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With apologies to Rod Serling:
Imagine, if you will, that youre the reigning world champion in the art of small-bore rifle fire. Youve earned your laurels through years of preparation and competition, the last three sponsored by your employer, one of the most prominent gun dealers in the world. And youve become the very best in your class by carefully honing your personal trigger skills and by enlisting the help of a certified champion in his own right to help maintain the balance and precision of your rifle and the consistency of your ammo, absolute requisites for success at the championship level. Then, everything finally comes together the rifle, the ammo, and the capricious gods of windage providing you with the package that wins the championship youve sought in your mind since you first took up your dads pot-shotting .22 way back when. You relax and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
But not for long. As in almost any perennial contest that awards championships, the task thats often more difficult than the winning of it is its defense. So after a few weeks away from cordite and cacophony, you head back to work to tune up your rifle and sharpen your concentration, when suddenly youre called to Big Gun Central by your employer and sponsor and told that theyre taking your gun away.
But, guess what? Almost before the smoke clears, a bunch of the other gun dealers step out of the shadows together and help conjure up a new rifle. Of course, its not your championship piece, and its of questionable pedigree and absolutely unknown potential, but at least its a gun and somewhere to start over.
Couldnt happen here? Well, it did. Just loosely swap "Mountain Motor" for "small-bore" in our analogy and youve got it: Daddy took the T-bird away (well, actually, the Probe).
Just two days after completion of the 2000 IHRA season opener in Darlington, South Carolina, John Evans, owner of Stu Evans Automotive Group and Stu Evans Motorsports, Chris Holbrooks sponsor in his successful 1999 IHRA Pro Stock championship quest, called a meeting at the Manchester, Mich., facility and announced he was shutting down the dealership-sponsored Pro Stock program, catching just about everybody involved by surprise, perhaps most of all, Holbrook.
But even before he started seeking answers, the 34-year-old champ got a call from Greg Moser. And Dewayne Rice. And Ron Miller. And Joe Ballog. And John Montecalvo. And Charlie Hunt. All big shooters in one role or another in the IHRA Pro Stock ranks, and all offering no-strings-attached help.
I couldnt believe it. Id always heard about how tight-knit the drag racing community can be like your family but now it was actually happening to me, and it was incredible. Greg Moser called and offered me the use of an Olds Cutlass body and chassis for as long as I needed it. Then Dewayne Rice offered me an engine and transmission and Ron Miller said hed get me new parts so I didnt have to run the motor with used ones. Joe Ballog said hed transport the new car to Rockingham, John Montecalvo said he had a spare computer and offered me any odds and ends I might need to get running, and Charlie Hunt says hell do his best to find a new sponsor for us. Most of these are all guys I race against and itll all be GM stuff. Talk about irony! I think Im gonna paint a sign on the back of it that says, This definitely isnt my fathers Oldsmobile!
Ive always tried to be a good guy, helping others, and sometimes I wondered whether it was really worth it. It seemed sometimes people just took advantage of the situation , but I guess Ill never think about it that way again.
And the whole package will be ready for Rockingham. It turns out that Moser actually lives the closest to me, four hours or so, so I have a deal with him to transport the car to Rockingham.
When asked directly if he had any inkling before the ax fell at Stu Evans, the 99 champ replied, Absolutely none. Looking back now, of course, Im really thankful for the opportunity they gave me here, and I couldnt be any more pleased about the Championship but this just really came out of the blue.
And reasons given to him for the shut-down?
John Evans said that he wasnt making any money at it. Other than that, youd have to ask him.
So, I did, and we got the same initial reply that Holbrook received.
We werent making any money at it. Basically, no return on our investment. I mean we won the championship, but what does that mean? I just dont see any future in Pro Stock. It doesnt look like IHRA will (continue to) support it. I talked to Bill Bader (owner of IHRA) about it and told him that it just didnt make any sense to spend the kind of money it takes to run a Pro Stock if IHRA wasnt going to raise the Pro Stock points fund for 2000.
I asked Bader about that and was told the Pro Stock Points Fund was actually raised 19 percent for 2000, with $14,000 being added to the 1999 $74,000 total, for awards to the number one through 10 points leaders.
We re-allotted the points funds right after Summit racing announced they were upping the ante. The Pro Stock percentage raise wasnt as high as it was for some of the other points fund categories, but I feel we need to make the awards on the basis of performance and crowd appeal. Its no longer a fact that the contestants fees make up the majority of the payouts, and when the payout gets to three or four times the entry fees, youre more reliant on spectator gates than ever. And weve proven that the Top Fuelers, Pro Mods, Funny Cars and Nitro Fuel Harleys are more popular than the Pro Stocks with our audiences. But the fact that we raised the payouts to Pro Stock should be proof enough that were continuing to support them.
Its always been our policy to put more money into the hands of the racers, and, increasingly, the spectator is the most important factor in that equation. Weve got to show them what they want to see because without them, were nowhere. John Evans expressed his concerns to me and I can understand where hes coming from, but I sure hope he can see our side of it, too.
One of many rumors that accompanied the story of Stu Evans withdrawal of support for the Pro Stocks was that dealership management was getting pressure from Ford headquarters to end their racing program.
John Evans offered no comment to our inquiry.
I also asked him about the possibility of the sale of Stu Evans Motorsports, their high performance retail store, of which Holbrook is the current manager.
Again we were told, no comment.
Holbrook was more forthcoming.
Its about 99 percent sure that the Motorsports store will be sold by the first of May, and the potential buyer has expressed high interest in keeping me as the manager, so things look very good there. Her name is Norma Wallis and shes really enthusiastic about getting into the high performance world. She doesnt have any specific background in it, but she owns Livernois Engineering in Dearborn (Michigan), which is very successful in the heat exchange and metal fabrication business, and has done prototype work for Ford in the past general, not high-performance.
Next, we asked Holbrook about Butch Peterson, Holbrooks ace mechanic and co-winner of the 1999 Wrench of the Year award.
Chuckling, Holbrook said , Butch took some vacation hed accumulated kind of looking around as I understand it. Theres nothing official, and I havent heard it from Butch, but the word is that Angelo Alessi wants to come back to Pro Stock racing and that he and Butch might work something out.
Holbrook isnt sure what the future holds for his own racing career.
Some of this (the running of the collaborative Oldsmobile) is just a one-race deal, so I dont know what comes next. I do know that Im one of those guys who was born to go down a racetrack no matter what its in, so I will, one way or another. Dave Lyal, whos a relative, has a Top Sportsman car, and weve talked a little. Maybe something will work out there if we have to get out of Pro Stock. Well see.
So, for the time being we were left to cogitate about all these goings-on, which, perhaps ironically, may have sparked new interest in Pro Stock in the minds of involved drag-racing-world citizens. But we didnt have long to ponder.
Two days after I talked to John Evans (to clarify: John Evans, current owner of Stu Evans Ford and three Lincoln-Mercury dealerships in Michigan, is the grandson of Stu Evans, a former ice hockey star who founded the dealership in 1945; Stewart Evans, Johns son, also participates in drag racing), one of my contacts reported that John Evans had just sold the Pro Stock Probe, Holbrooks erstwhile ride, to Roy Hill along with partial sponsorship for at least this racing season.
I called Hill, Professor of Speed, at his Sophia, N.C., drag racing school, and a legendary racer in his own right over the past 25 years or so, to confirm, and he did.
I bought the car and two spare engines, and yes, partial sponsorship for at least one year is part of the deal and please emphasize that it is partial; there are other sponsors involved .
And how did this episode in our story begin, from Hills point of view?
Well, it started in a recent conversation with Jon Kaase, who was singin the blues over the fact that hed lost his best customer. That was Stu Evans Racing. So I asked him what the deal was and he told me that John Evans had stopped campaigning the Pro Stock Probe and didnt need his (Kaases) engines anymore. (Kaase is considered by many to be one of the best Ford competition engine builders in the business Ed.)
So I got on the horn to John Evans and we made a deal. I mean Ive had an itch to go Pro Stock racing again for so long I can taste it. And Stu Evans and I have been close for many years, so it just seemed like a natural thing to do. Itll be a two-car team effort, but I dont have any details on the other car yet .
I inquired about the possibility of Stewart Evans, the great-grandson, driving the second car, and was told by Hill that he wouldnt rule out the possibility.
And will the new team be ready for Rockingham, the next race on the IHRA schedule (April 7-9)?
No. Well go racing when were ready, and thats all I can tell you about that right now.
I understand the logistics, but cant help wondering what might have happened had Hill been ready for the Rock . If ever a natural-born rivalry was a-brewin this would be the one. Hill, racing on the strip in which he was at one time part-owner, up on Holbrooks old mount in one lane and Holbrook, who, among other ironies, is a graduate of Hills school and who seems to have lost the most in this whole deal, champin at the bit a few feet away in the hybrid Olds, bent on revenge Somebody out there say Pro Stock aint what it used to be? Stay tuned!
John Raffa is currently freelancing in Huron, Ohio,
photo by Karen Raffa
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