Pro Stock Changes – Huge Cost, Less Safety

There has been a lot of talk about the changes that the NHRA has made to the Pro Stock rules for 2016. Talk of cost savings to the teams and improved entertainment value for the fans. I hate to intrude with some reality, but it is all hogwash.

Cost savings? Hardly! After decades of racing with carburetors the teams have NO experience and NO data on how to race with electronic fuel injection. I guarantee you that the teams will spend what fortune they have between now and the Winternationals in February trying to get a handle on EFI and Pro Stock engines. Untold hours will be spent on the dyno trying to gain experience. Untold numbers of engines will be built, run on the dyno and blown up trying to figure out how to get 1,500 horsepower out of a fuel injected pro stock engine.

Everything is different with fuel injection. Intake manifolds? The teams can forget everything they know about wet flow intake manifolds for multiple-bore dual carburetors as they try to develop dry flow manifolds for single bore throttle bodied manifolds. Their old carbs ran on 7-9 pounds of fuel pressure, now they will be running eight individual port injectors with 90 pounds of fuel pressure. With how far pro stock pushes the envelope on everything to do with the engine, there is no room for error on air flow or fuel distribution. When you’re on the ragged edge, things go BOOM in a heartbeat.

To make matters worse, the NHRA not only gave the teams almost no time to prepare for this radical change, they compounded the change by mandating port injection rather than multi-barrel Throttle Body Injection. And then they outlawed hood scoops, so teams have to throw out decades of learning how to manage air pressure and air flow into their engines with grill inducted ram air. The NHRA could have made the transition a little easier by starting with TBI units sitting on top of long runner intake manifolds so that some of the team’s knowledge could still be useful. This was the thoughtful step that NASCAR took as they transitioned their teams from carbs to EFI. But the NHRA seems not have considered this.

The NRHA in my opinion is trading away safety for entertainment on many fronts. While a lot of the focus on the new TV deal that will see 16 races broadcast in real time is on ratings, my concern is for how many corners will be cut by the teams trying to make the terribly short turnaround times that live television forces upon them. Jack Beckman is the only person I’ve heard publicly question the safety aspects of that many live broadcasts, when it comes to the time needed to safely ready a car between rounds, how little is too little? With the big money and pressure at stake in professional racing, teams and crew members will do whatever they have to do to make it out for the next round. Under the pressure of having won one or more rounds, and the pressure to get back out there and go one more round, what measures will be sacrificed?

Along those same lines of safety concerns, there is little point to the NHRA’s mandating shorter wheelie bars for the pro stock class. When all is good, when a pro stock car is properly setup for the track conditions and the tune is spot on, the cars won’t do much of a wheelie. When everything is good, a few inches of lift on the front tires provides the weight transfer needed and the car just takes off. It’s all about the instant center and chassis tune. The wheelie bars help, through the science of geometry, to plant the rear tires harder when the bars contact the ground. Shorter wheelie bars will decrease traction and create fewer rounds of close racing. And close racing is what makes pro stock so thrilling, not one car smoking the tires as the other car waltzes to a non-competitive victory.

But when things aren’t right, when the setup is off by too much, the potential for putting the car hard on the wheelie bars is there. I’ve seen way too many bracket race cars running in fast classes which prohibit wheelie bars get it wrong, put the nose too high up in the air and then crash the car. Is this exciting for fans? I guess for some, the ones that would have loved to watch gladiators kill each other or people fed to lions once upon a time. But that doesn’t make it right to deliberately introduce a greater risk for the driver’s when launching just for the entertainment it will provide when things go wrong.

Of course, the single biggest safety advance that pro stock has needed for years is a little downforce. We’ve seen too many cars over the last four or five years get squirrely and end up on their roofs due to the lack of any downforce whatsoever on pro stock cars. So I guess that should have been fair warning that the NHRA is capable of putting safety on a slightly lower rung of the importance ladder now and then.

Why change the rule allowing crew members to use their hips to help pro stock cars do straight and even burnouts? There is no risk to the crew members at all when they do this, in all of the years that crews have been doing this not one crew member has ever been so much as knocked off of their feet. And the advantage is that the car has a higher probability of getting the burnout under way nice and straight and evenly heating the tires as much as desired.