In a very special weekend for Osage Casino Tulsa Raceway Park (TRP), two of the biggest names in the sport of drag racing were honored as special guests and the main attraction of the 50th Anniversary Nitro Nationals in Tulsa. Who else but Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, who spent the weekend in Tulsa socializing with spectators and watching old school drag racing action as fans lined up for hours for a chance to meet and greet with the starts of our sport?
More than on dozen racers were honored over the weekend, including many of Oklahoma’s legendary names like Benny “The Wizard” Osborn, among others. At the top of the lineup of stars, a pit area full of Funny Cars, Fuel Altereds, slingshot dragsters, and more entertained the capacity crowd.
A full round of Nitro Funny Car qualifying was on tap for Friday night along with classes for A/Fuel, Jr. Fuel, Central States Superchargers, and multiple bracket categories. Unfortunately, Mother Nature put everyone’s nitro fix on hold with a series of showers that moved into northern Oklahoma just five minutes before time trials were set to begin. After careful consideration, the decision was made by TRP staff to call the racing action for Friday night and pick up hot and heavy on Saturday morning.
Racers and fans were entertained by live music and the Funny Car teams graciously stayed for several hours allow spectators get an up-close look at their equipment and to sign autographs. The lights finally went out and it was time to get some rest as an action-packed day of racing was to follow, plus possibly the largest pin-up girl contest you’ve ever set eyes on.
Saturday morning welcomed sunny skies and incredibly mild temperatures brought in by the cold front on Friday night. It was time to do some drag racing, and crew chiefs were champing at the bit to get on the track in the go-fast conditions. Racing got underway at 11 a.m., and by noon, Nitro Funny Cars were in the staging lanes. That sweet sound of cackle from the pipes mixed in with that nose-burning sensation we all love to hate meant only one thing — nitro was in the air.
First up, local Fred Farndon in the “Play It Loud” entry lined up with two time DRO Nitro Challenge series champion Shawn Bowen in “The Violator.” Farndon was out of the throttle early, while Bowen was on a five-second pass until a nut backed out of one of the butterfly screws on the injector blades, then made its way down into the blower, causing a massive backfire and destroying the blower. Bowen coasted to a 6.73 at 160 mph on the expensive pass. In the next pair of the four-car field, Ronny Young came to the line in the famed “Blue Max” entry alongside Rick Krafft driving the Oklahoma-based “Invader” Corvette. Young made a nice run right down broadway to a 6.38 at 154 mph.
But all eyes were on Krafft.
Just past half-track, a chain of mechanical failures in the engine caused a massive backup of pressure in the manifold, which released in a big boomer that sent the Corvette body flying high into the sky in a dozen pieces. Krafft was able to keep the car off the guardrail and bring it to a safe stop, but the team was obviously done for the weekend with severe damage across the board. Thankfully, Krafft walked away uninjured from the wild incident and certainly made the highlight reels with the spectacular body launch. With an abbreviated field, officials determined to run two sessions, with the quickest two passes from both sessions earning a spot in the finals.
A seven-car field in A/Fuel started nicely but cars dropped like flies as parts attrition took its toll. John Harless took the top qualifying position in the “Grand Prix Auto Centers” dragster from Tulsa with a 6.36 at 213 mph. The car is owned and tuned by local legend Jon Brook, who was presented with a special award during opening ceremonies for his decades of support of drag racing in the Tulsa area. Frank Mazi made the tow from Eastlake, Ohio and qualified second in his injected nitro dragster with a 6.92 at 191 mph. West coast heavy hitter Drew Austin won the long distance award, traveling from Tacoma. Austin battled severe tire shake in all of his qualifying rounds, nabbing the fifth position heading into eliminations, with locals Kenny Stroud and Arvil Lewis in the third and fourth spot.
Robert Malloy was in the house from Alsip, Illinois in the beautiful “Beedy & Malloy” A/Fuel entry, but was sidelined during qualifying with parts failure. Jessi Michael did his best to entertain the crowd in his newly-built front engine dragster when he went sky high at the hit of the throttle during qualifying. A crew member had forgotten a very important part of the starting line routine, pinning the wheelie bar. Needless to say, Michael went for a ride and caught it just in time, but slammed down hard and caused damage to the front end of his dragster, which ended his weekend as five cars remained in the A/Fuel category.
The Central States Superchargers brought the biggest field of entries to Tulsa with sixteen cars battling for a spot in the 10-car showdown. This series is an all-blown class for altereds and front engine dragsters, which provided some great side-by-side racing. Qualifying on a 4.25 index, Brent Laney scored the top spot with a 4.26 at 167 mph in his blown dragster. Laney is the most recent winner on the CSS tour after his win last month in Tulsa and looked strong to repeat this weekend.
Ken Singleton qualified second with a 4.33 at 135 mph in the “High Risk” blown altered and Roger Lechtenburg wheeled the Iowa-based “Nitro Madness” AA/Fuel Altered to a 4.40 (4.04 before index adjustments) at 182 mph to qualify number three. Tom Butherus rounded out the field in the number ten spot with a 4.74 at 146 mph in the “Rude Rat” blown altered, but broke during qualifying. Mark Bowman’s “Blown Income” entry was inserted as an alternate as teams returned to the pits to prepare for first round.
In Southwest Junior Fuel Association qualifying, defending event winner Odie Coker laid down a 7.33 at 178 mph quarter-mile time to take the top qualifying position in the Ron Usseryo-owned and tuned Hemi-powered dragster. Ken Hawkins qualified number two with a 7.41 at 175 mph in his Charlie Smith-owned and tuned machine, and Ron Muncy’s 7.49 at 175 mph was good for the number three spot. Seven cars were in Junior Fuel action, rounded out by Frank Johnson’s 8.48 at 154 mph heading into eliminations.
With qualifying concluded in the pro classes, rounds were hot and heavy in the bracket categories, featuring dozens of old school machines, including the always-entertaining gassers. Between pro qualifying, the Snake and Mongoose could be found with a long line of spectators waiting for a chance to shake hands with the pair of legends and get exclusive merchandise autographed. Pre-race ceremonies began at 6:30 p.m. and included recognition of more than one dozen area drag racing legends, and introduction of the participants in an impressive pin-up girl contest. This all was capped off, of course, by an amazing rendition of the National Anthem. Festivities also included the second largest American flag in the country being draped across the track as Funny Cars pulled into the water box.
The second session of Nitro Funny Car saw Ronny Young again lead the times with a 6.47 at 164 mph in the “Blue Max.” Shawn Bowen broke a throttle cable at 60-feet and coasted to a 15.37, and Fred Farndon was in and out of the throttle before dumping the chutes early to a 8.23 at 78 mph. Despite the off-pace elapsed times, Young’s 6.38 and Bowen’s 6.73 from the first session earned them both spots in the final round of the DRO Nostalgia Nitro Challenge.
A/Fuel fired up next with five cars remaining and the two quickest winners earning a trip to the final round. Drew Austin again encountered severe tire shake and, despite a triple pedal job effort, bowed out in round one to Frank Mazi’s 6.80 at 192 mph. Arvil Lewis used a holeshot and a 7.77 at 169 mph to take out Kenny Stroud’s quicker-but-losing 7.73 at 174 mph. Top qualifier John Harless posted a nice 6.39 at 213 mph in a solo shot as Harless and Mazi earned tickets to the final round as the two quickest winners.
Ten cars were paired up in Central States Superchargers action and in similar style — the two quickest winners would earn a pass to the last dance. Roger Lechtenburg and Trey Newkirk kicked off the first round as Lechtenburg blasted to a header-flaming 4.04 at 182 mph to take the win light and the second seed into the finals.
Number two qualifier Ken Singleton posted an impressive 4.01 at 180 mph to defeat John Umlauf as Singleton and Lechtenburg were set to tango in the finals. Don Wilcox, Adam Smith, and Mark Bowman also earned first round wins, but came up short of a final round appearance.
Junior Fuel welcomed five cars to the opening round after two were sidelined during qualifying. Top qualifier Odie Coker clicked off a strong 7.37 at 177 mph for the quickest pass of the round on a solo shot. Ken Hawkins laid down a 7.50 at 172 mph to defeat Mike Buchanan and Mike Millsap posted a 7.49 at 173 mph to take the win over Frank Johnson. In semi-final action of Junior Fuel, Millsap soloed to a 7.50 at 173 mph to earn a spot in the finals against Coker, whose 11.76 snuck past a broken Hawkins.
The final rounds were underway in Tulsa with the Nitro Funny Cars back on the line. Young and Bowen brought their ground-pounding nitro burners to the stage beams where Young took a slight starting line advantage at the flash of the amber bulbs. Bowen had better traction early and quickly took the lead by 60-feet. At the 330-foot mark, Young was spinning the tires, joined quickly by Bowen, who also smoked the tires. A quick pedal job kept Bowen in the lead and his 6.15 at 230 mph earned “The Violator” team from Michigan the event win over Young’s 8.72 at 103 mph. It was a wild final as both cars battled for traction, but it was Bowen who laid down the quickest pass of the weekend when it counted most to earn the event victory.
Final round action in the A/Fuel category brought the two top qualifiers back to battle for the title in a wild drag race. Mazi took the starting line advantage and held the lead until half-track when Harless made a move, then was on and off the throttle fighting tire spin at the big end as Mazi started to come around. At the stripe, Harless’ pedal job narrowly held off Mazi as a 6.70 at 100 mph took the win over a 6.76 at 193 mph. Congratulations to the hometown favorites on their A/Fuel class victory.
Lechtenburg and Singleton fired up their altereds for the final round of Central States Superchargers. This one was unpredictable on paper as both cars had lived in the 4.0 range all weekend. In a blown-alcohol versus blown-nitro battle, Lechtenburg was out first, but by half-track Singleton had closed the gap and the cars were tied together side-by-side, wide open in a battle to the stripe. The scoreboards told the story, as Singleton laid down a career best 3.97 at 181 mph to hold off Lechtenburg’s 4.04 at 183 mph. This was Singleton’s first three-second pass and first win in the CSS series.
Junior Fuel honors went to Millsap who upset top qualifier and defending event winner Coker in the final round. Coker took a slight advantage off the line but had his hands full when the car made a wild shot to the centerline, forcing him to abort the run. Millsap motored through the quarter-mile to a 7.49 at 174 mph to earn his first SWJFA series win since 2013.
It was a weekend many will not soon forget as first time winners were crowned and thousands of people met their heroes in Snake and Mongoose at the 50th Anniversary Nitro Nationals. A job well done from the staff at TRP, including fearless leaders Todd Martin and Keith Haney who literally spent months in preparation for this event. The weekend was capped off with a pin-up fashion show and more live music for the fans who stuck around after racing concluded. Congratulations to all the event winners in the drag racing categories, who can hold their heads high as winners of this special celebration event.