Steve Beahm, head of Parts & Service for Mopar and Passenger Car Brands (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – North America), claims Mopar and Chrysler recognized the disconnect.

“That’s a little bit why we got out of Pro Stock. We were in that class a long time. We thought this was the right path,” he said. “I think that class is going to grow and you’re probably going to see some of the other classes maybe shrink.”

The Factory Stock Showdown class is what Beahm and his bosses believe has the marketing magic in the NHRA.

“We think we’re on the right kind of class. What we like about the class is you can look at the car and say, ‘I can go buy that.’ You can drive it to the grocery store, drive it dropping your kids off, then actually go to the track and race,” Beahm said. “Now, you won’t run the 7s (seven-second elapsed times) they run, but we’ve got the 1320s that we’re just rolling out and it’s meant for the grassroots racer. And you can see the cars side by side, and they almost look identical. They don’t have the same horsepower under the hood. But that’s why we love that class. That’s why we’re getting behind it, both on the Mopar and Dodge sides. People can identify with the car and identify with our brands.”

The Pro Stock class will run at only 18 NHRA events this year instead of the full NHRA schedule. (Barry Ambrose photo)

The 18-race schedule, which will make the Pro Stock category at least somewhat more affordable, isn’t enough to lure Dodge/Mopar back.

“We’d have to look at it. Right now, our commitment is on the Factory Stock Showdown,” Beahm said. “The classes are close enough in my point of view that I would hate not to have a championship-caliber (team), trying to split my resources (with) Pro Stock. But we would be interested in looking at it. The NHRA has talked with us. We understand what they want. We’re trying to talk to our fans and make the best investment we can, because we have limited resources. So we’ll put it in places we feel like we’re going to get the most return.”

Judy Kouba Dominick, Chevrolet Racing’s trackside communications representative, said, “The NHRA offers Chevrolet an incredible opportunity to meet our fans on a grassroots level. It’s very open, very friendly. We have some longstanding partnerships in Pro Stock. I don’t see that changing.”

The emergence of the Factory Stock Showdown, Line says, hasn’t sent a ripple of concern through the Pro Stock pits.

“I don’t think it’s a scare at all. I think it’s great,” he noted. “I’m not really interested in racing it, but I certainly think it’s cool. We’re working on some stuff for that class, as well. I don’t know that it’s sustainable. Obviously, you have to get more than $1,500 to win for it to be sustainable. I love the class myself. It’s more what Pro Stock used to be, or at least in a sense it is, because at least you have factory involvement. You have three OEMs in it. That’s a great thing.”

Still, Line is a staunch advocate the Pro Stock class.

“Pro Stock’s a cool class. For a naturally aspirated engine, it’s still one of the coolest out there. We get a bad rap — I don’t know why — but it’s also a very difficult class,” Line said.” To me, that makes it attractive. But it’s not a cheap class. That’s probably the toughest sell. It’s very expensive to do it, and it’s not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. It’s easy to criticize from the guardrail, but you get behind the wheel and give it a rip and it’s tough.”

His teammate, four-time series champion Greg Anderson, agrees.

“It’s the class with the best competition,” he said. “This (past) year was the best competition we’ve ever had. It was off the charts. You can’t make any mistakes if you want to win and it’s harder than ever to win a race. But I love that. The taller the challenge, the better I like it. It’s why I race in the class. When people ask why I race Pro Stock, it’s for the competition. No matter what happens, the class is still going to have great competition.”

Gray, who says he has no intention of returning to drag racing, didn’t have a quarrel with that.

“I think all your talent’s in this (Pro Stock) class,” he said, “and really and truly I think as far as talent goes in the fuel classes, there’s very little. The majority of them, I don’t think, if they got in these things, they wouldn’t be able to drive them. It’s a shame that this class gets treated the way it does, just because it’s not going 330 mph and blowing up and wrecking every run. But that’s the way they want to do it, so it is what it is.”

Who knows what will happen? If racing is an addiction, Line’s prediction will prove correct. He said, “People still want to race, make no mistake about it. As long as the costs don’t outweigh the fun by too big a margin, they’re still going to do it.”