BELL WINS BIG IN FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN SEASON-OPENER
1st-time champ beats his own engine builder, Aaron Stanfield, driving the same car he wrecked last fall.
Stephen Bell and the Bossier City, Louisiana crew served up a piping hot dish of southern race dominance at the Gators this afternoon. Bell, who wrecked his COPO Camaro at St. Louis late last year, was not even a major newsmaker going into the event, yet he and teammate Aaron Stanfield met for the money. Moreover, it was in a pair of cars that Bell owns, and the Stanfields built motors for. That they pushed not one but two cars into the final round of this deal is no small thing, as a bunch of other guys had every intention of leaving here not just with prize money but with the SAM Tech notoriety. Aaron, Greg and Mike Stanfield, longtime Sportsman competitors, are no strangers to the winner’s circle themselves, so for Bell, it was this team effort that made his victory possible.
“To be honest, I’m the driver,” he adds. “This is all Stanfield; they built it, they tuned it. Vic Custer (East Texas Race Cars) put this car back together for me, and it is fantastic.
“This is the first time out for the car since we wrecked it last year, so we were pretty conservative getting it back into shape and dialing it in,” Bell said, “Once we started qualifying and feeling comfortable with it, we just began creeping up on the combination, and we frankly got lucky as it came right along with us. It was perfect.” In the end, an 8.108 put the car into the 6th spot in the field.
The final was held in hot weather, with the two nearly-identical factory-red ‘stock cars’ rolled into the water. Stanfield instantly won the immense crowd that had stayed to the end with a burnout that would have honored a prior Chevrolet racing hero, the late Jungle Jim Liberman of funny car fame. That showmanship may have come at a price, as he barked the tires right off the line as Bell sailed clear to an 8.176.
“You know, that final was great because we raced each other; there was no way we could lose (laughs). But I won the semifinal on a holeshot, and that was a great race. Then I raced Chuck Watson, who’s a dear friend of mine, in the quarters, and that was a great race, too. They were all great. What a weekend!”
The Gatornationals marked the start of the 2018 season for the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown. This class entails seven events this year, with a much-changed program disassociated from Stock Eliminator itself. The schedule now includes a 16-car program and participation from three manufacturers, with rules enforcement based on factory specifications. Harnessing 1500 horsepower on nine-inch tires is no place for sissies. This is not a class where you take it easy, either. These cars will run 8.40s all day long; to get into the 8.0 or 7.9 margin, they will devour parts, and even then you need to deal with the fine line between instantly smoking the tires or wheelstanding. It's an exciting format for driver and fan alike, and an exploding growth area in doorslammer racing right now. There were 29 cars chasing 16 spots at the Gators - 17 COPO Camaros, nine Cobra Jet Mustangs, and four Drag Pack Challengers.
Qualifying in this event was a fight for factory honor, with the three brands all pushing cars into the 8.0 territory. By the end of the first session in the best air overall of the weekend, David Barton’s COPO was tops at 8.020, Geoff Turk’s Dodge Challenger, which had run two 7-second times the previous weekend in Bradenton’s NMCA season opener, cranked off at 8.099 using a freshly-installed motor, and Chris Holbrook’s Mustang in at 8.100. Holbrook improved to an 8.082, with Camaro drivers Pete Gasko Jr’s 8.045 and Randy Taylor’s 8.060 giving Chevy the top three spots.
The rest of the field included seven more Camaros, three Mustangs, and three Dodges, with the bump being Waldemar Rodriguiz’ Puerto Rico-based 8.188.
Round one found upsets galore. Robert Falcone came in as alternate replacing Geoff Turk’s Dodge, who wounded the last motor he had following his record-setting efforts. Turk’s ‘Gainesville motor’ had gone into Leah Pritchett’s factory Mopar car, which had qualified 7th with it. Falcone took out Mike Skinner in a battle of Camaros to open things up. Arthur Kohn won over Rodriguiz to bring another Camaro forward, and Bell made it three Chevy’s when he ran 8.12 against an up-in-smoke Joe Welsh to trailer one of the Drag Packs. Chuck Watson gave the Blue Oval guys a win when his Mustang topped young Gasko’s car. Then came the biggest upset, David Barton spun the tires and Stanfield pushed his Camaro forward. Number 3 qualifier Randy Taylor stayed in by beating Scott Libersher, who went into a towering wheelstand. Leonard Libersher took the third upset win when he holeshot Chris Holbrook to at a .016 win, 8.129 to the Mustang’s 8.127. Leah Pritchett, the sole remaining Dodge, kept Mopar hopes alive to finish Saturday’s opening round by beating Danial Condon, 8.18 to 8.20.
Sunday opened with a haze of fog, but the sun was shining as the FS class moved into the lanes just before 1:00 PM. Libersher took out Kohn, who fell off by the 60-foot clocks. Next, Taylor took out Pritchett, who put a bunch in the bank off the starting line but ran out of steam with a supercharger issue as she headed down track, and Taylor advanced, 8.18 to an 8.35 to become the odds-on favorite. The third pair found Stanfield running 8.17 to beat Falcone’s 8.25, and the Camaros reigned supreme as Bell got the measure of Watson’s Mustang, 8.15 to 8.20, setting up the semifinals.
There, the SAM Tech Factory Stock Showdown proved to be a driver’s race. Both semifinal rounds were won on holeshots. Stanfield beat the last 8.0 qualifier, Taylor, 8.186 to a quicker 8.179. Then Bell made it an all-Bell/Stanfield final when he put 5 feet of Libersher at the stripe, 8.167 to a quicker 8.142.