Tony Bischoff figured out a way to navigate his '02 Cougar through the slippery sections of Atco's usually sticky racing surface and captured his second Pro 5.0 win of the season. "Both lanes had a spot in the middle that you simply could not run power through," says Tony. "We calmed it down enough to make clean passes without sacrificing speed too much (208.39 in the final), and it worked out well." Tony's victory takes a huge bite out of current champ Michael Hauf's points lead going into the final two events of the season.
Who is Mike Balvsir? That was the million-dollar question by the time the Pro 5.0 final came around. Despite horrendous performance from his recently purchased '99 Probe, the Pro 5.0 rookie landed himself a spot in the final against Tony Bischoff after Tim Essick redlighted in the semifinals. Mike fouled out versus Tony but says he plans to continue his reintroduction to drag racing by competing in the remaining events on the NMRA schedule. This was Mike's first time at the controls of a drag car in 20 years.
Super Street Outlaw
For Don "Burndown" Burton, a fresh car and familiarity with the racetrack proved to be all that was needed to run the table in Super Street Outlaw. Don arrived at Atco with his '80 hatchback in 100-percent "new" condition thanks to extensive engine and chassis updates. He went into the Keystone Ford Nationals on the heels of a successful finish (he won) in one of Atco's Quick 8 showdowns a few weeks prior to NMRA's arrival. "Racing in the Quick 8 definitely helped us in terms of gaining data about this track," says Don. "We were determined to overcome Joliet. The win this weekend opens the door to a dogfight with John [Urist] for the championship, and we're going for it."
As the season progressed, we kept tabs on the stout performance of Yanni Papakosmas' '04 Terminator (right), and predicted a final-round appearance was just a race or two away for the Super Greek. A long-awaited trip to drag racing's Promised Land (it was Yanni's first final round ever) finally came, and fittingly, his excitement would make you think he won a championship. "We changed three turbos, front springs, three sets of tires, and made a bunch of suspension changes," says Yanni. "We didn't win, but I have to thank Granatelli Motor Sports, Miller Race Cars, LaJoie's Recycling, Merkel Race Engines, and especially my family and crew for helping me so much this weekend. Getting to a final has been a long time in the making, and I'm happy we finally did it."
"They were all good ones," says Tony Orts of the three drag races he won en route to his final-round meeting with Aaron Stapleton, in which he also finished on top. "There were no byes, no gimmes, nothing like that. I was literally door-to-door with [Brian] Tuten in the semis. After qualifying last and having to fix a broken wrist pin in the engine Saturday night, we busted our butt and earned this win." While Tony is a multi-time winner and former champion in NMRA's Xtreme Street class, the triumph at Atco is his first victory in NMRA competition.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is the motto that the Sutton High Performance team lived by at the Keystone Ford Nationals, and adhering to the credo nearly earned Aaron Stapleton a victory in EFI Renegade. "We didn't change the tuneup or anything all weekend," says Crew Chief Jerry Van Der Linde. "The car worked perfectly and Aaron drove his butt off every round." A slipping blower belt appears to be what cost The Shark the win. Aaron left first on Tony Orts (0.015 to 0.027), but nitrous oxide prevailed on the big end when the Sutton 'Stang's boost fell off at crunch time.
Charlie Booze Jr. bagged his second-straight Hot Street victory of the year, after Justin Curry fouled in their final round at Atco. "This is a rough, rough class," Charlie says. "But the cream always rises to the top. We were off to a crappy start at the beginning of the year, but now we're rolling and I'm sure it's going to be a dogfight between us and the Roush cars for the championship." A dogfight indeed! Charlie's quarter-final win over Mike DeMayo's Roush-powered 'Stang came courtesy of a holeshot and Kuntz horsepower, as their cars were separated by only 0.003 at the stripe.
Justin Curry's crew burned the late oil Saturday night, repairing the extensive front-end damage sustained in a hard landing after a spectacular wheelstand in qualifying on the SAM team's '95 Cobra. Thanks to great help from one of the Roush teams (front wheels) and Matt Wirt (wheel alignment), Justin answered the bell on Sunday and proceeded to click off low e.t.'s in the class for each round, including the final. A foul start against Charlie Booze Jr. spoiled all hope of a fairy tale ending to what could be called one of the best comebacks of the season.
John Kolivas continues to do big things with the "little turbo" in Drag Radial. His lighter 'Stang/front-facing 85mm turbo combination led the field with a low-qualifying 8.09 e.t. on Saturday, but a cracked cylinder head had the team thrashing into the wee hours in order to make first round. Sometimes you just have to accept being lucky more than being good. John's '95 Cobra slipped and slid its way to wins in the first two rounds, "then we took all of the power out of it and finally got down the track in the third round [a win over Chris Evans]." John took advantage of Chris Tuten's handling woes in the final round and maintains a 100-point lead with two races remaining.
While Chris' run to the final round seemed smooth on the surface, he and Crew Chief Big Mike found themselves once again performing various surgeries on their '87 LX between rounds in an effort to keep its turbocharged small-block together. "I spun the tires badly in that final," Chris says. "I saw John was gone, so I got off the gas to keep the motor from blowing up. We didn't tell anybody that my engine was hurt for most of the weekend. I've been fighting my car since April. I told John that whoever wins Bowling Green is going to win the championship in our class, and there's no way whoever doesn't win can say the champion didn't earn it."