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No Good Deed Goes Unpunished (Again)

Of Nitro Funny Cars and Pro Mods

If 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 for.

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 lbs. 

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.

Previous Stories
Burk's Blast "the publisher's corner"  — 9/23/04
Notes from a cluttered Desk

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