We’ve got a little bit of a roundup today, a few thoughts and numbers to throw at you.
In 2019, and for the first time, NHRA Pro Stock raced an 18-event schedule. In some ways, that stunk to high heaven (we’re so sorry we missed you, Houston, Charlotte 1, Atlanta, Topeka, Bristol, and Epping). In other ways, though, the reduced schedule proved to be pretty darn effective.
2017 Mello Yello Drag Racing Series Pro Stock world champion Bo Butner marched his tail right on over to the pawn shop to get his driving suit back after the shorter schedule was announced. Shortest. Retirement. Ever.
The Pro Stock field was full at every single race. All of ’em!
As painful as it was for those of us who love this class more than a Christmas-morning sugar rush followed by a long winter’s nap, it got folks talking. About Pro Stock. THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT PRO STOCK.
Fans missed Pro Stock at the events that weren’t on the schedule, and they weren’t shy about letting the sanctioning body (and anyone else who would listen) know. See Exhibit C, above, and then go hug a Pro Stock fan (but only one who’s cool with that).
Quick note here before moving on to the next subject: Pro Stock will return to the facilities from which it was absent last season. This looks to be a rotating situation, and you can view all of the NHRA schedules for the 2020 season of the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series here.
Let’s get back to chatting about Bo Butner for a sec, shall we? This guy led the Pro Stock points for the entire regular season. He was a perfect four-for-four in final rounds and scored three No. 1 qualifier awards. Butner won more in 2019 than any other Pro Stock driver, and just for kicks, he entered Super Gas for the first time and won that, too.
But wait, there’s more! He was also a two-time finalist in the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown and had a real shot at the championship for a while there. In the end, the guy finished in the top 10 in THREE categories. Has that even been done before? Butner was No. 3 in Pro Stock, No. 5 in the Factory Stock Showdown, and No. 9 in Super Gas. Whatever, dude. Give someone else a chance.
This kind of goes without saying, but Erica Enders (aka “thrEEtime champ”) did exactly what you’re supposed to do in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship. She got hot at the right time. Enders had a bright moment or two during the course of the regular season, but a couple races before the Countdown, the girl (and her guys, led by crew chief Rick Jones) turned up the wick. Back-to-back finals at Brainerd and Indy bumped Enders into the No. 5 spot to start the playoffs, and she was off and running with the lead by race three of six. It was a thrilling finish and the reason why folks either love or hate the Countdown to the Championship format.
Enders got it done, but there was a lot of talk about a handful of racers towards the end of the season. One guy, though, was somehow flying under the radar. Anybody know that guy Matt Hartford? How on God’s green earth could a guy like that go unnoticed? His very racecar sports 666 on the window (For real! It’s his competition number!), he’s not a tad bit shy in terms of self-expression, and he drives like a very, very mean man. Super Mean Matt Hartford piloted his Total Seal Piston Rings Chevy Camaro to six final rounds. No one else, not one other person in the class, not the champ, not the No. 2 man, not anyone in the top 10, reached six final rounds.
It must be mentioned that he was the only one who could stop Greg Anderson from a second sweep of the Western Swing. Anderson is one of just seven Pro drivers who have done it, and he had two trophies in the bag (Denver and Sonoma) when he reached the Seattle final. The four-time Pro Stock champ was one stinkin’ win light away, but then came Hartford like he just didn’t care about history at all.
See? Mean. But also incredibly capable, and one of the many drivers who make Pro Stock such a compelling class to watch. Bring on 2020!