fast forward to a short time before the highly visible event at Route 66 Raceway and a phone call from Hartford. 

"When Matt called to ask about driving the car, I said, 'What? Are you serious?' He was. I questioned his decision-making process," DeFlorian said with a chuckle. "I told him I haven't driven an NHRA Pro Stock car in a long time, and we had Lenco [transmissions] then, not Liberty. I have a Liberty-style shifter in my [Mountain Motor] car now, but it's all-together different. Matt said, 'Oh, you'll be fine.' I just didn't want to be a problem for him, but he was persistent in wanting me to drive, and so I said OK." 

Circumstances left no time for DeFlorian to get comfortable in the car, and his first time taking it down the track was the first qualifying session in Chicago. That experience didn't leave DeFlorian with very many warm-fuzzy feelings — in the first session, they were shut off at the starting line for a leak of fluid. In the second session, the quality of the run was impacted because DeFlorian missed a critical step in preparing the cockpit and didn't have the head pad adjusted. 

"As of Friday, I was questioning the decision to get in there," he admitted. "But Saturday, everything turned around. We ran very well, and I was very happy. On Saturday evening, I told the guys, 'Listen, there is no pressure whatsoever. Nobody expects us to do anything. If we go up there and lose, I'm OK with it.' But for me, the decision was made that I didn't care who was in the other lane, I was going to put focus on mine. I slept very well Saturday night." 

As it happened, DeFlorian's best time of 6.615 landed him the No. 16 position and set up a first-round meeting with No. 1 qualifier and reigning Pro Stock champion Erica Enders. With a win and a final round to start the season, Enders had carried momentum into the new year, but Chicago — where she earned her first Pro Stock win in 2012 — did not generate the results she had hoped for. 

After securing the 36th No. 1 qualifier award of her career, Enders exited in the first round of the highly anticipated specialty race, the GETTRX Pro Stock All-Star Callout. On Sunday morning of the main event, she had a score to settle, but DeFlorian was at his best with a .012-second reaction time to her .064. It made the difference at the top end, where his 6.581, 208.71 defeated a 6.565, 209.49 on a holeshot. 

"Erica is one of the best drivers ever to run a Pro Stock car," said DeFlorian. "I was going to go up there and let her dictate what she wanted to do; I wasn't trying to create controversy. I was just going to go up there and do what I was supposed to do. People asked me after the run, 'Did you look over?' Nope, I made the decision that I would be focused on my lane to the finish line, and that's what I did." 

The shouts of elation channeling through the radio and into his ear let him know that he had done the unimaginable and won the round over one of the most successful and ambitious drivers currently competing in the category. As he rounded the corner after their match, he was flagged in the direction assigned to winners, and as the GETTRX Chevrolet came to a stop, he was mobbed by the top-end photographers and reporters.

"I looked out the windshield and saw them all, and it was just surreal," said DeFlorian. "It was one of the neatest experiences. I was getting out of my car and looking for my crew — I wanted to celebrate with them. The whole thing was quite an experience, and one I'll never forget." 

DeFlorian's own race team competes in the NHRA Johnson's Horsepowered Garage Mountain Motor Pro Stock series, and he won't have to wait long to get back in a race car. The series will resume at the Super Grip NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, June 7-9. 

The Arnold, Mo.-based driver has had measurable success in Mountain Motor Pro Stock — he won the exhibition race in 2018, then followed up with a 2019 win in Houston to claim the first official NHRA Mountain Motor Pro Stock trophy. Since that time, he's claimed three additional wins, in Epping (2019), St. Louis (2021), and at the fall race in Charlotte (2023). 

"I'm excited to get back in my car, and I can't wait for Bristol," he said. "I was very excited about this opportunity, but this was a one-race deal. It's very unlikely that I will get an opportunity like this again, and I'm OK with that. If nothing else, at least I can say I got to do it once in the 21st century.

"After 1991, I'd resigned myself to the fact that the opportunity had come and gone and would probably never rear its head again. I was OK with that, made peace with it, and wound up chasing a bunch of different paths. I've had a really great racing career, and I never had a thought in my mind about coming back in an NHRA Pro Stock car. This really turned my world upside down."