Roush Racing is getting serious...
Roush Racing is getting serious about NMRA Ford Drag Racing. Jack's crew practically invaded Bradenton with five cars, including a development version of its forthcoming Drag Pack S197 Mustang. These cars will reportedly offer some weight and option reductions, coupled with a supercharged Three-Valve powerplant. Sounds like a good idea to us.
Horse Sense: The NMRA says more than 17,000 fans filled the Bradenton Motorsports Park for the entire weekend, and they were rewarded with 14 Pro 5.0 cars thanks to more wide-open rules. Car-show attendance was up more than 20 percent over last year as well-we always tell you how nice Florida is in the spring, and the Bradenton race had chamber-of-commerce weather.
Nothing gets us going like spring-birds chirping, sun shining, and white, puffy clouds in the blue sky. The smell of traction compound and tire smoke, together with unmuffled exhaust and high-rpm shifting, must mean it's spring and the NMRA season is kicking off in fine style at Bradenton Motorsports Park. While Bradenton is always a big show, the '06 installment seemed alive with even more excitement. Racers turned out in droves and the performances were already in mid-season form. With a kickoff like this, we can only imagine the kind of records we'll see as the NMRA gets up to full boost in 2006. Here's how it began.
Zoop Zellonis had a bad run of luck at the season opener. His passenger door was bent back by a car trailer, his car got loose after a big wheelstand, then it hit the wall.
Thankfully, Zoop was OK and the damage to the car appeared superficial.
We took the opportunity to show off Old World Industries' Project Fire & Ice '06 Mustang in front of the Nitto display at Bradenton. Yes, the car is wearing Nitto NT-555s on those sweet Ford GT wheels, and you can follow the construction of this car beginning in this issue. If you're feeling lucky, you can sign up to win it at your local AutoZone store or by visiting splitfire.com or peakantifreeze.com for an entry form (between May 7 and July 1). Good luck.
While he couldn't exactly make a pass, this young NMRA racer certainly had the right idea. Safety first!
Pro 5.0 - It seems like only yesterday we saw Don Walsh Jr. blast alone down the quarter-mile at Bowling Green, when mechanical failure rendered Burt Kelkboom's '04 Escort unable to compete. While that incident happened in the final round of the World Finals, a similar scenario played out at this year's season opener, as Donnie once again ran by himself in the semifinals-despite a great display of sportsmanship as he waited for Burt to get his car fired-and secured his place in the final round versus Michael Hauf. "I knew Mike Hauf would be on his game in the final," Donnie says. But Mr. 0.400 was on his game as well, as he used a 0.021 holeshot to stay in front of Michael's quicker and faster big-block at the stripe by a mere 15 thousandths of a second (0.015). "What a drag race! This is what it's all about," Donnie adds. "This was an awesome weekend for Pro 5.0 as a class. We were happy to see so many new faces, and we're looking forward to the competition that all of these teams are bringing to the table." A slight change in Pro 5.0's weight requirements has opened the door to mega-inch, naturally aspirated IHRA Fords to compete in NMRA's top category.
Pro 5.0 - While big-block-powered, IHRA Pro Stockers showed up in force at the NMRA season opener, Michael Hauf and his crew are now considered one of the Pro 5.0 "regulars," as he has been campaigning his Yellow 814-inch '04 'Stang for quite a while on the NMRA circuit. His experience showed itself on Saturday as he landed the UPR top-qualifier cash with his blistering 6.64/208 pass. Michael wasn't too far off his qualifying pace on race day. Speeds of 207-208 mph were the norm in three fairly easy rounds, and they carried him to a final-round matchup with Donnie Walsh Jr. In the final, while a wicked 0.975 60-footer made it appear as though Michael may have been able to overcome Don's holeshot lead, his car drifted into the crumbs and fell behind. "It was a tough loss, but a great race," Michael says. "This truly shows the parity in Pro 5.0, and should give fans a great time at the track."
Super Street Outlaw - It appears Kentucky Sam Vincent is over the house fire that took the family home in May last year. No stranger to the 7.50s, Sam took the top qualifying spot with a 7.56 at 181 mph, followed by Super Street Outlaw regulars John Urist and '05 champ Manny Buginga. Still running a nitrous-chugging 438ci small-block and a Matukas Motorsports Race Cars chassis setup, he didn't baby it around town for his first-round bye run with a blistering 7.55 pass. Then he had another bye run when Zack Posey was unable to make the call, but there wasn't a person sitting down for the third-round matchup between Sam and Jim Briante, who was driving the nitrous'd Sorby brothers coupe at Bradenton. In true Briante fashion, Jim got the holeshot, but Sam was able to come around the legendary Mustang racer with a 7.66 to Jim's 7.70. Another bye run lit up the scoreboard with a 7.60 to make sure the tune was spot on for the final round against Manny Buginga. But Manny lost grip around half-track, and Sam cruised to victory.
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.
Real Street - It was great to see at least one new car come out and play in Real Street. The driver was a familiar face, UPR's Jeremy Martorella, who was driving a customer's car. Jeremy qualified in the bottom spot after blowing the intake off his nitrous car on his 11.65/86 pass. Jeremy and crew put the car back together overnight and ran into more troubles in the first round. Fortunately for Jeremy, Uncle Robin Lawrence had even worse troubles, breaking a tranny and his valvetrain in one pass. Jeremy limped ahead for the win. After sorting things out, Jeremy made the call against Tim Matherly in round two. A slow e.t. and a slower reaction time didn't do the job against Tim, but we're fairly sure Jeremy will be a contender as the season wears on.
Pure Street - With Gene Hindman out of the '06 Pure Street picture, the class is truly up for grabs, and Ron Anderson is certainly one to fill the void since he finished out the '05 season with a victory at the NMRA World Finals. The 5.0 Mustang pioneer showed he still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve as he continually shows the young bucks how to shift into Second gear while still hanging the front wheels in the air. Ron qualified number two with a 10.41, and it would only make sense that he and number-one qualifier Brad Meadows would meet in the final. But Brad redlighted in the final, handing Ron another Pure Street victory.
Pure Street - Bad Brad Meadows has been stepping up in the Pure Street ranks ever since the debut of his '95 Cobra a couple of years ago. Most of that time, however, was spent catching up with Gene Hindman and Rich Groh. With those guys out of Pure Street, Brad has a good chance of winning it all in 2006. At Bradenton, he looked primed to start it off right with a victory, but a redlight start in the final against Ron Anderson spelled an end to an otherwise perfect weekend.
Factory Stock - With the off-season rules changes aimed at making Factory Stock a more competitive class, Shawn Johnson came to Bradenton to show his car was ready to party. John and the Tymensky family are determined to show what a Four-Valve is capable of in 2006, and Shawn says clutch sponsor RPS will get a workout this year if Bradenton was any indication of how the '06 season will go. Shawn pulled the wheels on every successive pass, something few Factory Stock cars have done. The Bradenton race was Shawn's to lose, but if you're reading about his experience here, you know he won it with times in the mid-11s all weekend, and a victory over fellow Four-Valve runner-up Jeffery Schmell.
Factory Stock - Besides Shawn Johnson, the only other Factory Stock competitor in the 11s was Jeffery Schmell. Of course, being number-one and number-two qualifiers meant they would meet in the final round to decide it all. If anything, Jeff was deadly consistent with 11.60s all day on Sunday. If Jeff had cut a light in the final, the spoils of victory would've been his, but he couldn't quite get the jump to take the win with an 11.66 to Shawn's hair-quicker 11.63.
Modular Muscle - Sometimes the best thing a racer can have on his side-besides a good car-is luck. Chris Colitas found out how valuable luck is for the Modular Muscle class at the Nitto Nationals. For the first round, Chris drew Paul Svinicki and his Ford-GT-engine-packing '06 Mustang to run against. Paul was cutting killer times all through qualifying, and his car was looking lethal. But on the way to the staging lanes for round one, the Reverse gear broke in Paul's transmission. In the staging beams, he rolled deep because the tranny brake also became inoperative thanks to the also inoperative Reverse gear. Both factors caused Paul to redlight against Chris, giving him the first-round win. After working his way up the ladder, Chris squared off against Deltona, Florida, resident Rick Doern and his '96 Mustang GT in the final. Both racers cut nearly identical reaction times, Chris with a 0.034 and Rick with a 0.035. But it was Chris who cut the beams first at the end, running an 11.48 flat at 113.83 mph, to Rick's 10.424 at 128.02 mph.
Open Comp - When engine problems put his main race car out of service right before the NMRA season opener, Jim Brown of O'Fallon, Missouri, did what any diehard drag racer would do: He loaded up his backup 'Stang-a classic '70 Mach 1-and headed down to Bradenton. While a trailer mishap left Jim stranded in Georgia for 15 hours during the trip, he eventually made it to Bradenton and his never-quit attitude paid off in the form of his first NMRA victory-in his first NMRA race. "I was planning to go to four NMRA races this year, but with this win I may add Reynolds and Columbus to the mix and see if I can finish in the Top 10 in points," Jim says. Which leaves us wondering whether his primary race Ford will ever be repaired.
Truck & Lightning - Bradenton Truck & Lightning champ Jim Roberts is the event's best example of practice paying off, this time in the form of a first-time win for the 51-year-old racer from Largo, Florida. Taking advantage of test opportunities on Thursday and Friday to practice his reaction time, Jim welded the tree all day Sunday and cruised through the rounds for a matchup with '05 class champion Captain Keith Kohlmann in the final. Emotions took over after Jim realized the Captain lit the red bulb. "That was the most exciting moment for me," Jim says. "I want to dedicate this win to all the guys at Ford Special Vehicle Team, my crew chief Bob Churan [who Jim beat in round one], and my wife and grandchildren, who made up my pit crew. Without those people and many, many others, I would not have placed."