Pro Modified Engine Aberrations

By Jim Luikens

Although there may be the occasional exception, many eliminators in drag racing are the domain of a single powerplant. For instance, most top fuelers are powered by the Chrysler Hemi engine. Likewise for most of the funny car entries. Meanwhile most of the competitors in Quick Rod eliminator chose the big block Chevrolet engine for power.

Typically however, most “door” cars in drag racing are powered by the same brand of engine as the body. This is a tradition that goes all the way back to very beginning of drag racing. If you were a Chevy man you wouldn't dream of using anything besides a Chevrolet engine. Ford people ran Ford engines and Mopar people ran Mopar engines. That’s just the way it is.

There is one “door car” eliminator however, that stands apart from all the others and that is Pro Modified. It was created a little more than a decade ago as an unlimited category with one simple rule: there are no rules. In the years since a few rules have been introduced to level the playing field, but the unlimited structure originally envisioned basically remains. This is the story of engine aberrations in Pro Modified, where there is no guarantee that the name on the valve cover matches the name on the fender.

It stands to reason that Pro Mod cars like a ‘41 Willys or a ‘53 Studebaker have to run an updated engine. After all when did you last see a big block Willys or Studebaker engine? It gets a little stranger however, when you start talking about cars like Mustangs, Corvettes and Vipers. You would think that each of those cars could find an acceptable engine in their own brand’s parts bin without having to cross party lines.

Take the beautiful 2003 Ford Mustang that is owned by Roy Hill and now driven by Von Smith for example. When Roy Hill rejoined drag racing as an active competitor in early 2003 his brand of choice was a foregone conclusion. Over the years the Ford Motor Company has been very good to Roy Hill and, in return, Roy has been equally good to them. Thus his choice of a Ford Mustang body was a natural.

Not so natural was his choice of powerplant. When construction began on his new car Roy consulted with his chassis builder, Jerry Haas, about the type of powerplant to use. Despite Roy’s past allegiance to Ford the decision was made to switch brands. Instead of the familiar blue oval that has powered all of his recent race cars Roy chose Chrysler Hemi power from Brad Anderson.

The feeling was that the supercharged Chrysler Hemi produced more (relatively) dependable power than other engine possibilities. With the powerplant choice decided the only question that remained was who would be the crew chief. Brad provided a short list of recommendations and well-regarded Howard Moon was chosen to provide the direction in Roy’s pit.

Although this has been a challenging year for the Hill team, recent results have been impressive. At the Sunoco World Nationals, Von qualified fourth (out of 40 competitors) for the 16 car field. After winning the first two rounds handily he was ahead at half track in his semi-final match-up when his burst panel failed.

One week later (actually two when you include the rain date) Von did even better at Indy. Racing at NHRA’s Mac Tools US Nationals he again qualified fourth. This time he went all the way to the final round where he was the eliminator runner-up to Ricky Smith. Along the way Von set low et for the category at 6.216 seconds and recorded the highest speed for the eliminator at 228.81 miles-per-hour.

The Hill team has several issues to resolve before next season but it certainly appears that their engine choice and driver decision is a lock. Another good example of engine aberrations can be found in the Stott family. Despite years of intense competition between brothers Quain and Mitch Stott they both have settled on the same engine/body combination.

Each drives a blown 1963 Chevrolet Corvette. In a rare display of brotherly agreement each has also settled on Chrysler Hemi power. Quain Stott had been a strong advocate of nitrous power in Pro Modified and, in fact, campaigned a nitrous assisted Corvette from 1995 until 2001, a car that he still owns. However Quain says the writing was on the wall and he has since built a new car and switched to the blown Chrysler engine combination.

Much has been written over the years about supercharged versus nitrous engine parity and that is not the purpose of this story. The current situation however, reminds me of a key chain that I had years ago. On one side it said, The Gas War is Over. When you turned it over it simply said, Gas Won. Anyone over 45 years of age fondly remembers the “Gas Wars” of the late 60s which saw gas selling as cheaply as 24.9 cents a gallon.

A similar sentiment can be expressed about the engine choices for Pro Modified. If you’ve read this far it’s obvious that the combination war is over and the engine of choice among the top competitors is a blown Chrysler Hemi. If that’s the case one would automatically think that a car like a Dodge Viper would certainly utilize that engine. After all, at least it’s a Mopar which is more than you can say for a Mustang or a Corvette.

In most cases you would probably be correct. Or at least you would be until you reached the pit of a certain Billy Harper. Resting between the frame rails of his 2000 Dodge Viper Pro Modified is, dare I say it, a Chevrolet engine. And it’s not just any old Chevrolet engine. How about a 728 cubic inch masterpiece prepared by no less than Gene Fulton?

At the aforementioned 2003 Sunoco World Nationals Billy qualified his car on the Pro Mod pole with a great 6.226 second run at 227.00 miles-per-hour. That’s right, he was the quickest of the 40 cars that tried to qualify for Pro Modified at the most prestigious event on the IHRA trail. Unfortunately, after winning its opening round, the Viper overpowered the track in the second round and its day was cut short when Billy was forced to shut off.

A word to the wise here, not all competitors accurately list the correct brand of their engine on their entry form. While Billy’s Viper might be listed as running a 728 Dodge engine, his car must be a replica of some special export version that featured a V8 with porcupine cylinder heads instead of the conventional Dodge wedge V10.

There is no question about the future of Pro Modified Eliminator. It is a fan favorite with a very bright future. Pro Mod features the most colorful nicknames and elaborate paint schemes in all of drag racing. The entire nitrous versus blower debate and the engine aberration situation only adds to its fan appeal and sparks endless debate among its competitors and fans.