Drag Illustrated, the magazine that’s both in print and online, and one that’s responsible for some of the more interesting aspects in the sport of straight-line racing (its 30 Under 30 issue is one of the most sought-after magazines every year), is working with the Professional Racers Owners Organization (PRO) and Bradenton Motorsports Park to produce a $1.3 Million PRO Superstar Shootout in February 2024.
This big money race features invited stars of Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock – and is scheduled for February 8-10, 2024, following a few days of pre-race testing that should get every competitor’s juices flowing. The payouts for the race are $250,000 to Top Fuel and Funny Car winners, together with $125,000 for the Pro Stock victor. The entire event is going to be streamed live – as the introductory press conference was – by FloRacing, the group’s official live-streaming coverage partner.
PRO was intrigued by the idea of a big-money race after seeing the exceptionally successful $100,000 World Series of Pro Mod event, promoted and managed by Drag Illustrated and held at Bradenton last March. That was the seventh Pro Mod-centric event held by Drag Illustrated; DI has also held and promoted events featuring Pro Stock and its 500-cubic-inch propelled machines. This PRO Superstar Shootout will be the group’s first dip in the nitro racing waters.
“We believe this is a dramatic new leap for professional drag racing,” declared Alan Johnson, president of PRO and the crew chief responsible for seven of Tony Schumacher’s eight NHRA Top Fuel national championships. “The PRO Superstar Shootout will be unlike anything our teams have been a part of, and the result will be a one-of-a-kind show for our fans.
“Whether fans are joining us in person or tuning in from home through the FloRacing live-stream, they’re going to see the best professional drivers and teams in the sport compete in a different way. It’s going to be very exciting to take the expected boost of energy from this action-packed weekend into the start of the 2024 NHRA drag racing season,” that begins in Gainesville again in 2024. Johnson emphasized that it has been great fun for him planning this show with everyone at PRO, as well as with the track and Drag Illustrated.
The PRO Superstar Shootout will be an invitation-only race, with invitees to be announced in the near future, much as World Series of Pro Mod. Drivers will run four qualifying sessions to determine the eight-car fields in the two nitro categories and the 16-car Pro Stock field. There will be Friday night random chip draws to determine pairings for all rounds of eliminations, up to the final rounds for Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock. In addition to showcasing competition, FloRacing intends to produce driver and team features that will run during downtime.
Wes Buck, the founder and editorial director at Drag Illustrated is, obviously, an instigator of this big-money event. He understands the emotions in drag racing and wants the rest of the world to know it. “This is a sport that runs on passion,” Buck reminded. “Many things have contributed to its success over some 70 years of organized history, but nothing more so than the unique passion of these racers. We believe the time is right for the ultimate in drag racing events. We’re going to do things a little different with the PRO Superstar Shootout and that’s exciting!”
Bradenton Motorsports Park, about 20 minutes east of I-75 and near Sarasota, has long been a venue for sportsman racers, but this event marks the first time the track will host nitro racers. Located near Florida’s Gulf Coast, it plays host to one of the longest running independent events in drag racing, the Snowbird Outlaw Nationals, as well as the U.S. Street Nationals, FL2K and, last year, the World Series of Pro Mod. Pro Stock, Pro Modified and Pro Stock Motorcycle teams use the facility as a preferred pre-season testing location.
“It’s a really big deal to bring an event of this magnitude to Bradenton,” noted Victor Alvarez, track owner. “This has been a goal we’ve worked towards – myself and Wade Rich (operations director) and Dave Lansberry (track manager). We’ve all said we want to get to a point where we can host a race like this and have cars that people only really see on TV. It’s really cool for our local fans.” With a newly-repaved surface, “All the upgrades we’ve done, and a couple of years of just working really hard to have really good events, is paying off,” he said.
Buck intends to bring “a level of promotion and production value to this event that has not been seen before in drag racing. Our goal is to create destination events that are far more than drag races alone. This is something that will have a tremendous impact on our sport, its history and its trajectory.” He saluted those that had no qualms about investing their time, energy and money into a program that can change the face of straight-line racing: Alan Johnson, Michelle Domagala, Chad Head, Richard Freeman, Paul Lee, Tony Stewart, Bob Tasca III, Steve Torrence, Scott “Woody” Woodruff and many others.
To introduce the PRO Superstar Shootout at Bradenton Motorsports Park, Buck invited Freeman, owner of Elite Motorsports, his five-time championship-earning Pro Stock driver Erica Enders, FloRacing’s Courtney Enders, Tony Stewart, Bob Tasca III, Chad Head (better known as the general manager of Kalitta Motorsports and PRO’s vice president) and four-time Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence to the dais.
Given the opportunity to comment, Freeman noted that the opportunity to “race for big money at an entertainment-driven sporting events will pull the curtains down and show the real stories, as well as tell the stories behind the scenes.”
Woodruff, one of the sport’s great public relations experts and managers, is excited to introduce drag racing to new audiences. “We’re going to package it differently, and working with FloRacing was an easy decision. It’s the right fit because they are into 25-plus different sports and activities. We want to be seen and be exposed to new audiences.”
Torrence likes the idea of a Saturday night shootout. “It’s a whole different, off-the-wall format. You don’t know who you’re running until the chips are drawn,” he said. This will be new, welcoming and the biggest thing in drag racing, the biggest payout in history. It’ll rock the whole drag racing world. We’ll go to win for the money and the bragging rights – everybody is going to want to be the first winner” of this inaugural event.
In Enders’ 20-year professional career, “This would be my best achievement. Wes Buck’s passion is unbelievable and Drag Illustrated smashes the ball out of the court every time.” Tasca applauded the “biggest purse and this unique race. We’ll be able to show what goes on behind the scenes in the trailers and it’ll show the fans what happens in and out of the car. This will be a throwback race with cutting edge technology.”
Tony Stewart applauded Buck’s passion and shared his own after admitting he never thought he’d be on the PRO board. “Everybody [at PRO] cares about the sport and doesn’t have individual agendas. This is a perfect example of what the sport of drag racing is all about. We all love the money, but the prestige of winning the biggest race is huge! There will be lots of things for fans to do – bands, excitement – we’re going to make it big and create a really cool experience for our fans, for our partners, we’ll make it bigger than life!”
The schedule for the PRO Superstar Shootout will include testing at Bradenton starting Tuesday, February 6 through Thursday, February 8. Qualifying kicks off with a single session on Thursday night and three sessions on Friday, February 9. Eliminations take place on Saturday, February 10.
By Anne Proffit