Growing nostalgia movement recreates Pro Stock’s golden era
“Sunday! Sunday! Sundaaaayyyyy!” The ad blasting from your radio urges you not to miss the most thrilling Pro Stock showdown of the season. Dueling announcers shout the lineup. “The Sox and Martin Hemi Duster! Grumpy Jenkins’ Vega! The Billy the Kid Plymouth Arrow! Bob Glidden’s NHRA championship Pinto! BE THERE!”
Close your eyes. It could be 1970 … or 1975 … or 1980. It could also be 2017, thanks to a thriving nostalgia racing movement that is recreating what many consider to be Pro Stock’s golden era. The Midwest Nostalgia Pro Stock Association (MWNPSA), one of several tribute groups around the country, prides itself on the accuracy of its members’ cars and their fan-pleasing showmanship.
Created in 2010 by Mike Ruth and Mark Pappas, the MWNPSA fields a collection of 1970–85 racecars that wheel-stand past the Christmas tree and blaze down the quarter-mile track in about eight seconds. Ruth says the MWNPSA has enough members to put together a full 16-car field. He estimates there may be 75-100 nostalgia Pro Stock cars nationally.
Ruth’s car, a clone of Bob Glidden’s 1978 Ford Fairmont, is one of several in the group that were originally built decades ago as Pro Stocks. Others include former Super Gas, Super Comp, and Comp Eliminator cars. Pappas, a noted drag-racing collector who owns Bill Jenkins’ “Grumpy’s Toy X” Chevy Vega, drives a car that pays homage to the 1981 Reher-Morrison Camaro that Lee Shepherd drove to three championships.
“It’s growing,” Ruth says of the nostalgia movement. “We’re booked every weekend. At an event in Wilkesboro (N.C.) earlier this year, 30 nostalgia Pro Stocks showed, and 25 of them took runs. We had some original period drivers, too—Jerry Eckman, Terry Adams and Ed Miller.”
Ruth, chief application engineer for Heidts Automotive Group, was part of three competitive Pro Stock teams in the 1970s and ’80s.
The birth of Pro Stock
In 1969, the American Hot Rod Association introduced a heads-up Pro Super Stock class, and for 1970 the National Hot Rod Association debuted its Pro Stock class. In heads-up racing, both cars receive the green light simultaneously, and the first car through the traps wins. Many racers and fans find this competition more exciting than the more widely used bracket racing system, which uses handicapped or staggered starts to compensate for differences in performance. [By leveling the playing field, the bracket system emphasizes driving skill and consistency over speed.]
Rick Voegelin, former editor of Car Craft magazine, said the weight-break formula of 7 pounds per cubic-inch of engine displacement yielded a basic combination of a big-block V-8 in a 3,000-pound car. Hemi ’Cudas, Challengers and Dusters, and 427-cid Camaros were common. Mopar cars dominated, with the Sox and Martin team winning championships in 1970 and ’71.
Rule changes for 1972 ended the Hemi’s monopoly, and more weight breaks opened the field to compact cars running small-block engines. Vegas, Monzas, and Plymouth Arrows became common, and even AMC backed a Pro Stock effort. Another rule change in 1982 simplified the Pro Stock formula to a 500-cid engine and 2,350-lb weight limit.
Even as Pro Stock cars became more sophisticated, they still resembled production models. That, along with the colorful personalities and driver rivalries, generated drama and drew crowds, Voegelin says.
“You had popular and influential people racing—Jenkins, Glidden, Sox and Martin, Lee Shepherd, Warren Johnson. That feeds into the popularity of nostalgia Pro Stocks today.”
The MWNPSA requires members’ cars to be as period-correct as possible, which includes running tunnel-ram intakes with dual four-barrel carburetors, along with a Lenco four-speed transmission. Most also use a Funny Car-style roll cage for safety.
“Fans are savvy. They know what these cars were supposed to look like,” Ruth says. “People come up and show me pictures of Glidden’s Fairmont. A former crewmember sent me a letter from a nursing home, reminiscing about when he worked on the car.”
The racing is real, even if the drivers don’t push the cars to their limits.
“We pair them up equally to race, but it’s a show more than anything else,” Ruth says. “We do long, smoky burnouts past the tree. We have smack talk, dry hops, and rivalries. We let people relive a bygone era that many consider the best period in drag racing.”