John Gaydosh works on heavy trucks from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and spends “every last dime I have” to fund his NHRA Pro Stock habit.
The lower-budgeted Baltimore racer – who already had to take a step back when his engine-leasing agreement collapsed suddenly last month – was jolted by the sanctioning body’s decision this week to designate nine races as ones with eight-car fields rather than the customary 16. He took an especially hard hit, considering one-third of those nine events are close to home, which had made them more cost-effective.
Pro Stock independent John Gaydosh. Photo courtesy NHRA/National Dragster
“It like a killing for us, a little team like me,” Gaydosh said. “It stinks for us, because it hurts us the most.”
The NHRA’s announced format, he said, would give him little chance to qualify at those nine races, with what he called “four big teams at the top of the heap.” And those nine events represent nearly one-third of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.
So he’s hoping that the counterproposal that Patterson-Elite Performance (Elite Motorsports) principal Richard Freeman is helping spearhead will find an acceptable resolution to the festering problem.
“It’s not over yet. We’ll see,” Freeman told Dragzine Friday afternoon.
“We’re working on a solution, me and other major teams. And we’ll see if we can present it to ’em this next week in Dallas and see what they want to do,” he said.
“We’re optimistic, but that’s not our sandbox. It’s their sandbox. They can throw it,” Freeman said.
It’s not over yet. We’ll see. – Richard Freeman
He didn’t reveal details of the counterproposal, and he said, “To be honest, I don’t know” what options the racers have.
Gaydosh, who indicated the Freeman coalition has been keeping all teams in the loop, said the NHRA’s response next week will tell just how committed it is to the Pro Stock class.
“If NHRA accepts our counterproposal, that means they want to save the class. If they say no, that means they’re done with the class,” Gaydosh said.
“That’s just going to be plain and simple,” he said. “What they [Freeman and colleagues] are proposing to them [the NHRA decision-makers] is a very, very justifiable means of doing this. I mean, it’s pretty easy, pretty straightforward. It should be something that’s beneficial to everyone. And if they say no to this, it just means that they’re done with the class.”
Gaydosh said he has been privy to a rough draft of the counterproposal and has had a peek at some of the ideas Freeman’s group wants to lobby the NHRA to enact and said he expects to see a more final draft before the Dallas meeting. But he said he’s happy with what he has seen so far.
“Just from what little bit of ideas they’ve told me so far, I think it’s a great idea. I’m hoping NHRA goes for that, something like that that’s going to help save the class. And I hope it works, because that means that I’ll be able to race next year and for a couple more years, hopefully, and be able to have a chance to qualify. If not, there’s three races I know I don’t have a chance to qualify for and there’s no sense even in me spending money to come to them.”
Richard Freeman, who owns and operates Elite Motorsports and the Pro Stock teams of Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin, and Brian Self, confirms he and other players in the class are working on a counter-proposal to the NHRA’s directive that nine events in 2018 will feature eight-car fields. Photo courtesy NHRA/National Dragster
The Top Fuel class, which has had its pendulum swings throughout the decades, has fared only slightly better than the Pro Stock class this season, depending on part-time racers to fill the fields its actually fills. The NHRA headliner class was short of a full field of entries at five of its first 12 races this year (including the season opener) and in that stretch had four other races with just 16 cars. At the nine events designated for just eight Pro Stock cars to square off on race day, the Top Fuel class had a minimum of 16 entries at six of them. At Englishtown, N.J., one of the nine races, the Top Fuel field had only 14 cars – the same as the Pro Stock class.
The Funny Car class has drawn well this season, although it has seen a significant number of races at which it has barely 16 cars.
However, the NHRA has not directed any changes toward the fuel classes.
“That’s how a bunch of us guys feel, that they’re singling us out, for what reason I have no idea,” Gaydosh said. “We come there. We do what we’re supposed to. We’ve made all these rule changes and followed all their directions. They wanted us to go to fuel injection. Well, I thought it was a bad move, because it’s not going to bring any younger kids in.
“Let’s think about it. What does it cost to run Pro Stock? You’re going to start out with a minimum of $400,000 before you pull out of the driveway. And that doesn’t even count spare parts,” he said.
If NHRA accepts our counterproposal, that means they want to save the class. If they say no, that means they’re done with the class. – John Gaydosh
He thought, too, about the personnel alone that some teams need to employ. “Some of these other teams, where they’ve got eight, nine guys . . . it’s a huge budget they have.”
“Hopefully the rest of the guys putting stuff together can work out something with NHRA for 2018, where we don’t have to run the car counts they want us to. If it is, we might as well not even show up to these races, because I know with a lower budget, I don’t have what it takes to run in the top eight, just because of finances,” Gaydosh said.
National television exposure, or lack of it, has been a deal-breaker, he said. Even family-funded frontrunner Tanner Gray, who has no sponsors to please, criticized FOX Sports’ attention to the Pro Stock class as “hideous.” Gaydosh said it has cost him two potential sponsors.
“If we had more TV time and we had more exposure, like we were supposed to get with FOX, I could have a better chance of getting a major sponsor,” Gaydosh said. “We were told, ‘Oh, your TV time with FOX is going to be so much better. You’ll see – it’s going to be a big change.’ It never happened.
“I’ve had two big, big sponsors tell me no because there wasn’t enough TV coverage,” he said. “That’s what it came down to. They didn’t think because of the dollars-and-cents average of advertising costs and what they were going to see, as exposure, it was worth it.”
I’ve had two big, big sponsors tell me no because there wasn’t enough TV coverage. That’s what it came down to. – John Gaydosh
He said one of the executives he was courting “watched qualifying for three different races that we were there. We weren’t shown one time in qualifying, and they showed us on Sunday for about a minute and a half, [the potential sponsor] said. But qualifying they showed us a total of 33 seconds the one day of qualifying . . . and they showed 47 seconds on the third race – four cars each time. He said, ‘How can we justify that kind of money when we can’t be guaranteed to be one of those four cars being shown on all these days?’ I said, ‘We can’t be. Those guys are spending anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million a year. That’s nowhere near where we’re going to be at.’
“It’s that national TV exposure [that’s vital] for those larger companies,” Gaydosh said. “They want to see that national exposure and see what they’re getting. And that’s the problem.”
It appears to be a vicious circle. The NHRA, according to racers from big- as well as small-budgeted teams, have complained, is little help. Yet without more promotion, the racers can’t land bigger sponsorship deals. Consequently, many can’t race full-time, causing the NHRA to point to lower car counts.
Gaydosh, for one, said the NHRA plays “a huge part” in this scenario.
“That’s part of our losing car counts,” he said. “I know of five or six teams that were smaller teams like me that when they decided to go to fuel injection and they started pricing everything out, they said, ‘We can’t do it. We can’t justify that. Now we have to hire a tuner.’ I do some tuning myself on normal cars, so I didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal. Well, let me tell you what – that Pro Stock motor in tuning is a totally different thing than any car out there. I mean, totally different. I melted more pistons last year than I’ve ever imagined in my life that I could hurt. One key stroke can destroy a motor.”
I spend just about every last dime I have so I can run NHRA Pro Stock. Why? They tell me I’m a fool. But that’s what I like to do. – John Gaydosh
Was the NHRA’s move motivated by cost-cutting when it come to the purses? No one has said if the sanctioning body plans to trim the payouts to an eight-car proportion or if it plans to disperse the existing 16-car money among eight cars. But if the NHRA is going to be motivated by the ledger book, it never would operate at all – the entire format defies sound business logic on a perfect day. The business model is completely upside down. A Harvard Business School professor never would make sense of it.
“And none of us Pro Stock guys do, either,” Gaydosh said,” especially us little guys, like [Alan] Prusiensky and [Kenny] Delco. Look at [Matt] Hartford. He is really trying to step up this year by leasing [engines] from the Grays. And that’s not cheap. And even if Hartford’s leasing from the Grays, it doesn’t guarantee him he’s going to be in the top eight. If he goes down and spends $25,000 – that’s what they’re charging for a lease engine – and let’s say you go out there and you don’t qualify and you get $1500 for 17th or 18th [place] . . . Now what happens if you’re 10th and there’s only eight cars, what do you get then? Do you still get 1500 bucks? How can you justify $25,000 for a lease in the first place, when if you win the whole race you only get $25,000?”
Gaydosh, passionate about the sport, said, “I can tell you why I do it. I enjoy racing. I love racing. I want to do it more than anything else in the whole world. I don’t have anybody in my family who comes from money. I work 18 hours a day, literally, so I can go Pro Stock racing. I go home and from mostly 5 o’clock at night to 12 in my own shop, working on Pontiac stuff so I can afford to go Pro Stock racing. I guarantee there’s no other Pro Stock team, no other person out here racing Pro Stock, who puts in as much effort as me on my budget.
“I spend just about every last dime I have so I can run NHRA Pro Stock. Why? They tell me I’m a fool. But that’s what I like to do. I love getting in there and letting that clutch out and then seeing what I can do against these other guys with a lot of big dollars. I’ve been able to put a couple of guys out, by just dumb luck or by me being on the ball and doing my job. So that’s what I live for, for me to be able to do that. I’m the underdog, and I still can come out here and run and they know I’m there. They’re not taking me lightly anymore. And nobody’s leaving on me with a .120 light, I can tell you that.”
So that discussion at Dallas is critical to competitors such as John Gaydosh, old-school racers who simply want the chance to do it the way class icon Bob Glidden did in his time.