The NHRA, Summit Racing and Nitto Tires came up big at the Nitto Sport Compact Nationals at legendary Raceway Park in Englishtown, N.J. The place was packed and the fans were frenzied, as history was made in front of their very eyes.
Turbonetics Racing cashed in on Summit's $25,000 bounty for breaking the 200-mph barrier in an import. Matt Scranton busted 202.55 mph in his twin-turbo iForce V8-motivated Turbonetics Celica.
The barriers continued to fall in the Hot Rod Class where Jojo Callos and his Castrol GTX-sponsored Integra completed their assault on the 8-second mark running 8.89, 8.91 and 8.92 on the way to the winners circle. The Castrol Integra also became the world's quickest unibody Honda. Bruce Mortensen and the Venom Civic joined the 8-second club with an 8.95 in round one and "backed it up" with a 9.09-second qualifying run.
Mike Crawford and the Phatridz Neon came oh-so-close to the 8-second club, qualifying second with a 9.007. Kenny Tran was fourth on the grid at 9.28. To put it all in perspective, Tran was the quickest unibody Honda when his Civic appeared on our July 1999 cover. His 9.68-second class-leading e.t. of two years ago would only have been good enough for a number eight at E-town. That's progress.
The biggest showdown in the class was the first round match-up of Rafael "Racer X" Estevez and Lisa Kubo. Estevez and the DRT Civic qualified sixth with a 9.665 but blew up the engine. The crew booked back to the shop in Woodside, N.Y. and retrieved the block-guarded engine block it ran at Gainesville. Working until 2 a.m., the DRT crew bolted on the turbos, intercooler, head and all the plumbing--and made the show.
Team Kubo, running the hatchback and not the new coupe, had a hard time making the field. The Nitto Tires/ExtrudeHone Civic broke the front left control arm on its first qualifying attempt and made the field on the second try with a still off-pace 10.26. Despite the drama, both cars were at full song as they entered the burnout box for their first-round confrontation.
Racer X got the jump off the line .521 to .558. But his .037-second advantage faded and Lisa's 9.543 was a grand total of 0.052 seconds quicker than Estevez's 9.632. With all the door-to-door racing and 8-second e.t.s, the final was anticlimactic as Callos ran a 9.45, leaving an injured Venom Civic to putt-putt to a 29.39.
In the Pro Class, it was a day of debuts that culminated in an epic showdown of domestic vs. import, the likes of which had never been seen. The pugilists were Tetsuya Kawasaki and the HKS 180SX and John Lingenfelter and his Summit Sonoma. Kawasaki is known as the "John Force of Japan" and Lingenfelter is one of the bigger names in V8 power tuning--his twin-turbo kit for the Chevy Corvette is straight up unreal. The GMC is all-American; the 180SX is a Japan-only proposition. One is a truck, the other a car.
The lone similarity was under the hood where both vehicles flexed four-cylinder power. The Lingenfelter truck, a mainstay in the now-defunct NHRA Pro Truck division, was making its first appearance on the import side of the sport. The HKS 180SX isn't merely a mainstay, it's a legend in the ranks of Japanese drag racing and it's making its first foray into the American import scene. During qualifying, Lingenfelter made a big impact in the truck's first competitive pass, dropping a 7.51 at 184 mph on the field of 14 cars vying for the eight available spots on the ladder. The run was merely a prelude.
Tetsuya Kawasaki, the burnout king of the event, made it clear the Nissan did more than granulate rubber as it blasted to a best-ever 7.18 at 190.62 mph to take the top spot. Many wondered if the 180SX had a chance to upset the Turbonetics Celica in its quest for 200 mph and the $25,000 payoff. Those in the know could tell you that adding 10 mph at these speeds is a tall order.
We were impressed with the Nissan's e.t. The four-cylinder single turbo's 7.18 was right on the tail of the Celica's best effort of 7.10 and the Celica had twice the pistons and twice the turbos. The HKS 180SX was definitely the star of the event. In the first round, Lingenfelter was stronger in his victory, running a 7.48 to Kawasaki's 7.59. In the semis, Kawasaki got back in the groove with a 7.19 at 191.46 mph while Lingenfelter kept consistent at 7.44. In the finals, the HKS 180SX screamed to a 7.25 at a whopping 193.46 mph as Lingenfelter registered a 9.25 at 104 mph.
In Modified, the 2001 champ, Carlos Gonzalez, was once again laying down the law in his Mazda RX-3. Gonzalez set a class e.t. record with an 8.10 at 165 mph. Stephan Papadakis and the AEM drag Civic was solidly in the number two spot with an 8.31 at 174 mph. Nelson Hoyos and the GM Racing Cavalier were third at 8.82. All the favorites won in the first round.
In the second round, Papadakis faced off against Hoyos. Papadakis had problems getting to the burnout box and Hoyos showed great sportsmanship by delaying his burnout until the AEM crew could make a tweak and re-attach the nose of the Civic. He was rewarded when the car ran a personal best of 8.69 at 172.65 mph and beat Papadakis, whose Civic was ailing and posted a 12.35. In the finals, the Cavalier suffered from transmission problems and Gonzalez left no doubts by tearing off an 8.26 to take the cash.
In Street Tire, John Shepherd made quick work of the field. As the only single-digit qualifier at 9.95, he ran 9.98, 10.03 and 9.88 at 148.76 in the finals to skate away with the winner's payout. It should be noted that Ari Yallon, 2001 class champion and undefeated in NHRA competition, was a no-show and the Titan Motorsports Supra, which made a big splash (9.52) at Gainesville didn't compete. This class looks like it will heat up as the season unfolds.
The big news in All Motor was Jesus Padilla's 1985 Mazda RX-7 with three-rotor power. We're surprised no one has tried this before, but Padilla did and rewrote the record books by qualifying first with a 9.45. In the second slot were Tony Shagday and the Skunk2 Integra, which also impacted the recorded books becoming the quickest all-motor Honda with a 10.67 at 125.08 mph. The cutoff for the eight-car field was a swift 11.69 and seven competitors were left on the sidelines. There were no big surprises in the first round. Shagday red-lit in the second round and Padilla's 7 laid down 10s all the way into the final where he posted a 10.43 to take home the cash.
The NHRA Summit Racing Sport Compact Racing Series upped the bar even further after the season's promising start in Gainesville. The Englishtown crowd was huge. It was standing room only during the Pro Class and even the far side bleachers were full. On the asphalt, e.t. records in four of the five previously existing categories fell.
The only survivor, Street Class, established its latest record at the season opener at Gainesville. Also, as predicted in our Gainesville story, the Summit boys did have to open their wallets to the tune of 25 large as Matt Scranton and the Turbonetics Celica crushed the 200-mph barrier. What more will 2002 hold?