Next week marks the third year of the realization of a dream for Drag Illustrated Founder and Editorial Director Wes Buck.
It was 2017 when Buck’s hope to promote a Pro Mod-centric race became reality with the World Series of Pro Mod. The wildly-popular race, which awards $100,000 to the winner in Pro Mod, turns three years old in 2019 when it returns to Bandimere Speedway next week, and event continues to draw rave reviews.
As the return to Thunder Mountain approaches, we talked with Buck about a number of topics surrounding the World Series of Pro Mod presented by J&A Service, Elite Motorsports, Big O Tires and benefiting One Cure in Denver. In Part 1 of a two-part discussion, he discussed the unique challenges this year’s race has faced, what he’s learned the last two years and why the race has been universally praised.
DRAG ILLUSTRATED: When you sit back and it hits you this is the third year you’re having the World Series of Pro Mod, what immediately comes to mind?
WES BUCK: It’s hard not to feel a flood of emotions. When I was putting these ideas together for this race – literally on a legal pad in a hotel room – it’s hard to put into words, it’s almost unbelievable to see what all has transpired and what the race has become.
We all have dreams as a kid – being an astronaut or a fireman or whatever else – and for me this is quite literally the realization of a lifelong dream. I know that tons of people scribble down ideas and notes, set goals and the like, but to see that chicken scratch actually become a reality – it’s amazing. I feel lucky. I know that not everyone gets to experience that.
Maybe hosting a drag racing event doesn’t put me in elite company – we’re not going to Mars here – but to do it in the fashion that we do, at the level that we do, at the facility that we have, and with the fanfare and support that we have – it’s pretty staggering.
This type of work can be a slow burn. I kinda liken it to the journey of a musician or a band – you start out playing honky tonk bars and you hope to eventually play at arenas and in stadiums. I’ve got some history at honky tonk drag strips that provided a foundation for what we do now, but to host your first-ever major event at a facility like Bandimere Speedway – a literally world-renowned venue – and to put $100,000 up for grabs? That’s a helluva starting point.
I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve accomplished and where we’re at with WSOPM.
DI: Pro Mod has enjoyed a healthy ascension in popularity the last few years. What impact do you think this race has had on the sport and especially this class?
WB: First and foremost, I believe we have driven home the notion that fast doorslammer racing – specifically quarter-mile Pro Mod drag racing – is not filler material. This is marquee entertainment, and I believe it’s largely been up to us – and amongst our most important objectives – to give Pro Mod racers and fans the kind of pageantry, pomp and circumstance the eliminator deserves.
In recent years, it seems like radial tire racing has been this unstoppable freight train – the hottest ticket in town, if you will. In 2019, I believe the hottest ticket in town is quarter-mile Pro Mod racing, and I believe we’ve played a big part in that. I think we’ve helped inject some new excitement and enthusiasm in the class, and I think we’ve added a lot to the Pro Mod storyline in general. Just the existence of a $100,000 Pro Mod race, even if you aren’t involved in the event directly or haven’t competed in it or whatever else, I believe adds to the cultural relevance of Pro Mod.
It’s about a lot more than big money, though. Again, I’m proud of the fact that we draw a crowd without leaning entirely on nitro cars or jet cars or whatever else. I love that stuff, but I just want these Pro Mod guys to feel what it’s like to close the show, to be the final act.
We’ve also done a lot of things differently – borrowed from other sports, other forms of racing, defied some traditions, and I believe served as innovators in terms of promotion and publicity, coverage and the overall feel of the event. We’ve had some hits, and we’ve had some misses, but we’re going to keep swinging the bat. I believe Pro Mod is the universal language of drag racing, it’s the best possible foot forward we can make for the sport of drag racing. I believe we can grow the sport of drag racing – grow participation, grow the fan base – and do it on the back of Pro Mod.
DI: Hearing the praise and gratitude from racers, and seeing them return to Denver, how important has that been for you?
BUCK: It’s very gratifying. When I look back at this whole project, the racers we had in 2017 came back, and in 2018 we brought in a lot of new faces. We’ll bring in more new faces this year, and that means they’ve joined the family and they’ve become part of the tradition. These racers and teams have a special place in my heart for sharing the vision, so it’s important to us to give them the royal treatment. We started this on the pages of Drag Illustrated, but these racers deserve to be treated like rock stars, and they deserve the red carpet treatment. To make sure they’re taken care of and being able to say yes to them, it’s euphoric.
DI: This year’s race has not been without its challenges, but that seems to be part of any new event’s growth. How much has the carnage in 2019 impacted this race?
BUCK: It’s been heart-breaking, there’s no other way to say it. I’m heartbroken for the guys and gals who have torn up their race cars, and it’s definitely impacted our race.
Jeremy Ray had a horrible crash early in the season, and shortly thereafter Marc Caruso, who is a huge attraction, had a scary accident in Bristol. Then we had Erica Enders’ top-end fire in Norwalk, and when you add in Mike Bowman’s top-end accident in St. Louis at the end of last year, that’s four headlining cars that all vanished. It obviously detracts from the car count, and then you couple that with the major NHRA rule change (in the class) in June and some of the teams that are either reevaluating their programs or have stepped away entirely…it’s been as great of a challenge as I’ve faced in my career. We had at least 5 extremely prominent cars and drivers bow out in the 24th hour due to these NHRA rule changes.
But what can do you do? This is drag racing, and it’s Pro Mod drag racing – these cars are dangerous and they’re basically ticking time bombs. It’s not really if you’re going to tear something up, it’s when you’re going to tear something up – how badly is really the only variable.
DI: What have you done to rebound from major bumps in the road like that?
BUCK: Last year, it took a Herculean effort having 28 cars on Thunder Mountain. We moved it to a 16-car field in 2019, but after seeing how many cars that were destroyed or had a change of course in their season, I knew we were going to lose some of the regulars.
We had to double-down on the exclusivity of running the World Series of Pro Mod. We made changes on the fly, but I’m proud of the team for being able to do that. I think that’s a big part of being successful in business in this day and age – you absolutely have to be willing and able to adapt, make decisions and make changes when necessary. I couldn’t be more grateful and proud of the guys making the tow to be a part of the biggest, richest Pro Mod drag race in the history of the known universe.
All I know is that we’re fixing to have one helluva drag race. Our strategy never really changes: keep moving forward.
Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of our discussion with Buck on the WSOPM, where he discusses what it will takes to win this year, the entertainment value of the race, the event’s place in the sport and more.
Photos by Katie Anderson