LETTER FROM NHRA PUTS PRO STOCK'S FUTURE IN DOUBT
The health of NHRA’s Pro Stock class has been an on-going discussion with team owners and drivers for the past two seasons.
Back on Jan. 1, 2016, NHRA required all Pro Stock teams to equip their cars with electronically-controlled throttle body fuel injection systems, making engines more relevant from a technology standpoint. In order to reduce and control costs for the race teams, an NHRA-controlled 10,500 rev limiter was added to the fuel injection systems.
The sanctioning body hoped these changes, and others they made, would increase participation in the class and give it more fan appeal.
That hasn’t happened in NHRA’s eyes.
In a letter dated Oct. 3, and obtained by CompetitionPlus.com, NHRA told Pro Stock competitors because of low car counts and low interest among other things, the sanctioning body is going to have 8-car fields, instead of 16, at nine of the 24 of the national events in the 2018 season.
The list of 2018 national events with eight-car Pro Stock fields is comprised of Houston, Topeka, Kan., Epping, N.H., Englishtown, N.J., Bristol, Tenn., Denver, Sonoma, Calif., Seattle, and Brainerd, Minn.
The NHRA letter pointed out various issues which led to the decision.
“We hope this change in field size at selected events will help increase excitement and fan interest,” said NHRA president Peter Clifford.
This paints a dim future for drivers and team owners in the Pro Stock class.
The implemented 8-car fields at nine races next season comes on the heels of a letter that was sent to NHRA President Peter Clifford and NHRA’s management team earlier in the day of Oct. 3. The letter was obtained by Competition Plus and read as follows:
We would really like to talk to you about several things regarding Pro Stock and the health of the professional classes. From day one, we have been supportive of you guys and your decisions. We have continued to keep a positive attitude even when it affected us adversely. Having said that, we have seen a major shift in attitude and the focus has gone from participation, which we originally discussed in Denver, to "fan appeal". We were a little shocked with the sudden change in direction and we aren't sure exactly what that means. Collectively, we believe that we have a large fan base.
From a media standpoint, we are surrounded by negativity derived from the NHRA. We do the absolute best that we can within the rules that are laid out for us. We are not a boring class and we are not "slot cars". How can you grow fan appeal when Pro Stock is not promoted? We get a fraction of the TV time we should and get zero backing from NHRA when we try to self promote. The NFL, NBA, NHL, PGA, NASCAR, Indy Car etc., have figured out long ago that the athletes/drivers are the draw not the league or sanctioning body.
After our meeting in Charlotte, we have been unable to get a hold of you or Graham despite many attempts. In our humble opinion, this has become more of an attack, rather than a joint effort to fix our class.
This brings us to another point; Pro Stock is being picked on. We are not the only class that has low car counts. Just because Top Fuel and Funny Car have one or two more entries per race, does not mean they are so much better off. At Indy, the biggest race of the year, you had 10 full time racers in Top Fuel and 13 in Funny Car. The rest of the qualifying sheet was made up of one race entries or part time racers. That does not constitute health to us. Without Schumacher, Force and Kalitta, those classes do not exist. We want to make this point because it is clear that Pro Stock is not dying.
We have had more rule changes in the last 3 years than we have had in the history of the class combined. The rule changes were nothing but an expense to the teams and have significantly decreased interest and participation due to pure cost, yet we continue to push forward. We have dropped engine lease prices, bought additional cars and teams and kept cars on tour on our own dollar. We did this to keep our word to you guys and to help grow the class. We currently have multiple teams out there that we are running or helping and we feel that we are doing our part. On the other side of all of this action, NHRA has done nothing but harm the class. We have recently heard that you guys have gone as far as tell interested parties not to invest in our class at this point. This does not sound like working together to us.
We would like to also touch on the fact that it is not just the professional classes that have low car counts. The sportsman classes have been affected as well. Look at Competition Eliminator, a class that used to be stacked with entries. Manufacture's midway used to be booming. It was an awesome experience to go to the race and shop the midway for your project cars at home. T-shirt trailers have become scarce as well. At some point, we all have to hold our hand up and take some responsibility. Even when we had 35-40 cars entered in Pro Stock, we were never the star of the show. Not much has changed except the interest and efforts of the NHRA.
In closing, we want you to know just how many people you are impacting with this negative talk. Our programs employ approximately 100 people with wives and children. Over 300 lives will be affected by the decisions you guys seem to be taking so lightly. This is the 5 major teams out there. When you start adding in other teams, we are talking hundreds of more people. We won't even bring up the hundreds of millions of dollars we have personally invested, that can be discussed another time.
Wally Parks created a safe venue for people to race. It is the responsibility of the NHRA to foster the growth and well being of that vision. We obviously have some major problems that need to be discussed and worked on together. As the major players in Pro Stock, we have taken the time to discuss this and we plan to work together to do whatever it takes. In order for this to work, it starts at the top. We are clearly passionate and heavily invested. Lets reach across the aisle, put our differences aside and save the sport. Our sport is phenomenal, its the management we are competing with to keep it alive.
Elite Motorsports / Richard Freeman, Erica Enders & Jeg Coughlin Jr.
KB Racing / Jason Line, Greg Anderson & Bo Butner
Harlow Sammons Racing / Chris & Lester McGaha
Johnson & Johnson Racing / Allen & Roy Johnson
Gray Motorsports / Shane & Tanner Gray
Shane Gray added the following thoughts about the Pro Stock class.
“Pro Stock is not their only problem,” he said. “Nothing surprises me, but I can guarantee you Pro Stock is not their only problem.”
Pro Stock driver Drew Skillman, who won the 2015 Auto Club Road to the Future award and has seven career Pro Stock wins, also is frustrated.
“It’s up to them (NHRA) what they are going to do with their class (Pro Stock), it’s their ball diamond,” Skillman said. “If they don’t want us to play ball there, that’s up to them I guess. Maybe they could start enticing the people who have gone away instead of threating the people who are sitting there in front of you trying to put on a show for them. That’s what’s frustrating to me. If they (NHRA) are going to continuously be negative about it (Pro Stock) it is never going to be better.”
Skillman said attracting sponsors to get more full-time Pro Stock racers is not just a Pro Stock problem.
“No one is spending millions of dollars on advertising on the side of a race car anymore,” he said. “That’s not how people advertise anymore. It’s an inefficient way to advertise and there has to be other ways for us to bring interest into the sport and they need to be more realistic about what it takes to do this. Maybe they need to step up on purses. I think EFI was a great idea, but we lost guys because of it, because it cost more money. Doing an R&D program is the most expensive part about Pro Stock. It’s not going to the race track and making eight runs a weekend. The R&D is insanely expensive and you are lucky if you hit it the first time, which I’ve yet to see anyone do.”
NHRA also has said it has given increased TV coverage to the Pro Stock class, which hasn’t helped the class.
John Gaydosh, a part-time Pro Stock racer, believes the TV coverage Pro Stock racers get is a joke.
“We are not getting the TV time to get the exposure so how are we supposed to get sponsors to come onboard if we can’t get TV time,” Gaydosh said. “The whole 2½-hour show they do for qualifying, we get four minutes. Top Fuel gets two hours, so how is that justifiable. They show the Top Fuel burnouts, they show everything else for the Funny Car class, and they don’t show any of that for Pro Stock. They show maybe three, maybe four cars in qualifying, the top four guys and that’s it. What about the rest of the guys who are battling for spots? We just about have to crash a car to get on TV and that’s a shame. It seems like they are trying to point us out like we are the problem and we have 15 to 16 cars at every race and Top Fuel only has 15 to 16 cars at every race, so why aren’t they beating on them? I don’t get it.
It’s their sandbox and they are going to do whatever they are going to do and there are other classes we can race in. I would rather race Pro Stock, but it is what it is.”