Holeshot Dave Guy used killer lights in the semifinal and final rounds to nab his first-ever NMRA Renegade victory after three years of trying. "Two round-wins in a row with holeshots is just amazing to me," says Dave. "That made the weekend." He put Randy King away to reach the final; then used a 0.059 reaction time to keep his supercharged, Two-Valve-powered '96 GT in front of Chris Van Guilder's raging 7-Up ragtop at the stripe.
Chris Van Guilder's road to the Renegade final was highlighted by a huge third-round win over defending class champion Brian Mitchell, but an engine stumble and subsequent late reaction time in the final against Dave Guy ultimately thwarted his chance of earning his first NMRA event win. The engine "popped for a second when I put it on the transbrake, and it didn't want to rev," Chris says. "By the time I let off and got back on it, the light was green. It's on the timeslip. I had him covered by the eighth, but can you do?"
Charlie Booze Jr. capitalized on awesome race-day weather conditions at Bradenton and fired the first salvo in this year's Kuntz/Roush War in Hot Street. He jockeyed his red machine to a number-one qualifying spot, posted a new e.t. record (8.62), and beat David Murray and Robbie Blankenship in early rounds before running away with a win over archrival Ben Mens in a thrilling Hot Street final. "We have to hit these guys in the mouth early this year. We didn't win a lot of rounds, but we set a record and got the win. I'm dedicating the first one of the year to my 4-month-old daughter, Anna Katherine, and my wife, Kate," says Charlie.
Immediately after the Hot Street final, defending champ Ben Mens had a smile on his face and was full of optimism about the rest of the season despite his Second Place finish to Charlie Booze. Bradenton marked the debut of Ben's "new" Lucas Oil-sponsored ride (a '91 LX owned by Robbie Blankenship), and due to a lack of testing, everything about the 'Stang's performance was completely unknown going into the Nitto Tire Spring Nationals. "We came down here thinking that if we could be among the top five qualifiers and go rounds with what we have, that would be great," says Ben. "Making it to the final is huge. I was late on the light and the car got into something just past half-track, but I was definitely making a race out of it."
Tim Matherly told us at Bowling Green last year that he'd finally found an elixir to fend off the burned-up parts he suffered through early last season. In the off-season, he simply changed the ratio of his rearend gears and First gear to best make use of the wide-open-axle ratio rules this season. Tim says the gear change has made the car more consistent down low, which is bad news for his competition. The cool, below-sea-level conditions were good news for all the boosted RS racers and helped them all, but Tim made the most of the weather to blast off a 9.74/132 pass to claim the top spot. After a first-round bye, he got a real challenge from Brian McCormick, but Tim's axemanship at the Tree ended things from the jump. In the end, Tim bested teammate Jim Breese to claim yet another win.
When we asked Jim Breese how extensive his off-season program was, he replied, "I put a new clutch in the car." After fighting burned plugs and broken parts, along with his teammate Tim Matherly, this modest off-season maintenance program was a welcome change. Like his teammate, Jim picked up right where he left off last season-right on Tim's heels. He clicked off a 9.74/140 pass to land in the second qualified spot. Running up the opposite side of the ladder, Jim picked off modular madman Shawn Johnson in the first frame and Michael "Bubble Boy" Washington in the second. That thrust Jim into another final-round battle against Tim. Jim chopped down the Tree and got out front early, but Tim was able to run him down on the big end.
If you're a longtime follower of Real Street, Brian McCormick's ride probably looks familiar as it was formerly raced by Craig "The Blocker" Baldwin. The car was in familiar territory at Bradenton-right in the thick of things. A newcomer to our class, Brian was working to get a handle on the grippy Bradenton Motorsports Park surface as he made laps. His wheelstands stole the show, and as the number-three qualifier, his 9.75/139.59 blast showed he had the stuff to challenge the MV posse. Brian trailered Real Street stalwart Pizza Paul Alfeo in the first round with a few tenths to spare, but he moved up the food chain to clash with the defending champ in round two. Tim got the jump and Brian couldn't run him down, but we have a feeling these two will meet again.