No Good Deed Goes Unpunished
Of Nitro Funny Cars and
there is one thing I should have learned by now, it is
that most racers and their fanatic supporters are a somewhat
ungrateful group. Take for instance the fledgling Nostalgia
Funny Cars. When my friend Bobby Doerrer organized the
first "national event" for this fledgling
class at Englishtown last year, he prevailed on me to cover
it in DRO and put up contingency money, I did both. I
did. When the VRA cars ran earlier this year at Pomona,
DRO covered that. When DRO's West Coast Editor Darr Hawthorne
and Nostalgia Editor/Funny Car driver Jeff Utterback organized
an "exhibition" at
Irwindale Raceway, DRO backed that program. Hawthorne was
even able to arrange a free barrel of nitro for the racers.
In other words, all of us here at DRO have been big supporters
of Nostalgia Funny Cars. Funny thing is that we received
not one letter or call thanking us for our coverage or support
of Nostalgia Funny Cars. That was OK because we were just
doing our jobs.
This brings me to the Monster Mopar Weekend Funny Car program
at St. Louis and our coverage of the event. It was advertised
as Nitro Under the Stars. I don't know about any of you
but when I read that I think of nitro fumes, big burnouts
and flames. When I think of Nostalgia Nitro Funny Cars I
think of the Chi-town Hustler, "Jungle" Jim Liberman
and Tom "Showtime" Hoover. Those guys specialized
in half-track burnouts. So I was kind of looking for that
kind of show from some of the booked in cars that were at
St. Louis. For the most part I didn't get it.
What I got on Friday night was a qualifying round that
took over four hours. Believe me, I timed it. There were
one or two cars that performed the way a spectator would
expect after buying a $35 ticket to see nitro cars at night.
The show was a little better on Saturday but there was
still a lot of down-time and just plain poor performances.
I gave the Nitro Cars the cover of the magazine and a three
or four page story with plenty of photos inside. I praised
those I thought deserved it and at the end of the story
made a comment about what I thought was lacking for a professional
show. Well, that one paragraph generated more hate mail
than I've ever received in 30 years as a journalist, including
a couple from people who weren't even at the event! Good
grief. From the amount of anger and threats you'd have thought
I was advocating the banning of nitro or Funny Cars.
Here is my final word on the subject. Did I misunderstand
the premise? Weren't the teams getting paid to entertain
the spectators or were they their spending their own money
to practice? If any of the teams making laps at St. Louis
weren't getting paid and were just there to practice, then
I apologize for expecting a professional performance from
you guys. If you got paid then I have nothing to apologize
One last thing: If you are going to call yourself a professional
and take money for doing a job then, like John Force, Whit
Bazemore, Gary Scelzi and your other peers driving race
cars for money, you'd better be ready to suck it up and
take the heat when you don't perform professionally.
Now I want to talk about the proposed new rules for the
NHRA AMS Pro Modifieds for the 2005 season. Among the rules
proposed by a representative of AMS were the following:
All 1963 'Vettes would get a 100 lb. weight penalty; no
GM, Ford, or Mopar bodies that are legal for NHRA Pro Stock
would be legal for NHRA AMS Pro Mod or they would be legal
but also would be forced to carry an extra 100 lbs.; and
blown cars would get a increase in maximum overdrive from
the current 20 percent to 29 percent.
As I understand it the body rule is intended to prevent
late model body styles from dominating the class and encourage
more pre-1970 bodied cars. Evidently Richie Stevens', Von
Smith's and Zach Barklage's performance the last two years
and the news that Jim Oddy is building a late model Mopar
convinced the AMS management team that everyone will soon
be building Pro Stock bodied cars and ruin the class by
eliminating the pre-1970 body styles.
The reason for increasing the blower
overdrive would be to facilitate five-second Pro Mod cars. There
is an up and down side to that, a five-second car has good
and bad points. The good point is a five-second
car attracts publicity and fans. The downside is,
Pro Modified chassis require an SFI certification for the
advanced ET class. That means (as I understand it)
the chassis is only certfifed for six-second e.t.s or
slower. If Pro Mods start making five-second passes, the
current chassis will be obsolete and a new chassis spec
from SFI will have to be formulated. That also means more
expense to build new cars. As well meaning as the AMS guys
might be in making these rules, it doesn't appear that
the implementation of these rules would be anything but
harmful to Pro Modified in general and AMS Pro Mods specifically.
Let me explain why.
The body rule basically goes against 15 years of
Pro Mod history. From the very beginnings Pro Modified
as a class has offered fans the choice of old and new body
styles and powered by either nitrous or supercharged engines.
The very first Pro Mod World Champion was Tim McAmis driving
the Matt Johnson Performance Pontiac Firebird.
Icons like Scotty Cannon and Bill Kuhlmann all had late
model body styles during their careers in Pro Mod. Throughout
the years, Pro Stock style bodies have been a part of Pro
Modified. The only thing that rule will accomplish is to
force racers like the Barklages, Von Smith's owner Tom
Lipar, Richie Stevens, Mike Castellana, Brad Anderson and
Jim Oddy to either build new cars only for NHRA or race
somewhere else. Not a good thing for the sport.
Now let's consider the 100-lb. weight penalty for those
racers with '63 'Vettes such as the Stott Brothers, Scott
Ray, Ed Hoover and Rickie Smith would have to add a hundred
pounds to their current cars or build new cars. As I understand
it, the maximum weight for any car would remain at 2,700
So in order to make the weight penalty work, racers with
blown cars that are '63 'Vettes or are new Mustangs, Cavaliers,
etc. would have to weigh 2,700 lbs. and those with the "correct"
body style would be able to race at 2,600 lbs., unless of
course they just cut the split windows out of the back of
their '63 Corvettes and called them '64-'66 Corvettes. That
means blown cars would then weigh 2,600 lbs. with 29 percent
overdrive. That combination has proven to be capable of
sub six-second laps.
Confused yet? You will be because there is more. Under
the proposed new rules, nitrous oxide racers would have
to race 26,000-lb. blower cars who will have 50 percent
more blower overdrive than before and, just to add insult
to injury, some nitrous cars would have to add 100 lbs.
of weight. It doesn't take an Albert Einstein to come to
the conclusion that the new rules will do away with nitrous
cars in Pro Mod.
When asked about the new rules Shannon Jenkins said succinctly, "Those
rules will just delete the nitrous cars from the NHRA circuit."
Even the always optimistic Billy Harper said, "It
would be very difficult for me to be competitive with those
rules in place." He added, "But as long as the
NHRA Pro Mod class remains an exhibition class I can't
get too excited, especially after the way we were treated
at Indy this year."
What's even worse is that the proposed rules for 2005
would turn Pro Mod upside down once again. Through some
luck, skill, and trial and error, IHRA finally has come
up with a set of rules that actually strikes a balance
between the blown cars and the nitrous cars.
In the 15-year history of Pro Modified the blown cars
and nitrous cars have never been closer in performance
or the class more entertaining. Why then would the
AMS management team want to change all of this and upset
the apple cart? I just can't think of a good reason.
Hopefully, reason will prevail for the decision-makers,
the proposed new rules will die a short and painless death,
and the class can get back to racing. If not, the once bright
future of Pro Modified might get cloudy and confused once
again. So here is my suggestion, "if it ain't broke,
don't fix it". In other words, leave the rules exactly
as they were last year until there is a need to change them.