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NHRA Gainsville 2002 - Race Event

NHRA Gainsville 2002

Apr 24, 2007
Impp_0208_01_z+nhra_gainsville_2002+take_off Photo 1/1   |   NHRA Gainsville 2002 - Race Event

April 13-14, 2002Runnin' on the RedlineRacing at any level takes dedication, hard work and a healthy supply of greenbacks. To be a success in the NHRA Compact car series takes all of the above combined with a big ol' dose of luck. Import Tuner hit the road with Kenny Tran's Jotech Motorsports race team and found out what it's all about.

Four days before the season opening NHRA event in Gainesville, Fla., and Kenny Tran is not a happy camper. A prototype transmission that the crew has installed in the Jotech/Enkei '93 Civic hatchback is refusing to cooperate. In fact, the transmission is totally seized. Crew chief Tony Palo is checking and re-checking the installation, and to top it all has just noticed the casing has a major crack in it.

"This is just what we didn't need," said Kenny. "We spent the best part of last year getting around the driveshaft breakage problem, now that is fixed and the transmission is the next weakest link. We had hoped this would be the answer. It obviously needs more work."

Tony and fellow crewmember Alex Rodriguez are already frantically wrenching in an effort to pull the offending transmission, and Kenny is already making contingency plans for the upcoming race.

Nobody on the team is the least bit surprised to run into a major last-minute glitch. Its one of the golden rules of racing that no matter how ready you may think you are there is always something that is gonna pee on your fireworks, usually at the last possible minute. This isn't a major problem if you are blessed with a big-money sponsor that pays all the bills for you. But in Kenny's case, he is getting by on a tight budget, and these kind of expenses can make the difference between competing with the big guys or staying at home. With more than 650 hp at the wheels, the Jotech Civic is going through transmissions at the rate of one per event. Now Tran has to come up with the money to buy a new spare for the Florida event.

"We're better off than some of the guys we race against, but it's still a struggle," said Kenny. "Enkei and AC help me out and I couldn't do it without them, but we are still looking for that big sponsor. I want to be a contender at every event and that takes a lot of funds."

Tran also has a lot of support from the fans that love to see him snapping at the heels of the big boys (and girls). The Hot Rod Class is definitely one of the most competitive with Lisa Kubo, Jo Jo Callos and Bruce Mortensen, to name but a few. Tran is always a contender, and if the side-by-side 9.1-sec. race in the final of the World Import Challenge event is anything to go by, then 2002 could be a great year. Kenny won the Houston event after he got the advantage at the tree, leaving Bruce Mortensen trying vainly to play catch-up in the Venom Civic.

The next few days at Jotech are a blur of activity. Kenny spends hours on the phone tracking down a new transmission and the rest of the crew gets busy making final preparations. The trailer is packed with tools, spares and, finally, the race car. The task of getting all of this from Texas to Florida falls to crewmember Alex "Marathon Man" Rodriguez. Alex is famed for his non-stop cross-country hauls. On a diet of nothing more than Red Bull and energy bars, "Marathon Man" thinks nothing of spending 18 to 20 hours behind the wheel.

"It's sometimes a bit of a pain when I'm on the way home and we've had a rough weekend, but going to the races is always a blast," he said. "You are looking forward to the race and seeing all of your buddies again, and that keeps me going. None of us are in this for the money. It's all about having fun, racing hard and hopefully kicking some ass."

For this trip, Alex has company in the form of yours truly. After picking me up in Dallas, we headed west on I20 enroute to Florida.

The outgoing road trip was fairly uneventful. Stopping only for diesel and the occasional bathroom break, we ate the miles up as we headed through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. We arrived in Gainesville 15 hours after leaving Dallas, and Alex promptly crashed out at the Hotel. Meanwhile, Kenny and Tony flew in from Dallas and arrived in Gainesville in the early hours of the morning. Saturday morning the weather looked decidedly iffy. We scanned the skies hoping for a break in the rain, and as we headed out to the track, fingers were firmly crossed. It's a helluva long way to come to get rained out.

After pulling in to the pits, we started unloading the trailer and setting up the awnings. Next to us in the pits were fellow Texans and Hot Rod Class team Deep Stage Racing from Abilene. Kenny had spent some time earlier in the week on the dyno helping Andrew, "The Bear," Bermea to get his alcohol system dialed in. This later proved to be a little worrisome when Bermea out-qualified Tran. Typically, everyone jumped in and helped out as the first qualifying sessions drew near.

Qualifying.Saturday's qualifying sessions provided the fans with all of the ingredients for a great day of racing. Record setting times, surprise winners and heart-stopping incidents set the stage as the very best in import racing went head to head for a spot in Sunday's eliminations. The weather was the biggest problem. Rainstorms threatened for most of the day, but when the heavens opened the crew at the Gainesville facility were amazingly quick to dry the track and get the action going again.

Our man Kenny Tran had a minor cardiac arrest in his Enkei/AC Civic when Jojo Callos lost control of the Castrol Syntec Acura at the 1,000-ft mark. After leaving the line late, Kenny had no choice but to sit back and watch as Jojo fought to control his wildly fishtailing Integra. In a stellar display of driving skill (and perhaps a healthy dose of good luck) Callos managed to keep the Integra in his own lane even as it spun out and ended up facing the wrong way. After a quick change of underwear, Jojo was ready to go again and he finished the day out with a the number 10 position in the qualifying order.

Bruce Mortensen finished the day in first place in the Venom Performance Civic with a record breaking 9.187-sec. run at 166.94 mph. Mike Crawford snagged second place in his Dodge Neon, and our man Tran sneaked into the field in the 13th position after the cancellation of the third qualifying session.

Tran's pit buddies from Deep Stage Racing had a great day. Driver "Bear" Bermea blasted to a new personal best with a 9.566 at 148.78 mph. That was good enough for third place and, notably, was an improvement of more than six-tenths over his previous best e.t.

Tran managed to sneak into the field despite grenading yet another transmission. Tony, Alex and Kenny rapidly followed his final run with an amazing 35-min. transmission change in readiness for eliminations.

"I'm going to have to baby the transmission as much as I can because we are out of spares now," Kenny said. "I still think I can win. but it's not going to be easy under these circumstances."

The headliner for the day was without a doubt Matt Scranton in the Turbonetics Celica. His record-breaking run of 7.32 at 199.33 mph gave the rotary-powered opposition heart palpitations. The guys from Summit Racing got the $25,000 bonus check ready in anticipation of a 200-mph run during the evening session, but Scranton had to abort that run and the money stayed in Summit's pocket. Second place in the Pro Class was owned by Hiroshi Shiobara in his 300ZX, and third was taken by Abel Ibarra in the K&N RX-7.

The Modified Class leader at the end of the day was Carlos Gonzales, driving his Mazda RX-3. Defending champion Gonzales blasted to a pole-sitting 8.547 sec. at 158.45 mph. Second place went to Alex Driggers in his Toyota Corolla, and third belonged to Nelson Hoyas behind the wheel of the Bothwell Motorsports/GM Cavalier. Hoyos did a stellar job, considering that he was drafted in as a last-minute replacement for the injured Stephanie Reaves. Stephan Papadakis and Chris Rado both sneaked into the field in the last two positions, having had problems throughout qualifying.

The Street Tire Class looked as if it would be in for a shake-up as Mark Mazurowski blasted to pole position with a 9.52 at 156 mph. Undefeated class-champion Ari Yallon looked like he would have his work cut out for the race, as he could only manage a 10.57 in his RX-7.com Stars n' Stripes Mazda. His run was good enough for second place, but would it be enough to take on the mighty Titan Motorsports Supra?

Tony Shagday ruled the All-Motor Class in his Skunk Racing Integra. An 11.158 at 124.32 mph was good enough for the top qualifying spot. Ken Scheepers' RX-7 grabbed the runner-up spot, and Larry Kelley ended the day in third in his VW Fastback.

EliminationsAfter Saturday's less than ideal weather conditions, Sunday looked good with clear skies and a lot less wind. The Florida fans came out in droves to check out the action on the track, as well as in the pits, where the manufacturers' midway was a big hit. But it was on the strip that the excitement was at fever pitch.

In the All-Motor Class it was a clean sweep for Tony Shagday and the Skunk Racing Integra. After posting the top qualifying time, Shagday took out Jesus Padilla, Adam Franzetti and Cotorres Gee on his way to the winner's spot on the podium.

"We took some time off last year to regroup and do some development and it looks like it paid off," said Shagday, who set a new national record on his way to the final. "I couldn't be happier. We are going home with maximum points. It just doesn't get any better than this."

In the Street Tire Class, Ari Yallon and Mark Mazurowski were both making their way towards a final round showdown. Yallon dispatched Jesse Vincente and David Andino in the first and second rounds, and Mazurowski took out Jose Rodriguez and Luis Macki.

Yallon was naturally a little less than optimistic about his chances after witnessing the Titan Supra make several sub-10-sec. passes, including a new record at 9.83 sec.

"I'm just going to go out there and do what I always do," he said. "This car is old faithful and I know that it ain't over 'til the fat lady sings." Prophetic words indeed. In the final round Yallon got the holeshot over the Titan Supra, and Mazurowski blew away his tires in the first 100 feet. By the time the Supra hooked up, Yallon was well on his way to the win with a 10.180 over a 10.533. This was Yallon's first victory of the 2002 season and seventh straight win in a row.

The Hot Rod Class was almost a carbon copy of the World Import Challenge in Houston. Bruce Mortensen piloted the Venom Performance Civic coupe to a final round appearance against his nemesis, Kenny Tran in the Enkei/AC Civic. Mortensen had a bye in the first round and then he dispatched Travis Bussin and Rafael Estevez on his way to the final. Meanwhile, Tran took a win against "Bear" Bermea and Luis Ferrer Jr. before meeting the hard-charging Jojo Callos in the semi. Callos had made a blistering national record run of 9.03 sec. in an earlier round, so the odds were stacked against Tran.

As the tree dropped Callos lit the red, leaving Tran with a pass directly to the final.Tran knew he was going to have to be on the ball in the next round.

"I can't believe I managed to get past Jojo. He was flying today," Tran said. "Now all we have to do is repeat our Houston win over Bruce, and that ain't gonna be easy."

As the tree dropped on the final round, Tran got a .518 reaction time against Mortensens .560. By the mid-track, the Venom Civic was charging hard but didn't quite have enough to catch the Enkei Civic. Tran won with a 9.477 at 152.56 mph against a faster but losing 9.469 at 158.36 mph.

"I am absolutely ecstatic. This is my first NHRA Wally and it was a tough day's racing," said winning driver Tran. "I have really been working hard on my reaction times all winter and, so far, I have got back-to-back wins on the tree. We had some luck, especially when Jojo red-lighted, but the whole team worked their butts of for this, so the steaks are definitely on me tonight."

The Modified Class was a strange one. Fastest man on the day was Alex Diggers in his Corolla, but he eliminated himself by lighting the red in the semi against Nelson Hoyos in the GM Cavalier who, in a strange turn of events, also lit the red. That left Chris Rado with a solo pass in Craig Paisley's Supra to take the win with a 19.514 at 81.91 mph.

Despite the circumstances, Rado was pumped to get the win. "I know we got a big-time break today. I was still getting used to the car and ironing out the bugs all day. I was not really comfortable until I had made a few passes, but at the end of the day everyone is happy.

"In the final I just took it real easy and made sure that nothing goofy happened. I have got to thank Craig Paisley and my sponsor DriverFX for letting me drive this weekend. It was a blast."

The Pro Class saw Matt Scranton making his way to the final as he eliminated Sammy Benitez in the Mothers Mazda and Grant Downing in the Venom Performance Tundra. Meanwhile, Craig Paisley dispatched Abel Ibarra in the K&N RX-7 and Chanito Vasquez in the La Licenciado Conquest.

The final was a real battle. Paisley got a killer reaction time and pulled out to an initial lead, but big-time horsepower was to win the day in the form of Turbonetics' Celica, which stormed down the track and posted an 8.266 at 197.06 to take the win against Paisley's 8.408 at 167.41 mph.

Overall, the BFGoodridge Sport Compact Nationals was a great event. We saw records fall, surprise winners and domination by the new Pro Class V8-powered contingent. There were rebellious rumblings in the pits as the rotary-powered Pro Class contenders realized that they just could not handle the eight-cylinder onslaught. At the time of this writing the NHRA has announced a split in the Pro Class structure, giving the V8s a separate class in answer to the controversy. Kudos to the NHRA for responding quickly and allowing the Sport Compact classes to develop and still keep the fans happy.

As for Kenny Tran and the Enkei/AC team, a very lively night celebrating a first-time "Wally" and the shocking sight of the inside of Trans billfold as he paid for a lavish dinner was a fitting end to a great weekend at the races. The next morning Alex and I eased our way into westbound traffic and headed back to Dallas.

Kenny was last seen frantically calling around in search of more transmissions.

QUALIFYING RESULTS
PRO CLASS
1. Matt Scranton Turbonetics Celica 7.329 199.33
2. Hiroshi Shiobara {{{Escort}}} Racing Nissan300 7.436 179.60
3. Abel Ibarra K&N Racing Mazda RX7 8.562 119.72
4. Grant Downing Venom Perf. Tundra 7.819 143.40
5. Tadatoshi Wakita Blast Racing {{{Lexus}}} 8.168 153.21
6. Craig Paisley Paisley Auto Tundra 8.213 163.87
7. Chanito Vazquez La Licenciado Conquest 8.501 154.03
8. Sammy Benitez Mother's Mazda 8.529 163.01
MODIFIED CLASS
1. Carlos Gonzalez Gonzales Racing Mazda RX-3 8.457 158.45
2. Alex Driggers Corolla 8.543 155.95
3. Nelson Hoyas Bothwell Motorsport Cavalier 9.342 {{{164}}}.11
4. Len Monserrat Dynamic Turbo {{{Eclipse}}} 11.935 126.03
5. Richard Rivera {{{Toyota}}}-Toy 1800 14.424 59.97
6. Steven Thomson Civic-Hon 1.8 16.561 122.00
7. Stephan Papadakis AEM {{{Honda}}} 21.027 55.00
8. Christian Rado Paisley Automotive Supra 1.000 1.00
HOT ROD CLASS
1. Bruce Mortensen Venom Perf. '00 Civic 9.187 166.94
2. Mike Crawford Mopar/PhatRidz '92 {{{Dodge}}} {{{Neon}}} 9.519 147.03
3. Andrew P Bermea Deep Stage Motorsports '92 Ho 9.566 148.78
4. Lancelot Ho Lung '92 Civic 9.687 148.66
5. Rafael Estevez DRT '97 Civic 9.840 146.98
6. Luis Ferrer Jr Hard Target '98 Celica 10.049 144.11
7. Joe DeMaree SSC Racing '92 Civic 11.020 138.91
8. Travis Bussin MMR Racing '95 Civic 11.121 123.88
9. Marty Ladwig Bothwell Motorsports '02 Sunf 11.495 128.35
10. Jojo A Callos Castrol Syntec '01 Acura 11.577 81.78
11. Dwight Bailey '94 {{{Nissan}}} 15.238 85.57
12. Michael Yonke '98 {{{Honda CRX}}} 15.{{{780}}} 67.34
13. Kenny Tran Enkei/AC '93 Civic 23.980 0.00
14. {{{Rocky}}} Santa Cruz '00 Civic 23.990 0.00
15. Shaun Tassardo '92 Civic 24.000 0.00
STREET TIRE CLASS
1. Mark Mazurowski '94 Supra 9.523 156.00
2. Ari Yallon '93 Mazda RX7 10.577 135.93
3. David Andino '93 Supra 10.946 126.60
4. Omar sanchez '94 Supra 11.007 133.43
5. Luis Macki '85 Toyota 11.133 137.59
6. Angel Robles '95 Supra 11.373 128.77
7. Jesse Vicenty '89 Toyota 17.287 53.88
ALL MOTOR CLASS
1. Tony Shagday Skunk2 '95 {{{Acura Integra}}} 11.158 124.32
2. Ken Scheepers '79 {{{Mazda RX-7}}} 11.263 118.65
3. Larry Kelley '69 VW Fastback 11.272 120.72
4. Jeremy Allen '92 Civic 11.636 113.15
5. Adam Franzetti '89 {{{Honda Civic}}} 11.639 114.70
6. Norris Prayoonto '01 Acura 11.761 114.51
7. Co'Torres Gee Hocus Pocus '92 Civic Honda 11.817 106.15
8. Jesus Padilla '85 Mazda RX7 11.892 117.55

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