How many of you remember the days of match races, long, smoky burnouts, hyped-up announcers bringing you to your feet, and mounds of people packing the stands? I’m not talking about an NHRA national event, but at a local track that had a special event. It has been a long time since I have seen such a race, and I am sure for many of you the same rings true.
I remember not too long ago when we had a hard time just getting into the staging lanes because of the crowds that attended some of these races. It seems like fan attendance has slowly declined. I mean now you can livestream on your phone and get instant results of any race at any time while you sit on your couch. Most of our spectators now are other teams that have already been eliminated and have nothing else to do but watch the race. This pattern seems all too current in our days of local non-national event tracks. “Going, going, gone” sums up many tracks across the country in this day and age, and excitement has long passed.
[Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in DI #182, the WSOPM Issue, in May/June of 2023.]
However, on March 3rd, 4th, and 5th of 2023, something amazing happened at Florida’s Bradenton Motorsports Park. Call it what you will, but on these days, the excitement of drag racing came back to this racetrack. The World Series of Pro Mod – WSOPM – put on by our own Wes Buck, became one of the biggest and most exciting races of all time.
As a racer who has experienced a lot, not much excites me about our sport anymore. You pretty much know what to expect, and as I said earlier, the excitement level of our competition is pretty much the same. Now I’m not saying the cars themselves are not exciting and awesome to watch, but fan attendance and lack of atmosphere and excitement has dulled it for many. The stars lined up for this race, though. We had 32 Pro Mods separated by less than a hundredth of a second in qualifying, Mountain Motor Pro Stockers, Top Dragster, imports and even a bracket race.
So, what made this so exciting? Well for one, the payout of $100,000 is awesome, then you had a $10,000 bonus for No. 1 qualifier, then if you didn’t make the show they put on a consolation race paying another $10,000. That’s more than most Pro Mod races pay in the main event, period. Pro Stock paid $25,000 and Top Dragster $10,000 to win.
Going into that last qualifying session, it seemed as though no one in the Pro Mod field was safe. That brought back memories of the old IHRA days where 50-plus cars were trying to get into the 16-car field, and boy, was it exciting.
The WSOPM staff was nicely dressed and friendly, and race day produced amazing races and even a No. 32 qualifier victory. Racer hospitality and appreciation was evident, as well as a huge fan turnout. I can’t remember the last time I saw that many people there, and on Sunday the stands were still full.
If that’s not enough, we had Al Tucci on the mic bringing the house down. I was watching right next to the starting line and could still hear Al announcing. I mean this guy is just the best at what he does and can get you excited watching a crew clean up an oildown.
People were able to buy VIP starting line access and it was always packed. Fans’ hats were blowing in the burnouts, and they were cheering so loud. There was loud music playing and the vibe was a steady pulse of excitement for all.
It’s hard to describe how exciting all of this was to witness. There were probably so many other exciting things happening that I didn’t get to see, but what I did witness was greatness. Greatness by a staff that had the faith and talent to bring back what we have been lacking for so long. I know racers are racers, but we need to realize this is an entertainment business, and if we continue not entertaining, we will lose the sport we love.
This race had all aspects of what a race should have. Racer appreciation, fan appreciation, and an excitement like none other. All of these aspects together made nothing less than one of the most spectacular shows, period. I believe WSOPM could be a series of its own and would be very successful.
This race should remind us that it’s not over, folks. With races like this, it could be the new beginning. We should support the efforts of excitement and push the envelope to bring people back. As always, the choice is ours to make!