The cyclical nature of NHRA’s Pro Stock category racing in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is definitely on display as the 18-race season concludes this weekend on the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. For the 55th time, the Auto Club NHRA Finals take place on this historic dragstrip, which traditionally opens and closes each season.
NHRA changed the complexion of Pro Stock this year with a reduction in events, going from the traditional 24 to 18 contests, all held in conjunction with nitro Top Fuel and Funny Car races. After the implementation of electronic fuel injection (EFI) in 2016, entries began to dwindle as crew chiefs who had long been invested in carburetors had to learn the intricacies of this type of fuel delivery.
Some got it better than others. Those some were Ken Black Racing, who field cars for Greg Anderson, Bo Butner and Jason Line, along with other entities purchasing technical partnerships with the North Carolina-based group. Jason Line earned the 2016 title, befitting one who had advanced interest in and knowledge of EFI; Butner claimed the 2017 championship, even as Gray Motorsports ramped up their challenge and helped sophomore driver Tanner Gray to his title last year.
This year, the tide appears to have turned in Pro Stock, as exemplified by the six-race Countdown to the Championship’s top-of-the-points hold by Elite Motorsports, who secured titles for driver Erica Enders in both 2014 and 2015, before the EFI era arrived. Five-time Pro Stock champion Jeg Coughlin Jr., who finished second to Tanner Gray – he immediately departed for NASCAR competition – last year, is in second place, 92 points behind his teammate, while Butner, Line, Elite customer Matt Hartford and Anderson comprise the top six.
With points-and-a-half on offer for this weekend’s race, it’s wise to consider it open territory. It’s possible, but not likely that any of the KB racers could overcome their deficits, which range from 113 points in arrears for Butner in third place to a lag of 157 points by Anderson in sixth. Enders and Coughlin Jr. are in a lofty place right now and would have to heavily implode for any of the others to have even a middling chance of overtaking the duo.
What Pro Stock could use is some differentiation in cars, as most of the competitors are driving Chevrolet Camaro race cars. There is the odd Dodge Dart (Alan Prusiensky/Richie Stevens) and Ford Mustang entry from the Cuadra family (who are aligned with KB), but really, this has become a silhouette class, thanks to the changes in technology arbitrated by NHRA in 2015 for the 2016 and later seasons.
Whatever the outcome, it’ll be a win for General Motors, parent company of Chevrolet. And most likely a win for Elite Motorsports, which has clawed its way back into contention after an ill-advised move to Dodge in 2016. Returning to Chevy a year later, Elite needed to find its own way. The Richard Freeman-led outfit has certainly done that. Will they cap the charge this Sunday? And will it be a red or a yellow car atop the standings?