In 2007, UK drag racing entered a new era when the Motor Sports Association, the national governing body of four-wheeled motorsport, designated the spectacular Pro Modifieds as the official class of the MSA British Drag Racing Championship. The Championship expanded from three to five rounds, including the two FIA European Championship events at Santa Pod Raceway.
As a result, 26 entries scored MSA Championship points during that first season, with seven UK-based teams prominent among them. Since then, the seasonal entry list has never fallen below 26 and has numbered as high as 31, with new home-grown talent joining the cast list of stars from across Europe. And in 2010, the Championship welcomed its first American contestant, ‘superstar’ racer Melanie Troxel.
Despite their official championship status, Pro Mods still possess an outlaw aura, evoking the spirit of drag racing’s earliest days, before defined classes had evolved, when you would “run what ya brung” and hope you had “brung” enough. The class emerged in America in the 1980s as an adventurous reaction to the sport’s formalised structure, pairing classic sedan body styles with enormous engines in combinations unfettered by too many rules.
Today’s Pro Mods come in a vivid array of bodyshells, everything from 1938 Ford Coupes to a 21st-century Dodge Viper. These bodyshells cloak pure-bred racing chassis built around giant V8 engines, some running on petrol and nitrous oxide, others on supercharged or turbocharged methanol, and all packing the punch to blast through the quarter-mile in six seconds at over 200mph. They are, without doubt, the most extrovert machines ever to compete for an MSA championship.
What is Pro Mod?
Pro Modified Cars are 200mph doorslammers, running on petrol or methanol. They are the fastest class of drag cars with working doors; only rail Dragsters and Funny Cars are quicker.
Pro Mods are purpose-built race cars cloaked in replica street car bodies ranging in style from the 1930s to the present day.
Below is the anatomy of a typical Pro Mod, though cars do vary in detail.
Pro Mod cars are permitted either a nitrous oxide-injected petrol motor burning unleaded race fuel or a supercharged engine running on methanol. Minimum weight is 2375lbs for nitrous-injected cars or 2700lbs for supercharged methanol cars. Nitrous or blown motors cost approximately £50,000 from a recognised engine builder. Connecting rods last from 25 runs on a blown car to 50 runs on a nitrous car and cost around £1,000. Valve springs are consumable items and individual pistons and rings need changing on a regular basis. A blown car would have its spark plugs changed after every run if the tuner wanted to ‘read’ the plugs or after every 2 or 3 runs if not.
Chassis are custom fabricated from 4130 chrome moly tubing according to strict rules. The maximum permitted wheelbase is 115″ (2.92m). Features of the chassis include twin chassis rails, strut-style front suspension, carbon or aluminium interior panelling, aluminium motor-mounting plates, coil-over rear suspension and 4-link or swing arm-mounted axles. The car has front and rear brakes but relies primarily on twin parachutes to slow it from speeds of up to 230mph. The bare chassis will cost from about £7,500.
Pro Mod body shells are highly modified replicas of original car bodies built from composite materials. The bodies may have been roof- chopped, sectioned, stretched in the wheel base, scaled down from the original or otherwise modified to give better aerodynamics and accommodate the huge rear tyres. The maximum front overhang is 4.5″ (114cm). A rear wing is added to give down-force at the top end of the track. A central driving position is not permitted. Depending on the body’s style, estimated cost is around £6,000.
Nitrous motors use an unleaded high octane race fuel. The blown cars use methanol. The fuel system on a nitrous car can flow up to 8.5 gallons per minute and the blown car fuel system can flow over 15 gallons per minute. In a blown car methanol costs around £1.70 per litre and each run would use up to 25 litres including the burnout. In a nitrous car unleaded race fuel costs around £6 per litre and each run would use approximately 5 litres, as well as 6lbs of nitrous oxide at £6 per pound.
Engine capacities are restricted to a maximum of 740 cubic inches (12.12 litres) for nitrous-assisted motors and 526 cubic inches (8.61 litres) for supercharged methanol engines. In addition, the blown entries are restricted to a maximum valve size of 1.9″ exhaust and 2.4″ inlet and are restricted to 20% overdrive when using the 14-71 high helix blower. Nitrous motors produce in the region of 3 horsepower per cubic inch so the differences in engine size, minimum car weight, etc., are designed to redress this balance so that both combinations can be competitive.
Pro Mod cars use a multi-disc clutch. Nitrous cars can use a maximum of 3 discs and blown cars 2. Most cars use a planetary-design transmission, commonly the Lenco or B+J. Some cars have also started to experiment with a twin lay shaft transmission such as a Liberty . Nitrous cars generally use a 4-speed transmission and blown cars use a 3-speed. Blown cars are permitted a maximum rear axle gear ratio of 4.56:1. A transmission and clutch set-up costs in the region of £8,000 and a titanium bell-housing constructed to contain clutch explosions costs around £3,500.
6. Driver Safety Equipment
A fire-resistant suit including gloves and shoes must be worn by the drivers of nitrous cars. The drivers of blown cars use the same suits, gloves and boots as Top Fuel drivers. Helmets and a 360-degree neck brace must be worn by all drivers. The Hans device, as worn by Formula 1 drivers, is also permitted and is gaining in popularity. A 5- point, 3″-wide driver harness must always be fitted. All cars are equipped with a shatterproof bell-housing and a transmission blanket to protect the driver in the event of a clutch or transmission failure and an engine ‘diaper’ to contain any spilled oil.
Cars are required to have production-style suspension systems. Most cars use purpose-built, McPherson-style struts with rod-ended control arms at the front and 4-link rear suspensions which allow an almost infinite range of adjustments to compensate for track conditions. Coil-over shock absorbers are used at the rear along with anti-roll bars.
8. Wheels and Tyres
Rear wheels are 16″ in diameter and 16″ wide and have to be ‘beadlocks’, i.e. have clamping rings to secure the tyres. Rear tyre pressures are from 4.5psi and front tyres run up to 34psi. The tyres are designed to ‘crinkle’ to assist the launch and will ‘grow’ in height by approximately 4″ during the burnout and at the top end of the track. A pair of rear wheels costs in the region of £2,800 and a pair of slicks about £650 – two or three pairs of slicks are needed in a season.
Pro Mods are equipped with aftermarket disc brakes on all four wheels with some cars using carbon fibre discs and pads. The brakes are used in conjunction with dual parachutes to slow the car from speeds of up to 230mph. Brakes are generally single-pot on the front and 4-pot on the rear with the system designed to rear-bias through the large rear wheels and tyres.
Most Pro Mods carry an on-board data logger which monitors and records information from sensors located all over the car. Data is used, for example, to make the fine clutch adjustments essential to maintain the car at peak performance. Other sensors monitor exhaust gas temperatures, fuel flow, throttle position and rear suspension travel. A data logger can cost from £3000 (to monitor basics for tuning) upwards.