In March of 1990, a class made its debut that would forever etch its place in the hearts of doorslammer fans. Pro Modified proved to be all of that and a bag of chips, and still does to this date. Those of us that were around the racing scene in the middle part of the ‘Eighties remember it as if it were yesterday. When the competitors of the Top Sportsman class began to plumb nitrous oxide into their radical doorslammers and run just as quick and fast as the mountain motor Pro Stockers, it wasn't long before drag racing fans began requesting these machines at their local tracks in the Southeast, and the track owner answered their wishes by hosting Quick Eights. The mountain motored Pro Stocks had basically priced themselves out of the match race scene and besides, the pre-Pro Modified cars were more exciting to watch and darn near as quick, if not quicker.
We rolled our timeline back to 1985 and we're going to sort, analyze and try our hardest to come up with an all-time list of the Top 25 Top Sportsman Quick Eight/Pro Modified doorslammers. We'll upset some people, we'll have some that will agree and others will just enjoy taking this day to stroll down memory lane for one of the greatest things to hit the drag racing community since sliced bread. Two years ago, we first released our list and now we are happy to present the updated line-up.
Since our last ranking, top entries such as Mike Ashley's/Al Billes' Studebaker, Wayne Barker's supercharged Monte Carlo (only supercharged entry to qualify at first Pro Modified event) and Johnny Rocca's '49 Merc fell from the top twenty-five.
Here we go…start the drum roll …
25. - Robbie Vandergriff's '57 Chevy - In 1985, a former Super Gas racer and a boat dealer that had a special love for classic '57 Chevrolets teamed up to create a series of shoeboxes that would propel them to legendary status among Pro Modified aficionados. Robbie Vandergriff, along with car owner Jim Bryant, provided an excellent example of what a "modern day" 1957 Chevy would look like. The machine never won an IHRA national event, but that didn't stop it from bringing race fans to their feet every time it pulled to the starting line. Besides that, it ran real fast and was several thousandths off becoming the first doorslammer to run in the six-second zone.
24. - Randy Moore's Lambo - This was the one car that was responsible for pushing multi-time Pro Modified champion Scotty Cannon over to a supercharged combination. The car was the brainchild of Piney Flat, Tennessee 's Randy Moore and it certainly ran as wild as it looked. Moore, who developed the reputation of driving the machine to the extreme edge and back, had the machine dipping into the 6.50s back in 1992. The doors lifted South to North just as the original sports car did and could one expect any different from a car sponsored by Tosti Asti Spumante? Moore abandoned the ride in 1993 and last we saw of the machine, it was on the outlaw Alabama Quick Eight scene running 4-teens back in 1995. It is now reportedly in Australia running Top Doorslammer.
23. - Scotty Cannon's Lumiglass - When Cannon did make the switch, he took an Oldsmobile Funny Car body and cut doors out. He then mounted it on a Tommy Mauney chassis and made the switch from a nitrous to supercharged combination. Cannon's car was so controversial that it was outlawed after only one season. Two other cars were made identical and delivered to chassis builder Tommy Mauney and Michael Martin. Quote of the 1992 season belonged to Pro Modified pioneer Blake Wiggins. He uttered, "That aint no Lumina, that's just a 1992 Fiberglass."
22. - Tommy Howes' 300 ZX - Forget about the dynasty of Scotty Cannon blown doorslammers or the Jimmy Oddy blown entries, this entry was by far the most-hated among the nitrous contingent. To understand why, let's rewind back to 1988 when there was a tremendous amount of pressure to become the first doorslammer into the six-second zone. While Robbie Vandergriff's '57 Chevy had come close with a 7.00 at the Winter Nationals, Howes did one better with a 6.99 during a national event at Atco, NJ., that same year. Some of the nitrous advocates didn't event acknowledge his feat, but we do.
21. - Tim McAmis' Pontiac - We couldn't do this story justice if we didn't include the car that McAmis piloted to the first World Championship. At the time, McAmis was working for a well-known chassis builder and was soon to branch off on his own chassis building career. He played to considerably less fanfare than his comrades did, but in the end, McAmis stole their thunder.
20. - Scott Shafiroff's Pontiac - The Hmiel/Shafiroff team was a lethal combination in the late-Eighties. The team never really prospered in the Pro Modified era as much as it did on the Quick Eight scene. Hmiel, along with engine builder Shafiroff, scored many blazing speed marks and even claimed a Quick Eight crown in the two years prior to the inception of Pro Modified. This car became the first nitrous-injected entry into the six-second zone. Shafiroff is rumored to be making a comeback in Pro Modified. Hmiel was killed in a plane crash in 1991. (Photo courtesy of Dave Bishop/Competition Photos)
19. - Animal Jim's Mercury Zephyr - This car started out as an NHRA Pro Stocker, then went UDRA Pro Stock and then migrated over to the Top Sportsman ranks and eventually ended up in Pro Modified. The classic Merc, if our memory serves us correctly was nicknamed Zeke, was eventually replaced by a Probe. However, before it was retired, the Merc wowed the race fans with tremendous wheelstands and went on record as the first to win a Top Sportsman Quick Eight under the IHRA sanction. Feuher defeated Robbie Vandergriff's '57 Chevy in the final round at the 1988 Winter Nationals in Darlington . The car has since been revived and is doing battle on the match race scene.
18. - Ronnie Sox's '63 Comet - When the Pro Modified class was announced, it was this car that appeared on the issue of Drag Review as the prototype. Legendary Pro Stock racer Ronnie Sox gave the class its first boost of credibility when he announced his return to the sport would be in Pro Modified. The car was a championship contender in the first season and won several national events. Eventually, the car fell by the wayside as Pro Modified progressed to levels that required sponsorship. The car was a media hit, nonetheless.
17. - Gaffney Brothers Nova – The impressive thing about this classic steel machine is that it battled the best of the Pro Modifieds on the Outlaw circuits and left them in its dust. This car was a sight to see, but unfortunately not many got to see it. This behemoth, driven by Sonny Tindal, frequented the Quick Eights around the Carolinas in 1987 and 1988 and didn't venture out of the region. Don't be fooled. This machine was a stick of dynamite against the well-known entries. Consider this: the Gaffney Brothers Nova ran 4.80s in the eighth-mile with a 615-inch Sonny Leonard engine and a Powerglide transmission. This car regularly put heavy-hitters such as Ed Hoover, Tommy Mauney, Blake Wiggins, Michael Martin and Scotty Cannon on the trailer. You just had to see it run to understand why it made it in here.
16. Walter Henry's 1985 Corvette - Walter Henry's Corvette - The late Walter Henry never had the opportunity to see the Pro Modified category come to pass. Henry was known as one of the pioneers of the supercharged doorslammer movement in the IHRA. He was killed in a special Pro Modified event in late 1989 in Atco , NJ . The event was intended to give race fans and competitors an idea of what the new class was to be like. If anyone deserves to be in here, Henry does. (Photo courtesy of Dave Bishop/Competition Photos)
15. - Bill Kuhlmann's Nitro Coupe – It always looked like a mid-Eighties Corvette to us, but the fact of the matter was that it was '68 Corvette. After a dispute with the IHRA sent Kuhlmann over to the SUPER CHEVY circuit, he dabbled with nitromethane, legally. He established the mark for the quickest-ever Nitro Coupe with a 6.001. The car was eventually destroyed in a horrific fire that left Kuhlmann injured and led to his retirement from that series. This was the car that made the run for the five-second zone a popular thing to do.
14. - Victor Bray's '57 Chevy – Victor Bray is a legend in the sport of drag racing, and his trademark black 1957 Chevrolets are instantly recognizable around the world. The Castrol GTX on the side has also been a trademark of his racing machines. He has campaigned a series of these supercharged shoeboxes throughout his career, which includes setting numerous records and winning six consecutive ANDRA Top Doorslammer championships. Late last season he took delivery of the latest in the line from the shop of Murray Anderson, and he ran a stellar 6.14 with it at the 2002 Winternationals.
13. - Mike Ashley's Beretta - Ashley's Beretta was a crafty piece of machinery that epitomized what Pro Modified was all about. It had sleek bodylines and a monster of a wing. Ashley, who returned to the class in 1999, was one of the front-runners of the nitrous contingent. This car will forever be remembered as scoring the pole in the first-ever Pro Modified event and won the 1990 Spring Nationals crown. Ashley finished second in the first-ever Pro Modified points chase. The kid from Long Island , NY was also remembered for a potent Trans-Am that ran in upwards of 215 mph back in 1989. (Photo courtesy of Dave Bishop/Competition Photos).
12. - Peter Kapiris' Studebaker – Officially Australia's quickest doorslammer, The “Batmobile” of Top Doorslammer champion Peter Kapiris is another of Murray Anderson's legendary 1953 Studebakers. At last season's ANDRA opener at Kwinana Beach , Kapiris clocked an amazing 6.07. That same weekend, the team, led by crew chief Ian “Inky” Cleland threw everything they had at the car in an attempt to run the first “five” in Pro Mod/Top Doorslammer history. They ultimately overpowered the track, and abandoned further World Record attempts in order to concentrate on wresting the title away from six-time champ Victor Bray. For 2003, the Kapris machine was updated with a special version of a Murray Anderson Power Link suspension and a new PSI screw blower. Can that first Aussie “five” be far away?
11. - Jim Oddy's '00 Corvette C-5 – This was probably one of the most feared Pro Modified cars before it ever turned a single tire under power on the drag strip. The combination of Aussie chassis builder Murray Anderson and engine builder Jim Oddy provided enough speculation to have the competition jabbering among themselves. The machine eventually produced a 6.12 and proved to be a worthy replacement for the '54 Corvette that Fred Hahn drove to the championship in 2000. This season proved to be an incredible one for Hahn as he propelled the machine to the quickest legal run ever with a 6.07 at E-town and clinched the 2003 NHRA Pro Modified crown.
10. - Ed Hoover's '63 Corvette – On the strength of the 2001 and 2002 seasons, Hoover's Paul Trussell Corvette made the monster leap into the top 10 of the all-time greatest cars list. Hoover 's first victory in the new car didn't come until two years after its debut, but since then “The Hoov” has driven the car to six more victories and a score of runner-up finishes. The potent ride has been replaced by a new car with a supercharger but the car that carries motivation with an engine called “Maude” has proven its worth and reliability. Money talks when it comes to owner Paul Trussell, and for a long time this '63 Corvette was not for sale. However, at the conclusion od the 2003 season, the car was retired.
9. Scotty Cannon's 1963 Corvette - When the Cannon announced his return to Pro Modified with the Studebaker, that immediately caused the 1963 Corvette that he made popular featuring the innovative Hairy Glass body. In just one season, Cannon reached five finals and won three times. It was also the first Pro Modified to dip into the 6.40s. Another tidbit of interest, this was the only supercharged car to qualify in an IHRA Pro Modified field during the 1997 season.
8. - Mike Janis' '63 Corvette – Janis' car makes the quantum leap into the all-time Top 10 on the strength of his 2000 World Championship season and the fact that it is the quickest “legal” Pro Modified entry in the World with a 6.112. One just has to love this car and the resourcefulness of its driver. When the IHRA wouldn't allow billet heads, it terrorized the Quick Eight shootout within Top Sportsman. Once billet heads were declared legal, Janis won the championship. Most recently, Janis made another bid for the title in the potent Corvette.
7. - Bill Kuhlmann's '85 Camaro - If one pass made a car
a legend, then a cool March evening in 1987 made a UDRA Pro Stocker
owned by Bill Kuhlman among our top ten of all Pro Modifieds. Kuhlman
won the race to 200 mph among all doorslammers and went on to secure
several more 200 blasts during an era that this mile per hour number
was wishful thinking. The car was retired after the historic season
in favor of a more aerodynamic Beretta. As the class grows older,
the spirit in which this Camaro was created will forever epitomize
the class. Let's not forget about the explosive tendencies of the
class as evidenced by this 1987 IHRA Yearbook photo from Don Gillespie.
6. Mitch Stott's Radiac Maniac - When the bragging rights were on the line, Stott became the first driver to record a five-second run during a preseason event in Darlington, SC. Stott introduced the car to Pro Modified as a nitrous runner and later converted to a blower combination. He nearly pulled out a double championship, but scheduling conflicts and bad luck limited him to the IHRA title.
5. - Shannon Jenkins/Mike Castellana's '68 Camaro – Jenkins was ready to beat this Camaro like a redheaded stepchild in the first season that he drove it for Team Owner Mike Castellana. One year later, he was whipping on the competition in the same manner. Jenkins piloted the machine to its first national event victory in 2001 at Leicester . One year later, it added victories in eight national events as well as a handful of runner-ups en route to winning both the IHRA and NHRA Pro Modified crowns. The car didn't miss a beat when Castellana took over the driving chores. Castellana became the first nitrous driver into the six-teens and claimed two national event wins.
4. - Charles Carpenter's All-Steel '55 Chevy - This was the Babe Ruth of Pro Modifieds. This was the machine that Charles Carpenter started the "World's Fastest" race with. We'll not lie to you, this machine went way faster than it should have and even Carpenter knew that. But, when we're in the heat of battle, we sometimes can't bring ourselves to let up. This machine, with the help of nitrous-oxide, became the first '55 Chevy into the seven-second zone just hours before the West Coast's Dave Riolo achieved the same feat. It was retired at the completion of the 1996 season and remains a car that will always be revered as the one that started the nostalgia craze of Top Sportsman/Pro Modified. (Photo courtesy of Dave Bishop/Competition Photos)
3. - Jim Oddy/Fred Hahn's Black Mariah - In 1989, the Top Sportsman Quick Eight program was the talk of the racing industry. Gone was the talk of the mountain motor Pro Stockers as this special "no-holds" barred Saturday evening program had taken center-stage among doorslammer fans. The event had been largely nitrous dominated until a certain primered black Corvette showed up at the World Nationals in Norwalk . The car put on a pretty good show, but none like it did at the following event in Darlington . Fred Hahn piloted Jim Oddy's Corvette to a barrage of high-6.8 second runs and even dipped into the 6.7-second range to score the U.S. Open Nationals title. As if that wasn't enough, the car, now dubbed "The Black Mariah" left jaws agape when it laid down a 6.69 elapsed time. It was no wonder that IHRA officials when drafting the Pro Modified rules made them diametrically opposite of this car's combination. We had a tough time deciding which Oddy car to use, but a 6.69 in 1989 beat out a 6.12 in 2001. This one was our favorite.
2. - Scotty Cannon's Studebaker - The car that Cannon took delivery of back in 1997 is alive and kicking and ready to make a ru for the 2004 Pro Modified championship, regardless of sanction. The Studebaker provided the perfect rebound from a disappointing 1997 season in which Cannon made the ill-fated decision to return to nitrous. The Murray Anderson creation rarely shook the tires thanks to the innovative swing-arm concept and inevitably propelled Cannon to be the first into the 6.3-second zone as well as a sixth Pro Modified World Championship. Oh yeah, Cannon's 6.39 in Cordova paced the field in which the #2 qualifier had a 6.52 best. (Photo courtesy of Bryan Epps/BME Photography)
And still the all-time greatest Pro Modified…
1. - Tommy Mauney/Shannon Jenkins/Parsons Brothers - Tommy Mauney admitted that it was probably the best Pro Modified car that he'd ever built. The Shelby , NC.-based chassis builder fabricated this fat-fendered creation at the same time that he built Cannon's championship winning Willys that claimed the crown in 1994. Mauney admitted that it was never destined for the national event scene, but migrated there at the end of the 1994 campaign. He confided that the machine had already garnered nearly 38 Quick Eight wins before it made that debut. The former IHRA Pro Stock champion, with the assistance of Norman Estes and Jack Collins, as well as Shannon Jenkins as crew chief, went on to win the 1995 crown. He sold the car to the Parsons Brothers during the off-season, who quickly snagged Jenkins as their driver. "Iceman" Jenkins went on to finish runner-up in the points in 1996 before claiming the title in 1997. He added a third championship for the machine in 1999 before it was retired.