2023 PDRA AMERICAN DOORSLAMMER CHALLENGE - NORWALK EVENT PAGE
FINAL NOTEBOOK - FRANKLIN, HARRIS, DRINKWATER DELIVER ON SATURDAY NIGHT
BOUT TIME - two-time Pro Nitrous world champion Tommy Franklin hasn’t reached the winner’s circle since he won the American Doorslammer Challenge a year ago. He broke that winless streak Saturday night, knocking out the dominant Jim Halsey in the semifinals and defeating Marcus Butner in the final round. Butner, appearing in his first career final, made his best run of the weekend, a 3.683 at 205.69, but it wasn’t quick enough to get past Franklin’s 3.656 at 206.45 in his Musi-powered “Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro.
“This means everything. We won. We won Pro Nitrous. That's what we did. We won PDRA Pro Nitrous,” Franklin said. “Every team out there is just awesome. Obviously, Halsey, they're the best out there right now and we're trying to change that. Any time that you can beat them, that's a good day. But the racetrack was stellar, great crowd, great car count, great everything about it. That's just it. I say it all the time: This is the best series of racing and I'll stand behind it every day.
“I thank God for everything that we do,” Franklin added. “This win is dedicated to my dad. I lost him in July and that's the first win since then. It's been a long time to get back to it. You start questioning whether you’ll ever get that chance again, but it was good for me to be able to do that, and I'm just thankful for it all.”
Franklin qualified No. 4 before running a 3.712 at 204.17 to defeat John Vergotz and his 3.836 in the first round. He dipped into the 3.60s in the second round, beating a slowing Blake Housley with a 3.69 at 204.79. In the semifinals, Franklin paired up with points leader and four-time world champion Jim Halsey for a rematch of last year’s Norwalk final round. Franklin left the starting line first with a .013 reaction time and made his best run of the weekend, a 3.641 at 206.70, to stay ahead of Halsey and his 3.672 at 206.89.
Butner went into eliminations in the No. 6 spot in his Musi-powered Butner Construction “Heartbreaker” ’69 Camaro, using a 3.721 at 203.12 to move on past a red-lighting Dave Roemer. A side-by-side race with “Tricky” Rickie Smith followed in the second round, with Butner leaving first by five thousandths and running a 3.703 at 203.95 to beat Smith’s 3.704. That set up an all-Butner Motorsports semifinal pairing with Jay Cox. The race was over on the starting line when Cox went red by .024, throwing away a 3.68. Butner ran a 3.685 at 205.16 in the other lane.
NOW THAT'S A BOOST - As a two-time world champion, Jason Harris is one of the winningest drivers in PDRA Pro Nitrous history. But this season, he’s focusing on the ultra-competitive Pro Boost class, and he’s already picked up his first career win in the class at the third race of the year. Harris was dominant in his ProCharged “Party Time” ’69 Camaro, qualifying No. 1 and laying down a string of low 3.60s. In the final round, he was second off the line with a .010 reaction time behind Kurt Steding’s .007 light. He made his quickest pass of the day, though, a 3.615 at 207.18, while Steding slowed to a 3.804 at 160.10.
“We unloaded on Wednesday and I just felt good,” said Harris, who credited racing partner Jack Gaddy, Pro Line Racing, and Hoosier Tire. “Norwalk has been good to me. I won my first national event here back in God knows when, 2001 or something, in Top Dragster. The track’s awesome. PDRA is awesome. I just knew when we unloaded and the car went down the racetrack every time that we had a hot rod that we could contend with.
“I've run Pro Boost before,” Harris continued. “I've runnered-up a bunch. This is my first win. All I can say is once you put these combinations together, I promise you I can drive. I drove my ass off this weekend, and that's what it takes. Pro Boost is so tight. I can't thank everybody enough for standing behind me because it's been a long road to get here.
Harris’ road to the final round started with a .003 reaction time and a 3.644 at 206.32 to beat William Brown III and his 3.794 in the first round. Second-round opponent Spencer Hyde went red on a 3.656 pass, while Harris improved to a 3.627 at 207.05. He stepped up yet again in the semis, laying down a 3.616 at 207.30 to defeat Roderjan Busato and his 3.649.
Steding started the day with a 3.663 at 207.94 to get the first-round win over Rob Cox. He was the second-quickest of the second round with his 3.637 at 209.39 to beat Ken Quartuccio’s 3.657. He cut a perfect .000 reaction time in the semifinals, following through with a 3.629 at 210.11 to win over “Nova Joe” Albrecht and his 3.671.
DRINKWATER GETS HIS FIRST - Just over a year after Alan Drinkwater won in his Pro 632 debut, the Florida young gun secured his first Extreme Pro Stock victory in just his third appearance. Driving the Kaase-powered IronListing.com ’13 Mustang tuned by reigning world champion Johnny Pluchino, Drinkwater qualified No. 2 on Friday and raced consistently on Saturday to get the win. While final-round opponent Jeremy Huffman wasn’t able to make the call, Drinkwater still cut a .009 reaction time and recorded a 4.08 at 177.44 to put an exclamation point on the day.
“This takes a team of great people, reliable horsepower from Jon Kaase, Ram Clutches, Feather-Lite Batteries, and everybody that’s helped us along the way,” Drinkwater said. “Johnny Pluchino has this thing on rails. We can go up and down the racetrack when everybody else is having problems. We’re just fortunate to have great people around us, and luckily we've been able to have a little success. It’s a blast. I grew up watching guys like Tony Gillig, John Pluchino, [John] Montecalvo, Elijah Morton. It's unreal, really. I'm sure in the morning it will sink in more then, what we've accomplished, but it's a great feeling.”
Drinkwater’s worst run of the day, a 4.096 at 177.77 over Douglas Kittrel’s 6.28, was the quickest pass of the first round. He continued to set low E.T. of the next two rounds, starting with a 4.073 at 177.98 over Dennis Firkus and his 5.75 in the second round. He beat Dave Hughes in the semifinals with a 4.074 at 178.05 to Hughes’ 4.547.
Huffman, who has also won in Pro 632 competition, qualified No. 9 in his 3V Performance-powered ’10 Cobalt. He used a 4.223 in the opening round to beat Dwayne Rice, who won the season opener. A .002 reaction time and a 4.11 at 175.87 gave him the second-round win over No. 1 qualifier Tony Gillig, who coasted to a 9.442. Huffman was unopposed on his 4.697 in the semis, as opponent Derrick Reese didn’t make the call.
CLEARED FOR TAKE OFF - Just days before the American Doorslammer Challenge, Pro 632 championship contender Jeff Melnick was sitting in the Cleveland Clinic undergoing tests to determine the cause of intense back, neck, and arm pain. He was cleared at the last minute to continue driving Alan O’Brien’s AMC-powered Greenbrier Excavating & Paving ’20 Camaro. Melnick made the most of the opportunity, qualifying No. 2 and winning in the final round by inches. Melnick left the starting line .010 seconds ahead of No. 1 qualifier Doug Nicholl, making all the difference when both drivers crossed the finish line with 4.128-second E.T.s
“They're all special, believe me,” said Melnick, who won the season opener in just his second Pro 632 appearance. “Every win you get your whole life is special. Whether it's at a local track winning in No Box, it’s special. To come to a PDRA race and to win in a professional category is something I never thought I would do my whole life. To do that on a week like this where you're stuck in a hospital bed, you're staring out the window, and you don't know what tomorrow's gonna bring, good or bad, it’s awesome.
“Doctors are scratching their heads trying to figure out what's wrong with me,” Melnick added. “I go back next week; they think they’ll have some test results by then, so we'll go from there. I don't know how much racing I'll be able to do the rest of the year. We’ll see what's wrong with me and see what the treatment plan is, and hopefully we can continue to race. Right now, we're leading the world championship standings, so as long as there's air coming in these lungs, I'm going to strap myself in the car and let her eat.”
It was a home-track win for Melnick, who hails from Hubbard, Ohio. He started eliminations with low E.T. of the first round, a 4.17 at 167.95, over Tony Lasky’s 5.536. A 4.142 at 169.55 set low E.T. of the second round and beat Walter Lannigan Jr. and his 4.26. Melnick then simply broke the staging beams on his semifinal bye run.
Nicholl, who earned his first career low qualifier award on Friday night, drove his Musi-powered Nicholl Motorsports ’68 Camaro to a 4.186 at 171.64 on a first-round bye run. Tuner Troy Russell gave him a consistent car for the next two rounds, running a pair of 4.154s to beat Jason Ventura’s 4.634 and Lexi Tanner’s 4.207.
CLEAN SLATE DELIVERY - The father-son duo of Tim and Scott Kincaid have excelled in numerous small-tire classes, but they came into Pro Street with a clean slate this weekend. With Scott driving and Tim calling the shots on the roots-blown ’69 Camaro, the Tennessee-based team raced to the final round, where they knocked down points leader and defending event winner Bill Riddle. Kincaid left behind Riddle, but he powered ahead with a winning 4.003 at 185.56. Riddle had to lift, losing with a 4.165 at 169.02.
“Quite a bit of hard work goes into this,” Kincaid said. “It feels good. We got lucky a couple rounds, but you gotta have a little luck to make it to the end. So I'm happy with our first time out. My dad did a good job on the keyboard today, that's all I know.”
Kincaid qualified fifth and was second-quickest of the opening round with his 4.073 at 187.44 over Ron Stang. Second-round opponent Nick Agostino was shut off after the burnout, while Kincaid posted a 4.031 at 186.15. He had a bye run in the semis, using it to lay down a 4.01 at 184.52.
Riddle qualified No. 1 for the second time this season in his roots-blown Corrigan Race Fuels ’89 Camaro. That gave him a bye in the first round, where he coasted to a 10.03. The Michigan driver settled back into the 3.90s with his 3.954 at 188.38 over Bill Lutz’s 4.11 in the second round. His best run of the day, a 3.941 at 188.96, took out Ty Kasper and his weekend-best 3.998 in the semis.
DENTON DELIVERS SUPER STREET CROWN - The two quickest drivers in Super Street qualifying, Blake Denton and Dan Whetstine, were left standing in the final round. After winning the Shakedown Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park just a few weeks ago, Denton went on to secure his first-ever PDRA victory with a wire-to-wire win in his nitrous-fed, Musi-powered ’76 Camaro out of the Tommy Franklin Motorsports camp. The low qualifier was first off the line and lit up the scoreboard with a 4.713 at 156.72, while Whetstine pedaled to a 4.901 at 153.37.
“This is my first ‘660 Man’ ever, and I've been racing PDRA for around seven years now,” said Denton, who thanked Pat Musi, Mark Micke, Hoosier Racing Tires, Tommy and Judy Franklin, and girlfriend Amber Franklin for their support. “To get it this way is even better because it's a professional win and it's just a big deal. I ran both Jr. Dragster classes, Top Dragster, and now Super Street, so I've been in here for a while now.”
Denton slowed to a 5.723 on a first-round single, then posted a 4.721 at 155.58 to beat inaugural Super Street winner Wes Ervin and his 4.899 in the second round. A 4.723 at 156.32 in the semifinals beat fellow Virginian Matt Schalow’s 4.901 and gave him lane choice over Whetstine in the final round.
Whetstine, who qualified second in his ProCharged ’91 Mustang, set low E.T. of the opening round with his 4.833 at 153.39. He stepped up with a 4.776 at 154.79 to defeat Super Street newcomer Phil Hines and his 5.11. The Maryland driver then lifted to a 6.284 on his semifinal bye run.
AND THE SPORTSMAN WINNERS ARE... The Elite Top Sportsman final round was a bottles versus boost matchup, with North Carolina’s Donny “Hollywood” Urban staging his nitrous-assisted ’69 Camaro against Arizonan Bryan LaFlam in his supercharged ’67 Mustang. Both drivers broke out, but Urban got the win with his 3.785 on a 3.79 dial-in. LaFlam posted a 3.793 on a 3.80 dial-in.
After five rounds of Top Sportsman 48 competition, Ohio drivers Gary Wojnowski and Andy Horne met up in the final round. Horne wasn’t able to make the run in his ’18 Mustang, while Wojnowski ran a 4.285 on a 4.26 dial-in in his ’09 Cobalt to collect the home-track victory.
Past Elite Top Dragster world champion Pete Maduri returned to the winner’s circle after knocking out Elyria, Ohio’s Robert Pickens in the final round. Pickens left .010 seconds too soon in his supercharged ’07 Pickens dragster, then ran a 3.773 on a 3.73 dial-in. Driving the Bauer family’s ProCharged Dynabrade ’15 Chrome-Worx dragster, Maduri ran a 3.751 on a 3.74 dial-in for the win.
A huge field of Top Dragster racers was narrowed down to finalists TG Paschal and Rikki Molnar. Paschal, a past world champion from North Carolina, left the line first and posted a 4.312 on a 4.28 dial-in to turn on the final win light. Ohio’s Molnar dialed a 4.22 and ran a 4.239 in the runner-up effort.
UP NEXT - The PDRA will be back in action in three weeks at the Fulton Racing Engines North vs. South Shootout presented by Penske Racing Shocks, June 15-17, at Maryland International Raceway in Budds Creek, Maryland.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - HALSEY BITES 'EM AGAIN, WHILE HARRIS AND GILLIG SET THE PACE FOR SATURDAY ELIMINATIONS
SHHHHHHAAAAAARRRRRKKKKKK!!!!!! - Points leader Jim Halsey went into the final Pro Nitrous qualifying session qualified third in his Brandon Switzer-tuned “Daddy Shark” ’68 Camaro. But with a first-round bye run up for grabs for the No. 1 qualifier, Halsey and team went for it. The result was a 3.639 at 207.66, the quickest of eight 3.60-second passes on the final qualifying order.
“With struggling on the first run and not running what we thought we should run on the second run, it’s pretty rewarding,” Halsey said, thanking his tight-knit crew. “The track here is different from day to night. It's a big swing and you’ve got to be careful, and that's what bit us this morning. It was pretty hot – 120 degrees I think it was. We just missed it a little bit.”
The final qualifying session also counted as the final round of the Structural Concrete Nitrous Wars race-within-a-race, which saw Halsey defeat engine builder Billy “The Kid” Albert and his 3.694. It was Halsey’s third consecutive Nitrous Wars win for engine builder Gene Fulton and Fulton Competition Engines.
Halsey will have a bye run to start Saturday eliminations.
“That's a big plus for us,” Halsey said. “That's one reason why we wanted to do what we did tonight. And then after that, I think it will be OK because the sun will be off the racetrack some and we’ll be fine.”
Jay Cox fired off a 3.663 at 206.92 in his Musi-powered Butner Construction ’69 Camaro known as “The Pumpkin” to qualify second. Just a few thousandths of a second behind Cox, fellow North Carolina resident Chris Rini ran a 3.668 at 204.35 in his Buck-powered ATI Performance ’69 Camaro to claim the third spot.
EVERYBODY LIKES A GOOD PARTY - While the final session of Pro Boost qualifying produced a litany of 3.60-second passes, none of them were quicker than Jason Harris’ 3.594 at 207.82 set in the second session in his ProCharged “Party Time” ’69 Camaro. It was an improvement on his 3.652 from the first session, then he backed it up with a strong 3.61 at 208.52 in the final session, which ended with a 3.679-second bump spot.
“I kinda knew the best session was gonna be Q2,” said Harris, who thanked Hoosier Racing Tires, Pro Line Racing, and the Party Time crew. “I really felt like when the sun went down, the air was gonna get really good and we were gonna have better air than we had racetrack, unfortunately. Even though the racetrack is good, the air is negative 400 foot. You just can't get these cars to do that. So we talked about it, me and Brandon [Stroud], and we said, ‘Look, let's just try to go after it here.’ We were shooting for a .60-.61 so when the .59 popped up, I was really surprised. We've been running good all weekend and hopefully we can keep it up.”
Pittsburgh-area contractor Kurt Steding in his screw-blown P2 Contracting ’20 Camaro recorded a 3.613 at 209.85 in the final session to qualify second. Steding also defeated Melanie Salemi’s 3.673 in the Boost Wars final round, earning four points for Team Wyo Motorsports. Dustin Nesloney took the No. 3 spot with his 3.616 at 209.26 in the ProCharged GALOT Motorsports ’22 Camaro.
DEJA VU - At last year’s American Doorslammer Challenge, Tony Gillig was the provisional Friday No. 1 qualifier in Extreme Pro Stock before his top spot was taken away on Saturday. This time around, he recorded a career-best 4.027 at 179.90 in his Kaase-powered Dayco ’10 GXP to lock in his first PDRA low qualifier award and first overall No. 1 qualifier spot in 26 years.
“We came off the trailer and just shook the back window out of the car,” Gillig said. “You get behind the eight ball. What are you going to do now? So we made some changes and went up there in Q2 and made a pretty good run. I was pretty shocked to see how fast it went. That [180.12] was a career best for us, then I went that [4.049] and then just now going .02 is huge. I was shocked, honestly. You know you have the power and the car to do it, but it's always making the right call at the right time. Sometimes you don't, sometimes you do. We were lucky enough today to make the right calls and go out there and lay one down.”
Ten of the 16 Extreme Pro Stock drivers recorded passes in the 4.00-second range, with numerous drivers also making their career-best passes. That means Gillig will face a competitive field on race day, but he has a quick car – and history – on his side.
“My only low qualifier was Bristol ‘97 in IHRA Pro Stock, and I won that race from the pole,” said Gillig, who thanked partners like Dayco, Right Trailers, Ron’s R&B Auto Body, Jon Kaase Racing Engines, Jerry Haas Race Cars, Ram Clutches, Hoosier Tires, and Race Star Wheels. “It was my first national event and that was 26 years ago. So it's been a little bit of a drought for a No. 1 qualifier, but that was never our strong suit, really. We always did better on race day. Hopefully [Saturday] that's the case. We're pretty excited.”
In the final round of the Horsepower Wars engine builders challenge, Johnny Pluchino picked up four points for Team Kaase when he won with a 4.077 at 179.16 in his $hameless Racing ’13 Mustang. Opponent Elijah Morton, representing Team Allen, got timed out on the starting line.
Two Florida-based Extreme Pro Stock rookies, Alan Drinkwater and Daryl Stewart, filled out the other top three qualifying spots behind Gillig. Drinkwater posted a 4.045 at 178.17 in his Kaase-powered Mustang to qualify second, with Stewart’s 4.048 at 178.05 in his Sonny’s-powered Chassis Engineering ’18 Camaro giving him the No. 3 spot.
MILESTONE FOR NICHOLL - Michigan’s Doug Nicholl added another milestone to his career-best season in Pro 632 when he laid down a 4.126 at 172.36 to earn his first No. 1 qualifier award in the series. Driving the same Musi-powered ’68 Camaro that Wes Distefano drove to two world championships, Nicholl recorded the career-best pass in Friday's second session. He also made the second-quickest run of the final session.
“I've been chipping away at this for years with that Mustang, then buying this car, it’s amazing,” Nicholl said. “I can't believe I made it here. The last race we went to at Milan [Dragway], we took the win, and then to come here and go No. 1, it's an amazing feeling. Troy [Russell] is doing a great job tuning. This thing is killing it. Pat Musi Racing Engines has helped us out a ton. I think this is the best engine in 632 or nitrous out there. Thanks for everybody's help. We're doing a great job, and hopefully we'll be in the winner’s circle [Saturday].”
Jeff Melnick and Amber Franklin, who’ve battled back and forth in the first two Pro 632 final rounds of the season, qualified No. 2 and 3, respectively. Melnick, an Ohio-based fabricator, put Alan O’Brien’s AMC-powered Greenbrier Excavating & Paving ’20 Camaro in the No. 2 spot with his 4.141 at 163.26 in the final session. Franklin, the defending world champion in her Musi-powered “OG Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro, ran a 4.175 at 170.99 to round out the top three.
THE STREAK IS AT TWO - Super Street young gun Blake Denton’s hot streak in the class continued Friday with his second consecutive No. 1 qualifier award. Driving his Musi-powered ’76 Camaro, Denton stepped up to a 4.729 at 156.68 in the final session to hold off three other drivers in the 4.70s. Earlier this month, Denton also qualified No. 1 and won in Super Street at the Shakedown Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park, though it wasn’t in PDRA competition.
“We had a little hiccup in testing, then we kind of got the car straight and came out here and had to pedal it in Q2,” said Denton, who thanked Mark Micke’s M&M Transmission, Pat Musi Racing Engines, Hoosier Tires, and Tommy and Judy Franklin. “In Q3, we kind of swung for it and it took it. So I couldn't be happier with the car. It's working great and the motor is running good. Everything’s going good.”
Dan Whetstine was Denton’s closest challenger with a 4.762 at 155.87 in his ProCharged ’91 Mustang in second. Brad Cox posted a 4.767 at 153.65 in his ’90 Mustang to qualify third.
MILLS, ADD LEAD SPORTSMAN QUALIFYING - In a special fourth qualifying for the 16 quickest cars to battle it out for the top spot in Elite Top Sportsman, past world champion Buddy Perkinson fired off a 3.715 at 202.15 in his Musi-powered LAT Racing Oils ’69 Camaro to take the No. 1 spot away from Donny “Hollywood” Urban. Urban was on top of the field going into the session with his 3.767 at 198.20. Ohio native Tim Molnar ended up third in his ’68 Camaro with a 3.776 at 201.43.
Maryland’s Vonnie Mills secured the No. 1 spot in Top Sportsman, posting a 4.03 at 180.79 in her nitrous-fed “Show-N-Tell” ’15 Camaro. Seventy-three drivers attempted to qualify in Top Sportsman, with the quickest 16 going into the Elite field and the next 48 drivers running in Top Sportsman.
Ohio’s own Craig Addis threw down a 3.654 at 198.47 in his ProCharged ’21 Spitzer dragster to qualify on top of a record-setting Elite Top Dragster field. He took the top spot from KC Ingram, who slipped to the No. 2 spot in his supercharged ’22 Miller dragster with a 3.717 at 201.40. Another Ohio-based hitter, Bryan Keller, posted a 3.751 at 166.19 in his KB Trailer Sales ’12 Spitzer dragster to sit third.
Past Elite Top Dragster world champion Steve Furr’s ProCharged Right Trailers dragster is usually quick enough to qualify in the Elite field, but his best of 3.827 at 189.12 instead put him in the No. 1 spot of the regular Top Dragster field.
ON TAP - The DeCerbo Construction American Doorslammer Challenge presented by Callies will continue Saturday at 9:30 a.m. starting with Jr. Dragster final qualifying and Edelbrock Bracket Bash presented by COMP Cams time trials, with sportsman eliminations to follow. Pre-race ceremonies and pro eliminations will begin at 3 p.m.