Story By: SCOTT SMITH / NHRA – GAINESVILLE, FL – An incredible 35-car field makes up the first event of the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service season, which takes place as part of this weekend’s AMALIE Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals.
It’s an impressive figure that exemplifies the continued growth and talent level of the class, which will be on display all weekend. The NHRA Pro Mod class will also get four qualifying sessions for the first time in class history, as the class standouts are preparing for what they expect to be a memorable weekend in Gainesville.
“There’s so many people coming out to be involved in the class and it’s really exciting,” veteran Danny Rowe said. “It’s a double-edged sword. I’m happy the class is doing well, but it makes it a big challenge for team owners and drivers. Just to qualify in the top 16, it’s a big deal. Four qualifying sessions gives everyone one more shot and I think it’s going to tighten the field up even more. I think we’re going to see some really fast runs and it could be a record-setting weekend. Being part of it is a big deal.”
The race, which is presented by Jerry Bickel Race Cars, is the first of 12 events during the 2018 E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service season and will be shown on Fox Sports 1 (FS1) and Fox Sports 2 (FS2). Steven Whiteley is the defending winner of the event and was one of nine drivers who claimed victories during a thrilling 2017 campaign.
The event in Gainesville also will give drivers a chance to get off to a strong start in a year where a new world champion will be crowned. Troy Coughlin retired after winning his third championship and second in three seasons, and the competition will be wide open during an exciting 2018 season. Whiteley was one of six first-time winners in the class last year, displaying the impressive array of talents in the category.
“When comparing it to last year, I feel like we’re in a better place,” said Whiteley who finished seventh in points a season ago. “The team is clicking and we all get along really well. We’re in the best position we’ve been in heading into a season and we all feel pretty good.”
The top standouts in the class include three-time world champion Rickie Smith, as well as other 2017 race winners Mike Castellana and Stevie “Fast” Jackson, who each won two races and finished second and third, respectively, Shane Molinari, Steve Matusek and Sidnei Frigo. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the entry list in Gainesville, as it includes a who’s-who in the Pro Mod world. That makes just qualifying a feat in itself, but the victories also become that much more rewarding.
Whiteley isn’t focused on the pressure that comes with being the defending event winner, but he does enjoy starting the season in Gainesville and is hopeful the extra qualifying session will make him even sharper at the season-opening race.
“Even before we won this race, we always liked coming here,” Whiteley said. “It’s a great vibe with great weather, and there’s a lot of history here. Gainesville has always been very big for us. Getting four rounds of qualifying for the first time is huge, too. The more seat time you get, the better you’re going to be. I think it’s going to be cool.”
Featuring the world’s fastest and most unique doorslammer race cars, the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service offers something for every kind of hot-rodding enthusiast. The class is highlighted by historic muscle cars, like ’67 Mustangs, ’68 Firebirds and ’69 Camaros, as well as a variety of late model American muscle cars. With more than 3,000 horsepower, the suspended door pro mod cars travel the quarter-mile in less than six seconds at speeds exceeding 250 mph.
E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service qualifying begins Friday, March 16 with two qualifying session at 12:30 and 4:30 p.m., continuing with the final two qualifying session on Saturday, March 17 at 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. Round one of eliminations takes place on Sunday at 12:15 p.m.