Pro Touring: From Opening Act to Headliner

Ten years ago, the motorsports community was entranced by the emerging pro touring scene. Pro touring this, pro touring that. You couldn’t walk 10 feet at a SEMA Show without tripping over another impeccably detailed classic muscle car on creatine. These machines even graced our cover.

And who could fault enthusiasts for their enthusiasm? The movement was fulfilling our automotive fantasies. Here were actual performance versions of our favorite muscle cars. Let’s be realistic here: At the end of the day, a stock 1967 Camaro or whatever isn’t exactly a well-rounded athlete compared to modern machines.

The Pro Touring Promise

Flip open a 1970s issue of Hot Rod and, yes, you’ll find evidence that people were working back then to make pony cars handle. But by today’s standards, those tweaks were fairly tame: maybe some stickier tires, improved shock absorbers, and thicker anti-roll bars. More radical reworkings were still to come, but these upgrades were the first seeds.

The formula that burst onto the main stage a decade or so ago went a few steps further. The base clay still involved 1960s through ’80s Detroit iron, but things had progressed.

Suspensions: Radically reworked, in many cases involving replacement control arms, updated subframes, and four-link rears instead of the factory leafs or coils.

Power: Usually a late-model engine, often GM’s ubiquitous LS–even if the body didn’t come from that brand. Rear-mount turbochargers? Sure.

Brakes: Bigger-than-big discs at all four corners clamped by modern, multi-piston calipers. So long, factory drums.

And covering those big brakes: Even bigger wheels wrapped with sticky, modern, low-profile tires.

Bonus points for unusual builds, like Suzy Bauter’s 1963 Rambler wagon or Jimi Day’s 1969 AMX.

This pro touring recipe is still more or less the norm, so what has changed since the scene emerged? Plenty.

More Events

Jimi Day didn’t just build a cool pro touring car out of American Motor Company’s pride and joy. Part of the scene’s recent growth can be traced to his hand.

Back in 2007, FM3 Performance Marketing, Day’s event firm, was doing some work with Optima batteries at the SEMA Show. Day was walking the show floor with Cam Douglas, Optima’s director of product development and marketing.

They heard a lot of boasting and bragging from the various builders, but no one could back it up with any real performance stats. Together, they wondered: Wouldn’t it be great to provide a real competition venue for these cars?

The following summer, that idea came together as the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car. It would feature actual time trial competition and be held at the upcoming SEMA Show–only 63 days away at the time.

“We had 26 cars registered,” Day tells us, “and we had to beg for those cars to show up.” Only 11 finished the event, too, he adds. Sure, the cars looked cool, but as the event’s founders suspected, reliability and substance were lacking. The competition is now a regular part of the SEMA Show festivities.

Fast-forward to 2013, when FM3 expanded on that idea by launching a coast-to-coast series under the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car Association banner. The schedule lists seven events for 2019, with the best of the best earning an invitation to the SEMA Show finale. Last time we checked, all but two of the events were sold out.

These events aren’t limited to pro touring cars, but they do tend to draw old-school, rear-drive machines. The weekend schedule features autocross, road rally, track time, and two unique events: The Speed Stop Challenge tests acceleration and braking, while the Design & Engineering portion of the event forces competitors to go beyond the stopwatch and explain their machine’s ins and outs.

FM3 wasn’t the only group bringing autocross to the pro touring crowd, as Goodguys added the sport to its hotrod events in 2006. The latest rule book contains just four classes, with two of them cutting off vehicle eligibility at 1987.

“Goodguys added the autocross to our events as we wanted to give the guys in the pro touring arena a place to test their cars where people could really see them,” explains Ed Capen, vice president of sales and sponsorship. “Cars in motion was the goal that we had, and we worked with BFGoodrich and RideTech to make this happen. Goodguys has one of the largest crowds that see autocross at over 15 events across the country.”

And, he continues, the formula has been successful: “We encourage all participants at our events to come and try out their car to see if they can improve their driving skills or work on the cars to make them faster. The goal was something that has grown each year with classes, shootouts and prize money.”

Just a few years later, the SCCA jumped in. “A friend of mine, Dave Dusterberg, and his wife, Pauletta, went with Velma and me to a Goodguys event in the fall of 2012 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” explains Raleigh Boreen, who works with his wife, Velma Boreen, under the SCCA Regional Solo Development umbrella. “We saw the muscle cars running a typical Goodguys course and said, ‘Why don’t we invite these drivers to come to an SCCA event and have fun with us?’

“In 2013, Indy Region created a Muscle Car class with some success. That same year, Velma and I started working with SCCA to come up with ideas on how SCCA Regions could grow. We threw out the idea of CAM–Classic American Muscle–as a recruitment tool for Regions to bring in new members. We started out with one class in 2014 and by mid-summer saw so much positive results that at the Solo Nationals we had three classes.

“It has grown from there. In 2014 we had the first CAM Invitational, with 24 cars. In 2018, the CAM Invitational had 96 cars and we had 98 cars run the CAM classes at the Solo Nationals.”

Want to go back more than just a decade or so? “Pro touring cars were allowed,” explains Brock Yates, event coordinator of the Tire Rack One Lap of America Presented by Grassroots Motorsports. “In fact, the first car of that genre was Mark Stielow’s Camaro in the 1993 One Lap.”

Yates adds a footnote to that showing: “His car would have burned to the ground at Michigan International Speedway if I didn’t spot the gas leak on the start line and have him drive across the infield grass to the pits, where my co-driver put out the fire with my fire extinguisher. The pro touring craze might have ended that day. Blame me.”

More Visibility

Pro touring events have become high-profile, too, with the Optima Search for the Ultimate Street Car boasting 25 million viewers courtesy of MavTV, making it the highest-rated show on the motorsports network. “Now people know what’s good and what’s bad,” Day explains. “That has redefined how people build cars.”

More Support

Product support from manufacturers continues to grow, providing a reliable stream of trick go-fast parts to cars that have seen half a century go by. “Enthusiasts have access to remarkably sticky 200-treadwear tires and 700-to-1000-horsepower crate engines or ‘takeouts,” explains Steve Chryssos, marketing manager for RideTech. “Suspension, braking and drivetrain technology is advancing in response. Examples include forged wheels and floater-type axle housings. You can even buy turnkey active damper systems. Traction control and launch control are readily available, though not yet in widespread use.”

And several manufacturers are leveraging that support to improve their products and market share. “Forgeline loves our series,” Day says. “They have a platform to take them from race cars to not race cars.” There are many more street cars in this world than race cars, he adds.

Forgeline’s David Schardt explains how that relationship took root: “The pro touring world came to us many years ago because the cars were having wheel failures during events. Prior to that, we had little to no knowledge of this market segment–we focused on sports cars and modern muscle cars.

“They enlightened us to the market and we immediately knew we had a good fit. Since then, they have helped us develop an entire series of wheels and styles for the pro touring market.”

Forgeline has become more than just a supplier. The company recently took the wraps off its latest project, an LT4-powered 1970 Camaro. “They have also converted me to a huge pro touring fan,” Schardt admits.

Falken has also supported the scene for the last five years. “Cars are getting faster, lighter, and handling better, challenging us as a tire manufacturer to bring products to the market that will cater to the needs of the growing community,” explains Jonathon Bradford, the brand’s manager of motorsports and events. “It’s an integral part of our passenger car marketing, standing next to drift as the focal point of our motorsports and events efforts.”

 

More Breakage

“People are beating on the cars where in the past they were just for show,” explains Day. That added stress on equipment has created a need for redesigns and reinforcements.

Steve Chryssos notes that RideTech has retooled products to meet the demands. “For second-gen Camaros, RideTech replaced its traditional four-link design with an all-new rear subframe ‘unicradle’ design,” he explains. “The old design bolted directly to the rear frame rails. With the right combination of power, tires and Newton’s third law, it was possible to tear the frame rails out of the car. The new subframe design bolts to the original leaf-spring mounting points rather than the frame rails. The suspension, in turn, bolts to the subframe. Problem solved.”

The jump in technology over the last few years is vast, Day explains. The cars might look the same from 50 feet away, but they’re more refined.

“Take fuel catch cans,” he says. They weren’t needed 10 years ago. But now that the cars are pulling higher g-loads thanks to improved suspensions and setups, he’s had to install one on his AMX.

More Top Drivers

More venues, better equipment and more visibility has attracted better drivers to the scene. “The driving talent has gone up dramatically,” explains the SCCA’s Raleigh Boreen. “In the beginning, many SCCA Soloists dominated pro touring: Danny Popp, Brian Houghbaugh, Mary Pozzi, Mark Stielow and others. Today you see many drivers doing very well as they have gotten more experience.

“The SCCA Soloists still do very well, but others have gotten onto that same level,” he continues. “Now at any given event there are a dozen or more who can legitimately win.”

More of a Future

A decade ago, pro touring seemed a little like a novelty. The cars looked fierce, but most were built for show.

“The scene started with a few ingenious enthusiasts who experimented with mixing and matching parts–for example, Corvette Z06 calipers and rotors applied to junkyard Impala spindles,” Chryssos recalls. “Today, parts practically jump out of boxes and install themselves. Pro touring is more accessible.”

We asked Day to peer into his crystal ball and tell us where the scene is headed: “Continued evolution, more electronics, more technology added to the cars, continued parts development from manufacturers, and continued support from sponsors for the events.

“The cars are timeless,” he continues, “there is still plenty of growth left in the industry.”

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Comments
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BHowell
BHowell
9/13/19 4:23 p.m.

Who wrote this article? Obviously someone that was  thinly disguising his admiration for one sponsor and one promoter. No doubt both where involved with the movement but the promoter got involved well after it all started. Why no love shown to Larry Callahan and pro-touring.com? Why nothing about events like Motor State or Midwest  Musclecar? Both were going on long before Ousci or whatever it is now. If you are pushing a series, just say so, if you want to really talk the origins of the movement talk to others that were actually there. 

Dusterbd13-michael
Dusterbd13-michael MegaDork
9/13/19 4:50 p.m.

I used to run the pro-touring events in the early-mid 2000s. With a torsion bar mopar. 

Then everything became aftermarket frames, big power, big money. I couldn't spend enough to keep up. 

But i still respect what they do!

APEowner
APEowner Dork
9/13/19 5:13 p.m.
BHowell said:

Who wrote this article? Obviously someone that was  thinly disguising his admiration for one sponsor and one promoter. No doubt both where involved with the movement but the promoter got involved well after it all started. Why no love shown to Larry Callahan and pro-touring.com? Why nothing about events like Motor State or Midwest  Musclecar? Both were going on long before Ousci or whatever it is now. If you are pushing a series, just say so, if you want to really talk the origins of the movement talk to others that were actually there. 

Welcome to the forum.  I hope you stick around and actually contribute.  If you've got some stories about the early days of the pro-touring we'd love to read about them.

Will
Will UltraDork
9/13/19 5:45 p.m.
BHowell said:

Who wrote this article? 

If only there were a name between the article's headline and first picture. Maybe with the word "by" in front of the name. 

If only.

BHowell
BHowell New Reader
9/13/19 5:58 p.m.

In reply to APEowner :

It's not hard to get the real story on protouring. Visit pro-touring.com or lateral-g.net. There are threads that date back to 2000 about events at button willow and other track events. Jimi knows the whole story, he just left out most of it.

NOT A TA
NOT A TA Dork
9/13/19 7:42 p.m.

I've been a PT guy since before it was called Pro Touring or we had an internet and have very strong opinions on this subject. Most of them wouldn't be liked by any of the sanctioning bodies or companies involved including the one that owns this forum, so I'll keep them to myself.

I will however copy and paste a paragraph that was in a long rant I posted on another forum while discussing the subject back in 2015 for it's relevance for those who don't know who this "new guy" BHowell is.

Credit for the movement that brought about the USCA belongs to Bill Howelll IMO.  While I was on the PT forums inviting folks out to tracks and getting excuses Bill got them to walk first before trying to run.  He was the one who lead the transition of the Pro-Touring masses by getting them out of their lawn chairs and out driving their cars at his "Run To The" events at places like Tail Of the Dragon. As the RTT events evolved over several years he slowly incorporated road tracks into some of the events. Then as the evolution continued he started getting concerned about the lack of safety equipment being used combined with the lack of driver experience and enormous amount of power some of the cars had. He decided to step back and then the USCA was formed.

ddavidv
ddavidv PowerDork
9/14/19 7:19 a.m.

Not the best article I've ever read in GRM I must say.

An observation I've made is PT is often confused with Restomod and vice versa. My next build falls somewhere in-between. PT is generally pretty serious, bring-buckets-of-money type modifications. Restomods tend to be more grassroots with simpler bolt-ons and home brew solutions. I think a Restomod makes for a more 'livable' car than a PT which emphasizes performance to a more track-only level. As a graying geezer I probably wouldn't want to spend a week riding in some of the PT cars I've seen.

PT as a build inspiration is probably fine. PT as a competition quickly prices a lot of folks out of the running the way it has evolved.

ronbros
ronbros Reader
9/14/19 1:45 p.m.

there was a time when this old Camaro could show its stuff,, 1988- 1998, but as said times change and today you BUY most parts, then assemble like many guys do!

1982 INdy Pace car, 467inch BBC , Dana 44 , 373 LSD, had lots a fun , at least been there done that! most of the guys at grassroots do remember it!

ron

darkbuddha
darkbuddha HalfDork
9/18/19 11:10 a.m.

This turned into a bit of a rant/diatribe, so feel free to ignore it...

Trying to reconcile where pro-touring is now with where it started and how it evolved is challenging.  There was a time when I subscribed to most (if not all) of the fundamental tenets that seemed to define the genre/movement/style/aspiration of pro-touring in its early years.  They weren't any different than what a lot of us were trying to do before there was a name for it, and I felt an authentic sense of identity with it.  The basics were less rigidly defined than they are now, but it essentially revolved around the combination of 2 really fundamental things:  BUILDING/MODERNIZING and DRIVING old muscle cars with the goal of making them more functional and better all-round performers.  There was greater emphasis on handling and braking in addition to traditional straight line performance, while also updating their conveniences and comforts and reliability.  In the days before the current over-flush aftermarket, it was also a bit of a DIY budget and engineering movement by DIY, budget-minded people.  To improve muscle cars like we wanted required adapting and retrofitting modern car, hot rod, and race car components and techniques, often secured from junkyard engineering, old race manuals, scouring salvage yards, hunting eBay auctions, calling used race car parts suppliers.  All in an effort to improve performance, function, comfort, convenience, and reliability for the purpose of DRIVING the cars, on the road, at the track, across the country, to get groceries, whatever.  And remember, the cars being built this way weren't rare and expensive models... it wasn't Hemi 'cudas or Boss 302s or SS Chevelles.  It was no-money, common-as-dirt cars like Dusters and Mustang coupes and Novas and Malibus.

I think those things are still the ideals, but there has been a shift, or an evolution, or perhaps a sub-movement within pro-touring where those things have been subverted by exaggeration and appropriation, both in terms of the builds and the driving goals.  That exaggeration has alienated me and many others away from associating with what pro-touring is commonly perceived to be today.  Big dollar checkbook builds, big wheels for big wheels sake, pro-touring specialty shops with SEMA projects, expensive boutique aftermarket parts, using rarer cars, absurd modernizaiton, extreme track focused builds, overly stylized interiors, exotic materials, extreme body mods, show quality paint jobs, etc. etc. etc., all of which pushes the movement away from its core value of being all-round functional and drivable IMHO.  There are exceptions of course, and I'm glad there are.  But there is a certain level of inevitable hesitance with parking a show car quality car in a grocery parking lot or hooning it around a track.  Same for trying to daily drive an extreme track car build that lacks things like wipers and/or defrost.

And while I may feel a bit left behind by what much of pro-touring has become (at least on the surface), there's no doubt that the trickle-down effect has benefited my car(s).  And for that I'm appreciative.  Getting a good deal on a used coilover setup or rack conversion or big brake kit because some other guy wanted the newest, hotest, magazine-glossiest thing is pretty damn awesome.  So I'll keep building my car(s) in the spirit of what I still believe and enjoy the benefits.

NickD
NickD PowerDork
9/18/19 11:58 a.m.

In reply to BHowell :

Just guessing off the name and your interest in Pro Touring, you wouldn't happen to own a gray '72 Charger, would you?

BHowell
BHowell New Reader
10/4/19 12:58 p.m.

Yes Sir, that would be me. 

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