race reports

NHRA Pro Mod at Gainesville, Florida

Slugging it out in the Swamp

Words by Tom McCarthy

Photos by Adam Cranmer and Tom McCarthy

Stevie Fast Jackson set a new NHRA Pro Mod record. 


During the 50th running of the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod class presented by J&A Service began its 12-event battle within the ranks of the National Hot Rod Association Mello Yello series. Pro Mod has been racing as a class of competition with the NHRA since 2010.



Twenty-nine entries on Friday began qualifying for the 16-car field on Sunday, marking the official beginning of the 2019 NHRA Pro Mod season. The twelve events for the premier doorslammer class of NHRA drag racing this year will be a slug fest not unlike a 12-round boxing match. All the entries are very evenly matched; they have to survive many rounds to succeed and can all deliver a knock-out punch at any moment. In fact, the cars are all heavyweights capable of running mid 5-second elapsed times at speeds in excess of 250 MPH. Some cars feature roots-type superchargers and are horrendously loud, others feature twin turbochargers, and a few still rely on nitrous oxide as their preferred power adder, but they are a dwindling breed in NHRA Pro Mod racing.

Khalid al Balooshi is one of only a few nitrous-aided competitors.


In 2018 at the Gators, there were 35 entries with a 5.83 bump, Carl Stevens of N. Haledon, NJ, including the #1 qualifier, Mike Castellana, of Oyster Bay NY, with a 5.75 @ 253.56 MPH. Last year’s Gators were won by Rickie Smith over Mike Janis, 5.79 to 6.59. The NHRA Pro Mod national record, going into the 2019 Gatornationals stood at 5.676 seconds at 255.39 MPH set by Mike Castellana in September of 2018. The Gators this year tore that record asunder.


Prior to the start of qualifying, Mike Janis, the current #1 plate holder for the E-3 Spark Plugs sponsored class commented, “It will be harder than you can imagine to defend this #1 in this class. All these teams are tough to beat.”


As testament to this, there were nine different national event winners during the 2018 season and the class never had fewer than 22 entries for the 16-slot competition ladder. Typically it takes a 5.80 elapsed time or better to make the qualified field of NHRA Pro Mods.

Mike Janis was the 2018 NHRA Pro Mod Champion. 


Looking back at the last five years of NHRA Pro Mod racing, Mike Janis rocked the house in 2018, Troy Coughlin won the championship in 2017, Rickie Smith won in 2016, Troy Coughlin won in 2015 and Rickie Smith won it all in 2014. With five different national champions in as many years, we can see clearly this class is both healthy and tough as heck to win.


This year’s rendition of the rapid reptiles had a bump spot of 5.75 set by Eric Latino on Saturday during the third qualifying session.


The #1 qualifier for this event was Stevie “Fast” Jackson of Evans, GA, who stopped the timing system with a new national record run of 5.665 elapsed time at 253.99 mph. NHRA Tech was in his pit area Saturday night for a full inspection, which he passed with flying colors.


Jackson’s 5.66 to Latino’s 5.75 bump spot left a very impressive DNQ list of some 13 notables that did NOT make the show. They included the likes of: Steve Matusek, Sidnei Frigo, Peter Farber, Doug Winters, Alex Laughlin, Erica Enders, Harry Hruska, Rick Hord, Adam Flamholc, Jim Whiteley, Clint Satterfield, Chip King, and Mike Castellana, who suffered a bad crash during Q-3 that did significant damage to his car.

Mike Castellana went for a wild ride. Fortunately, his exceptional driving skills prevented a bad situation from getting worse. Word from the pits is he intends to be at the next NHRA PM event. 


It’s very interesting to note that under current NHRA rules, Pro Mod cars can run a supercharger, but it has to be a roots type blower, not a screw-type design. Racers can run turbochargers, but not a pro-charger. I have been informed that a Pro Charger type compressor is under review for NHRA approved use, but as of this writing this particular power adder is not approved for NHRA competition. Nitrous oxide is approved for the NHRA Pro Mods, but they are few and far between. Of the 29 entries into the NHRA, 2019 Gatornationals, 15 were blower cars, 11 were turbocharged and three were powered with NOS as a power adder.


Chad Green’s engine.  

A close look at the turbo of Michael Biehle. 


Curiously enough, the three nitrous cars made the 16-slot qualified field, while seven turbocharged and six blower cars did not. The competition during this event for the 16-car qualified field could only be described as savage.

Jose Gonzalez had Top Speed of the class at 259.31 mph, but lost in the first round to Brandon Snider. Snider 5.717/248.25 def. Gonzalez 5.767/258.62. 

Steve Matusek did not qualify.

Nor did Doug Winters. 

Rickie Smith did qualify in his new Mustang, but went into tire shake at the green and shut off.  

PDRA star Jason Scruggs was the first-round victim of Michael Biehle, falling to a holeshot. 

Michael Biehle went on to go -0.003 red in the second round against Jeremy Ray.


The event being named after the local American alligator population was more than fitting in pertaining to the Pro Mod competition in residence. This particular reptilian’s hunting style is marked by patience, sudden violent ambush, grab your prey by the head and drag them under. This is pretty much how Stevie Fast and Todd Tutterow, the numbers one and number two qualifiers respectively, proceeded to slaughter their competition on the way to meeting up in the final round of the 2019 Gators.

Eric Latino 


Stevie “Fast” Jackson after his new NHRA record setting 5.66 in qualifying unleashed runs of 5.68, 6.59, and 5.653 against, Eric Latino, Steven Whiteley, and Jeremy Ray, to send them packing. While the match up against Ray was a non-event, as Ray’s car refused to fire-up, it was excellent sportsmanship by Jackson that he waited as long as the NHRA starting line official would allow him to wait, before the NHRA ordered Jackson to start his car. Steve soloed with a new record-setting 5.65 run that would not stand this day. The final round was one for the record books.


Todd Tutterow, in advancing to the final round defeated Janis 5.67 to 5.75, Chad Green 5.68 to 5.74 (foul start, .003), and Marc Caruso (broke), but “King Tutt” unleashed a 5.66 to announce to “Stevie Fast” he was not alone in his record-setting performance.

Fans LOVE the Pro Mod cars! 


In the final round the fans were in high anticipation, knowing the two quickest Pro Mods on the planet were about to go at it. These monsters of Pro Mod rock did not disappoint when they pulled up to the starting line.


While there was many a staging duel delivered during the Pro Mod racing sessions, there was no starting line shenanigans when the big dogs came down off the porch to settle the score as to whose race this was. Tutterow leaped off the starting line with a lightening .008 reaction to the tree and Jackson was not fast enough to catch Tutterow with his .036 RT to the tree.

Together they stormed the 1320 feet of the new Gainesville Raceway racing surface, side by side with Tutterow gently pulling ahead to trip the win light with a 5.66 to Jackson’s new record pace, 5.643 elapsed time that could not overcome the starting line advantage Tutterow strapped on Jackson (0.008 to 0.036).


The crowd gasped audibly as the score boards lit up. They saw Steve Jackson unleash the quickest pass in the history of Pro Mod car drag racing – and he LOST on that run to Todd Tutterow, who was quicker off the line. After they recovered from the shock of what they saw on the score boards, the fans erupted with applause, hoots and holler’s for Tutterow’s big win.


The 29 Pro Mod car drag racing teams that competed during the 50th running of the NHRA Gatornationals put on a performance that was impressive from A to Z. The professionalism of the teams, burnouts past the tree by most all the teams, staging duels, cars getting sideways -- this is what racing fans pay to see. Not just good but exceptional performance.


On Saturday at the Gators, a sold-out crowd was announced over the PA system. I can attest to this as I was standing in the bleachers, 580 feet down track on the right side, working as a photographer. I was able to shoot part of a session of Pro qualifying from my vantage point, but I had to yield to the fans, once the nitro cars began to come to upper staging. It was SRO in the bleachers (Standing Room Only) and I smiled and happily left my shooting spot as the fans come first. We were packed like sardines up there, fans from all over the world were in attendance and, ladies and gentlemen, I assure you they got their money’s worth at this race. 



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