Like almost the entire sports world, NHRA drag racing has been stuck in idle because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On March 12, when in consideration of the ever-evolving COVID-19 pandemic and in accordance with the recommendation of the Florida governor, NHRA officials postponed the Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals, which was scheduled to run from March 13-15, and was supposed to be the seasoning-open event for the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
Now in the latest revised scheduled racing is supposed to begin July 11-12 with NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, including the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
Pro Stock Motorcycle driver Ryan Oehler is hopeful that racing will unfold in Indy.
“I think they are banking on the fact that all the states will open up and that schedule is pending a lot of states decisions on how they are going to reopen,” Oehler said. “I’m optimistic that things will hold, and we will get to race. My opinion is your going to see a lot of teams that are either low-funded or not as competitive not show up for all of the classes and you are going to have a really poor turnout this year for competitors and you will probably have a poor turnout for fans as well.”
Rather than dwell on the negative, however, Oehler is trying to see the glass half full.
“I’m looking forward to racing,” Oehler said. “I don’t think anybody appreciates the compact schedule. The first time I saw the schedule I was upset because I felt like it was ridiculous. Then, I thought about from the terms that this is the NHRA’s business. This is Matt Smith’s business, Steve Johnson’s business and John Force’s business and it would be really hard to tell somebody you are not going to be able to operate your business this year if that’s all you do. It’s no different than if they told my friend who owns a restaurant that he can’t open in 2020. That would be terrible. I thought about it and realized I need to support whatever it is because this is the racing family. The racing family has been hurt by this pretty bad, so let’s get onboard (with this schedule).”
Oehler did say with most of the events on the revised schedule only being two days that could change who has an advantage.
“Being that they are going to be two-day events I see someone who is able to go from A to B consistently will have an edge,” Oehler said. “They may be able to get placed better in qualifying if they can hit the ground running with two solid passes. The race is the next day and it is more fast paced. There might be an opportunity for somebody to emerge from that with a little bit of luck as well as being well-planned.
“We are looking to test once more before then (July 11-12). We are waiting to see where we will go. If we don’t get to test before (July 11), I know they are supposed to let people test Friday (July 10) before the race.”
During the shutdown, Oehler has tested twice with his S&S-powered Buell motorcycle with an EBR body – once at Bradenton (Fla.) and then at South Georgia Motorsports Park in Adel.
“I was at South Georgia maybe three to four weeks ago,” Oehler said. “We went 6.85 at 197 mph right off the trailer. Then, we went 6.88 and 6.89 and that was changing things. We had a good test session. That (6.85) was not bad considering on that first pass I wasn’t in my game. I thought it was going to be a really crappy pass and it was a good pass.”
During the time away from racing, Oehler has been improving his team’s equipment.
“We have been taking the time off to complete the construction of our engine dyno cell,” he said. “We are really close. We are probably just a couple of weeks off from having it done. We’ve also had time to stockpile some parts. I have four ‘A’ motors that I can use, and I have six engines total. We’ve definitely been taking advantage of the downtime. We also been protecting our main business.”
Oehler serves as the president of AirTec, his family’s business. AirTec is a heating and cooling business, in Bloomington, Ill.
“Our business is going well, and we are one of the lucky ones that’s for sure,” Oehler said.
Oehler competed in a full season in 2018, finishing 13th in the points standings. He followed that up with an eighth-place finish in 2019, highlighted by a semifinal performance in Charlotte, N.C., in the spring.
“Now, it’s time to let it rip and let the chips fall where they fall and go from there,” Oehler said. “My team has been eager to keep moving forward with whatever it is we have been focusing on and now they want to go race.”