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Editor & Publisher
CEO Jeff Burk
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DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS
Director: Casey Araiza
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NEWS & ANALYSIS
Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series at Phoenix
Bryan Sanders saved his best pass for last, setting a world record top speed of 268.40 mph during a 3.451-second victory over Daryl Ehrlich in the Top Fuel Hydro final of the Valley of the Sun Spring Nationals April 2 at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
With the crowd on its feet anticipating the big pass after Sanders went 267.96 mph during his semifinal bye run, the Houstonian delivered with a picture-perfect run that lit up the scoreboards.
"That was just awesome," Sanders said of his record run. "We tried to get it last year and came up a little bit short so we came out in the first race this year and got it done. That was a great deal.
"We knew the boat was going to do it. We had a feeling it was going to get there so we went after it and we did put a leg on it in the semis so we had the backup. We had that one last shot at it in the final and we got it."
Sanders was joined in the winner's circle by Top Alcohol Hydro's Bob Pizza, Top Alcohol Flat's Tony Scarlata, Pro Mod's Shawn Reed and Pro Outlaw's Cole Allen.
TOP FUEL HYDRO
After failing to make the call in the opening qualifying session of Top Fuel Hydro, Sanders silenced any doubters with his big pass of 3.552 seconds at 259.47 mph in the "Nitrochondriac," which was more than half a second quicker than his nearest rival, making him top qualifier for the class.
"I'm very happy," Sanders said. "We missed the first round with a little electrical issue. You know, we've been out of the boat for four months and even though we ended last season really well you come back out here and you really don't know what to expect. But we got up there (in Q2) and she laid down a really good pass."
The series last ran in November, once again at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, and the time off definitely played a role in Saturday's racing action.
"It's a whole new kick in the pants when you've been out of the seat for that long," Sanders said. "Usually the first thing that goes through your mind is 'what are you doing? Are you crazy?' Then the next thing going through your mind is 'I hope the guys got everything right.' You just want to get that first (pass) out of the way. So when it rolled over, went straight, and hooked it on through there in (Q2), that's all I needed."
Race day got progressively better each round for Sanders and the General Tires "Nitrochondriac" boat as the top qualifier's elapsed times continued to improve each session. He opened with a 3.531 at 262.29 mph in a romp over Scott Compton, posted a 3.464 at 267.96 mph during the semifinal bye run, and then stepped up to a 3.451 at the record 268.40-mph top speed for the trophy.
"I got the boys to make the noise," Sanders said. "I'm telling you, this boat is just incredible. It never skipped a beat from last year to now. Sometimes you bring something back from the year before and it all goes wrong but this thing's just picked up right where it left off. I couldn't be prouder of these guys for keeping it that way."
TOP ALCOHOL HYDRO
Californian Mike De Clark led Top Alcohol Hydro qualifying in his GS Marine-sponsored "Little White Lies" entry after an impressive 4.378 at 203.73 mph. He was followed closely by Andy Reynolds, who coaxed a 4.397 at 200.84 mph out of the "Running With Scissors" boat, and Bob Pizza, third in the "What A Tomato" vessel with a 4.406 at 203.03 mph.
On Sunday Pizza was a picture of consistency in winning Top Alcohol Hydro class in his "What A Tomato" vessel, surviving a tough eight-boat field to earn the victory. Starting the day as the No. 3 qualifier, Pizza beat Dale Riggs with a 4.392 at 203.30 mph ahead of Riggs' 5.034 at 175.42 mph. He then posted an almost identical 4.395 at 204.07 mph to trailer semifinal foe Andy Reynolds, who topped out at 4.472 at 200.62 mph.
In the money round, Pizza stepped up to 4.338 at 204.85 mph to outrun Steve Streeter's 4.552 at 198.14 mph. Earlier in the day in the opening round, Streeter beat top qualifier Mike De Clark, so Pizza wasn't taking any chances.
"It wasn't easy," Pizza said. "We started out Friday struggling with electrical problems, and had more of the same Saturday. It actually wasn't until first round this morning that it finally worked and that's when it started running the numbers.
"I'll tell you one thing about the 'What A Tomato' boat, when it's working, when everything is running 100 percent and it does the same thing every time, it makes it very easy to drive."
Like Sanders in Top Fuel Hydro, Scarlata rode the No. 1 qualifying position to victory lane, handily beating Bill Diez with a 5.356 at 154.16 mph in Tommy Thompson's Lucas Oil-sponsored "Shazam" to Diez's 5.899 at 141.33 mph to earn the Top Alcohol Flat hardware.
"Today's success was largely due to what we did last week," Scarlata said. "We were out testing on the delta and found some things that would have bitten us here. We arrived in town four passes ahead of the game and that's why it looked easy today. We still had our struggles, changing engines after the first round, in an hour's time, and a bunch of other stuff to match that engine. I'm just so lucky to have Tommy Thompson and the whole Lucas Oil crew
"It's big to win the first race, because if you look statistically over the years, the person who wins the first race usually wins the championship. If you get behind and somebody else gets on a roll early, it's hard to reel them in. Bill Miller went out first round but then Bill Diez steps in and gets on a roll. That's what needs to happen in this sport: People stepping up their game every race."
Scarlata benefitted from being the top qualifier as he received a bye in Round 1, where he nevertheless posted a 5.552 at 152.43 mph. He then turned up the horsepower to beat Doug Durnall with a 5.507 at 140.49 mph to Durnall's 5.854 at 148.52 mph. That run earned him a final-round date with Diez.
In qualifying, the Lucas Oil-sponsored "Shazam" was at the front of Top Alcohol Flat. His 5.491 at 147.00 mph was more than enough to get the job done.
"We found a few things wrong with the boat today,” Scarlata said after qualifying. “It's actually an old boat with a new engine and for some reason it's going from left to right. I start way up against the barge, which is on the left side of the lane, and I'm ending up just missing the buoy on the outside lane. There's something going on with my steering and it's probably slowing me down about a tenth of a second. Fortunately, we have a bye first round so we can work on getting that fixed. If it'll run in the mid-5.30s all day we should be there in the end."
VOLUME XIX, NUMBER 4 - April 2017
Keith Funk drove his Pro Mod boat "Animal" to a 7.017 at 162.67 mph on a 7.00 index
Part-time Top Fuel dragster driver Reed showed his love for the water with a nice win in Pro Mod that required four steady passes down Wild Horse Pass lake to earn the win for supporters Floyd and Barbara Hughes and Jason and Miranda Sutton. In a class where participants cannot dip below the 7-second mark, Reed escaped a Round 1 mistake when his 6.997 at 171.79 mph in the "Top Secret" boat was negated by a 6.982 at 173.04 mph from Robert Leas.
"We don't get a chance to practice in the morning so that round was kind of a crap shoot and most of the boats ran under the index," Reed said of his Round 1 pass. "I got lucky because he went further under than me. We both red-lit actually. The air was good, and that just hopped the boats up and we were too quick."
Reed kept it safe in the quarterfinals, running a 7.029 at 169.90 mph in defeating No. 1 qualifier Keith Funk, who couldn't make the call. He then posted a very safe 7.061 at 169.32 mph during a semifinal bye run.
In the finale, Reed ramped it up a bit and posted a 7.043 at 169.73 mph in beating Casey Beal, who tried a little too hard to make up for a starting line deficit and legged it to a 6.968 at 171.23 mph.
"The boat's good," Reed said. "It's pretty consistent. I didn't do that good of a job driving as far as the tree and stuff goes but stepping in and out of a Top Fuel dragster to the boat, just getting used to it again, is just different, but we did all right."
VIC Esposito took "Freak Show" to a 5.475 at 165.40 mph on a 5.40 index to lead the Pro Outlaw class in qualifying.
Closing out the pro classes was 22-year-old Allen, who was racing Mike Murray's Cat Spot Litter "Desperado" for the first time. He certainly did a good job of impressing his new employer, winning the Pro Outlaw trophy in just his third-ever start in the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series.
Allen's final-round test against top qualifier Vic Esposito was the best race of the entire weekend with both men posting identical 5.505s down the 1,000-foot course. The difference was a double-foul start that favored Allen by .0246 seconds.
"What a great way to start with a new team," Allen said. "But now what do I do to top this? I raced motocross for 10 years but the intensity of this kind of racing is very different. Your heart rate's pumping out there. Either way it's adrenaline, that's what we're all out here for.
"It's crazy because this is my first weekend in this boat so I had to adapt really quick. Fortunately, the team is really easy to work with. They've won back-to-back championships in this boat so they brought me right along. They're all pros over here. I'm very lucky to get this chance."
Allen looked like a veteran in beating his sponsor Tommy Thompson and Jason Mullican to reach the final. He also benefitted from a first-round bye run.
In qualifying, Sportsman class leaders were Tim Miller in Pro Eliminator (8.035 at 133.94 mph), Dave Lipinski in Quick Eliminator (6.038 at 148.40 mph), Duane Thornton in Top Eliminator (9.004 at 126.56 mph), Mike Munoz in Modified Eliminator (10.077 at 104.38 mph), Danny Montoya in Stock Eliminator (11.423 at 90.41 mph), Glendon Boehme in River Racer (13.824 at 71.42 mph) and Matt Howard in Personal Watercraft 1 (13.610 at 67.38 mph).
Sportsman winners included Tom Roberts in Pro Eliminator, Dave Lipinski in Quick Eliminator, Bill McGuinn in Top Eliminator, Mike Munoz in Modified Eliminator, Armand Labarre in Stock Eliminator, Glendon Boehme in River Racer and Brian Marble in Personal Watercraft 1.
Since 1980 St. Louis-based aeronautical engineer Lou Osman has campaigned a Top Fuel Hydro drag boat. During that time Osman's Speed Sports Special team has won five world championships. He has also suffered through some bad times with the death of his driver John Haas in an accident in 2010. Haas was a three-time world champion in the class.
In 2015 Top Fuel Hydro driver Scotty Lumbert had a career ending crash where the driver’s capsule separated from the boat as it was supposed to, but the windscreen of the canopy failed. Lou Osman told DRO editor Jeff Burk recently that he felt the current capsule and cockpit weren't safe at 260 mph and above. (The current Top Fuel speed record is 266 set at Phoenix this year.)
"I told the series administrator I believed the boats were going too fast to be safe and they needed to do something to slow them down if they wanted me to field a team," Osman said.
The series did shorten the distance the boats travel under power before hitting the start of the 1,000-foot course they race. That didn't work as the old speed record was broken at that first race.
Osman said he believed that when most racers changed over from an Air Force F-16 canopy system to an aftermarket lighter capsule the new canopy material wasn't safe at speeds above 260 and he wasn't willing to put his driver in the water as long as nothing is done to slow down the 260+ mph Top Fuel boats.
Top Fuel Hydro boats are among the most dangerous and expensive racing machines in motorsports. There has always been a shortage and it looks that isn't going to change any time soon. – Jeff Burk
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