The BFGoodrich Sport Compact Nationals, the first NHRA sport compact drag race of the 2002 season, should have been called the Split Second Nationals. A fraction of a second or a fraction of speed decided a number of battles. Any questions about the vitality of the 2002 SC season were answered at the Gainesville Raceway on April 13 and 14.
In one of the most impressive vehicle debuts in recent memory (maybe ever), the Turbonetics Celica came out of the box blasting insane trap speeds and wild e.t.s. How does 7.32 at 199.93 mph grab ya? This is no typo, the Turbonetics Celica was a mere .07 mph away from Summit Racing's $25,000 payoff for the first "import" to break the 200-mph barrier. Get out the checkbook, guys.
On the other end of the debut spectrum was Jojo Callos. His new car, a black Integra with Castrol sponsorship, spun on its maiden journey, in what was the most impressive save in recent memory, (maybe ever). The car drifted to the left of the line and Callos had his hands full all the way down the track. At about 1,100 feet, the So Cal racer found himself out of the groove and in trouble with physics. After going sideways a number of times, the car came to rest facing the starting line.
In competition, there was close racing in nearly every class. In the first round of Pro, Grant Downing and the Venom Tundra went up against Tadatoshi Wakita and the Blast SC400. The Venom truck went 7.37 at 187 mph and the SC400 turned a 7.56 at 181 mph. It has to hurt to blast a 7.5 and get put on the trailer. The Pro Class has come a long way.
Craig Paisley and his nitrous-breathing Tundra tore off 8.34 and 8.44-second e.t.s to make to the finals against Matt Scranton and the Turbonetics Celica. Paisley's .463 to .565 tree advantage doesn't illustrate the jump he got. As Paisley continued his consistent string of runs, the Celica bogged heavily at the start. When it finally came online, it hooked and booked, running an 8.266 at a stunning 197 mph. This effort allowed the Celica to squeak past the Tundra at the traps by a scant 0.142 seconds, as Paisley posted an 8.408. It seems a matter of when, not if, Summit's $25,000 will be deposited in the Celica's checking account.
On the other side of the line, Paisley was pleased with his first outing. "We've come a long way since our last test session and to run as consistent as we did was great. The engine is on a single-stage nitrous system and we're planning to run a three-stage set-up so there is a lot of on-the-fly R&D ahead. This engine is coming out and going on the dyno." Paisley hopes to get his two additional stages of nitrous by the E-Town race; we'll see.
In Modified, 2001 champion Carlos Gonzalez picked up where he left off last season by grabbing the number one qualifying spot with an 8.45. His day ended early as technical difficulties in round one opened the door for Christian Rado, who was piloting the Paisley Racing Supra. Big round one upsets continued when Alex Driggers and the Rosado Racing Corolla sent Stephan Papadakis to the trailer by running an 8.78 at 144 mph to Steph's 9.05.
In the semis, Rado made quick work of Len Monserrat. Then, in a rare oddity, Driggers and his second round foe Nelson Hoyos, who was driving the GM Racing Cavalier, were both DQ'ed for leaving before the tree was activated. This gave Rado a walk in the park in the finals.
The most interesting showdown in the first round of Hot Rod was an epic battle between a knight of the round table and one of South Philly's most stubborn southpaws. Yes, Lancelot Ho Lung and the HP Racing Civic went up against Rocky Santa Cruz and his drag Civic. Rocky's body blows couldn't penetrate Lance's suit of armor as the HP Racing Honda ran a huge number--9.46 at 152 mph. The HP crew proved it learned some lessons at the WIC race and applied them well at Gainesville, running a 9.68 to qualify fourth.
However, the spotlight belonged to Jojo Callos and the Castrol Syntec Integra, which really turned things around after pulling a 540 Tony Hawk style spinning in the first round of qualifying. Jaws dropped hard as Callos unleashed a 9.08 at 156 mph in the first round. He would have to stay sharp because along with HP's 9.46, Kenny Tran ran a 9.36, Rafael Estevez and his DRT Civic posted a 9.64, the Phatridz Neon put up a 9.74 and the Venom Civic had a bye run.
Callos proved up to the challenge by bettering, not merely backing up, his 9.08 with a 9.035 at 156 mph. Looks like the 8-second barrier will fall. While the Castrol Syntec Integra is the closest; other second-round performances proved there are plenty of capable cars out there. Kenny Tran and his Jotech Civic closed the gap running a 9.18 at 158 mph.
Bruce Mortensen and the Venom Civic joined the fray with a 9.23 at 162 mph. Competition was at a new level, as Rafael Estevez ran a 9.49, which meant all semi-finalists had run better than 9.50 and three of four were under the 9.25 mark to advance to the Final Four. Wow.
In the semis, the highly charged atmosphere resulted in red-light wins for Tran and Mortensen. In our estimation, the final between Tran and Mortensen was the closest ever in unibody competition. In a bit of deja vu, the BFG Sport Compact finals played out exactly like the run for the money at the WIC race, as Tran outgunned Mortensen at the line and took the money with a slower e.t. Tran pulled a 9.477 at 152 mph while Mortensen notched a 9.469 at 158 mph--a .008 difference. But Tran's .518 light was better than Mortensen's .560 by .042. The win went to Tran by a scant .034 seconds.
To Mortensen's credit, it should be noted that his .560 light was quite good; of the 27 runs made before the finals only four were quicker. However, Tran's .518 was the quickest reaction time in the class.
The landscape of the Street Tire class may have changed at Gainesville. From out of nowhere, the Titan Motorsports Supra reintroduced the class to 9-second e.t.s. Mark Mazurowski took low-e.t. and top-mph honors in qualifying by laying down an eye-popping 9.523 at 156 mph. This effort was a class record and could well be the quickest e.t. for a street Supra and it was all done on BFGoodrich drag radials.
Mazurowski continued the onslaught of 9s, running 9.93 and 9.83 to advance to the finals. On the other side of the ladder, undefeated Ari Yallon got steadily better as he progressed to the money race, posting a 10.47 and a 10.23. In the Clash Of The Titans final, Yallon's improvement and his winning streak continued as he posted a 10.18 to the Titan Motorsports Supra's 10.53. Mazurowski's inexperience played a role in the defeat, as the Supra spun the tires hard off the line and in second gear. The car was stout, that's for sure, and we hope it runs more races this season.
Rotary Performance's Chris Ott felt the same. "We were surprised. This car came out of nowhere," says Ott. "We try to keep up with what's going on in the Supra community and these guys weren't even on the radar. We were fortunate this weekend and it's clear we have to find something before Englishtown. It's great to have some really intense competition."
In All Motor, the Skunk2 Integra was dusted off and once again demonstrated its superiority as it sliced through the competition unchallenged, running 10.920, 10.923 and 10.891 in the elimination rounds. Cotorres Gee and the Hocus Pocus Civic lived the charmed life at Gainesville. His first round competitor red-lit and he had a bye run in the semis. Mechanical problems surfaced in the finals, but the Hocus Pocus Civic would've needed to cast quite a spell to beat Tony Shagday and the Skunk2 Acura.
There's little doubt that 2002 will be a monumental season for SC drag racing. There are plenty of new cars, some new faces and a corps of big name drivers poised to attain new heights. We're expecting to see big money change hands when the Turbonetics Celica breaks the 200-mph barrier and collects Summit Racing's $25,000 cash reward.
Speaking of barriers, it looks like Hot Rods will be in the uncharted territory of eight-second e.t.s. It looks to be a matter of who, where and when and you can count on Turbo & High-Tech Performance being there when the records fall.