Exclusive Pro Stock Show Doesn’t Satisfy All, But A Positive Start

Plenty of nasty comments preceded and followed the NHRA’s first exclusively-Pro-Stock hour-long show on Fox Sports 1 this week. A handful of racers privately complained, too, before it aired, but only Erica Enders went public, diplomatically rallying the troops online. Drivers did their best to concur with her strategy, promoting the show and encouraging fans to show the beleaguered class some love and send a supportive message to the sanctioning body.

Two issues seemed to be entangled in the discussion: (1) whether the NHRA was being disrespectful of the Pro Stock class by deleting footage of it from the Mello Yello Series telecast or making a major effort to showcase Pro Stock, despite the show’s delayed basis and (2) whether the new show delivered.

Photos courtesy NHRA/National Dragster

Overall, the consensus seemed to be that Tuesday’s broadcast evoked three sentiments:

  • If the NHRA insisted on highlighting the nitro classes only with its primary, live/same-day broadcast, the Pro-Stock-only show should have piggybacked on that or at least be shown on race day, not two days later.
  • Tuesday’s time slot was terrible.
  • Content needs tweaking.

Few gave the program an A grade, but many – including 2017 champion Bo Butner, veteran and multiple-time champion Greg Anderson, thoughtful Alan Prusiensky, outspoken Chris McGaha, and even once-discontented former race John Gaydosh – said they were optimistic.

During the Magic Dry Arizona Nationals last weekend, Butner said, “If Pro Mod and Pro Stock had their own TV show, it would definitely, in my opinion, affect the viewership of the nitro class. You kind of have different fans there. The fans I know and the sportsman guys, they’re all about Pro Stock and Pro Mod. Fuel racing is awesome, don’t get me wrong. But I’m still a believer in the sportsman guy. Sportsman guys try to work to Pro Stock, maybe Pro Mod. So it would be big. I’m not too sure the viewership wouldn’t be stronger on our new show. It’s up to them [NHRA executives]. They know what they’re doing. I’m happy for it.”

Butner acknowledged it’s a sturdy baby step.

Like all baby steps, the first one was shaky. The overtime Big East Conference college basketball game between Butler University and Providence College cut into the first 28 minutes of the hour-long show. The delay stirred unpleasant memories of ESPN policy in years past that shoved drag racing into the background. Frustrated fan Rick Crockett wailed on Facebook, “Is there any sport that’s less important than NHRA Drag Racing? Mongolian Manhole Cover Tossing, maybe? NHRA? You’re breaking a lot of hearts here.”

The late start not only aggravated viewers, but it also ruined many folks’ plans to record the show and watch it later, because the recording cut off halfway into the show. The show aired in its entirety, but anyone recording it for future viewing programmed the DVR for the announced 9-10 p.m. (ET) slot and missed half of the broadcast. The message to the NHRA was overwhelmingly clear: If the Sunday results are going to be held back until Tuesday, buy or negotiate a time slot with FOX Sports that ensures the Pro Stock show won’t follow an event that could run over its time limit.

The NHRA hardly can be blamed for an overtime basketball game, but it can settle on a less-vulnerable broadcast time. Lesson learned, hopefully.

If Pro Mod and Pro Stock had their own TV show, it would definitely, in my opinion, affect the viewership of the nitro class. – Bo Butner

“At least the show was really good. It was worth the wait,” Prusiensky said. The New Jersey independent racer who has distinguished himself as weighing both sides of a controversy, said via Facebook, “The show was great. I hope the ratings are good and NHRA finally realizes we are important, too. It’s not all about nitro.”

After viewing the program Tuesday, McGaha, who has no problem expressing his dissatisfaction with NHRA or opposing-team practices, saw the positives in the effort.

“After watching the NHRA Pro Stock Show on FS1 last night, I have to say I was impressed with the overall coverage,” the Odessa, Texas, team owner-driver wrote on Facebook. “I think Bruno Massel was the perfect candidate for the announcer’s seat. His knowledge brought a light to the class that has never been seen before. I also appreciate the realness that was highlighted through the use of off-track footage. Driver’s personalities were exposed, which allows the fans to get to know us and develop a connection with our class.

“The in-car radio was also a nice touch. It gives the viewer a sense of what goes on before and after a run that cannot be witnessed by watching the cars go down the track. Even if someone was at the race on Sunday, the content on the broadcast provides a different perspective that motivates people to come back and view the show,” he said.

“The amount of ‘In Pit’ coverage was also refreshing. It was nice to see Matt Hartford Racing working on their car and thrashing to get ready for the final round. That kind of Pro Stock coverage gets overlooked when mixed with nitro,” he said.

McGaha threw in with the majority, too, saying, “The biggest critique I have is the delay of the show. I suggest that the show be aired on Sunday.” –

The show was great. I hope the ratings are good and NHRA finally realizes we are important, too. It’s not all about nitro. – Prusiensky

For Anderson, it was, he said, “a good beginning for more coverage of Pro Stock, overall. Many of you know there was going to be a segment filmed at the KB Racing shop, and that did not air. It will be airing, and we think you’ll like it. Thank you for your support of Pro Stock, Summit Racing, and our KB Racing team. Pro Stock is alive and well!”

Gaydosh, who parked his car last November after concluding that the NHRA was a detriment to his sponsorship-procurement efforts, said online, “Great show. I was very happy to see the program.”

In their haste to include all the elements they needed/wanted, the NHRA producers ended up with a choppy presentation that they certainly can adjust moving forward. Exposing the racers’ personalities, giving the sponsors adequate recognition, showing in-car footage and communication, taking the audience behind the scenes, and highlighting technical aspects – and trying to do it all in one first 60-minute broadcast – contributed to an almost breathless pace. Neither talking down to viewers nor talking over their heads was an understandable concern. And it seemed hard in this inaugural broadcast to hit it right. Ambitious plans seemed incongruous and at times unappetizing when thrown into one blender. The slightly chaotic mash of all the desired elements can morph into a more flowing, enjoyable program. And with the initial pressure off, one can hope some constructive criticism or suggestion-offering will be welcome and integrated.

Regardless of the reasoning behind a separate, delayed program for Pro Stock, it’s an effort. And the producers and hosts gave a professional effort. Where this experiment goes from here will be a function of time and feedback.

A Sampling Of Fan Reaction Online

From Facebook:

David Malin: “I thought Bruno and Brian [Lohnes] did a good job, but improvement is needed. We don’t need to see multiple views of adjusting wheelie bars or in-car camera coverage of a run. I know NHRA is changing direction from the cars being the stars to the drivers. The cars are the stars and the drivers give them personalities. We never get to see the outstanding engineering that goes into these cars. I appreciate good driver interviews, but questions are boring and too short. The passion is being lost, and too much emphasis is being placed on points and giving praise to sponsors. This is important, but the thing that drives the sport is also killing the sport. Sponsorship $$$! Drivers have turned in to professional speakers that spend all their time thanking their sponsors. It is important, but I want to hear about their passion for kicking their competitors ass!!!”

Ray Pesz: “The show itself was excellent. It’s nice to be focused on just the one class and not be bouncing from one to the other. What I would hope to see in future shows is information about the crew: what it’s like for them and transport drivers that [have] such an important role between the races; the engine and chassis builders; even a spot about the evolution of the 500-cubic-inch motors from 1982 until now. I know time is limited, so just bits on each show.”

Stacey Dodson-Custer: “Loved the in-car footage, and radio coverage was awesome… and seeing the drivers exit the cars. It made me feel more connected as a fan. Wish there was more drivers showcased, a few more bits in the pit so sponsors can be seen more . . . But, it’s a good start, and I loved that it was all Pro Stock. Sunday would be more ideal, but I will take what I can.”

Bob Henry: “I liked it!! Good step in the right direction.”

Mike Kopmanis: “Enjoyed focus on Pro Stock and that Fox, NHRA are FINALLY trying something to increase interest. Pro Stock is so technically advanced, there’s a lot that they can expand on. Only good things can happen! I’m hoping there’s more detail coming into engine and suspension technology.”

Steve Koppien: “I think it will get better with each show. They should maybe show how Pro Stock came to be for the new audienece to see and understand better when they say factory hot rods.”

Terry Sutton: “Thought it was great to see it all and informative for those not in the know.”

From Nitromater:

“Arizona ratter”: “It was like watching grass grow. If NHRA would increase the payout during qualifying and purse money increase per event it might help. Not even Brian or Bruno could help this. Why not qualify them on Friday and race them Saturday? The only thing keeping this class alive is Elite and KB Racing.”

“PJ”: “I liked adding Lewis Bloom to the broadcast. I’d love to see him swapped in on the main show as well. Coverage was normal coverage, nothing special or different. That’s not good or bad, just the read-ups beforehand made it sound like it was going to be something different/exciting. Biggest issue is the two-day delay. There was no excitement or suspense. I already knew who won, who broke, and such. Nobody really says anything interesting in interviews anymore as they are just cliché fest, so more of them is no big deal. The interviews where Amanda [Busick] either walks the track or the pits with someone are always better, more personable, and less guarded. More of those would be good. I don’t see how taking it off of the big show helps the class. IF they ran 2 hours of nitro, then immediately followed it with a one hour Pro Stock show, then they might have something. Although I prefer to see them all at once on the same show but I’m the guy that will watch just about any class, too. I would think less coverage but with tons more people watching is better to sponsors than 100 percent of the coverage but far less people. I’ll guess we’ll see how the ratings play out. The Irwindale segment was OK. It seemed to go on a bit too long, but the idea of it was good to show people that they can take whatever they want to the track. Although it would have been a little better if they showed someone racing in their minivan or some teenager in their beater car instead of high-priced fast cars. I did find it ironic that on the highly touted Pro Stock show, they gave so much time to a segment with a nitro driver. I doubt that I would go out of my way to watch it again if delayed so much. Part of sports is the excitement of the unknown.”

“SoCal Racer”: “Overall the show was OK. I’m really interested in the technical nuances of these cars – probably far beyond typical ‘fan’ level, so my opinion may not be the majority. I was hoping they would take us in and around the cars more. Maybe a primer on those $100,000 coil overs or wheelie bar setting theory? I thought surely they would delve deeper into the technical wonders of these cars and was salivating after Brian said, ‘We’ll show you some things you didn’t know.’ But no in-depth tech, mostly just eliminations. Maybe I expect too much. After all, the teams are rather secretive about what makes a Pro Stock tick. The only way to save this class is to fix the overarching issue: the every-car-is-a-Camaro problem.”

“Saint Nick”: “I know it is not a perfect world, but a good start. A solid C .”

“FABMAN”: “Don’t know how it’s going to work out, but at least NHRA trying, as I see it.  I like the show. There’s other shops to visit besides KB, maybe chassis shops. A lot goes into Pro Stock. I think as time and tweets get done, it could turn out to be a great show. I would even like to see shows on Sportsman racing – a lot there and besides that’s where newcomers to sport start at. I give it a B for first show.”

“Tom Slick”: “I’ll start by saying that I am the guy that generally heads for the beer stand when Pro Stock rolls up to the line and fast forward Pro Stock when watching on television. That said, being a drag racing fan it was nice to see that other than Street Outlaws, there was drag racing on the tube mid-week. So excited to tune in, I did watch most of it, fast forwarding here or there, but thought the show was well done. I also liked the part from Irwindale highlighting local drag racing. Why did the NHRA make the decision to shorten the regular broadcast by one hour and show TF and FC only? It would seem that the Pro Stock show could have been incorporated very easily into the regular three-hour show. As a “Nitro Junkie” I did enjoy the two-hour show not having to fast forward through Pro Stock, but seems strange to me to shorten the ‘Big Show’ and have the Pro Stock show as a stand-alone program a couple of days after the event.”

“Mick”: “This is an experiment worth doing. I have my doubts, but the proof will be in the ratings. Probably worth doing more than once, too, and watch trends between the NHRA show ratings and any ‘reality’ race or car shows competing with it. Just think: if it works, nitro could get jealous, and before you know it, we could have ‘Top Fuel Tuesday’ and ‘Funny Car Friday.’”

About the author

Susan Wade

Celebrating her 45th year in sports journalism, Susan Wade has emerged as one of the leading drag-racing writers with 20 seasons at the racetrack. She was the first non-NASCAR recipient of the prestigious Russ Catlin Award and has covered the sport for the Chicago Tribune, Newark Star-Ledger, St. Petersburg Times, and Seattle Times. Growing up in Indianapolis, motorsports is part of her DNA. She contributes to Power Automedia as a freelancer writer.
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