The NHRA GM Performance Nationals in Las Vegas was rained out, but the lone qualifying round produced enough to write about. There was a lot of buzz in the pit area and cars with big-time sponsors revving their engines in anticipation of battle. Mother Nature was not in the mood. "
It all started with our Trek to Vegas mad-dog dash to Sin City. The Trek, sponsored by TOKICO shocks and ADR Wheels, was a collection of industry insiders.
We were joined by Mike Santa Cruz from TOKICO, Angelo Naval from Nitto Tires, Sean Morris from RB Motoring, representatives from Goodyear Tire & Rubber, as well as members of the International All Stars car club. (Check out "Backpressure" on page 114 for more Trek madness.)
We rolled in around 6:30 p.m., grabbed some food and headed to the track for the GM Performance/"Car Audio" magazine 2003 season kick-off party. There was a full Friday night grudge session going down and after admitting 500 cars, the track closed the gates against any more vehicles. At 1:30 a.m., we called it a night and retreated to the Cannery Casino Hotel.
The highlight Saturday was Turbo Magazine's Track Conduct Seminar, which is designed to reduce anxiety for first-time bracket racers.
Around noon on Saturday it started raining--the perfect excuse to return to the hotel for some much needed sleep. At about 4:18, eight minutes after waking up, I jumped in my car and blasted toward the track. I could faintly hear the track announcements with my radio tuned to the tower PA system at 88.9 FM, mixed in with the jammin' grassroots Mexican music. (Ya know, the stuff with the righteous accordion providing the bass line.)
All Motor would hit the track at 4:30 p.m. I blasted through Gate 4 and the first pair was off. I hoped one of the cars would stall on the track. I would live to regret this wish, (and so would others) as this round of qualifying produced more breakage than we've seen in years.
By the time the second pair was ready to run, I was trackside. The next four sets of All-Motor cars suffered some kind of breakage or stalling problems. It took forever to clear the track. The first pair in Hot Rod had a close call--2002 class champion Bruce Mortensen catapulted a rod through the block, oiled down his drive tires and got way sideways.
Only the timely deployment of his parachute kept Bruce and the Venom Civic out of harm's way. There was a small oil fire associated with the engine failure, which kept the track down for more than an hour. Although he was in drift mode, the Civic's 9.63 at 138 mph was good enough to lead the qualifying after the first round. The HP Racing Hot Rod Civic was flying new colors, but experienced low oil pressure after the burnout and was shut down. Back in the pits, the problem was traced to a restrictive oil filter.
Also suffering was the new V6 twin-turbo Turbonetics Celica. The Pro RWD Toyota was sidelined with a loose shifter cable after laying down an awesome burnout. And speaking of big burnouts, Jimmy O'Connor, one of the more enthusiastic burnouters, laid down a quick 8.19 at 164 mph right off the trailer in his Venom Racing Modified Class Supra.
Back in the Pro RWD class, George Ioannou and the Street Glow Solara from Bullish Racing blasted a 7.17 at 188 mph. But stablemate Ara Arslanian had a tough lap when his identically prepared 2JZ-GTE-powered Solara got way out of shape on the big end and crossed the center line a number of times. Ara, however, saved the car.
Stephan Papadakis and the AEM/Driver FX Civic made their debut at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In what was the car's first pass, Steph launched well and went straight as an arrow, shutting off at about 1,000 feet and coasting to an 8.35. Telemetry confirmed all was well and the crew was looking forward to the Honda's first full-power pass. But it wasn't meant to be, as persistent rains caused the cancellation of the event Sunday morning.
The GM Performance Nats were rescheduled for July 25- 26 and transformed into a night event. The season opener was a critical event for determining who would represent Sport Compact drag racing on the domestic side in the Extreme Rush exhibition program.
Each racer in Pro FWD and RWD who made a legal qualifying pass received 40 points toward qualifying for the Rush. For more details, surf to www.nhra.com.