We seem to repeat the same line every year, about how many great runs the season produced and the challenge of not only narrowing so many deserving laps down to just 10, but then ranking them. But this time around, we really mean it. In the five years we’ve been producing our Top 10 Runs Of The Year feature, there have never been this many runs of such magnitude, making our job of putting this piece together tougher than ever.
From the NHRA Mello Yello and Lucas Oil Series, to the PDRA, NMCA and NMRA, outlaw radial racing, and countless other venues across the sport of drag racing, records weren’t just reset, but in many cases, were demolished. Barriers were broken and runs that were, frankly, inconceivable when the season began unfolded before our very eyes. Indeed, 2017 was an exciting time to be a drag racing fan, and while we’d say (and have) that next year couldn’t possibly top this one, chances are we’ll be proved wrong by many of the very individuals you’re about to read about.
Without further delay, though, we present this year’s list of the Top 10 most staggering, impressive, and downright historic passes. Did we get it right? That’s always up for interpretation, and we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
10. The Baddest Blown Alcohol Run Of All-Time
Despite a strong contingent of blown alcohol runners in the NHRA’s Top Alcohol Dragster division, it was Surrey, British Columbia racer Shawn Cowie that finally put all of the pieces together and trumped Jim Whiteley’s 5.17-second standard, set back in the fall of 2012, as he clocked a stunning 5.165 at 280.54 mph in July at Woodburn, Oregon. One of the singular great performances in recent memory, in any other year this would have been a top three run.
9. Lizzy Musi’s Nitrous World Record
Gains in elapsed time by nitrous racers — relative to their boosted counterparts — have been notoriously difficult to come by, as the teams and their engine and chassis builders work tirelessly in their research and development efforts to find, not hundredths, but mere thousandths of a second. But in the early weeks of the season, those numbers dropped in impressive fashion, placing the nitrous contingent a few steps closer to another performance milestone: the 3.50s.
While overseas in Qatar competing in the Arabian Drag Racing League series, second-generation racer Lizzy Musi battled it out with Mahana Al Naemi and the Al-Anabi empire, trading the eighth-mile record back and forth before Al Naemi book-ended the Middle Eastern season with a 3.643-second performance.
Video credit TheRacingVids
The Musi camp returned stateside to kick off the PDRA Pro Nitrous campaign in March, and in early May squared off with Pro Boost racer Melanie Salemi in a match race a the Maryland International Raceway, where Lizzy reeled off a scintillating 3.631-second run at 205.86 mph.
8. New Car, Same Result: Mike Castellana And Frank Manzo Break Necks
As both a driver and a crew chief, Frank Manzo has won upwards of 250 major drag races in his career, but he hasn’t defeated most of his foes so much as he’s pounded them right into submission. And that approach didn’t change at all when he teamed up with Al-Anabi Performance and veteran Mike Castellana in 2017 for a supercharged effort in the NHRA Pro Modified ranks.
Castellana, a nitrous oxide vet driving a supercharged car for the first time — one tuned by the greatest supercharged, alcohol-burning racer of all-time — wasted little time getting acclimated to his new surroundings, runnering-up at the season opener in Gainesville and winning at Charlotte.
The Manzo Missile then put its muscle on display in Houston, carding a then-national record 5.722 before cranking out a 5.685 at 252.99 mph— the first NHRA-legal pass in the ‘60s — on a day and a weekend in which no one else ran quicker than 5.788. Castellana later added a 5.698-second lap to his score card in Topeka for good measure. To date, the AAP Camaro is still the only NHRA Pro Mod to have run in the 5.60’s.
7. Jose Gonzalezs’ Pro Boost Beatdown
No racer has ever appeared on the same Top 10 list twice, but then again, few racers get to pilot multiple cars of the caliber that Jose Gonzalez does. A year ago, Kevin Rivenbark made our list with his 3.711-second PDRA Pro Boost record, but in the span of one dominating season that saw him earn the class championship, Gonzalez and his El General/Q80 Racing team took nearly a full tenth of a second bite out of that, culminating in a series of a mid-3.60 runs at the PDRA World Finals with a best of 3.638 in the semifinal round of eliminations.
6. Steve Jackson Goes Super “Fast”
Following years of historically rapid gains in performance, it would seem the radial tire racing genre at its elite level has finally reached the point of diminishing returns. What hasn’t changed, at least over the last two seasons, is who is at the forefront of those marginal gains.
A year ago, Steve Jackson made our list with his then-stunning 3.751-second lap in he and partner Jeff Sitton’s nitrous oxide-assisted Camaro in Radial vs The World trim, giving a prelude of what to expect in 2017. Jackson, driving his brand new “Shadow 2.0” Camaro, kicked off his early season sparring match with Barry Mitchell at Lights Out 8 in South Georgia, rolling to a new radial tire world record lap of 3.737-seconds, just .001-seconds quicker than Mitchell’s 3.738 a few moments earlier. That mark held through the weekend, before Jackson and Mitchell tangled again at Woostock in Darlington, South Carolina. There, Jackson got the upper hand again, defeating Mitchell with a stunning 3.717-second, 198.76 mph blast in the quickest side-by-side drag radial race in history (Mitchell carded a 3.745 in the losing effort).
5. Geoff Turk Puts Mopar On Top
In 2009, Chrysler announced their factory-built Drag Pak Dodge Challenger, intended to compete head-to-head with the year-old Ford Mustang Cobra Jet. With its release, a new chapter in the factory drag racing wars was ready to be written. However, Dodge’s iteration has rarely been competitive against its Ford and Chevrolet counterparts, and over the last handful of seasons of heads-up competition among the factory-built cars, the Drag Pak hasn’t even been a part of the conversation.
That was, until 2017, when Dodge went straight from the outhouse to the penthouse.
Illinois runner Geoff Turk, a lifelong Mopar aficionado, and his engine builder Tony Bischoff got their paws on a newly-NHRA-approved Gen III Hemi aluminum block and cylinder heads from Chrysler earlier in the year that was to finally be the game-changer the Dodge racers had been waiting eight long years for. Turk debuted the engine at the NHRA U.S. Nationals, where he quietly qualified third in a field of 22 cars with an 8.15. He then return to the Lucas Oil Raceway in October for the annual NHRA Fall Classic, where his “Blackbird” 2015 Challenger clicked off the quickest Stock Eliminator run in history — 8.029 at 170.43 mph.
Fully invested in winning the race to the seven-second zone, Turk trekked to Missouri and Louisiana later in the fall to try getting it done, but mechanical issues and atmospheric conditions didn’t permit it, and thus the door remains wide open in 2018.
4. Robert Hight Enters Uncharted Territory
As has been the case for the last three seasons, the Funny Car contingent pummeled the national record books in 2017, lowering it into fresh new territory that no one would have believed possible in such a short span of time. Lest we remind you that it was in 2011 — just six years ago — that Matt Hagan recorded the first sub-four second run by a Funny Car to 1,000 feet. It has traditionally taken the better part of a decade to move the bar two tenths of a second in the modern era of nitro racing, and so to accomplish that in just six is simply incredible.
After the class marched right through the 3.90s and then the 3.80s during the latter half of 2015 and through the 2016 season, it seemed the class was on a collision course for the 3.70s; the question was, with so many contenders, namely from John Force Racing and Don Schumacher Racing, who would get there first?
With Jimmy Prock, the esteemed purveyor of horsepower, back in Robert Hight’s corner, the AAA Chevrolet was an immediate player in the game of national record leapfrog. At the Heartland Nationals in Topeka, Kansas, Hight just missed the 3.822-second national elapsed time record set by Matt Hagan, but in the process carded an outrageous 337.66 mph speed. Teammate Courtney Force later got in on the action with a 3.815, before Hagan reclaimed what was rightfully his with a stunning 3.802 and a 3.806. Although Hight missed the elapsed time mark, his teammates John and Courtney Force both joined Hagan in the 338 mph club.
But at Brainerd, Minnesota, smack in the middle of August, Hight got it done, storming to a 3.793-second, 338.00 mph lap to set the national record with the first run in the 3.70s. To solidify his spot on this list, he also set the national speed mark at Sonoma with a blazing 339.87 mph run, the fastest wheel-driven speed in the history of drag racing.
3. The Small-Block-That-Could
In the cutthroat world of Radial versus The World, a 3.75-second elapsed time hasn’t been uncharted waters in over a year. But if you have a small-block between the fenders, that’s a different story altogether.
Kentucky native Marty Stinnett has been working tirelessly over the last couple of seasons to do more with less (in many ways), and he finally got everyone’s attention a year ago when he pushed his 440-inch, twn-turbo small-block into the three’s, culminating with a new radial tire small-block record of 3.92. This season, he and tuner Wade Hopkins further refined the combination and nearly won the NMCA Radial Wars title along the way, scoring a career best 3.88 at the World Street Finals in Indianapolis in unseasonably-hot conditions. Despite losing the title on the season’s final day, the soft-spoken Stinnett was elated with the results from his Fox body, and with cooler air on tap in the weeks to come, he entered No Mercy 8 in Georgia with reserved but lofty expectations.
No one, however, could have fully predicted what the mighty Jeff Burns-built small-block was about to accomplish.
Stinnett opened qualifying at the South Georgia Motorsports Park with a career best 3.821 before shocking the radial tire world with a 3.771 at 197.33 mph to take the top spot provisionally. Proving it was no fluke and cementing his Cinderella-story weekend, Stinnett upped the ante one final time with an incredible 3.751 in the final session to qualify No. 1 in the stacked field. Supercharged Hemi’s took a shot at him, as did twin-turbo Hemi’s and big-inch nitrous cars, and yet none could take down the mighty small-block from Kentucky over the course of those three days in Georgia.
2. The Quickest Pro Mod In All The Land
Prior to the opening of the 2017 season, Kuwaiti racer Turky Al Zafiri’s 5.47-second doorslammer record had gone unbeaten and unscored upon for nearly two and a half years, dating back to August of 2014. Then, in February, Bahrain’s EKanoo Racing dropped an incredible 5.445-second lap from their twin-turbocharged Lexus RCF with Khalid Mohammed at the controls to claim the record.
But at the PDRA’s Southern Extreme Nationals at the South Georgia Motorsports Park in early March, El General/Q80 Racing and fearless driver Jose Gonzalez took advantage of an opportunity for a quarter-mile run with their Pro Extreme C7 Corvette and, in one shot, retook the mark with a blistering 5.403, compliments of a .965 short time and a strong 3.623 at 219.47 mph to the 1/8-mile.
What made Gonzalezs’ run all the more impressive is the 259.71 mph trap speed. Given a back-half gain of 55 to 57 mph as is common with an all-out turbocharged combination and his 219.47 mph eighth-mile speed, the run would have resulted in a speed in the direct vicinity of 275 mph. Gonzalez himself admitted to pulling the plug early, and onboard video backed it up. Tuner Steve Petty confirmed the car was well on its way into the 5.30s, and even alluded to the legitimate capability to go high 5.20’s. This was a staggering run in itself that had all the makings of something even more magical.
1. The Spiderman Stuns
Newport News, Virginia Top Fuel Motorcycle rider Larry “Spiderman” McBride is well regarded as the baddest man on two wheels on the planet, with virtually every accolade out there to back up that claim….everything but the world’s elapsed time record. That was claimed by Swedish racer Peter Svensson back in 2012 with a 5.70, and the McBride brothers have been laser-focused since then on getting it back. Time after time, with atmospheric conditions seemingly in their favor, they’ve come up short. But sooner or later, the cream would rise to the top.
In what can only be described as a weekend that will live in infamy for motorcycle drag racers, McBride lowered the world record by nearly a full tenth of a second at the Manufacturers Cup World Finals at the South Georgia Motorsports Park in November. His career weekend began with a career best 5.728, the first run ever in the 60’s — a 5.677 — and 5.726 at a world speed record of 258.27 mph. He then repeated in the second round of eliminations with a 5.746, setting the stage for one of the most incredible runs the sport of drag racing has ever witnessed.
In the final round, opposite of Jay Turner, McBride blasted to an unthinkable 5.611 at 249.49 mph — the quickest run ever by a country mile. His crew didn’t believe it, the spectators didn’t believe, and the internet didn’t believe it. It simply wasn’t possible…except that it was. So outrageous were the numbers that fellow Top Fuel rider Sam Wills commented, “he just retired me.”
Video credit: Dragbike.com
McBride’s run tops our list this year not only on its merits alone, but because it was truly the most unbelievable and unexpected performance, not just of 2017, but in the history of drag racing. And McBride himself may even retire one day without equaling it, it was that good.
The “How Did That Not Make The Top 10?” List
Never before have so many good runs — no, incredible runs — not made it into our Top 10, and this season’s “honorable mentions” list could have just as easily been expanded to 20 and still left us with the difficult decision on who to include and who not to. But such is reality when so many teams, in so many different venues and classes, are operating on a whole different level. Below are just a handful of the many runs that nearly made our rankings — and most certainly would have in any other season.
Cal Hayward’s True Street Slaughtering
The first man to record a seven-second average in NMRA True Street history, Michigan’s Cal Hayward, broke the record for both NMCA and NMRA True Street competition at the Super Bowl in Joliet, Illinois in July with an impressive 7.489-second average and an all-time-best 7.374-second elapsed time. True Street, of course, requires vehicles to complete a 30-mile cruise and three back-to-back-to-back runs without any parts or tire swap-overs, making it a living hell on an ill-prepared car. But Hayward’s 427-inch small-block Ford-powered, twin 83mm turbocharged Fox body survived it with authority, and amazingly enough, was only being run to just beyond the eighth-mile in Joliet. What would it have run all-out? Mid 7.20s at over 190 mph.
“He Did What On An 8.5?”
Although it didn’t come under any official class rules, 8.5/235 tire heavy-hitter Justin Cyrnek dropped the boom on the smallest-of-small-tire record book at Tulsa, Oklahoma in September when he clocked the quickest run in history on 235 radials: a 4.441 at 168.60 mph. Cyrnek, the previous outright record holder with a lap of 4.51, removed his MX235-legal 88mm turbo for a 94mm for the record-shattering run, and later backed it up with a 4.47.
Clay Millican Stuns The Top Fuel Field
After earning his first career NHRA victory in Bristol earlier in the year, Clay Millican added another check-mark to a dream season behind the wheel of his David Grubnic-tuned Top Fueler, as he marched to the quickest pass in Top Fuel history at the AAA Insurance Midwest Nationals in St. Louis, a 3.631. Millican’s monster lap upped the ante on otherwise incredible runs by Leah Pritchett at Phoenix (3.65) and Brainerd (3.64).
Bob Rahaim Claims Legal Nitrous Pro Mod Superiority
In the NHRA Pro Modified category’s inaugural visit to the Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas, Michigan racer Bob Rahaim stunned the class by qualifying atop the field in his nitrous oxide-assisted Corvette with a 5.746 at 251.49 mph — at the time the quickest quarter-mile run in history by a nitrous-assisted doorslammer and still the quickest in NHRA-legal trim.
EFI Can’t Slow Down Jason Line
The NHRA Pro Stock category suffered throughout the 2016 season, the first under the new electronic fuel injection and rev-limiter rules package, dropping well off its previous pace. But that all changed — at least for one weekend of the season — when conditions allowed the field to produce scores of 6.4-second runs at the Gatornationals in March — none quicker than Jason Line’s 6.576-second, 213.87 mph hit, just .021-seconds off the quickest run ever recorded with carburetors.
Annie Whiteley And Doug Gordon March Into The 5.30’s
Although neither superseded the 5.36-second national record of Jonnie Lindberg, Top Alcohol Funny Car heavy hitters Doug Gordon and Annie Whiteley put on a show in the final round of the AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals in Dallas in October with the quickest side-by-side race in the history of the category. In a winning effort, Gordon clocked the second quickest run ever, a 5.376 at 272.23 mph, to defeat Whiteley’s 5.382 at 275.00 mph — the fifth quickest in class history.
Ed Burnley’s All-Time Nitrous Run
In early September, veteran Pro Modified racer Ed Burnley powered his “Ironman” Camaro to the quickest quarter-mile pass in history by a nitrous oxide-assisted doorslammer with a 5.734 at a slowing 231.99 mph at Capitol Raceway’s Northeast Outlaw Pro Modified Association event.
Justin Burcham Parks His Coyote In The Sixes
JPC Racing founder Justin Burcham has been making hay with his 2011 Mustang ever since he purchased it in 2010 — just a week after its acquisition, he became the first racers into the 10’s with the then-new Coyote engine platform. Since that time he’s plowed through the nines, the eights, and the sevens, all the while beefing the definitely-no-longer-stock Mustang up for the kind of performances Burcham was working to attain. This fall, he achieved another incredible milestone, scoring a shocking 6.999-second run a 200.44 mph speed on a subsequent pass at the Mod Motor Nationals at the South Georgia Motorsports Park with his 94mm-turbo-fed, Coyote-powered ride.