Bill Kuhlmann swears a day is coming when he’s going to write a tell-all book on what happened behind-the-scenes during Pro Modified’s formative years. And for the Wentzville, Mo.-based Pro Modified icon, if the book is as successful as his part in pioneering the class, it could be a best-seller.
“A lot of people forget who had the first big wing…I had to make that,” said Kuhlmann, speaking to Attitude’s CompetitionPlus.com for the Two Decades of Thrill series. “Who had the first dual parachutes? I had to come up with that because my cars were too heavy to stop. Double frame rail car … no one had ever heard of them. Who had the first nitrous oxide on an engine that was over 615-cubic inches? Nobody wanted to take a chance and blow up their high dollar motor.”
Kuhlmann was accustomed to taking those chances.
The former UDRA Pro Stock champion took a chance that he could take a homebuilt Camaro, race the 1987 IHRA Winternationals in Darlington, SC, and post the first-ever 200 mile per hour pass in a doorslammer. He did it with considerably less budget than his higher-financed competitors.
“People didn’t realize what a low buck deal program I had,” added Kuhlmann. “That’s why when I got that Summit deal, it was special.”
Kuhlmann watched in the early going as many of his early innovations found their way into his competitor’s cars.
Those days have come and gone, and to this day, Kuhlmann believes one of his finest innovations is alive and well. Take a look at what the ADRL’s Pro Extreme division represents, and you’ll see that it bears a striking resemblance to a concept formulated in 2002 and branded as the Xtreme Racing League.
“The XRL was my whole thing … my idea and Kenny was going with it,” Kuhlmann added. “It was a deal where I couldn’t afford to do what I needed to do, he followed through on it. He changed the name, with my blessings and went ahead. More power to him.”
Kuhlmann leads a simpler life these days. After racing 40 years professionally, he’s on the sidelines because the finances won’t support racing the way he prefers.
“Pro Modified has gotten so expensive like all classes do,” Kuhlmann admits. “I’m not crying sour grapes but it’s gotten so expensive now that it’s at the point now … that unless you have a major source of income somewhere, and want to race at the top level, it’s going to take a lot of money. I’m one of those racers who's smart enough to know that I don’t have the money to do what it takes to do it at that level.”
“I am proud in some ways and disappointed in others,” Kuhlmann said. “I have mixed emotions on it. The politics of it all … there got to be too many rules. The politics brought in rule after rule. It’s polluted with rules now.”
Despite Kuhlmann’s conflicted outlook, he still loves the class and admits he’s in the process of building a new car, a 1969 Corvette, to sell. He’s building his vision of the ultimate car. In his time away from racing, he’s analyzed and studied every aspect of his past runs.
“It’s different because I don’t have a deadline,” Kuhlmann explained. “I can just piddle around with it and it keeps me busy. I’ve discovered a few things that are simplistic things about some of these cars. When you are not in the frying pan of having to compete and not having to race every week, you can really sit back and look at things.”
And just what is Kuhlmann’s biggest observation?
“We just had too much horsepower,” he admitted, of the last time he raced. “It’s obvious now to watch the guys with screw blowers and now their horsepower range is up there, everyone thought I had forgotten how to drive. I’m watching these guys tap walls left and right, no matter who they are. It’s not that they are bad drivers, there are a lot of good ones. But when you have so much power – it’s a monster to control in a door car.”
For Kuhlmann, he’s not sure if he’s through fooling with that monster or not. If or when that time comes again, Mr. 200 will have the silver bullet loaded in the chamber and ready to fire.