Is Doom and Gloom the Future of Pro Stock?

Tanner Gray
Tanner Gray’s 2018 Pro Stock vehicle won’t be seen after the season finishes off.

Before our eyes, we are witnessing the end of NHRA’s Pro Stock class. The factory hot rod category has been tumbling over the past few years but not to the extent it’s experiencing this year.

When NHRA introduced electronic fuel injection several years ago, some prior and regular competitors never jumped on that bandwagon; with the intent to decrease events, fields and payouts, the sanctioning body is sealing this class’ fate.

Last month, champion-in-waiting Tanner Gray declared his intent to depart NHRA straight-line racing and return to his stock car roots. The Gray Motorsports equipment will be sold after Pomona – with much of it heading to Elite Motorsports – as this three-generation family exits the sport that made them household names. There will be no Johnny, no Shane, no Jonathon, no Tanner Gray on the grounds when NHRA’s 2019 season begins next February at Pomona.

Shane Gray, a winner in Pro Stock and Tanner’s dad, said he was pretty much disgusted by the attitude of NHRA with regard to Pro Stock, inferring the class could easily be gone within the next few years if NHRA didn’t act to make it viable once again. Of NHRA’s four Mello Yello classes, Pro Stock has the option to be the most technical of all, with its 500ci engines a tuner’s challenge, dream and, occasionally nightmare.

On Saturday morning at the NHRA Toyota Nationals on The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, reigning Pro Stock champion Bo Butner, of KB Racing said that he, too, is exiting Pro Stock next year, taking his wares to the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown, where he will race a Cobra Jet Mustang. While still feeling the “wow” factor after winning his Pro Stock championship, Butner is returning to his sportsman roots after running 89 Pro Stock races, a streak that began at this venue in 2015.

Bo Butner
Bo Butner is also exiting the Pro Stock class at the end of the season.

Butner achieved the goal of winning a professional championship and now intends to have more fun, deciding when he wants to go racing. He did leave open the possibility of returning to Pro Stock. “I’m probably stepping away from Pro Stock for at least a year because I have a lot of life-changing things happening: I’m going to be a grandpa in April and I’ve put off a lot of family stuff for the last four seasons. I want to get back to that, plus our business is growing and I need to be there for that.”

In addition to NHRA’s popular Factory Stock Showdown class, Butner is considering Pro Mod, having licensed earlier this ear in Harry Hruska’s turbocharged Camaro. During his time with KB Racing – and with two races yet to go – Butner has accumulated six Wally trophies in 19 final rounds and has been No. 1 qualifier eight times. This weekend he’s wrapped his Chevrolet Camaro in “Butner Back to the Future” colors.

Summit/KB Racing will continue with Greg Anderson and Jason Line in Pro Stock and have Mexican Fernando Cuadra signed up for next year. There could be other customer cars but they’re not defined at this time. Elite Motorsports will likely continue with Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin Jr and Vincent Nobile, among others. Tanner Gray’s current teammate Drew Skillman intends to do more Lucas Oil Sportsman racing and is heavily involved in Factory Stock Showdown.

Pro Mod and Factory Stock Showdown are on the upswing, both in the pits and at NHRA’s Glendora, Calif. headquarters. Pro Stock has become a second-class nephew to Wally Parks’ organization. While we’ve got to hope that doesn’t continue, it’s hard to see it happening any other way.

About Anne Proffit 202 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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