Piedmont Dragway presented a scorcher of an event yesterday, as the facility's trademark Big Dog series assembled a thriller show, even as temperatures soared into the mid 90's. Almost as hot as the June sun, the red hot Ronnie Gardner collected win number 2 last night, with the running of Big Dog's third event for 2008.
Gardner, once a dominate force in Big Dog during the late 1990's and years following, went winless in 2007 as competition became brutal with 7 different winners in 8 events last season. Driving for car owner Jack Gaddy, Gardner is enjoying his best series start in years - winning the season-opener - followed by last night's display of power and consistency.
Repeating his qualifying performance from last month, Gardner once again solidly muscled his way into the show with a #2 spot on the qualifying sheet, as 23 capable race cars were trying to fight their way into the 8-car roster that made up the main event. Gardner stopped the clocks with a 4.28, 173mph on his best attempt through two rounds of qualifying.
Just as dusk was settling over the North Carolina skies, Big Dog's elite began lining up in the staging lanes for the round one eliminator. Gardner's Jack Gaddy-owned 1968 Camaro was indeed a picture of consistency throughout the event, but Gardner himself was no slouch either. Through 3 rounds of competition, Gardner was first out of the gate in all 3 flashes of the Christmas tree.
Gardner rolled to the line to face Burlington's Travis Harvey in the opening round. Gardner's 4.27, 173mph pulled away from Harvey's out of the groove 5.70 et. Gardner then held off Thomasville's Andy Beal in the semis, when Beal's Camaro slowed to a 5.52 et. Gardner drove to his best numbers of the night on this pass, stopping the timers at 4.24, 174 mph.
Gardner then faced Big Dog's man on the rise, Darrin Hoyle, competing in the series for only his third event. Hoyle, very impressive in qualifying, landed his Cobalt in the top spot, then took out New York's Chris Rini, and Mad Dawg winner Gilmer Hinshaw en route to the finals against Ronnie Gardner.
Hoyle drifted in and out of the groove against Gardner, slowing to a 5.62 et. Gardner, meanwhile, was hooked up and hammer down, streaking to the finish line with a 4.28, 169mph. "It feels good to pick up another win tonight", said Prime Time chassis builder Ronnie Gardner. This was Gardner's 28th career Big Dog win, 25 of which came while steering Glen Redman's Superman Corvette, widely regarded as the winningest car to ever compete in Big Dog.
For those who've been following the excitement of this series, it was simply understood that ORSCA Limited Street star, Darrin Hoyle would figured this game out quick. Shocking to some, however, was learning that Hoyle's way of "figuring it out" would consist of swapping his mammoth 762 engine, for a 632 built 6 years. Ironically, the engine has been between the frame rails of everything from his Limited Street Camaro, to a friend's drag radial Ford Fairmont. "I wouldn't say I've figured it out, laughed Darrin Hoyle, I'm just a little closer than I was." Hoyle's belief is that the 632 is a tried and true combination, and the Taylorsville, NC car dealer has high hopes for continued success in the southeastern heads-up scene.
Despite brutal temperatures yesterday, the usual standing room only following of Big Dog completely filled the grandstands. Big Dog action returns to Piedmont on July 3.