As the first year of regional competition for Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car teams winds down, championship battles in most regions are only intensifying. The West and Central divisions still have multiple events remaining, but in the East, which wrapped up competition last weekend in Cecil County, Md., and the North Central, which concludes this weekend in Bowling Green, Ky., the situation is growing clearer.
Top Alcohol Dragster in the North Central Region remains the domain of five-time world champ Bill Reichert, who has won his last three regional starts – Maple Grove, Chicago, and Columbus. The only driver with even a remote chance to break his stranglehold is Ken Perry, who won the Norwalk event and has been to just four regionals this year. Odds dictate otherwise, but with a three-race win skein like the one Reichert put together this summer, the Canadian driver could end the season with four wins and a runner-up.
In Top Alcohol Funny Car, perennial contender Mickey Ferro, who has reached the final in all four regional starts this year, winning Chicago and Columbus and finishing second in Gainesville and Cecil County, will clinch the championship with a win this weekend in Bowling Green. Even if current North Central points leader Chris Foster is in the final makes against Ferro and goes on to win an out-of-region event, he'll lose on a tie-breaker (most in-region points).
If Foster wins Bowling Green and Ferro is runner-up, they'll be tied, but Foster will win the tie-breaker. Any scenario in which Foster goes one more round than Ferro this weekend will result in a tie. Ferro has been to just two races in his home region, so he'll have to count whatever points he earns this weekend because drivers must take points from three events in their home region.
Ray Drew, Brian Harvanek, Cassie Simonton, and Paul Noakes still have a mathematical chance at the North Central Alcohol Funny Car title, but each would have to win-out to do it. If Foster makes the final or Ferro the semifinal in Kentucky, all four will be mathematically eliminated.
In the East, which ran its last of five races last weekend, the top five drivers in Top Alcohol Dragster are separated by just 32 points. Rich McPhillips leads second-place Dan Mercier by 11 points, Duane Shields by 22, and both Richard Bourke and John Finke by 32.
Perhaps the most accurate measure of the competitiveness in the East this season is the fact that McPhillips is the only one of those five who hasn't won a regional. Duane Shields took the Eastern opener in Richmond, Va., in April; Reichert scored at Maple Grove Raceway in May; Mercier won at Lebanon Valley Dragway in June; Finke at New England Dragway in July; and Bourke won at Cecil County Dragway last weekend. McPhillips has three runner-ups.
With at least a semifinal appearance in all four of his regional starts, Bourke, the only driver in the top five who hasn't run at least five regionals, has had the best season overall. By just qualifying for one more regional event, he'd tie McPhillips for the points lead even if he lost in the first round.
In Top Alcohol Funny Car, Frank Manzo would be adding to his record for all-time divisional/regional championships if he'd only gone to three events in the Eastern Region. He won both events that he entered, Maple Grove and New England, but drivers are not eligible for title contention unless they run at least three events in the region that they claimed at the start of the season.
Manzo's absence left the door open for other contenders, and Todd Veney, who was fourth entering last weekend's event at Cecil County, passed John Anderika and Eric Lourie for the lead by winning that race. Anderika is second, Paul Gill and D.J. Cox now are tied for fourth, 84 points out of first, and Dan Pomponio, 95 points out of the lead, still has an outside shot.
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