At the end of the 2015 season we all sat around and talked about how bad the NHRA Pro Stock class was going to be in 2016 because of the switch to EFI. We talked about who would show up and who would quit. The thing we failed to talk about is how to actually grow the class.
NHRA Pro Stock has been around for decades with some of the best racing side by side that people have ever seen. The one problem with Pro Stock is this, the casual fan doesn't get it. I had a long talk recently with my father about this exact topic. We talked about F1, which he is a fan of and could list me more driver's than I ever knew raced in F1. We talked about the perceived lack of interest from the fans in America when it comes to F1. Talked about how there are only two races in the states, the cost is extremely high to go to the event, and the simple fact is that the technology turns the average or casual fan away. That's when the conversation got really interesting.
I told dad that I wanted him to come to a race that Ellen and I will be at covering. He told me that the only classes he is interested in were the nitro classes. I told him that he is the exact same type of fan that all those dismissing F1 because the don't understand it are. So I started to describe Pro Stock and Pro Mod to him. The idea of a 500 cubic inch, 10,000 RPM, shifted door car, along with watching blower, turbo, and nitrous door cars run 5.80's at 250 mph. The conversation had a different tone to it at that point. No longer was it just the nitro, though still preferred, that may interest him.
This is exactly what is going on in the NHRA and going on in Pro Stock. Have you seen this week the shakeups in the nitro ranks? How about Elite and Mopar parting ways? Did you see that Rickie Jones is stepping away to spend time with his family? There is a lot of shakeup and the thing to worry about is always money. Money and sponsors drive the sport, but so does the ability to get great men and women out there behind the wheel and great tuners behind the laptops.
Pro Stock is a prime example of this. There has been a switch to electronic fuel injection (EFI) on these cars now, which in my opinion is long overdue. This in turn caused teams to scramble with their programs. For the first 2/3rd of the season we thought that no one would ever beat Jason or Greg, but eventually teams were catching up. That's the thing folks, teams caught up. It may have been too late in the season, but we are also only on season one.
Season one, we saw those two just walk all over most. We saw the two time reigning World Champion have her struggles, but what we also saw is the future of the class and the sport. We saw young guns like Alex Laughlin, Vincent Noble, and Aaron Strong come out and show the rest of the world what they are made of. Towards the end of the season you saw most teams catching up. Look at Bo Butner, he is poised to be the next great one as well, along with Chris McGaha.
Where do we go in 2017 though? That seems to be the big question. You have drivers looking at Pro Mod, you have drivers that can't afford Pro Stock, and you have teams that can't figure out the EFI yet. The first thing that needs to happen is that all the NHRA P/S teams that haven't figured out EFI yet need to get on the phone with the small tire Radial and 10.5 tuners to figure out what you need to do. In the small tire world you have tuners with decades of EFI experience. If you want Pro Stock to thrive, you need to get people over to those pits and doing driver interviews and tech that actually know what they are talking about and can connect with the audience. Get Brian Lohnes or Bruno Massel to discuss EFI.
2017 and beyond has the potential of being great. NHRA needs to stick with Pro Stock and really put resources into it. NHRA doesn't need to sell nitro to the fans, it sells itself, just like F1 or NASCAR sell themselves to their fan base. Spend time where time needs to be spent and that's with the Pro Stock cars. It's a more viable option for the NHRA demographic than nitro to begin with. Build the brand and you will build the base. I can't wait to see all of you in 2017!!