Super Street Outlaw - Manny Buginga came back to Super Street Outlaw to be the first champion to defend his title. During test-and-tune at Bradenton, it looked as if it would get off to a rough start, thanks to a few scuffed pistons, but Chris Nelson from Nelson Competition fixed it up and got the car running to enable Manny to land in the third qualifying spot with a 7.60 at 188 mph. Manny made his way through the rounds and, like the other side of the ladder with the Vincent/Briante matchup, Manny had to battle The Fireball John Urist to see who would line it up against Vincent in the final. But it was over before it started, with John Urist pushing the tree a little too hard and redlighting to hand Manny Buginga the win. For the final, it was another turbo-versus-nitrous epic battle, and even though Manny got a slight starting-line advantage, he lost grip. From our starting-line vantage point, we saw both doors as Manny tried to keep the car off the wall. "That was not cool," Manny says. "It happened so fast, but it happened so slow at the same time. We'll live to fight another day." That's the most important part.
Drag Radial - John Kolivas, last year's Bradenton Drag Radial runner-up, took his innocent little '95 Cobra down the Bradenton dragstrip and reached the finish line before any of his competitors-but what's important is how he did it. The first round of eliminations was the only round John ran at a quicker time than his competitor. In round two, he took on number-one qualifier Eric LaFerriere, but John got the jump with a 0.415 reaction time compared to Eric's 0.523 light. John won with an 8.34 over Eric's 8.29. In the semis against Peter Champani, John cut a 0.450 light (which we're sure John was disappointed with), but Peter's 0.508 light was too slow to cover the lead, and John won with an 8.39 over Peter's 8.34. In the final against Mauro Vitale, John got out once again, thanks to a 0.423 light compared to Mauro's 0.503 reaction time. John won the race with an 8.31 over Mauro's 8.30.
Drag Radial - Still awaiting the finish of his new Super Street Outlaw whip, Mauro Vitale once again jumped behind the wheel of this Drag Radial monster and commenced to make plenty of noise. Mauro's ProCharged sinister black LX hatch with orange scallops was flyin' with times in the 8.30s-8.40s at more than 170 mph. After outlasting Chris Tuten in the semis with an 8.24, he pushed the car to give it time to cool down for the final-round matchup with John Kolivas. John jumped first, and Vitale needed about 1,322 feet to pass John; but, as you know, a quarter-mile is just 1,320 feet.
EFI Renegade - Still awaiting the finish of his new Super Street Outlaw whip, Mauro Vitale once again jumped behind the wheel of this Drag Radial monster and commenced to make plenty of noise. Mauro's ProCharged sinister black LX hatch with orange scallops was flyin' with times in the 8.30s-8.40s at more than 170 mph. After outlasting Chris Tuten in the semis with an 8.24, he pushed the car to give it time to cool down for the final-round matchup with John Kolivas. John jumped first, and Vitale needed about 1,322 feet to pass John; but, as you know, a quarter-mile is just 1,320 feet.
EFI Renegade - Brian Mitchell's "Florida Curse" was finally lifted this year, as he and his '90 LX hatch ended up in their first final after seven years of traveling to the Sunshine State. "Before this year, I had never been past the second round down here," he says. Brian, who posted the high-mile-an-hour mark for the class (158.17) during qualifying on Saturday, was able to relax and go rounds on race day, as he only had to face the ATL Lubricants-sponsored '03 convertible of Jay Mingolelli in round two before squaring off with Swill's coupe in the final. Dwayne Barbaree and George Seeger both had problems that kept them from making their first-round and semifinal matchups with Brian's hatch.
Hot Street - Charlie Booze Jr. says he'll need to bring his good-luck charm along to more NMRA events. "The dude" is undefeated when his wife, Kate, attends NMRA events, and things weren't any different at the season opener. In typical Charlie Booze fashion, the days leading up to Bradenton were full of last-minute excitement, with wholesale drivetrain changes, including the installation of a new, 399ci engine/Turbo 400 tranny combo for Bradenton immediately after a runner-up finish at the FFW event in Orlando. He also performed a pit-side engine swap (back to the trusty 436-inch bullet) on the first day of the event that took him to an out-of-character third-place qualifying spot. "On Sunday, I was feeling pretty good, but a little humbled and nervous about our chances," Charlie says. But with wins over Mike Curcio, Andy Schmidt, and a redlighting Pat Topolinski in the final, the '06 season is beginning on a good note for the two-time Hot Street champion as he goes forward with his eyes on the NMRA three-peat prize.
Hot Street - Pat Topolinski and his student-body crew from the School of Automotive Machinists, including recent graduate and Hot-Street veteran Nick Bacalis, made a loud "we're back" statement in the form of an 8.929/151.91 blast that garnered the team top honors in Hot Street qualifying. SAM's reincarnated '95 Cobra, rebuilt from top to bottom after two mid-season accidents in 2005, made its debut at Bradenton with a 395-inch powerplant fondly referred to as "Old Betsy" between the front fenders. It performed like a high-eights bracket car in victories over Bob Hanlon and Tim Eichhorn before a red-light in the final ruined the happy ending for one of the event's biggest Cinderella stories.
Real Street - Well after much consternation, Tim Matherly decided to give Real Street another chance, despite all the rule changes. After qualifying just behind Brian Meyer with a 10.13, Tim was feeling pretty good. He reported finding some power in the off-season despite the new rules, and he was mostly concerned about the weight on the modular cars. Tim had an easy go of it in round one, besting Bruce Hemminger, who returned to Real Street in Justin Burcham's JPC ride. Bruce didn't have much time in the car, and Tim showed little mercy, putting three tenths on him. In the second round, Tim pushed a bit too hard against Jeremy Martorella. He got the win, but the car limped into the finals. Tim laid it all on the line, chopped down the tree, and still didn't have enough to stop Brian.
Real Street - Surprise, surprise. Someone forgot to tell Brian Meyer that the NMRA was trying to slow our little class back to a 10-second class. In pre-race testing, Brian ripped off a high-9-second pass that put the class on notice. He carried that over by landing at the top qualified spot with a just-on-the-edge 10.06/133 rip. In eliminations, Brian crept up on his testing time and bested modular man Jim Breese in round one with another 10.06 to Jim's 10.33. Even though he had a bye in round two, Brian ran it out the back door with a 10.11, which put him into the finals against a familiar adversary, Tim Matherly. Knowing Tim would give it his all, Brian laid the 9-second smack-down, beating Tim 9.99 to 10.12.