Missourian Mark Micke bookended a historic weekend at Donald Long’s prestigious Sweet Sixteen at the South Georgia Motorsports Park on Saturday afternoon, powering away from final round opponent DeWayne Mills to capture the richest prize ever in radial-tire racing: $101,000. For Micke and car owner Jason Carter, it was a surreal 72 hours, as they established both ends of the Radial vs The World performance standards, going 3.62-seconds and 221 mph, on their path to the winner’s circle.
Afforded unseasonably-cool temperatures and atmospheric conditions that at times dipped to near sea-level, the Radial vs The World contingent put on one of the most impressive performance displays over a single event in drag racing history, moving the elapsed time record by nearly a full tenth of a second and the speed mark by over five miles per hour. Anticipated only to dip into the high-3.60s at best, the field of 34 racers blew away even the grandest expectations — and for the most part, Micke, Carter, and their twin-turbo ’78 Malibu were the very center of it.
After Mills shattered the 3.6-second barrier on Thursday evening and garnered the $7,000 bounty that went with it — just moments before Steve Jackson and Micke got their shot at the track — Micke stunned everyone with a 3.677-second lap at an unheard-of 221.20 mph to re-write both ends of the records books. Micke noted that evening, “if we can get this weather tomorrow night, I think we can go a 3.62 or .63. There’s tons left on the table.”
While hard to imagine, his premonition was right.
Micke carded a 3.70 on Friday morning and then focused on consistent laps throughout the day to get a feel for the sunny, mid-day conditions expected in eliminations. Then, with the sun dipping low on the horizon and the temperature and density altitude likewise descending, he again went for glory, going 3.641 in the eighth of nine qualifying sessions to re-take the stop spot from Jackson, who had earlier gone 3.666 in his supercharged Camaro.
In the ninth and final session, under the lights and with the corrected altitude measuring less than 100-feet above sea level, Micke got the better of Steve Jackson in one of the single most anticipated passes in the history of radial tire racing, blistering to the aforementioned 3.623 at 214.79 mph to stamp his name atop the eliminations ladder.
“It’s a storybook weekend. You could at back in the shop or at home and try to run all of this through your head, and I’d have never dreamed it up like this. I couldn’t have come up with story,” Micke said.
In eliminations, it was all about clean runs for Micke and Carter. At their best, the duo were some .06-seconds shy of the lowest elapsed time in eliminations (a 3.66 by Mills) and only set low elapsed time of one of the first three rounds of competition, but it was strong, repetitive numbers — and an average reaction time of .025 — that propelled him to the $101,000 payday.
“Today was all about consistency,” he said. “That last qualifying run, that was our homerun derby; we had to get that our of our system, get it out of my head, and race to win. We were racing to win, and we were going to race the track and what it would give us and our combination. My guys did a great job reading the track and they kept the car going in the pits between rounds. The crew was spotless, flawless, it never stumbled, they just did awesome. We’d come back, roll a set of plugs in it, cool it off, charge the battery, and that was it.”
Only Mills, known for producing the big runs when they’re needed, stood in his way. What was anticipated as a titanic slugfest, ultimately became a one-sided affair before the pair reached the 100-foot mark, as Mills’ Camaro slowed, giving him a front row seat to the blue Malibu storming to the crown in 3.722-seconds.
“I went up there and told myself I wasn’t even going to worry about what DeWayne was going to run. They’re baddasses, and I know what they can do. I’d been up to check the track out, and I felt it would give us about a 3.70 to a 3.72, and that’s what I was going to do. I said I’m going to try cutting a light, and if it gets us a win it gets us a win,” said Micke.
“Sometimes it’s hard to get the fastest guy into the winner’s circle. There are a lot of times that doesn’t happen, but Micke ran the hardest all weekend, he had the car to beat, and he won the race,” added Long.
Clutching perhaps the most valuable briefcase in the state of Georgia on Saturday evening — a custom clear briefcase containing 5,050 $20 bills — Micke deterred any notion that his this race and his win were about the money for he and his Radial vs The World compatriots.
“Winning is what motivates everybody over here. You want to win. You might be buddies in the pits, but on the track, you want to beat the hell out of one another,” he said.
For a racer with a decorated driving career and acclaimed success in business, this was the ultimate victory for Micke.
“This is number one,” he said while in victory lane with a celebratory Bud Light in hand, soaking up the magnitude of what he and his team had just done. “We’ve won a lot of stuff, a lot of money, a lot of races, but nothing like this, against this caliber of racers. This is it, the Super Bowl, the World Series, all in one. What we’re so proud of is that the guys we raced against are the best. There are no slouches out here. It was just our weekend.”
Contenders in radial tire racing’s premier eliminator year in and year out, Micke and Carter had never been this dominant. At January’s U.S. Street Nationals in Bradenton, they proved stronger than at any point previously, coming up just a few clicks of the timer short of the then-3.71 second world record. After struggling last month at Lights Out 9 to repeat that performance, they came into the Sweet Sixteen with the utmost in confidence.
“We were really bummed because we came here for Lights Out 9, and the circumstances with the track prep and the weather, and we had a mechanical issue, and we were really just pissed when we left. We wanted to run like this then. It was a big let-down, but that’s drag racing…you’re a hero to a zero in a matter of seconds.”
This time around, he was the hero.
“Last year we started building. Over the winter, Kris Nelson who does our engines, found us some power. We introduced our new lock-up transmission and converter that we’ve really been working hard on, and that was a huge difference. Garrett Turbo got us some new turbo stuff. Bill Miller from BME, we got onboard with Bill and he steers us and supports us into territory that a lot of us just don’t know….with the power level and what these cars do. Bill has been a guy we can pick up the phone and he’s really helped us. But it’s all a team effort, and all of the sponsors behind it.”
“Me and Jason and the crew and all of the guys at the shop, they’re all passionate about this, and that lends a lot to our success. It’s just the atmosphere that it’s all about racing and winning.”