Old Township Raceway has often been described by racers as a track that has no bite. Englishtown has always been able to generate the biggest crowds for any type of import event, but lack of a track that hooks has always been the argument. On May 4 and 5, 2002, track owner Mike Napp and import race director Javier Ortega were out to prove people wrong by setting up the track in the best condition we've seen.
Javier Ortega is always trying to expand the import scene by offering a "Lifestyle Arena" side of the races. This includes a car show, bikini contest, pro roller blade and skate demos, and, new for this year, freestyle motorcross. All of the action seemed to do the trick as the event attracted more than 20,000 spectators and 250 racers.
Pro V8The new class designed to keep the big-cubic-inch turbocharged engines from picking on the smaller displacement class had only three entrees. It doesn't sound like much, but remember the regular Pro Class could barely fill a four-car field and it's now made up of eight cars running mid 8s.
Tadatoshi Wakita, who pilots the Blast SC 400, made the trip from Japan to New Jersey while track local, Craig Paisley, came out to make his second appearance ever in his 2002 Toyota Tundra. Matt Scranton from Florida was out to pilot the 7-sec. Celica into the 200-mph barrier. His closest was the last NHRA event, where the Turbonetics Celica blistered the track at 199.7 mph.
The final round had Craig Paisley's Tundra-breaking into the 7-sec. barrier for the first time-against Matt Scranton, who ran consistent 7.1s throughout competition. With a difference of 0.80 sec., Scranton seemed destined to win the event if he could keep the car straight. Sure enough, in the finals he boosted his way to a 202.55-mph historic run, while Paisley set a personal record for himself with a 7.96 sec. e.t. Considering Craig's plans are to run a three-stage nitrous system and a 7-sec. e.t. was achieved with just a single stage, consider this e.t. a mere foundation for what's in store for the rest of the season. Team Turbonetics was awarded a $25,000 bonus for being the first import to break 200 mph, a purse offered by Summit Racing more than three years ago.
Pro VIII As stated earlier, just two years ago this class was hard to fill with only four available spots. Today there are eight spots with up to 15 teams fighting to qualify. New names and cars, as well as famous names and old cars, were in attendance. The two famous names were able to make it to the finals: Tetsuya Kawasaki and John Lingenfelter made their first appearance in the NHRA Pro Class.
Kawasaki is well known for piloting the HKS Nissan 180SX (domestic 240SX). The 180 is an HKS-sponsored car that retired in Japan with the title of the fastest Pro Class-style car, running a best 7.27-sec. e.t. HKS decided to bring the car out of retirement and to the States to stretch its legs. One day prior to the event HKS shook the car down for its first few passes in the USA.
"The car was having a problem going straight and lifting too high as well as blowing out a strut," said HKS technical consultant Ryan Nufable. "We never got a decent pass." My hopes of seeing a record run from the 180 seemed shattered on learning this information, but come time for the first qualifying round the 180 came out with tires smoking. The gremlins were worked out, the strut was replaced, and the car's record run was later bettered to a 7.18 in qualifying rounds.
Meanwhile, veteran domestic racer John Lingenfelter showed up at the track not with the rumble of a big block Chevy, a surprise to many, but with the buzz of a high-rpm 134-cu-in. ECO-TEC Cavalier engine. I thought it would take John and crew a few races to understand the OHC four-cylinder turbo setup and optimize the tube chassis truck's four link suspension and transmission, but I was wrong. With a 7.51 e.t. and number-three qualifying spot, Lingenfelter proved you don't have to be raised in the import game to know how to set up a car. My bad for doubting the man!
The two met in the final round but the two extra cylinders on Tetsuya Kawasaki's 180SX was too much for Lingenfelter to handle. Out of the hole Tetsuya got the light by 0.22 sec., and near half-track Lingenfelter let off, giving the victory to the HKS Nissan.
Modified VIIILast year's points champion, Carlos Gonzalez, was at it again, qualifying in the number-one spot with his fastest time of 8.10 sec. The two hard-charging front drives piloted by Stephan Papadakis and Nelson Hoyos also battled it out among the field all the way to the semis, where we would see a GM versus a Honda.
Nelson Hoyos, known for his yellow Ford Focus that dominated last season, was the new pilot of the Cavalier. Hoyos was quick to learn how the X-Trac transmission would handle a heavy foot. Throughout competition the Cavalier dealt with transmission problems that made it difficult to get the car in reverse. Although shifting the transmission was difficult, the problem was not enough to stop the car from running its best time of 8.69 sec. at 172.65 mph.
Lately, Steph has been encountering gremlins that have made his car run less than par. Even with the car not at full power he was able to stay competitive, nabbing the number-two spot with an 8.31 e.t. followed by Nelson Hoyos' 8.82. In the semis the two would meet up to battle it out, but Steph's car ran into more problems. While Nelson was awaiting Papadakis, crew chief Greg Nakano had to pull off the front end of the tube chassis to fix a starting problem and fasten the front end before time ran out. Nelson's reverse gear started to act up again, and, to top it off, the car was leaking water. How the Cavalier got away with running we will never know, but in the end Hoyos was able to take out Steph and advance to the finals. It was obvious that the AEM Civic was encountering ignition problems.
The final round saw Gonzalez against Hoyos, but this time the Cavalier's reverse gear just gave up, resulting in a disqualification and giving Carlos the easy victory with an 8.26 e.t.
Hot Rod XVIThe biggest news in the Hot Rod class was all about number-one qualifier Jojo Callos in his new Acura Integra. For the first time in import racing history Callos piloted his FWD Hot Rod (Quick) Class Integra into the 8s. Not only was he able to set a record run of 8.89, he was able to run consistent 8.9s throughout the day. While Jojo dazzled the crowd with his first 8-sec. pass, Bruce Mortensen was also running in the 8s in the first round of competition.
Before the first round started Callos encountered wheel sensor problems, but the quick hands of Kareem El Sheriff had the problem dealt with in no time at all. Mortensen, on the other hand, was ready to rock but still had to worry about transmission problems. The Civic was making gobs of power and the only resolution to the tranny problem was to swap transmissions after each pass. Making power has never been a problem for Venom tuner Harv St Mary, but transmission problems have always been an issue.
The Jojo Callos Bruce Mortensen show is not new to the Hot Rod Class. Jojo's Castrol Integra ousted Andrew Bermea from Deep Stage, while Bruce shifted the Venom Civic in the semis against Mike Crawford.
Going into the finals, we looked to have a good race with the only two 8-sec. front-drives squaring off in the Hot Rod Class. In the water box, Callos warmed up this tires while Mortensen rolled right through the water. This time it wasn't transmission problems that kept the Venom Civic from winning; it was a bad cylinder. Jojo reigned victorious with a 9.42-sec. pass.
Street VIIILast year, this class was a battle between the RX-7s and the all-wheel-drive Mitsubishis. At this race it was a battle between Toyota and Mitsubishi. It's not a secret that Supras can make loads of power on a stock bottom end, but it's getting the power to the ground that's been the difficult part. We wouldn't see Ari Yallon's 9-sec. Mazda at this race, but we would see John Sheperd's 9-sec. Eclipse. In the final round, the high-powered Supra couldn't get the power to the ground and John Sheperd's Mitsubishi sprinted to victory.
All Motor VIIIMaking horsepower with a turbocharger has always been easy. Turn up the boost and tune. Making power on a normally aspirated engine is much more difficult because there is no dial to crank for more power. It's all about displacement and working the engine's dynamics. In this race, controversy reared its ugly head when a three-rotor, all-motor RX-7 showed up. It wasn't the fact that it was running a three rotor Wankel; it was the fact that it's running a three rotor in the back-half RX-7 with the weight penalty of a normal rear-drive car.
A notable performance by Tony Shagday in the Skunk2 Integra turned a personal best time of 10.67 sec. at 125 mph. There were only two 10-sec. cars in the field and the Skunk2 Integra was one of them. What was destined to be a battle between the two cars never came through though, due to a faulty third gear on Shagday's car. This allowed Jeremy Allen to graduate to the finals, but he eventually lost to the RX-7 by a full second. We're pretty sure we'l see a weight penalty taxed on the three-rotor RX-7 soon, considering it went 10.43 in the finals, while still letting off early.