A perception that car counts are low, the defection of reigning champion Tanner Gray to NASCAR, radical and expensive rule changes in recent years and the rise in popularity of the Factory Stock Showdown and Pro Modified classes have beset the NHRA’s Pro Stock class.
Yet another drastic measure for the premier doorslammer category kicks into effect during the Feb. 7-10 season-opening Lucas Oil Winternationals at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, as the NHRA trimmed the Pro Stock schedule to 18 of the 24 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events.
It’s the latest resuscitation effort by the sanctioning body to breathe life into a segment of its competition that used to feature fierce rivalries among the Big Three automakers and some of the sport’s most colorful competitors.
Three-time Pro Stock champion Jason Line believes that history is, well, history.
“I don’t think you’re ever going to see that. Those days are gone,” he said. “But things change and you’ve got to figure out how to change with it and do it the right way. How that is I’m not sure. I don’t have all the answers. Nothing lasts forever. You have to figure out how to roll with the punches and change, as well.”
Of the shortened schedule, he said, “I think in some ways it’ll be good. The entire schedule’s probably a little bit long for all of us. It’s already too many races. It costs a lot of money to do this and obviously the payback is nowhere near enough. The payouts, not only have they not increased, they’ve decreased. I don’t know how that makes financial sense to anyone. It is what it is. I guess time will tell. We’ll see.”
The Pro Stock class has suffered a dip in participation in recent years and the class (for various reasons) has lost a handful of regulars. Journeyman John Gaydosh ditched the class, he says, because the NHRA’s disinterest in exposure for the category has cost him potential sponsors.
But the Pro Stock class has gained several other racers — Alan Prusiensky and Derek Kramer, plus returnees Val Smeland, Kenny Delco, Fernando Cuadra and Wally Stroupe. Matt Hartford, an ADRL Pro Stock and NHRA Sport Compact champion, has increased his involvement.
Matt Smith, the current and three-time Pro Stock Motorcycle champion, is planning to make a few appearances in a Pro Stock car this year.
Cuadra’s sons are going to be behind the wheel, too. And 2017 champ Bo Butner, who had announced his departure, reversed his decision.
Only once last year did the Pro Stock class fail to draw enough entries to fill the 16-car field with 20 cars on hand at several events.
Line said of the NHRA, “I don’t know that they pick on us — they pick on the sportsman racers just as bad. Your actions speak louder than your words. You can say what you want to say, but that’s what the actions show. I love all the drag racing. I love every class. I think they’re all important. I think Top Fuel is certainly the pinnacle of the class, no question about it. The base that holds everything up is just as or more important. If that’s healthy, generally the top is healthy. But I’m not running the joint. They are.”
The downward spiral for the once brand-crazy Pro Stock category includes a crescendo of criticism from fans that the Pro Stock cars they see on the track don’t look anything like what’s available on the showroom floor.