Despite finishing Friday as number-one qualifier for the headlining Radials vs. the World (RvW) class at Lights Out 9, "Stevie Fast" Jackson predicts a wide-open field for eliminations.

Several inches of rain fell on South Georgia Motorsports Park (SGMP) over a period of four days prior to the event, leaving its eighth mile as an essentially bare concrete surface. With few slick-tire cars on the track to help lay rubber down on the racing grooves, it creates a challenging task for the SGMP track prep crew.  

"The track guys have been working 'round the clock on the surface and it is getting a little better, but it’s definitely going to be a tuner’s race," said Jackson, who ran 3.804 at 196.93 mph in the first of Friday's two qualifying rounds to sit atop 51 RvW entries vying for 32 raceday spots. With one last qualifying opportunity on Saturday before round one of eliminations that night, Daniel Pharris was second at 3.810 and a class-leading 211.43 mph, Mark Micke ran 3.855 to sit third, Keith Haney's 3.858-seconds top qualifier from 
Thursday's lone session was bumped down to fourth and 
Canada's Paolo Giust rounded out the top five at 3.862 seconds. 

"It’s challenging out there," Jackson confirmed. "But I love races like this. All of these cars are capable of running fast enough to win now. The home-run ball I think is out of play. But because of that it’s very exciting because there will be a lot of upsets. Underdogs can win. 

"It’s not a who’s got the most horsepower race and it’s kind of fun. And the track may come around, so you might have some of both worlds. It might be a deal where you know Friday and Saturday the track’s challenging, but it could be killer tomorrow night and Sunday. I’ve probably walked to the starting line a hundred times to see where it's at. As a tuner and a driver it’s fun. You don’t know what you’re going to get up there."

At Lights Out 9, Jackson is calling the tuning shots on "The Shadow," his supercharged 2015 Camaro, while Jeff Pierce is on hand to handle teammate Jeff Sitton's similarly powered "Hyde" '17 Camaro.

"I normally run Jeff’s car, my car and a couple of customer’s cars, but I’m trying to get where I can focus a little bit more on my program," Jackson said. "We just haven’t made a bunch of runs. But we’ve got good, smart people working on this stuff; we’ve got top-notch equipment and this is my kind of race. I like it when it’s tricky."

If less-than optimal track conditions persist, Jackson believes the team that can put a series of low-to-mid 3.80s together throughout five rounds of eliminations may well be the last one standing Sunday night. 

"I think it’s going to be whoever can run up and down the race track and call a shot, adjust for weather and track conditions and be pretty good on the tree. Everybody that’s got these cars is smart. You’ll see that group hone in I think around that mid-3.80 and it will be whoever can drive it best and make good decisions.

"And it’s going to be me; I’m going to be the one standing there at the end," Jackson confidently declared. "Hopefully it’ll be me and Jeff racing in the final. We might even back down the track and race in reverse. Who knows?"

As with all things drag racing, only time will tell. - Ian Tocher