2017 PDRA SOUTHERN EXTREME NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - D'APRILE, COX AND GONZALEZ STAKE THEIR EARLY CLAIMS ON 2017 TITLE
D'WINNER! - Veteran Pro Extreme wheelman Tommy D’Aprile notched the first win on his 2017 scorecard when he drove the Mel Bush Motorsports 2015 Corvette to a decisive win over Jose Gonzales in the final round.
D’Aprile entered eliminations as the number-two qualifier with a 3.551 et. A 3.54 at 215.55 mph followed in the first round over Danny Lowry, who was unable to make the run. A timelier bye run in the second round allowed D’Aprile to move on to the semis despite slowing to a 3.811. D’Aprile dipped back into the mid-3.5s with a 3.562 at 209.01 to defeat Californian Jay Dietrich, though the screw-blown Hemi was wounded in the process. The Al Billes-led team rushed into action, repairing the powerplant during the short turnaround time before the final. With opponent Jose Gonzales patiently waiting, D’Aprile and team were able to return to the line to run 3.586 at 212.73 mph to defeat the 3.657-second effort by Gonzales.
“We had to tear the motor down and put it back together before the final,” D’Aprile said. “We didn’t even test fire it. The starter wouldn’t come off at first when we fired up for the final, then we had a bent throttle cable so we didn’t have full throttle in the final. The throttle was actually sticking so I had to hold my foot back while I was staging. It just all worked out, that’s all I can say – God is good.”
Gonzales, who drove the El General/Q80 Racing 2016 Corvette to a 5.406 quarter mile, a new doorslammer standard earlier in the weekend, certainly earned his way into the final. The twin-turbocharged entry improved from a 3.601 at 222.25 to a 3.575 at 219.01 in the first two rounds, then Gonzales scored a sizeable holeshot win over Swedish FIA Pro Mod champion Mattias Wulcan in the semifinals.
Even with such a proven competitor in the other lane, D’Aprile stayed focused on the task at hand to take the win back home to Port Charlotte, Florida.
“With all due respect, I never care who I’m racing because I’m my own guy – I cut my tree, drive my lane and do what I need to do. I never worry about who’s in the other lane. I’ve got confidence in what we’ve got in the race car and who we have putting it together – Al Billes and all the guys on this Mel Bush Motorsports team. I really owe it all to them, as well as Mel and Johanne Bush for giving me the opportunity to run their race car,” D’Aprile added gratefully.
THE GREAT PUMPKIN - Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous presented by MoTeC star Jay Cox, winner of three of the nine PDRA races in 2016, kicked off the new season with possibly his most successful weekend performance yet. The former Minor League Baseball player used two elusive 3.6-second passes to secure the PDRA Southern Extreme Nationals low qualifier award and event win.
Cox drove his fan-favorite “Pumpkin” ’69 Camaro to a 3.679 at 200.71 mph – just two thousandths away from the et record – to claim the number one spot in qualifying. The Buck-powered entry stayed in the 3.7s for round wins over Lee Adkins, Jim Laurita, and Danny Perry. With final-round opponent Lizzy Musi having recorded a pair of 3.68s at well over 200 mph in the prior two rounds, Cox knew he would need a little extra motivation. He delivered a 3.697 at 199.91 to take down Musi and her 3.719 at 204.08 after the two Pro Nitrous hotshots engaged in a lengthy staging duel.
“I think the world of Lizzy and [her father and tuner] Pat Musi,” Cox said. “They have a bad hot rod. I grew up playing ball and a lot of people would try to get in my head; I live for that. If someone goes in and lights the tree up, I’m kinda bored. But when you want to play games, I get fired up; I get in the zone. I don’t plan anything, I just do it by feel. Me and Lizzy were just having a little fun with that staging battle. That’s what makes drag racing great.”
The season-opening win has special meaning for Cox, who was sent looking for a new major sponsor over the winter. He found one in Garysburg, North Carolina-based Clements Mechanical, a mechanical engineering firm new to the sport.
“It’s awesome to start off the year like this,” Cox added. “My new sponsor, Luke Clements at Clements Mechanical, he’s new to drag racing. He had about 20 of his people here supporting us. For him to put all of that faith in me is pretty special to me. I’m glad we could start things off on the right foot with this win.”
EL GENERAL LEADS - While Jose Gonzales made headlines this weekend for his record-shattering quarter-mile run in the El General/Q80 Racing Pro Extreme car, his performance in Andy McCoy Race Cars Pro Boost was also impressive.
Gonzales recorded a weekend-best 3.684 at 214.66 mph to qualify number one, then laid down back-to-back 3.688s to dispatch the supercharged entries of Larry Higginbotham and Ric Fleck. A 3.686 at 213.33 was enough to beat rising young star Ty Tutterow in the semifinals. He then used a starting-line advantage and 3.703-second pass to beat GALOT Motorsports driver John Strickland’s 3.723 in the final round.
In his winning effort, Gonzales also performed several of the fastest runs in Pro Boost history over the course of the weekend. The Pro Line-powered Mustang was consistently in the 213 mph range throughout eliminations, though a best speed of 215.2 mph was set in the opening round.
MONTE HAUL - New York paving contractor John Montecalvo added another win to his illustrious mountain-motor Pro Stock career with his PDRA Southern Extreme Nationals win in Extreme Pro Stock. The number-two qualifier had his 2015 Camaro running consistently in the mid-4.0-second range, eventually defeating first-time Pro Stock finalist Scott Benham, who crossed the centerline.
“It feels phenomenal to get the first win of the season,” said Montecalvo after running 4.087 in the final. “We really struggled this weekend. We tested Thursday and didn’t do very well. Our original plan for Thursday was to make two runs on the car, put it in the trailer and go out to dinner. It didn’t quite work out that way. We just couldn’t get a handle on the track and had to change our setup completely, but sometimes those weekends that start out the worst way end up the best. Tommy Lee, William, Cory, and my wife, Lois Anne, all did a great job – it was a real team effort.”
INTRAMURAL SKIRMISH - Defending Drag 965 Pro Extreme Motorcycle world champion Eric McKinney showed no signs of stopping his championship ways this weekend. The three-time PDRA champion defeated his teammate and tuner, Ashley Owens, in an all-McKinney Motorsports final round.
“The performance this weekend was just stellar,” McKinney said. “We started off where we left off last year. We had a couple good days of testing and thought we could just put it on cruise control for qualifying, but it wasn’t easy.”
McKinney was the provisional low qualifier after Friday’s two qualifying sessions, though he was bumped to third in Saturday’s final session by Owens and Terry Schweigert. The Ohio rider’s Suzuki went progressively quicker in eliminations, beginning with a 4.07 at 176.7 mph over Monte Campbell and ending with a dominant 3.99 at 179.52 over Schweigert in the semifinals. Another sub-four-second pass nearly followed in the final, but McKinney’s 4.001 at 179.04 was quick enough to hold off low qualifier Owens and his 4.024 at 177.72.
“To run 3.99 in the semifinals was incredible, but that’s what it’s going to take to win races this season,” McKinney pointed out. “We were trying to run side-by-side threes in the final. This class is tough this year, and to start the year off like this is just awesome.”
THE SPORTSMAN REPORT - Fernandine, Florida’s Tom Vanbeek proved that an ultra-quick car isn’t always necessary to win in Magnafuel Top Sportsman as he upset low qualifier Randy Perkinson in the final. Vanbeek dialed in at 4.68 and 4.69 through eliminations, while Perkinson chose the low 3.9s for his dial-ins. Vanbeek marched around Top Sportsman hitters Aaron Glaser, Billy Albert, and Barry Daniluk before meeting Virginia’s Perkinson in the final. In the end, Vanbeek’s ’88 Beretta was quicker off the starting line and closer to his 4.68 dial-in with a 4.695 compared to Perkinson’s 3.926 on a 3.90 dial.
A mass of supercharged dragsters were on hand to compete in Lucas Oil Top Dragster, with Louisiana driver Mario Boesch earning the event win in his MKD Racing entry. He defeated low qualifier Jody Stroud, Matt Cooke, and Ashley Tidrick on his way to the final, where he faced defending world champion Justin Kirk. Boesch left the starting line last and was a few hundredths off his 3.91 dial-in, but Kirk slowed from his 3.87 dial-in to a 3.964, allowing Boesch to take the win.
Campers Inn RV Pro Junior Dragster winner Sadie Wicks used a large holeshot to defeat Amber Franklin in the final round, running 7.964 on the 7.90 dial-in. The opposite was the case in the MegaCorp Top Junior Dragster final when Tripp McCarthy ran four thousandths off his 9.04 dial-in to overcome a starting-line advantage by Connor Shields, who broke out on his 9.38 dial with a 9.289.
UP NEXT - The next stop on the 2017 PDRA Tour is the 2017 PDRA East Coast Nationals, March 30-April 1, at GALOT Motorsports Park in Benson, NC.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - A NEW SEASON UNDERWAY WITH EXCITEMENT AND SPEED
STANDARD BEARER - 2015 world champion Jason Scruggs set the standard for the PDRA’s quickest and fastest class with his 3.499-second, 221.52 mph blast during the second qualifying session Friday night. The pass was quick enough to propel the ScruggsFarm.com 1969 Camaro from the bump spot to the top spot, putting Scruggs in a good position as he moves into Saturday’s final qualifying session and eliminations.
“For me it feels good [to qualify number one] because we’ve been struggling with a bunch of new parts on the car. It’s a relief to get down the track tonight and not be behind the eight-ball going into tomorrow. Plus, Bubba Stanton has been running his mouth, so I don’t have to listen to him talk smack all night,” Scruggs joked, referencing the 2014 Pro Extreme champion who is back in competition after missing most of the 2016 season.
While his 3.49 offers some level of comfort, Scruggs also realizes he’ll face a more challenging track surface on Saturday.
“We’ve been a little lost with trying to work in some new parts; just overpowering it,” admitted the driver of the “Mississippi Missile”. “But the track was great tonight, so we just went for it. We don’t have many laps on the car with the new parts, so we’re still going to be a little lost in the heat tomorrow. It’s good to make a Hail Mary pass when the conditions are good, but you gotta get down the track when the sun is out too.”
Stanton and Tommy D’Aprile follow Scruggs with their identical 3.557-second elapsed times, with Stanton’s Roger Henson-owned ’69 Camaro taking the second spot based on better speed. Frankie “Mad Man” Taylor is fourth with a 3.576 recorded during the first session. Jose Gonzales, who recorded the world’s quickest quarter-mile doorslammer pass with a stunning 5.403 at 259.71 mph earlier in the day, is fifth with a eighth-mile time of 3.587.
PLEASANT SURPRISE - Smithfield, North Carolina’s Jay Cox was unsure if he would even be able to compete this season after losing his primary sponsorship over the winter. However, the 2016 championship runner-up was able to secure backing from Clements Mechanical in time to prepare his Buck-powered “Pumpkin” ’69 Camaro for the new season. He ended up recording a near-record 3.679 at 200.71 mph to claim the top spot in Pro Nitrous.
“It’s been a rough road this winter, not knowing which direction we were gonna go, as much as I love drag racing,” Cox said. “I prayed about it a lot and thought about it a lot, and it all worked out. It’s going to be a good deal.
“This is a good feeling. This thing sat on the ProJacks for four months. Then we came down here and it’s running as fast as it’s ever run. I have a lot of good people in my corner – good crew, good family, and a good guy backing me, Luke Clements and Clements Mechanical. They’re new to drag racing, and what better way to introduce them than with a performance like this.”
Lizzy Musi, who raced extensively in the Middle East over the winter, is second in the 19-car Pro Nitrous qualifying order with a 3.707. Randy Weatherford (3.717), John Hall (3.735), and Danny Perry (3.737) round out the top five in Pro Nitrous.
GO FORTH TO THE TOP AGAIN SON - Back with the PDRA for the full 2017 season is Extreme Pro Stock, a class dedicated to naturally aspirated mountain-motored Pro Stock cars. Surprisingly, the provisional top spot went to a driver who was unable to attend any of the five Extreme Pro Stock stops on the PDRA tour last season. Cary Goforth drove his Dean’s Casing Service/Dewayne Higgins Trucking 2014 Camaro to a 4.056 at 177.74 mph to lead the Southern Extreme Nationals field.
“We’re making good runs, but they can be better,” Goforth asserted. “We just underestimated the track tonight, so my hat’s off to the PDRA staff for the great track prep.”
Mountain Motor Pro Stock racers have found a new home with the PDRA after experiencing instability with various series over the last several years. Goforth is one of at least eleven Extreme Pro Stock racers who have committed to running the full PDRA schedule in 2017.
“In 2014 the PDRA said they would love to have us back if we needed somewhere to race, and they stayed true to their word. We would have a lot of cars and expensive parts just laying around the shop if it weren’t for everyone with the PDRA. I cannot thank them enough for allowing us to come back and giving us a place to race,” Goforth said.
New York’s John Montecalvo sits second with a 4.091, while Elijah Morton’s 4.135 is third. Defending world champion John Pluchino is on the outside of the eight-car field heading into Saturday’s final qualifying session.
THE SPORTSMAN REPORT - In the PDRA’s sportsman classes, the current low qualifiers are Randy Perkinson in Magnafuel Top Sportsman and Jody Stroud in Lucas Oil Top Dragster. Mia Schultz tops the Campers Inn RV Pro Junior Dragster field, and Mallory Logan leads MegaCorp Top Junior Dragster.
After three of four sportsman qualifying sessions, the top spot in Magnafuel Top Sportsman is held by Virginia’s Perkinson, who recorded a 3.856 at 190.78 mph in his nitrous-assisted 2016 Camaro. Engine builder Billy Albert drove his new 2017 Camaro to the second spot at 3.932. Lester Johnson’s Procharged ’55 Chevy Bel Air is third with a 3.994.
Lucas Oil Top Dragster’s provisional low qualifier is Stroud with a 3.656 at 198.09 mph in the supercharged “Zombie” Spitzer dragster. Behind Stroud in second is Andrew Johnson and his Procharged Spitzer car with a 3.763. Floridian Brian Bednar is third with a 3.841-second run in his supercharged Spitzer rail.
ON TOP FOR TOMORROW - The 2017 PDRA Southern Extreme Nationals resume Saturday with Bracket Bash time trials at 10:30 a.m., followed by the fourth qualifying session for the professional classes at 11 a.m. Eliminations kick off with Pro Extreme at 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon.