New NHRA Pro Stock Specs Off To A Slow Start

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 13 2016
Gray Motorsports tested Pro Stock Camaros using new NHRA rules.

Gray Motorsports is testing Pro Stock Camaros using new NHRA rules.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Shane Gray and Gray Motorsports are halfway through a four-day test of the sanctioning body’s new Pro Stock rules configuration, and the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series regular classified his early results as “laughable and tricky.”

bugnhranotes“Well, it’s slow,” said Gray, who is lapping the team’s 2015 Chevrolet Camaro updated to 2016 specs at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida. “I think it’s about 5 mph off and at least a tenth (of a second) off of last year’s stuff. I think it’s maybe a tenth to 15-hundredths off of last year’s stuff. In the present position we’re in, realistically, it’s 14-to-15-hundredths off and about 5 mph down.”

Gray Motorsports is the first team to test the new rules package mandated by NHRA for 2016, including a switch from carbureted to fuel-injection V8 engines with a rev limiter of 10,500 RPM and shorter wheelie bars. Those changes, Gray said, definitely have affected his “Factory Hot Rod.”

Gray has made two 330-foot passes, a couple of half-track runs and a single full quarter-mile pass. Gray’s best pass Tuesday was 6.64-seconds at 208.47 mph. In comparison, Gray’s fastest of 60 passes recorded in 2015 was 210.72 mph _ninth on a chart topped by four-time series champion Greg Anderson in his Summit Racing Equipment Camaro at 211.61 mph.

“I sort of suspected it,” said Gray, who finished ninth in last year’s standings. “I expected it to run a little bit more speed than it did. Shoot man, we’ve got miles and miles to go with this stuff. The drivability of it _ I don’t want to sound negative _ but let’s just say it’s laughable and tricky. The drivability on the starting line is definitely a handful.”

To that point, Gray said he even was conservative during his first couple of burnouts, knowing the car would react differently. “I was real cautious because I didn’t know if the throttle was going to return at the finish line,” Gray said. “You wonder with all this stuff, but today we got it all the way to the finish line. Everything works fine and the throttle returns back to idle. It’s safe; it’s just tricky and slow.”

Gray added that the staging process _ a routine for years in Pro Stock _ also has changed. “The burnout is very, very tricky,” said Gray, whose average reaction time of 0.039-seconds was eighth in the class in 2015. “The staging procedure is really tricky. You can’t really give it any throttle staging it. You have to stage the thing at idle because if you start to give it any input on the throttle, then it changes the mapping and starts pulling a bunch of fuel in the motor. If you try to give it throttle to stage it, it will just flood itself and die.”

Gray said another mandated change _ the removal of hood scoops _ has not affected him. “I really didn’t even notice it much,” Gray said. “But I’m kind of a taller guy, so that wasn’t much of an issue before.”

The team plans to continue testing Wednesday and Thursday before returning to its shop in Denver, N.C. “Maybe by (Wednesday) we’ll have a little better handle on what we’re looking at,” Gray said. “But right now, Pro Stock has slowed way down.”

Three-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon is a free agent after having been released by Bob Vandergriff Racing.

Dixon returned to fulltime competition in the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in 2015 and, despite a spectacular and punishing crash in March, placed fourth in the final standings. That wasn’t enough, however, to retain his seat alongside teammate Dave Connolly, who reached three finals and finished 10th in points as a Top Fuel rookie in the C&J Energy Services dragster.

Dixon was released last week by team-owner Bob Vandergriff Jr., who has hired Leah Pritchett to drive a dragster backed by Quaker State. The 2016 season will be the first fulltime NHRA gig for Pritchett, who joined NHRA’s Top Fuel ranks in 2013. Like two-time/reigning Pro Stock world champion Erica Enders, Pritchett began her career in Jr. Dragsters before moving onto rides in the Nostalgia Funny Car and Pro Mod ranks.

Quaker State reportedly will be primary sponsor on Pritchett’s car for five races, and appear as an associate sponsor on both BVR dragsters.

Dixon, 49, has begun job-shopping for the 2016 season. Dixon is looking at a variety of opportunities in the sport, including returning to the Top Fuel cockpit or team management or media positions similar to his past ESPN and NHRA announcing duties.

“I’m anxious to get back out on the NHRA Mello Yello drag racing tour,” Dixon said in a statement. “I want to thank Bob for the opportunity to get back to fulltime racing and we had a good season with fourth in the points. It felt good to show I can still be relevant behind the wheel. I wish Mike (Guger, crew chief) and the whole crew good luck in 2016.

“Now, I know the timing’s not the best this late into the offseason, but I would like to do whatever it takes to get back on the circuit _ whether it’s driving, consulting or being a member of the media again.”

The second-winningest Top Fuel driver in NHRA history with 62 victories, Dixon recorded six final-round appearances during his fulltime return to the cockpit while qualifying for the six-race Countdown to the Championship. Dixon was winless in 2015 but posted six runnerup finishes while recording a 33-24 won/lost mark, including 6-6 during the Countdown.

A dramatic accident at the NHRA Gatornationals in March _ the third of 24 national events _ forced Dixon to deal with several injuries. Dixon suffered a fractured T-4 and 5 vertebrae in his (upper) back as well as a left knee bone contusion. However, he did not miss a national event after the crash.

“I was able to walk away from the crash at Gainesville but, to be honest, I was banged-up pretty good,” said Dixon, who made guest appearances on “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show,” “Fox & Friends” and “CNN Morning News” after the crash. “I would have gotten back in the car the next day if we had a backup chassis. Despite the injuries, I was able to not miss a race. That’s how I was raised.”

Dixon grew up at the drag strip alongside his father, Larry Sr., on the NHRA West Coast Top Fuel tour. Larry Sr. won the 1970 NHRA Winternationals and several Divisional point titles. Larry Jr. began his NHRA journey as a mechanic for the teams of Larry Minor and drag racing legend Don “The Snake” Prudhomme before beginning his Top Fuel driving career in 1995, driving for Prudhomme. Dixon was named “Rookie of the Year” that season and captured his first of four U.S. Nationals titles.

At Gainesville, the front-end on Dixon’s Top Fueler collapsed near the finish line at nearly 300 mph on a qualifying attempt, causing the car to vault 50 feet into the air and slam into a retaining wall. Dixon was able to step away from the carnage under his own power.

“The car’s front-end collapsed similar to my Memphis crash in 2000 (when Dixon suffered a broken leg but again did not miss an NHRA national event),” Dixon said. “I was awake through the whole crash but I had a 109-G impact coming back down to earth and 45-G load when I hit the wall. It was a big one and I’m so thankful that the work we did on the cars with regards to the cockpit and safety equipment in the past 15 years did its job.”

Dixon said he now is “100 percent healed” and was anticipating a run for the 2016 championship before being released. “I felt pretty good by October and Dr. (Terry) Trammell at Ortho Indy gave me the green light for a more aggressive workout program this offseason,” said Dixon, who won his Top Fuel titles in 2002-03 and 2010.

NHRA’s Mello Yello Drag Racing Series logo has received a makeover for the 2016 season. In coordination with Mello Yello’s recent unveiling of a modern logo design and packaging, NHRA and Mello Yello have constructed a new primary mark for the sport’s marquee national touring series.

mello yello logoThe new NHRA Mello Yello Series logo prominently features the “MY” of Mello Yello in large block lettering and will be positioned in a more vertical format, with the MY flanked by racing-themed “header pipes” on each side.

NHRA also plans to incorporate the new logo design into a new “MY NHRA” marketing campaign, in which drivers, team owners, crew members, fans, sponsors and others in the industry can express what NHRA means to them, using the “That’s MY NHRA” tagline at the beginning or end of the statement.

“The new NHRA Mello Yello Series logo is bold and dynamic,” said Gary Darcy, NHRA senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We feel the new NHRA Mello Yello Series logo is brash, connects with today’s youth and accurately represents the raw speed and power that NHRA Championship Drag Racing consistently delivers.”

The 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series is scheduled to open Feb. 11-14 with the 56th annual Circle K NHRA Winternationals at famed Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Calif., near Los Angeles.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, January 13 2016
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  • Harry says:

    Larry Dixon does a great driving job and when a team needs it car in the show he delivers….I feel he will emerge on the NHRA tour this coming summer