With the 2016 calendar year almost closed, it's time that we take a moment to look forward into 2017 and think about what we may see. Based on the number of races, there will certainly be plenty to see and there will be plenty of headlines.
We have already seen the drama unfolding in the drag racing world during the month of December. Whether it has been with top NHRA teams making changes, parking drivers, switching crews, or adding sponsors, or Pro Mod drama and radial racing discussions, what is obvious is that 2017 has the opportunity to be one of the biggest years in drag racing history.
Looking at NHRA, the glaring thing that most are talking about is how long Pro Stock will remain viable. I spoke to some current NHRA Pro Stock drivers at PRI and even they seemed concerned about the viability of the class. I personally love the efi change, but more needs to be done to improve it, or I think we will hear an announcement that Pro Stock is done at the end of 2017 all together. And what about the Nitro classes? There has already been big changes.
JFR and DSR seem to be going back and forth with crew members. Longtime JFR crew going to DSR, while previous JFR people that went to DSR are coming back. Lucas parks their ride and Aaron Brooks goes over to Cruz's team. Another DSR team is swapping to a differ crew chief as well. So what does that mean in 2017? I think we will see Shawn Langdon back in his ride, within the first few weeks of the season starting. It also appears that we might be seeing the exit tour of the Sarge Tony Schumacher coming sooner than later. Antron is most likely the favorite in the class to take it all home again in 2017, but watch for Scott Palmer in 2017 as well. Scott is bring his ride out for all of the events in 2017, and he will be a force to be reckoned with as well. Looking over to the Funny Car class, Cruz Pedregon is making huge steps in the right direction, and it's no secret that he is still one of the best drivers to ever wheel a funny car. With Prock coming back to JFR, this makes him a potential contender as well.
Further more in the NHRA ranks, I think you are going to start hearing about the younger crowd. The young gun drivers that are going to be up and coming or are already there. Alex Laughlin will continue to be a front running, championship contender. The fast that he is planning on running two classes in 2017 as well, means there are plenty of chances to win races and get laps in. Look for Troy Coughlin Jr, Cameron Ferre, Jonnie Lindberg, Caleb Cox, and others to make an impact on and off the track in NHRA during 2017 as well. Now is the time that NHRA needs a youth movement and now is the time that they are getting talent in droves.
Moving on to what seems to be the most controversial arena of drag racing at this point. Let's talk some Pro Mod. Everyone by now knows that Kenny is back at the helm with ADRL, who will be announcing new ownership on January 3rd. While the absolute disgust and disdain for Kenny remains from a select few, I am going to tell you right now, by the middle of 2017, there will be a whole lotta people talking about ADRL again. That talk will be about the crowds and cars at ADRL races. Love him or hate him, Kenny knows how to put butts in the seats. They really have competition for fans and racers from NHRA, NMCA, and of course PDRA. There are a bunch of places to run pro mods even outside the Big 4. The question becomes which of the Big 4, if not all, will be left standing at the end of 2017. The J&A Service NHRA Pro Mod series is still the top of the hill series for quarter mile pro mod drag racing and even with another two races added in 2017, they will have full fields for all 12 races the moment that entry is opened.
NMCA has been handed a HUGE opportunity in 2017 as well. They are adding at least two proven names to the Pro Mod ranks, along with all the others that already run with them. Daniel Pharris and Josh Klugger have already stated that they plan on running in the NMCA Pro Mod class for 2017. This move in itself has the opportunity to put butts in the seats. NMCA already has a great product, and this is like putting the cherry on top of an already delicious cake. So where does this leave the PDRA?
The PDRA has been the eighth mile standard in Pro Mod racing for a few years now. They have some of the best drivers in the world over there. There are some issues that need to be addressed, but if the product quality continues, they should be ok. They have made the decision to move to the James Lawrence owned SpeedVideo for their live feeds as well in 2017. Great product is the first step, but making the stands full race after race will matter in 2017 as well to make the series viable moving forward.
Now that we made it through pro mod, we have the opportunity to look at radial racing. John Sears has already come out and announced that X275 will have a point series, and there will be a radial race almost every weekend in 2017. Too many classes, too many rules, too many places to go makes radial racing pretty tough. Does a driver go to a big race that pays $10k or stay near home and be a big fish in a little pond for $5k? We saw it in 2016 and we will see it in 2017. There will be races that thrive, as they do every year. Races like Lights Out, No Mercy, Outlaw Street Car Reunion, Tulsa, Denton, YellowBullet, World Cup, World Street Nationals, Radial Fest, and a few others. Then there are the rest. The ones that sit on top of another race. Those are the races where fans and racers have to choose where to go. Some of these races will come and go in 2017. The coat tail/copycat races that need hundreds of cars just to break even. We are in a cycle within drag racing, where that just won't work anymore.
While we are talking about radial, what really is the future of Radial vs The World? I don't believe that this class is the class of the future anymore. I think this class is viable at a handful of races like Donald Long's race and Tyler's race. Look for LDR to be the future of radial racing over the next few years as long as the rules stay in check. Also look for some huge, jaw dropping things in X275 when the trailer doors drop at Lights Out in February. SGMP will be packed to the gills (I mean even we plan on being there by Sunday to get parked).
Don't worry, I didn't forget about what is quickly becoming the most popular and interesting area of drag racing right now. That being N/T, No Prep, and Grudge. The fact is that this form of drag racing puts butts in the seats and money on the line. I will say right now, after hearing all about American Outlaws Live and Armageddon in 2016, you will see track record numbers broken in 2017. I don't mean on the track either, I mean in the stands. These events draw the fans, and have a huge following. You will see tens of thousands of people going to these events. These tracks will be overflowing with fans.
Grudge still seems to be king too. While there are aspects that I don't like, it's usually from promoters that I wouldn't attend their races anyways. The Hitman, Mike Hill has released his schedule for 2017. I am sure Lance Stanford's events and anything Big Jake, Jacob Harper does will be off the hook! Also look for the Rock, Gilbert Jacobs Union County Dragway in South Carolina to hold some events that will make your jaw drop. Justin Swanstrom is building a new car, and will hurt more feelings in 2017 than he did in 2016. Guys are going to have to step up and lock in as well. I have a feeling we will be talking about Keith Szabo about being one of the baddest men on the planet in 2017 as well to back up his amazing 2016 season.
Jeff Verdi was the most successful racer of 2016 (monetarily) other than maybe Antron Brown. Jeff dominated two of the biggest bracket races of 2016. I think we will see and hear again from Jeff in 2017. Winning another half million dollars next season is a pretty tall task, but even if he doesn't duplicate, he is still going to be a force at every event he pulls the open trailer in to.
The last area that I want to touch on is NMRA. The biggest Ford only drag racing in the country. NMRA is not bringing Pure Street back in 2017, but there is still plenty of amazing action. Coyote Stock will continue to be a huge heads up field even with the new engine coming out. We have talked to the decision makers at NMRA and they are continuously working on improving their product, which means they need to have a class like we saw in the early 2000's when we had Real Street (In my personal opinion, that was the best heads up drag racing class ever!). I don't believe that will happen in 2017, but I certainly hope that it does for 2018 and that we hear about it by mid summer 2017 so that people can start building for 2018. I expect that NMRA will see record numbers in 2017 as well, when it comes to spectators, media, brand recognition, and many other areas. They have made huge steps in the right direction over the last 12-18 months, and based on conversations I had at PRI, there is no reason to believe that won't continue for a long time to come. Watch for the Atlanta and Joliet races to be absolutely epic as well.
The other thing that you will see in 2017 is expanded coverage from E3xtreme. More video, more stories, more photos, and more of the things that you enjoy the most. So there you have just a brief overview of what I think we will see in 2017. You may not agree, you may not like it, but you'd better prepare for it.