VOLUME XXI, NUMBER 3 - MARCH, 2019
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Editor & Publisher
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ET DRAG RACING
Plenty of Drama
Words by Pete Ward with an assist by Brian Losness
Photos by Jamie Shores-Fraijo and Pete Ward
The Naked City, a TV police drama from the late 1950’s featured the tagline: “There are eight million stories in the naked city”. The same could be said for the 2019 edition of the March Meet…. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there was ample drama; let’s dig in.
Nostalgia Funny Car
To some, Top Fuelers may be “Kings of The Sport” but in nostalgia racing, Funny Cars has usurped that title.
“Nitro Nick” with Matt Bynum driving
Catastrophic events garnered plenty of attention early in the event, including three body-shredding explosions, all toward or in the lights:
The Matthews Family “Nitro Nick” with Matt Bynum shoeing, Jim Marone in the Candies & Hughes tribute ‘Cuda (Marone’s description of the explosion: “It was like taking a shotgun blast to the chest”) and Steven Densham allied with dad and vet Big Show competitor, Gary. Upon returning to the pits with nothing to show for their efforts but a load of carbon fiber confetti, when queried if they’d be able to make the second round, Gary dejectedly responded “We don’t have a spare body and we’re broke (financially).”
Fortunately, none of the drivers involved were injured.
In addition to the major mayhem there was the usual carnage of banged blowers, mutilated pistons, smoked cranks and windowed blocks. One noted crew chief opined on the breakage: “The blowers and cylinder heads are just too good in relation to fuel pump size. We simply can’t pump enough fuel into the engine. To compensate, the teams are upping compression, and lowering the nitro percentage. And when you add the MSD mag to the equation, it really complicates matters. No one seems to have a handle on the situation, except Bucky Austin’s guys”.
In qualifying and early eliminator rounds, Dan Horan, Jr. was indeed “The Man”. He qualified #1 with a 5.66 accompanied by a jaw-dropping, record setting speed of 265.22! When questioned about this significant achievement, he stated: “We haven’t made and major mechanical changes, it was just of all the elements coming together…all the elements were perfect…weather and track conditions plus calling the right tune.”
On a distressing note to F/C fans, this may be the last time you see him in a flopper. Like his fabled father, Dan’s heart is in Top Fuel and has a new digger chassis in the jig.
Horan advanced to the third round where he crossed swords with arguably the biggest surprise competitor of the entire event: “Little Jerry” Espeseth.
Jason Rupert relinquished the cockpit of the Rupert & Littlefield Vega for this event to Jerry, who crews for Jason and is a regular NE-2 competitor. Espeseth licensed over the summer in the “Quarter Pounder” but this was his first seat time in Jason’s car and nitro race experience….he was more than up to the challenge.
Despite the fact the car was not an ideal fit, Jerry quickly acclimated himself, qualifying 13th with a 5.84, and en route to the finals he dispatched #4 qualifier Ryan Hodgson 5.74/237.17 to 5.77/253.66, left on #5 qual. veteran shoe, Jeff Arend 5.73/252.71 to 5.72/255.10. In the semis, the aforementioned #1 Horan was forced to lift as he drifted toward the wall, carding a 5.86/208.62 to Espeseth’s 5.74/251.30.
In the finals, he faced the reigning NHRA Heritage Series champ, Bobby Cottrell, driving for Bucky Austin.
Cottrell qualified third and eliminated Tim Boychuck 5.86/218.41 to 5.64/257.24 and singled when Densham failed to repair. The semis were a bit of a grudge match with Kris Krabill who formerly drove for Austin. Cottrell took the win as Krabill blazed the tires.
Thus, the final round was set between veteran Cottrell and rookie Espeseth. But this storybook finish was not to be. Little Jerry wisped the tires shortly after the leave, handing the victory to Cottrell. It should be noted, Espeseth cut better lights than his opponents throughout eliminations.
Nostalgia Top Fuel
It was a trying event for the March Meet Top Fuel finalists Adam Sorokin and Mendy Fry…especially Mendy.
Fry who teamed with Tom Shelar’s High Speed Motorsports to secure the 2018 NHRA Heritage Series T/F Championship, usually helms a pretty flawless ride, but this event was the exception to the rule. Her first pass saw the engine ingest an errant rubber O-ring, causing the blower to flee the scene. Next pass the transmission coupler broke, that caused rear end damage that went undetected until the following run, which had to be aborted.
Amazingly in spite of all the gremlins Fry managed to qualify sixth. The team was functioning without stalwart team member Rick Shelar, Tom’s brother and right-hand man, which certainly didn’t help matters.
Fry seemingly shrugged off the myriad of qualifying calamities, crushing her first two opponents. She shocked the troops with a 5.51/265.43 shot to Jim Murphy’s 5.80/231.12. Next against Brett Williamson, Fry raised the T/F record ET bar even higher with a “first in the 4s” 5.490/259.71 to Williamson’s 5.85/234.12.
Gremlins once again returned during Team High Speed’s preparations for the final round. The throttle cable inexplicably bound up, preventing the butterflies from opening, which created a mad thrash. All was buttoned back together with just minutes to spare.
Adam Sorokin and the Champion Speed Shop lads also experienced their share of problems during qualifying. Their very unique nitro Chevy(ish) mouse combo consumed an uncharacteristically large amount of parts in the process, qualifying fourth.
Once eliminations began, it was Sorokin’s opponents who experienced problems. Rick McGee faltered first, with Sorokin’s 5.98/20.22 charge easily eclipsing a 6.75/140.59. Next, #1 qualifier Rick White smoked the tires and lofted a blower belt, giving Sorokin an easy pass into the finals to face Fry.
Though the prior ETs heavily favored Fry, she had showed ZERO consistency and opponent Sorokin’s performance had been erratic: The final race was a crap shoot.
Both completed their burnouts, staged and…Fry remained motionless, a broken throttle bolt sealing her fate, handing the victory to Sorokin who legged it, blowing out the burst panels at a thousand feet. The closed cockpit not allowing him the aural information that he was on a single. Post-race he recounted screaming into his helmet, urging on his injured mouse to the finish line.
There was considerable history attached to Adam Sorokin’s win. His dad Mike, driver of the Surfers Top Fueler, one of the most famous and innovative SoCal T/F teams of the ‘60s, won the 1966 March Meet and perished the following year in a race accident. Adam won this prestigious event in 2010 stated, “I wanted to win one more for my dad.”
Top Fuel fans, there is reason to rejoice. In addition to Horan, three other teams have new cars under construction: Dusty Green, Michael Bartone and Shawn Bowen.
This eliminator drew a ton more attention than usual due to the fact NHRA Big Show driver Ron Capps was piloting one of Hertzig Racing’s two entries. When asked why he was taking on this rather daunting challenge, Ron’s response was quite simple: “It was on my bucket list”.
Capps was piloting a brand a brand-new car built by Ron Austin featuring AA/FA hero, Mike Sullivan’s Fiat body.
Not only did the team have to dial in a new car, they had to do the same for their neophyte Altered driver. Ron showed why he’s a world champ. He felt the car out on several early passes, not getting in over his head. On the final qualifying attempt, he laid down a smooth 6.17 to get into the program.
The team’s second entry, an Austin Bantam, was offered to veteran nitro shoe James Day, who, prior to this race was without a ride. This proved to be a wise decision. Day took out Mike Whynaught on a hole shot and Lee Whitfield to meet Dan Hix in the final.
Hix dispatched Capps, who kept him honest on the run (6.26 to a .21) and #1 qualifier Tom Padilla to challenge Day.
Dan Hix drove the “Heetseeker” altered to the runner-up finish. (Jamie Shores-Fraijo photo)
Day parlayed his second hole shot of eliminations to take the championship, 6.21 to a 6.16 for Hix.
For you race trivia fans: In 2014 James Day won the March Meet F/C title driving Gary Turner’s Pedler, while Dan Hix won AA/FA. In 2019 Day won AA/FA and Hix won “Classic Funny Car“ Eliminator.
And… Kudos to Team Hertzig. In an eliminator dominated by transformer-style entries, basically mutant funny cars, their entries more closely resemble historic fuel altered (picture Pure Hell or Winged Express). This is especially true of the Fiat Topolino Capps piloted.
PHOTO EXTRA SLIDESHOW
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