A sound-bite from hip-hop's Nelly, "It's getting hot in here," was the rally cry of those who attended the K&N NOPI LA Race Wars in Palmdale, CA, on the weekend of June 22, 2002. It was definitely hot up there and we're not just talking about the unrelenting summer sun.
The third stop of the NDRA Race Wars series brought out hot temperatures, hot cars, and even hotter girls. Palmdale in the summer time isn't normally a fun place to be. With the summer solstice the day before and much of the West in the throes of an historic fire season it had been hot in Palmdale for some time. The temperature in the shade was in the mid-90s and it was in the 140s on the track! But that didn't prevent the fans from coming out to join in on the hot action served up NOPI style. Besides the hot temperatures the fans were entertained with live performances, free give-aways, a car show, sound competitions, a burnout contest, and of course the always-entertaining bikini competition. But the real reason we were up there fending off the heat rays was for the drag action.
If you've ever been to LACR, you know it is a far cry from a world class drag strip. Actually the track is more like a strip of asphalt that's constantly showered with sand, compliments of a motorcross track ingeniously built alongside it. Often the conditions can make the elements a greater worry than the actual competitor running in the next lane.
Those same elements conspired to keep many of the favorites at home. Some of the more notable absentees were Jojo Callos, Kenny Tran, Stephan Papadakis, Ari Yallon and Tony Shagday to name just a few. This allowed many newcomers to make it to the main attraction.
Pro StockIn Pro Stock (all motor) the favorite was Bisi Ezerioha but hot on his tail was Mario Samala, who came out of nowhere and ran several low 11-second passes. In round one all the top qualifiers advanced with the exception of Joel Mandl, who suffered mechanical problems at the line. Three of the four drivers in round one ran in the 11s and the fourth driver cruised to victory against Joel. In round two Mario squared off against Paul Sarnecki while Bisi traded blows with Francisco Loerca. All four competitors were equally matched, all capable of running 11-second e.t.s. Bisi dominated Loerca, running an 11.293 to Loerca's 12.111, and Samala cruised to an 11.640 while Sarnecki broke. The final pairing was Bisi and Samala and since both already ran low 11s in competition the money race was as hot as the midday sun. When the green light fell Bisi got the early lead by cutting a close light but Samala reeled him in at the top end running an 11.471 to Bisi's losing 11.664.
Pro 4 CylinderWith many of the heavy hitters missing from competition we saw some newcomers make the field at Palmdale. The only veterans in the field were Myles Bautsista, Lisa Kubo and Bruce Mortensen. In round one of competition, Kubo, the number one qualifier, had mechanical problems, giving the easy win to Eric Del Rosario. Myles and Mortensen advanced with hardly any competition.
The last pairing in round one was Mike Carl and Ricky Delacruz, who treated us to the closest racing of the day. Both left the line about he same time and at the end Carl was able to edge out Ricky for the win by .055 seconds-less than a car length.
In round two Del Rosario faced teammate Myles while Mortensen took on Carl. In the battle of the teammates Myles broke on the line giving the automatic win to Del Rosario while Mortensen made quick work of Carl. In the finals, Mortensen apparently ran into a voodoo curse, suffering a mechanical failure on the line as Del Rosario motored to a 10.890 and the win.
Pro OutlawThere were only three qualifiers in Pro Outlaw. Shaun Carlson qualified in the number one spot followed closely behind by Ray Lochhead and Joel Tanzman. Shaun had a Bye run into the final while Ray faced Joel in the semis. Ray ran a low 9.157, beating Joel's 9.996. The battle of the outlaw cars was between Shaun's FWD tube-framed racer and Ray's RWD back-halved RX-7. Ray cut a great light, taking a two-car-length lead but had to lift when the rear tires busted loose. By the time Ray got back on the gas Shaun had steam-rolled him. Shaun ran a 9.250 to Ray's losing 9.787 but the real story was in the trap speeds where Ray's 133 mph clocking testified to how long he had to get off the gas.
Pro ImportIn Pro Import the drivers had their work cut out for them, especially with Palmdale's famous crosswinds. Only four drivers-Grant Downing, Abel Ibarra, Adam Sarawutari, and RJ Simrock-were brave enough to take the challenge, with most of them off their pace by well over a second. With only four cars, round one of the eliminations became the semi and round two the finals. Adam squared off against Abel in round one while Downing took on Simrock. Adam and Abel both experienced tire shake at the top end resulting in both letting off and then getting back on the accelerator. Adam was able to fend off the shake first and took the win with a 9.091 to Abel's losing 9.752. In the battle of the chassis builders, Downing came out on top, beating Simrock with an 8.382 to RJ's slower 16.341. The final pairing of the entire weekend was Adam's A&L Racing NSX up against Downing's VenomTundra. The veteran showed his true colors as Downing took the easy win in the "Back pedaling Nats" with an 8.157 to Adam's losing 10.532.
The NOPI LA Drag Wars had a different aura compared to most LACR events. The action in the manufacturers' midway was bustling on both Saturday and Sunday and the buzz around the stage was 24/7. The event started later and ran until 10PM on Saturday with a NOPI foam party, light show, DJs galore, a screening of the film "The Fast And The Furious," and a pre-screening of "The Fast And The Furious 2." On Sunday the car show awards and bikini contest awards competed with the drag racing finals for spectator attention. The bottom line is there was much more than racing going on. In fact, drag racing seems to have become the constant in an event that is continually expanding beyond the strip, giving spectators more to do between rounds than just stand in concession lines.