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A large crowd is expected for the inaugural SCAG Power Equipment PRO Superstar Shootout at Bradenton Motorsports Park. (BMP photo)

Superstar Shootout: A Little Something Different

The purpose of the inaugural SCAG Power Equipment PRO Superstar Shootout presented by Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage goes far beyond the impressive payouts that await the winners during the Feb. 8-10 event at Florida’s Bradenton Motorsports Park.

The invitation-only drag race is a muscle-flexing extravaganza organized and promoted by the Professional Racers Owners Organization, which is comprised of drag racing’s leading car owners and team managers.

The event is not sanctioned by the National Hot Rod Ass’n and it is not part of the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series.

Why PRO has crafted such an event is a curious proposition. Team owner and new PRO board member Tony Stewart said at the outset that drag racing “deserves” a curveball event.

“Why not do something big like this?” Stewart asked. “We’ve seen other silos in motorsports (do similar exhibitions). And drag racing deserves a big, big, big event. (This) is just to create excitement, to create buzz, to show people what drag racing’s all about. This is an opportunity to introduce them to it before the season starts and to do something that’s never been done before.”

But it’s more than that. 

It’s racers free to imagine what a more ideal environment would be like for racers, fans and sponsors.

It’s four qualifying sessions, not sometimes three or sometimes four but once a year five. It’s the excitement factor of a chip draw, rather than the traditional bracket system that’s predictable and manipulatable. It’s sportsman-inclusive. It’s entertainment-plus to keep the fans engaged. It’s a fresh mix of concessions. It’s a “vendor village” with interpersonal activations, like the Manufacturers’ Midway of a bygone era. It’s an “Event,” not one of 20-some events on a calendar.

And don’t forget about the prize money. With the competitors’ reported $10,000 buy-in quickly drawing sponsors – PPG, CAPCO Contractors, Lucas Oil and FTI Performance – the payouts are expected to be impressive: $250,000 to win in Top Fuel and in Funny Car, $125,000 in Pro Stock, $50,000 in Top Sportsman and $30,000 each in Super Stock Eliminator and Stock Eliminator.

PRO President Alan Johnson, a 13-time Top Fuel championship tuner (most recently in 2023 with Doug Kalitta), called the event “a dramatic new leap for professional drag racing.”

Mike Salinas envisions it being the cornerstone of perhaps a new series.

Top Fuel racer Mike Salinas. (Frank Smith photo)

“What I think we ought to do – this is me – I think we ought to do one at the beginning of the year, one at the end of the year the first year and then the second year do four in between NHRA’s schedules,” Salinas said. “Let’s see how this first one works. There’s a lot of people (potential sponsors/ investors) coming to look at this race, a lot of different groups coming to look at what we’re putting together. I know what’s going on, and I’m just in the background, but I think they’re onto something.” 

As for whether this is a test flight for something bigger, he said, “Possibly. Possibly.

“They can do it if they can all stand together and stay together. And the NHRA, it’s a great platform. It’s a great show. There has to be some changes, because eventually you’re going to see people leaving the sport if they don’t change,” Salinas continued. “They (NHRA executives) do a great job, but they need to take care of the people that are putting on the show. It starts with the sportsmen.

“You build to sustain a culture. Look at the demographics of our sport – 44 and older is the demographics. Where are the young kids? There’s a disconnect from our age group to the young people. We need to engage with the younger people,” he added. “I understand they do Jr. Dragsters, but they’re missing out on so much stuff.”

He recognizes the role of the sportsman categories. 

“The place would look like a ghost town (without them). It would look like a test session,” Salinas said “There’s another 400 to 500 cars that come to the field that support. They support us, but we don’t support them. Got to make it to where they’re significant and they have a meaning. If you treat your customers with respect and you’re cordial and you take care of them, they’re going to come back. If you crap on your customers, they’re not going to come back. The only ones that can fire you are your customers. That is the truth.”

The need for change is helping drive the PRO Superstar Shootout.

One savvy track operator hinted as much, saying, “PRO is more galvanized than it ever has been.”

Top Fuel standout Justin Ashley said. “The message is clear. This race is being held because it’s in the best interest of drag racing.”

Billy Torrence recently pledged major financial support of the Shootout through his CAPCO Contractors, a construction company specializing in the gas and oil industry

Hartford Pro Stock
Pro Stock racer Matt Hartford will be among the drivers competing in the SCAG Power Equipment PRO Superstar Shootout at Bradenton Motorsports Park. (Frank Smith photo)

“As a racer, I felt it was important to throw some support behind this event,” Torrence said. “I want to help promote our sport and make sure this thing goes off well. I’d like to see six or eight of these races a year. It’s all I’d do. I hope that it will open up some eyes as to what racing could be and bring back more of the atmosphere that we used to have back in the old days. We’re just pleased to be involved and hope it brings some more exposure to our sport and sparks some interest.”

Second-generation racer Aaron Stanfield, a Pro Stock and sportsman standout, said, “Fans should know this is something new and very different. This is the first event of its kind where all of the NHRA pro racers have stepped out of the NHRA assembly and tried to do their own thing.”

Funny Car contender Bob Tasca III promises, “The energy of the whole event is going to be totally different. I love the format. I love the style. We’re going to try some things different with how we showcase the race. I can’t remember being this excited heading into the beginning of a season my whole career.”

Steve Torrence – Billy Torrence’s son, four-time Top Fuel champion and PRO board member – will be racing alongside and against his dad at Bradenton Motorsports Park and he’s helped design the Superstar Shootout. 

“We feel that this is something that will be groundbreaking and a refreshing new vibe for something that hasn’t changed in over 50 years. It’s a major step in the right direction for helping to promote our sport in a different light,” Steve Torrence said.

“The chip draw format is going to change the game in a big way,” he added. “There’s a possibility that the two quickest cars of the weekend will have to race each other (in the first round). It’s definitely going to change the way that we race. As a driver, you’re going to have to be ready for whatever. You don’t get to look ahead and kind of plan your day out according to a ladder. It’s fly by the-seat-of-your-pants, even more so for the crew chiefs. I think it’ll bring some raw emotion with it. There’ll be some people that have a little anxiety.”

J.R. Todd, the 2018 Funny Car champion, said, “You just got to go up there and throw down. There’s no ducks, so it’s not like you’re No. 1 qualifier racing against No. 16. You’re racing against the best seven cars that there are in Funny Car. I wouldn’t change my approach as a driver, and I doubt the crew chiefs are going to change how they tune the car. It’s just the element of surprise, not knowing who you’re going to race until you draw that chip.”

All-time Top Fuel victories and titles leader Tony Schumacher believes the format suits his style.

“We are a better team under pressure. The moments we’ve had to sit up in the seat, we’ve always done the best. I’d love to say the money and big payout is the reason we are going, but the truth is, drag racing has been around since two dudes had cars at the beginning and thought they were going to kick each other’s butt. It has nothing to do with money. It’s a pride thing. We show up because we love drag racing and we love the sport,” Schumacher said. “I think the fans are going to like it. I think some of the drivers are going to like it and some are going to hate it.”

Funny Car racer Alexis DeJoria likes the event, “Because it mixes things up. This is something that needs to happen for the sport. The racers need to get together and do stuff like this. It’s an incentive for our entire team. We share everything. I don’t take any bonuses since COVID to make sure the team got everything they needed first. It would be great to stoke the guys out. And it would pay some bills.”