The February 8th announcement that Drag Illustrated Media will hold its inaugural World Series of Pro Mod (WSOPM) shook up the drag racing world when Editor-in-Chief Wes Buck revealed the unique, $100,000-to-win event on his weekly Facebook Live show. Scheduled for August 4-5 at Bandimere Speedway near Denver, Colorado, the race will feature an invite-only field made up of 16 of the most talented and entertaining legal Pro Modified drivers. Many aspects of the one-of-a-kind event led to a barrage of questions directed at the Drag Illustrated office.
As excitement around the race continues to build, Buck recently took the opportunity to answer several of the most common questions he’s been asked since the official race announcement was released.
Putting on a race of this nature is a tremendous undertaking. Why is Drag Illustrated jumping into race promotion? Why now?
We’ve been publishing DI for 11 years. We’ve sent 117 issues to print. We’ve done our absolute best to tell the stories of racers and teams, and the battles they fight at the dragstrip every weekend. Honestly, it’s always been a part of my personal vision for us to move into the event space at some point. I’ve been waiting for the right time. It’s an audacious move, and I think that, personally, we needed to build up the audacity to think that we could hold a race and it would matter and it would be significant. I believe we have the platform now; I believe it’s time. It’s time for us to be a part of the stories we’re telling. I want to see our event written about on the pages of Drag Illustrated, on DragIllustrated.com, across our social media platforms, but also on those of others. I feel like it’s time for us to inject ourselves into the storyline.
You could have chosen one of several other different classes of drag racing to feature in this race. What is it about Pro Modified racing that made you decide on legal Pro Mods?
I feel strongly about this, and people have heard me say this before – Pro Modified is the universal language of drag racing. It’s a class that’s known far and wide; it’s a brand of racing that has a following of both fans and participants all around the world. I believe that Pro Mod is the “if I won the lottery” class of drag racing – it’s where many racers would like to be, and even more interestingly – there’s a number of high-level Top Fuel and Funny Car drivers that I know personally that would have to think twice about getting behind the wheel of a Pro Mod and have a special respect for the men and women that do. That’s cool, right? I think it’s cool. These are ill-handling, overpowered beasts, and the people that race them are colorful, charismatic, lovable characters, which if you ask me is the most important part of this all.
The format of this race goes against almost everything that drag racers know; there will be no qualifying sessions, 15 of the 16 positions will be decided by invitation, and the first-round pairings will be randomly drawn a full month before the race. What is your reasoning behind these choices?
First and foremost, I knew when I made the invite-only decision that there would be pushback. I’ll be honest – there would be a better chance that I’d further reduce the field to an eight-car, invite-only field than expand it to 32 cars. What we are trying to create here is a drag racing entertainment property. It is very important to me that we have a high-level, concise show. There are plenty of events whose doors are open to anyone interested – and I love that. But it’s not the World Series of Pro Mod.
It’s invite-only specifically because I want to control the cast of characters involved. It’s important to have very competitive, high-performing cars. It’s important that the World Series of Pro Mod features the world’s elite Pro Modified drag racing teams, but it’s most important – like I said earlier – that the WSOPM features the most colorful, entertaining, charismatic, lovable characters the sport of drag racing has to offer. That’s why it’s invite-only. There’s plenty of room for growth here, in my opinion, and my plan is to grow this thing over the course of the next few years and, with a little bit of luck and a little bit of sunshine, well into the future. But we have to start somewhere, and we have to put ourselves in the best possible position to succeed.
Fourteen drivers will be invited to race in the WSOPM. Another driver will be voted in by the fans online. The final spot will be awarded to the winner of a $10,000-to-win Pro Mod Shootout on the Friday night of the event. This will certainly make for a thrilling race, but it also drastically changes the way the race can be promoted. How will this help you and your team promote the World Series of Pro Mod?
As a racer, there are tons of variables on the track that are out of your control, and as a promoter the same conundrum exists. All you can really promote is that you’re having a Pro Mod race and it’s going to pay a lot to win – you can’t guarantee who will be there. Promoters have taken a beating at different times in the past for booking in a couple drivers and cars for their race to ensure that those two or three guys will be there and that they can promote that. It happened a lot back in the day. There’d be a Top Fuel race at some random track, and they’d book in Don Prudhomme or Don Garlits to participate so they’d have some name value. We’re taking that concept to a completely new level by deciding the entire field a month ahead of time.
I’ve often said that promoting a drag race is like writing a script or promoting a movie and not knowing who’s going to star in it. Drag racing is a difficult sport to promote, and it’s because of those variables. By controlling a few of those variables and knowing who’s going to be in the race, we’ll know 30 days before the winner is crowned who will race who in the first round. We can create some excitement and build rivalries and interest in specific matchups.
It’s my opinion that the first round at the WSOPM will be as significant and interesting as the final round at any other race. That’s cool. That’s so cool to me that the first round will be as exciting as the final round. We’ll have the time to look up statistics and promote how successful these guys are against each other, what their average reaction times are, who’s performing well this season, or who’s riding a wave of momentum. All those factors that we typically wouldn’t have the time to investigate or promote in the few hours between qualifying and eliminations can be used to build excitement.
Can you imagine what it’s going to be like these drivers to have a full month to labor and stew and dwell on who they’re going to have to race in the first round? With a $100,000 on the line? It’s going to be madness.
Another controversial aspect of the WSOPM is the use of shakedown runs instead of qualifying sessions. The scoreboards won’t be turned on until the final round, leaving fans and teams to guess what the cars are running. Why leave out the details – the incredible numbers these cars are capable of producing – when these performances are usually so heavily promoted?
For me, another way to build excitement is to create some mystery. While it’s important to control certain things, it’s also important to allow there to be some imagination involved; to allow people to wonder. I’m interested to see how the fans will respond to really not knowing how fast these cars are running until it’s time for the racers to show their hands. We all know they’re five-second cars producing 250-mph trap speeds, but you won’t know what one racer ran compared to another. Usually when a lower qualified car faces a higher qualified car, it’s a foregone conclusion that the higher qualified car will probably win – and it’s big news when they don’t. How cool is it that we’re going to ensure that uncertainty exists for every matchup?
And think about it for the racers. Most of these guys have always raced knowing what to expect from the guy in the other lane. They won’t have the opportunity to play it safe or lay one up – they’ll have to go up there and make the best possible run they can because they don’t know what their competitor ran the round prior.
Will this require some strategy on the part of the drivers and crew chiefs?
We’ll probably see these guys click it off during the shakedown runs on Saturday afternoon because they won’t want to give anyone any indication of what their car is going to run. They’ll want to make sure the car makes it through the gear change, then shut it off. No good poker player would show their hand in the World Series of Poker, and no good Pro Mod driver would show their hand in the World Series of Pro Mod.
Some people have asked why you’re holding this race at a high-altitude track like Denver as opposed to a track with ideal conditions. Why did you choose Bandimere Speedway to host the WSOPM?
Because Sporty Bandimere and everyone involved at Bandimere Speedway believe in what we’re trying to accomplish here. They share my vision for creating a drag racing entertainment property that involves a tight, concise show centered on Pro Mod drag racing. They also share my belief that Pro Mod is a headlining attraction – not an afterthought or show filler. The Bandimeres are my kind of people, and I couldn’t be more excited to be partnered with them for this event – and hopefully many more.
There are a couple sideline factors in the decision. Denver is one of the most aesthetically pleasing, magical dragstrips that I’ve ever been to – and I’ve been to a lot of dragstrips. It’s so picturesque. It’s a perfect venue for the WSOPM. And the Bandimeres have a proven track record of packing the stands at big events. They have a great promotional team with a strong strategy.
Another thing, and this was something kind of pointed out to me after the fact, is that hardly any of these racers have any experience on the mountain. You’re talking 10,000-feet of elevation. We could’ve done this race at sea level at a track these guys have raced at before, but this is more fun. No one knows what to expect. The closest these guys have been to racing on the mountain is maybe Las Vegas. It will be very interesting to see how everyone handles the elevation.
The high altitude will obviously affect the three different power adder combinations differently. How do you plan to combat that?
Obviously, I want to have a hyper-competitive race, and it’s very important to me that we make the minor adjustments to the established NHRA Pro Modified rulebook to account for the conditions. It’s critical to make those adjustments to ensure we have a level playing field between the nitrous cars, the turbocharged cars and the supercharged cars. I believe in a unified set of rules for Pro Mod, and want to support what NHRA is doing by utilizing their rule set. We will make extremely minimal changes to the rules to account for the elevation, and that’s it.
You’ve touched on the types of teams you’re looking to have involved with this race. Can you give us any further specifics, or drop some names that are involved?
Again, I really can’t say enough about people who have reached out and expressed their desire to be involved, and that share my vision for Pro Mod racing. I believe these guys and gals deserve a grand stage to perform on, and we’re going to give them one. We’ve been very fortunate to have nearly 40 great drivers reach out, let me know that they want to be involved. I can’t begin to explain how much that means to me, personally. That so many guys that I respect, admire and have followed for years, for them to ring my phone, it’s amongst the most humbling experiences I’ve ever had. They’re not beating me up about the format or the rules – the first thing they say is, ‘How can I be involved?’ That’s the type of people we’re looking for here – people that see what we see for the future of Pro Mod.
With that said, we have sent out the first round of invites. We have a great list of confirmed participants that we will begin to announce over the coming days and weeks. We’re very excited about the people who have signed the dotted line. I think we have a unique opportunity to bring some familiar, top-tier names together with some drivers who are fresh to the scene of legal Pro Mod racing. I don’t want this just to be another Pro Mod race where it’s all the same guys you’d see somewhere else. I want it to be an eclectic group, and I believe we’ll be able to achieve that.