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Nitto Extreme Performance NHRA Springnationals

Evan Griffey
Jul 21, 2003
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The evolution of sport compact racing continued into uncharted waters at the Nitto Extreme Performance NHRA Springnationals at Englishtown's Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. All the elements were in place; the track was expertly prepped, the fans were at fever pitch and the racers had their boost set on "full kill."

Pro RWD
The Pro-RWD class exemplified this evolution as 14 cars battled for eight spots on the grid. It would take a Herculean effort just to make the show. On top of that, there was an added foreign element--the HKS Supra.

The Supra, a Bickel-built chassis with V8 twin-turbo power, was making exhibition runs right after Pro RWD. The buzz differed from last season, when HKS shipped over its black 180SX drag monster. Last time, the E-Town masses embraced the 180, but the Supra with its V8 powerplant was cast as a villain. Could the SC drag racers keep pace with fewer cylinders?

George Ioannou broke on top in the first round of qualifications with a 6.94 at 204 mph. In the second stanza, Stephan Papadakis and Abel Ibarra improved, as each posted 7.10-second e.t.s.

The real drama was in the final qualification round on Sunday. The wild card was Jose Torres and his El Siguel RX-7. The car was tech'd and ready on Saturday, but Torres was attending his son's communion in Puerto Rico. He then flew to E-Town to take one shot at the field. He came up big, recording a 7.19 and apparently making the show. Matt Hartford was the slowest qualifier at a super quick 7.39. Grant Downing (7.48) and Adam Saruwatari (7.49) were on the outside looking in.

But the Siguel RX-7 was 10 pounds under minimum weight and was disqualified, ending Torres' Cinderella story before it got off the first page. Grant Downing was in. Abel Ibarra fatally wounded his rotary engine and dropped out, so Saruwatari got in, much to the joy of car and race sponsor Nitto Tires.

Going into eliminations, Ioannou was top dog with a 6.81, Matt Scranton was second with a 6.90, Jorge Lazcano was third with a 7.09 and Steph and Ara Arslanian were fourth and fifth with 7.10s. The HKS Supra posted a 7.2 in its exhibition pass.

In round one, Adam continued to get lucky as Lazcano red lit on the way to a 7.29, which would have destroyed Adam's 7.56. The match-up between Stephan Papadakis and Ara Arslanian was epic. Steph got the hop out of the hole in his AEM/Driver FX Civic and carried his advantage most of the track, but the half-track numbers showed the Street Glow Solara was traveling 10-mph faster than the Honda. Ara went by Steph at the top end and stopped the clock in 8.89 seconds at 202 mph, compared to Steph's best-ever 7.08. It was nearly the first all 6-second pass. The effort put Ara in the prestigious Summit Racing 200-mph Club.

Grant Downing's Venom Racing Tundra sprung a leak after the burnout box, giving Ioannou a single. Ioannou stepped up with a 6.786 at 205 mph, the quickest run ever in SC drag competition. Ioannou's history-making run soon became history itself when Matt Scranton and the Turbonetics Celica broke the beams with a 6.74 at 203 mph. The HKS Supra went 6.96.

The semis pitted the mirror-image Street Glow Solaras against one another. Ara got the jump, but Ioannou drove around him in the first-ever side-by-side 200-mph pass--6.88 at 204 to 7.22 at 200. The Turbonetics Toyota couldn't back up its 6.74 because a cracked block kept the Celica in the pits, so Adam dodged a six-second bullet and advanced. The HKS Supra went 6.89.

In the final, Adam's luck ran out. He put up a 7.57, but Ioannou was on a mission to back up his record. The Solara screamed to a 6.81 at 204; game over.

Turbo Magazine Hot Rod
Marty Ladwig's Pontiac Sunfire rolled off the trailer and blasted an 8.53, setting a possible class record. By the end of the qualifying rounds Marty was joined in the 8s by some familiar faces--Kenny Tran (8.712), Lance Ho Lung (8.721) and Mike Crawford (8.78).

In eliminations, Jojo Callos advanced with a 9.34 over defending class champion Bruce Mortensen, whose Venom Racing Civic experienced transmission problems. The gearbox would go into gear easy enough, but getting out of the gears was a nightmare. Crawford moved on with an 8.74, Jersey native Gary Gardella laid down a 9.06 to advance and Kenny Tran won with an 8.91. Other first-round winners included Ho Lung (8.66), Andrew Bermea (single) and Ladwig (8.67), who backed up his record-qualifying effort.

Round two started with an upset when Andrew Bermea and the Arospeed Civic advanced after Kenny Tran sputtered to a stop just past the 330 mark. The culprit was the external shut-off switch, which was not fully in the "on" position and turned off under the g-load of acceleration. Jojo got back in the 8s with an 8.91. Ho Lung, whose car suffered mechanical failure, handed the win to Jojo. Crawford beat Gardella and Ladwig posted an 8.61 unopposed.

In the semis, Ladwig got another Bye when Crawford was a no-show in his Mopar Neon. Ladwig stood on it anyway and blasted an 8.55. In the other semifinal, Jojo put up an 8.95, enough to beat Andrew "The Bear" Bermea's 9.30.

In the money race, Jojo suffered a clutch slave cylinder failure that dropped the clutch pedal uselessly on the floor. Ladwig sped away to the victory circle with an 8.72.

Pro FWD
The Pro-FWD competition had a familiar ring to it. Christian Rado again struggled with his World Racing Celica and the final was a repeat of Moroso. Rado managed only a 9.44 in qualifications, but was lucky to face Jarrod Silvers in the first round. Rado's 9.7 was enough to move on. In the semis, his Celica wouldn't fire via the starter and he wasn't allowed to bump start. John Brown and Nelson Hoyos were unchallenged on their way to the money race.

In the final, Brown and Hoyos left in unison, but Brown's Honda seemed to fade at the top end. Hoyos was finally Wally-bound with an 8.68 to Brown's 9.08. After six previous winless finals, the Hoyos win was well received in the pits and by the fans.

Modified
Cesar Febus toyed with a new class record after running a stellar 7.70 in the first qualification round. But after replacing the motor Saturday night he was happy to make it to eliminations. Febus went rounds, advancing all the way to the final but never challenged the 7.70.

In the finals, Febus squared off against burnout master Jimmy O' Connor and the Venom Racing Supra. Febus faded off the line and O'Connor, his Supra at full boost, reeled in the Wally.

Honda Tuning All Motor
Ken Scheepers kept it rolling in New Jersey with a 10.40 that put him first on the grid. However, he damaged the rear end of his RX7.com Mazda in the second round and merely staged against Scott Mohler in the semis.

Defending class champion Jesus Padilla ran a 10.58 to make the money race, while Mohler put down a 10.48 in his Mopar. Unfortunately, Mohler annihilated his Neon engine in the burnout box, leaving chunks of crankshaft, rod end caps and bearings strewn across the track. Padilla motored to a 10.64 to take the win.

Next stop; Gainesville, Fla.

NHRA Sport Compact
National Records

PRO RWD
E.T. - 6.786 - George Ioannou
May 2003, Englishtown, N.J.

MPH - 205.47 - Ioannou May 2003, Englishtown, N.J.

PRO FWD
E.T. - 8.610 - Nelson Hoyos
May 2003, Englishtown, N.J.

MPH - 178.52 - Hoyos
May 2003, Englishtown, N.J.

MODIFIED
E.T. - 8.009 - Cesar Febus
April 2003, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

MPH - 173.67 - Febus
April 2003, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

TURBO MAGAZINE HOT ROD
E.T. - 8.533 - Marty Ladwig
May 2003, Englishtown, N.J.

MPH - 168.11 - Bruce Mortensen
Oct 2002, Englishtown, N.J.

HONDA TUNING ALL MOTOR
E.T. - 10.259 - Ken Scheepers
April 2003, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

MPH - 132.46 - Scott Mohler April 2003, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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By Evan Griffey
271 Articles

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