When Pro Stock was the Big Show

"Yeah, you shoulda seen the Atlantic Ocean in those days...."
Lou Pascal (Burt Lancaster) recalling better times in ATLANTIC CITY, 1980

I suppose a good soundtrack to this month’s column would be the 1972 Melanie chestnut, "Look what they've done to my song, Ma", because we'll be taking a look at something that started out SO grand and progressively lost its way over the years. With each successive falter, actions were taken to make amends, but guess what, Sparky? Much like when Jerome Howard, who decided that the best course of action in a sinking lifeboat, was to "drill another hole, to let the water OUT", the situation only got worse and worse. In this, an election year, the phrase 'the eyes have it' (OK, wrong spelling) has credence, and more to the point, the eyes cannot avoid the fact that the crowds empty out of the grandstands as if the stands themselves were on fire, when the category in question is called up from staging.

Clearly, I'm talking about Big Show Pro Stock.

Lee Shepard at a match race at Byron Dragway, 1982.

Born in the era of 'Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday', Pro Stockers, in their early years, were a promoter’s dream, as the fans flocked to see two-out-of three matchups between the likes of “Dyno Don” Nicholson versus Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins or the immortal Ronnie Sox against Don Carlton. You'd see them standing four deep at the fence lines, while announcers like Ron Leek would urge the crowd to get "OFF your hands, and on your FEET!" as the two combatants would approach the bleach box.

There are more learned scribes than I who could break things down in thunderous detail, the nuances, drivetrains, weight-breaks and, of course, how all this was going on back when we had three major sanctioning bodies all in play (to say nothing of the many other local circuits or independent groups) all with their own set of rules and rulebooks … but here's the deal.

For every Lewis Bloom, or shall we say, 'Rhodes Scholar' up in the stands, there are a hundred and fifty guys like me, who are more like "Road Food" (The Guess Who, 1974). We majored in SSDI, and had an undergraduate degree from DRUSA, we could count to "4", handy as that's how many gear changes, back when the cars were SHIFTED, like a car that WE drove, and it was a race car that we could relate to, effortlessly. So, at what point exactly did things start to fall apart? The answer is...

It's impossible to say, really. (Yeah, yeah, I know, "oh, KUDOS, genius! You get a TROPHY for that one!") A thing that I remember thinking of as cool was how the Pro Stockers of MY youth began their journey to the strip by being dipped in a vat of acid, to reduce weight. It was an easier sell to be calling something the "Factory Hot Rods" when you saw that it was indeed a vehicle that began its life on an assembly line IN DETROIT.

Now, let’s take a look at another factor, that being the only thing in life that's a constant is, indeed, change. When the energy crisis of the 1970s reared its ugly head, and popular muscle cars like the Plymouth Barracuda were sent out to pasture after 1974, the category could STILL reap the 'buy on/sell on' angle, and went with the new kids on the block of the moment, that being the compact.

And, lest we forget, the era of innovation REALLY had its day in the sun when racers could look at a rulebook, spot something, bust out an Edward G. Robinson-esque "Where's your Moses NOW, mya?" by creating something as crazy as a four-door MAVERICK or a 1970 Mustang in 1974! THAT was something to behold, and I suppose you could throw in another election-ism, via Slick Willie Clinton, what IS the weight break? Well, I guess that depends on what the definition of IS is, jerk! (Admit it, you just re-read that in a "Bubba voice", didn't you?)