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NHRA Pro Mods: still an Exhibition class after all these years

The Pro Modified class has been a part of the NHRA’s national event program for over a decade since my old boss and friend Jim Oddy got together with NHRA prez Tom Compton to  Pro Modified to the NHRA. Originally a five-race deal that included the U.S. Nationals, the first two years of the Series were, in my opinion, the best Pro Mod racing ever, with sixteen to twenty cars trying to make an eight-car qualified field. Qualifying was a war and a fan’s delight, and the racing on Sunday was absolutely classic.

However, from the start NHRA management (and especially Graham Light) made it crystal clear that Pro Mod was an “Exhibition” class. It wasn’t a part of the NHRA Professional or Sportsman classes, wouldn’t be on TV, and was never going to be a part of the “Big Show” in any capacity other than as an exhibition class.

Since those first two years, the class has seen major supporters like Dave Wood, Tommy Lipar, Mike Ashley, Kenny Nowling, and, most recently, Roger Burgess invest a lot of time and money, only to eventually become frustrated with the NHRA and lose interest. Despite some window dressing efforts to appease Roger Burgess, the NHRA Pro Mod class remains primarily an exhibition class. 

Pro Mod is still basically ignored by the mainstream print and electronic media for two reasons: 1) Pro Mod is the only NHRA “Professional” class that doesn’t get any time on the NHRA’s ESPN2 national broadcast. 2) For the most part, the NHRA Press department acts as if the Pro Mod class doesn’t exist.

Why do I say that? At every National Event, the NHRA PR department trots the low qualifiers of  every Pro class class into the Press Room for interviews. I have never, not once, seen that done for a Pro Mod racer.  During the race, every media person in the press room gets qualifying sheets for every class but Pro Mod. If you’re a reporter writing a race story and want Pro Mod stats, you have to ask for them. This means that the local media guy who probably doesn’t know a Pro Mod from a hole in the ground never sees any info about Pro Mod and so the class never makes the local media coverage. And until something changes, it likely never will.

Almost three years ago, Roger Burgess and Tom Compton came to a last minute agreement that saved the NHRA Pro Mod experiment. One of the major accomplishments was that Mr Burgess agreed to sponsor the series for a minimum of five years, something that Dave Wood wouldn’t do. It appeared to some hopeful observers that Mr. Burgess’s package, which not only paid the NHRA to have the class but included paying for a 30 minute TV package, had enough cash involved that the class would get Professional status. Well, that didn’t happen and apparently there was never a chance it would.

A TV package was part of the original Burgess-Compton Pro Mod accord, but the program was eventually aborted, either because no one was watching it, or no one wanted to buy advertising, or both. Whatever the reason, Mr Burgess, the racer and businessman, wasn’t willing to renew the show and pay for it.

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