With all the sanctioning bodies of import racing (IDRC, IDRA, NIRA and Drag Wars, among others), it was only a matter of time before the big boys of drag racing jumped in. The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) has stepped in this season to deliver an event schedule with the highest points payout for a six-race season. They were also able to lock in the best tracks with the most import activity. Ennis, Texas hosted the NHRA season opener and with the payout as high as it is, you can bet you last Lone Star cow-pie that top name racers would flock to the Texas Motorplex like buzzards to a rotting carcass. One of the controversial issues concerning the NHRA class structure centered on all-wheel drive and rear-wheel drive vehicles. The only available options were Modified VIII (back-half vehicles) or Street VIII (street driven on radials). If you had one of these cars and wanted to run slicks, you're up the creek unless you could back half it before the tech line closed. There is talk of a sixth class to address the situation. Something needs to be done, because AWD Diamond Stars and RWD Supras are top-flight performers and if the Subaru WRX takes off, where will it run?
Pro VIIIThe big topic of the race was the eight-car field in the Pro VIII class, which brought out some of the quickest and fastest racers. Newcomers to this field were the Area 51 Lexus SC400, piloted by Tony "Sonic" Miyamoto, Jimmy O'Connor in the Venom Pro Truck and Adam Satuwatari and his tube-chassis NSX. The Pro class vets were also out in full stride. R.J. Simrock piloted Ben Ma's Focus and Abel Ibarra was given the doctor's approval to run the Toyo-backed Flaco Racing R100. Also in attendance were Marco Acosta, Rafael Rivera and Brendan Alvarez.
A last minute motor swap was in order for the Venom team and with Quick Class racer Kenny Tran's shop so close to the racetrack, the Venom team asked if a JZ Supra engine could be shipped to Jotech for the team to pick up before the race. The last minute shuffle was worth the sweat, because the Venom Tacoma qualified with an 8.15, but found itself eliminated in the semis by Abel Ibarra's 8.10.
The finals had two veteran racers duking it out for the first place win, Abel Ibarra and R.J. Simrock. Unfortunately, with the Toyo Tire-sponsored RX-7 under going repairs at Gary Hansen's shop, Ibarra was forced to get his adrenaline fix with the R100. What was most impressive was his courage to get back in the saddle. Unlike Cole Trickle from "Days of Thunder," Ibarra had no emotional hurdles to clear. Once he was in the water box burning up rubber, everything clicked. While Ibarra was raised running high-rpm rotaries, Simrock was born and raised domestic. Simrock is a die-hard V8 chassis builder who eventually learned the ways of small-displacement turbo pro stock style racing and used this combination of disciplines to bring the Focus to the head of its class. The AEBS Focus has gone through its rough times, but is back on track where the original owner, Wayne Saunders, left off-in the 7s. The rear-drive Focus blasted a personal best of 7.68 enroute to a class victory. "For years I've raced in the NHRA Super Gas class," said Simrock. "And not once was I able to get my hands on a Wally trophy. Now I finally have one."
Adam's NSX made its long-awaited track debut. The team took an early trip out to a track in Arizona for some shakedown runs and then headed out to Ennis for some competition. In its first appearance to the public, the Nitto-sponsored NSX tore an 8.48 at 163 mph. Later, in the semis, Saruwatari was able to best his time with an 8.30 at 166 mph. Unfortunately, this e.t. was not enough to beat out Simrock, who ran a 7.99 in Ben Ma's Focus. As good as this debut is, there is a lot of untapped potential still in the Acura.
Hot Rod XVIWhen the word around town was the Quick class twin, Hot Rod XVI, was to be an all front-drive category, our first thoughts were that this was going to a class for Hondas. Little did we know there were two SR20-powered Nissans who refused to allow this to happen, which were Backyard Production's 200SX and the AEBS Sentra. These two Nissans not only posted competitive times, their trap speeds were on par with some of the fastest Hondas. We are looking at war in the Hot Rod Class-are Hondas on borrowed time?
On the Honda side of the quarter, the finals had a long time friendship/rivalry with Lisa Kubo running Kenny Tran. The Nitto-sponsored Civic piloted by Kubo nabbed the number one qualifying spot in the first qualifying round. The last round of qualifying on Saturday was Tran's final chance to take the top qualifying spot. Tran shut the car down early and still stole the number one spot with a 9.68. With Tran the favorite in the finals, axle problems arose at the line, handing the hard-charging Lisa Kubo Racing team victory.
Lisa Kubo Racing has been trying to solve an ongoing tire shake problem in first gear. Gary Kubo was able to solve the problem and run fast and consistently throughout the day, which gave the team the first place victory and a highly coveted Wally.
ModifiedThe Modified class was short of a full field so the end result became a shootout between Craig Paisley and Christian Rado. Rado had his hands full trying to keep the car together. A few days before the race, his Toyo Tire-sponsored Integra was at Harv St. Mary's dyno, but a cracked cylinder head brought the fine-tuning session to a halt. Rado, always working every possibility, decided to ship the car to Ennis and swap the head in Texas. This was not an R&R, as the Rado team needed to machine the head and use spacers to get it back to life on the Integra. Cheating the odds, the car was up and running right before the last round of qualifying. Paisley, on the other hand, was ready to rumble.
While waiting on TRD to complete the Tundra V8 engine for his new Pro truck, Paisley decided to run the TRD-sponsored Supra for the rest of the season. The car qualified in the number one spot with an 8.8 and won the event with an 8.62.
Street VIIIA full field for the street class was on hand in Texas with the Street class king, Ari Yallon, in the number one spot. Not only was the competition close in this class, it was also dominated by Mazdas, leaving only two qualifying spots open for non-Mazda vehicles.
Considering most of the cars were tagged as "Ari's Gang," boasting the RX-7.com logo, it became an all out war to take down the king. In the end Yallon's GReddy-sponsored RX-7 and Steven Kan's RX-7 faced off in the finals. Kan was able to run a quick time, considering this class is required to run radials and an exhaust, but his 11.40 was not enough to take down Yallon's 10.97 at 137.71 mph.
We were very impressed with Ric Stephens' mighty Miata. After being knocked out in the second round, we spoke with Stephens about the car and to our amazement, we discovered that the engine is basically a bone-stock 1.8-liter with a modified Cartech turbo kit and an Electromotive TEC-II engine management system. The Enkei-sponsored Miata's best e.t. was posted at the Lone Star Nationals, where the drop-top broke off a 10.98 on street tires. At this event, transmission problems arose that kept Stephens from making a solid pass.
All MotorA dominant Joel Mandl in the JG/Southgate Auto-sponsored Civic was destined to take the victory. The team's objective was to run in the 10-second zone for this event. Since the car posts consistent 11.1 e.t.s on West Coast tracks, the team hoped to make a breakthrough in Texas. The Civic qualified with an 11.29 and ran mid-11s all day, but in the finals, a missed shift netted a sub-par 12.56, which opened the door to number two qualifier Adam Franzetti's, whose 11.90 earned him a Wally.
After an overnight motor swap, the Venom team had its Tacoma ready for competition. With Jimmy O'Connor behind the wheel, the Pro Truck was able to land in the number two qualifying spot in the Pro category with a blistering 8.15-second e.t..
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With clearance from the doctor, Abel Ibarra was back in the saddle again, but this time in the car that made him famous-the El Flaco R100. The R100 blasted a best of 8.10, which tells us that Ibarra's accident had no effect on his courage.
Adam's back, but this time in an Acura. Considering this tube-chassis NSX debuted with an 8.48 at half power tells us that 7s should be no problem and 6s are a definite possibility.
Throughout the day the JG-sponsored all-motor Civic had its eyes on 10-second timeslips, but track conditions hindered its efforts.
Featured in the June issue of Turbo, this Nissan made its debut at the NHRA event. With Chad Trower at the reigns, the car was babied down the 1320 in 11.4 seconds to make the field, but ran as quick as 10.50 at 131 mph in competition.
Lisa Kubo Racing is on a roll once again. Not only is Kubo number one in points in the IDRC, but now she holds the number one spot in the NHRA as well. In the hands of Gary Kubo, the Nitto-sponsored Civic has proven that it can stay on top.
This 200SX out of Florida made a pass quick enough to scare off a Honda. The SR20-powered Nissan turned an eye-popping 10.23 at more than 140 mph.
Jojo Callos made an appearance in the Hot Rod XVI. Axle problems kept the JG Edelbrock-sponsored Civic from realizing its full potential and continuing any further in the class.
Ric Stephens out of San Antonio, Texas entered his 10-second Miata in the Street Class, but was eliminated in the first round by the Street Class King Ari Yallon.
Awaiting the completion of his Tundra V8 engine from TRD, Craig Paisley is riding out the rest of the 2001 season in his Toyota Supra.
Christian Rado experienced Murphy's Law with the Integra. A failed last minute effort to compete had the team scrambling to get the car to the line, but we do applaud the team's wheelbarrow style of getting the car off the track.
Kenny Tran advanced all the way to the finals, but just like Callos, axle problems at the line kept the Leading Edge-sponsored Civic from taking a first place win.
The Street Class King, Ari Yallon, stole the show once again. This time the class was dominated by a gang of RX-7.com rotaries.
Expert tuner, Harv St. Mary, was doing the tuning tango between three different cars, Chris Rado's Integra, the Venom truck and Venom Civic.
Team AEBS had a rough season last year, but this season, they are out to prove that Ben Ma's Focus is not only a contender, but a leader in the class with veteran racer R.J. Simrock at the helm.
Team Rev Hard representing the PI in his Leading Edge-sponsored Civic.
We discovered two carbon fiber Civic hatchback bodies stashed in the AEBS trailer. It makes one wonder what's up Ben's sleeve.
The future of import drag racing is looking good.