Four years ago, veteran drag racer and VP Racing Fuels regional manager Jason Rueckert traded in his helmet for a promoter’s cap for a weekend, partnering with the Huff family at the Ohio Valley Dragway in Louisville, Kentucky to contest the inaugural Ohio Valley Prize Fight, bringing big-time drag radial racing to the Bluegrass state for the first time. Quickly earning the title “The Fun Nationals,” the Prize Fight has become an early summer staple on the radial racing schedule during its first four editions, with a laid-back atmosphere — thanks in large part of Rueckert’s own life-of-the-party personality presiding over it — and a collection of racers focused not on numbers, but on competing.
That, of course, isn’t to suggest the Prize Fight isn’t capable of delivering the ‘wow factor — the Ohio Valley strip, one of the finest eight-miles in the country, has divvied out world records in previous editions of the Prize Fight, and despite oppressive heat and humidity and a track temperature soaring to more than 130 degrees, those who made the trek to the derby city had no trouble getting after it in their quest for the unique and now-traditional Prize Fight championship belts.
Shawn Pevlor reset the Nitrous X national record in qualifying with a scintillating 4.61, but smoked the tires in round one and was headed home early.
However, if you’re radial tire back-breaker Shawn Pevlor, you don’t really concern yourself with the summer heat. Pevlor, a multi-class competitor with a resume a mile long, clicked off a 4.63 in the opening round of Nitrous X qualifying and then backed it up with a 4.61 to set the class national record. In the process, he put more than three tenths of a second between himself and second-place Matt Schlein on the qualifying sheet. Content with his tune-up, Pevlor sat out Saturday’s two mid-day sessions and by all measures, had the field covered for eliminations. But they don’t run ‘em on paper, and in the opening round, Pevlor’s Mustang boiled the hides, making it a wide-open affair.
Number two qualifier Matt Schlein powered his Fox-body’Stang to the winner’s circle in Nitrous X.
Schlein, who made the trip up from Lake Wales, Florida, capitalized on the opportunity, driving to the final and outgunning Len Robertson on both ends of the racetrack to seal the title, 4.98 to a 5.12.
In the quickest and fastest of the four heads-up eliminator at the Prize Fight, Bloomington, Indiana’s Matt Bell paced the 12-car field with his 4.22, just ahead of former race winner Shane Stack and fellow Hoosier Mike Hupp. As eliminations proved, however, what you did in qualifying mattered little in a stacked field that included Oklahoma’s Justin Martin, Lyle Barnett in the record-setting “Tooth Jerker” Dodge Dart, Travis Esselman and his Corvette, and a resurgent Richard Reagan and his Fox-body Mustang.
Limited Drag Radial champ Jack Greene, who ousted Mike Hupp in a nitrous versus twin turbo finale.
In the finale, Tennessee native “Mean” Jack Greene, driving his nitrous oxide-assisted Chevrolet Nova, clocked low elapsed time of the weekend with a 4.20, putting some distance between himself and Hupp, who notched a 4.26 in a losing effort.
Like Nitrous X, the X275 contest went true to form, as top qualifier Shane Fisher, a former winner of the Prize Fight, drove his menacing turbocharged Fox-body to the number one qualifying spot with a 4.48 to lead the 13 cars in attendance. Fisher then ran a consistent string of high 4.40’s in eliminations, culminating in a tight 4.46 to 4.49 victory over Phil Hines.
Shane Fisher added another Prize Fight championship belt to his case, qualifying number one and running a string of 4.40s, including a 4.46 in the final, to defeat Phil Hines.
And in MX235, Brian Edwards also was able to parlay his position atop the field into a victory. Edwards clicked off a 4.65 in qualifying in his turbocharged Mustang, nearly a tenth of a second ahead of number-two Phil Reichardt and his 4.74 from his nitrous-fed Chevrolet Camaro. In Saturday night’s final, the two squared off and produced a result nearly identical to their qualifying efforts, as Edwards sealed the deal with a 4.66 to Reichardt’s 4.73.
MX235 heavy-hitter Brian Edwards qualified number one and was never headed on his trip to victory lane at Ohio Valley.
Prize Fight: Round Four Champions
Limited Drag Radial: Jack Greene
X275: Shane Fisher
Nitrous X: Matt Schlein
MX235: Brian Edwards
Outlaw 6.50: Shane Williamson
Outlaw 7.50: Bill Wittenhour
N/T Shootout: Shawn Pevlor
ET 1: Rick Bale
ET 2: Phillip Shaw
Mike Hupp’s Malibu Reloaded
Owing to the increasing competitiveness of the second-tier of 315 radial racing (Outlaw and Limited Drag Radial), Indiana native Mike Hupp, following his impressive number one qualifying effort at No Mercy 7 last fall in South Georgia, spent the offseason stepping up his racing program, not content with “just good enough.” Hupp arrived at Ohio Valley for his season debut with a freshly-rebuilt engine combination, featuring a de-stroked 598 cubic-inch big-block with the same Precision 88 mm turbochargers and a new M&M two-speed transmission. Despite some small nagging issues, the Pro Tree Race Cars-built Chevrolet Malibu didn’t disappoint, qualifying third with a 4.27 and advancing all the way to the final round.
Karri Anne Beebe’s Green Machine
The Beebe family and their crew made the lengthy trek down from their home in Michigan to take part in the Prize Fight — an event they’ve made a final round appearance at in the past — with their hard-to-miss 1968 Chevelle. Husband and crew chief Matt Beebe shared that their goal was simply to try and compete and capitalize on any miscues by their competition in eliminations. That, and to try bettering their 4.72-second best elapsed time in Limited Drag Radial trim.
Karri Anne qualified with a 4.74, just .02-seconds off her career high mark, in her Chevelle, sporting power from a 632-inch big-block Chevrolet built by Holbrook Racing Engines. The Beebe’s utilize a single stage Speedtech Nitrous setup to produce the power and back it up with a Rossler Turboglide. At nearly 600 pounds over the minimum weight for their combination, the Beebe’s knew they’d brought a knife to a gunfight, but that didn’t seem to wipe the smiles from their faces at taking part in the Prize Fight.
Phil Reichardt’s 235 Radial Camaro
If there were a best-of-show award at the Prize Fight, Festus, Missouri’s Phil Reichardt would’ve been the frontrunner. Reichardt’s beautiful leaf spring-equipped Camaro is clean enough to eat off of, both inside and out, and with more than 360 man-hours of body and paint work invested, it’s near-perfection from nose to tail. And, having owned the car for 25 years, Reichardt wouldn’t have dedicated anything less to his pride and joy.
Noted Pro Modified chassis builder Andy McCoy completed the chassis work on the car. Power comes from a 434-inch small-block Chevrolet with Dart 9-degree heads and a Holley HP carburetor and is assisted by a “big” single stage of nitrous oxide. A Transmission Specialties Powerglide and converter back it all up.
Reichardt qualified second in the show with a new career best elapsed time of 4.74 and improved to a 4.73 in the final round.
Dave Douma’s SS396 Chevelle
With a little weekend break from his busy day job as a construction foreman, Belvedere, Tennessee’s Dave Douma entered his Chevelle in Limited Drag Radial, where he qualified number seven with a 4.59. Douma’s mount is powered by a self-built 565-inch big-block. As Douma shared, years ago he made a unique deal to trade construction work to an engine builder and machinist in exchange for the opportunity to shadow him and learn the tricks of the trade. With those skills in hand and access to machinery, he began building his own engines and the rest was history.
The original SS 396 Chevelle, which has been in Douma’s posession for the last quarter century, progressing from a street car up to a bracket warrior and to its current state as a full-on racecar, is fed by an F3-136 ProCharger and backed up by a two-speed Turbo 400 transmission. Most uniquely, the car still sports virtually its entire factory interior, from the door panels and dash to the console. Douma even shifts the car using the original factory “horseshoe” shift handle.