What the NHRA Learned from the PRO Superstar Shootout Drag Racing Show

erica enders pro bradenton shootout
What the NHRA Learned from PRO Superstar ShootoutLuke Nieuwhof

The NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series kicks off this weekend with the Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida.

Unlike in past years, there's already been a major event on many of the NHRA drag racers' schedules, as the PRO Superstar Shootout was held at Bradenton (Fla.) Motorsports Park. Feb. 8-10.

That PRO event was put on by Professional Racers Owners Organization—the owners of NHRA teams— and was not sanctioned by the NHRA. The PRO event carried a hefty prize purse of $1.3 million and paid $250,000 to winners in Funny Car (Austin Prock) and Top Fuel (Doug Kalitta). The winner in Pro Stock (Erica Enders) pocketed $125,000 for her and her team.


Some say the event was a shot over the bow of sorts at the NHRA. The event featured not only the big money that many NHRA drivers wish they could race for more often, but also some format tweaks designed to appeal to both the competitors and the fans.

“We've never really seen this kind of money and the whole deal it was pretty cool," Kalitta said after his win. "I know a lot of people worked real hard to make this happen.”

NHRA president Glen Cromwell didn't take any perceived shots at the sanctioning body personally. He didn't look at the PRO Shootout as being a big "see, we CAN do it better" moment for drivers and owners who compete regularly in the NHRA Mission Foods Drag Racing Series.

"It was a great event and PRO did a really good job and some of the other people that were involved did a great job," Cromwell said this week ahead of the NHRA season opener. "I think people made some controversial statements around it, but we were not taking that position.

"We were excited, and PRO wanted to try some new things and they did some new things. And those are things that they shared with us, and we're going to take some of those key learnings and put those to use at the Mission Foods NHRA Drag Racing Series.

"I think they did a great job, and it was a great way to kick off the season with a show and some testing down there."

The PRO event replaced what normally would have been a multi-day preseason full-field test session. This time around, that glorified test session ended in some bracket racing for some big money. Even the brackets, or ladders, were different in Bradenton than a normal NHRA event. Instead of qualifiers being matched based on seeding (No. 1 vs. No. 8, No. 2 vs. No. 7, etc.), a blind draw was held before each round of eliminations to spice up the action.

"I think I'm excited that our athletes—our racers, our professionals—we all want the sport to grow, and they want to do some new things and I think it's great," Cromwell said. "They went out and they did some new things and they had some success and we're happy for them.

"We have been talking with PRO before, during, and after the event, and we're going to take some of those great learnings and put them to use, for sure."

One thing that the event clearly did was open up a new line of communication between the teams and the NHRA, says Cromwell.

"Some of the things they did, there was some great communication," Cromwell said. "They had a nice platform that they used to communicate with the teams better. They did great with some some signage. I think they dressed up the facility very professional looking.

"And they did three qualifying runs on one day. We've had some talk whether or not we would do something like that in the near future."

And as for the controversy?

"Controversy, there's nothing wrong with that," Cromwell said. "It was good. I think some people just made a bigger deal of it than what it really was. From the NHRA side, I always look at things if we can do anything to grow the sport, we're on board."