Written by Todd Veney/Pro Sportsman Association, Photos courtesy David Smith
Many-time world champions Bill Reichert and Frank Manzo won the Eastern regional event at Maple Grove Raceway, each for the fourth time in five years. Reichert edged reigning event and world champ Duane Shields in a photo-finish final in Top Alcohol Dragster, 5.452 to 5.457, and Manzo stopped old rival Paul Gill in a trouble-plagued Top Alcohol Funny Car final, 5.83 to 6.07.
Reichert, who also won this race in 2008, 2009, and 2010, edged Shields in perhaps the best round of any race in any class all year. Shields moved first by a thousandth of a second, .050 to .051, and Reichert was quicker by five-thousandths, 5.452 to 5.457, for a four-thousandths margin of victory.
Reichert qualified just sixth in the field and drew the hottest driver in the country, Topeka winner Rich McPhillips, in the first round but advanced with a 5.49 when McPhillips launched into a wheelstand, smoked the tires upon his return to earth, and shut off. In the semifinals, Reichert took out former Division 1 champ John Finke, 5.42 to 5.57.
Shields, who defeated Dan Mercier in last year’s final, won a close one over Dan Page in the first round, 5.42 to 5.45, and topped surprise No. 1 qualifier Richard Bourke, who qualified on top for the first time in seven years, in the semi’s, 5.40 to 5.55.
In Top Alcohol Funny Car, Manzo made the two quickest runs of the event in qualifying, back-to-back 5.61s, but, like everyone else, struggled with the conditions in eliminations. Following a consistent 5.65 in the first round against Fred Tigges, Manzo shut down to a 9-second time in the semifinals but advanced when recent Norwalk runner-up John Anderika’s car refused to go into reverse after the burnout.
“There was nothing wrong with the track,” said Manzo, who has won the Maple Grove event 19 times – more than any driver in any class at any race in Lucas Oil Series history. “Right now, I just have no window with the clutch, period. If I leave 50 rpm different from the run before, it doesn’t go. I don’t know what the problem is. It was fine in testing and stable in the first round, but whatever’s been wrong with this car all year is still wrong.”
Gill had the most consistent car all weekend. He was the only driver other than Manzo to run in the 5.60s, with a 5.64 and a 5.67 in qualifying and another 5.64 and another 5.67 in eliminations. His 5.67 in the opening round took out 2012 Jegs Allstars rep Eric Lourie, who shut off, and a 5.64 (low e.t. of eliminations) in the semi’s dropped Dan Pomponio’s 5.90.
In the final, anything close to what he’d been running would have been enough to take out the vulnerable Manzo, but Gill had even bigger problems and slipped to a 6.07 at just 206 mph.
“I was lucky,” Manzo admitted. “I had to pedal it twice. As soon as the car started shaking, I thought I was done because Paul hadn’t made a bad run all weekend. I figured he’d run a 5.62 or another .64, but he never came around me.”