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NHRA Gainesville

Auto Trader Magazines Southeast Nationals

Evan Griffey
Jul 22, 2003 SHARE

The record book was again attacked at the NHRA Summit Sport Compact Series at Gainesville Raceway for the Auto Trader Magazines Southeast Nationals. The big playa at the May 17 to 18 event was Shaun Carlson and his expertly crafted Pro-FWD Neon.

The debut of Shaun's Mopar was the polar opposite of his pervious tube-frame front-wheel-drive Focus. The credit for this belongs to Darrell Cox and his engine program. Ford focused more on the car's hype than its engine development. In the Mopar camp, Shaun was able to drop a fully sorted combination that Darrell Cox has been running in Mike Crawford's Hot Rod-Class car into the Nuformz chassis, and the rest was history.

Team Mopar opened its can of whoop-ass right off the trailer with an 8.29 at 180. This set the team up for a class record. Shaun again wasted no time blasting an 8.22 at 181 in the second round of qualifications and motoring straight into the record book. Going into eliminations, it was apparent that, barring any huge upsets, Shaun and Nelson Hoyos were on a collision course. Hoyos was the only other qualifier in the 8s with an 8.56.

In the first round, Shaun got the Bye and putt-putted to a 13.06. In the semis, he laid down an 8.24 at 180 to set up a money race against Hoyos. Two pairs of finals cars ran, but rain stopped the action, with Shaun and Hoyos poised in the burnout box. After a 90-minute delay, the anti-climactic final ended when Hoyos snapped an axle off the line, barely coasting past the Christmas tree. Shaun got the holeshot, but had difficulty with gear engagement and won with an 11.24.

After Gainesville, Shaun had both ends of the Pro-FWD record, a Wally and the Meguiar's Best Appearing Racecar award; talk about a clean sweep. Darrell Cox told us that Mopar left a lot on the table. "We're pumpin' 36 psi and the turbo doesn't really come alive until 40 psi and we have tuned to 45." Can you say, "look out 7s"?

Turbo Magazine Hot Rod
After three rounds of qualifications, one-third of the 12-car field was in the 8s. Mike Crawford and the Team Mopar Neon was first at 8.59, Marty Ladwig was second at 8.69, Kenny Tran was third at 8.73 and Bruce Mortensen was fourth with an 8.97. Andrew "The Bear" Bermea continued to impress in his Arospeed Civic with a 9.23, Jojo Callos checked in sixth with a 9.27 and Gary Gardella made the trip from New Jersey and posted a 9.43 for seventh.

The first round of head-to-head competition had some real fireworks. As expected, number one qualifier Crawford advanced easily. The Bear was upset by Colorado's JJ Olson and the PFI Civic. Bermea had problems and Olson ran his best e.t. of the weekend, a 9.48. Ladwig ran his "usual" 8.6 to advance.

The fireworks exploded with the final two pairs of cars. First, Kenny Tran ran a 9.25, beating Angela Proudfoot's 10.47, but the car unloaded after the line and as Kenny was about to pop the shoot, he went on Mr. Toad's wild ride. The car weaved down the track in what seemed like full-turn pitches; we saw the side of the car three different times. It stopped in Proudfoot's lane about 2 inches from the wall.

Kenny explained that he fought the car on the first two weaves but the wheel was ripped from his hand and he was just along for the ride for the third weave.

"Everybody has been asking if I packed a second driving suit. It was nearly a Fruit Of The Loom moment. I had to go, and held it til the last round, but luckily went before this run. We were fortunate. I thought we'd hit the wall for sure and I was thinking, 'I just lost my painter. Whose going to fix this thing?'"

The next pair was Gary Gardella and Jojo Callos in a classic East vs. West match-up. Jojo jumped first (.552 to .714) but Gardella was having none of it. He improved to a 9.16, just enough to cover Jojo's 9.43.

Round two kept the thrills rolling. Kenny Tran put down an 8.94 to dispatch Bruce Mortensen and the Venom Civic. Marty Ladwig power-shifted his GM Racing/Bothwell Motorsports Sunfire to an 8.57, which sent JJ Olson Colorado- bound. Gardella in his unsponsored Civic moved on with a 9.31 when Crawford's Neon tore up its tranny.

In the semifinals, surprisingly, Gardella busted out a 9.09 on a single; a gutsy move considering Myles Bautista is the only Honda pilot we know who breaks more driveline parts than Gardella. On the other side of the ladder, Tran and Ladwig got the fans up off their seats. At the green, Ladwig popped a .427 light but Tran was right there with a .446. This time Tran ran the 8.6 to beat Ladwig's 8.87.

The final was rain delayed. Tran's Team Quaker State was hoping for a postponement until Monday. The Civic had killed a head gasket in the semis with no chance to swap it out between rounds. The Hot Rod Class is a 16-car affair. It needs more rounds to complete so the class runs an extra heat and all the classes to run their finals at the same time. This extra heat was the semis and the impending rain made the NHRA move up the schedule even more. Tran's crew drained all the coolant from the engine and planned to run it dry.

At race time, Tran's clutch pedal went to the floor. He was lucky to stage the car at all, and when the motor came up on revs the car creeped and redlit. Gardella, after about a dozen 9.0s and a few 9.00s, blasted his way into the 8-second club with an 8.82, posted a trap speed of 171.13 mph and grabbed his first-ever Wally. The 171 bettered the record Tran set earlier in the program at 170.90, but with no backup he didn't get the record. This is an unsponsored 8-second unibody Honda...somebody out there should step up with some cash for this team!

Pro RWD
The first round of qualifying netted only one 6-second pass as the Turbonetics Celica of Matt Scranton posted a 6.92. George Ioannou and his Street Glow/Bulllish Racing Solara suffered a blowout during its burnout and did a 180. Ara Arslanian's matching Solara could only manage a 13-second e.t.

By the third round of qualifications, all was right in the Street Glow universe; Ara ran a 6.97 and George posted a 7.08 to take the number two and three spots, respectively. Manny Cruz showed up carless but ran Abel Ibarra's K&N-backed R100. Although his 8.82 wasn't enough to make the field, he got precious points toward the Extreme Rush; the chance to represent the imports in the domestic NHRA Powerade series. Number eight and final qualifier, Matt Hartford, was eliminated in the first round, so the two are deadlocked for the final spot on the Extreme Rush roster.

One of the highlights of the event came in the second round. The Street Glow Solaras ran against each other. There were no team orders here and the pair left in unison with George enjoying a scant .006 advantage. The two cars were door handle to door handle, but George's 6.97 at 202.24 edged out Ara's 7.02 at 203.16. Yep, it was .025 seconds away from the first side-by-side 6-second battle in sport compact history.

George faced Scranton n the final, but the potential battle was never realized because the Turbonetics Celica couldn't answer the bell.

Honda Tuning All-Motor
After the smoke cleared in qualifying, a three-way battle for the cash ensued between Ken Scheepers (10.46), Scott Mohler (10.50) and Jesus Padilla (10.54). With less than a tenth of a second between the trio, the eliminations promised some close calls.

The first round delivered the goods. After Scheepers' Bye, Mohler was lucky to escape Jeremy Lookofsky's Civic, which was way out of tune in qualifications at 13.51. Jeremy posted a 10.58 but Mohler tree'd him .565 to .762 and unleashed a 10.49 to advance. In a battle of 1985 RX-7s, Padilla won out 10.60 to 10.82 against Angel Valentin.

In round two, Scheepers stepped up with a 10.38, which sent Padilla (10.66) packing. Mohler got a Bye but still jumped on the throttle with a 10.51, which set up an intriguing final.

Scheepers got an advantage at the flash of the green; .484 to .544 and carried that lead to the bank 10.32 against Mohler's 10.54. A champion knows when to step it up, and this wasn't the first time Scheepers pulled out his best e.t. of an event in the finals.

Modified
A short field in Modifed further diminished when Jimmy O'Connor's Venom Supra couldn't make it into eliminations. Cesar Febus dominated the field, his 7.91-second qualifying effort was light years ahead of the next car at 9.38. He extended his points lead heading into the next event at Acto, N.J.

Winners

NHRA Auto Trader Southeast Nationals

Honda Tuning All-Motor
Ken Scheepers RX7.com Mazda RX-7

Turbo Magazine Hot Rod
Gary Gardella: Honda Civic

Modified
Cesar Febus: 1986 Nissan 300ZX

Pro FWD
Shaun Carlson: Team Mopar Neon

Pro RWD
George Ioanno:u Street Glow Solara

Record Setters At Gainesville
Pro FWD
Shaun Carlson: Team Mopar Neon
E.T 8.22

Shaun Carlson: Team Mopar Neon
MPH 181.70

Turbo Magazine Hot Rod
Kenny Tran Quaker State Civic
MPH 170.90

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By Evan Griffey
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