Pro Stock Truck driver comments on reclassification

Driver Notes and Quotes Regarding NHRA'S Reclassification of The Pro Stock Truck Category NHRA announced today a reclassification of the current Pro Stock vehicle, effective with the 2002 season. Pro Stock Truck is currently a professional class ...

Pro Stock Truck driver comments on reclassification

Driver Notes and Quotes Regarding NHRA'S Reclassification of The Pro Stock Truck Category

NHRA announced today a reclassification of the current Pro Stock vehicle, effective with the 2002 season. Pro Stock Truck is currently a professional class and this reclassification will, in effect, eliminate the class from the professional ranks in 2002 and reduce the number of professional classes in the NHRA Drag Racing Series to four: Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycles.

Beginning with the 2002 season, the current Pro Stock Truck vehicle will be able to compete in Competition Eliminator with no vehicle modification. With some modifications, the same vehicle can race in Super Gas or Super Comp. Competition Eliminator, Super Gas, and Super Comp are Federal-Mogul classes, also known as sportsman classes.

Rumors have been circulating for many months now regarding the demise of the Pro Stock Trucks, but the NHRA management waited until today, with only five races remaining on the schedule, to give a definitive answer to the rumors. Needless to say, the decision was not popular with the Pro Stock Truck contingent.


Jerry Haas, from Fenton, Mo., a Pro Stock Truck team owner and 13-time award winning chassis builder, is one of the founding fathers of the class. He had this to say regarding today's announcement by NHRA.

"I don't even know where they (NHRA) are coming from on this. The trucks are the most competitive thing they have out there - - 95 percent of the time you can expect close side-by-side racing. I hear the story that trucks are not fast. Well they are fast. We're working within the rules that NHRA gave us and 7.39 seconds at over 182 mph is damn good for a small block engine. If they want them to go faster, change the rules. I'll do whatever they want to do to go faster," said Haas.

Continuing, Haas added, "Since the inception of the class in 1998 we have had 35 to 45 teams at most every race. Right now Top Fuel usually doesn't have a full field and they certainly don't have a lot of side-by-side racing. These 45-plus truck teams have supported NHRA for four years and many of the teams have invested millions of dollars over that span. The results are that NHRA has treated them like a 'redheaded stepchild.' It was the worst thing that NHRA could have done to the trucks. It's a low blow to all the truck people that have stepped up and supported NHRA.

"If they wanted to do away with the class, they should have said, 'Ok, we're going to race this class another year, 2002." This would allow everyone enough time to phase their equipment out. I could go along with something like that. Right now we've got five races left this year. We might as well throw our stuff in the trash can. A million to two million right in the trash can. To tell them they can go into Comp is insulting. They didn't want to run Comp, they wanted to be a professional team. NHRA made this class and I guess they can do whatever they want, but I wish that they had done their homework and seen what they could do to market the class better - - including getting together a task force to see what steps were necessary to 'make the trucks run faster, if that was the problem'."


One individual who has invested much into fielding a first class Pro Stock Truck team is Bob Panella, Sr., from Stockton, Calif. Panella Motorsports, head by the family patriarch Bob, Sr., currently competes on the truck circuit with a two-truck team - - a Chevy S-10 driven by two-time and reigning Winston Pro Stock Truck Champion Bob Panella, Jr., from Stockton, Calif., and a GMC Sonoma, with Jeff Gracia, from Ontario, Calif., handling the driving duties.

"Timing is everything," said Panella, Sr. "I feel we didn't have enough warning. I had been hearing the rumors that the NHRA was going to do away with trucks but I was led to believe that there was no validity to the rumors. But I guess where there's smoke, there's fire. I don't think it's fair that NHRA can come five races before the end of the season and say this is it. You should at least have a better warning than this. You know if you tell me next year is the last year for trucks, then you can plan for it.

"I have talked with NHRA management and their stand is it's what the media, sponsors, teams, track operators and fans want. I have a hard time understanding that when Pro Stock cars and trucks put on the closest racing that NHRA has in the professional classes. All we can do now is evaluate what best for Panella Motorsports, discuss the matter with our competitors and peers, then move forward from there," concluded Panella, Sr.


Team Panella driver Gracia shared these thoughts. "It was interesting to me that I got conflicting messages regarding some surveys that were conducted to determine the popularity of the professional classes. I heard that one said the trucks were third in popularity, while the NHRA indicated that in their survey the trucks were dead last. Can both of these surveys be right? Think about it.

"Also, I don't think any consideration was given to the truck teams in this matter. As far as I know, no, or very little, contact was made with any team that currently competes in the truck class. Personally, right now, the NHRA left me very little. They took my classification as a professional truck driver and driver away, although I can say I was one for two years. They also took a lot of jobs from a lot of different people. Out of the 40 to 45 Pro Stock Truck teams, 20 probably had full-time employees. Each of those teams probably had three to five employees. That 60 to a 100 people who are going to be looking for new jobs. It will also have an affect on the companies that sell part to the truck teams. No trucks, no parts. It's like a company when they downsize.

"I don't see how what NHRA did is going to put on a better show. Currently, they can't even fill the spots they have for the so-called, 'Stars of the Show.' If it was a baseball team they couldn't even have nine players out there. They don't have a full team at all of the races, unless you count the couple of teams that keep a car in the trailer and then bring it out when they see that there isn't a full field. They make their pass, usually breaking or going up in smoke, and get $5,000. And for the most part you can forget side-by-side racing, unless you watch Pro Stock cars or trucks. Personally, I don't see how that makes for better racing.

"Everybody at Panella Motorsports is disappointed. The Panellas spent millions of dollars in this project to become professional racers. They went about it in a first class way, a way that NHRA would be proud to have them as part of the team. A lot of money is tied up in this one operations and it will all go down the drain because someone says that we don't want you around anymore. Overnight they made a decision that we weren't exciting enough, I guess. Since we don't blow up, catch on fire, or go over backwards, we're not exciting enough. It just good clean racing and I guess NHRA didn't want that. At least that's the way I feel right now. In a few days, I'll figure out what the future holds for Jeff Gracia, but right now the only thing I am is disappointed and maybe a little bitter."


Then there's the case of driver and team owner Sam Tompkins. Tompkins, an Atlanta businessman and the only African-American Pro Stock Truck driver, uses his Chevy S-10 truck and Tompkins Motorsports as a mentoring aid for the youth of Another Way Out (AWO), an intervention and mentoring program.

According to Tompkins, his purpose in establishing AWO was to provide help and create alternatives for "at-risk" youth through setting goals, overcoming adversity, and rejecting negative behavior (drugs, crime, premarital sex, etc.). Tompkins, through the AWO mentoring program, wants to introduce young people to a variety of career options.

He utilizes his truck as a visual tool to convey his goal setting message. Through "hands-on" experience with motorsports, Tompkins teaches them about the finer points of drag racing, planning outings for AWO youth to actually observe, firsthand, this dynamic, spellbinding sport.

"I am disappointed that NHRA has elected to discontinue the Pro Stock Truck class. My wife Rhonda and I have invested a large percentage of our disposable income into our racing program because we felt it would be something that would help us, not just from the racing side, but that it would be a perfect example for the youth of AWO of showing, not just saying, by being involved in goal setting and dealing with adversities.

"Certainly this is probably the most devastating thing that has happen to us since we have tried to compete at a professional level. We knew that racing at a professional level was going to be difficult but this outweighs anything that we dreamed would or could happen. I guess I never thought that NHRA would throw this type of hurdle in our way, but by the same token we have to go forward. We're not going to fold up our tent and quit because that's not what we're about. Everything happens for a reason.

"We did everything right but the results didn't work the way we wanted it to. For us it's more than racing. This mirrors life and provides us with a new opportunity to use as an example with our AWO kids. We have to show the kids that when life provides you with challenges, you meet the challenges head-on.

"We're going to accept this decision by NHRA as a challenge and look for other ways and other classes to carry both our racing program forward and as a result carry the AWO program forward," said Tompkins.

AWO is supported with monetary donations from United Way, corporate support from major companies including Advance Auto Parts and General Motors, individual donations, and community fund raising. For their support of AWO, Tompkins carries the logos of United Way, Advance Auto Parts, and GM on his truck and trailer as his way of saying, "thank you."

This is just the beginning of this Pro Stock Truck controversy. It will not go slowly into the night.


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