2018 PDRA FIRECRACKER NATIONALS - RICHMOND NOTEBOOK
FINAL NOTEBOOK - WINNERS ARE CROWNED UNDER THE RICHMOND LIGHTS
BREAKTHOUGH - Ric Fleck has competed in Pro Boost since the PDRA’s debut season in 2014, posting Top 5 points finishes in 2015 and 2016, but he had yet to win a race or even reach a final round before the Firecracker Nationals. Fleck changed that when he took down points leader Chuck Ulsch in the final round, laying down a 3.769 at 196.76 in the Roots-blown “Dragon III” ’41 Willys to Ulsch’s 3.791 at 194.24. The two drivers last met in the Summer Drags semifinals in Michigan, a pairing Ulsch won en route to his first PDRA win.
“It feels good not only to win, but to go through the people we went through to get it,” Fleck said. “We went through some of the best – John Strickland, Tommy D’Aprile and Chuck Ulsch. That was a battle. The car was good. The car was really good in Michigan, but Chuck got us there. We got down here and didn’t change anything. We qualified No. 2 and (tuner) Devin Barrick kept after it all day.”
Fleck recorded an impressive 3.799 in the heat of the day to open eliminations against Anthony DiSomma, then ran a 3.83 over Strickland and a 3.773 over D’Aprile. Ulsch, who’s been to the final round at all four races this season, previously defeated alternate Dina Parise, Junior Ward and Larry Higginbotham.
REDEMPTION - John Pluchino was on a mission to redeem himself after a red light in the final round dashed his chances of winning the Summer Drags in Martin, Mich., in early June. He was able to pull off the win Saturday night, though, as he left first in his Kaase-powered ’13 Mustang and ran 4.108 at 175.75 alongside J.R. Carr’s 5.209 at 98.48 in his Sonny’s-powered ’18 Camaro.
“That red light at Martin broke my heart,” said Pluchino, the 2016 world champion. “That was absolutely on my mind going into the final tonight. I was .022 the round before and .022 in the final. I was on my game this weekend. I can’t say enough about my guys. It’s been a long, hot weekend, but it’s all worth it now. I love doing this, I love doing it with my son, and there’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
Pluchino qualified No. 4 and picked up his pace each round, going 4.149 over a red-lighting Dave Hughes, 4.143 over Elijah Morton and a holeshot-win 4.131 over No. 1 qualifier John Montecalvo’s 4.081. Carr posted round wins over Lester Cooper, Steven Boone and Matt Giangrande.
IT’S NOT HOW YOU START - After escaping a bizarre first round in Pro Outlaw 632, which saw three drivers break before the starting line, Daryl Hameetman was the picture of consistency in his 5-Day Shutters & Blinds ’67 Mustang. He was ready for a race in the final round, posting a 4.314 at 166.31, but opponent Tony Gillig encountered trouble immediately after launching his new ’96 Oldsmobile Cutlass.
“We just kept picking away at it and trying to go quicker,” said Hameetman. “It feels pretty good to get this win. It’s really only our fourth race with the car and we’ve come a long way in a short time.”
Hameetman qualified No. 3 and dodged a bullet first round when he went 7.13 and opponent Chris Holdorf broke. A 4.327 was enough to beat Jeff Ensslin, then Hameetman improved to a 4.311 to defeat Walter Lannigan Jr. Gillig raced from the No. 7 spot and took out Jordan Ensslin and No. 1 qualifier Johnny Pluchino before running 4.316 on a single in the semifinals.
QUALIFYING NOTEBOOK - CLUCH IS STILL IN PLAY WHILE RETURN FOR PURPLE REIGN IS NO. 1
CLUTCH PLAYER - While Randy Weatherford’s Musi-powered ’69 Camaro resembles many of the other first-generation Camaros in Pro Nitrous, it houses a Leanders clutch that sets it apart from the competition. In Weatherford’s opinion, it’s also what allowed him to top a field made up largely of torque converter-equipped cars. He recorded a 3.712-second pass at 202.82 mph during the third qualifying session.
“It’s going to be pretty hot tomorrow, but we went 3.75 in the heat today,” said Weatherford, who won his first PDRA Pro Nitrous “660 Man” trophy at the North-South Shootout in May. “I think I have an advantage over (converter cars) with the clutch in the heat – the scoreboard shows it. I’ll race them in the daytime in the heat. We’ll start racing in the heat, but hopefully we’re still in the race late Saturday when it cools off again. We ran just as quick as the other guys did tonight, so I think we’ll have something for them.”
Weatherford will line up against Tony Wilson in the first round of eliminations Saturday afternoon. Jim Halsey qualified No. 2 in his Yellowbullet Nationals ’68 Camaro with a 3.727 at 203.28, followed by points leader Jason Harris in the “Party Time” ’69 Camaro with a 3.733 at 202.06.
LEAD BY THE SPIRIT - Let's go ahead and get this out of the way: PDRA Pro Boost driver – and PDRA chaplain – Tommy D'Aprile does pray to win.
Well, OK, it's a little more complicated than that. So let's let him explain when we asked if he prays for victory.
"I pray about everything," D'Aprile said. "I pray, 'Lord, I want to win this race this weekend. My desire is I want to qualify No. 1 and I want to win.' But what I do after that is I say, 'Lord, your will be done, not mine.' If I don't get my way, I'm not going to say, 'Ah, I prayed about it, and nothing happened.'"
As PDRA chaplain, D'Aprile has prayed with his on-track competitors. And that includes praying for a victory for them. Yes, in a sense, D'Aprile has prayed for a loss – for himself.
But it's all for a higher purpose. When he sees a fellow driver who might be struggling, D'Aprile offers to pray with and for them.
"I say, 'Let's pray for this. Let's pray for your win,'" D'Aprile said. "I'm not kidding you. They'd beat me, and they'd win the race and we would laugh, and I'd say, 'I'm not praying for you anymore.'
"The truth of the matter is, I'd rather take the loss on the race track than to have them doubt what God can do. Because God can do anything. Anything. It's us who doubt."
Being a chaplain and a born-again Christian while also being a fierce competitor could seem to be a bit of conflict of interest, of sorts. All Christians are admonished to serve others, but how can than happen when you're trying to beat another driver, to end their day, to keep them from winning and making money?
That's an oversimplification, of course. And for D'Aprile, he doesn't race to get glory for himself. He does his best to check his pride at the gate and let his humility and positive attitude shine through. And in the process, maybe God's love will come through, too.
"I'll tell you the truth: If I'm bragging about me, then somebody needs to call me out," D'Aprile said. "I will not brag about me. The Lord says, 'Be a servant.' People know, I think, my reputation. I've been around long enough, and I'm really hard on myself about cutting a good light and driving well.
"There was someone we were racing years ago, and he was just angry and mean. I remember him coming up to me and saying, 'I just can't not like you.' All I would do is give him a big hug and say 'Hey, good luck.'"
But make no mistake, as a competitor, D'Aprile wants to win. And when he doesn't win, he's critical of himself. At a recent race, D'Aprile's day ended when he went red. A driving mistake, for sure, and no one was angrier that he was.
"I said a couple words last race," D'Aprile said. (We can all probably guess what they were).
"I thought, 'Yeah, I've still got some carnal in me, for sure,'" D'Aprile said. "I was just not happy about my performance. But that's what I like to relate to people. I don't have any witness if I'm winning all the time. I wrote a column one time and said, 'The true victory is in the loss.' If you can lose and still be gracious and loving … that's huge.
"That's what our Junior (Dragster) kids do, and that's what adults don't do too well."
The reaction from people close to him over the red light was eye-opening for D'Aprile. He wanted to sulk and be mad and blame himself for the team's failure, but no one would let him.
"I had to learn a lesson," D'Aprile said. "When I preach, people know I'm far from perfect. But I'm loving the Lord, and I'm grateful for the death of my Lord and savior because I can't be anywhere close to perfect.
"When I red-lit, I knew it. I lifted off the throttle immediately because I didn't want to drive angry. I was mad, yeah, I was mad. I got to the top end, I threw my hat at the golf cart, and I walked back. I wanted my own pity party for a while."
His son told him to not worry about and his daughter called to encourage him. His Al Billes team picked up his spirits, too.
"I thought, 'At least my team will be a little miffed and let me have my pity party,'" D'Aprile said. "Well, as soon as I got back, they said, 'Hey, no big deal.'"
The lesson for D'Aprile? Use his weaknesses to further God's kingdom.
"I have to go through these things so I can be a witness to others," D'Aprile said. "I can't just tell them, 'You should be fine' – and I've never gone through anything. Your witness is huge. And I use everything."
Including his competitiveness. Oh, yeah, when D'Aprile pulls into the waterbox, he wants to rip out the throat of the driver in the other lane.
Well, those are our words. He'd never say that. In fact, D'Aprile says he doesn't race anyone else: He's racing himself. But he definitely wants to win.
"I will never tell people, 'I lost, and it didn't bother me,'" D'Aprile said. "No, it did bother me. I'm competitive, and I come here to win."
Win or lose, though, D'Aprile ultimately has a different purpose than many drivers.
"I love to race," D'Aprile said. "But I love serving the Lord and I love people more. My legacy, I don't want it to be how many races I won – but how many hearts I touched for the Lord. People will remember your character. They're not going to remember how many races you've won. " - Lee Montgomery
MONTE HAULING - After encountering a challenging first three races this season, John Montecalvo’s Haas-built ’18 Camaro seemed to come alive Friday night when it recorded a 4.086 at 176.19 to claim the top spot in Extreme Pro Stock.
“It’s been a tough year and we really needed that run,” Montecalvo said. “We brought this car out at Indy last July and it was exceptionally hot. Coming into this race, I figured this is our territory. We stumbled on the first couple runs, but I think we have a good hot-weather combination in the car now. We should be good from here on out.”
With 15 cars on the qualifying order, Montecalvo will receive a bye run first round. Chris Powers, tuned by world champion crew chief Chuck Samuel, is No. 2 with a 4.095 at 174.59 in his Liberty’s Gears ’14 Camaro. Maryland winner Steven Boone and his Boone Motorsports ’07 Cobalt are third with a 4.097 at 176.58.
CANADIAN TWO-STEP - Third-generation Canadian dairy farmer Terry Schweigert rode his way to his second No. 1 spot of the season aboard his Dan “The Man” Wagner-tuned ’15 Suzuki. He was the quickest rider after the second and third qualifying sessions, ending the day with a 4.025 at 173.32.
“We knew the conditions would be better in the night session, so we were just waiting for that run,” Schweigert said. “I’m surprised we ran that 4.05 in the heat. Sure enough, the air was better and the track was good for Q3, so we were just able to put a little more to it when it cooled down. We actually thought it would quicker, but we’re happy with where we ended up.”
Schweigert will go head-to-head with GALOT winner Rodney Williford in eliminations. Ehren Litten on the lone turbocharged motorcycle in the field qualified No. 2 with a 4.035 at 177.30.
Points leader Ronnie “Pro Mod” Smith is third with a 4.045 at 174.28.
OUTLAW 10.5 - Pro Outlaw 632 star Ken Quartuccio debuted his new turbocharged ’17 Corvette in Outlaw 10.5 trim, shooting to the top with a 3.999 at 196.24. He will receive a first-round bye run. Quartuccio leads the father-son Decker Salvage team, with Mike Decker III holding the No. 2 spot with a 4.028 at 200.41 in his ’14 Corvette. Mike Decker Jr. is third with a 4.108 at 191.32 in his ’02 Camaro.
TOPS AGAIN - The most consistent No. 1 qualifier in Top Sportsman, engine builder Billy Albert continued his streak with a 3.86 at 192.36 in Stan Nance’s Structural Mechanical ’17 Camaro to lead the 60-car qualifying order, which will be split into the Elite 16 and Top 32 fields after Saturday’s final qualifying session. John Benoit is No. 2 with a 3.873 at 197.74, followed by Aaron Glaser’s 3.947 at 187.63 in the No. 3 spot.
PRODUCTIVE OFF WEEKEND - Matt Sackman, who races his family’s Hangsterfer’s Metalworking Lubricants Top Dragster on his weekends off from serving as the cylinder head specialist on Antron Brown’s Top Fuel Dragster, is the provisional No. 1 qualifier after a 3.858 at 184.98 in “The Unit”. The supercharged FTI Converters dragster of Brian Bednar is No. 2 with a 3.878 at 184.67, while Chaz Silance is third with a 3.88 at 188.49 in his Buck-powered dragster.
DARTS SQUARED - Lizzy Musi has had the best of both worlds the last two days.
Musi and car owner, Frank Brandao, unveiled a brand-new Jerry Bickel-built Dodge Dart in the days ahead of the PDRA Firecracker Nationals, June 29 and 30. They have brought the new car King Kong 7, with all the new bells and whistles, as well as King Kong 6, the proven race-winner.
“We’re excited for the new car,” stated Pat Musi, car tuner and owner of Musi Racing Engines. “We’re bringing lots of momentum into Virginia. Virginia is a good race for us. She’s won multiple times there, so it’s a good luck track for us. She’s second in points so hopefully she can move up. We hope to run the new car, but whichever car is the most comfortable for Lizzy during testing is the one we’ll race with.”
Musi has tested Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday was reserved for the proven car, so Musi could earn her NHRA Pro Modified license and did so with her first full 1320-foot run, earning her driving credentials with a 5.842, 250.51 pass.
Both cars will remain race ready in the Musi stable with the same engine combination, although King Kong 6 has already been sold. “The old car has been sold to some friends of mine in the Middle East,” explained Musi. “He’s allowing us to use it and keep the car here for now. They’re really good friends.”
King Kong 6 will sport the RSG decal of its new owner at Virginia and will be transferred to the Middle East before racing begins there this winter.
Musi currently ranks second in Pro Nitrous points, and the team looks to continue to improve their season now with the new car.
“You always want better, but our program is going pretty good," Musi said. "This car’s fast. We feel really confident.”
Musi ended up sixth quickest at the end of qualifying with a 3.784.