READING, Pa. - August 27, 2003 Records were broken everywhere during this weekend's 2nd Annual Stewart Warner Performance PRO Hot Rod & Muscle Car Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway, and not just on the racetrack. With full fields for virtually every class, record attendance, spectators packing the stands, and an astonishing 276 show cars over two days, Maple Grove will go into the books as the PRO Hot Rod and Muscle Car Nationals' biggest event to date. The fans pouring through the gates were also treated to some of the closest competition seen all year.
In Denso Pro Street, Saturday saw 16 cars qualified for eliminations, with all but four of them solidly in the sixes at over 200 mph. Steve Miller found himself sandwiched between Pat Musi in the number one slot and Musi's teammate Mark Dantoni in third. The rumor in the pits was that number seven qualifier Kevin McCurdy, running a new motor, "had something to show" Musi and Miller. In eliminations, only Miller would get to see for himself what McCurdy could do from the other lane, when McCurdy's blown Trans-Am outran the turbo truck in the second round. In another surprise upset in round two, Randy Draffen put Musi on the trailer on the strength of a .445-to-.524 holeshot, opening a gap the faster-running Musi couldn't close before running out of track. McCurdy got the next best thing to beating both points leaders when he met Dantoni in the semi-finals, though, taking him out with a 6.665 pass despite giving up four hundredths at the tree. Tomi Lane, who had been running clockwork 7.1's, was no match for Draffen who was at the top of his game and nailing 6.9's left and right. The final round came down to McCurdy and Draffen, with McCurdy leaving the beams first and lengthening the lead clear through the traps, posting a 6.657 at 212 mph pass to Draffen's slowing 6.884 at 199.
Nitto Tire Super Street drew a record 14 entries, and at the end of qualifying Joel Greathouse held the pole position with a best effort of 7.339 at 177.65 mph. The speed shown by Greathouse and number two and three qualifiers Leo Barnaby III and Kenny Bennett was just a taste of things to come in eliminations. With three cars running 7.4 7.3, all with different combinations, the stage was set for the most closely competitive Super Street field seen so far this year. Greathouse would get to save his true Kung-Fu for the semi-finals, catching a break in round one when Kevin Ashley couldn't make the call and using his round two single pass to test traction. When Greathouse finally met some competition in round three, number five qualifier Randy Lambert would emerge as the surprise winner when Greathouse had to lift when his Mustang got out of shape. On the other side of the ladder, Barnaby won a squeaker against Charlie Dolbin, who had qualified sixth. Barnaby's margin of victory was just under four hundredths of a second, or about ten feet at the stripe. In the final round, Barnaby would leave the line twelve thousandths behind Lambert, but quickly gathered him up, running a 7.704 to Lambert's 7.875 and claiming the win.
In Flowmaster Nostalgia Pro Street, controversy erupted when would-be number one qualifier Brian Ferrari was disqualified from the event late Saturday night when he and his crew refused to allow tech inspectors to examine his jets and remove a head without first returning to their pit area after his final qualifying pass. With Ferrari out of the mix, the top slot fell to Dale Pittman with his 7.596 at 181.20 best effort. After three rounds on Sunday, the 14 qualifiers had been winnowed down for the finals to Pittman and Rob Golobo, who had been laying down faster and faster passes all day. Despite cutting a .439 light to Golobo's .454, Pittman found himself outran in the final round, posting a 7.643 to Golobo's winning 7.597.
Vortech Xtreme Street was stuffed full of mid-to-high eight second cars at the end of Saturday's qualifying rounds, with more than half the 15 car field running 9.0 or better. Nick Rinehart led the class going into Saturday's race with a best pass of 8.567 at 163.37 mph, but would fall in the semi-finals to Bob Curran. On the other side of the ladder, Cameron Coble defeated number two qualifier Tony Orts to earn the chance to meet Curran in the final round. Unfortunately. Coble would be unable to take the light against Curran, giving him an uncontested victory.
In TCI/FAST Pro Stock, the field of 15 entries was spread throughout the nines in qualifications, with Jeremy Harris anchoring the fast end with a 9.104 at nearly 146 mph. A scary encounter with the wall just past the 330 foot mark in the last round of qualifying ended Steve Cagle's weekend, at least as far as competition was concerned. Although Cagle's Nova suffered damage to the frame and bumper and the impact was severe enough to bend the steering wheel in his grip, Cagle walked away unscathed but a little sore. Competition on Sunday came down to the number three and four qualifiers Charlie Booze, Jr. and Jake Holdrege in the finals, with both cars running within four thousandths of each other. The deciding factor ended up being reaction times, with Booze cutting a .447 to Holdrege's .491 and earning the victory.
MSD True Street drew a whopping 15 entries who drove the 30 mile endurance loop and took their three laps at the strip, with Gary Wilders claiming the title, "King of Pennsylvania" with his 9.102 second average, and Brad Barshinger capturing the runner-up spot. Steve Crichlow, Jeff Burbank, Robin Geiser, Greg Posen, and Larry Gobolish took home trophies for the 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14 second categories.
In Car Craft Magazine Cheap Street, number two qualifier Scott Black advanced to the final round against Jeremy Taylor, but was disqualified due to a nitrous related rules infraction. Taylor was awarded the event win as a result, with the runner-up slot left unfilled due to Black's disqualification. Black received zero points from the event.
Drawing an unprecedented field of 39 cars, Superchips Open Comp saw some of the best racing of the day, with entries ranging from John Lowe's 9.7 second 1968 Camaro all the way through Tom Richdale's 16 second 2002 Camaro. Five rounds of eliminations brought Drew Amitrano and Scott Csaszar against each other in the finals, each behind the wheel of a 1970 Chevelle. Just .005 seconds separated their reaction times, but Amitrano would take the win with his 10.719-on-10.69 pass against Csaszar's 11.900-on-11.85.
Ten drivers filled out the ranks of Hamburger's Oil Pan's Nostalgia Super Stock, with the overall victory going to Joe Winick in his C/FX '63 Tempest over runner up Jeff Puckett, driving a C/NSS '67 Tempest. In DTS Nostalgia Muscle Car, 21 drivers competed, and Steve Sachs took home the winner's trophy with his C/NMC '71 Matador. Steve Jones earned the runner up spot in NMC with his D/NMC 1970 Firebird.
In the ATI ProCharger Top Dog Shootout on Saturday night, Denso Pro Street polesitter Pat Musi outran Nitto Tires Super Street hot shoe Kenny Bennett, running 6.617 on his 6.62 index against Bennett's 8.107-on-7.42 on top of a .594 to .629 holeshot.
The PRO Auto Show Spectacular Presented by Car Craft Magazine drew scores of amazing entries from all across the region to Maple Grove Raceway, and car show director Andy Good admitted that the biggest problem was picking winners out of a field stuffed with exemplary show cars. Saturday's Silver Choice Best of Show award went to Bruce Elliott of Chesapeake, Md. and his 1964 Chevy II, and on Sunday Ken Faust of Pennsburg, Pa. took home the Gold Choice Best of Show trophy for his gorgeous first-gen Chevy Camaro.
In the Performance Wheel Outlet Burnout contest, a record ten competitors vied with one another to demonstrate the most flagrant abuse of rubber possible. When the smoke cleared, Jeff Mazzoni had squealed his way to a win behind the wheel of his '71 Dodge Demon, and Steve Pessia grabbed runner up with his 2001 Ford Mustang.
All told, more than 150 heads-up and index racers competed on top of the scores of bracket racers who helped keep the track rockin' non-stop all weekend. With the second half of the 2003 season well underway and the championship points chase in almost every class yet to be decided, the remaining events in Atlanta and Memphis promise to be can't-miss spectacles for race fans and competitors alike.