SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - THESE ARE YOUR CHAMPIONS FOR 2012
From a 17-year-old fresh out of the ranks of Junior Dragster to a 64-year-old reveling in one more shot at glory, the 2012 IHRA Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions featured just about everything you could cram into an event.
Rookies, veterans and everything in between were on hand at Memphis International Raceway over the weekend for the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals and at the end of the day 10 drivers were left standing as the 2012 class of IHRA World Champions.
Among them were rookies, multi-time champs and even a few that probably weren’t supposed to be here, but all 10 were able to walk away from Memphis with the biggest prize in IHRA sportsman drag racing during the Summit Tournament of Champions and Summit SuperSeries championship races.
A grand total of 10 world champions were crowned on Saturday led by Top Sportsman TOC winner Mike Thompson (Naples, Fla.), Top Dragster winner Wesley Washington Jr. (King George, N.C.), Super Stock winner Michael Beard (Seagrove, N.C.), Stock winner Brent Darroch (Monaca, Pa.), Quick Rod winner Corey Manuel (Winston Salem, N.C.), Super Rod winner Mike Ruff (Orlando, Fla.) and Hot Rod winner Patrick Forster (Pittsburgh, Pa.). From the Summit SuperSeries were Top winner Tim Butler (Sarasota, Fla.), Mod winner Shane Kay (Ragland, Ala.) and Junior Dragster winner Austin Johnson (Pearisburg, Va.).
Among that class only Michael Beard has claimed a prior IHRA championship.
After a grueling season nearly 200 drivers made their way to Tennessee from 20 different states and four Canadian provinces to participate in the Summit World Finals culminating with the two championship tournaments Saturday evening. All of the drivers had to earn their way into the tournament and, once there, had to compete on the track to decide the champions in each of the 10 classes.
One of Saturday’s most surprising winners was 17-year-old Corey Manuel. The younger brother of 2010 Super Rod World Champion Cameron Manuel, Corey wrapped up his Junior Dragster career just two years ago and snuck into the 2012 Tournament of Champions in a big car via a big win at the Richmond TOC qualifier back in May. Clearly excited, but with no real expectations to go multiple rounds, Manuel surprised everyone by following in his brothers footsteps and storming through the field to take his first championship in the Quick Rod category all before the young man can even vote.
“It just feels like a dream. It doesn’t feel real, but here I am holding this trophy,” Manuel said. “It feels awesome knowing I am carrying on the name and doing well just like my family. To do it so early is just so exciting.”
Manuel whittled down a Quick Rod field with wins over Michael Pennington, Dale Scates, Carey Long and Scotty Campbell before meeting Patrick Forster – who had just won the championship in Hot Rod – in the final.
Despite the intimidation factor going up against a man who had already won one championship on the evening, Manuel showed no fear and hammered the tree with a .001 light while Forster went red giving the North Carolina native a win he will never forget.
“It was just another run and just another race for me,” Manuel said. “I didn’t treat it any different and we were able to come away with the win.”
Another man that probably shouldn’t have been in the winner’s circle is Michael Beard. While you might find that statement odd considering Beard’s former championship successes, but Beard was certainly not having that kind of weekend in Memphis.
“I was having problems staging. Every time I would try to come up on the converter the thing was trying to die on me and if I went the other way I red lighted which I did on Friday. I honestly thought I didn’t have a chance at this thing,” Beard said. “I didn’t look at the weather all night, all my times slips stayed in my pocket, I didn’t put anything in the log book. I just thought we were going to be putting the thing on the trailer.
“But a number of people came through for me helped get it fixed and I couldn’t have done it without them. It really was an unbelievable turn of events to be standing here right now.”
Among those helping Beard get the car fixed was Tim Sloan, Mark Nowicki and Stock champion Brent Darroch. Once Beard got things back on track, he recorded round wins over Gianni Cantusci, Michael Crumpler and Brandon Peterson – someone who had been giving him fits as of late, before meeting Emily Volkman in the final.
In the championship tilt Beard had a .034 light and ran a 10.781/122.39 on a 10.73 dial in his 1980 Volare to edge Volkman’s 10.234/125.33 on a 10.19 giving Beard his first career Super Stock title.
Beard got into the tournament by via his Division 2 Super Stock title.
Helping Beard to that title was Stock racer Brent Darroch who had his own luck on Saturday with another unexpected championship behind the wheel of his ’94 Camaro.
Darroch, a two-time championship runner-up, came to Tennessee with a brand new motor and a brand new clutch after breaking the car the week prior. Despite the new parts and pieces and several big issues early, Darroch finally got the monkey off of his back this weekend and picked up his first career championship.
“This means everything. We have been working so hard for a couple of years chasing points and I have been second in the world twice. To get the monkey off of my back was incredible,” Darroch said. “After the troubles we had with the new engine and clutch, to win the whole thing was very unexpected. But I am not a person who gives up. If it is not hard it is not worth it and trust me we worked hard for this one.”
Darroch, who got into the TOC thanks to his divisional championship in Division 3, went five rounds on Saturday with big wins over Rob Bihl, Jacob Pitt and finally B.J. Bianchi in the final. With a championship on the line Bianchi got off the line first .008 to a .022, but Darroch ran the numbers with a 10.608/118.18 on a 10.60 dial while Bianchi broke out by .005.
Two drivers that suffered the cruelest twist of fate at the World Finals were Michael Ruff and Wesley Washington Jr. Both drivers entered into the Tournament of Champions earlier in the weekend and both drivers lost in the first round, setting them up for a potentially bad weekend – that is, until Saturday.
Washington was most affected by the early weekend woes, not because it hurt the car or his confidence, but because he did it one day and immediately had to race on the 13th the next which, for a superstitious man like Washington, was not a good thing.
“I am very superstitious and racing on the 13th was not something I particularly wanted to do,” Washington said with a laugh. “I didn’t think we would be racing, but then things got moved up due to weather and I thought we were in trouble, especially after losing on Friday.
“But once I won first round it was like a monkey was lifted off my back and we got on a roll. This is a great thing Summit puts on to support us class racers. I had an up and down year, but thanks to them, I am able to say I am a champion.”
Washington snuck into the tournament via a third place finish in Division 1 on the Summit Pro-Am Tour and went five rounds in the Tournament of Champion’s deepest class to pick up the win. Washington had wins over Claude DeBonis, Jeremy West, Brett Nesbitt, Jamie Tupper and Greg Slack – all heavy hitters – to get the win. In the final Slack made it easy for the North Carolina native, going red by .017 to give Washington the win and his first career championship.
In Super Rod Ruff suffered a similar twist of fate with a terrible weekend leading up to Saturday that included a blown tire on the 900 mile drive to the track, two losses on Friday and a major hit to their confidence. But once Saturday came about and Ruff started rolling out round wins, things began to turn around in a hurry.
“This is a great opportunity IHRA has given everybody for all of the champions to come to one race and duke it out for the title,” Ruff said. “We didn’t do a bunch of races this year, but we got in and even though this weekend was a struggle from the start, we are coming away with the big trophy and I think that is what really matters.
“We were never upset with the car, we just plain got beat on Friday, but when we finally found our groove it was hard for us to stop.”
Ruff , driving a ’67 Camaro, recorded wins over Jason McCandless, Jeff Estep and Shannon Brinkley to advance to the final, meeting Division 4 champ Joe Collier in the final. Collier had the better light in the money round by four thousandths at the tree, but Ruff won a battle of breakouts with a 9.890 on the 9.90 index to Collier’s 9.884.
The man that almost walked away from Memphis with two of the big trophies was Patrick Forster. Forster won the championship in Hot Rod and immediately had to be back in the lanes for Quick Rod, losing to Manuel. But one is better than none and Forster can now call himself a world champion after defeating former champ Donald Webb in the final.
Forster, driving a ’78 Monza, went five rounds against Skip Saddler, Steve Dweck, David Bills and Max McGlothin before meeting Webb in the final. With it all on the line, Forster nailed the tree with a .008 light and ran a cool 10.912 in the 10.90 class to pick up the win. Webb broke out by .026.
“We would have loved to take home two, but we aren’t complaining about this one,” Forster said. “This was a big weekend and we were very excited to be here. To walk away from here with a championship really is amazing.”
Forster got into the tournament via a third place finish in Division 3.
Wrapping up the champions from the Tournament of Champions is 64-year-old Mike Thompson. Sitting at the opposite end of the spectrum from young Corey Manuel, Thompson has been racing for two decades longer than Manuel has been alive. But despite all of the miles he has logged, Thompson still treats each win just as he did when he was younger.
“It means a lot to me to win this thing because I am 64 and I might not ever have the chance to do it again,” Thompson said. “I have been racing for over 30 years and this is as exciting as they come. I have been doing this a long time so I was relaxed out there, but it was still exciting to get the win.”
Behind the wheel of his shiny 2003 Chevy Cavalier, Thompson went five rounds against Don Rudd, Russell Marr, Kamron Wright and finally Donny Urban to get the win – essentially a who’s who in the Top Sportsman division. After surviving a grueling day against the classes best, Thompson saved his best for last with a .011 reaction time and a 7.438/180.26 on a 7.42 to drive around Urban who had a .028 light and a 7.156 on a 7.16 dial.
All of the World Champions received $10,000 courtesy of Summit Racing Equipment and AMSOIL and a special championship Ironman trophy as the IHRA closes the books on the 2012 racing season.
CROWNING THE CHAMPS - It is race day at Memphis International Raceway and that means one thing – the crowning of all 2012 IHRA World Champions.
And you have the weather to thank for such a big day of racing.
With a less than favorable forecast set for Sunday, the conclusion of the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals have been moved up today. That means that the Sportsman Spectacular, Summit SuperSeries and Summit Tournament of Champions will all be run today!
That is a lot of racing between a lot of great cars, but it should make for some spectacular television. And speaking of watching live…
THE WORLD IS WATCHING - As you may have seen the IHRA is broadcasting the entire IHRA World Finals weekend live this weekend through a unique partnership with Motor Mania TV.
The great folks at Motor Mania TV have four separate cameras set up around the track and have been broadcasting live video, live audio and live timing all weekend long concluding with today’s season finale. And while the IHRA certainly expected a lot of positive exposure, what they didn’t expect was just how much exposure they would receive.
Thanks to Motor Mania TV and websites like Competition Plus that are streaming the weekend live, in addition to being found right here on the IHRA homepage, the number of spectators tuning in on Friday was confirmed at nearly 10,000 people from a dozen – yes 12 – different countries.
“We were certainly excited to broadcast this incredible weekend live, but the results have far exceeded our expectations so far,” said Skooter Peaco, IHRA VP of Race Operations. “To know that thousands of people around the world are tuning in to watch this incredible competition is really exciting and says a lot about the prestige of this event.”
Even the local media is in on the act with Memphis area television stations stopping by throughout the weekend to see what this World Finals thing is all about.
The numbers from Saturday are not in just yet, but you can be certain that they won’t disappoint – especially with 10 world champions still yet to be crowned!
ALL SHOOK UP - Sometimes you are just born a fan of something. And then again, sometimes you become one.
Shannon Brinkley will be the first to admit that he wasn’t always a big Elvis fan. Sure he liked to listen to ‘The King’ and enjoyed visiting Graceland from time to time, but what Brinkley didn’t know was that he was already a diehard fan – and he didn’t even know it.
“I was a mediocre fan at first to be honest with you, but now I am a huge Elvis fan,” Brinkley laughed. “Now I collect all sorts of Elvis memorabilia and, of course, with a trip to Memphis this weekend we definitely checked out Graceland when we had the chance.”
So how did Brinkley go from casual Elvis listener to taking on the man’s name as a nickname? Well, it would probably be best to let him explain.
“Well, the nickname Elvis came from a dear friend of ours that passed away. He was the Division 4 announcer for NHRA,” Brinkley said. “When we started drag racing in the 90s I got a license plate from Graceland that said Elvis on it and had it on my ’69 Camaro. From then on everyone just started calling me Elvis and it caught fire.”
Now Elvis isn’t just a license plate on the front of the man’s two racecars, it is the name on the side as well.
So it is only fitting that Shannon “Elvis” Brinkley put his skills on the line and compete for a World Championship in the King’s backyard of Memphis, Tenn. this weekend. Brinkley already has a runner-up to his credit in Quick Rod during the Sportsman Spectacular and now the Highlands, Texas native will attempt to chase down a world championship – all at the luckiest place for a man named Elvis.
Brinkley will battle for the Super Rod championship today after already piloting his other car to a runner-up finish earlier in the day, something Brinkley will admit isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
“Running two cars can be both good and bad. Most of the time it helps us because it helps get you in sync with the track and the conditions,” Brinkley said. “But when you get late rounds with both cars it can hinder you quite a bit because you are already thinking about the other class before you even get to the staging lanes.”
But if anyone can do it this weekend, it is Elvis.
ALWAYS A BRIDESMAID NO MORE - It wasn’t the most ideal of situations, but 20-year-old Joseph Tinsley knew that if he had made it this far, he had better hold on for a little while longer.
It would probably be just another runner-up, Joseph thought, but maybe, just maybe, this race would be different.
What began as a late night drive at the San Antonio Nitro Jam back in March quickly turned into an early morning marathon. This race was running late into the night – or early into the morning by that point – and Tinsley was determined to see it through.
As a little light fog began to roll into the area, Tinsley finally got the call. It was his turn. Glory or defeat sat just 1,320 feet away and all he had to do was stay focused for another seven seconds of Top Dragster action. Tinsley, from Melvin, Texas, bumped into the beams. Right beside him Larry Eidson from Mineral Wells, Texas did the same. Four bulbs later the two were away, Tinsley with a .035 reaction time and Eidson with a .052 bulb.
A few moments later Tinsley blasted across the finish line with a 7.704/157.40 on a 7.62 dial. Eidson, on the other hand, ran into trouble and had to back off, finishing nearly a second off the pace with a 7.567/155.49 on a 6.57 dial. Finally, after coming so close so many times, Tinsley was in victory lane at San Antonio Raceway – at almost 2 a.m.
“Racing so late into the morning was getting hard,” Tinsley said. “At that point my biggest issue was trying to concentrate due to being so tired. But with a win on the line, I had to remain focused. And when I finally got to the burnout box I couldn’t keep the excitement from overcoming me. I kept telling myself that it was just one more round.
“Once I left the line I turned my head looking for my opponent to see how far behind he was or how fast he was approaching, but he never came into sight. When my win light came on I was really happy, especially after all those times being runner-up.
“After I crossed that line I was so excited. I couldn’t wait to get up to the winner’s circle and see my family and share my excitement with them.”
And family is what Tinsley is banking will get him through this weekend in Memphis with mom Joanna on hand and the family rooting him on. After winning the San Antonio Nitro Jam in March, Joseph and his mom Joanna, a competitor in Top Dragster as well, began grooming the young driver for his shot at a world championship just a few months after winning his very first race.
So what would it mean for young Tinsley to take a World Championship home with him to Texas?
“It would be the world,” Joseph said. “This is a big weekend for me and I can’t wait to see how it goes.”
Maybe Tinsley can make a habit out of this winning thing.
CROWNING THE CHAMPIONS IN MEMPHIS -There was a lot of money handed out during the Summit Racing Equipment Sportsman Spectacular presented by AMSOIL on Saturday, but surprises were kept at a minimum.
That is because of the seven drivers that won Saturday’s third and final big money shootout of the season with a shot at the Summit Tournament of Champions on the line, all were already qualified for the TOC later in the weekend and four were already old pros at the Sportsman Spectacular game, winning earlier versions of the big race.
Brandon Peterson won the Sportsman Spectacular at the World Finals for the second year in a row
But while the results left little room for surprises, that doesn’t mean that there was a lack of excitement on the track.
Hundreds of the best racers from across North America were on hand at Memphis International Raceway for the Summit Sportsman Spectacular on Saturday with seven drivers walking away with the big prize of $5,000. Those drivers were Top Sportsman winner Calvin Butler (Marlinton, W.Va.), Top Dragster winner Jamie Tupper (Tillsonburg, Ontario), Super Stock winner Brandon Peterson (Randleman, N.C.), Quick Rod winner Jake Milstead (Lexington Park, Md.), Super Rod winner Joe Collier (Hamlin, Texas) and Hot Rod winner Ray Dew (League City, Texas).
Three of those drivers, Butler, Peterson and Collier, were divisional champions from 2012 and three others, Dew, Milstead and Collier, won a Sportsman Spectacular earlier this season. Throw in Peterson’s Sportsman Spectacular win at last year’s World Finals and that is quite a resume for this year’s winners.
Only one driver reentered into the race as Milstead used to the re-entry round to sneak back into the show and take the win.
Beginning in Top Sportsman Butler, the 2012 Division 1 champion from West Virginia, went six big rounds on behind the wheel of his ’63 Corvette on Saturday defeating Rodney Benson, Brad Clarke, Kenneth Covington and Tim West before meeting newcomer Robert Irby in the final. In the final Butler had a tremendous light with a .007 tree and ran a 7.275/175.16 on a 7.20 dial to get around Irby’s 7.328/184.67 on a 7.23 dial.
Jamie Tupper also had a straight win on Saturday in the IHRA’s quickest and fastest sportsman class, going six rounds in the weekend’s biggest class on his way to picking up the $5,000 payday. Tupper, from Ontario, defeated Mia Tedesco, Michael Pennington, Gary Bingham, Chuck Hawk and Larry Eidson before meeting Kevin Romeo in the final. With both drivers already in the TOC, it was a battle for the cash as Tupper had a .008 light to Romeo’s .020 and nailed his dial with a 7.596/174.03 on a 7.58 dial. Romeo ran a 7.301/176.88.
Peterson, the Division 1 champion in Super Stock, added a Sportsman Spectacular to his resume on Saturday in his ’91 Camaro with wins over Pete Peery, Michael Crumpler and Colton Autry twice before beating Scott Stillings in the final. Stillings had the better light by .001, but Peterson had the better top end with a 10.793/121.17 on a 10.79 to Stillings’ 8.952 on a 8.94.
In Stock Jacob Pitt put his ’77 Volare in the winner’s circle with a big win on the eve of the TOC, downing Billy Lynn, Gene Jordan, Amy Faulk, B.J. Bianchi and Randall Campbell before meeting Thomas Fletcher in the final. The famous Fletcher name seemed like a favorite in the showdown, but the man from Texas proved too much with a .014 light and a 11.276/115.32 run while Fletcher went a tad too fast on the top end, running a 11.006 on a 11.03.
Rounding out the straight winners was Rod victors Ray Dew and Joe Collier.
Collier kept the Texas winning alive in Super Rod, going six rounds with wins against Mia Tedesco, Mike Brunell, Chris Eidson and Steve Furr before meeting Jeff Crooks in the final. Collier, already with one Sportsman Spectacular win this season in addition to a championship in Division 4, proved why he has been nearly unbeatable in the class with a .012 reaction time and a 9.935/146.86 in the 9.90 class. Crooks broke out by .017 at the top end.
In Hot Rod two more Texas men filled the final as Dew took his second Sportsman Spectacular win of the year over Max McGlothin. Dew, behind the wheel of his ’70 Nova, had wins over Reggie Lytch, Daryl Griffin, James Hinkle, Ken MacNicol and Chad Duke on his way to the final. In the final McGlothin was first off the line by .003, but Dew ran closest to the numbers in a double breakout with a 10.869/137.83 in the 10.90 class.
Saturday’s re-entry round winner was Jake Milstead.
Milstead already has one Sportsman Spectacular to his name in 2012, winning in Maryland, but this time Milstead had a first round loss before getting back into the show. After losing to Jason Lynch in the first round, Milstead defeated Danny Melton to get back into the show and went on to collect victories over Tommy Cable, Chuck Hawk, Rick Stroud, Tom Patterson and Jason Lynch before meeting Shannon Brinkley in the final. Brinkley had the better light, but Milstead battled back on the top end as Brinkley went too quick and Milstead ran a solid 8.911/161.27 on an 8.90 index.
All seven drivers collected a $5,000 payday and will be shooting for a shot at the World Championship later in the weekend.
WEATHER ON THE HORIZON, RACE MOVED UP TO TODAY - With a less than favorable forecast set for Sunday, the conclusion of the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals has been moved up to today.
The conclusion of the Summit Sportsman Spectacular and the entire Summit SuperSeries World Championship runoff will be completed on Saturday as originally scheduled, with the Summit Tournament of Champions moved up from Sunday to Saturday evening. That means by Saturday night all 10 IHRA World Champions will be decided and a period will be put on the 2012 IHRA racing season.
The 2012 IHRA Awards Celebration honoring all world champions in addition to exceptional drivers from the Summit Racing Equipment Pro-Am Tour and Summit SuperSeries seasons will be held following the conclusion of Saturday’s championship finale.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - THE EVE BEFORE THE BIG DAY
GETTING READY FOR THE BIG DANCE - Friday was all about one thing – tuning up and getting ready for the big show on Saturday and Sunday.
Racers had their first hits at the track after rain washed out the test and tune on Thursday leaving everyone scrambling to get a few good laps under their belt before the big go. Racers competing in the Summit Racing Equipment Sportsman Spectacular presented by AMSOIL got in two time runs plus the first round of eliminations and the re-entry round on Friday before calling it a night, leaving the remainder of the Sportsman Spectacular to be run on Saturday.
In addition to the finale of the big money Sportsman Spectacular, Saturday’s action will also see time runs for racers competing in the Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions presented by AMSOIL and the entire Summit SuperSeries presented by AMSOIL and Moser Engineering competition. Saturday will conclude with the crowning of the first three champions of the weekend and the year-end awards celebration Saturday night beginning at 9 p.m.
Now for an inside look at the IHRA Summit World Finals weekend…
THE UP, DOWN AND UPSIDE DOWN YEAR OF JACOB ELROD - By now you have probably heard the story of Jacob Elrod and his incredible 2012 racing season.
The three wins in three separate classes all in one day at the Grand Bend Motorplex. The seven Summit Racing Equipment Pro-Am victories in nine finals in four different classes. The two Summit Pro-Am divisional championships. Yeah, it is safe to say that it has been a whirlwind year for the Harrod, Ohio native.
But what you may not know is that it hasn’t been all roses for Elrod this season. In fact, despite all of his successes, Elrod has also had his struggles and at one point he was on the verge of calling this year a complete failure. It even had him questioning his ability to drive.
“One race we were celebrating our first win of the season and we were like yeah, this is going to be a good year,” Elrod said. “The next I flip the car and then I was like yeah, I suck. I can’t even drive a car straight. It was definitely frustrating.”
Yeah, it was that kind of year for Elrod. And it all began in late June.
In only the second race of the Division 3 North Stars season on the Summit Pro-Am Tour, Elrod picked up his first win of the season in Top Dragster at Mountain Park Dragway giving the team a big boost of confidence going forward.
One week later, however, things quickly took a turn in the wrong direction.
Riding the high of his first win of the year, Elrod entered his car in the NHRA event close to his home in Norwalk, Ohio and suddenly found himself in a place he didn’t want to be – upside down.
“Here we are coming off of the win in Kentucky and I was feeling good about that and then I go and flip the car upside down in Norwalk,” Elrod said. “It didn’t really hurt it that bad, it just flipped on its top, but that really threw in some humility. We fixed what it was with the trans brake, but it really knocked us back down to earth.”
And then things took another turn, this time things flipping (figuratively and literally) back on track.
Just two weeks later Elrod was back behind the wheel at the MOPAR Nitro Jam Nationals at the Grand Bend Motorplex in Ontario and, as has been well documented, went on to win three classes in one race for the first time in IHRA history. Elrod won in Quick Rod, Hot Rod and Top ET, going an amazing 17-0 all in a single weekend. It was a defining moment for Elrod and it was a moment that completely turned around his year and, in reality, his entire career.
“You go to races expecting to win, or at least do well. Why else would we race,” Elrod said. “But while you expect to have a good weekend every time you load the car in the trailer, you certainly don’t expect to win in three different classes. That was such a magical weekend for all of us and something that I will never forget.”
From there Elrod’s season exploded with four more wins and two divisional championships in Top Dragster and Super Rod, qualifying both of those cars in the Tournament of Champions over the next two months while absolutely taking the drag racing world by storm.
“This year we have been stupid lucky. This is the one year where I was good when I needed to be and lucky when I needed to be so really everything just fell into place,” Elrod said. “I have had so many people come up and congratulate me, and not just regular people, but really, really good racers that I respect and look up to. To have them come up and say ‘man you are doing a good job’ is really humbling.
“I am used to looking up to these people ever since I was a little kid at some of these races and to have them say that they are watching you and rooting for you, that makes you feel really good.”
Now Elrod will try to do it again this weekend as he goes up against the best of the best in Top Dragster and Super Rod and tries to join his dad, a two-time IHRA champion, with his first career IHRA championship at Memphis International Raceway this weekend.
“Ever since the TOC started in 2009 the people that show up for this thing, they are not slouches,” Elrod said. “There are racers here this weekend from all over the country, as far away as Alaska. When you have people coming from Alaska and all of these states, they are not coming up here to just have a good time. They are here because they are good and they are here gunning for the win.
“We have got our work cut out for us. It would certainly cap the year and it would be amazing if we could win again this weekend, but after the year that we have had if I don’t win this thing you are not going to see me walking around with a sour face. How could I after a year like this.”
WHERE DID SHE COME FROM? - If you don’t know the name Brooke Warren, get to.
Because if the next few years go anything like the past six months, drag racing is going to have a new star on its hands.
Warren, from Clinton, N.C., is no stranger to the sport. Her entire family races including three family members qualified in the Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions this weekend. She has the ingredients – she is smart, she is attractive and boy can she drive the wheels off of a racecar.
Just ask the racers in Division 9.
After taking two years completely off from the sport to pursue a degree in nursing, Warren returned to drag racing earlier this season behind the wheel of a brand new Quick Rod machine and within no time she was putting her new ride into contention.
“I sat out two years for nursing school and this is my first year back and first full year in a dragster,” Warren said. “I had been running Hot Rod, but when I decided to come back I kept telling my dad I want a dragster, I want a dragster. Finally he got me one and I really think he is happy he got me one now.”
In her first race back Warren drove her new ride all the way to a runner-up finish at Rockingham Dragway back in April. Two months later at the very next Division 9 Summit Pro-Am race Warren once again visited the final round, finishing runner-up once again at Dunn-Benson Dragstrip.
It is safe to say that start really boosted the 22-year-old drivers confidence after a few years away from the sport.
“In my first race out I just wanted to get out of the first round and I ended up being runner-up which was amazing,” Warren said. “And then things really started picking up for us and I started to feel more and more comfortable in the car.”
Finally, at the final divisional race of the season at Farmington Dragway in August, Warren broke through with her first career victory and in the process qualified her car for the Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions. It was a groundbreaking day for the young driver and set in motion what could be many years of great racing from Warren.
“I was coming off of a first round red light at Coastal Plains the race before so we were finally knocked back down to earth after the good start,” Warren said. “And then at Farmington I was able to get it done which was a big day for me. It was the first race that I have ever won and it being a TOC qualifier just made it that much better.”
Now Warren is in Memphis, Tenn. along with three other family members qualified for the TOC as Warren and the family try to continue that momentum and take home a championship Ironman from the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals.
“When I was eight I started racing Junior Dragster and ran that until I was 16 where I started racing Hot Rod and now I am in Quick Rod,” Warren said. “When I started all those years ago I never dreamed I would have an opportunity to race for a championship so I am definitely excited. I am the only girl here, but I am used to that. We are just going to give it our all. The whole family is here and we are having fun hanging out, spending time together. It is going to be a good weekend regardless, but if we can take home a trophy it would really be special.”
MINI DRAGSTERS, BIG CHAMPIONSHIP - One of the most exciting new additions to the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals in quite some time is the inclusion of Junior Dragster in the Summit SuperSeries program.
Designed to reward grassroots racers with a chance to compete for a world championship, the Summit SuperSeries presented by AMSOIL and Moser Engineering has been crowning champions in the Top and Mod ET classes since 2002 with racers from multiples states – even multiple countries – taking a world championship back with them to their home track.
And as the series continued to grow, ballooning into arguably the greatest sportsman drag racing program in the country, the IHRA decided late last year that an addition needed to be made to the program – Junior Dragsters.
And after many weeks of planning and preparation, the IHRA Junior Dragster Summits Racing Equipment SuperSeries World Championship was born in the early part of 2012 and is on the verge of crowning its first-ever world champion just as this same program did 11 years ago with the very first champion in the big car class in 2002.
“Junior racers are the future of our sport and we felt it was extremely important to work with these budding young stars and let them be a part of something big that has never been done before,” said Jim Greenleaf, Summit Racing’s Motorsports and Events Manager. “We are very excited to present the very first Junior Dragster world championship here this weekend and we look forward to seeing this program grow into something special over the next few years.”
A grand total of 16 drivers are in Memphis this weekend competing for the inaugural Summit SuperSeries Junior Dragster championship hailing from as far away as Canada, Utah and Florida all with the same opportunity to be crowned a champion this weekend.
“I am so excited. I never thought I would be able to come here and be a part of something like this,” said Junior Dragster competitor Randi Teed representing Skyview Drags. “It surprised me when I won. We had a lot of fun at our Team Finals. Now, to win here this weekend, that would be really great. I would be so surprised.”
To get to this point, drivers in the Summit SuperSeries – both Junior Dragster and big car – had to be registered in the program and do well at their local track. From there Summit SuperSeries track champions then moved on to their regional Summit Team Finals competition where they faced off against other track champions in their area for the opportunity to race at Memphis International Raceway for the championship.
And it will all go down this weekend as all three classes crown a world champion on Saturday.
“I have been racing since I was eight years old. This opportunity to race in the first Junior Dragster SuperSeries is like icing on the cake for me to finish my junior racing career since next year is my last year in the program,” said racer Josh Jones representing Rocky Mountain Raceways. “I have had fun racing with my brothers Jake and Jared and my parents. I would like to thank IHRA for this opportunity and we can’t wait to race for it all tomorrow.”
The IHRA Junior Dragster program features racers as young as eight all the way up to 18. This year’s participants in the inaugural Junior Dragster Summit SuperSeries are Tyler Macedo, Austin Johnson, Toni Salsgiver, Jennifer Craft, Wesley Mayfield, Dylan Kiser, Randi Teed, Lewie Wortman, Chris Pearson, Cory Tankersley, Ryan Paquette, Kaden Bergos, Lizzie Low, Connor Caulder, Robert Vogler and Josh Jones.
The Junior Dragster Summit SuperSeries will be contested Saturday afternoon.
THE DREAM WEEKEND THAT ALMOST DIDN’T HAPPEN - To think Scott Doyen almost turned around.
Halfway between his home in Bay City, Mich. and U.S. 131 Motorsports Park back in August, Doyen almost pulled the plug on a weekend that had yet to even begin. After all, a swirling storm the day before left all the entire state soaked and on the drive to the track for the CarSafe Northern Nitro Jam the rain just kept coming. But Doyen, determined to try his hand at his very first IHRA race, decided to keep going.
And then something miraculous happened. About an hour from his destination the rains stopped. The sun came out and Doyen finally felt a sense of relief as he pulled onto the grounds and unloaded his dragster. Now all that was left was to cross his fingers and hope for the best.
Amazingly, less than 24 hours later, Doyen was an IHRA winner in Top Dragster.
“I drove down Saturday morning of the race and all the way to the track I kept asking myself ‘what in the world am I doing wasting gas to go sit in the rain,’” Doyen said. “But as soon as I hit Battle Creek things cleared up. Being my first IHRA race, I didn’t even have an IHRA cert so I had a lot of work to do as soon as I arrived. The whole weekend was such a rush.”
That rush was spread over two days as Doyen went five flawless rounds with his worst light of the entire race being a .010 as he downed several big hitters to claim his first Ironman in his very first IHRA race all in an emotional weekend that meant more to Doyen than any race prior.
“My mom and dad both just passed away and it was definitely emotional after I won,” Doyen said. “Me and my dad raced for a long time and all we ever wanted was to win one of these trophies. It was so crazy that my mom, known as the chicken lady, nicknamed the team and we had a vehicle with two rubber chickens on it that said ‘don’t pluck with us’ and after the race the announcer said ‘winner, winner chicken dinner’ and played the chicken dance song. It made the win all the more special.
“I know that mom and dad were both there to celebrate with me, I just didn’t get the hug that I wish I could have got.”
Through that win Doyen, driving the aptly named “Catch Up” dragster, qualified for the Tournament of Champions and is in Memphis this weekend seeking for his first world championship, not just for himself, but for his entire team and especially for his mom and dad.
Since the deaths of Joan and Bob Doyen, both within the past three years, Doyen has found healing in the sport that he loves and that his family loved as well. And if he could bring a championship back to his home in Bay City, that would mean the world to Doyen and everyone associated with his team.
“If things go like they did in Martin, I think we are going to have a world champion here in Bay City,” Doyen said.
Not too bad for a man that almost turned around.
A BOOMING PROGRAM - One of the areas that the IHRA is committed to growing in 2013 and beyond is its contingency program.
With a new contingency director and a wealth of new programs and races on the track and in the works, the IHRA is committed to bringing the program back to its former glory and beyond.
And as part of that the IHRA is pleased to announce during its biggest weekend of the year that ATI Performance Products, one of many companies dedicated to IHRA sportsman drag racing, will be returning for 2013.
ATI provides of a multitude of high performance parts to racers around the world including Competition Transmissions, Treemaster Converters, Super Dampers, Compu-Flow Valve Bodies, Flexplates and Adapter kits as well as a wide variety of performance enhancing internal components. And with ATI’s commitment to the sportsman racer, born from ATI president and owner Jim Beattie’s own background as a sportsman racer, and IHRA’s renewed commitment to the contingency program, the return of ATI is the first of many new and returning sponsors to the IHRA contingency program in 2013.
“ATI Performance Products has been a Major IHRA Contingency Sponsor for more years than we can count, and over those years, we’ve continued to grow a loyal following of sportsman racers,” said J.C. Beattie Jr., COO of ATI Performance Products. “With a variety of racing venues and zero minimum annual payout requirements, the IHRA Contingency program provides ample exposure at an affordable price. With a smooth payout process and the many advertising opportunities in Drag Review Magazine, IHRA is a great fit for ATI.”
Over the years ATI has maintained a close relationship with racers and tracks no matter the class or size of the track. And as a major sponsor of the IHRA, Beattie and the entire ATI staff have made a strong commitment to the sport of drag racing and the tradition of providing the finest performance parts in the industry.
For more information on ATI visit www.atiracing.com and for more information on the IHRA contingency program please visit www.ihra.com.
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK - TAKING A WALK THROUGH MEMPHIS
TARGET PRACTICE - Sometimes the toughest thing in racing is being the man on top.
Just ask Gianni Cantusci.
Cantusci came out of nowhere to win the Super Stock World Championship at the 2011 Summit Tournament of Champions earning him the coveted No. 1 on the side of his car for the 2012 racing season and the title of world champion for an entire year.
But as Cantusci came to find out, that isn’t always a good thing. While the number on the side of his car earned him more respect in the garage area, that little sticker also meant his competition would throw more at him than ever before and try a bit harder than usual to come out on top. Not always the best of situations for a guy that is not used to being the center of attention at the dragstrip.
“It seems like with the No. 1 you get beat up on quite a bit,” Cantusci said. “Everyone tries harder to beat the champ. I know when I raced someone with single digits I always raced a little harder and I got to experience that first hand. It has been tough with the new number on the side, we only won one race this year despite going to a lot of races and sometimes we ditched the number altogether and went back to our old number at some races. It has been a trying season.”
But as trying as it has been, this weekend Cantusci will be back behind the wheel of his 2000 Pontiac Firebird with the No. 1 proudly adorning the side as he goes for a second championship after qualifying for Super Stock via a third place finish in Division 1. It wasn’t the dominating return to the TOC he had hoped for, but he will certainly take it.
And while a win in the Tournament of Champions would mean another year of getting beat up and pushed to the brink, Cantusci says he would gladly put up with all of those all over again to wear the championship number once again.
“If I thought it was tough at regular races this season that is nothing compared to what it is going to be like this weekend as a champion trying to defend that title,” Cantusci said. “That is a big weight on my shoulders as we try to keep our title. If nothing else, we are going to give it our all.”
Cantusci’s quest for a second championship will actually begin on Friday as he enters his Super Stocker in the Summit Sportsman Spectacular to try and tune the car and pick up a few extra bucks in preparation for the tournament on Sunday. It won’t be easy, but if Cantusci can pull out the win once again it would turn around a tough year and give him a second shot at taking the No. 1 somewhere special from his home in Stittsville, Ontario.
“We traveled quite a bit this year and that includes being here this weekend,” Cantusci said. “We have never been here before, but so far we like what we see. We are going to race the Saturday race to get some laps on the car and hopefully make a little extra in the process. If we can do it again on Sunday, that would be something special.”
THE FAMILY THAT RACES TOGETHER… - Drag racing is a sport known for its family atmosphere.
Fathers, sons, wives, daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles all are brought together by their love for one thing and one thing only – the sport of drag racing.
Nowhere else in the world of sports will you such a unique family dynamic as entire families come together to compete together, and against, one another. And that is what truly makes the sport of drag racing so special.
Take for example the Manuel and Justice families.
Cameron Manuel is no stranger to the straight line game. The 2010 Super Rod World Champion, 2011 Sportsman Driver of the Year and a multi-time divisional champion, Manuel has been a force in the sport for quite some time. This year Manuel is once again qualified for the Tournament of Champions and will be chasing his second championship after winning the Division 1 Top Dragster title, earning him a first-round bye in the tournament.
Joining Manuel here this weekend is his younger brother Corey who qualified for the Tournament of Champions in Quick Rod after a big win at Richmond Dragway in May and his wife Amanda who will try her hand at qualifying for the tournament during the Sportsman Spectacular.
Both Cameron and Amanda grew up in racing families. They went to races as kids, were groomed into drivers as teenagers and eventually found one another and bonding over their love of the sport as adults. Eventually the two young racers were married earlier this year and in the process formed a bit of a super family in the sport.
Currently Cameron drives in Top Dragster behind the wheel of a car owned by his in-laws. When not racing the pair also help manage Farmington Dragway in which Amanda’s parents, Everett and Holly own.
Through track ownership and a fulltime racing operation, the pair spend quite a bit of time on the road chasing big wins and championships, but that dynamic has led to a family that is much closer than most. And when a sport shapes so much of your life as drag racing has with the Manuels and the Justices, it is hard to argue that fact.
“I think it makes our family stronger because we all go everywhere together and we all work together,” Amanda said. “We win together, we lose together, but the key thing is it is all done together.”
And that togetherness will never be more evident as it will be this weekend as the entire family chases a championship in Memphis.
“It brings us together and makes us stronger. I mean, this is all we do is race and be around racing and the fact that we all love it makes our bond that much stronger,” Cameron said. “I mean, most families never get to spend any time together and with us we are always together, sharing in these experiences as a family. It is neat and it is something I feel lucky to have.”
Of course, one thing that keeps that family bond so strong is that few of the members of the family race in the same class. That helps keep down the tension as each person can concentrate on their own car in their own class.
“I think if we raced one another it would be fine. I think no matter who would win we would be happy because one of us gets to keep going,” Amanda said. “But that isn’t to say it wouldn’t be tense.”
Tense, or at the very least a little uncomfortable.
“I am glad I don’t have to race her. I don’t think that would be very good,” Cameron said with a laugh.
It is certainly a unique way to spend time together, but you can’t argue that it is a good way to keep a family together. After all, as the old saying goes, the family that races together…
8,000 MILES, ONE RACE, ONE GREAT OPPORTUNITY - No one traveled farther to be in Memphis this weekend than Monte Soper.
From the doorstep of his home to Memphis International Raceway it is over 4,000 miles – and that is just one way. That is quite a haul for any race team, let alone a tiny operation based in the massive state of Alaska. But despite the challenges associated with hauling a racecar across 4 provinces and nearly a dozen states, Soper is safe and sound in his pit space in Tennessee and looking forward to an opportunity to add his name to the record books as a world champion in the Top ET class in the Summit SuperSeries.
“It was a long drive, as much of an understatement as that is,” Soper said with a laugh. “I actually cheated a bit by sending my car and truck ahead to Seattle and then drove down here, but I will be driving back home the entire way. It is worth it, we are super excited to be here. Why else would we take two weeks out of our lives just for one race?”
Soper qualified for the Summit SuperSeries presented by AMSOIL and Moser Engineering via the Wild Card drawing, a special drawing for drivers too far from a Team Finals to give all Summit SuperSeries participants an opportunity to qualify for the world championship.
From a pool of several dozen drivers Soper’s name was pulled in early September and couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing.
“I couldn’t believe I got the call,” Soper said. “This is a pretty meaningful event and it means a lot to be here. This is such a prestigious race and there is so much on the line. We can’t wait to get the car on the track and see what we can do.”
Soper is one of 16 drivers qualified in the Top ET class this weekend, joining an equal grouping in Mod ET and Junior Dragster competing for the three Summit SuperSeries championships. And given the past history of Wild Card recipients at the Summit SuperSeries, Soper can’t wait to try and add his name to that list.
“I am definitely aware that the wild card drivers have won this thing before and that really makes you believe it can be you,” Soper said.
Among that list is the last two Mod champions Matt Hawk from Arizona and Chris Hall from Utah, both winners and both recipients of the Wild Card draw. Add in drivers from as far away as Aruba when Jonathan Tromp won the Top title in 2004, and anything can happen at the Summit SuperSeries World Championships.
For now, however, Soper’s primary focus is getting adjusted to the big-race atmosphere in Tennessee this weekend after years racing at Alaska Raceway Park.
“You don’t really grasp it all until you actually get down here and see it. Being from Alaska and being from a smaller racing network, this is all a bit overwhelming,” Soper said. “This is very different from what we are used to, but we are excited to get going. It should be a fun weekend.”
The winner of the Top ET class this weekend will receive $10,000 from Summit Racing Equipment, a brand new dragster courtesy of American Race Cars with a Trick Flow engine, a vacation to Aruba, IHRA Gold Card, championship Ironman and more.
SOARING LIKE A HAWK - Move over Petty. Step aside Force.
There is a new family name in the world of motorsports – Hawk.
The Hawk family is certainly no stranger to the world of tall trophies and big stages. Son Matt is the defending Summit SuperSeries No Box World Champion, father Chuck is a regular winner at his home track of Southwestern International Raceway and now you can add mom Cindy to that list as well.
With the IHRA Nitro Jam series rolling into town for the Arizona Nitro Jam in March, the Hawk family knew this was their time to shine. A sold out crowd greeted Matt Saturday evening during prerace ceremonies and roared to life with a standing ovation when their hometown champion was introduced. A few hours later that same crowd was on their feet cheering Matt’s mother Cindy as she took the crown in the Top Dragster category and earned an even bigger honor, qualifying for the Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions presented by AMSOIL later.
A few months later Matt, the reigning Summit SuperSeries champion in Mod ET, qualified for Tournament of Champions in Stock at the San Antonio Summit Sportsman Spectacular. And if dad Chuck can qualify for the tournament this weekend during the Sportsman Spectacular that will be the entire family going for a championship all in one race.
“This is all so very exciting,” Cindy said. “After Matt won last year we got so much attention and everyone was calling us and congratulating us. Then this year I won at our home track in Tucson and Matt qualified for the TOC this time and if my husband can qualify that would really be something special. It has a remarkable year, like a dream really, but we have a chance to make it that much more special this weekend.
The Hawk legend began some four decades ago when Chuck started racing at the age of 16. After years in the sport, Chuck finally got wife Cindy into the sport in 1997 followed by both of their sons at the age of 10 in Junior Dragster. While the family has enjoyed a good deal of success locally over the years, it has been nothing to the extent they have enjoyed over the last 12 months.
Now all three family members are in Memphis for the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals with two chances at another world championship and a third chance at adding to those odds when dad Chuck tries to get in via the Sportsman Spectacular.
“It would be awesome if all three of us could be qualified for Sunday,” Cindy said. “It has been a whirlwind year, but that would be special.”
Traveling from their home in Tucson, the family spent the week in Tennessee touring the area and sightseeing and now Cindy says it is time to race, something this family lives for.
“We came in early and had some fun sightseeing. We went downtime, we went to the zoo, we had some fun in the area,” Cindy said. “Now we are here and we are ready to race. This is what we do and this is what we live for. I can’t wait until Sunday.”
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