The big winners at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in Indy might have been Terry McMillen, JR Todd, Tanner Gray, LE Tonglet, Stevie Jackson, Josh Hart, Sean Bellemeur, David Rampy, Denny Steward, TC Morris, Joe Hessling, Devin Isenhower and Leah Pritchett, but the bigger story could be the exhibition runs made by a select group of Mountain Motor Pro Stock cars. Brought in on an exhibition basis, it was also an effort by the NHRA to gather information in an effort to address some of the health issues of the present day 500-cubic inch NHRA Pro Stock category.
“We want to stimulate growth in Pro Stock,” said Ned Walliser, NHRA VP of Competition during a recent driver meeting. "We need too increase participation and grow fan appeal."
Two years ago, the NHRA made sweeping changes, no more controversial than the early ‘80s when they mandated 500-cubic inch engines. There hadn’t been a major change in rules since then. Hood scoops were gone, replaced by flat hoods for a more stock appearance. Then carburetors were replaced by fuel injection and shorter wheelie bars, along with a 10,500 rpm limit. Today it's debatable the changes accomplished more than raising the costs of an already expensive eliminator. While there hasn’t been a new OEM car to come out of Detroit (as well as other parts of the world) with a carburetor in decades, it was felt that fuel injection would help bring Pro Stock into the new millennium. As far as hood scoops… let’s face it, drag race cars have hood scoops, plain and simple. The removal of them was done to help align the race cars with what’s on the showroom floors. Yet, current Pro Stock cars are so far away from what a showroom Camaro looks like, they are like comparing Kenny Bernstein’s late ‘80s “Batmobile” Buick to a stock offering – with the portholes!
And shorter wheelie bars? Those cars are so chassis-tuned, that chances are they could have removed the wheelie bars completely and they’d still leave the starting line in the same manner, although admittingly, teams do use the wheelie bars as another chassis-tuning tool.
Regardless of it all, the class might be summed up in one word: Stale.
There have been numerous rumors circulating throughout the year with regards to adding Mountain Motor Pro Stocks to the class, but none have had any more impact than seeing eight of those cars making runs at the biggest event of the year, the U.S. Nationals. Eight drivers -- John Montecalvo, John DeFlorian, Trevor Eman, Dwayne Rice, John Konigshofer, Brad Waddle, Dillon Voss and Eijah Morton -- put on a show not only for the fans, but also for the purpose to help the NHRA better understand what it might take to include them in the 2019 rules package. However, the two models might carry no more resemblance then a dog and cat. Yes, they’re both animals, but…
Just to reiterate, NHRA-legal Pro Stock cars are 500-inch models with EFI and are quite possibly the most technologically advanced cars on the track. Mountain Motor Pro Stocks carry an 843-cubic inch limit for wedge engines; 833 for a hemi engine; with carburetors or fuel injection permitted. NHRA cars are fueled by the official NHRA fuel provided by Sunoco, while MMPS cars are typically all run on VP Racing Fuels’ oxygenated Q16. NHRA cars are on the class’ mandated Goodyear tire, while Hoosiers ride in MMPS. In addition, there are a number of other more-than-just-minute differences in the cars.
All that being said, the big difference is in the elapsed times. NHRA cars are typically in the 6.50 range and have been as quick as a 6.47 with EFI, at speeds just over 200, while MMPS cars, while usually only run on the eighth-mile, should run 6.20s at over 220 mph in good conditions. At the Indy “test;” if you want to call it that; Montecalvo ran a quickest of a 6.39 on Saturday, while on the same day both Tanner Gray and Greg Anderson ran the quickest of a 6.62. In essence, same conditions, same track, the MMPS cars were only about two-and-half tenths quicker.
As of now, the MMPS cars only run under the PDRA (Professional Drag Racers Association) regime, which is an eighth-mile-contested ASO (Alternate Sanction Organization). The fact is that more than half the MMPS cars run at Indy have never been run to the quarter-mile.
On Sunday morning, after two exhibition sessions were run for the MMPS cars the day before and with two more scheduled for the day, Walliser and Josh Peterson, NHRA VP Of Racing Operations, met with the MMPS teams to gather input.
“The important thing to understand is that we all must work together to help the Pro Stock class,” said Walliser. “Our message to both groups is 'How can we help you? What can we do to make this work?' Those are the questions we’re asking. We want you to be a pro and run with us but we realize there are some fundamental differences, rules-wise, which we need to overcome.”
Noting the use of the Sunoco fuel and Goodyear tires, Walliser said, “I’d be more than happy to supply anyone with fuel if they’d like to go test or dyno with it.”
Doug Schreifer, crew chief of the Aruba-sponsored Mustang said, “The fact of the matter is that a lot of our guys are using engines built a long time ago with little more than freshen-ups each season.”
“We tend to police ourselves when it comes to rules and what to allow,” says MMPS racer John Montecalvo. “Our guys are not going to go out and purchase carbon fiber this and titanium that, because that will only increase the cost to each team. We’re just not going to do that. Controlling our costs is paramount to us.”
That statement confirms the fact that most of the MMPS teams are little more than part-time racers out to have a good time. Most of the car owners are successful businessman for whom MMPS racing is their golf game, house on the lake,boat, etc. “There are something like 27 MMPS teams in the country right now,” said Montecalvo. “While we get a fair share to run with the PDRA; and PDRA does a great job with us; a lot of those cars are sitting for a variety of reasons, one of which is some sort of consistency when it comes to race scheduling and the like.”
In truth though, there might only be a half-dozen MMPS cars who are even capable of being able to attend a lion’s share of the 24 Mello Yello series races.
“For our team,” says Trevor Eman, driver of the Aruba-sponsored Ford Mustang, “our life is in Aruba where we have our business and our families. We raced with other Pro Stock-type cars in Aruba and surrounding countries until that class somewhat dried up there. And as racers, we were always looking to better ourselves, which meant racing here in the states. We would love to be able to race for a Wally, but I doubt we could ever contend for a championship because we could never afford, either financially or in time spent, to attend 24 events a year.”
Despite being able to afford the Mello Yello events, it still comes down to a rules package which would at the very least allow MMPS to be competitive with the current crop of NHRA cars. Should the rules package not be right and some of the MMPS cars come over to the Mello Yello side and not do well by turning on win lights, chances are they’re not going to continue coming back.
“Besides fuel and tires,” adds Montecalvo, “another issue for us could be in the reaction time department. MMPS use a very different clutch set-up than our counterparts. We see the way the NHRA class is going and if you don’t cut a double-0 reaction time, you could be behind in a hurry. For us, a .030 is a good reaction time, which means we’d already be behind.”
So what does this all come down to?
“We need to fix this issue and fix it now,” says Walliser. “I’m not sure we can go through the 2019 season with the class the way it is. That being said though, it’s going to take a big effort to get something done. But it starts with communication. It’s not as easy as slowing down one type of car or speeding up the other, it’s about how do we get to a common point.”
The Indy “test” actually accomplished a great many goals for both the NHRA and the racers. As we mentioned previously, a lot of the MMPS teams either have never driven the full course, or some may, yet their cars are new enough that the car has never gone the full distance. In NHRA’s case, the powers-that-be might “think” they know how fast the MMPS cars might be, but this test gave them real numbers on a like race track, numbers they can analyze. So the problem is how do either make the NHRA cars faster or slow down MMPS?
“We’re open to any suggestions,” Walliser says. “We need to work together and the idea of bringing in the MMPS cars actually came from the NHRA Pro Stock racers. We had
a meeting with a couple of the NHRA teams earlier to hash around ideas in order to build the class back to it’s hey-day. A number of things were discussed after which I suggested we discuss the ‘elephant in the room,’ that being MMPS cars, to which the NHRA racers said, ‘You’d be willing to do that? We’d support it.’ And that’s how it started.”
How this all ends up is anyone’s guess. As we’ve mentioned before, it’s going to take a big… no, make that gargantuan effort to make it happen, but like the 1994 movie Dumb and Dumber quote, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
But opening up the lines of communication is certainly the first step in bringing back Pro Stock as we all knew it once was.