Pro Mod is a Fan Favorite Class

RPM Hands Off to NHRA

Words and photos by Tom McCarthy

Jason Hamstra, of Indiana, getting out on Randy Merick, of Missouri, displaying the close racing seen with most Pro Mod action.


Well, the one thing the NHRA Pro Mod racers wanted to happen most has finally happened and it was announced officially on September 1, 2019. During the running of the 65th annual U.S. Nationals, on Sunday, in the pits, the declaration was made that the National Hot Rod Association is taking over from the promotional association RPM (Real Pro Mod) and absorbing the Pro Mod class as an official competition class of NHRA drag racing.


The PM racers, working with RPM as their representatives for the last five years, have been participating in NHRA drag racing since 2013. They have been hoping and knuckle-busting, for exactly this very thing to happen. And for it to be announced during the biggest drag race of the year at the Big Go was icing on the cake. Welcome to the big time, boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen.


What this means exactly for some of the world’s fastest door-cars is still being worked out, but for openers, there will be no car quotas for events. Which means NHRA could see upwards of 30 or more Pro Mod cars vying to qualify for Mello Yello events. This also means no more dues paid by teams to RPM to represent them and round money payouts in the future could drastically improve. If ever there was a time for NHRA to embrace the Pro Mods fully, they could not have timed it better.


NHRA Pro Mod racing in 2019 has been a powerhouse of performance, an undeniable force to be reckoned with. Aside from the fact that when the E3 Spark Plugs-sponsored Pro Mod Series began during the 50th running of the Gatornationals, March 17, 2019, with a stunning new world record of 5.643 set by Stevie “Fast” Jackson, just one look at the numbers for the class and you’ll see what a thunder cloud Pro Mod really is.

Stevie “Fast” Jackson has a commanding lead in the Pro Mod points with three events left in the season.


For starters, with a 16-car qualified field required for Sunday elimination rounds, there are typically close to double that number pre-entered for each of the 12 events scheduled for NHRA Mello Yello competition. One could argue that Pro Mod is the strongest, most vibrant category of NHRA professional class racing. This is quite remarkable when one considers it.


While the staple diet for fans of the NHRA big-show for decades has been Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, a cast of characters has helped to fill in the rest of NHRA drag racing show over the years. From Pro Stock Motorcycles to Pro Stock Trucks, the National Hot Rod Association has reached out to various classes to keep the fans in the stands entertained. There has been a measure of success with many additional classes over the years, but Pro Mod is a monster cometh like Godzilla.

Justin “LC” Swanstrom, or “Lil’ Country” as he’s sometimes called, of Zephyrhills, FL, delivers a healthy burnout past the 60-foot clocks as many Pro Mods do. They take pride in putting on a show for the fans.

Tommy Cunningham of Murry, KY, and his stunning 1967 Ford GT 500 body styled Pro Mod, is hazing the tires and has to lift on this pass. His car is as loud as it is beautiful, just stunning on every level.


The class is wildly popular with the fans and the racers. For the fans, the Pro Mod cars are the ones doing heavy burnouts past the 60-foot timer with billowing clouds of tire smoke well past the starting line. They frequently launch wheels-up, clock in with 5.80’s elapsed times and now exceed 250 MPH with regularity. For the racers, they can race the entire 12 event Mello Yello racing series for a fraction of the budget of a nitromethane burning race car. The cars go more rounds with less maintenance and are easier on parts than nitromethane burning cars by a bunch.


In 2019, while NHRA fuel car classes are struggling to find enough entries to complete two 16-car fields in Funny Car and Top Fuel, Pro Mods are showing up in twice the numbers needed to fill the ladder and they are flourishing. A comprehensive review of all the Pro Mods that made a pass in competition in 2018, by Ellen Eschenbacher of E3xtreme news shows that over300 different licensed competition drivers made passes in Pro Mod cars in 2018. If you stretch the data back through 2017, there are over 400 different names that have been in competition.

Aaron Wells of Mustang, Oklahoma, with this wild Pony car is currently #1 in points with the MWPMS. The body styles are very diverse in Pro Mod, as are power-adders including superchargers, nitrous injection, and turbochargers.

Melanie Salemi of Buffalo, NY, is a Pro Boost champion with the PDRA and her car, “Purple Reign” is a 1968 Firebird that shakes the ground hard with every pass, a real crowd pleaser.


At the height of Funny Car fever, during the flopper’s peak popularity years, 1973 to 1983, it is questionable if there was ever more than 300 active AA/Funny Cars laying rubber down on drag strips coast to coast. If one were to call the biggest names in chassis building today and ask how many orders they have for new Funny Car chassis in progress, you’ll be sad to hear the results. But if you ask any number of top name door-car chassis builders how many new cars they have in progress you’ll find there is a waiting list.


A recent phone call to Jerry Bickel Race cars in Moscow Mills, MO, revealed that currently close to a dozen P/M’s are under construction. There is also a waiting list beyond this. In comparison, in 2018 Jerry only had one order to fill for a Pro Stock car.


Racers looking to get in on the Pro Mod action can find used Pro Mods, depending on the year of construction and the number of runs on the car, for around $60,000 to twice that amount depending on the obvious negotiable factors.


For those looking to compete in PM, the rules for Pro Mods vary from sanction to sanction. The primary sanctions running Pro Mod points series events are: the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA), the Mid West Pro Mod Series (MWPMS), the National Muscle Car Association (NMCA), the North East Outlaw Pro Mod Association (NEOPMA), the West Coast Outlaw Pro Mod Association (WCOPMA), the Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA), and the Texas Outlaw Pro Mod Association (TOPMA). While other sanctions may come and go with points series, in 2019, these are the primary sanctions the most prolific Pro Mods call home.


Some prime examples of the strength in numbers that the Pro Mod cars possess are as follows: during the first weekend in May, at the NHRA Southern nationals in Atlanta, there were 25 entries. On the same weekend at the PDRA Mid Atlantic Showdown at Virginia Motorsports Park there were 35 entries and also on that same weekend, at the NMCA event in Memphis there were 15 entries. That’s a total of 75 different racing teams, at three different race tracks, on the same weekend, with-in 450 miles of one another. Geographically these racing facilities are within seven hours of driving time of one another, yet there was no problem filling full ladders and fielding quality cars due to the health and diversity of the Pro Mod cars. The different sanctioning bodies have different rules so racers can pick whichever event best suits their combination and budget, yet still gives them good chance of winning an event.


Keith Haney, the founding father of the MWPMS, is also a rock solid competitor in Pro Mod and Radial Vs the World racing. He recently took delivery of this new Jerry Bickel car with a Pat Musi power plant.


As further proof of the growth and recognition of Pro Mod in 2019, on August 2, 2019, Mid West Pro Mod Series founder Keith Haney proudly announced a 16-car MWPMS invitational will be part of the NHRA Mello Yello, event at the Texas Motorplex, held October 17-20, during the NHRA, AAA Fall Nationals. Haney commented: “Saying that this is a dream come true can’t even come close to describing the feeling of this coming to fruition. After years of work, sweat, and dreams, NHRA fans will see some of the best of the best eighth-mile pro mod cars in the world. We have been working on this for about four years now, and it’s finally a reality.”


While the full impact of NHRA absorbing the Pro Mod class is yet to be exhibited, rest assured that 2020 NHRA drag racing will be exciting for the fans and racers in Pro Modified. 




official DRO sponsors

 © 1999-2019 - Drag Racing Online and Racing Net Source LLC - 607 Seib Drive, O'Fallon, MO 63366 Phone: 636.272.6301 - Privacy Policy

fficial ponsors