That’s A Wrap
The National Muscle Car Association put a lid on another stellar season of competition at the annual World Street Finals at the legendary Lucas Ol Raceway at Indianapolis on Sunday — the culmination of a hard-faught, six-race tour that took its racers through six different states. The finale was, fittingly, a record-breaking affair packed with intensity, as nearly all of the championships remained up for grabs going into the season’s final day.
Jason Hamstra, who was denied the Xtreme Pro Mod title — a crown he had firmly in his grasp virtually all season long — at Indianapolis last year in heart-breaking fashion, was determined not to let another slip away, and he did exactly what he need this tine, charging to victory to seal the title.
Don Walsh, Jr. who was locked step-for-step with Hamstra all season, remained the only challenger to Hamstra, the event’s top qualifier, as they entered the second round of eliminations, but Walsh’s exit at the hands of Jackie Slone, Jr. handed the title to Hamstra. With the pressure off, Jason motored through the remaining two rounds, ousting Mike Recchia in an all-blower final, 3.70 (low elapsed time of the event) to a slowing 4.92.
Like Hamstra, Geoff Turk did precisely what was needed this weekend to come from behind and claim the Factory Super Cars title from incoming points leader Chuck Watson. Turk clocked an impressive 7.98 to qualify number one, and then backed it up for a national record with a 7.99. He then charged through eliminations, claiming the title in the semifinals are a round two exit by Chuck Watson, and scored a decisive victory in the final over Scott Libersher, 8.06 to an 8.20.
In Radial Wars, last year’s championship runner-up Marty Stinnett overcame a disappointing qualifying effort — a third-best 4.43 — to close his season on a high note, running a then-weekend-best 3.95 in the semifinals before defeating David Adkins with a 3.96 in the money round.
Rob Goss, a veteran of the Street Outlaw ranks, earned his long-awaited first career NMCA victory, overcoming a barrage of near-record performances by top qualifier Daniel Pharris and newly-minted champion Shawn Ayers to seal the deal with a 4.37-second final round defeat of Ayers.
Said Goss,”I’m the happiest man on earth right now being pushed back after getting our first win in NMCA Street Outlaw. It took five years but we did it. I’ll be honest I was overcome with emotion after the pass … still having to hold it back now thinking about it.”
Twenty-two year-old Jordan Ensslin, competing in his first season in the NMCA’s Nitrous Pro Street eliminator, charged from behind on Sunday, making every last point count on his way to the series championship. In doing so, he denied fellow young-gun Jennifer Brooke-Race, the incoming points leader, of her first title. Ensslin, a second-generation racer, qualified atop the field with a record 4.32, alter backing it up for the national record and the points that go with it. Brooke-Rice, in heart-wrenching fashion, bowed out of eliminations in round one at the hands of Randy Dolensek and could only watch as Ensslin survived round after round, sealing the championship on his path victory lane after defeating former Pro Stock racer Tony Gillig in the final, 4.31 (low elapsed time of the race) to a game 4.36.
Illinois racer Lou Iacopetti was the picture of consistency in Xtreme Street on Sunday; he qualified sixth with a 4.75, five-hundredths back of leader Tim Knieriem. He set low elapsed time of the opening round with a 4.74, with the only blemish on the day his 5.93-second win in round two In round three, he defeated Knieriem on a holeshot, 4.74 to a 4.73, then punched his ticket to the final with a 4.77-second win over Jessie Coulter in the semis. In the final, a 4.75 was enough to overcome a hot start by Bill Trovato as he drove to victory.
Leonard Long, the reigning NA 10.5 series champion, was unable to defend his title in his 2018, but a victory at the season finale ended his year on a high note. Long, who qualified second with a 7.84, defeated Wayne Roberts, Vince Khoury, and Mike DeMayo on his road the final. There, he was to meet top qualifier Robbie Blankenship, but with the Florida racer unable to make the call, Long soloed to victory with a 7.86.
Gustafson Racing With A Purpose
California’s Eric Gustafson has enjoyed a successful debut season in the NMCA’s Xtreme Pro Mod division, driving a relatively unproven centrifugally-supercharged, Hemi-powered combination in the world’s quickest and fastest doorslammer eliminator. Gustafson, who previously competed in the Street Outlaw and X275 ranks, scored his first career Pro Modified victory — and what was the first major series win with a ProCharger — in Atlanta earlier this season, and with a best lap of 3.75-seconds, has certainly been competitive throughout the six-race campaign. But he says there is work to do yet.
“It’s been a great season so far. We’ve definitely had some highs and lows, but it’s part of racing. Yesterday you’re a hero and today you’re a zero in this business. We didn’t really know what to expect except to go out and do our best and try to do a ProCharger combination proud and right, but we have a long way to go yet. If you look at some of these other combinations, some great racers have spent a lot of time refining them, and we have only scratched the surface, in my opinion.
“I think there is always room for improvement, and it’s not always just about how much more horsepower can you make, but it’s about refining the chassis and converter and other parts of the package. I do think we need more horsepower, and we’re working toward it, but we just need to do more testing and development and see what we can accomplish.”
“After this race we’re going to look at our schedule and work out where and when we can go test so we can get better this offseason and come out next year and be a force to reckon with. After we’ve gotten that taste in our mouth we’re hungry — it was nice to get a win in Atlanta. It was pretty special an we’re fortunate, because some people race Pro Mod and have never been to a final, and we did it in our second race.”
Gustafson qualified sixth in the field with a 3.804 at 199.55 mph after missing Friday’s opening session. A close friend of Gustafson’s passed suddenly on Friday morning, leaving him contemplating whether to continue this weekend, but noted, “his background and his personality, we all knew that he would have wanted us to race this weekend.”
The Stanley & Weiss team is experiencing the finest weekend of their relatively short NMCA Xtreme Pro Mod tenure this weekend, getting their supercharged Cadillac CTS-V down the eighth-mile on every run with a series of consistent 3.8-second runs. But driver John Stanley got quite the scare in the opening round of eliminations.
Near mid-track, as Stanley was pulling away from opponent Billy Harper and the car shifted into second gear, the planetary assembly broke, causing a brief deceleration on the in-car G-meter and a spike in engine rpm. Father and tuner Camp Stanley believes whatever broke ‘caught’, causing the car to regain forward acceleration before one of the planetary gears let go and exited the case at 3.65-seconds, rocketing across John’s field of view in the cockpit and through the lexan windshield. John, stunned by what he had just seen, quickly brought the car to a halt in the shutdown area and climbed from the car, unhurt.
The team, without a complete, spare windshield, has patched the corner of the window with a spare piece of lexan and replaced the gear section in the transmission to make their second round matchup with Craig Sullivan.
Blast From The Past….Kind Of
From 1997 through 2001, Chicago pizza restaurateur Tony Gillig competed in the IHRA and NHRA Pro Stock ranks, finishing second in the championship standings twice with the IHRA in this classic Oldsmobile Cutlass that well-traveled fans instantly recognize. But, it turns out it wasn’t this Cutlass at all.
Gillig’s Nitrous Pro Street machine, built by the late Don Ness, is in fact a replica of the original Rick Jones-built car, right down to the paint scheme and the late 90s-era wheels — a fact which has stumped many of those who have seen it in competition the latter half of this season.
“The original car was built by RJ in 1995 and when we quit racing NHRA Pro Stock in 2001, we sold it to a guy down south, and he still has the car. I called him about five times trying to buy it back and he wouldn’t sell it. So we found this car out in Las Vegas; a guy was racing it in Top Sportsman. This is the old Mike Edwards, Don Ness car from 1995 that he won Indy with. So we found the car, my dad bought it, we brought it home and we stripped it down the bare chassis. We put carbon fiber wheel tubs and interior in it, updated a few things, and then had it powdercoated and painted to match our old car.
“We bought the car in March of last year and got it done this June. It’s the exact paint scheme, same color, it’s an exact replica.”
For Gillig, who still enjoys the Pro Stock way — pure, unadulterated horsepower, a manual transmission, and a clutch pedal, Nitrous Pro Street and classes like it have provided the perfect outlet for his return to racing.
“Some of the nostalgia Pro Stock stuff has taken off, and the [Outlaw] 632 class. Racing Pro Stock in the past, I always liked to do that, racing heads-up without the nitrous and turbos and blowers, and I want a stick in the car, so this class fits us well, the PDRA stuff fits us well. Some of the nostalgia stuff might not be as competitive as Pro Stock, so to speak, but there are places for us to race it, we’re not limited. The 500-inch Pro Stock racing is ridiculous, and the mountain motor stuff doesn’t interest me, so we thought this would be the best place for us.”
Like former NHRA Pro Stock racer Vince Khoury, who is pitted just down the lane from him, Gillig admits he missed the big stage of the factory hot rod class, but admits at this point in his life, Outlaw 632-style racing fits the bill.
“I do miss Pro Stock, but when we did that, I was in my 20s and we were working night and day. We didn’t think twice, we just did it. But now I’m almost 50, and you only have so much time in the day, and you have kids, and there’s a lot going on, so the slower pace and the reduced schedule works out well for us. I’m glad these classes exist, because it gives us an opportunity to race the way we want to race. I’ve driven some cars here and there since we got out of Pro Stock, but I wanted to race a car like this. But there just wasn’t a class to race it, unless you ran Pro Stock. There’s Top Sportsman, but that isn’t my thing. So this all came together at the right time — these classes have been the saving grace for us to come back and race again.
Gillig’s Cutlass is powered by a Madcap Engines-built 622 cubic-inch big-block that he runs naturally-aspirated against the nitrous oxide-assisted entries that comprise the majority of the class. And, fittingly, for a Pro Stock veteran, it’s backed with a Liberty five-speed and a RAM triple-disc clutch — Gillig notes, “I’ve never driven an automatic racecar, so I’d probably screw it up somehow. There’s no clutch pedal. I enjoy driving the car…without punching gears, I don’t think it’s be fun. That’s how I grew up…my dad had me in the car with a Lenco and a big-block and a tube chassis when I was 17.
“It runs good, but we’re still sorting it out,” Gillig adds of his newly-minted machine, which qualified an impressive number two in the show with a 4.373. “This car has less than 20 runs on it. We’re close, we just have to keep working at it.”
This isn’t Gillig’s first foray into street legal drag racing, as in 2003 he drove to the Fun Ford Weekend Pro 5.0 title driving Tim Huston’s ASSC Ford Mustang. He later returned to the IHRA scene, finishing a disappointing second in the world in a climactic points race a second time in 2006.
“It was cool to be competitive. I always dreamed of driving a Pro Stock car. I’ve lived my dream before I was 30 years old, so I’m very fortunate in that regard. My dad is a big part of that obviously. But it’s such a cool deal to have this car back out — it’s gotten a lot of attention and people say ‘oh my God, you got this thing out of the mothballs.’ It’s a family effort out here…I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t my whole family doing it. It’s brought us closer together and it’s just neat.”
Brinegar Unhurt In Qualifying Mishap
Aiming For The Hat Trick
With the Radial Wars championship in hand, James Lawrence set his sights on the national record of 3.858-seconds, set by Marty Stinnett in Bradenton. He put a leg up on the mark in today’s second session, going 3.844. If the Dragzine team can win the event and close the season with the elapsed time record, it would mark one of the more impressive endings to a season in recent memory.
Drag Pak’s Prove Unstoppable
Geoff Turk stood the Factory Super Cars class on its ear in the second round of qualifying, blasting to a 7.98 to put a full tenth of the rest of the field. Turk is still the only competitor in the class to record a 7-second run in competition, doing so at Bradenton, Atlanta, and here at Indianapolis. This event marks the first since the NHRA adjusted its minimum weights (and thereby altering NMCA regulations, as well) that were designed to slow the Dodge Challenger Drag Paks. As Turk noted in a story here on Dragzine earlier this week, the 25-pound addition made little difference on the racetrack.
“That was a ‘hail mary’ in about 20 different directions at once and they all landed,” Turk commented. “You don’t get that to happen very often — I changed everything, because the weather changes and you set up to run in the heat and now its super-cool out today. That was actually the fourth 7-second pass, but the third time officially. I thought I had it softer than that, because I changed the front shock settings, the retard map, the timing map, the fuel map and fuel pressure, because I didn’t want to hurt it. Because when the air changes that much, it’s a tuning nightmare. But hey, it worked — it’s great when it all comes together.”
Modern Day Pro Stock
From the late 1980s through 2000. Vince Khoury competed with the world’s best in the NHRA Pro Stock ranks, racing alongside the Warren Johnson, Bob Glidden, and the like in what was arguably the heyday of the eliminator. Khoury, who built his own engines out of financial necessity with help initially from factory hot rod icon Larry Morgan, had the 18-wheeler, the trick parts, and all the ingenuity needed to run in what was then the premier doorslammer class in drag racing. These days, Khoury gets his drag racing fix with the NMCA, competing the NA 10.5 class with his son, Vince Khoury, Jr. in a car not all that unlike the Pro Stock of yesteryear. And if senior had it his way, this is precisely the direction the NHRA would have — or should have — taken.
“This is a real car, all the panels are from a factory Mustang. Guys come out and they see this car and it’s something that can go out on Monday and buy. You go to an NHRA event and look at the Pro Stock cars — if you take stickers off of them, then what do you have? Young guys can’t go buy that, and so that’s why you’re seeing these guys buying import cars. I do miss Pro Stock, and I’ve thought about putting a car together to go back, but it’s just too costly, and it’s gotten out of hand … there’s no bringing it back now.”
“You can’t buy this class,” senior notes as he switches gears to the NA 10.5 class he calls home these days. “The tire is the limiting factor … you can make all kinds of power but you have to be able to get it to the track though that little tire.”
The Khoury’s Ford Mustang feature power from a pre-DRCE, 500 cubic-inch Oldsmobile Pro Stock powerplant circa 1988, with a single carburetor on top. The mill is backed, naturally, by a Liberty transmission and a clutch, junior noting “I’m a manual transmission and clutch kinda’ guy.”
It’s fair to say, like the Liberty and clutch, naturally-aspirated power runs in the family.
“We wouldn’t know what to do with nitrous oxide or anything like that. We’ve talked about it, but this is where it’s at for us,” junior shares.
In NMCA trim, Khoury has been as quick as 7.82. At their local track, Michigan’s Milan Dragway, the father-son duo can swap in a larger 700-plus-inch combination, which has gotten them into the 7.60s previously.
Jason Hamstra and Don Walsh, Jr. have been locked together in the points standings and on the racetrack all season long, and they remain the class of the field at the World Street Finals, qualifying one and two as they go into a raceday that will ultimately decide the Xtreme Pro Mod title.
Hamstra paced the field with his 3.71 recorded on Friday afternoon, three-hundredths ahead of Walsh, who closed qualifying second at 3.740. Mike Recchia, Kyle Megginson, and John Stanley all joined the two frontrunners in the .70s. Randy Adler, who experienced engine damage in the evening’s final session and oiled the racetrack, hung on to the bump spot with his 3.923.
Geoff Turk, making his late-season bid for the Factory Super Cars championship, put himself in prime position to chase down incoming points leader, Chuck Watson, by posting low elapsed time of qualifying with a 7.98, which he backed up in the final session with a 7.99 for a new national record in the class. Turk outpaced Watson — and the field — by a full tenth of a second, as Watson’s Ford Mustang Cobra Jet closed qualifying second with an 8.08-second best.
Turk entered the World Finals trailing Watson by 80 points, or less than round, and by way of the top qualifying spot and the national record, trimmed the lead down to a mere 20 points going into raceday.
James Lawrence, driving the Dragzine C7 Corvette, sealed the Radial Wars championship simply by making a qualifying run this weekend. With the title settled, Lawrence and company set their sights on the national record — in the second session today under overcast skies and brisk temperatures, they put a leg up on the mark, going 3.844. That run not only was the quickest in the history of the Radial Wars class, but is also a centrifugally-supercharged radial tire record. The team hopped the ProCharger-fed machine up for the final session in hopes of going a low .80, but kicked the tires loose early and slowed. The 3.84 marked the only three-second time on the qualifying sheet, with David Adkins rounding things out second with his 4.03 and Marty Stinnett third at an off-pace 4.43.
Jordan Ensslin, with an outside shot at the Nitrous Pro Street title, has done everything to perfection thus far, as he qualified atop the field with a stellar 4.329 to reset the national record and earn the 50 points that goes with it. Ensslin would need points leader Jennifer Brooke-Rice to bow out of competition early tomorrow in order to overcome her more than 300-point lead.
Tony Gillig, driving his familiar Oldsmobile Cutlass, closed qualifying second at 4.37. Brooke-Rice was mired down in fifth with a 4.55-second best.
Daniel Pharris drove his sleek 1995 Ford Mustang Cobra to the top spot on a quick day of Street Outlaw qualifying, as he outpaced Shawn Ayers and Rob Goss with the only ‘twenty’ — a 4.281 at 173.09 mph in the third and final session. Shawn Ayers, well on his way into the 20s in the final session before slowing, closed out qualifying second at 4.30, with Friday’s leader, Rob Goss, third at 4.32.
Kentucky’s Tim Knieriem will lead a strong field of Xtreme Street racers into eliminations with his 4.70 at 147 mph. Seven other cars joined Knieriem in the 4.70s, including points leader Jessie Coulter, who carded a 4.73 to slide in second in the order. Henry Schneider anchors the field with his 5.21 — the only qualifier outside the four-second zone.
Former champion Robbie Blankenship qualified number one in NA 10.5 behind the wheel of his iconic 2004 Ford Mustang with a 7.801 at 173.83 mph, just a few ticks ahead of reigning class champion Leonard Long and his 7.845. David Theisen, who has already sealed the championship in his 1969 Firebird, will go into raceday fourth with his 7.87-second best.