Pro Mod's Newest Fan
By Brian Wood
John Force checks out the Pro Mod action at Gainesville. Photo by Brian Wood
With the recent announcement by the NHRA that the Pro Stock Truck class was being downgraded for next season, the door now appears to be wide open for the addition of a Pro Mod eliminator program, perhaps as early as next season. In light of that developing situation, I thought that Drag List readers might be interested in an interview I did on behalf of CompetitionPlus.com with John Force during the Gatornationals in March. Brian Wood
When drag racing historians look back at the current NHRA season in years to come, I'm betting that two significant facts will stand out above all others. First, this particular year marked the historic sanctioning body's 50th anniversary, and second, 2001 will be remembered as the year that the Pro Modified cars came to put on an exhibition, and never left.
Think I'm sticking my neck out a little here? After all, the March 16 &17 appearance of the Pro Mods at Gainesville Raceway, during the 32nd Annual Mac Tools Gatornationals, was just the first of five exhibitions scheduled for this season. And to top it off, they never made it past qualifying, due to a final-day rainout. But, as the old saying goes, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.
The increase in the excitement level when the world's quickest and fastest doorslammers rolled to the line for the first time on Friday was palpable. You knew something big was up when the customary post-fuel-cars-mass-fan-exodus from the stands failed to occur. Between the fans who were familiar with Pro Mods, and were anxious to see more, and the ones who had never seen them before, but had heard all the stories, most everyone stayed right where they were. To the keen observer, it was a magical moment in NHRA history.
Now, I say again - You may think that I'm making too much of the impact that the beautiful supercharged and nitrous-injected hot rods had on the assembled multitudes. I mean, who am I? Just another writer trying to make a buck, that's all, and a die-hard Pro Mod fan to boot. No, you don't have to take my word for it. But there is another man - a man whose opinions carry a great deal of weight - who was closely watching, and thoroughly enjoying, the Pro Mod competition at the Gators.
That man, of course, was perennial Winston Funny Car Champion John Force. During the third round of Pro Mod qualifying, in particular, Force was right in the middle of the action at the starting line. His enthusiasm was obvious, as he moved from lane to lane, animatedly talking to each crew after their driver had made his run. He was like a kid at his first drag race, grinning from ear to ear as he enjoyed a rare opportunity just to be a race fan.
John was especially taken with "those Indian guys" -- Johnny Rocca and Paul Athey.
Photo by Brian Wood
Afterwards, I had the opportunity to talk with John regarding the Pro Modified class, and the NHRA's decision to bring it before their fans.
BW: John, as a guy who has spent the last 25 years driving the fastest full-bodied cars on the planet, people might think you'd be a little jaded. But you totally seemed to be enjoying the Pro Mod action out on the track.
JF: "Well, I have a friend, Harold Stott, down in Landrum, South Carolina, who has family involved in Pro Mod, (brothers Mitch and Quain Stott) so I've known about the class for a long time. But believe it or not, I've never seen a Pro Mod race before this weekend. I've been at match races where they were running, but I was so caught up in my own deal that I just didn't have time to check them out. Last night, I was out on the line when they towed them out, and I stayed to watch. I just love good hot rods and good racing, and this thing is really unique. To see old Thunderbirds, '57 Chevys and all these other cars - man, they're like Fuel Altereds with bodies on them. And that '51 Mercury run by those Indian guys, man, that thing is just unbelievable!
BW: So you obviously think the Pro Mod class has a legitimate chance of sticking with the NHRA.
JF: Oh, for sure. [NHRA President] Tom Compton, with the new ESPN deal, is trying to bring the best possible mixture of professional racing to the NHRA, and Pro Mod has a lot of potential here. I think bringing them in is a real good move. I really like the energy of the young people coming up in the class. You hear so much about people in pro sports getting spoiled - not that we're spoiled here in NHRA - but it really makes you realize that you can become so corporate that you forget to love why you came. But that's the job because corporate America pays the bills. But to see these Pro Mod guys out there just thrashing, rockin' and rollin', turning sideways, smoking the tires - this is just a neat bunch of people with a whole lot of love for what they do. I really appreciate that because I came from there; I grew up like that, and if I ever forget that, then I ain't worth a damn."
It's obvious that John Force has some pretty strong and positive feelings regarding the future of NHRA Pro Mod competition. And I feel pretty confident that I won't be accused of being a mere follower when I say my money's on him. There's even some speculation that he may get involved in the class himself, at least from a distance, with one of the Stott brothers possibly being on the receiving end of some invaluable support from John Force Racing. If other teams with money to spend see the light and follow suit, the future of Pro Modified racing under the NHRA flag should be very interesting indeed.