Quality always tops quantity, and that fact accurately describes the 2016 drag racing season. While the heart-stopping, jaw-dropping, did-that-really-happen performances around the globe weren’t as plentiful as in previous years, the numbers that did fall were on an order of magnitude unlike anything the sport has seen in a long time.
The all-out assault on the history books was, once again, both a nationwide and international affair, and from radial tire racing to imports and the NHRA’s nitro-burning monsters, everyone was loaded for bear and ready to wage war with one thing in mind: the continual march to go faster and be quicker than everyone else.
Our annual look back at the ten biggest and baddest runs of the year that was features competitors from a range of racing backgrounds and venues — and even countries — and comprises arguably our most diverse Top 10 list yet. There’s nothing scientific about our selections, but rather, they’re the pure, unbiased opinions of the staff and expert contributors here at Dragzine. Whether we got it right or got it wrong…well, that’s up for debate. And with winter upon us, there’s plenty of time for that. So, without further ado, we began at number ten…
10. Kevin Rivenbark Runs The Table
Photo courtesy NHRA/National Dragster
Not only did the Galot Motorsports team of Kevin Rivenbark and John Strickland maintain a monopolistic stronghold on the Professional Drag Racers Association Pro Boost class in 2016 — they combined to win all eight races — but they also paced the field in the performance department, as well, bookending the season with their names next to the class national record.
Strickland opened the year with his name etched in the record book as the Pro Boost standard-bearer with his 3.790 at Virginia last October, but it didn’t last long, as Rivenbark drove his supercharged C7 Corvette to a record-breaking 3.751 at the season opener at Tulsa, and then matched it in Rockingham, before pounding out a 3.732-second lap in the final round at that very same race to claim the honor.
It took more than seven additional months before Rivenbark and tuner Todd Tutterow found the conditions favorable to re-establish the record, as he uncorked runs of 3.721 and then a 3.711 (just barely edging out Strickland’s 3.713 in qualifying) in the first round of eliminations to reset the mark. He added laps of 3.713 and 3.715 in subsequent rounds for good measure, just to erase any doubt the rest of the class had who was boss.
9. Aaron Bates Blisters Renegade Class Record
Anytime you lower a class record by nearly two full tenths of a second, you know you’ve accomplished something, and that’s precisely what NMRA racer Aaron Bates did at the NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals at the Atlanta Dragway in early April. Bates, behind the wheel of his ProCharger-fed Fox body Mustang, uncorked a wild 7.409 at 187.86 mph in the opening round of Renegade eliminations, bettering Frank Varela’s 2015 record pass of 7.59-seconds and even putting some gap between he and Adam Arndt’s all-time-quick 7.48. Bates was successful in backing up his staggering performance, running a 7.449 in the next round.
For good measure, he won the race and, later, the Renegade championship.
8. The Quickest Side-By-Side Radial Race In History
Only once before has our list featured a side-by-side performance rather than a lone shot into the record books, but the Radial vs The World finale at October’s No Mercy 7 radial tire shindig at the South Georgia Motorsports Park delivered everything promoter Donald Long promised and then some.
With $60,000 on the line to the winner, each of the 33 entrants in the headlining eliminator at No Mercy threw caution and reservation to the wind, dialing every last drop of horsepower and hoping upon hope it would hold. The South Georgia 1/8-mile had only seen one 3.7-second pass by a radial car prior to the highly-anticipated final round, that coming from the odds-on-favorite to win it, DeWayne Mills.
Mills’ opponent, New York native “Nova Joe” Albrecht, was a virtual newcomer to radial tire racing, having only recently put radials on his newly-acquired, screw-blown Pontiac GTO formerly campaigned in Outlaw 10.5 by Richard Sexton. But as his early radial outings had shown — and as his association with Pro Mod tuner Jon Salemi solidified — he wasn’t anyone to take lightly in the winner-take-all affair.
Both Mills and Albrecht had been clicking off consistent 3.80’s throughout weekend, with the advantage based on numbers to that point in Mills’ favor. But neither had shown any near-record potential until they really needed it. With seemingly every human on the property crowded around the starting line and with all the fervor of the Category 4 Hurricane Matthew that had skirted the area two days earlier, Mills’ turbocharged Camaro and Albrecht’s belt-slapping blower car blasted off into the night to what, less than 3.8 seconds later, was the greatest (and quickest) drag radial race in history. Albrecht had a nose out on Mills’ Golden Gorilla to half track before being freight-trained by the turbo car at the stripe to the tune of a 3.765 at 209.72 (the second quickest radial run ever) to a career best 3.781 at 200.00 for the New Yorker.
7. Ziff Hudson First To The 4.0s On 275s
The last two years, David Pearson has landed himself on our list with his run of radial tire dominance, pushing the performance envelope in the Outlaw 275 class to unimaginable heights. But in 2016, he gained some company from and actually took a backseat to fellow North Carolina resident Ziff Hudson.
A radial tire racing vet, Hudson unveiled an all-new ride at the dawn of the new year, built largely in secret by Robby Keziah with a turbocharged powerplant from Kevin Mullins at TKM Performance with a goal to wear out the Pro 275 ranks.
At No Mercy 7 at South Georgia Motorsports Park in October, Hudson double-entered his gorgeous silver Mustang, with a skim-the-pavement stance, in both Pro 275 and Radial vs The World, and it was during a qualifying run in the latter that he rolled out to the quickest pass in history by a 275 radial tire-equipped machine, going 4.055 at 186.41 mph and placing the class on the cusp of the three-second zone. So stout was that run that it actually qualified him in the field at number 26, ahead of some very potent cars with more ammunition on paper than he had.
6. Outlaw 10.5 Record Claimed By A….V6?
Photo courtesy Arabian Drag Racing League
The Outlaw 10.5 class made some steady gains one year ago following Richard Sexton’s entrance into the three-second zone in late 2014, as both Mike Decker, Jr. and Chuck Ulsch powered their way into the id-3.90s, with Ulsch’s 3.94 serving as the quickest run in the history of the class to that point. But no sooner than all of the confetti used to ring in the new year had been cleaned up, the record had already fallen to an unlikely source.
Unbeknownst to most of the racing world, Al Anabi Performance and Alan Johnson Performance Engineering had been collaborating on a one-of-a-kind, mega-inch V6 powerplant — essentially a 481X minus two cylinders, measuring in at 549 cubic inches — and come 2016, they finally got to show the world what it was capable of, when Moe Atat drove AAP’s Outlaw 10.5 Corvette to a new world record pass of 3.91 seconds, before later closing out the Arabian Drag Racing League season at the Qatar Racing Club in Doha with an incredible 3.879-second, 198.26 mph world record pass.
5. Matt Hagan And Dickie Venables Do It Again
Photo courtesy NHRA/National Dragster
Two-time NHRA Funny Car champion Matt Hagan checks in on our list for the second year in a row thanks to yet another monster performance by he and tuner Dickie Venables. Last year, it was Hagan’s stunning 3.879-second pass at Brainerd that earned him the number two spot, and with such significant gains in elapsed times and speeds in such short order, all bets were off what the Funny Car class could accomplish in 2016.
What the introduction of the supercharged, factory-built racecars from GM, Ford, and Chrysler has done for the record books in Stock Eliminator has been truly unparalleled in any category in any era of the sport, leaving class racing purists scouring in displeasure and others giddy with delight over the new technology and the return of the factory drag wars.
The new-fangled machines have wrung nearly two full seconds of performance out of the class in just nine years, and now, it’s on the brink of the seven-second zone thanks to class racing veteran and second-generation racer David Barton, who is just one late winter weekend with near at-sea-level atmospheric conditions away from the barrier that no old school class racer ever thought they’d witness in Stock Eliminator.
Barton, driving the Factory Stock/AA 2015 COPO Camaro entry owned by Gary Wolkwitz, made a bid for the sevens at the annual Dutch Classic at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania, making laps of 8.07, 8.17, 8.14 in qualifying and the early rounds of eliminations. On his final run of the weekend, Barton was on his way to a potential date with a 7.99 timeslip when the car popped out of high gear, still recording a new class record of 8.073 at 153.37 mph — nearly 15 mph slower at the stripe then his earlier 8.07.
3. One Small Step For Mankind – Kevin Fiscus Enters The Fives On Radials
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in drag racing where the first-ever five-second run by a radial tire-equipped car would only end up at number three on our list, but that just goes to show how impressive the two runs yet to come truly were.
In the radial tire racing realm, the breaking of the five-second barrier has, for at least a year or two now, been a matter of when, not if. By and large, the safety element has deterred many from attempting the mythical mark, as trap speeds near or in excess of 250 mph on a tire with a tread patch of around 11-inches would be necessary to achieve the feat. One racer had come close, and others had tried and pushed beyond the boundaries of the equipment, leaving it there for the taking.
But, with the launch of Mickey Thompson’s new purpose-built 315 radial and the steady advances in performance, the mark became a realistic target in 2016. And, as it turned out, Florida racing partners Kevin Fiscus and Josh Klugger simply seized the opportunity before anyone else did.
A week later at the World Cup Finals in Maryland, he cemented the performance by carding a series of 5.9-second runs, including three 5.97s and a radial world record lap of 5.928-seconds, also adding the 1/4-mile speed record for good measure with a 252.05 mph blast.
2. Steve Jackson Stuns The Radial Tire World
When we revealed our Top 10 list at this time one year ago, Texas native Jason Michalak was the owner of the outright radial tire world record with a then-staggering lap of 3.877-seconds, which was more than full tenth of a second quicker than the record of the beginning of the season. Most would readily admit they never saw that kind of performance coming — at least not yet — and given how close radial racers had come to the perceived “ceiling” of performance, nobody in their right mind would think that 2016 could produce a sub-3.8-second pass.
Nobody except Steve Jackson and tuner Billy Stocklin.
Jackson, a noted grudge racer, standout radial tire ace, and a past Pro Nitrous champion, had already witnessed the potential of all-out nitrous oxide combinations with racing partner Jeff Sitton’s performance in February, and with a 3.7-second car already in his stable, the gears were turning for the popular Georgia racer as the season kicked into high gear.
In a “go big or go home” effort before the weather turned warm, Jackson bolted a set of radial tires on his nitrous-huffing, Reher Morrison-powered Pro Nitrous Camaro and trekked to the North Star Dragway — the site of Michalak’s record-shattering run the year prior — for a shot at the record and some Radial Tire Racing Association hardware. There, he proceeded to bury the record books, blowing right by the then-record of 3.81 by Michalak with a series of passes that included a 3.79, a 3.78, and finally, an absolutely absurd 3.751 at 201.97 mph.
1. In the Eleventh Hour, Gary White, EKanoo Take Back Import Record
What the elite teams in import drag racing around the world have accomplished over the last year and a half has been mind-blowing, propelling them from simply “those import racers” to legitimate contenders in Pro Modified-style racing on the world’s stage. And if you ask us, they still aren’t getting the credit they so rightly deserve, because fact is, no one in the sport accomplishes more with less than import racers.
The EKanoo Racing team, with all the resources at its disposal to exploit the capabilities of an inline six cylinder engine to its fullest, bookended a season for the ages in the import drag racing arena — one that saw them shock the world, only to have their title snatched away from them nearly 11 months later by a hungry team from Puerto Rico.
We begin each year compiling potential runs for this list on day one, and this time around, we were pretty confident we had our number one run on January 11 — it was on that day in Bahrain that Alabamian Gary White drove EKanoo Racing’s new Pro Import GT86 to the quickest and fastest import run in history by a country mile, coming out of nowhere and leapfrogging right over the 5.80s by recording an otherworldly 5.774 at 247.95 mph. That run put them, at the time, more than two tenths of a second ahead of the next quickest import anywhere on the planet. It should be noted that they accomplished this with a modified cast iron Toyota block.
White gained some company in the five-second club during the season, however, most notably from the Zoian team, who emerged as record contenders in the fall months and eventually stole the record like a thief in the night from EKanoo with a stunning 5.757-second blast in Florida. Not to be outdone and motivated by Zoian’s efforts, White and company strapped a 106 mm turbocharger on their GT86 and made one final shot at it in calendar year 2016, recapturing their crown in the eleventh hour by a mere .004-seconds with a 5.753-second blast at the Bahrain International Circuit on December 23. That run came compliments of a .947 60-foot and 3.799 half track clocking. For good measure, the team had also added a new world speed record of 253.10 mph a week prior.
The Oh-So-Close List (In No Particular Order)
Mahana Al Naemi Snatches Pro Nitrous Record
Photo courtesy Arabian Drag Racing League
Like the EKanoo team with their record run, Al Anabi Performance did likewise over in Bahrain at the second round of the Bahrain Drag Racing Championship series event — the final race before the close of 2016. Doha, Qatar native Mahana Al Naemi, behind the wheel of his Speedtech-backed Camaro, powered to the quickest nitrous-assisted 1/8-mile doorslammer run in history during Pro Mod qualifying, going 3.668 to outpace the 3.671 posted by Lizzy Musi during the same event and Tommy Franklin’s 3.677 recorded in Virginia in October.
Brandon Snider’s 3.486
In the cool, chilled air at Tulsa, Oklahoma back in early March, eventual PDRA Pro Extreme champion Brandon Snider recorded the quickest lap in the history of the series at 3.486-seconds, marking the quickest 1/8-mile doorslammer pass recorded since Frankie Taylor’s all-time-best 3.485 back in 2012.
Brad Medlock’s Outlaw 8.5 Record
MX235 series champion Brad Medlock, looking to have a little fun, bolted a 98 mm turbocharger on his Mustang for the NMRA World Finals in Kentucky, and entered the Street Outlaw class (a 275 radial eliminator) on 235’s, setting the all-time record for 8.5-inch tire cars with a stellar 4.61.
Jonathan Gray’s Pro Mod Record
During his short tenure behind the wheel of Harry Hruska’s Precision Turbo Camaro, second-generation racer Jonathan Gray established a new NHRA-legal Pro Modified record with a 5.75-second lap at the season opener in Gainesville.
Cannuli Goes One Better
Australian standout John Cannuli made the quickest pass in history by an alcohol-burning Funny Car in June at the 400 Thunder Series Winternationals at the Willowbank Raceway in Queensland with a 5.35, bettering NHRA champion Jonnie Lindberg’s 5.36 from 2015. Although the Australians are afforded 33 percent more supercharger overdrive than their NHRA counterparts, a record is still a record.
Zoain Racing Goes To War
Puerto Rico’s Zoian Racing and driver Jesus Melendez seemed poised to take the top spot on our list with their-come-from-behind triumph in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, seizing the all-time import record during a test session in Orlando in late November with a 5.757-second, 246.40 mph lap, sending their rivals in Bahrain into a frenzy. While it didn’t last, it did give us all a state of what to expect in 2017.