News and Analysis

JEGS declines to fund NHRA Pro Mod class

Those who have been holding their breath waiting for some sign of how the current economic recession might affect the NHRA have just exhaled. Troy Coughlin, who, along with his brothers and his dad own the massive JEGS motorsports empire, sent a letter to the NHRA Pro Mod competitors last Friday basically stating that the company would not guarantee the nearly $700,000 that would be required to fund the series for 2009.

This came as a shock to the Pro Mod community since the JEGS group had earlier announced that they had a signed contract with the NHRA and expanded the schedule. JEGS had, in fact, rescued the series in 2008 when long-time series sponsor Dave Wood and his AMS Staff Leasing company withdrew from the series. The NHRA made it crystal clear last year that without a “name” sponsor to front the series they weren’t interested in the series continuing. JEGS stepped up and saved the series last year. But times have changed.

There are two big reasons for JEGS withdrawal from the series, according to JEGS spokesman Scott Woodruff. I spoke at length with Woodruff, who ran the series for the JEGS organization last year, on Saturday right after a copy of the letter that went out to the NHRA competitors came into my possession.

“When the $500,000 that we thought Matthew Brammer (who formerly worked with the series under Wood’s leadership) was bringing to the table didn’t happen and after Troy and I had a chance to crunch the financial numbers, funding the series by ourselves simply made no financial sense.”

He went on to say that the company simply didn’t get the publicity or media coverage from sponsoring the series that would justify possibly spending nearly $700,000 ($687,500 to be exact) in 2009 to keep the series alive.

In 2008 JEGS was helped in funding the series by team owners/racers Tim Tindle, Mike Ashley, Brad Anderson, Rick Stivers, Steve Engel, Mike Knowles, and Danny Rowe. Given the state of the economy currently, you would have to question whether those men would repeat their total contributions. Even if they did, according to Woodruff, JEGS would still have to put in almost $350,000 to have the series fully funded for next season.

Woodruff did say, however, that JEGS hasn’t completely abandoned the series. He made some suggestions in his letter to the NHRA Pro Mod teams that would lower the cost, including fewer races and having the racers pay an upfront entry fee. As of Saturday none of the owners who helped fund the series in 2008 had responded to Woodruff’s letter.

I wonder if the NHRA management now regrets rebuffing an earlier overture to fund the NHRA Pro Mod exhibition series.

So, what are the options for the NHRA Pro Mod series? There are really only two that I can see: 1) Investors who would invest in the series and allow JEGS to retain the title rights have to be found or 2) The NHRA has to take the series back under its control.
The NHRA Pro Mod experiment began as a five-race experiment at exactly 2:01 p.m. March 16, 2001, at NHRA's Gainesville Raceway. At that moment Quain Stott fired up the motor in his '63 split window Corvette while Mike Castellana, fired his '57 Chevy shoebox. At that race the format was an eight-car qualified field and the purse at all five races that year was paid by the National Hot Rod Association. The next year the NHRA made it clear that they were not going to continue to fund the series and there was zero chance of it ever becoming an NHRA professional class.

Since the second year, the series has been propped up by the pocketbooks of Pro Mod benefactors like Dave Wood, Mike Ashley, Tim Tindle, and Troy Coughlin. There were others but those men were the primary supporters of the series. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of men like Kenny Nowling (ADRL president) and Scott Woodruff no company inside or out of the automotive industry has agreed to sponsor the series.
As long as the NHRA holds its position that the Pro Mods are going to be an exhibition class only and will never be afforded the benefits of being one of the NHRA professional classes, I believe the NHRA Pro Mod series has zero chance of getting a mainstream sponsor.

If, indeed, this is the end of the NHRA Pro Mod experiment, it is a shame. The NHRA, for whatever its reasons, have never tried to promote the class after it bailed out in the second year. The class was one of the most entertaining new classes offered to the fans and surely had more potential to attract fans and advertisers to an autoracing series than a truncated motorcycle class.

It is thought that part of the issue with the Pro Mods has always been NHRA’s Pro Stock class and its ties with the Detroit Big Three, which the NHRA has always coveted and promoted. The Pro Stock racers themselves were public in their distain of the Pro Mod class. Never mind that the Pro Stock class had morphed into a class that had about as much connection and appeal to sedan buyers as Pro Stock Truck did to truck buyers.
So, with the collapse of the Detroit automakers and their seemingly total withdrawal from the sport, perhaps the NHRA could reconsider their stand on never making Pro Modified a professional class … or they can do nothing, which seems to be their business plan these days.
One thing is sure, going forward the NHRA is going to have to change the way it has done business in the past. It’s probably too late for them to get the Qatar folks involved, but it isn’t too late for them to finish what they started in 2001 with Pro Modified even if it is just a return to a five-race, eight-car-field series funded by them.

That would seem to be the least the NHRA should do to reward the loyalty and support the Pro Mod racers have given them the last eight years.
More likely, though, the NHRA management will not but instead will adhere to the Burk corollary that you can’t be a victim if you volunteer!