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Enter the Draggin': NHRA ATCO

BFGoodrich NHRA Sport Compact Nationals: Atco, New Jersey

Evan Griffey
Aug 18, 2003 SHARE

Mother Nature is often at odds with motorsports. The events surrounding the June 7 and 8 NHRA Sport Compact race at Atco, N.J., proved just how vindictive she can be. Saturday's qualifications were a total washout and, to add insult to injury, I was dragged kicking and screaming to "2Fast 2Furious," a disappointing attempt at entertainment that grossed $52 million in its opening weekend.

It's cool; I took one for the team, figuring on Sunday there'd be wall-to-wall racing. The weather forecast predicted clouds in the morning and clearing to partly sunny with 79- to 82-degree temperatures. However, we were greeted by overcast skies, misty air that registered 100-percent humidity and no wind. No conditions conducive to drying off a racing surface were present.

The plan was either a single round of qualifying or running with a ladder based on points. I wanted to see a qualification round because some wicked Puerto Rican cars in the pits deserved a shot at the action. The latest time the NHRA would run a qualification round was 12 p.m. because the track closed at 7:30 p.m.

Qualifications got rolling at 12:30. It took forever; at 3:45, the ladders were finally set, but it was obvious the 7:30 deadline was toast. The track constantly needed to be oiled down, and the Pro FWD and Pro RWD classes elected to qualify from the left-hand lane only, which doubled the amount of time it took to determine the field.

Despite rumors of completing the event and paying the fine (reportedly $7,000), one round of eliminations was run, cutting the field in half and getting half the teams on the road as scheduled, then completing the event on Monday.

Single Round Qualifications--Sunday
The day got off to a troubled start as a Puerto Rican Honda went sideways and tagged the wall on the big end, causing a long delay in the action. The rest of the All-Motor mad dogs were at full song, with Ken Scheepers atop the ladder with a 10.39.

In Turbo Magazine Hot Rod, Marty Ladwig showed the track could handle the power as he pumped out an 8.70. He was the only Hot Rod runner in the 8s in a top-five field, including Gary Gardella (9.10), Lance Ho Lung (9.13), Jojo Callos (9.15) and Andrew Bermea (9.61).

The back-halfed bruisers were the first set of racers to challenge the track surface as the top qualifier, Jimmy O'Connor, laid down an 8.16 to take top honors. Vinny Ten was second in his Supra with an 8.23 at 165 mph, the fastest speed in the qualifying round. Cesar Febus was third on the grid at 8.23, well off his 7-second norm.

It's been a long time coming and it was great to see Christian Rado get his act in gear. His transmission gremlins have been traced to linkage binding under load. The box would shift on the dyno, but load in the real world was just enough to push the linkage over the threshold. Rado's e-World Electronics Celica reacted with an 8.65, making the Pennsylvania native the top qualifier in Pro FWD. Nelson Hoyos was second at 8.82 and Ed Bergenholtz and his Mazda6 were third at 9.33.

The Pro RWD cars were able to overpower the track so the drivers and tuners had their hands full. The Scranton Brothers showed them all how it was done. They detuned the motor, made some other suspension tweaks and nailed a 7.24 at 187 mph. This was well off their 6-second capability, but the Turbonetics Celica was .42 seconds ahead of second-place qualifier George Ioannou at 7.66. Unfortunately, an oil fire under the car put the Celica on the trailer for eliminations.

Eliminations: Round One--Sunday
In Honda Tuning All Motor, Ken Scheepers, Angel Valentin and Scott Mohler (quickest 10.43) posted solid 10-second laps. Turbo Magazine Hot Rod also delivered the goods as Mike Crawford and Lance Ho Lung (quickest 8.73) laid down 8s.

All that changed with the high-power rear-drive races. Venom Racing's Grant Downing got a bye when Steph didn't show. Downing launched the Supra-powered Tundra, the engine made a popping sound and putted to the lights. In the next pairing, Matt Hartford was the favorite after dropping a 7.35 on Jorge Lazcano.

Then it was George Ioannou vs. Manny Cruz. Manny reacted slowly (.688 vs. George's .475) from the right lane and got out of the groove. He saw George having problems and got back into the throttle. The Cougar reared back, ears pinned, teeth showing, and the game was afoot. The car got sideways. Manny missed the right-side wall and almost caught the car. After trying to roll, it hooked and shot across the track, slamming into the wall and shooting flames on the track.

Manny was out of the car before the rescue crew was there. After some debate, Abel Ibarra completed Sunday's action with a single pass.

Eliminations Continued - Monday
In All Motor, it came down to the favorites--Scheepers and Mohler. Scheepers won 10.34 to 10.45. The Modified class went as predicted, though Team Venom was inactive because the crew had go back to work on Monday. Cesar Febus blasted a 7.88 in the semis and needed a big number as his foe Vinny Ten laid down an 8.008. In the finals, Febus' 7.95 was too much for Carlos Perez and his Puerto Rican-style 1982 RX-7 (8.88). In Pro FWD, Rado and Hoyos hooked up in the finals. Hoyos put down a smooth 8.83, while Rado had shifting problems and faded.

The high drama of the event was in Turbo Magazine Hot Rod and Pro RWD, but for two very different reasons. In Hot Rod, the competition was close. In round two, Marty Ladwig fired a solo 9.03; Mike Crawford did better with an 8.92 and Jojo Callos and Lance Ho Lung hooked up in an epic battle. Ho Lung and the HP Racing Civic beat Callos' Castrol Integra 8.83 to 8.93.

In the semifinals, Ho Lung lined up against Crawford. Crawford got the jump with .526 to .553 in his Mopar Neon, but Ho Lung's top-end fury prevailed with an 8.91 to 8.97 in a very close race. Ladwig had a Bye into the final, but put down an 8.69 in his Bothwell/GM Racing Sunfire to send a message. In the final, only Ladwig could keep the 8s flowing as he grabbed the Wally 8.75 to 9.15.

It was a different kind of race in Pro RWD. Abel Ibarra in the K&N Filters RX-7 and Matt Hartford in the Summit Cavalier were both wounded going into the money race. This contest would be settled from the burnout box to the beams, not down the 1320. Ibarra suffered from a compromised apex seal, while Hartford had a damaged valvetrain. Both cars limped through the burnout box, then the Summit Cavalier began leaking fluid and was shut off. Abel got his Mazda to the line staged and left before the tree was activated, taking the win because he survived about 20 feet more than Hartford.

Weather wreaked havoc on racers, fans and lowly magazine edit heads at The BFGoodrich Sport Compact Nationals, but the usual hard-core action and big numbers prevailed, along with a soap opera cliffhanger in the Pro RWD.

Winners
BFGoodrich Sport Compact Nationals

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

Turbo Magazine Hot Rod
Marty Ladwig: Bothwell/GM Racing Pontiac Sunfire

Modified
Cesar Febus: Nissan 300ZX

Pro FWD
Nelson Hoyos: Bothwell/GM Racing Chevy Cavalier

Pro RWD
Abel Ibarra: K&N Filters Mazda RX-7

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By Evan Griffey
271 Articles

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