Next Week’s PRO Superstar Shootout Will Have the Largest Purse in Drag Race History

Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

The 2023 National Hot Rod Association season was a good one for Pro Stock racer Matt Hartford—he won three events, including the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis—and he’s looking forward to the 2024 NHRA season, which starts March 7-10 with the Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway in Florida.

But first, there’s money to be won.

Hartford is one of dozens of drag racers who will be competing at the first-ever Skag Power Equipment PRO Superstar Shootout at Bradenton Motorsports Park, south of Tampa. It’s a big-money invitational sanctioned not by the NHRA, but by PRO, the Professional Racers Organization, which represents most of the professional racers and teams in big-league drag racing.

The PRO Shootout will be the richest event in drag racing history, one reason it’s attracting racers like Hartford. “Obviously, we are looking forward to a race where the payout is almost as much as winning an NHRA season championship,” he said. The Pro Stock winner will pocket $125,000, and the winners of the Top Fuel and Funny Car competition will get $250,000 each. Total payout is a sobering $1.3 million.

NHRA four-wide nationals drag racing action
Matt Hartford (bottom) during the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals Camping World Drag Racing Series on April 15, 2023 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

Money aside, “Everybody wants to win the first one no matter what the series is, but it would be something you look back on in 20 years and say, ‘That was pretty cool,’” said Hartford.

The event will begin with one qualifying session on Thursday night, February 8, followed by three sessions on Friday. Then, the eight qualified drivers in Top Fuel and Funny Car and the 16 qualified drivers in Pro Stock will draw chips to set the pairings for Saturday eliminations.

With Super Bowl LVIII airing on Sunday, February 11, race organizers Wes Buck, founder and editorial director of Drag Illustrated, and Alan Johnson, president of PRO and crew chief for Top Fuel champion Doug Kalitta, wanted to make sure the PRO Shootout didn’t go up against the biggest sporting event in America.

When Buck and Johnson announced the PRO Shootout six months ago, they said the purse would be $1.3 million, but no major sponsors had been signed. Fortunately for them, that’s changed, but you have to give them credit for guts.

Facebook Wes Buck Portrait Drag Racing Organizer
Wes Buck Facebook/Wes Buck

“This is an inaugural event so there are bound to be some hiccups, but we felt we had to lead with conviction and put our money where our mouth is,” Buck said. “We knew we had to call our shot on day one, and here we are, $1.3 million later.”

Compared to some other pro motorsports, prize money in drag racing often hasn’t kept pace, Buck said. “We’re talking about changing the economy in drag racing. Our sport has the expense associated with running these cars, specifically Top Fuel and Funny Car, and the math has never made sense, but it’s trending in the wrong direction.

funny car drag racing action 2023
Funny Car driver Tim Wilkerson, left, defeats Ron Capps, right, during the 58th In-N-Out Burger NHRA Finals at In-N-Out Pomona Dragstrip at Fairplex in Pomona on Sunday, Nov. 12, 2023. Will Lester/MediaNews Group/Inland Valley Daily Bulletin/Getty Images

“A lot of these racers don’t expect their race operations to make tons of money, but it needs to be self-sustaining. And in the environment that exists currently, there really isn’t a pathway for drag racers to win enough money and even break even. So it causes a lot of these race teams to be 100 percent beholden to sponsors, with no security—it’s a tough environment to operate in.”

If this sounds as though Buck is criticizing the NHRA, he really isn’t. In fact, he says he’s done all he can not to represent the PRO Shootout as a shot across the bow of the NHRA. “There’s a lot of us versus them, NHRA versus PRO, and that’s never been our agenda. We certainly understand that people are competitive, and it’s easy to get your feathers ruffled, but we really feel that this is complementary to a great time in the sport of drag racing, and I think it’s going to send everybody off into the season with excitement and momentum and enthusiasm for our sport and what we do.

“We’re running well in advance of the NHRA season opener because we didn’t want any decisions to have to be made by fans or vendors—I think we’ve done as good of a job as we can to work with the NHRA and have this event be something inclusive.”

Besides Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock, the PRO Shootout will also run three Sportsman classes—Stock Eliminator, Super Stock Eliminator and Top Sportsman Eliminator. Pay-per-view streaming will be provided by FloRacing.com.

“We’re about to have ourselves a hell of a drag race,” Buck said.

For more information, log onto Superstarshootout.com.

 

***

Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: Forget Your Kitted-Out Sprinters, This Alfa Campervan Now Rules the RV Park

Comments

    I’ve lost interest over the years as drag racing has shrunk from a quarter mile to the current 1000 feet, and even worse, to the eighth mile. I understand the need for this change, but it really diminished the appeal for me, because the races are now so short. An eighth mile? Really? Why bother roll it off the trailer?

    I thought that way as well until I was actually at a live event. But when they fire these things up THE EARTH SHAKES, Everything shakes. It is unreal!! So much HP from a V8.. I have never heard anything like it! I get a kick when they are just sitting there. It takes monstrous kahonies to drive these things. I am old school and enjoy the other classes that still do the 14..

    The 1,000 feet is mostly only NHRA events and in some cases specific classes. At 320 mph you do not notice the difference and they are back running record speeds. After Scott’s crash they had to do something.

    The 1/8 is only some local tracks and often due to lack of space or insurance. Not a ton of these tracks around.

    The real issue is like most other racing the cost. Also noise complaints or the value of the property.

    It is good John Force is still involved as he is their best promoter. I hope Tony Stewart this year will help bring more attention.

    I have always found drag racing more like Golf. More fun to do than watch outside of the pro classes.

    I have been lucky to be able to meet and know many drag racers through work. They are really a good group but it is getting tougher to field cars.

    The one thing is they still need to keep the personalities in it as well rivalries. I think it would be smart to do another snake Mongoose like deal with two rivals. This drew people in. Same with Garlits and about anyone.

    I grew up one mile from Lebanon Valley Dragway. Dad drag raced a 1969 Hurst SC/Rambler. I still remember the Radio announcers, “Funny Cars, Funny Cars, Nitro Burning Funny Cars, 1/2 way between Albany, NY and Pittsfield, MA”. Shirley Muldowney raced there a lot before she went on the Professional scene. I remember as a young teenager seeing her and saying, I love Drag Racing, if you know what I mean. 😘

    I can almost feel the ground shaking, while just sitting here in my chair, looking at those powerful machines. Kudos to the drivers who are gutsy enough to pilot those rails and funny cars! Definitely a spectacle to see.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *