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Motor Sports


by Tony Sakkis

January 24, 1997

Dave McClelland has seen it all. The NHRA veteran announcer, who began calling races in the early 60s all the way to the present, has seen crashes and mistakes, championships and champions and milestone passes.

McClelland is a good yard stick, so to speak. He is a contemporary journalist who has the history of DRAG racing locked in his head, and which he takes out and sends over the PA system each race weekend.

So his answer to the question: "what was the most memorable moment in drag racing?" seemed odd. There were, after all, a heck of a lot of them. McClelland was there when all of it happened. He saw the first 200 mph pass, the first 250 mph pass, the first 300. The first six-second run, then the first five-second run, then the first four-second run. He watched Garlits and Muldowney win championships, and the Snake battle the Mongoose.

But his most memorable moment in drag racing? He hardly hesitates.

"The six second Pro Stock (run). To imagine a gasoline burning full-bodied car running in the sixes staggers the mind."

Pro Stock is kind of an everyman's class. The men who run it are usually less famous than their counterparts in Top Fuel or Funny Car, but the competition is generally as tight or tighter, the drivers as good or better than the nitromethane counterparts.

You see, a Pro Stock car does not burn nitromethane like the other two categories of racing. They use stock bodied cars, which have doors that open and close and look very similar to street cars.

Although the engines are heavily modified, they are still carbureted, non-supercharged or turbocharged, with a maximum displacement of 500 cubic inches.

Kurt Johnson first busted through the seven second barrier and into the sixes on March 10th, 1994 in Georgia when he posted a 6.988 elapsed time in the quarter mile. Since then, Jim Yates has lowered that to a 6.947 in Reading, Pennsylvania, 1996. Yates won the Pro Stock Championship last season.

So if ETs in the six-second range for a gasoline burner is quite a big deal, then the next milestone to be broken -- and likely this season, and perhaps as early as the first weekend in February at the NHRA season opener in Pomona -- will be the mile-per-hour mark. At this writing (and there will be a pre-season race at Houston, weather permitting) the top speed record matched to the Pro Stock record stands at 199.15. That was set by Warren Johnson in 1995, the longest standing Pro Stock record ever.

Because of the way their engines process air, Pro Stock drivers need certain circumstances to get the best from their cars. Because they don't have blowers to help push the air into the intake, they need a certain kind of atmosphere. They need dense cool air.

Looking at NHRA record books is like looking at a boring calendar. Over the past ten seasons or so, the records have almost exclusively been at tracks that are at or near sea level -- like the two Texas tracks, and Pomona, California -- and in months of temperate climate -- like February, March and October.

Pro Stock drivers are set to head into Pomona in a short while, with all the right circumstances and at that magical time where all things are possible.

McClelland thought having a sub-seven-second Pro Stock run was the milestone event of his career as a broadcaster. Busting through the 200 mile-per-hour mark will be at least -- if not more -- significant.