When Extreme Pro Stock (XPS) driver Bert Jackson was killed in a racing accident at Rockingham Dragway late in 2011, it dealt a severe blow to the close-knit, mountain-motor community that resonates to this day. So when John Montecalvo beat first-time finalist Lester Cooper in the XPS final of the ADRL Simply Phones U.S. Drags VI in Jackson's home state of Virginia, he immediately dedicated the win to his fallen friend.
"You know, we visited Bert's grave on the way down here this weekend and his family and teammates, they're all here at the track, so I want to dedicate this win to Bert and to them," Montecalvo said. "I know he's riding with us on every pass--not only when we win--and I just want to honor his memory whenever we're out here racing hard like he always did. We really miss him being here a lot."
Montecalvo's march to victory began with a 4.145-seconds qualifying pass at 175.52 mph that landed him seventh in the full 16-car field. Dean Goforth led the way with a 4.068 run at 178.45 mph in his 2013 Camaro, while Cooper began the best showing of his ADRL career from the ninth position after qualifying with a 4.170 at 172.28 mph.
Other notables in the field included NHRA Pro Stock star Vincent Nobile with a sixth-place start and second-round finish as a substitute driver for Mark Martino in Larry O'Brien's Dodge, and two-time defending class champion Cary Goforth whose weekend went opposite to his father's as he never made a decent qualifying pass and started 14th before losing in the first round.
In the opening round of eliminations, Montecalvo, from Center Moriches on Long Island, made his best pass of the weekend, a 4.129 at 176.81, and needed it to defeat fellow New Yorker John Pluchino by 16-hundredths of a second at the eighth-mile stripe. He then easily handled Kevin Bealko and Elijah Morton, who both had to shut off early, before reaching Cooper in the final.
Meanwhile, Cooper had no easy path, first taking down former IHRA champion Doug Kirk, then number-one qualifier Goforth and current ADRL Extreme Pro Stock points leader John DeFlorian with a masterful handling of a loose race car to win by just three thousandths--less than a foot--in the semis.
Once there Cooper nearly matched his qualifying time with a best-of-eliminations 4.178 at 171.84 mph, but a 4.157 at 174.91, combined with an excellent .018 reaction time, was more than enough to deliver the win to "Monte," as he's known by all in the XPS pits.
"I am so happy for Lester and his guys. I have a lot of respect for them. They work hard and do a good job out here--they did a great job today--and this track was pretty tricky. It was hot and they managed to get Lester down it pretty quick every time, so my hat's off to them."
Montecalvo also revealed his 826-cubic-inch Sonny Leonard motor was "hurt a little bit" before the final, but not so much he wanted to change it out.
"We had Sonny come over and look at it and we made a team decision to stick with it," he said. "We do have a spare motor in the truck, but felt this one would make it through. Plus we had the car tuned for this one, so we really didn't want to mess with that unless we absolutely had to and fortunately it held together okay."
Montecalvo introduced a brand-new 2012 Camaro to the class early last season, but shelved it after a few races in favor of returning to the '08 Cobalt he drove to the final IHRA mountain-motor Pro Stock championship in 2009 and the ADRL Extreme Pro Stock title the next year.
"Man it seems like forever since we last won, but it's not, really. We did win last year at Memphis, but since then we've struggled so much that it just feels like a long time," he said after climbing from the car in the turnoff area at Virginia Motorsports Park.
"But this old Cobalt's remembering how to win, I think," Monte added. "And the driver's doing okay, too, I guess. They've got these young guns out here so I've got to stay on my toes just to hang with them and now we even had Vincent Nobile to deal with this weekend. We wore the old man out and now they're sending the kid after us. When they start sending grandkids, I'm gonna' have to retire!"
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