PUBLISHER'S MEMORIES - As a 13-year old kid, I could never fully appreciate the performances turned in by the NHRA Pro Stocks with their small-block powerplants. While most of the media was praising the exploits of the IHRA's mountain motor Pro Stocks and the AHRA's nitrous-injected counterparts, the NHRA dealt with the headaches of maintaining parity among the manufacturers through weight breaks. This was the way NHRA Pro Stock was prior to the implementation of 500-inch "Mountain Motors." (Originally published in February 2002).
all take for granted that Pro Stock has been a simple formula. Today,
those that participate in the class carry a common weight of 2,350
pounds in a two-door coupe no older than five years old with the source
of motivation coming from an engine that displaces 500-cubic inches.
Sounds pretty simple, huh? It has always been the nature of man to start
with things in a difficult fashion and make it easier as knowledge and
technology permit. Such was the case with NHRA Pro Stock as it took them
nearly a decade to make the drag racing equivalent to NASCAR an easy
When the NHRA announced that they would be changing to a
"mountain motor" format for the 1982 season, they were the
last of the three major sanctioning bodies to abandon the small block
Pro Stocks in a conventional fashion. The AHRA, whose rules had
initially mirrored the NHRA's, inevitably, allowed the small blocks the
use of nitrous oxide as they converted over to the mountain motor format
a year prior to the NHRA's decision to abandon ship.
was no big secret that the NHRA technical department was looking to
simplify their lifestyle back in those days. Just prior to the U.S.
Nationals, they had announced the disbandment of Modified eliminator in
favor of the more time-efficient Super Gas entries. The feeling was in
the air that the pounds per-cubic-inch format was living on borrowed
time as well.
were a few factors that changed the way the NHRA operated in this
manner. The first was that maintaining parity among the brands in
competition was a Migraine maker to say the least. At any given time,
one manufacturer was always complaining that a rival competitor had an
unfair advantage. Secondly, the IHRA's mountain motored cars were
stealing the media spotlight. Their stars, which comprised such
standouts as Warren Johnson, Rickie Smith, Ronnie Sox and Roy Hill were
clicking off the seven-second laps with relative ease while the NHRA's
small-block screamers were lucky to land in the 8.30s. The NHRA needed
that thunder in the media and in swallowing their "NIH" (not
invented here) pride; they decided to adopt their own "Mountain
Motor" Pro Stock class in 1982.
Pro Stock was first introduced in 1971, the class was conducted on a
pounds per cubic inch basis. Now for those that may be unfamiliar with
that terminology, please allow us an opportunity to explain. For
instance, if a Ford driver ran at a weight break of 7.0 pounds per cubic
inch and campaigned a 351-inch motor, his car would have to weigh a
minimum of 2,457. On the other hand, the Chevrolets might receive a 6.0
weight break and they would have to tip the scales at a minimum of 2,376
with a 396-inch powerplant. We're not saying that was the exact scenario
of weight breaks, but you get our drift as to how it was always a
constantly changing formula. In other words, if you kicked butt on
Sunday, you could get pencil-whipped on Monday for your accolades. Of
the top ten finalists of the 2001 season, only Warren Johnson remains in
the fraternity that raced in this style of Pro Stock.
Pro Street standout Pat Musi was also a frontrunner in that era.
recalled, "Back in those days, everyone built the smallest engine
to get within their limit. We all ran on the middle weight that we could
get. The rules adopted in 1982 simplified things. It was a
has to wonder as to whether the NHRA knew any better of a way to
regulate the class once they created it. In the years prior to Pro
Stocks existence, doorslammer racing was limited to running class, which
in turn was regulated on a pounds per cubic inch basis. However, within
the various divisions, if a certain combination was rendered
uncompetitive, the team could simply choose another classification
within the eliminator. With Pro Stock, there was no such option. One had
to live with the weight breaks afforded them or either get another car -
or quit. Depending on which way the weight breaks went, some of the
drivers migrated into NHRA's Competition eliminator under the Altered or
FX (Factory Experimental) designation or in Modified trim, under the Gas
was a stink in the press that these factory guys would come in and run
the sportsman ranks," recalled former Hot Rod magazine staffer Dave
Wallace. "The NHRA eventually took matters in their own hands and
they adjusted the wheelbases to discourage this process. I can remember
the Martin Brothers out of Texas that adjusted their wheelbase to beat
wasn't just limited to the Martin Brothers; veterans like Butch Leal,
"Dyno" Don Nicholson, Scott Shafiroff, Ronnie Sox, Bob Riffle
and the late Don Carlton often raided the sportsman ranks, seriously
killing the morale in these classes. Their means of getting around the
rules inevitably increased the cost of living in the sportsman classes.
The common reasoning was that being uncompetitive in the Pro Stock class
was replaced with the publicity attained by winning in the sportsman
all of this shuffling around and unsteadiness of the rulesmakers
pencils, one might think the method of maintaining parity among the big
three was more of a headache than a challenge for the racers involved.
One of the more prominent teams in this style of racing was the duo of
Wayne Gapp and Jack Roush. The team won the 1973 NHRA Pro Stock
championship, but it became evident in bringing up the memories with
Gapp that he was never a fan of this style of racing.
was a big headache," recalled Gapp. "It was like a NASCAR race
that I watched last week, when they decided that a car needed to cut a
quarter-inch off and then ľ-inch off. Back in those days, the NHRA
started to do the same thing with the weight breaks. Once you start
making compromises like that, there's no fair way to make a rule. It
didn't make any difference if you were a Ford, Chevrolet or a Mopar, if
you worked the hardest during the off-season, and you were the
individual or the corporation that made the most horsepower, and then
sanctioning body changes the rules to slow you down…that's bull****.
That's what happened with this deal."
Iaconio, who now builds engines for several of the current Pro Stock
teams in competition, was a veteran in those days and more than held his
own. The veteran driver captured four national event wins from 1978
until the last year of the format in 1981. He too, backed up Gapp's
was more a headache," agreed Iaconio. "I wasn't really against
it, but I think the 500-inch program ended up becoming better for
everyone. This time you didn't have guys complaining of the weight
break. I wasn't initially happy with the 500-inch rule. I won the first
race and that made me real happy."
reason that many of the teams were initially against the conversion to
the common format is that they had invested a great deal of money and
time into making their programs work. They spent an equal amount of the
two just trying to maintain pace with Glidden, who was probably the most
handicapped of all of the drivers. If you wonder why that is, then we
can make it abundantly clear by pulling out the record book.
From 1974 to 1981, Glidden won 32 national events and claimed
5 world championships. It didn't matter where he went in terms of
manufacturers, the penalties followed. The not-so-odd thing is that the
success followed as well. In 1979, Glidden accepted a deal from the
Chrysler Corporation and that suited him just fine because the Chrysler
Hemi was always perceived as one of the best suited motors for the
just one year under the Mopar banner, Glidden conquered seven out of ten
national events. He was into his second season, when the major
manufacturer filed for a government bailout and ended their association.
Just when it looked as if the other Ford racers had gained a reprieve
for the pencil-whippings, Glidden returned to the Blue Oval camp with a
trusty Fairmont and fought tooth and nail with Reher & Morrison to
retain his championship.
while expressing frustration, never took it personal from the tech
department. He just found new ways to make his cars run fast.
didn't look at it in frustration back in those days," explained
Glidden. "I was just trying to survive. It looked really unfair to
me from the outside, but we still ended up winning most of the races
anyway. No one else in Pro Stock really had to deal with the rule
changes as much as I did. In looking back, and any way you look at it,
we still came out of it pretty well."
and lobbying was always a part of the Pro Stock game until the end of
1981. It was as equally aggravating in the formative years as it was in
the final one. Veteran journalist Jon Asher recalled the day when the
Mopars decided to sit a race out.
pounds-per-cube theory was always in constant need for adjustment to
make it fair for everyone," recalled Asher. "I think the
people that suffered the most in the earliest days of this format were
the Chrysler Hemi cars. Chrysler was unhappy with the weight break that
their team had to race at in Amarillo for the NHRA World Finals and they
withheld all of the factory cars at that race. Without factory help,
only one…maybe two…Chryslers showed up to race."
how crucial of a statement was Chrysler trying to make? Back in those
days, the winner of the World Finals was declared the World Champion.
popular consensus is that the weight breaks were designed to handicap
the Hemi engine's success. Once we look at the NHRA's demographics, we
can understand their reluctance to let this particular breed of engine
run rampant. The demographics in those days revealed that 85% of the
attending fans drove GM products and the Mopars and Fords accounted for
about 10% apiece. In an attempt to take advantage of the weight breaks
levied against the Hemis, many of the racers would go through tech with
a 426-inch cars destroked to a 396. While this combination remained
competitive in AHRA competition, it failed miserably in the NHRA.
Eventually it seemed as if the NHRA had given the Hemis the good
riddance, but they never counted on the canted valve Ford coming along.
At the same time the NHRA appeared to be on their Chrysler genocide,
Mopar was getting beat up by NASCAR rules makers. They had already
pushed the Hemi out of stock car racing.
Stock, in those days, brought out the innovator in everyone. Probably
the one Pro Stock entry that would forever change the look of the class
was Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins. After receiving approval from the
NHRA to run his tube-chassied Vega, he changed the way people approached
the class. Remember, the key was to get the lightest car out there with
the smallest motor to take advantage of the weight breaks.
Jenkins won Pomona in his 1972 debut of the Chevrolet compact, it
sparked a revolution that led to the introduction of similar small cars
such as the Ford Pinto, and AMC Gremlin. Some might argue that the Dodge
Colt should be included in that fraternity, but our research showed that
the Hemi Colts first made their appearance on the scene in 1973, but
were relegated to the sportsman ranks. The Colts were finally legalized
for NHRA competition in 1979.
the short-wheelbase cars taking over like the current Cavalier and Grand
Am trend, the Mopars were forced to do battle in what seemed to be
behemoth Dusters and Demons. The NHRA came to the rescue of the
longer-wheelbase cars and offered a weight break, but what ensued was
sheer pandemonium to the manufacturers that were trying to market the
current body styles. Sure, the Mopar guys stood a chance now, but the
guys like Glidden and Nicholson that did battle with the small pony cars
returned to their trusty thoroghbred 1970 Mustangs.
According to an article written by Danny White on Bill
"In 1975, the powers to be at NHRA had weight breaks for every
different type of combination, it seemed. The weight breaks were for
small car/small block engine, big car/big block engine, small car/big
block engine, and big car/small block engine. The different car
companies all had different weight breaks for their engines to make it
even more confusing. The rules at the start of 1975 had been taking away
from the Pinto/Cleveland engine combination with a 6.90 pounds per cubic
inch requirement but longer wheelbase cars could run at 6.45 pounds per
cubic inch. The cars made at that time by Ford really did not fit into
the category of sporty cars that might be considered racecars."
led the resourceful team of Gapp & Roush to defend their World
Championship in the most unlikely of all combinations - a four-door
Maverick. Interestingly enough, this chassis/body style allowed them to
run 100-pounds lighter than with their championship-winning Pinto.
wasn't long before the NHRA rescinded the age rule that once permitted
the brief return to yesteryear. According to White, "Somewhere
around the same time, the year rule, which had been four years from last
year of manufacture, was waived. The disappearance of this rule, the
reason why I have not been able to find, led to some of the neatest cars
ever built for Pro Stock. The Fords built using the new rules had weight
breaks in mind and soon disappeared after the ruled were changed. Some
of the racers who built 1970 Mustangs were Don Nicholson, Bob Glidden,
and the Marriott Brothers. Dyno Don Nicholson had Don Hardy of Floydada,
Texas, build his 1970 Mustang using the 366 Cleveland Ford for power.
car was raced only a couple of times, running a known best of 8.93 at
145 mph. Don had the car rebuilt into a Mustang II not long after the
Winternationals in Pomona. Bob Glidden also had his 1970 Mustang built
by Don Hardy and the 366 Cleveland Ford built by himself. Bob 's car was
sleek and very trick using all the tricks of the day. The car was built
high in the back and real low in the front. Bob was more successful with
his "old" new car than Nicholson running an 8.76 at 154.63
mph. Bob quickly sold his car after the weight break was taken away. Bob
was going through cars very quickly during this time, using a couple of
Pintos, a Mustang II, a Chevy Monza, and the 1970 Mustang."
think for a moment that because of the handicapping and Glidden's
success that this class was a bore to watch. Probably the greatest Pro
Stock points battle to ever take place under the NHRA banner, occurred
during this era when Glidden had to fight tooth and nail to fend off the
furious charge of Texans David Reher and Buddy Morrison with their hired
driver the late Lee Shepherd.
The trio announced their
intentions to make a run for the throne ruled by Glidden by stopping him
in the final event behind the wheel of his brief Plymouth era. Shepherd
used a holeshot during the 1980 Gators to beat Glidden, who ran an
identical 8.51. Prior to that event, Glidden was entering the new
decade, hot off of one of his greatest seasons ever. The longtime Ford
stalwart, had qualified on the pole for 15 consecutive events and even
more impressive had been in the finals of every Pro Stock race since the
1977 Summernationals in Englishtown, N.J.
had only reached the Pro Stock finals in two outings. Both of his final
round appearances came at the Cajun Nationals, once in 1979 and in the
year prior. In both instances, Glidden emerged victorious. Shepherd
entered the 1980 season with little, if any chance, of dethroning
Glidden. At this point, it didn't look as if anyone could, to be honest.
However, extensive amounts of testing had the RMS team ready for the
the final event of the season, Shepherd had scored six wins to Glidden's
two. It appeared as if a Chevrolet was going to hold the title for the
first time since Larry Lombardo had pulled off the feat in Grumpy's
Monza back in 1977. To catch Shepherd early in the season seemed like a
futile attempt when one considers Glidden entered Englishtown nearly
3000 points behind.
scenario was simple. Shepherd had to qualify and go at least two rounds
and he would be the champion. Glidden, on the other hand had to hope for
an early exit for Shepherd and establish low elapsed time and top speed
as well as win the event.
final event was at the now defunct Ontario Motor Speedway, the site of
the 1980 NHRA World Finals. While the majority of the field was mired in
the 8.50s and 8.60s, Shepherd let the Pro Stock contingent know that he
was ready to be champion by scoring the pole position with an 8.43,
159.57. Glidden was not giving up either as he landed second with an
Both drivers won their first
round matches and all Shepherd had to do was win the second round.
That's when the irony struck. The same illness that struck Glidden's
Arrow at Pomona back in February nailed Shepherd's Camaro when it
counted the most. A broken Lenco in the quarters against Andy Mannarino
opened the door wide open for Glidden. Glidden set the low elapsed time
and the top speed and absolutely gouged out Iaconio's eyes on the
starting line in the final round to score the victory and the
championship in one fell swoop.
a post-championship article Glidden was asked to rate the competition.
He was quoted in an issue of Super Stock and Drag Illustrated as saying,
"He's been like a computer. I didn't think much about Lee
throughout the year, except when it came time to race him. I think that
he made the best effort of anyone as a driver this year. He did
everything he was supposed to do and it seemed like every one of us that
had to run him always screwed up."
following year, Shepherd won seven out of 11 races to win the crown.
That final season, Glidden won thrice and Iaconio won twice.
interesting part of the whole scenario, over two decades later, when
asked who the toughest person during this era was Glidden responded that
without a doubt it was Shepherd and the Reher & Morrison camp. On
the other hand, Reher responded that it was Glidden, hands-down. To
break the tie, Iaconio voted for Glidden.
the only surviving member of what will go down in history as probably
the toughest "Bowtie Brigade" representative during this era,
admitted that his team just tried to do the best that they could with
the rules afforded them.
guess it was like you encounter with any kind of racing," explained
Reher. "You just kind of go with what is going on. Back then it was
necessary for it to be that way. It's not necessary now. The engine tech
back then had to be a lot stricter. If you ran the small block Chevy,
you had to run the iron factory heads. There's not anything even that
crude on a bracket car these days.
"When you compared that to the Ford Cleveland, they were engines in a totally different realm. The pounds-per-cubic inch rules was the NHRA's way of trying to make it where they both could race. There weren't a lot of trick heads for the big blocks either. They were a little better than the small blocks and that's why we switched. They were trying to equal out things as best they could. It's no different than what NASCAR does right now with the varying spoiler heights. With what they NHRA had to work with back in those days, they made their best effort."
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