For their second East Coast appearance in a little over a month, the NHRA Sport Compact racing series returned to New Jersey, this time to Atco Raceway, for the fifth stop along the tour. Fans who battled uncertain weather for the duration of the two-day event, no doubt got their every penny’s worth – track and national records alike were broken, upsets were won (or lost), and they were treated to some of the closest, most competitive racing the NHRA has seen this season.
New to many attendees of the event was Carl Steven Jr.’s Pro-RWD class Nissan 350Z. The car had only made a few passes prior to Saturday’s qualifying rounds, but looked consistently strong nonetheless, blasting off 8-second pass after 8-second pass. At the day’s close, Stevens found himself top qualifier, but failure to stage for eliminations would hand the win over to Boris Rojas and his Mazda truck for his first-ever NHRA career win, despite a problem-laden 19.60sec run. Sunday’s number one qualifier, Jason Hunt, once again proved hard work is the secret to success, with his first place Pro-FWD win. Hunt and the Matco Tools team went through two engines this event, but remained capable of throwing down consistent 7-second passes all weekend, eventually blasting a 7.47 in the finals over Gary Gardella’s 7.49 for one of the closest wins of the season.
Despite consistently blasting off low-7-second passes throughout qualifying, champ Paul Efantis could not fly as fast as Brent Rau’s 7.03@194 Modified-class freak run, moving many to speculate he’d fall to the Eclipse in the finals. Rau rolled into competition Sunday as number one qualifier for the second time this year, having run his personal best ET the day before. While his car was undoubtedly the fastest of the field, its power output proved to be a little too much for Rau, who couldn’t hook up in eliminations, allowing Ken Scheepers the advance against 2006 champ Efantis. When Efantis encountered ignition problems off the line in the finals, Scheepers kept the lead for a come-from-behind win of 7.41@177.
Making her third number one qualifying appearance in 2007, and sixth overall, Stephanie Eggum held onto her edge, keeping the Hot Rod class win out of the hands of her competitors, namely arch-nemesis Kenny Tran, and upstart New Jersey native James Farrer. Farrer and Tran piloted their Chevy Cobalt and Scion tC to numerous high and mid 8-second runs, but were unable to tease the 7-second mark as impressively as Eggum, whose 8.24@167 garnered her the win.
After qualifying and eliminations, All-Motor class still belonged to Jeremy Lookofsky, which normally would be “nuff said”, except that this time, the title was won with a little finesse. Lookofsky and Norris Prayoonto were separated by only two points in the standings coming into the event, which meant the win would put either ahead. When the pair met in the finals, both knew they’d need to pull out all the stops to take the win from the other and reached deep into their bags of tricks. As they lined up, neither was willing to stage first – a game of “psych-out” they played for nearly a minute. As the officials headed for the timer, Prayoonto lit his second light, as Lookofsky lagged behind for a few seconds longer. When both were two lights in, the drama proved to be a little too intense for Prayoonto, who encountered problems out of the hole, allowing Lookofsky the win with a 9.48@139.
In Sportsman classes, Mark Mazurowski’s S14 240SX held onto the lead over his closest competitor, Orlando, FL’s Darin Dichiara and his ’94 Supra. Mark’s consistent low 9-second passes could not be beaten by the Supra’s mid-9's, but by the end of the day, a 9.46@147 would be all “the Mazz” needed for the win over Dichiara’s 9.85@149. In Sport FWD, Brian Danieli’s EG coupe laid down a 10.03@149 – grenading the engine through the traps – for the win over tC-powered Jason Lopes’s 10.39@147.
Lastly, Quick 16 saw a bit of an upset when Connecticut’s Ryan Smith, who powered his single cam 1.6L EG Civic to consistent low 10-second passes all weekend, blasted a 10.26 that proved to be within sufficient distance of his 10.18 dial-in time for a win, when opponent Brian Ballard overshot his mark. Congrats to Smith and his crew on their latest achievement with the car in the 16 years they’ve owned it.
NHRA travels to Las Vegas in a month, for their next stop in the Sony Xplod Sport Compact racing series. If you’re not a Las Vegas native, and can’t convince your significant other it’s a good idea to visit the City of Sin, look for next-day coverage of the event on Modified.com, and, as always, be sure to pick up a copy of Modified Mag for the best damned race coverage you can find!