NHRA icon John Force’s wheelhouse is the Funny Car class, but he saw something coming 20 years ago.
Visiting with Pro Stock racer Chris McGaha and family at The Strip at Las Vegas, Force took little Mason McGaha, who was just a few months old, from mother Holly McGaha’s arms and held him.
“This is what it’s all about,” Force said.
Little did he know he was cradling the future of the Pro Stock class.
Mason McGaha is now 20 years old. He and Camrie Caruso, Cristian Cuadra, Fernando Cuadra Jr., Troy Coughlin Jr., Dallas Glenn, Kyle Koretsky and Aaron Stanfield are filling half of the Pro Stock field.
Veterans Greg Anderson, the reigning champion, and Erica Enders, the runaway points leader this season, absolutely remain relevant, even controlling, in this class. But as Mason McGaha said, Pro Stock — which not long ago many feared would fold — has new life with “a good, decent wave of young drivers. We all of a sudden had a nice, little wave come through in the last three or four years and there’s potential they could be around for a while.”
And that’s just what the once-robust, fan-frenzied class desperately needed.
Anderson counts himself lucky to be keeping stride with the next generation.
“Somehow, I guess, we found a way to hold them off,” he said. “We dodged a bullet, holding those young cats off, because they’re dangerous. They’re very dangerous. I find it very fortunate that (Enders and I) were somehow able to rise above them and somehow end up together (in a showdown for the championship).
“Those young guys, they not only can whip your ass, but they love it and love rubbing your nose in it. They’re not afraid of nothing. They’re not afraid of anybody. They don’t care,” Anderson added. “I don’t think I was like that. I forget — it’s been so long ago. But it’s definitely the way they are. No fear, no fear at all. They never consider themselves the underdog when they go up there. They think, ‘I’m going to whip this guy’s ass.’”
These young racers aren’t underdogs. They’re winning races and elimination rounds and no one who follows the class doubts that one day, they’ll be winning championships. WFO Radio’s Joe Castello said Pro Stock has “a new direction coming on.”
They don’t want to wait. When Pro Stock rookie Camrie Caruso met her crew chief, two-time series king Jim Yates, she told him emphatically, “I want to be No. 1 qualifier. I want to win races. I want to win a championship.”
He told her, “You need to chill.”
She might not be capable of doing that.
“I want to be involved from top to bottom with this team,” Caruso said. “I get a lot of help from my dad and papa (dad Marc and grandfather Joe), but at the end of the day, I want to be the one writing the check and then delivering on the race track. I have great sponsors that I want to have for many, many seasons. The best way to do that is to show them how we can grow their business.
“I want to do as many appearances and interviews as I can to make this program successful. I know that turning on win lights helps, and we have aggressive goals for this season. It’s fun, but it’s definitely a business. Trust me, I remind myself of that every day.”
“You’ve got to have that,” Anderson said of Caruso’s attitude. “Success hasn’t come in just piles, but she has taken that well. She hasn’t got shook up because it hasn’t come as fast as she wanted it to. She’s done well. She’s kept her head in the game.”
Anderson has his hands full enough with KB Racing teammates Glenn and Koretsky. Even in his first season last year, Glenn unassumingly said before the Countdown, “With this much confidence and momentum, I really don’t see why we couldn’t be a top championship contender.”
Koretsky said, “At KB Racing, there’s no holding back. Greg tunes my Chevy Camaro every single run. He’s worked on my car before he’s even touched his car. It’s one big team — in the pits. But as soon as we go up to that starting line, it’s game on. Everyone’s trying to rip the other person’s head off. That’s what we’re there to do.”
By the end of the Western Swing, Glenn was 4-for-6 in final-round appearances and Koretsky 1-for-6. Both had winning elimination-round percentages, something many more experienced colleagues don’t have for their careers.
Stanfield, 27, who entered the class in 2014 at age 19, has led the standings this year and through the summer has been Elite teammate Enders’ closest challenger. He also has won the past two Factory Stock Showdown class titles.
Anderson said, “I’m having fun with every bit of it. I love the fact that Dallas and Kyle are both very talented and both have no problem whipping my ass. That’s how you’re supposed to be. I’m certainly not mad about it. I’m not disappointed with it. I wouldn’t want somebody that doesn’t want to win racing with me. I want somebody that wants to win at whatever the cost.
“I’m happy for them. I’m happy for us. That makes the team better. That makes KB Racing stronger,” he continued. “Those dark days when I don’t perform well, when somebody else on the KB Racing team does do well, it saves your day. It makes you feel better. What if you didn’t have somebody to carry the load for you after you dropped the ball? I love the fact that they’re both capable of doing that. I love the fact that they’re both capable of winning races. I love that. That’s certainly not a problem in my vision. I like it.
“It’s fun and what it’s doing is making me keep striving to find a way to get better,” Anderson, 61, said. “As you age, it’s more difficult to do it at a high level. And it’s made me try different things every week to try to find a way to do what they’re doing. It’s easy for them now. It was easy for us when we were young. But it’s not easy anymore. I keep looking, keep digging, and keep watching, trying to do things different every week.
“You can absolutely still do this, and you can still do it well. It just becomes more difficult to do it well every single time. Your focus just isn’t quite there. It’s 100 percent the mental aspect, not physical at all. It seems like that’s what slips more as you age than the physical does. That’s what I work at. That’s what I try to get better on, got to tighten up the mental aspect of it,” he said.
All of these new drivers come from racing families — from New York and Pennsylvania to Louisiana and Texas, from Seattle to Mexico.
But Stanfield claims they aren’t spoiled or entitled, although their journey might have been, in his words, “microwaved.” He said, “Dallas and myself, we both put in a lot of time in drag racing, period, to be able to put ourselves in a good position and get around the right people to help us chase our dreams.”
Stanfield says the Pro Stock class is more affordable today than it was a generation ago but that hard work is the key, no matter how racers find their opportunities.
“Since I’ve started that, I’ve eaten it, I’ve slept it and I’ve breathed it,” Stanfield said. “And I’ve been very fortunate to be around some really good people that have helped put me in good places.”
Anderson concedes the young racers have saved the class, but he said, “We, I guess as the older generation, have made that happen. We brought them in, and we welcomed them in and we opened our books to them. And we’ve handed them the best equipment money can have. We’ve kind of created that and together we’ve saved the class. We handed them stuff that could whip our ass. That’s the reality of it. They get every bit as good equipment as we have. We kind of created it, but they’re certainly playing their parts.”