There’s been a sea of silence from NHRA and its denizens since the announcement that Pro Stock is now a “silhouette” class, with competitors able to use any approved body (built from 2009 on) and any approved 500 cubic-inch, V8, normally aspirated engine for the 24-race 2018 Mello Yello campaign.
That move came after the sanctioning body, attempting to bring more attention to the class, changed it for the 2016 season, initially bringing in a modest electronic fuel injection system, a 10,500-rpm redline, manufacturer-specific hoods with air intake at the base of the body, slightly shorter wheelie bars and more manufacturer identification. It also requires all Pro Stock competitors to park their cars in-paddock with noses facing toward the paying customers.
A few competitors found ways around these edicts, specifically the final one, as towels (initially forbidden) covered then-carbureted engines and toolboxes were moved to conceal pretty much the entire car. Spectators reacted as they have in the past – they left the grandstands to wait out the nitro-based Funny Car and Top Fuel racers when Pro Stock came to the line.
The question of whether this new try at reviving the factory hot rod class will work remains to be seen, as competitors prepare their 2018 entries in relative silence.
The 2017 season marked the end of one era, in that 2012 class champion Allen Johnson retired from competition after spending his entire, 23-year career driving a Mopar-powered vehicle. As he announced his departure, that meant the Dodge Dart contingent would have one less reliable bullet to combat the near-dominance of the Chevrolet Camaro.
Already Dodge/Mopar had declared its departure from the Pro Stock ranks in official capacity. Mopar now places its support in two NHRA arenas: Funny Car, with Don Schumacher Racing being the standard-bearer and Lucas Oil Sportsman ranks, where factory stock is the new play station for Ford, Mopar and Chevrolet.
Pro Stock became a silhouette class because NHRA is either intent on killing the class, having removed $20,000 in payouts from Pro Stock and sending that money to the nitro-fueled, supercharged classes. A Mopar operative, who asked to remain nameless, said that, prior to leaving Pro Stock, his company suggested to NHRA that Pro Stock join the floppers and dragsters by having supercharged engines. It might bring more fans back to the stands, he said.
That suggestion was met with silence and NHRA embarks on a 2018 season with Pro Stock as an also-ran, again. This despite the fact that the category has more technology in its transporters and its race cars than Funny Car and Top Fuel – combined.
One guy who thinks the new look of Pro Stock is going to be amazing is Nick Ferri. Ferri, former head of engine development at Elite Performance, the engine-building concern that produces Pro Stock Chevrolet engines for two-time champ Erica Enders-Stevens and five-time Pro Stock titleholder Jeg Coughlin Jr., has begun his own engine-building business, Nick Ferri Racing, located in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Ferri thinks there’s no downside to the new rules, particularly with the Chevrolet engine that has been the sole successful mill in Pro Stock since Johnson won the title with Mopar in 2012. Chevy has put money and personnel into Pro Stock; it shows. They’ve also gone into the nitro ranks with John Force Racing, who won both Funny Car (Robert Hight) and Top Fuel championships, the latter with Brittany Force.
“I’m very optimistic with the future of Pro Stock,” Ferri said. While he’s thinking short-term, the next few years or longer, “I feel we will see some new and/or returning faces this year. The key to keeping this class successful is cost,” he confirmed.
His plans for Nick Ferri Racing go against the grain of current thinking, as he promotes the lease of engines on a per-run basis in 2018, rather than the per-race basis used by others, notably Gray Motorsports and KB Racing, who all lease equipment in addition to competing with their in-house teams.
“At this point, I’m planning on leasing my engines for $3,000 per run. Yes, in the end it will still cost $24,000 (about the going rate) if the car makes it to the final round, but you get a much better ROI (return on investment) than paying the same and losing in the first round. I feel, overall, it will still be cheaper than what’s currently being offered today,” Ferri stated.
While the ruling that decreed a 10,500-rpm redline has made costs decline, “I feel running any engine make in any car is a good thing. As long as we don’t have any new major rule changes involving the engines, I feel this will all help Pro Stock. What you cannot stop and/or control is how much any team chooses to spend on their program. No matter how small or large the budget, you can pretty much be assured it will be spent somewhere in the race program.”
Ferri has made some changes to his engine program as he embarks on this new adventure in engine-building. He is using the Chevrolet DRCE4 (Drag Race Competition Engine) block with the tried-and-true DRCE2 cylinder heads. The DRCE2 block/head combination was used for years and years before Chevy introduced the DRCE3, which had some issues and necessitated a higher RPM range (KB Racing was revving over 12,000-rpm before the new EFI/10,500 rules came out).
When Chevy brought out the DRCE4 block – using input from some builders in the Pro Stock game – it was met with overall approval. “That new block has proven to be as good if not better than the DRCE2 block, so everyone is back in business and nobody has to worry about blocks anymore. The DRCE4 block will accept any DRCE2- and 3-cylinder head, leaving that decision to the builder. I feel I can make as much power if not more with the DRCE2 design on the DRCE4 block,” he said.
Whether Ferri has the right idea or not will be seen once the NHRA season gets underway at Pomona in February. Hopefully his enthusiasm won’t be misplaced.