WILD AT HEART

PRO STOCK LOST SIGHT OF WHAT THE CATEGORY WAS ALL ABOUT. PASSIONATE NEW MUSCLE-CAR BUYERS WANT TO SEE THEIR CARS ON TRACK

VICTOR BRAY

THIS month Iíd like to start by giving a big thumbs-up to the Moits family and their whole racing team. In case you missed it, they ran a 5.58 during testing at Sydney Dragway. Thatís the stuff of fairy tales, and takes Doorslammer into unknown territory. Iíve said it over the past couple of columns: Watch these guys, they are not messing around.

To me, the secret is that they are successful business people. Theyíre passionate about drag racing, but they treat it as a business.

They have recruited the best people in the industry Ė chassis builders, engine tuners and guys who know their way around the emerging technology of torque converters. Couple that with a talented driver like Paul Mouhayet and you have the groundwork for success.

What we also need to understand is that the guys are not running the traditional three-speed transmission, but a five-speed Liberty gearbox in the car. Who would have ever thought we would see a five-speed in a Doorslammer? Thatís the stuff of Pro Stock racing.

That move has sent shockwaves through the category, and in just the last month weíve seen about half a dozen guys switch to the fivespeed gearbox. I donít necessarily want to go to a five-speed, but if thatís what itís going to take to compete, the decision is a no-brainer.

The Liberty íbox became very popular in the US; in fact, Pro Stock racers have been using them for around 10 years. Until recently, they werenít strong enough to run in a blown car.

Can you believe they are making five gear changes when they run the eighth-mile? You also need to take into account the fact that auto shifters are legal in the USA but arenít here. The five-speed has become so popular because it stops the engine from dropping revs between the gear changes when using a lock-up converter. If you have a clutch in the car, as the revs try to drop on the gearshift, the centrifugally activated clamping force is reduced and it will allow the clutch to slip a bit, which allows the engine to remain at optimum rpm. But with a lock-up converter, because itís locked up using oil pressure and not centrifugally, when you shift gears it canít slip and pulls the engine revs down a lot lower. The fact is, if you have more gears with a well-thought-out split between the ratios, the engine is not going to drop as many revs.

Pro Stock has been in the news recently, with the NHRA wanting to cut the number of events in the Mello Yello series due to low car counts and dwindling support. What we need to keep in mind is that, in America, the category has always been based on the three main manufacturers: General Motors, Ford and Chrysler. In the early days the motto was: ĎWin on Sunday, sell on Mondayí. The initial attraction was that you could take a car off the showroom floor, do some modifications and then take them racing. But over the years Pro Stock has developed into being more professional, and while it is still popular with the hardcore fanbase (which was up in arms when fuel injection replaced carburettors last season), passionate new muscle-car buyers want to see their cars on track. I think along the way Pro Stock lost sight of what the category was all about.

But letís take a breath and see whatís happening today Ė history is repeating itself. You can now go and buy an 800hp, nine-second Dodge Demon Ė with a factory warranty to boot Ė and go racing. In fact, you can get cars from the factory that already have wheelie bars, racing engine and set up for the strip. So whatís happened is that Pro Stock, having drifted away from its original concept, is being superseded by a new category: Factory Stock. Itís being backed by the manufacturers and is becoming more popular with the racers and fans, while Pro Stock numbers continue

PRO STOCK LOST SIGHT OF WHAT THE CATEGORY WAS ALL ABOUT. PASSIONATE NEW MUSCLE-CAR BUYERS WANT TO SEE THEIR CARS ON TRACK

to dwindle. Thereís a changing of the guard.

Pro Stock in America Ė and also in Australia to an extent Ė has become a very elite class and very expensive. Some of the stories you hear make your eyes water: 50 grand to lease a motor for a weekend. Thatís crazy.

Theyíve priced themselves out of the market and most importantly lost contact with their fanbase. Itís only been in the past couple of years that the NHRA made them stop parking their cars face-in in the garage and take down the screens so fans could see whatís happening. The category could survive if the manufacturers were throwing in the big bucks, but thatís not happening.

The money is going to the other categories, including Factory Stock, where they are getting a return on investment by selling cars.

On the local scene itís difficult to see what the future will bring for Pro Stock. Weíve never had the car manufacturersí support in a real sense. We need to keep in mind that motorsport is all about sponsorship and that very few people can afford to finance their racing out of their own pockets. Money doesnít make you a great drag racer, but it definitely helps you keep going. You only need to look at John Force and Don Garlits; both started out with no money and through sheer talent and some luck were able to attract sponsors, and that was instrumental in their rise to the top.

In Australia, Pro Stock has some of the most passionate and super-dedicated racers who have spent a lot of their own money to go drag racing. But I think, in hindsight, the class should have tried to stay more relevant to the Australian market, maybe by running local Falcons and Holdens. All the public sees is American-style cars. There is a lesson in that for Doorslammer too if we are not careful.

The IHRA has cut the Australian Top Fuel racing distance from 1320 to 1000ft Ė a good decision in my opinion. I have watched a lot of the US NHRA racing over 1000ft and the spectacle, drama and excitement remains the same regardless of the race distance.

When it was first introduced I thought: ĎNo way! They are going to ruin the sport.í That didnít happen. The cars are racing quicker and faster than ever and the fans still love Top Fuel. In Australia, I think it was good that the Top Fuel guys had a say in the decision.

Iím not sure that all of them were in favour, but itís happened. Itís not going to ruin the bracket. What it will do is make the racing safer, thanks to the extra braking distance. s