On Tuesday morning, the National Hot Rod Association began distributing letters to its Pro Stock class competitors, informing them of the unprecedented decision to contest 8-car fields at nine Mello Yell Series national events in 2018.
The letter, signed by NHRA Senior Vice President of Racing Operations Graham Light, reads in closing:
As the sanctioning body, NHRA is charged with making decisions that are in the best interests of the sport of drag racing. Low participation and interest forces us to evaluate the resources being devoted to the category in light of the indicators trending downward.
We continue to analyze and evaluate the future of Pro Stock as a professional class. At present, the plan for 2018 is that Pro Stock Car will run as a pro class at all 24 national events, however, at 9 national events Pro Stock car will have 8-car field instead of 16-car fields (those events will be at Houston, Topeka, Epping, Englishtown, Bristol, Denver, Sonoma, Seattle, and Brainerd).
In all, just 27 different racers have participated in and accumulated points in Pro Stock at NHRA national events in 2017, compared to Top Fuel and Funny Car, with 36 and 31, respectively. The class has only featured full fields at 10 events thus far (20 at Indianapolis, 17 at Pomona, Charlotte 1, Chicago, and Reading, and 16 at Phoenix, Atlanta, Norwalk, Charlotte 2, and St. Louis). Houston, Bristol, and Seattle featured just 13 cars each.
In a release, the NHRA stated:
The change in field size is intended to elevate competition and spark renewed interest in the Pro Stock Car category, bringing more exciting qualifying to events with historically fewer entries in the category. The 8-car fields will be at the following events: Houston, Topeka, Epping, Englishtown, Bristol, Denver, Sonoma, Seattle, and Brainerd.
NHRA has been working closely with Pro Stock teams for several years on initiatives to improve fan engagement and interest. Changes have included switching to fuel injection; facing cars forward in the pits so fans can see the teams work on their engines; holding burnout contests and more.
“We hope this change in field size at selected events will help increase excitement and fan interest,” said NHRA president Peter Clifford.
NHRA will continue to work with Pro Stock teams and manufacturers this year, carefully evaluating key metrics and supporting targeted initiatives by the teams to generate interest.