Andrew Wolf: Don’t Send Your Condolences To The Nitrous Racers Yet
Prior to and certainly after Brad Personett knocked the performance walls down last season and subsequently earned the first win for a turbocharged Pro Modified at the biggest race of the year, the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, turbochargers became one of the hottest topics in drag racing.
Then, during the off season, Roger Burgess’ formidable R2B2 camp quietly shared their intentions to field a turbocharged car in a plan that later included a new partnership with Personett and his ’68 Camaro. In testing, with Proline honcho Eric Dillard at the wheel, R2B2’s new ’53 Corvette cranked off several 5.8-second laps, proving they were more than ready for their turbo debut. This, with a reduction in turbo size from 91mm to 88, mind you. Meanwhile, Chip King and Dennis Radford were putting the finishing touches on their new combos, while Troy Coughlin was knee deep in the yellow paint being applied to Clint Hairston’s killer small block Pro Street GTO that he would campaign while awaiting completion of his own car.
By the time the Get Screened America Pro Modified Series opener in Gainesville rolled around, all eyes were fixated on this new collection of turbocharged entries, and much of the discussion revolved around the future existence or lack thereof of the blown cars and to a greater extent, the nitrous-assisted racers.
And then Khalid Balooshi stepped into the conversation and silenced all that chatter mid-sentence as he hoisted the hardware and posed for the cameras. Twice.
From the standpoint of pure potential, Balooshi and his fellow nitrous fraternity members had the odds stacked against them. Fortunately, Wally Parks opted to race the cars on the track rather than paper sixty years ago.
Fresh off a dominating season in Pro Nitrous in the Arabian Drag Racing League in Qatar that was capped off with a new world record, the”Battle for the Belts” crown, and the points title trifecta, Balooshi just plain outran Californian Danny Rowe for the Gatornationals crown. Then three weeks later, after thumping everyone at the ADRL season opener, walked out of Las Vegas with another trophy. This time in a surprising all-nitrous finale with feisty veteran Rickie Smith.
If the nitrous cars were dead, someone evidently forgot to inform the nitrous racers.
Not only did Balooshi win Gainesville however, but he also sprayed his way to the number one qualifying slot, ahead of Rowe, Smith, and Burgess, in that order. On one of the best tracks in some of the finer conditions these racers will see all year, none of the combinations dominated the others.
To their credit, the turbo camp boasted low ET of the weekend with Burgess’ 5.84 in the opening round, but he and Personett both bowed out of eliminations in the second round. That left two nitrous cars and two blown cars in the semifinals. The final round margin of victory between Balooshi and Rowe was a mere .016; less of a gap then the Pro Stock final.
In Sin City, the final qualifying order was headed up by Burgess, with the blown car of Jay Payne second, followed by Balooshi and Smith, and Coughlin’s turbo car rounding out the top five. The rest of the qualified field was rather lopsided with ten of the sixteen sporting superchargers, but the parity at the top speaks volumes. Under mild spring conditions hovering around 90 degrees, each of the three engine combinations took turns recording low ET of each round of qualifying.
The semifinals on Sunday looked quite reminiscent of Gainesville, with Smith and Balooshi on opposite sides of the ladder; Balooshi in a rematch with Danny Rowe and Smith facing Burgess, who had been the quickest car in each prior round.
Burgess certainly should’ve been in his first final round behind the wheel of a turbo car, but in a prime example of why we don’t race these cars on paper, a huge 5.94 to 6.01 performance advantage on the racetrack was negated and then some by a days-late .226 reaction time while ‘Tricky Rickie’ did what he does best by remaining solid on the tree. In the other pairing, Rowe tripped the beams just a hair too quick, sending Balooshi to yet another final.
And thus, the two lone nitrous entries in the class, with their obituaries written and funeral arrangements made, were the only racers left standing on Sunday afternoon. And while the impending growth of the turbocharged army in numbers and accolades is hard to doubt, a couple of nitrous racers have proven that not only is the level of parity in Pro Modified perhaps better than it’s been in a long while, but on at least two particular weekends, everything was in their favor.