Congratulations to Bruce Hemminger....
Congratulations to Bruce Hemminger. After five years of trying, he finally gets to wear the Nitto Diamond Tree ring and number-one jacket as '08 champion of our own Real Street class!
Horse Sense: In a nutshell, we think the annual Nitto NMRA All-Ford World Finals is best described as the complete and total takeover of Bowling Green, Kentucky, by Mustang racers and enthusiasts from all walks of life. If you haven't been part of this happening yet, we strongly suggest you make plans to be there in 2009.
At the risk of sounding like we're discrediting all of the preceding races in 2008 (and believe us, we're not), the 10th Annual Nitto NMRA All-Ford World Finals, held at Beech Bend Raceway, was by-far the most exciting event of the year and arguably the best season-ender we've witnessed in a long time.
A record eight class championships were still undecided going into the World Finals--in many cases, only a few points separated points leaders and their closet challengers--and several racers proceeded to rewrite the record books with unfathomable e.t.'s or speeds (Conrad Scarry, Pro Outlaw 10.5, 217.28 mph; John Urist, Super Street Outlaw, 7.356 seconds; Ryan Hecox, Tremec Pure Street, 10.182 at 131.84 mph; Tommy Godfrey, ACT Factory Stock, 11.072 seconds) and critical round wins--in some cases, in nail-biting fashion. They thrashed through engine, transmission, and other broken-parts swaps (Tim Matherly swapped a wounded Two-Valve for a fresh modular bullet between the fenders of his Real Street 'Stang and was ready to race in a mind-bending 62 minutes) in their effort to earn number one status in their respective classes.
The way we see it, the Nitto NMRA All-Ford World Finals isn't just a drag race; it's an experience (at the racer level) full of energy, pressure, emotion, and competitive spirit that seems to take the phrase "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" to the next level during each round of eliminations.
The Finals experience also includes the colors and bling of beautiful Ponies on display in the car show, an enormous swap meet and vendor midway, and, of course, our own extremely popular King of the Street competition, which showcases the performance and appearance qualities of some of the hottest, street-driven Mustangs in the country. (Associate Editor Mike Johnson will unveil the '08 King of the Street event in the May issue of 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords.)
We were there to take it all in. Check out the following photos and captions to see how it all went down.
Bowling Green's official Ms. NMRA was back again this season, and Web Producer Patrick Hill's camera aim kept drifting toward her. We're guessing his wasn't the only one.
Tech Editor KJ Jones met the Harris family (dad, Trenton; mom, Sherry; sons, Walter, Tony, and Todd) while perusing the wares of manufacturers and vendors in the midway area at the NMRA World Finals. Trenton is working on a four-eyed Fox body of his own and tells us our T-top coupe inspired him to start his project (a street/strip big-block 'Stang), which he hopes will be completed by the time the NMRA Express rolls into Bowling Green in 2009.
Scott Lovell has spent the '08 season at the wheel of Bob Cook's Fox GT while Bob's been racing the Sutton Performance S197 car. (Bob won the EFI Renegade championship, by the way.) The Swill Crew has been going rounds, but at Bowling Green the wheels just about fell off their program during Friday's test and tune session when water got under the tires, causing Scott to lose control of the car and kiss the wall. Scott was dejected, thinking his weekend was over. However, the rest of the Swill Racing crew had other ideas. The guys had the Sticker Dude-wrapped car back as straight as possible using a mini-sledgehammer, a golf cart, and a tow strap. John Urist welded the leaky radiator; UPR Products hooked the guys up with new lights and an alternator pulley; and the Sutton Performance guys donated a couple front tires to replace the flat-spotted donuts up front, as well as some scrumptious steaks for dinner. "We got knocked out in the second round," Scott says, "but the weekend will go down in my memories as one of the best ever in my time here with the NMRA."
While Hot Street is typically the class where wheelstands reign supreme, the first round of qualifying saw the EFI Renegade boys finding the big hook. Headlining the wheelstand show was Chris Beary in his '97 Cobra. He didn't fair as well in competition, as he fell to eventual winner Bart Tobener in the first round, but Chris left an impression on our cameras.
Justin Burcham and Vinny Barber squared off in a best-two-out-of-three match race to settle their long-running Internet debate over which racer owns the baddest (quickest, fastest, turbo versus supercharger) Three-Valve S197 in the country. With their exciting showdown going down to the wire and both 'Stangs running solidly in the 8s, Vinny and his 88mm turbocharged GT won the battle. However, with Justin's ProCharger-supercharged/nitrous-sprayed Pony posting markedly better e.t. and mph numbers in the losing effort, we're pretty sure the war between the two racers (and power-adders) is far from over.
Pro Outlaw 10.5
With the Pro Outlaw 10.5 points title secured at Columbus, Conrad Scarry and his Scarry Crew teammates' focus was on simply going rounds and winning the event, which was something that they were able to make look easy for most of the '08 season despite major setbacks. "This feels great," said Conrad of his championship and event win. "My team is the best. Even when we're up against it (a blown head gasket and lifted ring land during a qualifying pass forced the team to perform overnight engine surgery at the World Finals), everybody worked together and worked hard to get the car ready, round after round. We're probably going to make some changes on the car that will allow us to race in other select events, but we'll definitely be back in the NMRA to defend our Number One."
"We got our 6-second pass (a 6.954) and I'm happy about that, but of course we wanted to leave here with a win," said Pro Outlaw 10.5 runner-up Ron Lummus. Until the final, he ran no quicker than 7.111 in round wins over Mike DeMayo, who entered the class as an opportunity to test before heading to the NMCA World Finals, and Mike Murrillo, whose reconfigured Star Car (turbos moved from the trunk to the front) was way off the pace. "The learning curve for putting power on the ground with this car has been steep, but my team worked hard this weekend and I'm really proud of them," said Ron. "Once we figure out what the car is trying to say to us, I'm pretty sure we're going to do well."
Super Street Outlaw
After becoming the first Super Street Outlaw racer to win three championships in a row, we felt compelled to ask John Urist if he's getting bored. His response was a flat "no." John obviously loves racing in the 10-inch-tire Freak Show, and apparently loves being the man to beat. At the World Finals, John laid down the law with a blistering 7.36 at 191 mph, which earned him an exhaustive teardown that included scoping out every inch of his ride and even looking at the data logs. John says his new Fox chassis works better than its New Edge predecessor. Obviously he made it through, as he was on the pole Sunday morning. Though a broken rocker arm slowed him in eliminations, his car still had steam and John was quick enough on the tree to take out Kentucky Sam Vincent and A.J. Powell en route to an anti-climactic championship clash with Don Burton in the finals.
Long the nitrous big-block foil to John Urist's blown small-block machine, Don "Burndown" Burton's machine was in the mix till the end. Having qualified in the third spot, Don bested Chris Tuten and Urist teammate Dwayne James; then rode a bye into the finals. As the drama built on the starting line, Don cleaned out his motor with his customary four revs and pulled it to the line. When the tree dropped, a small backfire escaped from the carb, and Don's car stalled as John blasted off for the go-ahead win. Don said he's never had such a backfire in all his years of racing, and added that it wasn't a nitrous backfire or his scoop wouldn't be in one place. The crowd was disappointed not to see another titanic battle in SSO, but obviously not as disappointed as Don.
Talk about a good way to close out the year. Matt Bell spent a good part of the weekend working on his Fox GT's tune-up. Matt had traction issues Friday and Saturday as he couldn't quite master the car's AMS1000 boost controller, but he finally got the right tune in the car Sunday morning. The car kept getting quicker each round by sneaking up on the tune. Matt's car was built by Behind Bars Race Cars' Chris "Noodles" Hemmeter, and Noodles even raced the car for a while. Matt and Noodles have worked together to update the car whenever the need arises, but the car still boasts a Rich Groh Racing 356ci with Ford Racing Performance Parts Z304 heads, a Parker Funnel Web intake, a Precision 85mm single turbo, and a Performance Transmissions PowerGlide with a Neal Chance converter. Being consistent at Bowling Green kept Matt in the hunt, getting him to the final against John Kolivas where John rolled through the beams, giving Matt his first NMRA victory.
Well, if the '08 World Finals is the last race in John Kolivas' NMRA race career, it didn't exactly turn out the way he wanted it. John had the car ready to go racing, but he didn't have much chance to do any of his usual testing before Bowling Green. John's Bennett Racing-pushrod, single-turbo combo made really good power on Southern Speed's "stingy" Mustang Dynamometer, but translating that into e.t. is another thing, especially in Drag Radial. John and his crew dealt with a transmission issues during eliminations at Bowling Green, which caused him to roll through the beams in the final against Matt Bell. If this is your last NMRA rodeo John, we've enjoyed watching you and your Cobra fly down the track.
"That money is mine!" Yes, we definitely had to go there with Bart Tobener. While Bart's confident on-camera declaration didn't quite pan out the way he wanted it to at the PINKS All-Out event in Atlanta, his 8.54/162 final-round performance in Bowling Green guaranteed he would receive a big check and contingency payouts as the EFI Renegade winner at the NMRA World Finals. "There's really not a lot to say about this win. I usually have to fix or change something on the car, but this time I didn't even have to change the plugs," Bart said.
Brian Tuten's nitrous-powered 'Stang made the most of outstanding weather conditions and performed like a mid-8-second Swiss watch all the way up to the EFI Renegade final. Despite Brian's killer 0.026 reaction time, traction issues slowed his coupe to a far-off-pace 9.394 e.t. against Bart Tobener. Brian's BMF Racing camp didn't change the tune or make any chassis adjustments. It was just a matter of the track not being what it was in previous rounds.
Number-two qualifier Ben Mens carried consistent 8.70s and 154 mph speed all the way to the win in the Hot Street final. "We struggled all week to get out of the shop, and then battled a fuel-system issue when we got here that left us with only one opportunity to get down the track and qualify," Ben said. The recurring fuel problem wasn't fully resolved until the semifinal versus Charlie Booze. "Charlie went up on the bumper, but played it right with the changes and the car went right on through." The victory secured Ben's third-place finish in the class, which was his goal after being set back by an accident prior to the Milan, Michigan, race.
Despite losing to Ben Mens at in the Hot Street final at Bowling Green, Robbie Blankenship was full of thanks to Ben for beating Charlie Booze in the semifinal (and in their meeting at Columbus), which ultimately secured the overall class title for Robbie. "Having Ben back was a big help and really got us back in the game," said Robbie. "This feels great. We'll definitely be back in Hot Street with the same program--Ben Mens/Roush engine and Matukas chassis."
We might now refer to an against-all-odds comeback as a "Hemminger" story if it wasn't already referred to as a "Cinderella" story. Sure it's been done in Real Street before at the 11th hour by the likes of Chris Tuten, but Bruce Hemminger missed the first two races of the season and needed everything to go his way to take home his first-ever Real Street championship. Bruce qualified hot on the heels of class dominator Tim Matherly, thus putting himself on the opposite side of the ladder. Bruce took out Real Street stalwart Paul Wiley, and newcomer Jim Pickel broke, clearing Bruce's way for an apparent clash with Tim. That didn't happen, and Bruce laid three tenths on rookie Kevin Scott to take the win and the championship. Having raced the class since its early days, Bruce was full of emotion at earning his first Diamond Tree ring and burning through four transmissions to do it. He explained that he'd been wanting this for so long he would "need a raincoat at PRI," meaning he'd likely be brought to tears during his championship acceptance speech.
Although Bruce Hemminger's meteoric comeback is surprising, it's just as surprising to see Tim Matherly's freight train of consistency derailed before it arrived at championship station. Again the number-one qualifier, Tim was set up early with a first-round bye, and in the second round he was the obvious favorite to pick off Jim Pickell and head into the semis against Kevin Scott. Alas, those best laid plans were waylaid by a 25-pound disparity between Tim's race weight and the rulebook. Tim's team seemed shocked by the difference, saying the car weighed in heavy the prior round, and the only change was swapping in a fresh engine.
Remember when Real Street race cars could be competitive running a stock short-block? Well, Kevin Scott sure does, because he made in to the finals at Bowling Green with a stock short-block. Knowing he was on borrowed time, Kevin plans to add a new engine before next season, but his success with such an attainable combo brought a smile to Editor Turner's face. Kevin says he's been testing and tuning with his combo, and he keeps learning things that make it run better. In fact, save for his bye run, Kevin kept getting quicker throughout eliminations, running, a 9.96/135 versus Bruce in the finals. We can't wait to see what his clean four-eyed Fox will bring to the table next season.
Though he only qualified seventh and went out in the first round against Dave Ginter, we just had to run a shot of Michael Bell getting in on the first-round wheelstand party that really got wild later on as the EFI Renegade racers got into the act. If you can't run a huge number, at least you can please the crowd by putting on a show. If you're going to keep this up next season, Michael, you better get some sponsor stickers on that K-member!
Bad Brad Meadows restored his nickname at Bowling Green after taking a brief hiatus from racing in the Pure Street ranks due to family issues. Brad didn't do too much to get the car ready for Bowling Green besides dust it off. The crew performed routine maintenance, such as changing the plugs on his carbureted combination, avoiding the teardowns popular in Pure Street and Factory Stock. Brad has run basically the same combination the past couple years, and it finally came together for him at the World Finals. He has runner-up'd three years in a row, so finally getting the win was huge. "I really wanted to win this race, and I finally got it done," Brad said.
Brandon Alsept lost the battle at Bowling Green but won the war--in the fact that he won the Pure Street Championship for 2008. Brandon battled weight revisions and transmission failures all year, but he battled back each time, staying near the top by going rounds at every race. Brandon's four-valve enjoyed the cooler weather at Bowling Green, running consistent 10.30s. He then ran a Sunday Pure Street best 10.22 at 131 mph, but a 10.33 wasn't enough to get past Brad Meadows' 10.29 in the final.
Tommy Godfrey came to Bowling Green in classic JPC Racing style, meaning he was sleep-deprived from thrashing on cars back at the shop. His first pass off the trailer he ran an 11.28, which is really stout for Factory Stock. However, Tommy broke a tooth off second gear on that pass so he had to swap it out that night. He then got a speeding ticket on the way to the hotel. (JPC needs a motor home, Justin.) After being awake for 36 hours straight, Tommy was not enthused about the ticket, so he took it out on the rest of the Factory Stock class by blasting out an 11.09 at 120 mph during the second round of qualifying. Of course, that pass meant Tommy would spend some quality time with the NMRA Tech Department Saturday night, and more sleep deprivation would follow. But the engine was found legal, and Tommy went on to win the race, set a new Factory Stock record, and win the championship for the second year in a row. Who thought an E7-headed combination would run 11.0s, but Tommy's ride utilizes a Rich Groh Racing 311ci short-block and heads, a Cobra intake, a JLT Performance cold air, a Bassani Xhaust system, and HP Motorsport suspension components.
Factory Stock racer Jay Dold purchased Jeff Schmell's Mach 1 for racing the '08 season. We remember Jay hot-lapping the car at Bradenton to get seat time. At Bowling Green, Jay put together a solid effort with an 11.41/118-mph qualifying pass. Jay hung around the 11.40 range during eliminations, and those times were enough to get him to the final against Tommy Godfrey, but with Tommy running bottom 11s, Jay will have to wait till 2009 to get another shot at victory.
In Modular Muscle, Reggie Burnett Jr. ended his NMRA season the way he started it, winning the event. After starting the season with a well-earned win at Bradenton, Reggie came to Bowling Green hoping to wrap up his season on a high note. But on the way, it seemed like the universe was trying to keep him and his father, Reggie Burnett Sr., from making it to the race. After surviving three different breakdowns, a wrong turn, and having to hunt for gas at 6:30 in the morning, the Burnett crew pulled into Beech Bend ready to race. When eliminations came on Sunday, everything seemed to be going Reggie's way. After an easy first-round win, Reggie was set to face off against his father until Senior's car broke at the line. Then in the third round, Reggie cut a bad light (0.103 to a 0.059) and Jeff Stafford jumped out to a healthy lead. But Reggie made up the distance, ultimately running a 11.119 on a 11.10 dial-in to Stafford's 12.783 on a 12.71 dial-in for the win. After a fourth-round bye, Reggie lined up against Brad Elander's '98 Cobra, but Elander fell asleep at the line, cutting a 0.157 light to Reggie's 0.050. Braking hard through the finish line, Reggie came out on top for the Bowling Green win.
Winning Bowling Green meant more than just winning for Stacy Estel. Up until 2008, Stacy had run every event on the NMRA circuit, along with his wife, Sarah. After starting the season out running Paul Svinicki's V-6-powered S197 at Bradenton, Stacy stopped racing to help Sarah in her battle with thyroid cancer. On June 12, Sarah was pronounced cancer free, and plans were made to run the rest for the season. However Stacy's stepfather was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and family being more important, Stacy stepped away from racing again to lend a hand. He was going to skip Bowling Green for his stepfather's treatment until he received a phone call from friend and former teammate Lew Workman the Sunday before the event. One of Stacy's former crewmembers, Ronnie Thompson, had been killed in a four-wheeler accident the night before. Stacy and his stepfather talked things over, and Stacy decided to race at Bowling Green and win in honor of Ronnie. The weekend started out great for Stacy, who took the number-one qualifier spot for the Open Comp class, but it got a little hairy after the second round of eliminations when Stacy hurt his transmission. Keeping his fingers crossed and talking to his mother and stepfather between rounds, Stacy kept things going all the way to winning the Open Comp class at Bowling Green. On his win, Stacy had this to say: "I want to dedicate the win to Rusty Dozer and Ronnie Thompson, may they rest in peace. I also would like to dedicate it to my stepdad, Chuck, and my close friend Lew, may they keep fighting and be able to overcome the illnesses they are experiencing. Special thanks to my wife, Sarah; Paul and Rhonda Svinicki; Paul and Shelly Rosner; Peter Rogowski; Ron Cates; Brian Dow; SPEC Clutches; and JPC."