PRO STOCK ROCKS!
Pro Stock cars don't shoot fire from the exhaust or shake the ground like nitro cars when they launch, but they have their own unique appeal. And, to some fans, particularly those in NASCAR country, they are drag racing. Who better to extol the virtues of the fastest gas class in drag racing than the Pro Stock racer many consider the best pure driver ever, four-time world champ Jeg Coughlin? Here's his take on what makes Pro Stock great…
Most races are decided by less than a car length
The entire field at any given race is usually separated by just five-hundredths of a second, from the No. 1 qualifier down to No. 16, and you've got races decided by a couple hundredths of a second all the time. Sometimes it's thousandths – sometimes it's even 10-thousandths.
We're on the edge on every run
If you're not, you lose. If you're not really pushing it on the Christmas Tree and your shift-points, or your crew chief isn't on the ragged edge with the clutch, gearing and downforce, your win light's not going to come on, because the guy in the other lane will be. You can't leave anything on the table, ever. I've probably won only three or four rounds in my whole career when I made a mistake. Even a little one, and the party's over.
No other class has the level of engine development
Our program is on the same linear path as the engine program for a NASCAR team, only we're not spending 28 to 30 million dollars a year... Those guys get their hands on parts and materials from all over the world, and it's been going on in Pro Stock for eight or 10 years now, too.
Ours still look like actual cars
Fans come up to me at the ropes all day long and say how they're pulling for me because I'm driving a Chevy. I'm sure it's the same thing for Allen Johnson with Dodge fans and Larry Morgan with Ford fans. Funny Cars are a long way from what they started out as in the early days – they've had to, to get the downforce they need to go that fast – but my Cobalt still looks a lot like the production car.
They drive (somewhat) like real cars, too
My car has a pedal clutch and a 5-speed transmission, not high-gear-only and a centrifugal clutch like a fuel car. You pop the clutch to leave the line, shift gears with your right hand and steer with your left.
We still race a full quarter-mile
The race isn't over at 1,000ft, like it has been in Top Fuel and Funny Cars for the last few years. In Pro Stock, things are just getting interesting at 1,000ft. Whoever I'm racing, he probably isn't half a car ahead or half a car behind me.
MORE “PRO” THAN “STOCK”
Pro Stockers are the closest cars to actual production vehicles in all of professional drag racing, but they're a lot more “pro” than “stock” and have been since the class's inception in 1970. They're purpose-built racecars, with $125,000 chromoly tube chassis and, unlike Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, full suspensions.
Pro Stock cars have infinitely adjustable shock absorbers on all four corners and a four-link suspension in the rear. “The shocks have undergone more development than probably any other area of the car over the past few years,” says Jeg Coughlin. “They self-adjust during the run. They're relatively stiff for the launch, then adjust with pneumatically operated timers to be a little softer for all the bumps downtrack.”
The engines are radically refined, carbureted, gas-burning 500cu.in. monsters, and gains on the dyno don't come in dozens of horsepower anymore, but rather one or two at a time. Finding even a few additional horses over a long winter of dyno testing constitutes a monumental success. Drivers leave the starting line at between 6,500 and 7,000rpm – higher at night and on tracks with tacky starting lines, lower during heat-of-the-day rounds.
Power is transferred through a tiny, 6.25-inch, 3-disc titanium clutch to a 5-speed transmission. Drivers don't push in the clutch pedal to change gears – their right foot is buried in the throttle for the full quarter-mile – but they still have to shift manually, four times in the first four seconds of each six-and-a-half-second pass. The shift point is about 10,400rpm, give or a take a couple hundred rpm. Exact rear-end ratios, like everything else in Pro Stock, are a highly guarded secret, but the average team on the average track has a 5.30:1.
The wheelbase is about 105 inches, and the car has to weigh 2,350lbs (including the driver) when it crosses the scale after each pass. “Pro Stock isn't like a lot of classes, where you might think about running the car a little on the heavy side, just to be sure you make weight,” Coughlin says. “We're all running so close together now that everybody's pretty much on the minimum, from 2,350lbs to, at the most, 2,355. You can't afford to give anything away anymore, not even one pound.”
IT'S CONTROLLED CHAOS
Six drag racing aces try their best to describe the indescribable – letting loose an 8,000hp nitro car!
Ashley Force Hood
“It's not fast – it's beyond fast. It's violent. It's just this heaviness on your chest – on your whole body, really. You feel like you can't breathe in or out. I got the wind knocked out of me one time when I was a kid, and this feels just like that, like you can't breathe.”
“It's controlled chaos! It's amazing the engine doesn't explode every time you hit the throttle, and it's two feet in front of your face. The smell, the noise, the vibration…it's like your whole world's coming apart. You squint your eyes and grit your teeth, and if anybody says they're in control for the first half-second, they're lying – you can't even see.”
“It's not like anything you could ever think of if you haven't done it before. It's the most Gs you've ever felt on any roller coaster you've ever been on in your life – times three. All that force and all that pressure against your body is just indescribable.”
“It's like being the rock in a slingshot. There's no progression to it; it's just instant Gs. You go from a dead stop to hanging on for dear life. It's a struggle to stay on top of it, and to hold your head in position, from the starting line to the finish line, every single time.”
“It's like a runaway freight train. It's like driving a semi down a mountain with 80,000lbs behind you and no brakes. The thrill is trying to keep all of that horsepower under control. You're on the line, and out there is the unknown. What's it gonna do this time?”
“It's like taking off in a rocketship with three boosters. At 150ft, the first afterburner kicks in and you accelerate even harder – and you were already going 200mph. Then, at 500 or 600ft, another afterburner kicks in like a sonic boom. My first run, I thought, ‘You've got to be kidding me. This is ridiculous.'"