SUNDAY NOTEBOOK: THE WINNERS ARE CROWNED IN ORLANDO
KERR UNLIKELY WINNER IN SUPER PRO STREET
The last time Gene Kerr had his race car out was last year about this time at Orlando Speed World Dragway. So realistically, he never expected to be sitting in victory lane for winning the premier Super Pro Street class at the 18th annual World Street Nationals.
“We only brought enough nitrous bottles to make a few time runs and maybe one round of eliminations,” said Kerr of nearby Winter Garden, FL. “So when we started going rounds we had to borrow more bottles from Tony Christian.”
None of the expected heavy hitters even made it to the semi-finals as one by one, the likes of John Vergotz, Tim Baptista, Steve King and Chris Rini fell by the wayside, soon followed by Rob Mansfield, Tony Williams, Jeff Lutz and Mike Hill. Top qualifier Christian actually did earn a berth in the semis, but a top-end crash at the conclusion of his quarter-final run ended his day.
After a great show of sportsmanship in which Kerr allowed quarter-final opponent Lutz to fix a leaking fuel line before they raced, it was left to him and Greensboro, NC’s Rocky Raynor to determine who would go on to face off against Halvor Hansen Jr., who gained a free pass to the final at Christian’s expense.
Raynor enjoyed a distinct performance advantage in his Rick Hendricks Chevrolet of Durham, NC, ’63 Corvette after going 6.57 to beat Jimmy Marino in the previous round, while Kerr ran consistent 7.0s all day long in his ’88 IROC Camaro.
Raynor lost traction early in his semi-final run, however, as Kerr put together a 7.029-second pass at 195.53 mph. Hansen, who’d run 6.31 and a pair of 6.29s
leading up to the semis, faltered in his solo run to a 7.61 run that put him in the less desirable right lane. Still, Hansen, driving a ’68 Camaro for car owner
Gary Thomas, was the clear favorite heading into the final.
It was all over at the flash of green, though, with Kerr posting a solid .031 reaction time against Hansen’s apparently sleepy .330 that allowed Kerr’s 7.013 at 195.42-mph package to hold off a much quicker and faster 6.815 at 210.21 by Hansen. In this case, however, appearances were deceiving.
“The motor choked on me on the starting line just as the tree came down and I waited for it to recatch its fire before I left because if I didn’t we could’ve had a nitrous explosion,” Hansen explained. “That’s why I was so late on the tree. I’d rather do that than blow the engine up and lose anyway. And then on the run it shook and I had to pedal it a little, so that didn’t help either.”
Kerr credited his engine builder, Central Florida Machine and Speed, for providing good, consistent power all weekend and thanked crewman “Ozzy” from Horsepower Sales for all his help at the track.
“(Chassis specialist) Hank Hill told me this morning that we had a consistent car and that’s what it was going to take to win this thing. And he was right,” Kerr said. “It’s like a dream come true, really.” - Ian Tocher
DRAG RADIAL TITLE FULFILLS NELSON'S DREAM
Mel Nelson used to drive up to Orlando Speed World Dragway from his North Fort Myers, Fla., home every October and sit in the stands, watching all the hottest cars from East of the Mississippi -- and a few bold chargers from out west -- try to outdo each other on the unpredictable quarter-mile.
Promoter Carl Weisinger had all kinds of outrageously long and hyperbolic names for this outlaw World Street Nationals race of his. This year, for instance, he advertised it as "absolutely, positively, the most talked-about doorslammer race in the world!" And it has been, drawing racers and perennial fans from Iceland, Scandinavia, all across Western Europe, the Caribbean, Australia, and Canada.
Oh, and Mel Nelson just loved it -- wouldn't miss it for the world. What fascinated him were the Drag Radial cars. He liked the fact that this race was loaded with them year after year and plenty of people tried to get into the 32-car field and many had to wait their tunr until the following year.
But Nelson never thought he could become a talented enough racer to win this race that he considered bigger than life.
One day, he decided he would work harder, apply himself, to improve behind the wheel so he could enter the World Street Nationals and race with the favorites he always had admired from the grandstand. He wanted to be able to enter this race with confidence.
He did that last year and in his Orlando debut was Heavy Street runner-up to Dave Hance. And he has gotten only better since last Halloween weekend.
Nelson capped a three-victory swing down the east coast in the past six weeks by winning the Heavy Street championship Sunday at the World Street Nationals. And he did it with style, defeating Kenny Markwich in a showdown between two of the top three qualifiers.
"I was just your weekend test-and-tuner. I never felt I could be good enough to be a winner here. Now I know I can be," Nelson, a 50-year-old retired roofer, said.
Starting from the No. 1 spot, Nelson drove his '02 Camaro to a winning 7.660 seconds at 207.37 mph, while No. 3 Markwich, of nearby Gainesville, ran an 8.287 / 176.33 in his '94 Mustang.
Nelson, who claimed the $3,000 winner's check and $1,000 for leading the field, also earned the Clean Sweep Award and pocketed an extra $1,000 for setting low elapsed time (7.407 seconds) in qualifying.
He won the U.S. Street Nationals at Bradenton, Fla., in September. Two weeks later, he was earning a trophy at Hance's Shakedown at E-Town. Now, on his loop back home, Nelson has a prized Orlando trophy, jacket, and maximum paycheck.
"This race, it’s up there with the big ones, for me," Nelson said.
Nelson marched back to the final round by defeating Jeff Gibbud (Palm Harbor, Fla.), Luis Perez (Opalocka, Fla.), Eric Kenward (Vero Beach, Fla.), and Danny Griffin (Jacksonville, Fla.).
Markwich, $1,000 richer with his runner-up' finish, advanced past Rick Doern (Deltona, Fla.), Larry Albright (Jensen Beach, Fla.), Spurgeon Adkins (Cordele, Ga.), and No. 2 qualifier Kevin Fiscus (Jacksonville, Fla.).
Nelson, who's only 50 years sold but already has retired from his roofing job, said he and Lori, his wife of 31 years, "have been at a racetrack for the last six weeks." He did take some time off on his only free weekend here lately to take Lori to dinner and a movie.
(Of course, he can't recall which movie it was, although he did remember that "it was a cute one." But he can tell you all the details about how Hance loaned him equipment last year and helped him get to the finals in his first WSN appearance.)
He said Sunday that he's not tired of racing, that he's preparing to take his Camaro to Gainesville Raceway for the upcoming NHRA Unleashed program.
But dinner and a movie again just might be in the works for him and Lori soon, courtesy of Orlando World Street Nationals architect and promoter Carl Weisinger. - Susan Wade
COLLINS CAPTURES OUTLAW 10.5 WIN
A new jacket was all Dale Collins Jr. was hoping for when he pulled into Orlando Speed World Dragway for the 18th annual World Street Nationals.
“Our goal this year was to qualify in the top 10 and win a jacket,” the Frankford, DE-based racer said after beating Tim Lynch for ultimate bragging rights from the Outlaw 10.5 final.
Collins got his jacket with an 8th-place start in his 540 c.i. ’02 Camaro, then opened with a win over the ’93 Mustang of Todd Israelson, upset number-three starter Jerry Mitrovic from Canada with his ’03 Mustang and took out Mark Ingle and his ’96 Vette in the quarter-finals. Due to a short 19-car field, Collins received a bye in the semis and ran 6.961 at 194.16 mph, giving up lane choice to Lynch.
Second-place starter Lynch began his run to the final with a win over John Marconi and his ’58 Corvette, then took out the ‘69 Camaro of Patrick Adams before making a solo run into the semis against number-one qualifier Craig Pio.
Long before their semi-final meeting, Pio’s team visited the Orlando tower to protest the ladder format that potentially pitted the top two starters before the final round. However, after seeking promoter Carl Weisinger's input and a call placed to Compulink timing system designer Bob Brockmeyer, the final decision was reached that the original ladder sequence was correct, that it is a pro ladder, from a standard NHRA ladder-sequence template.
Regardless, after Pio and Lynch both lit the pre-staged and staged lights, the starting tree flashed and Lynch’s sleek, black 2010 streaked into the night—leaving behind Pio’s colorful 2002 Camaro, stranded on the starting line. A bitterly disappointed Pio was in no mood to talk after the race, but a crew member confirmed his engine’s air-fuel mixture was inadvertently misadjusted and the car simply lost fire when it really counted, a particularly difficult thing to accept after Lynch ran a decidedly vulnerable 6.691 at 216.65 mph.
“I need to go back to tuning my own car like I did for 10 years,” Pio said in disgust.
When Lynch started his car for the final, he immediately knew his weekend was over.
“It was misfiring like one cylinder wasn’t working or something,” he said. “Whatever issue was hurting us all weekend long is probably what’s broken now. We were hoping to get our third (win at Orlando), but it’ll have to wait now.”
Collins left with a .061 light and knew he’d left on Lynch, but had no idea his opponent was left behind after merely breaking the starting beam and shutting
“I kept waiting for him to come on by and it never happened. Then I saw my win light come on and I was wondering what had happened to him,” Collins said.
“That’s when the celebration started.”
The win was Collins first at Orlando after six years of attendance.
“We struggled all weekend. We really needed those extra qualifying runs to get the chassis dialed in,” he said, referring to the extra session tacked on to
both Friday’s and Saturday’s scheduled two sessions. “We race two or three times a month back home, but we always seem to struggle when it’s hot, so everything just worked out for us here.” - Ian Tocher
GOTTIER'S FAITHFUL CHEVELLE DELIVERS HEAVY STREET CROWN
Sam Gottier's fire-engine red '71 Chevelle limped out of the Shakedown at E-Town winners circle at Englishtown, New Jersey, earlier this month a little banged up.
Even though Gottier drove this car to high school a decade or two ago and has an emotional attachment to it (even calls it "his girlfriend"), he didn't spend much time doting on it after the Old Bridge Township Raceway Park event. He was busy working at his Connecticut plumbing business and didn't have time to prep it into primo shape for this weekend's World Street Nationals at Orlando Speed World Dragway.
"We didn't have time to fix the motor," Gottier said.
It didn't matter.
This sweet race car, which he has known almost longer than "better half" Laurie, didn't let him down. It carried him to the No. 1 qualifying position, took him for a cruise through the Heavy Street class Sunday, and parked him in the winners circle Sunday night.
With a 7.094-second quarter-mile blast at 190.59 mph against finalist Mike Schmidt, Gottier claimed the $5,000 winner's paycheck. In this battle between the Nos. 1 and 3 qualifiers, Schmidt countered with a 9.295 /103.81 in his '02 Camaro for the $1500 runner-up payout.
The Chevelle also brought him a $1,000 "Clean Sweep Award" bonus for setting low E.T. with that final-round clocking.
"It's a bad son of a gun," Gottier said of his ride.
"We were really, really conservative. I didn't have to lean on it a lot today -- but in the final you've got to step on it a little bit," he said.
Patrick Budd, whose Rochester, N.Y., shop crafted his chassis and serves as his ex officio tuner (as well as the event's premier public-address announcer), said Gottier "got more aggressive" during the day and "was making intelligent decisions between rounds."
After a first-round bye, Gottier eliminated Jeremy Arabal (Orlando), Terry Duffy (Cape Coral, Fla.), and Phil Hines (Lebanon, Ohio) to return to the final round for the second straight year
Gottier was runner-up here to Gary Naughton last year and expressed relief at stepping up to win this time. "I can't be happier about that," the Canterbury, Conn., resident said.
He and Jeff Duerr baby the Chevelle at the shop during the week, but Gottier brings a dedicated crew to the track, including Chris Panny, Roland Graham, Mike Ruscio, and Nick Carleton. Gottier also wanted to thank Scotty Guadagno, nitrous expert Steve Johnson, Rossler Transmissions, and Budd's shop for the progress he has made.
No. 3 qualifier Schmidt, of Sunrise, Fla., beat Rocky Elson (Stuart, Fla.), Gene Bridwell (Elkhart, Ind.), David Norris (Sarver, Pa.), and Jeff Lutz (Callery, Pa.) before facing Gottier. Schmidt, who posted consistently better elapsed times as the day wore on, treated the faithful crowd to a 7.274-second pass in the semifinal. - Susan Wade
QUICK HITS: RACE REPORTING IN RAPID FASHION
CHRISTIAN UPDATE - Christian visited the Orlando Speed World Dragway press room after picking up his Number-One Qualifier trophy and round-wins money to explain all the bolts sheared off his engine’s flywheel, momentarily seizing the rear wheels and sending him into an uncontrolled slide to the wall.
“The engine’s absolutely perfect inside,” he added.
EXTREME IMPORT FINAL HAS SCARY DRAMA - Miguel Ortiz, of Orlando, was declared the Extreme Import winner in a dramatic final round Sunday evening.
Ortiz, driving his '85 Mazda, red-lit in the right lane, apparently giving the victory to Puerto Rican driver Edwin Burgess. But Burgess, of Narjahito, crossed the center line in his '89 Toyota Corolla and smashed into the right guardwall.
Burgess signaled that he was uninjured, and Ortiz was awarded the victory in this second year for the class and the first with an open call that attracted 25 entrants.
Ortiz collected the $2,000 winner's share of the purse. Burgess took home $1,000.
STICK A FORK IN HIM -- Somebody had to face track record-holder Tony Christian in Sunday's first round of Super Pro Street runoffs, and the chore fell to Rockin' Rob Cherkas. On a perfect day, he would have had a tough time against the No. 1 qualifier and three-time World Street Nationals champion.
Cherkas knew he had nothing for Christian after the blower on his '82 Vette broke. The jolly racer from Langhorne, Pa., had the expired part on display at his pit, complete with a fork stuck in it for laughs.
After his 17th WSN appearance was over in the first couple hundred feet, Cherkas said, "I had to take the light for the check. I thought maybe I could go up there and scare him and get some more money. But that guy's a proven champion. It was an honor to line up against him."
He promised, though, that next year is going to be different as he once again seeks his first Orlando crown: "This thing is going to have twin F3s on it. We're going to rock this house!"
GOOD SPORT - Frank Mewshaw, of Melbourne, Fla., won the most recent NMCA event, appeared to be continuing his winning ways at Orlando, acing his Outlaw 10.5
opening-round match. However, his '88 Trans Am was definitely worse for the wear. It crossed the line on fire, but he was unhurt after eliminating Patrick Adams.
However, Meshaw, knowing he would not be able to repair his car to answer the Round 2 call, deliberately bypassed the scales in a display of sportsmanship. For neglecting to stop at the scales after the run he was disqualified. That allowed Adams, a Sarasota, Fla., driver, to win the round and have another chance to show what his '69 Camaro could do against Tim Lynch. (Adams lost.)
One of Meshaw's crew members said as his driver lifted off the gas, releasing the internal fuel pressure. That broke the fittings, triggering an oil spurt that caused the fire. It burned all the wire harnesses and all the fuel-injection plumbing.
NOT WHAT HE WAS EXPECTING - Tim Lynch's 6.720-second pass at 213.87 mph in the Outlaw 10.5 class was, not all that surprisingly, the quickest and fastest of the first round. But the Woodstock, Ga., class dominator wasn't exactly expecting those kinds of numbers. He said Saturday he was thinking his Vette ZR1 could pop out some 6.40s or even 6.30s. His winning time in the second round was 6.714.
NO. 1 BLUES - Nobody ever told Craig Pio that being No. 1 qualifier would mean an easy weekend, but he surely had no idea that Sunday's Outlaw 10.5 eliminations would throw him so many curveballs.
Gifted with a bye run in the opening round, the Oceanside, Long Island, N.Y., veteran struggled with a fuel delivery problem. His '02 Camaro, still new enough with just a handful of runs on it to be a mystery, acted like it was going to stall when it rolled to the starting line. Pio knew he wouldn't have lane choice with his 14.281-second clocking at 66.96 mph, but he was less concerned with who got lane choice in the next round than who the opponent would be.
Dave Hance, himself a promoter and the 2009 World Street Nationals champion who's tuning Pio's car along with Don Bailey this weekend, noticed that the ladder spelled out a possible meeting between Pio and Tim Lynch, the Nos. 1 and 2 qualifiers, in the semifinal rather than the final. He questioned that arrangement Saturday night, and official Mike Poole assured him it would all shake out after the first round.
That isn't how it played out Sunday morning for Pio, though. "They said it would shake itself out, but that's not happening," he said, coming to the tower to try to understand how the pairing worked. In the end, he went away disappointed. The positive news for Pio was that the argument meant something, for the New York Motorsports crew on loan from Hance had fixed the fuel-system trouble.
"I'm not saying I should have another bye -- I've already had my freebie," Pio said. "But I should be on the other side of the ladder from Lynch."
Poole conceded that at first glance, "the ladder looked funky to me, too." The first instruction he received following Pio's concern was to take the Round 1 winning times, re-establish a qualifying order, and reshape the pairings. But Pio still was at a disadvantage with that roll of the dice. He said, "I went low, so I'm not going to be No. 1 anymore."
Poole told him that he couldn't do it on a computer any other way, and Pio replied, "Why can't we do it on a handmade ladder?"
After some bargaining, promoter Carl Weisinger's input, and Poole's phone call to Compulink timing system designer Bob Brockmeyer, the final decision was that the original ladder sequence was right, that it is a pro ladder, from a standard NHRA ladder-sequence template.
It still left Pio with the possibility of going head to head with Lynch before the final round. Lynch, in NASCAR parlance, was "the Lucky Dog recipient," advancing on a bye to the semifinal against the winner of the Pio-Mark Kyger pairing.
DRAGGIN' WAGON -- Drag Radial No. 4 qualifier Steve Morris, an engine specialist from Muskegon, Mich. was in the process of making station wagons look pretty cool again with a 7.820-second pass at 162.41 mph in his '93 Caprice. But he banged the left guardwall just before the finish line and was disqualified, giving No. 29 qualifier Chris Fenn the victory.
"It really happened so fast," Morris said. "I didn’t know anything was wrong until I hit the wall. It was throwing debris inside the [driver's] compartment like crazy. They had to pry off the front fender to get me out of the car."
He said the car got out of the groove and he was trying to correct it. He also admitted he was a bit unfamiliar with a drag-radial-class vehicle. "I've never driven a big-tire car," he said.
KNOCKOUT PUNCH - His name is Rocky. He had a car with good hook and a lot of heart and -- well, probably not a girl named Adrian. But Super Pro Street's Rocky Raynor clearly was the underdog Sunday when he answered the second-round bell against No. 2 qualifier Chris Rini, who had led the field through five of six qualifying sessions. Raynor went the quarter-mile distance in 6.761 seconds to knock out Rini.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK: BIG CROWDS, CRASHES AND LOTS OF DOORSLAMMER ACTION
QUALIFYING: IT'S A WRAP - Three-time Orlando winner Tony Christian stormed to the top spot in Super Pro Street qualifying with a record-setting 6.225-second pass at 223.73 mph on
Saturday evening—and promptly announced the 18th annual Real World Street Nationals “probably” would be his last race as a driver.
“I’m tired. Well, not tired, but I’m getting old and I can’t keep working on this by myself,” Christian said. “I may race again at Bradenton (FL), but that
would be it.”
After grazing the left wall in the second session on Saturday, Christian said he had to tape his driver door shut for his final qualifying attempt in which he
made the quickest doorslammer pass ever over the quarter mile at Orlando Speed World Dragway, surpassing Chris Rini, who had been on top since Friday night’s
“I loved beating Chris Rini,” he said. “Now I just need to get a little bit of luck.”
Also leading 32-car fields into eliminations on Sunday are Craig Pio in Outlaw 10.5 and Sam Gottier in Heavy Street, while Mel Nelson remains the provisional
polesitter for Drag Radial. Damon Chin placed number-one in the eight-car field for the first official running of Extreme Import in the World Street Nationals.
They tried to get in an unprecedented six qualifying rounds for all classes, but a late-night oiling of the track by a Drag Radial entry brought Saturday’s
activities to a premature halt. Faced with a lengthy clean-up, track officials reached the decision at 9:30 p.m. to complete the final Drag Radial session
beginning at 10 a.m. on Sunday, prior to eliminations for all classes, but the Heavy Street field was set based on five completed rounds of qualifying.
Bellmore, NY’s Pio picked Tim Lynch’s pocket for the $1,000 top qualifier award when he went six-thousandths of a second quicker than the Georgian with a
6.633-second run at 223.69 mph in his last qualifying run.
“It’s an awesome feeling to be number one at Orlando, the biggest race of the year,” Pio declared. “We tuned it up with just a little more power for that run
because the air was cooler, the track was cooler and it worked; we picked up a tenth.”
Pio said his Pro Chassis Design-built ‘02 Camaro arrived at the track fresh from having its front suspension reworked last week by Josh McClelland in Georgia and
its twin-turboed All-Out Race Engines 638 cubic incher worked perfectly. He also thanked racing partner David Hance and tuner Don Bailey for helping to deliver
his first number-one start at the World Street Nationals since attending each year since 2002.
“And of course I have to thank my wife, Christine, who puts up with everything that goes along with all this,” he added. “I just hope we can make her proud
Gottier, fresh off a win at the recently completed Shakedown at E-Town, will be looking to repeat the feat and finish one better than his 2009 Heavy Street
result at the World Street Nationals as runner-up to Gary Naughton.
“We’re trying to go a few extra miles on some tired parts here,” Gottier admitted after going 7.130 at 189.52 mph with his 762-equipped ’71 Chevelle to
earn the number-one start. “So we’re going to go out and try to run a smart racer’s race tomorrow. Then we can go home and freshen things up over the winter
and start all over again next year.”
Heading toward the wrap-up of Drag Radial qualifying, Mel Nelson’s 7.474 at 217.49 set during Friday’s final session has held up so far as the number-one
After finishing Friday in the number-one position, Chin briefly lost the point to Herberto Santiago after Saturday’s opening session, but relegated Santiago
back to second with a 7.064-seconds pass at 200.38 mph, marking the first 200-mph pass in the class at Orlando Speed World Dragway.
Chin said in the final session he was going after the first six-second pass, too, but his turbocharged, 172-cubic-inch, 2JZ-powered ‘06 Celica rattled the
tires shortly after launching and he was forced to abandon the run.
“The way our power comes on is different than the big dogs with their V-8s,” Chin explained. “They have a wider power band and more torque, and us, we rely
on boost to get us going and we have to slip the clutch a certain amount before our horsepower takes over.”
Elimination rounds for all five classes will immediately follow the completion of Drag Radial qualifying Sunday morning.
ROCKIN' ROB AN ORLANDO FIXTURE - "¡Mi casa es su casa!"
He said it to everybody who wandered by.
The cheery, welcoming voice boomed from under the blue sombrero ringed with gold tassels. The "casa" actually was Rockin' Rob Cherkas' cavernous hauler. It was virtually empty, because the World Street Nationals fixture from Langhorne, Pa., had moved all of his chairs outside, so wife Veronica and daughters Haley and Caitlyn could sit out on the "front lawn" of his pit space and visit with friends and passersby.
The hat was his good luck charm all last year, one that ended with a championship. Nate Pritchett of "Pinks" fame hosted his own series -- "The Ultimate Outlaw Shootout" -- in 2009. Said Cherkas, "I followed the circuit in 2009. I went to every race with my Mustang. I was awarded world champion."
Cherkas, Outlaw 10.5 runner-up here in 1998 with his Chevy-powered Mazda RX7, never has won this race. But he has the distinction of being the lone World Street Nationals racer to qualify in all four traditional classes.
The Extreme Import category, which promoter Carl Weisinger introduced last year, does intrigue him. He said, perhaps only half-jokingly, that he might give that a shot next time.
"I'll get me a little turbo import. I'm going to wait to see whoever wins this race and offer him a bag of money" Cherkas joked. Turning serious, he said, "Hats off to those guys. Those short-wheelbase things -- they're a handful."
He's racing for the first time in Super Pro Street this year. He said this class is his "true love now," because "I love the 200-mile-an-hour-plus runs. I love the six-second zone, the seven-second zone. It's awesome."
He would be one of the few drivers to qualify every year, except a dislocated shoulder sidelined him last year.
Cherkas, not surprisingly with his friendly personality and wealth of doorslammer drag racing knowledge, announces and serves as spokesman for the recently established Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod Association.
He bragged that the new group includes "69 or 70 of the fastest full quarter-mile Pro Mods in the country." He said, "These cars are ultra-fast. There are five guys now in the five-second zone, which just blows me away. These guys are the unsung heroes of drag racing, in my eyes. And I'm proud to be their announcer."
Cherkas ended up Saturday with the Super Pro Stock bump spot to ensure his place in the Orlando history books. But it took a bit of last-minute scrambling this past week from his friends in the Northeast -- chassis builders Nicky and Chris Montana, of Long Island, and engine specialist Dale Cherry, of suburban Philadelphia.
He got his alligator-themed '82 Vette from Chicago ace Chuck Samuel, the 2004 World Street Nationals winner. While Cherkas might have inherited some excellent karma, he also found himself with some pretty tight quarters in the cockpit.
"Chuck is a little bit shorter than me by about seven or eight inches," Cherkas said. "I was so tight in the car that Nicky Montana said, 'I'm not going to let you take the car to Orlando. I'm very busy -- but, instead of seeing you get hurt, I'm going to fix your cage and give you some more room in the car.' My car would not go down the track. He and Chris closed their shop and went nuts for two days, man. And they hooked me up."
As late as Wednesday, the car still wasn't on its way to Orlando. After the Montana Brothers made the major chassis adjustments, multi-time driving champion Dale Cherry of Injection Connection put the Vette on the dyno Wednesday at his Horsham, Pa., shop and set the tune-up for this event.
"So these guys busted their hump and got me done," Cherkas said. "I got here and right off the trailer we whacked out a seven-second pass (7.815 in Friday's second session after an 8.873 to begin the weekend).
That 7.815 was what kept him in the show. Longtime WSN Susan Vanderspool, of nearby Melbourne, Fla., is the first alternate in her '84 BMW at 7.891.
NO PIO IN THE SKY-O - The smart World Street Nationals crowd is aware that Tim Lynch, the Outlaw 10.5 icon, doesn't always get his way. The two-time winner from Woodstock, Ga., met his match last year in familiar rival Chuck Ulsch, who relegated him to runner-up.
With Ulsch and his Gil Mobley Militia absent from this year's edition of the race while Ulsch's car is rebuilt from a recent crash or replaced, almost everybody assumed Lynch would hold onto the No. 1 qualifying spot he had kept through five qualifying sessions despite a car that has been a bit uncooperative.
But Pio rocked Orlando Speed World Dragway late Saturday, recording a 6.633-second run at 223.69 mph that squeaked past Lynch by six-thousandths of a second in his new Montana Brothers (MBRC)-crafted '02 Camaro.
Pio served notice that he and his new ride would be a force at this race Friday, when he jumped from ninth to second with a 6.780-second E.T.
"I was in the tower, announcing when he did that. I had goosebumps. I have goosebumps thinking about that," Rockin' Rob Cherkas said.
"He's as hardcore as they get. He takes it serious. The Montana Brothers built him a serious car," he said.
Indeed Pio is a hardcore racer, competing in heads-up classes since 2001. When Lynch became the first Outlaw 10.5 driver to dip into the six-second range at The Shakedown at E-Town Northeast showcase, it was Pio's record that fell. Pio was the first to clock a time in the seven-second range.
So it's not as if Craig Pio, who comes from Bellmore, N.Y., came from out of nowhere to earn his career-first No. 1 qualifying position. He had dropped from second to fourth by the end of Friday qualifying . He inched back up to second place after five sessions with a 6.711-second E.T. before stunning Lynch with his sixth pass of the weekend.
If Pio's Camaro raised any eyebrows in its debut at The Shakedown earlier this month, it might have been for underachieving. But Shakedown promoter and Super Pro Street entrant Dave Hance -- the 2009 WSN Drag Radial champion who had plenty of time to help buddy Pio after withdrawing from the race because the rear-end housing broke on his Vette -- said Pio worked out the bugs at Englishtown.
He didn't qualify at The Shakedown. That disappointment came after a long, tough September filled with cleanup and repair details in the aftermath of a freak tornado that damaged his Brooklyn, N.Y., warehouse. Pio, an importer-exporter of goods that stock all 99-cent stores in New York City, was inside the block-long building at the time the rare tornado ripped the roof off.
So Pio, who has a striking resemblance to the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield -- and often has gotten about the same amount of respect -- is back on top, at least overnight.
Hance, who has his engineer, Don Bailey, and his New York Motorsports crew throwing their efforts into Pio's car this weekend, said Pio had an excellent chance to become a first-time winner -- like Hance did last October.
"Lynch is the favorite," Hance said. "That's a well-groomed, well-prepared team. That tem is strong, and that's because of teamwork, the way they turn it around."
Nevertheless, he said likes Pio's chances. "It's definitely possible," he said optimistically.
Finally, Craig Pio can't say he "gets no respect, no respect at all."
PURPLE BEAUTY - It started out as an unfinished project, one of those I-meant-to-complete-this-someday task. Today it's the well-known shiny, purple '66 Chevy II that people identify with Outlaw 10.5 drag racer Mark Kyger.
"A friend of mine had it, and he was going to build it for many years," Kyger, a competitor at the World Street Nationals since 2005, said. "He never raced it, and he never got close to finishing it. He started putting a frame underneath it, but the whole car needed to be built. It was a very crude roller. I finished it up for him."
He plopped a big-block 540-cubic-inch Chevy engine prepped by Ty Tech Performance into it and loaded it up with twin Pro-Mod 88 Precision turbos and a three-speed Bruno Lenco transmission. All the chassis and fabrication work was done by AC Carcraft.
"I always liked purple," Kyger said of his color choice. "When they had those Ranger Splash pick-ups. I always liked that purple. I was like, 'One day, I'm going to get me a car that color.' " His previous was black, and the sport's photographers told him they weren't so keen on giving images of plain black cars to their editors for publication. So, he said, "I liked the purple and decided to go with that. It's all factory body and it's got all the factory lines. I don't think you need to do a whole lot with stripes."
But after the popular car debuted at the famous WSN-eve Race Rock car show and cruise down Orlando's International Boulevard five years ago and made its annual appearance from Kyger's garage in Coral Springs, Fla., the car has made fewer public appearances lately.
With daughters Christina, who's almost age six, and Samantha, 2, Kyger has "been doing the family thing with them, so I haven't been out racing as much. But I never miss Orlando."
He secured a top-five start Saturday with a 6.717-second elapsed time at 216.06 mph. He said early in the weekend that the car had been in the 6.90s but he was looking to coax a 6.70 from it.
"It's kind of an animal," Kyger said. He's hoping it'll roar Sunday.
And maybe one day, Christina Kyger, who's barely past kindergarten at the moment, will be carrying on her dad's custom.
"I think she's going to be a racer," Mark Kyger said. "She likes turbos. She'll tell you what kind they are."
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK: BREAKAGE ENDS A RAPID PACE DAY
QUALIFYING HALTED - The 24-driver-strong Heavy Street class will kick off Saturday's activity at 10 a.m., finishing its third qualifying session.
Danny Hencken's smoke-filled night run that leaked transmission fluid all over the top end of the track halted action Friday.
The classes will begin their rotations then with the fourth overall qualifying session. Two sessions are scheduled, but it is possible, time an conditions permitting, that a third session (sixth overall) will complete qualifying.
Final eliminations are set to start at 10 a.m. Sunday.
Provisional No. 1 qualifiers are Chris Rini, Super Pro Street; Tim Lynch, Outlaw 10.5, Mel Nelson, Drag Radial; and Damon Chin, Extreme Import.
"We went in a new direction to see if we could hit it harder," Rini said of his 6.240-second elapsed time at 230.10 mph that came in the third session. "We changed tires, four-link, threw more power at it and we'd already replaced the wheelie bars after they broke on our first pass."
Lynch made a 6.639-second pass at 223.47 in the second round of qualifying to hold on to his top spot but let off early in round three when his tires chattered near mid-track. An unknown engine problem also had him and crew chief Steve Petty a little perplexed and elbow-deep in their motor Friday night, but both expressed confidence in improving on Saturday.
"I hate to say we're disappointed in runs that qualified us number one, but we know there's a lot more in it," Lynch said.
Nelson, last year's Drag Radial runner-up at the World Street Nationals, ran 7.474 at 217.49 in his third attempt on the Orlando strip but said he was looking for a 7.30s pass.
"But the track's just not there for it right now," he said. "I actually lifted just before the finish line because the tires rattled a little down there and I got out of it as fast as I could. I was uncomfortable. I wanted out of that car."
Chin's top-qualifying 7.234 at a career-best 195.99 mph in his 2006 Toyota Celica came in the first Extreme Import qualifying round. He also said he had to pedal the throttle once about the 330-foot mark, but otherwise it was a clean pass.
"It was good, a nice run," said Chin, a Jamaican native who resides in Jupiter Farms, Fla. "The speed is good, but the ET I would like to see a little better."
Chin and the rest of the competitors at the 18th annual World Street Nationals will get at least two more opportunities to improve their qualifying positions on Saturday, with the opening session scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
STAND-UP SHTICK - Orlando World Speed Dragway promoter Carl Weisinger might want to hire Heavy Street competitor Lil Bull -- that's his legal name -- to do a stand-up comedy act for the World Street Nationals crowd.
Lil Bull, just standing there dressed in his orange shirt and funky, multicolored MC Hammer-style pants, automatically would get a chuckle.
But he has a rapid-fire delivery about the Perils of The Pumpkin, his beloved but berated jazzy-looking orange '68 Camaro convertible with black stripes. To hear him tell it, this car -- which he has had since high school . . . umm . . a few years ago -- is not exactly the Great Pumpkin.
The Orlando resident describes it as "540-cubic inch motor . . . blown, injected, big block . . . and it's as slow as a dog. If I painted my helmet green, it really would look like a pumpkin."
"It doesn't have enough power to deep-stage.
"The bugs hit the back window on this car it's so slow.
"I get a bye run and the win light doesn't come on."
If the car had a DVD player, what music would he have playing? Without hesitation, he said, "Taps. "
Said Bull, "I just got terrible luck. It sucks being me. Look at the back of her shirt."
The young daughter of one of his crew members modeled a T-shirt declaring, "Lil Bull Sucks." So even other people's kids make fun of him.
But he's telling the truth when he says it isn't the quickest or fastest. It might not be fuel-efficient, this beauty that sports the vanity license plate "EYE-XLR8" and sometimes is spotted on the streets of Orlando.
"It's a cool car. It's so slow it's embarrassing, but I don't care," Bull said.
"I get five miles to a tank of gas, about a mile per gallon. It runs so rich in idle. The fumes, I can't stand it. The people next to me . . . if there's some old lady and she passes out and floors it, she could kill somebody. I'm not trying to be smart. When I see somebody that I shouldn't be next to, I don't get next to him in traffic," he said. "If the wind's blowing the wrong way, you're dead. You sit there. You cry. You gag. But I've always wanted a blower on the car since I bought it 36 years ago. Now look at the price I got to pay for it!"
When he's racing, he said he never changes the tune-up. "We took the tire off -- that was major work for me. If something goes wrong, I just go home."
He's laid back. He posted on the trailer door some chores for his crew chief and crew members. Crew members are to "keep car clean. Inform driver of errors. Smile. Pretend car is fast. Relax." According to the notice, the crew chief's duties include "Record run in book. Retrieve data from car. Consult driver. Figure: Rock, paper, scissors. Recharge laptop battery. Relax."
Who doesn't want to win? Bull does, but he isn't going all out to do it. He likes simply being in the field.
"I always qualify I the lower part of the field, which is fine," Bull said. "Then we're the underdog. I want to be No. 32."
"People relate to this car. Everybody eats it up. They go crazy over it. When you tell them how slow it is, they look at me like I'm lying," he said.
However, Bull wasn't the slowest Friday. In the opening qualifying session, he was 13th of 20 entrants and was 14th of 24 by the end of two sessions.
STATION WAGON WITH A PURPOSE - Many would argue that it's hard to make a station wagon look extraordinary. However, Drag Radial's Eric Kenward, a seven-time World Street Nationals competitor from Vero Beach, Fla., has done that with his '79 Malibu.
It's more than a showy race car, even with its checkered swath and ribbons of green and purple festooning the sides. It's a testimony to his Christian faith -- and the journey that has taken him from aspiring champion with the wrong priorities to official champion with his life in better order.
On the back windshield is a special message, a verse of Scripture, Romans 1:16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes."
Pride, Kenward learned, was what stood in the way of success and satisfaction.
"In 2005, I built a state-of-the-art Monte Carlo. We built it so much, we took time away from our families, time away from church, time away from everything," he said. "The first race out, we totaled the car, a brand-spanking-new car.
"So I'm like, 'What happened here? What did we miss?' " Kenward said he asked himself. Then he realized the answer: "I left God out of everything. After that race, I made sure God was part of everything."
After much prayer, Kenward said, his mandate was clear: Do what God expects of him and God will bless his every endeavor.
"I'll do whatever you want me to do, God," Kenward said he told The Lord.
That next race, a driver flipped his car while traveling about 200 mph, and Kenard said he wanted to go down to the site and pray with the driver -- but he decided too may people were milling around the scene.
"I was still embarrassed. I let my pride get in the way," he said. "So we went down to the end of the track. I said, 'Surely they won't let me go down there and pray with the guy, because there are too many people around.' I asked the official, and he said, 'Yeah, go ahead.' I asked the guy if I could pray for him and he said yeah. I prayed from him, and I prayed for him the official put his hand on me and prayed for me.
"Ever since then," Kenward said, "I put Romans 1:16 on there to show that I'm not too proud to witness and put God out there before everybody else. And He has blessed us. TRZ Motorsports is the best sponsor anybody could ever have. They're phenomenal.
Since he changed his approach and straightened his priorities, he has added some hardware to his mantel. He's the 2009 ORSCA Modified Street champion and this year's Outlaw Radial Tire Championship Series titlist. He also set a couple of records. We have the world's fastest nitrous-plate car. It went a 5.04 (-second elapsed time) at 139 (mph). In a station wagon with a small block, that's pretty impressive."
He has a two-door Malibu with a Mike Moran turbo motor that he's trying to finish, as well.
"And here we are, with an engine hanging from a tree because we can't afford and engine hoist," Keward said.
Sure enough, beside his hauler was his engine, attached to an industrial-strength strap secured over a tree limb and propped up underneath. But the unglamorous appearance of his pit space didn't deter Kenward.
"We're going to try to set a record this weekend. We'd be the first nitrous-plate care to go seven seconds in the quarter-mile with a small-block engine."
He's active with his Heads-Up Ministry. "We try to do what we can, try to be good to people. We're not perfect. Sometimes you get overwhelmed with people and they call you out on it. This is a humbling experience."
He was 12th in the first session and 15th among 31 racers at the end of two qualifying sessions.
NEW CLASS, THANKS TO CREW - New York Motorsports owner Dave Hance won't try for back-to-back Drag Radial victories here. He loved the idea of it, but he discovered a last-minute problem with his radial-tire car that he knew he and the crew couldn't fix in time to be competitive.
But thanks to the hustle of his team, he returned to Orlando with a second car -- the two-year-old '57Chevy Bel-Air with the 526 Chrysler Hemi engine that he has driven in a handful of ADRL events -- to compete in the Super Pro Street class for the first time.
"We won in Drag Radial, and we wanted to defend," Hance said. "Just before we were ready to load up, we saw a little water dripping from the block."
So he made the quick switch.
He said his Bel-Air "on Wednesday wasn't together, so in 24 hours they put a motor together, got here, put the motor in, and here we are."
The hustle from his crew preserved Hance's streak of 10 consecutive World Street Nationals appearances.
This weekend's ride is one he prepared with the intention of racing in the NHRA Pro Modified class. "But they made a rule change that prohibited automatics, after we built the car and were ready to attend the first race. That changed it [the plan] right there."
Hance is hoping he'll have it running well enough Saturday to make his first run of the weekend. He was unable to take advantage of three qualifying runs Friday, bringing his car to the starting but line but having to push it back all three times.
"We thrashed. We actually wanted to sit out the first run. We weren't ready," Hance said.
The disappointing start to this weekend is in contrast to his successful ADRL.us Shakedown at E-Town VIII outlaw doorslammer classic that drew the top names in the Northeast -- plus a few who are here this weekend, including Outlaw 10.5 leader Tim Lynch.
MR. SANDMAN, SEND ME A NEW MEMORY -- World Street Nationals historians remember well the two wheelstands that Tony "The Sandman" Williams made here in the same run years ago. But he would just as soon give the fans some other exciting runs to remember.
"Once in a lifetime's enough for that," the Millington, Tenn., racer said with a laugh.
He ended the day in seventh place with a 6.640-second E.T. and best time of 211.13, not all that memorable but certainly safe in the 32-car line-up. Chris Rini leads the field so far at 6.240, and provisional No. 3 qualifier Jeff Lutz leads the speed chart at 234.78 mph. Tony Christian is No. 2 overnight.
"I have to get Christian and Rini to slip up a little bit," Williams said, quickly acknowledging that "there's some great racers here."
Williams, known for years as a one-man band, has three crew friends helping him this weekend. He said what has kept him competitive against his better-funded colleagues is "14 years of picking at it."
He said, "I like coming down to this race. That $10,000 wouldn't be bad."
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THURSDAY NOTEBOOK: IT'S OCTOBER AND TIME FOR FAST DOORSLAMMERS IN ORLANDO
IT'S CARL'S WORLD - Orlando.
For so, so many fast doorslammer racers, that single word carries as much weight and magic as Daytona or Indianapolis does to their roundy-round and open-wheeled brethren. Winning the Real World Street Nationals at Orlando Speed World Dragway provides demonstrable proof of having beaten the very best. It offers life-long bragging rights and quite easily can make up for a long season of late-night garage sessions and time spent on the road, busted knuckles, broken dreams, or blown engines and bank accounts.
Orlando can offer redemption to those that need it and validation to those that don’t.
And it all goes down again this weekend (Oct. 29-31), as track operator and race promoter Carl Weisinger, 65, plays host to tens of thousands of fans and race teams from all over the U.S. (and even a few foreigners) competing in five heads-up doorslammer classes in the 18th annual running of one of the greatest stand-alone drag racing events in the world.
“It seems like yesterday that we did the first one,” Weisinger recalls. “You know, we only had 43 cars at that first one and about 1,100 people, but you could sense the magic even back then and you can still feel it today.”
Weisinger says several factors contribute to his event’s long-term success and continued popularity, such as a payout that goes to every one of the qualifiers in each class, the opportunity to compare against the best racers of their type anywhere, wild on-track action, and the autumnal attraction of central Florida and its many tourist destinations to much of the rest of the country.
But above all else, he believes it’s because it’s fun.
“I know from my own personal experience, if I go to a race track and have fun I want to go back. Even if I lost in the first round or didn’t qualify or blew the motor, it didn’t matter as long as I had a good time overall because that’s what it’s really about out here, enjoying our recreation of choice.
“And I know it’s become an annual ritual for many of our fans and competitors,” he adds. “It’s almost as much a reunion each year as it is a race.”
By Thursday evening, racers in the Real World Street Nationals’ traditional offerings of Super Pro Street, Outlaw 10.5, Heavy Street and Pro Drag Radial will be jamming the pits alongside those of Weisinger’s latest official addition, the Extreme Import class. With no minimum weight, an appearance rule requiring Sport Compact-type bodies (including small pick-ups) and practically everything else wide open other than dictating entries carry either a four-cylinder, inline-six-cylinder or two- or three-rotor engine, the Extreme Import division smacks of ADRL influence.
In fact, Weisinger says he gave ADRL president and founder Kenny Nowling a quick courtesy call last year prior to the new class performing on an exhibition level with just eight cars.
“He didn’t own the name or have any kind of claim to it, but I wouldn’t have wanted him to show up in a couple of years (with the same name for a class) and find out we are already using the name,” Weisinger explains. “But he said at this point they don’t have any intention of running any Import cars.”
Weisinger expects a 16-car Extreme Import field this time around and says the level of preparation and condition of the cars last October, combined with positive crowd response, are what convinced him the class is a worthy addition to the Real World Street Nationals show.
“The cars are very impressive; they’re as well built and just as nice as almost any Pro Mod out there,” he says. “A lot of them are back-halved or three-quarter cars, but a few are all-out, throw-down, ready-to-go-to-war, full-tube-chassis pieces. It was kind of funny, though, because the crowd started going to the snack bar and bathrooms when they came up to run at first, but when those guys ripped off a couple of 7.20s the fans came back to the fences in a rush.
“It appears we should have 18 to 20 of them this year,” Weisinger says. “We’ll just have to wait and see, but we’re willing to nurse them along.”
Weisinger also puts to rest any notion that the 18th annual could be the final running of the Real World Street Nationals, despite his own advertising flyers suggesting as much just a month or so earlier. He explains as a lease holder at the quarter-mile facility he’s sometimes faced with “little issues” that other track operators may not have to deal with.
“But we were able to address that with the property owner and thank goodness for now it’s full steam ahead,” he says. “So as it is right now we’ve got the next five years on our lease and that’s the same as I started with here 24 years ago.”
Which is good news for doorslammer racers and fans who enjoy having somewhere to visit and call their own each October.
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WEDNESDAY NOTEBOOK: LOOKING BACK TO LAST SEASON
SUPER PRO STREET
Winner: Coby Rabon - 6.273 seconds, 234.21 mph
Runner-up: Mike Hill - 6.365 seconds, 233.17 mph
No. 1 qualifier: Coby Rabon - 6.269 seconds, 235.31 mph
Low E.T.: Coby Rabon - 6.235 seconds
Top Speed: Coby Rabon - 237.92 mph
RABON'S DECISION TO RETURN TO RACING PAYS OFF
Coby Rabon tried to turn his back on drag racing. And he was pretty successful at it -- for a couple of years.
But what once had sapped all of his energy has re-invigorated the quietly determined man from Ridgeway, S.C.
Rabon's plan to approach the sport at a sensible pace and with leaders in the industry paid off in a major way Sunday at the World Street Nationals. He earned not only the $10,000 winner's share of the Super Pro Street purse but an extra $1,000 and trophy as No. 1 qualifier, as well as another grand and a third trophy as the "Clean Sweep Award" recipient. The honor goes to the driver who wins from the top spot and posts low elapsed time of the meet.
The crowd at Orlando Speed World Dragway got a thrill Friday morning, when Rabon sent a message to the rest of the class with a 6.269-second elapsed time (at 235.31 mph) in his '05 Mustang that held up through fives sessions for the top qualifying position.
"That first pass was awesome. I knew then that we had something," Rabon said. "With that pass, we knew we were going in the right direction. I felt like if we could just get down the track that we would stay No. 1 the whole time."
His hunch was right. But Rabon treated fans to more thrills Sunday, opening his march to victory by setting both ends of the track record with a 6.235-second pass at 237.92 mph against Greg Denis. The fast Ford with the 67-cubic-inch Steve Petty-engineered Pro-line power plant made consistent 6.2/6.3-second runs all during eliminations before Rabon denied Mike "Hitman" Hill a second consecutive WSN title in the final round. Rabon capped his weekend with a 6.273/234.21 effort to Hill's 6.365 / 223.17.
Rabon also advanced past experienced Super Pro Street drivers Tony "The Sandman" Williams, Steve King, and Tony Christian. (Hill, who took home $4,000, drove past Mike Moran, Mike Stavrinos, Doug Horween, and Chris Rini to reach the final in his '07 Pontiac GTO.)
"It was nine rounds here, and we were low E.T. seven rounds," Rabon said. Then with a grin that suggested he might just continue to vex his competitors for some time, he said of the car, "It's got potential."
What makes Rabon's domination even more remarkable is the fact he was making his on-track debut at this race.
"This is the first time we've been to Orlando. This is the first time we've rolled in the gate," he said. "This is just the beginning."
The well-worn racing surface always is prepared to its optimum. Nevertheless, it was "green" because of a brief shower Friday morning and no real pre-race activity, save a Thursday night golf-cart drag race, to lay down any rubber.
"This track is a challenge," Rabon said. So was the entire weekend for the man who knows first-hand now why a trophy from the World Street Nationals is so valuable.
"We broke a tranny one round. It hasn't been easy. We took the tranny out three times this weekend. Behind the scenes, there's a lot of work, but we had fun," Rabon said. "It was worth it."
Was drag racing "worth it" to Rabon? For awhile it was -- then it wasn't -- and once again it has become a passion. So what happened to Rabon? Why did he leave the sport for two years?
"We had an Outlaw car. We ran it for a year or two," he said. "We tried to go somewhere every weekend. We burned our bearings out. We got tired of it. I got totally out of it. I went to a couple of racetracks about a year ago, and the bug bit me again. So here we are again."
And how did Steve Petty get involved?
"I already had a turbo car, so turbos were on the top of the list. I went to Pro-line, struck a deal, and here we are," Rabon said.
Ah, but it wasn't that easy, really. After all, a lot of outlaw/street-legal drivers would love to have Steve Petty's attention.
"I went to him and I said, 'Look, I want you to be a part of this. Y'all know what I want to do. So let's do it together.' I'm loyal. I told 'em, 'I need your help,' and they gave it to me. It took a little bit of talking and when they finally realized I was serious, everybody came together. It didn't take long, about a month."
This young business relationship -- Rabon owns and operates the car, while Petty orchestrates the tuning -- seems to be working splendidly.
"Steve's a character. He's a big part of what we're doing right now. Steve's everything to us right now," Rabon said. "He really helps us. He does whatever he can. We try to help how we can.
"He does all our tune-ups. He's the brains behind it. He's the brains of the operation on the computer. He comes in there and mashes a couple of buttons, and I just watch and try to keep up." Said Rabon, "We're still learning."
That's all reassuring to Rabon -- but not to the rest of the Super Pro Street drivers.
MICKEY THOMPSON OUTLAW 10.5
Winner: Chuck Ulsch - 6.522 seconds, 223.99 mph
Runner-up: Tim Lynch - 16.587 seconds, 47.51 mph
No. 1 qualifier: Chuck Ulsch - 6.450 seconds, 224.62 mph
Low E.T.: Chuck Ulsch - 6.450 seconds
Top Speed: Tim Lynch - 232.31 mph
ULSCH NABS ORLANDO VICTORY -- WITH HELP FROM JOHN DILLINGER
Everybody's heard of John Dillinger.
But how many could identify his accomplices? Let's see . . . James Ward, Richard Mauzy, Jeff Weddle, Cody Ulsch, Brian Mobley . . . Oh, and special gang members Brian Weddle, Mike Weddle, J.C. Gloyd, Jim Gloyd, Drew Smith, and Robbie Long.
Nah -- we're not talking about the notorious gangster John Dillinger. This is John "Pops" Dillinger. The others were key witnesses and collaborators Sunday as show-stealer Chuck Ulsch stormed into Orlando Speed World Dragway, roughed up the Mickey Thompson Outlaw 10.5 class with a World Street Nationals victory, and made off with more than $10,000.
Ulsch, who has made Gil Mobley Motorsports' '02 Camaro just about the Most Wanted ride in street-legal racing, swiped top-qualifier honors, as well, with a 6.450-second elapsed time at 224.62 mph. That stuffed another $1,000 in his pocket. Ulsch raked in an additional $1,000 for the "Celan Sweep Award," for he also set low E.T. with his qualifying time.
But grabbing all the loot was no breeze for the Clarksville, Md., legend. Part of his concerns were the Lynch Mob -- rival Tim Lynch and his team, who faced him in the final. Although Ulsch ran a stout 6.522-second pass at 223.99, Lynch lost power early and never was a threat in the quarter-mile showdown. His cut of the purse was $3,000, some consolation for his 16.587-second, 47.51-mph showing.
"We really worked this weekend. It was a battle," Ulsch said after winning at Orlando for the first time in three final-round appearances. "We did one good pass on Friday night. Everything looked good on the car. Once we came up there Saturday morning, we had the right lane, kind of didn't get down, came back and they made us take the right lane -- we didn't get down. We wanted the left lane. Then we had a problem -- our CO2 bottle went empty and we didn't get down. (Sunday) we pretty much backed it down, just to get down (the track). We had an issue -- fuel burned the piston up in the first round. We had to put a piston in it after second round, and we had the blower off every round.
"All these guys, everybody who's on my crew -- there's about 10 or 12 of us -- every single person did something to get us in that winners circle, whether it became cleaning oil off the back, packing the chutes, helping put the cylinder head on, putting a piston in, going to get parts, whatever," Ulsch said. "We battled. We battled. And we got it done. Every time, we had a reasonable amount of time to get the job done."
He said the 32-car ladder played out the way he had expected.
"The four fastest cars were in the semis," he said. Because of that, he knew he needed to keep lane choice each round. "The left lane's a good lane here. So we were shooting to have that left lane all day. Once we got back on track, we pretty much set the pace for ourselves."
After losing to Bill Futch in last year's final, Ulsch might have wondered if his string of poor luck would continue. "We've always had to fight for it here, because we've always had problems. We've never had an easy day where we can just put the plugs in it and make sure everything's tightened up, make a pass and be done. It's always been a fight. But it makes it good. It makes it real rewarding when you win," he said.
"I didn't do this myself," Ulsch said. "I'm the one who gets to drive it down the track. I'm the one who gets to do this right here (speak with reporters), talk to the people. I just want to make sure I tell everybody that John Ferguson and Gil Mobley Sr. and Gil Mobley Jr. own this car. They're the ones who put me in here."
Referring to the newly crowned ADRL Battle of the Belts champion Todd Tutterow, he said, "Todd Tutterow tunes this car."
Although Ulsch certainly is aware of Lynch's capabilities, he wasn't overly focused on his opponent in the final. "We were doing our own thing, just make sure we got that lane choice, make sure we got all our Ts crossed and our Is dotted, and do what we had to do. If he could come up and beat us, I'd have dealt with it. You put what you have up on the table. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose."
Ulsch explained his domination by saying, "We have good people and good equipment, and we have a pretty good work ethic. Everybody loves it. We don't do this for money. This is a hobby. It's not a business. Sometimes people think everybody on this teams gets paid for what we do. We do it for the love of this.
"We want to win. We want to prove that we can run with the best of them. We want to be the best of them. We want them to want to run with us," he said.
After raiding the World Street Nationals, Ulsch and the Mobley Militia are about the most feared hombres in outlaw drag racing.
MICKEY THOMPSON DRAG RADIAL
Winner: Dave Hance - 7.249 seconds, 206.13 mph
Runner-up: Mel Nelson - No time
No. 1 qualifier: Dave Hance - 7.436 seconds, 201.13 mph
Low E.T.: Dave Hance - 7.249 seconds
Top Speed: Alex Vrettos - 213.91 mph
PEANUT BUTTER, JELLY SHARE GLORY AS HANCE TASTES VICTORY
Lined up on the roof of Dave Hance's fancy black '93 Mustang were three World Street Nationals trophies.
One was for being the $3,000 Mickey Thompson Drag Radial class winner -- and recipient of a championship jacket that will make him the envy of racers and fans and his friends in his Long Island neighborhood of Inwood, N.Y.
Another was for the "Clean Sweep Award" -- along with a $1,000 bonus -- he earned for being the winner, No. 1 qualifier, and driver to set low elapsed time at the 17th annual door slammer extravaganza at Orlando Speed World Dragway.
The third trophy was for leading the field with the 7.346-second pass Hance used to nudge Mel Nelson (his eventual final-round opponent) from the No. 1 spot in a last-minute fifth qualifying session.
("They tell me we get bonus money! And more trophies!" Hance said, his boyish enthusiasm leaping out.)
Those three trophies made sense. But Hance plopped three more items on the roof. They didn't make sense -- unless you know Dave Hance and how far he has come in his racing career. What's sitting on the roof of the racecar, as much a part of the winners circle as the trophies, the trophy girls, and the lined-up crew, were a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, and a loaf of bread. What in the world. . . ?
"Back in the old days, 20 years ago or so, when all of us had no money," crew member Scotty Guadagno said, "we were racing low-budget cars, that's all we had to live on. And believe me, that's what we lived on every day. You went to Dave's apartment, all you would find in the cabinet and the refrigerator was peanut butter and jelly and some white bread. That's it. That's all we had. That's why he brings it with him everywhere he goes. Oh, he eats it now -- when you go in his trailer, that's all you see: peanut butter and jelly. Believe me when I tell you -- it's true."
Hance defended himself: "That was quick! That was cheap!"
He was quick Sunday, but his performance wasn't cheap. He plowed through the field, eliminating Floridians Kirk Hatley, Ari Birchfield, and Angelo Graham, then Steve Turley, before surviving in the final with a swift, clean 7.29-second, 206.13 pass while Nelson took a frighteningly wild ride and ended up crossing into Hance's lane behind him and keeping his own '02 Camaro off the wall.
"Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his car flinch," Hance said. "But that County Auto Mustang was really going, so I had to keep my eyes on it. We were floating the wheels a little bit ourselves. He said he shook. We both turned it up. We both knew we wanted to rock and roll."
The victory, the near-catastrophe at the top end of the final run, just finally getting he car dialed in -- it all seemed a bit hard for Hance to believe . . . except for his comfort food sitting there to remind him of struggling and overcoming. He said he certainly did not think that this would be a winning weekend.
"I was a bit disappointed," he said. "The whole weekend we couldn't get down (the track). It was constantly finding, finding, finding. After that fourth qualifying session, which was supposed to be the last, I got down far enough that I knew what I had to do. So when they said, 'You've got an extra one,' we went out there and it did what I was hoping it would do.
"The real credit goes to the crew; Randy Connor, our crew chief; Don Bailey, our tuner (who does the same job for ADRL driver Spiro Pappas)," he said. "It's really them. They gave me an awesome car. I just jumped in and had to let it go."
Said Hance, "Hats off to Orlando for giving the fans an extra round, and a good round it was in all classes. What can you say? We're tickled."
He morphed from an animated race winner to a promoter in a subtle second. But that's what Dave Hance is: part promoter, part racer. He's the architect of a Northeast outlaw race at Englishtown, N.J.'s Old Bridge Township Raceway Park that started 10 years after these World Street Nationals but has become a must-enter fall free-for-all.
Hance dances around established dates to make choices easier for the racer -- after all, he has competed in the World Street Nationals since 2001 with a variety of his own cars. And many of these drivers at Orlando -- including winners Chuck Ulsch (Outlaw 10.5), Gary Naughton (Heavy Street), and Coby Rabon (Super Pro Street) -- plan to hail their cars to New Jersey for the rain-rescheduled Shakedown at E-Town this coming weekend.
Hance might be a whiz at slapping together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but take a tip from Guadgano: Say no thank-you if Hance offers you spaghetti. The old tale goes that Hance's racing buddies found a bowl of spaghetti that had been left in the refrigerator so long it was sprouting mold. "That must be broccoli or something," Hance told them. (He confessed to the fib, saying, "I tried to play it off.")
This World Street Nationals victory wasn't Hance's first race triumph, by any means. The peanut butter and jelly, while still a legitimate lunch for Hance, simply serves as a reminder of how much he has progressed. But it paid enough to shelve the peanut butter and jelly, maybe at least for one night, so he and his team can enjoy a steak dinner.
Winner: Gary Naughton - 7.098 seconds, 206.13 mph
Runner-up: Sam Gottier - 7.179 seconds, 193.71 mph
No. 1 qualifier: Gary Naughton - 7.092 seconds, 206.07 mph
Low E.T.: Gary Naughton - 7.092 seconds
Top Speed: Gary Naughton - 207.56 mph
NAUGHTON'S HEAVY STREET TRIUMPH IS 'OKIE-DOAK'
Gary Naughton accomplished a feat Sunday that's known in drag racing as "running the table."
It means a driver captures just about every performance achievement possible at a single event by winning, earning the No. 1 qualifying position, and setting low elapsed time and top speed.
Naughton did all that in ADRL Extreme 10.5 class driver and business partner Kenny Doak's '67 Camaro, pocketing $5,000 for the victory and $1,000 bonus for the "Clean Sweep Award."
That he did so at the World Street Nationals was something that in an emotional moment in the winners circle afterward he called "a dream come true."
He came close to the prize last year, but a mechanical glitch doomed his chance.
"Kenny qualified first last year. I think I qualified fourth last year," Naughton said. "The transmission popped out of gear in the semis last year. It was a bit of a heartbreaker. So I redeemed myself this year.
"It's five rounds of racing, the only 32-car race field in the country. Ah, it's just amazing," he said, trying to soak it all in the gathering darkness at Orlando Speed World Dragway. People asked for his autograph on T-shirts. A lineup of professional photographers and three times as many folks with recreational-grade cameras wanted him to smile and pose with his crew by the car, holding his trophy. A reporter or two probed into his background, asking him the "how it feels" questions.
"This is a dream come true. I still can't believe it," he said.
Finally things were coming together the way he had dreamed about it when he was building race cars for other drivers who drove them to big-race victories and a measure of fame, at least in the drag-racing world.
Naughton has been racing since he was 16 years old, for almost 29 years, he said. Most recently, he said, he competed in local Quick-8 racing at Atco Raceway in South Jersey and Cecil County Dragway in Maryland, neither far from his home in Eastern Pennsylvania.
"I've been building and racing cars forever. But I never could do it at the level I am now, if it wasn't for Kenny Doak giving me the ride in his car," he said. "I can't say enough for Kenny Doak and Billy from Oddy's -- the motor is just unbelievable . . . Coan Converters, Bruno Lenco . . .
He said he and Doak "just started a race car shop of our own, Advanced Door Car Technology. We're an up-and-going race car shop.
"He has a state-of-the-art machine shop, does a lot of medical work. Kenny really set me up, bought me every piece of equipment I need to build race cars," Naughton said.
At that point the humble Naughton allowed himself a smile. But the smile wasn't just for himself and his own team, although they did advance past Omar Obando, reached the quarterfinals on a bye, then beat Lee Saunders and Ronnie Souza to make the final for the first time.
As his car was lined up next to those of fellow winners Dave Hance (Drag Radial) and Chuck Ulsch (Outlaw 10.5), he glanced over at Ulsch's '02 Camaro with pride.
"I was the shop foreman at Vanishing Point Race Cars until about six months ago. I built Chuckie's car," Naughton said. So in one sense, he was a double winner. The victories just kept mounting for him.
For Naughton, Sunday was a day of 3Rs -- no rest, for sure, but certainly running the table, redemption, and rejoicing.
Winner: Ken Scheepers - 7.761 seconds, 179.33 mph
Runner-up: Raul Reyes Buozo - 7.135 seconds, 191.19 mph
No. 1 qualifier: Alex Dieguez - 7.161 seconds, 193.27 mph
Low E.T. : Raul Reyes Buozo - 7.135 seconds
Top Speed: Luis Ferrer Jr., 195.34 mph
Ken Sheepers, of Flower Mound, Texas, drove his '05 Mazda RX8 to a 7.761-second, 179.33-mph victory over Bayamon, Puerto Rico's Raul Reyes Buozo, who red-lit in the final. Track operator Carl Weisinger gave the Extreme Import drivers one shot each in the cooler conditions at making a six-second pass following the scheduled program. None hit the mark. But the last in line, Luis Ferrer Jr., of West Palm Beach, hit the wall. He was not hurt.
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