We’ve all seen the current Super Gas
and other indexed-pro tree classes, but have you ever wondered how
this phase of sportsman drag racing actually came into existence?
Some call the “SUPER” classes and that style of racing
as the one style of sportsman racing that revolutionized little
guy participation and it actually can be traced back to 1971. On
a sunny day in March of 1971, promoter Dave Dorman sat down with
his tech officials at Redding Dragway. The promoter, along with
track manager, Randy Liddell, had all gathered for their traditional
pre-race morning meeting. The group was going over their assigned
chores for the night's special eight-car show. Indeed, it was going
to be a blast as local Modified Gasser favorites, Bob Bunker's '55
Chevy, Tom Thornhill's 1963 Falcon and the Yuill Brothers' '67 Camaro,
were among those expected to compete. There was one problem, though.
This wild show didn't have a name. That is, until Dorman made a
|This photo shows possibly the first
throttle-stop fabricated by Pro Gas pioneer Dave Riolo. Riolo
is said to have debuted the threaded-rod stop as early as the
Dorman said, "Most tracks can afford to book Pro Stockers.
Heck, we can only afford Gassers. I guess we'll call them Pro Gassers.
After everybody laughed, they got to thinking about it and liked
it. Dave Riolo, a local racer was standing behind me when I said
it. Evidently, he liked the idea because he and the other racers
came to the line with 'Pro Gas' shoe polished on their windshields."
Thus, Pro Gas got its name. Dorman ran this kind of show with no
index, wide open and an eight-car field. The format caught on like
wildfire. Up until 1974, promoters continued to buy in similar shows.
Most of the guys that raced in this program lived in the Sacramento,
Ca., area where, in 1974, they organized and approached Sacramento
Raceway's Dave Smith about putting together a program to run on
a regular basis. Prior to '74, they ran on a 10.50 index in a program
encouraged by the Yuill Brothers, who would eventually step up to
A 9.90 index was later adopted with a breakout when the points
series began and the fields were limited to eight. As time progressed,
the index was dropped to a 9.70 and then even further to a 9.50
in 1978. In judging the performances from that era, these cars were
flying. To give you an idea of how close in time that these cars
were, let's compare them to Pro Stock. Today, the current Pro Stocks
would have been 3.2 seconds quicker. Back then, in 1974, only nine
tenths separated the two.
The veteran outlaw shoebox campaigner Riolo recalled those early
days of Pro Gas racing. He admits that even though the cars were
going really fast, it wasn't as complex to race the class back then
as it is today.
Bob Bunker was
another founding member of Pro Gas.
"Twenty years ago, running mid-nines were expensive,"
Riolo explained. "We didn't have much of a chassis. You saw
lots of fuel-injected cars and four speeds. They didn't have an
automatic developed enough to run the numbers and the Lenco transmissions
were too pricey. Parts were hard to come by for the particular combinations
that we had. We had to make a lot of our own parts to run 9.70s
in 3,000 pound cars. Setting up the car was basically a shot-in-the-dark
method that worked more times than not.
"When the index dropped to a 9.50, you'd go out and feel for
the weather. My particular routine consisted of feeling the track
and weather temperature, making a throttle adjustment and then going
out and running consistent .50s and .52s. I'd like to see someone
win a race these days by using this method."
Evidently, the technique worked. Riolo won three consecutive Pro
Gas titles at Sacramento Dragway beginning in 1974. He eventually
added two more in '79 and '80.
The class progressed and the index was dropped to 9.50 by 1978.
By this time, Pro Gas had taken California by storm and Sacramento
Dragway was the place to be if you lived in Northern California.
In Southern California, it was the famed Orange County International
Raceway. Competition was more than hot and heavy at these two popular
When the NHRA wanted to create a national event version of the
popular Pro Gas concept, they conferred a lot with the Southern
California racers and they pushed for the index to be 9.80. The
Northern racers had their own opinions and the overwhelming consensus
was that, "9.80s were for old ladies." Some were pushing
|Most of all of the drag racing mags
supported the Pro Gas movement. Major mags such as Popular Hot
Rodding (shown) and Super Stock and Drag Illustrated regularly
devoted space for the cause.
The NHRA was very interested in Pro Gas. This provided them with
a means to boost participation without all of the usual technical
headaches often associated with policing the class racing divisions,
which provided the only avenue for a sportsman racer to compete
on the national event level. The sanctioning body contacted several
of the racers in California. The problem that emerged is that one
group provided an example, while another gave another account of
how it "ought to be."
The end result was what the NHRA described as a compromise to attract
both groups. They chose to debut the new program at the 1980 Winternationals
in Pomona, Ca. The So-Cal guys largely supported the program, but
the Northerners were nowhere to be found when the tree dropped for
the first time. According to our sources, the reason that guys like
Riolo and Bunker didn't support it is because they felt that the
NHRA had butchered their concept. One of their largest gripes was
the legality of the street roadsters in the program.
Dave Wallace, who now runs the highly successful Good Communications
advertising agency as well as the popular Hot Rod Nostalgia venue,
was a freelance writer for the major drag racing magazines at the
time all of this was going on. He believes that the facts that we
presented to him were on the mark.
Wallace added, "The guys up North were really pissed off.
Some felt like, 'Here we are running these big blocks in these old
heavy cars, real cars, we might add. Why go through all of that
trouble to have a tube chassied, small block with better visibility
put you on the trailer first round. We are going through all of
this trouble to make this thing a unique format and these guys are
going a cheaper route, which virtually takes away all of the originality
that we'd worked so hard to preserve.' When Bob Tietz won Pomona
with an automatic small block roadster, he virtually sealed its
fate and set a precedent in the NHRA's version."
Tietz, a long time Pro Gas advocate, remembers the roots of this
movement. He recalled that fateful day, "Ron Williams let me
drive his car at Pomona. I remember they made us qualify a week
earlier at OCIR. It was the quickest 32 cars and they wanted us
to showcase our program at Pomona."
|Pro Gas opened the door for longtime
Seventies bracket stalwarts such as John Labbous to enter the
national event scene without having to go class racing.
Tietz continued his trip down memory lane by adding, "The
Southern California guys didn't want to run the fast indexes like
the guys up North did. We had a hard enough time finding cars to
run 9.90s. Some of them wanted the index at 10.50. As for the roadsters,
the Southern California people wanted them because they felt it
was just one more competitor for their cause."
Though Tietz is from Southern California, he often ventured up
the interstate to Sacramento Raceway. At a time when the guys up
in Sacramento gave the So-Cal guys a hard time for wanting to go
slower, Tietz was very much competitive. He never let the taunts
get to him as he won more times than he lost. Tietz won the Northern
California Pro Gas series championship three times.
The NHRA made some significant changes in their sportsman program
to accommodate the indexed, pro-tree concept. The index was bumped
up to a 9.90 and the division was renamed Super Gas. This new line-up
was created at the expense of the old Modified eliminator class.
Suddenly, the NHRA didn't have to deal with gripes that the three
eliminators of class racing design could generate. They now had
only two to deal with.
The NHRA now had a group of bracket cars that required very little
attention except for safety. There was also a larger group of bracket
cars when compared to legal Modifieds, so it was a financial no-brainer
as to which would be the better of the two to choose.
The IHRA jumped on the wagon as well in 1981. At this time, the
sanctioning body was based in Bristol, Tenn., and felt that a 10.50
index would be perfect for them and they added it in and named it
Hot Rod. A full 64-car field with alternates to spare was nothing
new for the IHRA. By 1982, they expanded and established a 9.90
version, dubbing it Super Rod.
|The winner of the first-ever Pro Gas
exhibition was Californian Bob Tietz at the 1980 NHRA Winternationals.
Since the inception of Super Gas, the style and type of car that
has competed has drastically changed. For instance, in the early-Eighties,
less of an emphasis was put on reaction times and more on running
consistently. Riolo's famed "Temptation" shoebox utilized
a pretty unconventional set-up in 1980 that was capable of winning
in Super/Pro Gas competition. His combination in today's Super Gas
ranks wouldn't even stand a chance as most experts contend. Riolo's
'55 Chevy was powered by an injected, 482 Yenko and engaged a Chrysler
Hemi four speed. This lumbering beast topped the scales at 2,900
Before we continue this trip down memory lane, not every one of
the pioneering machines carried this same combination. For example,
there were those that tried the small motor, lightweight car combination
and others that bypassed the carbureted or supercharged format for
fuel injection. Some even experimented with nitrous oxide. The days
of the aforementioned "odd" combinations are gone. Or,
at least in the standard sense, they are absent.
A technical look at one of today's Super Gasser is enough to make
one of those Pro Gas purists of yesteryear sick to their stomachs.
Gone are the oddball blown combinations and the original "have
your own identity deals" that once fueled the spectator and
As times change, so do situations. This has been the case with
Super/Pro Gas. With its Pro Modified style introduction and today's
computerized format, the class has evolved to admirably fill a need.
A major complaint is that the cars no longer run side-by-side, opting
to play a neat game of cat and mouse. Some like the way it has evolved
and some don't. But, regardless of how you feel, it has filled the
void and saved sportsman racing, at least on the national scene.
Imagine the cost of entering drag racing under the same standards
that were once mandated for the class cars, and you'll quickly see
why Pro Gas had to be the sacrificial lamb to take sportsman racing
to the next level.