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ET DRAG RACING
NEWS & ANALYSIS
NHRA Pro Mods at Gainesville, Florida
The opening race of the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series at the Gatornationals was one for the record books. It delivered three rounds of record-setting doorslammer performances during both days of qualifying as well as record-breaking sub six-second, 256+ mph passes during Sunday Eliminations.
Steven Whiteley drove the family supercharged 2014 Cadillac to his first ever NHRA Pro Mod win. Pro Mod fans saw the record ET for a sixteen-car Pro Mod qualified field reset twice, finally setting the record at 5.885
Eric Latino drove his supercharged ‘69 Camaro to the quickest ET in NHRA Pro Mod history (5.727, 256.36) and the huge crowd Sunday witnessed the quickest and fastest side-by-side race in NHRA Pro Mod history.
This year the weather for the Gainesville event was exceptional. On Friday temps were in the low 70’s and the “corrected” altitude on Friday was 400-500 feet below sea level. Near perfect conditions for quick and fast times.
Twenty-seven of the quickest and fastest quarter-mile NHRA door cars on the planet answered the first call to qualify on Friday. The knowledgeable fans in the packed stands saw all 27 entries make qualifying attempts.
After the first round Stevie “Fast” Jackson had driven his Jerry Bickel Race Cars-built supercharged Camaro to the pole with a stellar 5.781/251.58 mph that secured him the No. 1 qualifying position.
Pro Mod OG Doug Winters was on the “bump” in his supercharged entry with a 6.005 effort.
There would be two more qualifying sessions for the Pro Mods and they both proved to be very entertaining. Twenty-four teams pulled into the lanes for the second round of qualifying Friday night.
VOLUME XIX, NUMBER 3 - March 2017
Nitrous oxide all-star tuner and driver Shannon Jenkins made his return to the NHRA with a career best 5.838/249.35 effort.
Brazil racer Sidnei Frigo was another racer who made a career best qualifying lap with a stellar 5.795/256.70 that temporarily moved him to the top of the qualifying ladder. (The speed record in the class is currently the longest standing record for Pro Cars. Melanie Troxel in 2011 set the record at 258.71 and it should be noted that Melanie set that record under much different rules for the class.)
Frigo’s reign as number one was short lived as two pairs later Steve Jackson regained the top spot with a very impressive 5.781/251.58 effort. At the end of the second qualifying session Kevin Fiscus from nearby Jacksonville, FL, held down the bump sport in his 20'10 Mustang with a 5.882 /248.25. That number represented, at the time, the quickest bump in NHRA Pro Mod history, but there would be more Pro Mod history made at Gainesville.
For the Saturday final qualifying round that would determine the quick-16 Pro Mods every one of the 27 Pro Mods entered ran the session and when the noise was done the RPM Pro Mod racers had delivered yet another spectacular qualifying session that resulted in lowering the record “bump” spot from a 5.88 down to a record 5.885!
Mike Castellana (nitrous) and Eric Latino (supercharged) ran identical 5.885 ET’s in that final qualifier to go from non-qualified status to the 15th and 16th spots. How impressive was the Pro Mod qualifying show? When qualifying was all done, 20 of the 27 cars entered had ET’s in the 5.70-5.80 range and the average qualifying speed for the quick 16 was just under 247 mph!
Frigo had a bit of trouble on Saturday n the third qualifying session. At about 800 feet his engine let go, dumping oil under the car, which crossed the centerline just past the 1,000-foot mark. He moved behind Jackson and then went into the sand trap. Frigo lost 5 points for the first oil-down of the season.
The NHRA’s J&A Services Pro Mod class is the only one that runs its first round of eliminations on Saturday and then finishes up on Sunday with three rounds of eliminations. For the Pro Mod fans the first elimination round were delivered some spectacular racing. There were two spectacular laps in that session from Frigo and Latino. Frigo, the number two qualifier, ran an outstanding 5.786/256.36 but lost to number 15 qualifier Mike Castellana on a massive holeshot. In the upset of the event to that time number 16 qualifier Latino ripped off a 5.779/256.45 lap that put number one qualifier Stevie “Fast” Jackson on the trailer and headed home.
Rickie Smith’s car sported a new look and new sponsor.
Also gone in the first round was defending champ Rickie Smith the defending event winner and 2016 NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series champion who was ousted by #14 Michael Biehle in his ’13 Ford Mustang. Smith’s ’15 Camaro lost traction early in the run and Biehle was able to get the round win.
After beating the champ Biehle said, "It feels good. I mean, every round I win feels good, no matter who it is. Obviously it feels great when you’re able to take somebody out that’s as great as Rickie. He’s got a lot of seat time and he does an awesome job with his car and his whole program. It just feels good to still be here."
The second round of Eliminations on Sunday saw track and weather conditions remain basically the same with 70 degrees of heat, 1,000-foot above sea level “air” and 90-degree track temperature. Despite good atmospheric conditions most racers and tuners continued to struggle to find a combination that would deliver a good ET in the left lane where traction was problematic. All of the quickest, fastest and winning laps of eliminations were in the right lane and only an absolutely brilliant bit of tuning and driving from Troy Coughlin and his crew got them the round win.
In a historic race Coughlin cut a .008 RT and ran a 5.758/255.10 to defeat Latino who had a .089 RT and ET record setting 5.727/256.36. Latino's incremental times: 60ft - 0.966 sec., 330ft - 2.560, 660ft - 3.798/200.98 mph, 1,000 ft - 4.847.
For the running of the third round at about 2 p.m. the tuning numbers were about the same as they were for the second round except that track surface temp went up to around 90 degrees. Nitrous racer Mike Castellana had lane choice and took the preferred right lane and put Danny Rowe in the left.
Evidently Rowe’s tuner, Jimmy Rector, had the lane figured out but an unfortunate .012 red light by Rowe negated a 5.825/251.53, which really stung when Castellana spun the tires and headed toward the wall before he lifted. He still got the win light and a trip to the finals.
In the other pairing in the semi-finals Steve Whiteley and his supercharged Cadillac would meet the best turbocharged car in the field driven by Troy Coughlin. Coughlin proved his .008 RT in the second round was no fluke with a .012 RT, but lost traction and slowed to a 6.213/197.16. Whiteley cruised into the finals with a near effortless 5.826/251.02 and a slot in the finals.
The final round was a redux of the semi-final races. Whiteley driving his supercharged Cadillac had lane choice and chose the preferred right lane. His opponent was the nitrous oxide/EFI-powered 2017 Camaro of Mike Castellana. Whiteley had a respectable .052 light and a 5.791/253.52 lap -- a career best ET and speed – and defeated Castellana, who had the better RT (.034) but experienced that same tire shake he had in that lane in the semi-finals.
The Whiteley family was able to celebrate the victory in style as his mother Annie won the Top Alcohol Funny Car event on Sunday as well.
“It doesn’t get any better than this. It’s such a blessing being in the winner’s circle with my mom,” Whiteley said. “I can’t express how thankful I am. Not only for J&A Service on a couple of accounts. They sponsor this series, but it’s more intimate than that, at least for me. You know, J&A Service, that’s Jim and Annie Whiteley, that’s Mom and Dad. These guys don’t understand how much more this hits me. I just let the clutch petal go. My guys make this happen. I cannot thank them enough.”
The NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Drag Racing Series returns April 28-30 at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, N.C.
Pro Modified Point standings (top 10)
1. Steven Whiteley, 114; 2. Mike Castellana, 91; 3. Danny Rowe, 74; 4. Troy Coughlin, 72; 5. Mike Janis, 55; 6. Kevin Rivenbark, 52; 7. (tie) Michael Biehle, 51; Eric Latino, 51; 9. Steve Jackson, 38; 10. Rickie Smith, 36.
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