VOLUME XXI, NUMBER 3 - MARCH, 2019
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ET DRAG RACING
Slugging it out in the Swamp
Words by Tom McCarthy
Photos by Adam Cranmer and Tom McCarthy
Stevie Fast Jackson set a new NHRA Pro Mod record.
During the 50th running of the Amalie Oil NHRA Gatornationals, the E3 Spark Plugs Pro Mod class presented by J&A Service began its 12-event battle within the ranks of the National Hot Rod Association Mello Yello series. Pro Mod has been racing as a class of competition with the NHRA since 2010.
Twenty-nine entries on Friday began qualifying for the 16-car field on Sunday, marking the official beginning of the 2019 NHRA Pro Mod season. The twelve events for the premier doorslammer class of NHRA drag racing this year will be a slug fest not unlike a 12-round boxing match. All the entries are very evenly matched; they have to survive many rounds to succeed and can all deliver a knock-out punch at any moment. In fact, the cars are all heavyweights capable of running mid 5-second elapsed times at speeds in excess of 250 MPH. Some cars feature roots-type superchargers and are horrendously loud, others feature twin turbochargers, and a few still rely on nitrous oxide as their preferred power adder, but they are a dwindling breed in NHRA Pro Mod racing.
Khalid al Balooshi is one of only a few nitrous-aided competitors.
In 2018 at the Gators, there were 35 entries with a 5.83 bump, Carl Stevens of N. Haledon, NJ, including the #1 qualifier, Mike Castellana, of Oyster Bay NY, with a 5.75 @ 253.56 MPH. Last year’s Gators were won by Rickie Smith over Mike Janis, 5.79 to 6.59. The NHRA Pro Mod national record, going into the 2019 Gatornationals stood at 5.676 seconds at 255.39 MPH set by Mike Castellana in September of 2018. The Gators this year tore that record asunder.
Prior to the start of qualifying, Mike Janis, the current #1 plate holder for the E-3 Spark Plugs sponsored class commented, “It will be harder than you can imagine to defend this #1 in this class. All these teams are tough to beat.”
As testament to this, there were nine different national event winners during the 2018 season and the class never had fewer than 22 entries for the 16-slot competition ladder. Typically it takes a 5.80 elapsed time or better to make the qualified field of NHRA Pro Mods.
Mike Janis was the 2018 NHRA Pro Mod Champion.
Looking back at the last five years of NHRA Pro Mod racing, Mike Janis rocked the house in 2018, Troy Coughlin won the championship in 2017, Rickie Smith won in 2016, Troy Coughlin won in 2015 and Rickie Smith won it all in 2014. With five different national champions in as many years, we can see clearly this class is both healthy and tough as heck to win.
This year’s rendition of the rapid reptiles had a bump spot of 5.75 set by Eric Latino on Saturday during the third qualifying session.
The #1 qualifier for this event was Stevie “Fast” Jackson of Evans, GA, who stopped the timing system with a new national record run of 5.665 elapsed time at 253.99 mph. NHRA Tech was in his pit area Saturday night for a full inspection, which he passed with flying colors.
Jackson’s 5.66 to Latino’s 5.75 bump spot left a very impressive DNQ list of some 13 notables that did NOT make the show. They included the likes of: Steve Matusek, Sidnei Frigo, Peter Farber, Doug Winters, Alex Laughlin, Erica Enders, Harry Hruska, Rick Hord, Adam Flamholc, Jim Whiteley, Clint Satterfield, Chip King, and Mike Castellana, who suffered a bad crash during Q-3 that did significant damage to his car.
Chad Green’s engine.
A close look at the turbo of Michael Biehle.
Curiously enough, the three nitrous cars made the 16-slot qualified field, while seven turbocharged and six blower cars did not. The competition during this event for the 16-car qualified field could only be described as savage.
Jose Gonzalez had Top Speed of the class at 259.31 mph, but lost in the first round to Brandon Snider. Snider 5.717/248.25 def. Gonzalez 5.767/258.62.
Steve Matusek did not qualify.
Nor did Doug Winters.
Rickie Smith did qualify in his new Mustang, but went into tire shake at the green and shut off.
PDRA star Jason Scruggs was the first-round victim of Michael Biehle, falling to a holeshot.
Michael Biehle went on to go -0.003 red in the second round against Jeremy Ray.
The event being named after the local American alligator population was more than fitting in pertaining to the Pro Mod competition in residence. This particular reptilian’s hunting style is marked by patience, sudden violent ambush, grab your prey by the head and drag them under. This is pretty much how Stevie Fast and Todd Tutterow, the numbers one and number two qualifiers respectively, proceeded to slaughter their competition on the way to meeting up in the final round of the 2019 Gators.
Stevie “Fast” Jackson after his new NHRA record setting 5.66 in qualifying unleashed runs of 5.68, 6.59, and 5.653 against, Eric Latino, Steven Whiteley, and Jeremy Ray, to send them packing. While the match up against Ray was a non-event, as Ray’s car refused to fire-up, it was excellent sportsmanship by Jackson that he waited as long as the NHRA starting line official would allow him to wait, before the NHRA ordered Jackson to start his car. Steve soloed with a new record-setting 5.65 run that would not stand this day. The final round was one for the record books.
Todd Tutterow, in advancing to the final round defeated Janis 5.67 to 5.75, Chad Green 5.68 to 5.74 (foul start, .003), and Marc Caruso (broke), but “King Tutt” unleashed a 5.66 to announce to “Stevie Fast” he was not alone in his record-setting performance.
Fans LOVE the Pro Mod cars!
In the final round the fans were in high anticipation, knowing the two quickest Pro Mods on the planet were about to go at it. These monsters of Pro Mod rock did not disappoint when they pulled up to the starting line.
While there was many a staging duel delivered during the Pro Mod racing sessions, there was no starting line shenanigans when the big dogs came down off the porch to settle the score as to whose race this was. Tutterow leaped off the starting line with a lightening .008 reaction to the tree and Jackson was not fast enough to catch Tutterow with his .036 RT to the tree.
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