The $1.3 million PRO Superstar Shootout — sanctioned by the Professional Racers and Owners Organization (PRO) — will take place Feb. 8-10, 2024, and will feature Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock competition.
The race’s formation was officially announced on Aug. 2. But ironically, to one of the primary figureheads of the event, the shootout represents a trip back to the humble beginnings of the sport.
“It feels like we’re going back to the grassroots of it,” noted Richard Freeman, who owns powerhouse NHRA team Elite Motorsports.
The invitation-only race will be run at Bradenton (Fla.) Motorsports Park, a facility that has never hosted nitro-burning Top Fuel dragsters or Funny Cars since it opened in 1974.
However, the very idea for the Superstar Shootout was born at the Florida facility, following the $100,000-to-win Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod held there in March.
“In one of our board meetings, Richard (Freeman) had brought up the Pro Mod shootout they had … It was such a success, we thought we might want to build on that and invite Top Fuel and Funny Car cars to it,” said PRO President Alan Johnson.
Part of Johnson’s intent in supporting the idea was to try something new and “outside the box” from an event standpoint, which the unique format for the race addresses.
The two most off-the-wall elements of the shootout include the triple dose of qualifying on Friday and the random chip draw that will determine the pairings for each round of eliminations on Saturday.
“Three runs on Friday, that’s going to be epic. We’ve never done that. Or the chip draw on Friday night,” said NHRA Funny Car driver Bob Tasca III. “It’s going to be a throwback race with a lot of cutting-edge technology.”
To NHRA team owner Tony Stewart, the purpose of the shootout is to bring new eyes to drag racing and generate a nationwide buzz around the sport.
“This is an opportunity to introduce (fans) to it before the season starts and to do something that’s never been done before. Other forms of motorsports are getting their spot in the spotlight and their time for a big race,” Stewart said. “Drag racing has deserved that opportunity as well.”
To Freeman, as he’s watched his initial idea snowball over the last few months, it feels like the barriers are being broken and drag racing is being delivered its moment. But as much as the legendary team owner hopes the stand-alone event will impact drag racing as a whole, he’s more focused on the opportunity to highlight the drivers who make the sport what it is.
“One of the things that I’m most excited about is, not only the excitement on the race track, but pulling the curtains down behind the scenes,” Freeman said. “We’re going to get to tell those stories of some of the real stars.”
One of NHRA’s most-decorated drivers, four-time Top Fuel champion Steve Torrence, is one of those stars — and he has the date circled on his calendar.
“$250,000 is the biggest purse I’ve ever raced for and I’m gonna tell you, I’m fighting tooth and nail against whoever is in the final or semis or first round or whatever it is,” Torrence said. “You go there to win money, but at the end of the day, you go there to win for bragging rights.”
Being the first driver to win the PRO Superstar Shootout is something both he and five-time Pro Stock champion Erica Enders would like to check off their list. But whether they end up in the winner’s circle or not, both hold fast to the idea that the event will an immense success for the sport regardless of the on-track results.
“I think it’s a success before we start out,” Enders said. “We say that at Elite Motorsports, that we win races before we leave the shop. That’s preparing and just being ready for everything that’s going to be thrown at us.”
As Enders makes an annual trip to Bradenton for pre-season testing, she’ll be racing in familiar territory when it comes time for the $125,000-to-win Pro Stock shootout in February.
That won’t quite be the case for Torrence, as he’ll run his Top Fuel dragster at the Florida facility for the first time when there’s a $250,000 winner’s check on the line next year.
“This is the biggest thing in drag racing,” Torrence said. “For us to go out there and put on a show that’s going to rock the whole drag racing world, I’m excited about it.”
The Funny Car division will also race for $250,000.