Volume X, Issue 2, Page 7

NEWS & ANALYSIS

NHRA Pro Mods Get Their Last, Best Chance

The Pro Modifieds came to the NHRA arena almost ten years ago with a minimum of hoopla from the NHRA and the maximum of expectations from Pro Mod fans, racers and teams the likes of Jim Oddy and Fred Hahn, Rickie Smith, Shannon Jenkins, Dave Wood, Stan Ray, Michael Ashley and others.

After a five-race schedule the first year, Kenny Nowling, who had a business relationship with millionaire businessmen and racers Dave Wood and Michael Ashley, stepped up the program. Dave Wood, owner of AMS Staff Leasing and already a Pro Mod team owner, liked racing at the NHRA and it didn’t take too much convincing on the part of Nowling to convince him that the NHRA Pro Mod series was a righteous investment in the future of Pro Mod racing. So, Mr. Wood stepped to the plate and funded the entire operation, which included paying for an ESPN TV show hosted by Bret Kepner, paying the NHRA fee to race, and the entire Pro Mod purse.

Nowling, a master PR person, was also hired by Dave Wood and worked tirelessly to get the electronic and print media to pay attention to the class. He orchestrated and convinced Wood to fund pre-race parties, hospitality tents, and about everything else considered necessary for a professional class.

For the time that Nowling was running the AMS series for Dave Wood, it thrived. Pro Mod cars, Pro Mod racers, team owners and sponsors all got serious media attention in magazines and on TV. That work encouraged team owners and drivers to harbor the dream that Pro Mod might eventually be elevated to professional class status within the NHRA.

But that dream simply was not to be. No matter what those of us in Pro Mod wanted to believe and no matter how popular the class was with the fans and sponsors, a professional NHRA Pro Mod class simply wasn’t going to happen.

At one point four or five years ago the NHRA management had a meeting with Nowling and informed him in no uncertain terms that they would never, never, allow Pro Mod to become an NHRA professional class. And, if the Pro Mod Challenge series didn’t pay for itself, there was no place for it, period. It was at the point that Nowling left the AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge, feeling the series had no growth future within the NHRA. He began putting together the American Drag Racing League.

Relatively soon after that fateful meeting between representatives of Dave Wood and AMS Staff Leasing and the NHRA, Wood decided that he would no longer be the sole supporter of the series. That meant the million-plus dollars he was spending to pay the NHRA fees to race plus fund both the TV series and the series purse was going to have to come from someone else. He didn’t withdraw completely, but he cut back his funding drastically, resulting in the series losing stature, its TV show, and momentum.

A group of racers and sponsors came forward to keep the series alive, including Mike Ashley, Tim Tindle, Brad Anderson and others. But with Nowling’s departure and Wood’s cutback, the series no longer had a organization behind it and the racers themselves or their PR reps were making the rules and running the show. It was not a good time for the NHRA Pro Mod class. The NHRA management just tolerated the Pro Mods as the exhibition/filler series it was. They canceled qualifying sessions with no notice, didn’t including the results in the information they distributed to the media, and gave little coverage of the series in their electronic and print media.

As an exhibition series with little aggressive PR representation and no interest from the sanctioning body in promoting it, the NHRA Pro Mod series became more of a country club for wealthy racers than a true professional series. The rules were tailored for the racers by the racers to benefit themselves rather than to encourage wider participation. In short order Pro Mod at the NHRA went from a series that attracted Pro Mods of all varieties to one that favored cars with supercharged engine combinations. Last year the series was almost totally made up of supercharged race cars. Gone was the variety that had made Pro Mod a fan favorite.

Early this year the series looked as if it might get the funding and support needed to return as a premier Pro Modified series when Mike Ashley and newcomer to drag racing, Roger Burgess, teamed up and Ashley announced he was returning to Pro Mod competition.
 
When Ashley and Burgess went to the NHRA management with their proposal, which included television programming for the class and other improvements, they reportedly asked the NHRA for a multi-year contract for the series and reportedly were turned down cold by the NHRA. Without that multi-year commitment from the NHRA, Ashley and Burgess withdrew and, once again, the series was in danger of going away.

But again the series was rescued, this time by a group of investors led by Troy Coughlin of the JEGS Company. Troy is a Pro Modified racer who loves the class and the NHRA, and so he put the weight of his company behind supporting the series. He also put the management of the series in the hands of the head of the JEG’s racing Public Relations and Promotions department, Scott “Woody” Woodruff.

With backing from JEGS and the addition of Mr. Woodruff, the NHRA Pro Mod series gains instant credibility both inside and outside of the drag racing community. Along with the money and prestige of being associated with the JEGS company, that company and its patriarch, Jeg Coughlin Sr., have a long and mutually beneficial relationship with the NHRA management. Woodruff knows how to promote a series or a group of racers, and he has the clout and resources of the JEGS company to force the right people in the industry and the NHRA to pay attention.

For the first time since Dave Wood withdrew, the NHRA Pro Mods have the backing and financial support a professional series requires, thanks to the Coughlin family. The question now is will the racers and the NHRA allow Scott Woodruff and JEGS to do their job? The series needs some re-working and Mr. Woodruff has a reputation in the industry of making things happen. 

The first step is to return the variety of the class. It has become basically a supercharged sedan class. The first thing the new management has done is reach out to the nitrous cars. Perhaps they will find a way to attract all types of Pro Mods again. Troy Coughlin, along with Stan Ray, Tim Tindle and Brad Anderson, have put their money where their hearts are. The question is, will the racers and the NHRA cooperate? Will they give Woodruff the time and support required for him to do what it takes to make the NHRA Pro Mod series truly successful within the NHRA POWERade series?

If they don’t, and the NHRA management treats the racers as they have treated others in the past, then Troy Coughlin and the financial guys at JEGS may look at what they’ll spend this year, decide they aren’t getting their money’s worth and, like those before them, leave.

In my opinion the JEGS involvement with the NHRA Pro Mod series represents the last best chance for the series. I hope the racers and the NHRA don’t blow it.