There is no funeral planned for the CARS Pro Cup Series, the former USAR Hooters Pro Cup Series. Death is not in the future and 2012 is looking to be a solid year. People have been very critical about the changes that have taken place over the last few years and many left the series for dead when Chip Lofton decided he had enough back in July of 2011.
Lofton put the racers in a tough spot and was pulling the plug last summer after spending lots of money to keep it afloat. But, his Lofton's approach led him to move the series in a different direction after only half the season.
Some wondered what was next for a series that had already seen a lot of turnover from the front office to the types of cars allowed in the series in grasps to keep the series in operation.
The Pro Cup of the past had it all in the past, lots of money behind it, a TV package and a full-time staff with marketing, PR and operations staff. Now, in 2012, Pro Cup will be sticking to the basics.
Jack McNelly has the platform now as the head of the CARS Pro Cup Series to give racers a place to race. He came in with a new name and finished the year strong under the CARS Pro Cup banner in 2011. Now, he has his series set for 2012 not with big ideas, but plans that will hopefully re-build the once proud Pro Cup name.
"We are very excited about silencing our critics," said McNelly. "We haven't been this excited in racing for a number of years. As everybody knows, this is going to be my first full season as owner of the series. We are just happy with the announcements we have made and what we have going on already."
Those announcements are strong for keeping the series intact. The races will continue to pay more than $5,000 to win and the schedule is in place with 14 dates. One of the biggest changes will be the addition of a point fund, but it doesn't stop there.
"We're going from a radial tire to a bias-ply tire, which will help teams save about $800 a night," added McNelly. "Hopefully that raises the interest and awareness of teams to come back and run with us."
Pro Cup was the only short track series that raced on BF Goodrich radial tires. 2011 was the final season for BFG, which had been a part of the Pro Cup series for years. The cost was more then what teams should be paying in the eye of McNelly.
As 2012 gets underway it's hard to find things to be critical about. All drivers were paid in full at the end of 2011. The travel has not increased for 2012. The tire bill will be lower and all races will be 250 laps with live pit stops, something that many focused on as the Pro Cup series’ strength for building young talent.
While things are in place for the new season, McNelly has stated his door is open for anyone.
"Give us a call," said McNelly. "Our numbers and emails are on the website and we want to hear from drivers and teams because we need their support. The good thing is we know that there are cars out there. We just have to get them to the race track."
None of the revenue from this season will be going to fund a TV package, as it had in years past. Pro Cup was widely known for its TV package on SPEED and in recent years other cable channels, but the cost is just not worth the battle right now. Fans who want to see the live pit stops, and beating and banging on the short tracks will have to see it in person.
McNelly actually pulled the plug on TV once he came on board in 2011.
"Don't get me wrong, we have a lot of work to do yet. We have tire testing to do. Our biggest challenge is to continue to get teams registered and convinced to come run with us. We want them full time and if we can't have that then a major part time basis."
On paper, running full time in the CARS Pro Cup series gives a driver more experience on short tracks in heavy car then NASCAR K&N East, West or ARCA. The laps and experience gained by youngsters makes Pro Cup a stepping stone for drivers. In fact, many industry insiders claim NASCAR stepped up the visibility of the K&N Series because drivers such as Joey Logano, Trevor Bayne, and Brian Vickers first used Pro Cup as their first step into the heavy stock car scene.
"We are good to go," said a positive McNelly. "We have contracts signed with tracks. We are excited about our schedule. We have 14 races and it kicks off on March 24th in Anderson, South Carolina. That's a brand new track for the series and it will not be the only first time visit this year."
Other new tracks will include Tri-County Motor Speedway (NC) and the inaugural trip to Kingsport Speedway (TN) for a Thursday night show in August, which is built around the Bristol NASCAR weekend.
"We are going to try and draw some of those people out of the campground to come and watch some short track racing," said McNelly about Bristol. "We want them to come up the road 13 miles to see the Pro Cup race at Kingsport."
The ground work is being laid in-place and 2012 will be a solid year as the Pro Cup Series is not about to give up.
"We also have to improve our public image," added McNelly. "We are a series that is going to have some excellent racing and a venue they can rely on all year and hopefully the years to come. If you are standing still you are going backwards. You have to get that incline going back up. Is it going to go up very steeply in 2012? Maybe not, but it has to go up."