PDRA Crowns Champions At Mid-Atlantic Showdown

The PDRA made its second stop of the 2024 season at Virginia Motorsports Park and the Mid-Atlantic Showdown didn’t disappoint. One of the big highlights of the weekend was the competition in the Pro Boost class. Nearly every race in each round of competition was an absolute battle. If that wasn’t enough, Pro Nitrous kingpin Jim Halsey stole a win from defending series champion Tommy Franklin with a brilliant holeshot in the final round.

Spencer Hyde earned his first-ever WS Construction Pro Boost presented by P2 Contracting and Ty-Drive win to join Halsey and fellow multi-time pro class winners Johnny Pluchino (Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock presented by AED Competition), Doug Nicholl (PDRA Pro 632), Tim Essick (Menscer Motorsports Pro Street presented by Afco Racing), and Derek Mota (Afco Racing Super Street presented by Menscer Motorsports) in the winner’s circle.

Sportsman class victories went to Glenn Butcher in MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman presented by PAR Racing Engines, Kellan Farmer in Laris Motorsports Insurance Elite Top Dragster presented by Greenbrier Excavating & Paving, Jeff Melnick in MagnaFuel Top Sportsman presented by Corbin’s RV, and Chad Traylor in Laris Motorsports Insurance Top Dragster presented by Younce RV. Richie Allen in his ’70 Mustang defeated Keith Dunkum Jr. in his ’91 Mustang in the Edelbrock Bracket Bash presented by COMP Cams final round.

The young rising stars of the PDRA’s Jr. Dragster classes also had a full day of competition, with wins going to Ashley Franklin in Coolshirt Systems Pro Jr. Dragster presented by Philadelphia Racing Products and Landen Lewis in Classic Graphix Top Jr. Dragster presented by Philadelphia Racing Products. Franklin, the daughter of Pro Nitrous runner-up Tommy Franklin, left the line first in the final round and ran a 7.926 to defeat the 7.947 of Ayden Christian, both on a 7.90 index. A significant starting line advantage helped Lewis turn on the final round win light over James Beattie III, with Lewis running a 9.08 on a 9.06 dial-in to Beattie’s 9.017 on an 8.97 dial-in.

With seven collective Pro Nitrous world championships in the 10-year history of the PDRA, Jim Halsey and Tommy Franklin have lined up against each other in the final round more than a few times. It happened again at the Mid-Atlantic Showdown, where Halsey used a starting line advantage and a 3.628 at 208.33 to beat Franklin and his 3.613 at 206.86 on a holeshot. It was Halsey’s first win of the season and the first for his new Brandon Switzer-tuned, Fulton-powered “Daddy Shark” ’68 Camaro.

“I’ll be honest with you, sometimes I think I forgot how to drive. Today, I did OK,” Halsey said. “The tree was a little weird there [in the final]. Tommy flickered the bulb and I think it delayed the auto-start some, so we were both pretty tardy, but a win’s a win. The car is running good and making laps. We didn’t abort one run because of any issues with the car. I did a bad job of driving in Q1, but other than that, it’s redeemed itself pretty good.”

Halsey’s weekend was all about redemption. He started the PDRA season at the East Coast Nationals at GALOT Motorsports Park two weeks ago as the No. 1 qualifier with a record-setting 3.608, but he lost on a holeshot in the semifinals.

“Well, we had the car to beat at GALOT, I think, and I let the team down,” said Halsey, who thanked his team, as well as his colleagues back at home at Cecil County Dragway, Structural Concrete, and Crouse Construction. “With this bunch – Eric [Davis] and Michael [McMillan] and Cathy [Halsey] and Brandon [Switzer] and Brian [Chin], you don’t want to be the weakest link because it makes you look really bad.”

As the No. 1 qualifier, Halsey got a first-round bye run, which he used to run a 3.66 at 207.08 to get lane choice over fellow Maryland-based driver Derrick Ford in the second round. Halsey left first and laid down a 3.648 at 207.29 to move past Ford, who slowed to a 4.174. Another Maryland native, Fredy Scriba, was waiting for Halsey in the semis. The two left the line together, but Halsey pulled ahead to win with a 3.639 at 206.70 over Scriba’s 3.66 at 207.66.

Franklin in his Jeff Pierce-tuned, Musi-powered “Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro kicked off race day with a big-time matchup against Brian Shrader, who earned his first-ever Pro Nitrous win at the season opener. Shrader ran a strong 3.681 at 204.01, but Franklin was first to the finish line with his 3.657 at 204.29. He improved to a 3.631 at 206.26 to beat Chris Rini’s 3.678 in round two, then went a hundredth quicker with a 3.621 at 206.83 in the semis to win over Marcus Butner and his 4.116. Franklin set low E.T. of all four rounds and the event as a whole.

The two quickest drivers in a record-setting Pro Boost field, Melanie Salemi and Spencer Hyde, were left standing in the final round after a race day that saw several races decided by thousandths of a second. That included the final round, as Hyde left the starting line second but raced to a 3.577 in his screw-blown “Jack & The Green Stock” ’69 Camaro to drive around Salemi and her 3.606 at 207.66 by just three thousandths. It was the first Pro Boost win for Hyde, who won the 2023 World Series of Pro Mod.

“We’ve had a good car at every race we’ve gone to since that race and we just couldn’t get it done,” said Hyde, who thanked partners like Red Line Oil, Engineered Racing Services, and NGK Spark Plugs. “To come here and do it in the quickest field ever in Pro Boost means a lot. It was five hundredths of a second from No. 1 to 16. There were no easy rounds. There were no easy cars. You had to do everything right. We did everything right today and the chips fell our way. I owe it all to my guys. They got this thing turned around every round and [Mark] Savage did a killer job this weekend on the keyboard and I drove OK. It all came together and it’s awesome.”

Hyde set low E.T. of all four rounds in eliminations, beginning with his 3.599 at 209.20 to take out Steve King and his 3.907. He raced further into the 3.50s with a 3.569 over a red-lighting William Brown III in the second round. In a semifinal rematch of the 2023 WSOPM final round against Kurt Steding, Hyde left first with a .011 light to Steding’s .018 and finished first with a 3.559 at 213.74, which was just four thousandths behind the recently set E.T. national record.

Driving Eddie Whelan’s screw-blown Al-Lee Installations ’23 Camaro, Salemi picked up her first round win on the starting line when Preston Tanner went red by .003 on a 3.638 at 206.07, but Salemi was ready with a 3.633 at 194.32. She joined Hyde in the 3.50s with a 3.597 at 208.59 to beat Johnny Camp’s 3.604 by just three thousandths. A consistent but slightly quicker 3.593 at 209.52 put her ahead of record holder Derek Ward and his 3.651 at the finish line in the semis.

Two weeks after winning the season opener at GALOT Motorsports Park, two-time Extreme Pro Stock world champion Johnny Pluchino scored a second consecutive win to kick off his title chase. Pluchino went into race day as the No. 1 qualifier in his Kaase-powered Feather-Lite Batteries ’13 Mustang, then improved every step of the way through eliminations. He fired off a 4.029 at 179.11 in the final round to get the win over Jeremy Huffman, who left the line too soon with a .126 red light on a 4.072 at 177.70.

“There’s nothing like momentum,” said Pluchino, who won this event in 2020. “When you’ve got a good car, you feel good and your crew’s jelled. There’s just nothing like momentum, and right now I’m gonna ride it as long as I can. I just want to thank my whole crew, including Keith Kelling at Kelling Equipment and Jon Pickett at Feather-Lite Batteries. Everybody puts their heart and soul into these trophies. My name is on the door, but it’s just as much a team deal as any sport out there.”

Pluchino cruised to a 4.070 at 177.91 in the first round when opponent Lester Cooper couldn’t make the run. He picked up a holeshot win over fellow past world champion and rival Chris Powers, running a 4.074 at 177.88 to Powers’ 4.047 at 177.46 to earn a semifinal bye run. He used that to throw down a 4.037 at 178.78 to get lane choice for the final.

Huffman qualified third in his 3V Performance-powered ’10 Cobalt, then won first round with a 4.111 at 175.94 over Daryl Stewart’s 6.755. He stepped up to a 4.10 at 175.96 in the next round, while opponent Dave Hughes went red on his 4.156 pass. The Catawba, North Carolina-based driver cut a .014 reaction time and ran a 4.084 at 176.14 to beat Elijah Morton and his near-record 4.009 at 179.42 on a holeshot by just seven thousandths in the semis.

PRO 632
Doug Nicholl didn’t have the quickest car in Pro 632 until the point when it really counted: the final round. The Dearborn, Michigan-based driver used a combination of consistent passes and quick reaction times to move through eliminations, ultimately facing 2022 world champion and No. 1 qualifier Amber Franklin in the final round. Nicholl left the starting line first and made his quickest pass of the season, a 4.155 at 167.36, in his Troy Russell-tuned, Musi-powered ’68 Camaro. Franklin was right there with her 4.167 at 170.77 in the runner-up effort.

“Last year we finished good, but now we’re starting out really good,” said Nicholl, who is now a two-time winner. “We’re just going to try to keep it rolling. We 100% know the power’s there. We’re just trying to figure it out, going from two [nitrous] systems to one, but I think we’re doing a damn good job figuring it out. I think there’s way more in this thing. I think we’ll be going 4.12, 4.13, 4.14 consistently for the rest of the season.”

Nicholl qualified No. 6 before using a 4.207 at 166.44 to defeat reigning world champion Jeff Melnick and his 4.261 in the opening round. He won the next round by just seven thousandths, running a 4.225 at 169.34 over Jayme Thompson’s 4.237. The margin of victory was even tighter in the semifinals, where a holeshot advantage and a 4.187 at 167.22 was enough to beat Walter Lannigan Jr.’s 4.181 by just one thousandth.

Franklin opened eliminations in her Musi-powered “OG Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro with a 4.201 at 169.25 on a first-round bye run. She improved slightly to a 4.192 at 170.04 over a red-lighting Bobby Bladen in round two. The second-generation PDRA champion used her best light and best E.T. of the day, a 4.164 at 170.79, to defeat newcomer Chevy Floyd, who ran a 4.167.

It was an all-Maryland Pro Street final round between one of the most accomplished drivers in the class, Tim Essick, and a new driver making his debut, Brian Weddle. On his way to the final, Weddle took out young phenom Scott Kincaid, who won his fifth consecutive Pro Street race at the season opener. It looked like Weddle was going to pull a Kincaid and win in his debut, but Essick in his ProCharged “Brown Sugar” ’18 Mustang won on a holeshot with a 3.933 at 192.22 over Weddle’s 3.925 at 198.23.

“This one is just as good as winning a championship,” said Essick, who thanked his team, Walt and Raven at ProCharger, UPR Products, Maxima Racing Oil, Jack at Billet Atomizer, and Precision Racing Suspension. “For a long time, it felt like it was one thing after another. Weddle taking out Kincaid was just a blessing in disguise. That man’s a machine. We’ve had a very good weekend – a hard weekend – but when they’re hard, that’s normally when they’re the best. From the tuner standpoint, I was a little aggressive, but I was able to make up for it as the driver. It’s hard to put into words.”

Essick qualified No. 2 and steadily improved in each round, starting the day with a 4.043 at 186.00 to beat Jerry Morgano. He cracked into the 3-second range with a 3.992 at 189.92 over Tommy Mauro’s 4.288 in the second round, then made a huge step up to a 3.912 at 191.67 in the semifinals to eliminate rookie Dan Norris, who slowed to a 5.254.

Weddle put his screw-blown ’68 Camaro in the No. 5 spot in qualifying before making a conservative 4.05 at 194.38 to beat Bill Devine in the first round. He got everyone’s attention with a 3.937 at 196.27 over Kincaid’s 5.125 in the second round, then improved again to a 3.92 at 197.57 to move on past a red-lighting Joel Wensley Jr. in the semis.

Last year’s Super Street world champion, Blake Denton, and championship runner-up, Derek Mota, raced through three rounds to meet up in the final round. Mota in his turbocharged East Point Recovery Centers ’93 Mustang lowered his own E.T. national record with his 4.561 at 164.91 to put an exclamation mark on the end of his dominant weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Showdown. Knowing he was a tenth behind Mota in the semifinals, Denton pushed the tree too hard and went red by .117 seconds before making his best pass of the day, a 4.674 at 155.52.

“My team worked our asses off changing stuff, trying new stuff, and putting all the effort in,” said Mota, who thanked supporters like East Point, Menscer Motorsports, Harts Turbos, DiSomma Racing Engines, and Mickey Thompson Tires. “You give Jamie [Miller, tuner] a bunch of runs on a racetrack with no aborted runs and these are the results. I think that’s what makes us succeed. We don’t abort runs. We learn from every run. Man, this is awesome. I’ve got all my sponsors, my family, and my fiancée. This is where I got engaged last year and we came back and won it again. This is such a team sport and my team did their job this weekend. I’m glad I didn’t let them down on the tree again.”

Mota, the defending event winner, qualified No. 1, which gave him a first-round bye run. He lifted to a 4.738 at 136.80, then threw down a 4.60 at 164.01 on a single in the second round when opponent Gage Llamas couldn’t make the run. Semifinal opponent David Knight grabbed a sizable holeshot advantage but lifted to a 7.554, while Mota established a new record with his 4.567 at 164.53 before lowering it again in the final.

Denton qualified third in his nitrous-fed ’76 Camaro, then set low E.T. of the first round with his 4.705 at 154.32 to get the win over Steve Damianidis. In a rematch of the final round from the season opener, Denton cut a .001 reaction time and recorded a 4.679 at 154.83 to defeat Matt Schalow and his 4.687. His starting line skills were put to use again in the semis, where he ran a 4.682 at 155.10 to beat Dan Whetstine’s 4.666 on a holeshot.

Ohio-based Elite Top Sportsman standout Glenn Butcher packed the winner’s circle with family, friends, and fellow racers to celebrate his win over Tim Paap in an all-nitrous final round. Paap left the starting line just one thousandth too soon and coasted to a 7.328 on a 3.79 dial-in in his ’16 Corvette. Butcher in his Albert-powered ’69 Camaro slowed a bit from his 3.73 dial-in with a 3.776, but he walked away the winner.

Reigning Pro 632 world champion Jeff Melnick returned to his winning ways in Top Sportsman when he turned on the final round win light in Top Sportsman 48. Melnick posted a 4.189 on a 4.18 dial-in in his ProCharged Exotic Fabrication ’02 Avenger to score the win over Virginia’s Chad Traylor, who left first but ran a 4.225 on a 4.19 dial-in in his ’63 Corvette.

Past Elite Top Dragster world champion Kellan Farmer was visibly relieved when he returned to the winner’s circle with his ProCharged ’20 Race Tech dragster after defeating Mike Kopko in the final round. The Race Tech Race Cars shop foreman was first off the starting line and ran a 3.776 on a 3.76 dial-in to beat Kopko’s 3.851 on a 3.83 dial-in in his ProCharged ’12 M&M dragster.

Moments after losing in the Top Sportsman 48 final round, Chad Traylor got into his ’22 Maddox dragster and used a .006 reaction time and a 4.418 on a 4.41 dial-in to get the Top Dragster 48 win over fellow double-duty driver Nick Meloni, who broke out by just one thousandth with a 4.219 on a 4.22 dial-in in his TT Motorsports ’16 Dan Page dragster.

The Red Line Oil PDRA Drag Racing Series will head north for the next stop on the 2024 schedule, the Smokies Garage American Doorslammer Challenge presented by Callies, May 23-25, at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio.

Photos by Tara Bowker

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