For drag racing fanatics nationwide, the closing of the 2004 season brought great anticipation for 2005. With all the sponsorship rumors floating around at SEMA, many of us could hardly wait for the first drag event of the season to see what actually materialized. On March 19-20th, the NDRA opened up the drag racing season at Firebird Raceway in Phoenix, AZ. The result quenched the off-season thirst for hardcore racing.
Arriving late Friday night, we headed over to the track to see if anyone was doing any testing. The air was already filled with talk of Gary Gardella s new Hot Rod Cobalt ripping low 8.0-second ETs and Marty Ladwig s Pro FWD Cobalt making a test pass well into the 8-second zone. The pits were already set up and the trailers were packed; Saturday morning came and the gates opened for the flood of racing fanatics. The gray clouds were kept at bay as the qualifying rounds began and the Pro racers buckled in to put on a show.
In Pro FWD, Marty Ladwig made the official debut of his Chevrolet Cobalt. The Cobalt was basically a re-skin of Nelson Hoyos car from the last two seasons, with a Ladwig twist to it. In true championship form, Ladwig laid down a serious 7.58 @ 196.70 mph to start off the Pro FWD qualifying. This event was basically the first time new pro driver Jason Hunt had some serious seat time in Lisa Kubo s old Saturn Ion. With very limited testing and trying to get comfortable in a car built for Kubo, Hunt was managed an 8.09 @ 184.98 during qualifying - not bad at all. As the only two competitors in Pro FWD, the finals came and Hunt shocked the crowd with an amazing pass. Coming out of the hole with a 0.158 reaction time, Hunt was able to fight off Ladwig s 8.10 with an 8.09! What a great way to start the season for Hunt!
The BFGoodrich Pro Street Tire class seemed to be a little lacking as well, as Ari Yallon made his presence known by qualifying first in the RX7.com FD3S dragster with a 9.30. Gary White was fighting off Supra gremlins in the Titan Supra, but was able to qualify second with a 9.32. Krystos Efantis of the Lucas Oil team had several transmission problems and wasn t able to put on the show he normally does. Once again the finals came and Titan worked out the bugs. With White behind the wheel like a true 2004 champ, he ripped an 8.68 @ 172.76 for the win over Yallon. This was the perfect foundation for another championship season for White.
Pro Compact was another threesome affair with Don Nase Jr., Ara Arslanian and Matt Harford fighting it out. In the first round of qualifying, Crawford laid down a solid 6.56 @ 212.03 mph, almost sealing his fate for the event. Arslanian had changed to a 3.4L twin turbo setup during the off-season and was able to qualify with a strong 7.04 @ 202.58 mph. Problems kept Nase from participating in eliminations and an unfortunate red light from Arslanian gave Hartford the first Pro Compact trophy of 2005.
The Pro Stock All-Motor class brought out some new and old faces. Once again Norris Prayoonto set the pace in the Clutch Masters Insight with a 10.15 @ 131.65. His teammate Saul Salceda was able to qualify second with a 10.42 with the rest of the five qualifiers running 11.29 and quicker. As round one began, Erick Aguilar was able to make a triumphant return by taking out Saul Salceda. Chad Barber ran a 10.70 taking an easy win over Rock Alarcon. Round two brought on broken Cloyse Holland III who gave Prayoonto an easy ride to the finals. Aguilar went back on a mission for 9s as his 10.25 simply overpowered Barber. The finals wouldn t bring about any 9-second runs, but Prayoonto laid down a quick 10.167 @ 132.49 mph to secure his win. Better keep a look out on his Insight during the 2005 season; it ll definitely be a solid 9-second contender.
The Modified Mag sponsored Pro 4 Cylinder class brought on a solid 11 cars in qualifying, but without filling a 16-car field the race went on with 8. Ron Lummus in his Bothwell Motorsports / Garrett Sunfire completely decimated the record book with several 7.9-second passes. Gardella made a huge splash with his new GM-sponsored Cobalt dispensing several low 8-second passes. Last year s champion, Chuck Seitsinger fought problems as Ricky de la Cruz won round one. Northern California native Eric del Rosario moved into the second round with his popular gold Integra. Cutting to the chase, however, the finals would be a GM final pitting Gardella against Lummus. Lummus was on a hot streak running a 7.95 in round two and finished off the event with a 7.95 @ 186.56 mph. The record will be his and Gardella would go home with a second place finish.
Pro Outlaw RWD brought on several surprises as Brent Rau ruled the pack. Qualifying with a 7.31, we all wondered who could contend. Last year s champion Paul Efantis qualified third with a 7.49, and Justin Humphreys (in his first race) debut his Lexus GS300 with a 7.45. The first round brought on two bye-runs for the top two while Luis Corujo slid by with a red light from Dee Karagiannis. Efantis did his trademark burnout and followed it up with an 8.51 win over Rick Stiles RX-7. Unfortunately, that was the last we saw of Efantis as he broke leaving Humphreys to proceed to the finals with Rau. It was a close race, 7.75 vs. 7.92, but Rau owned the faster of the two ETs in his Eclipse.
The only full 16-car field of the entire weekend was none other than Turbo 4. This class had 18 cars out attempting to qualify with times ranging from 10.04 to 12.79. The competition was tight as Brian Ballard, who ran Jason Hunt s old coupe while awaiting his Saturn Redline, led the qualifying pack. Following Ballard in the top five qualifiers were Cortney Green s 10.06 EG, Jasen Penman s insane Del Sol, John Ferguson and his new GSC Motorsports sponsored EG, and Texan Arturbo Ortiz in his Integra.
Sportsman racers from all over the country fought it out and after four rounds Brian Ballard was triumphant over Jeremy Bretschneider with multiple 9-second passes. For his first time in Hunt s coupe, Ballard proved he s ready for his Saturn Redline after running 9.87 and 9.76 @ 150+ mph.
Even though many cars are still under construction and some of the heavy-hitters in the scene were missing, the NDRA season opener still proved to be extremely exciting. Gardella s Hot Rod Cobalt will be a force this year, while Ladwig has already shown what he can do in a Pro FWD car. Don t count out Hunt though, as more seat time will give him a good chance at 200 mph passes and mid 7-second ETs.
Bring on some more support for the Turbo 4 Street Class as everyday racers pull up on open trailers from all over the country to show drag racing is far from dying out. We can only get faster from here on in!