Already postponed some eight months from its originally scheduled date by the Coronavirus pandemic, radial-tire racing’s elite ultimately had to wait out two additional days to complete DuckX Productions’ third edition of the Sweet 16. But the delay was certainly worth it for J.R. Gray, Tim Slavens, and Justin Curry, who scored memorable victories in Radial versus The World, Pro 275, and X275, respectively, at Donald Long’s high-dollar homerun derby.
The Sweet 16, Long’s mastermind that pits the baddest of the bad in radial tire racing’s top-tier eliminators against one another for cold, hard cash, afforded competitors eight qualifying runs over two days, ensuring the best cars and drivers were in what proved to be some of the quickest and fastest qualified fields in history. Delayed into the weekend by the remnants of Hurricane Delta that waded through the South Georgia Motorsports Park region, champions weren’t crowded until after midnight Monday evening.
Gray, who hadn’t even begun building a Radial versus The World car at the time of the originally scheduled date of the Sweet 16 in March, was making his competition debut in his new Reese Brothers Race Cars-built, nitrous oxide-assisted Camaro. Gray, with friend Steve Jackson calling the tuning shots, had only shaken down the new car a week prior to the Sweet 16, and in an interview with Dragzine, said his team was still 30 days away from being prepared to run at the front of the pack. That timeline, however, was quickly expedited, as Gray closed qualifying second with a stout 3.56 — just behind his chassis builder, David Reese.
As its designed, the top two qualifiers — Reese and Gray — punched their way through their respective sides of the 16-car ladder to meet in the finale. Impressively, it was not a traditional Hemi nor a pair of turbochargers in either lane, but a 959 cubic-inch nitrous behemoth and a unique Noonan small-block ‘Hemi’ with a screw-type supercharger on top. In precisely the type of drag race you’d expect from the two best cars on the property, Gray nipped Reese at the tree and held on for an epic holeshot victory, needing every bit of the quickest nitrous oxide-assisted doorslammer pass in history, 3.542-seconds at 207.18 mph to hold off Reese’s 3.520 — itself an equal to the quickest small-block pass of all-time.
Said longtime grudge racer Gray after his incredible feat: “This is just the beginning…if they thought we were tough today, they ain’t going to want no part in 30 more days.”
As incredible as Radial versus The World was, the ever-competitive X275 eliminator may have stolen the show.
Proving that competitiveness and parity, the 16-car field was spread apart by less than a tenth of a second, with current world record-holder Manny Buginga leading the field with a 4.235 and Robert Willians anchoring the record ladder with a 4.335. In the most upsetting of fashion, the heavy hitters in the show fell by the wayside in the opening three rounds, putting Justin Curry and recently-crowned NMRA champion Dom DiDonato in a most unlikely final round matchup between a big-block nitrous Camaro and a Ford Modular-powered, turbocharged Mustang.
The numbers six and 12 qualifiers, respectively, Curry stayed out in front of DiDonato in the money round, claiming an ultra-tight 4.25 to 4.26 victory for all the marbles.
[We’ve] been chasing this victory in Georgia for seven years now,” Curry said. “I knew coming in this was our best chance to win. We had tested and tested and changed parts after parts to get here. We qualified with one motor and ran eliminations with the new spare. And they are both almost identical. We had a goal last year to make it faster and get it in winner’s circle. To be able to share this with my two older boys and my dad is beyond words. I’m thankful for every person and company that help get us here.”
Pro 275, like X275, featured a record-setting field, spearheaded by Eric Dillard’s world-record 3.777 and anchored by a 3.912 from James Miron in the first all-three-second field in class history. In the end, it was a pair of Missourians, Radial versus The world defectors, and former radial-tire world record holders squaring off in the finale, as number six qualifier Tim Slavens met number-eight Mark Micke.
The highly-anticipated match between these formidable big-block, twin-turbo cars, however, never came to fruition, as Micke’s familiar ’78 Malibu broke on the burnout, allowing Slavens to solo to his long-awaited first DuckX victory after so many close-calls and heartaches at South Georgia.
“This was definitely one of those races where we didn’t win from awesome numbers but instead just being there and things coming together when we needed them to,” said Slavens. “There are so many amazing people on our team that put their lives on hold to go and help us through these weekends and I will never be able to share how much I appreciate what they do for our team.”