It was a dry 108 degrees Fahrenheit in Dallas (actually refreshingly cool in our experience) as the NHRA tour hit town for the Auto Trader Magazines Texas Nationals. Mercifully, it was a night race and happily, there was plenty of action.
Lisa Kubo hit the strip running as she debuted her Saturn Motorsports/APC ION with an impressive 8.92 at 162 mph right off the trailer. While this was a long-awaited pass, the car was just barely ready to do battle. In fact, the team didn't have time to dyno tune it before shipping it from its Indianapolis, Ind., home base. The tuning regime consisted of a program Gary Kubo and Bob Norwood concocted for the old Honda Civic. The makeshift dyno was the quarter-mile slab of pavement at Texas Motorplex.
"The plan was to launch the car and see if it went straight," says Lisa. "It went straight, so I kept grabbing gears and an 8 popped up on the board. It was a great feeling for me and the crew."
In a subsequent qualifying effort, the Pro FWD Saturn ION suffered a familiar fate for Fortin tranny cars-linkage problems. The linkage must be precisely aligned to properly engage the forks and work the gears. They seem to be very susceptible to chassis flex. It's believed this is why Christian Rado's car will shift fine on the dyno but, under the load of the track, experience shifting problems.
As the day came to an end and we downed the last of our $5 lemonades, we noticed Team Mopar's Shaun Carlson and Robert Miller under the ION helping sort the box. That import camaraderie is still burning strong-Lisa was in Shaun's first round on Saturday. Shaun broke by the 60-foot mark because of Fortin transmission gremlins. Lisa eased off and hit the traps at only 134 mph, but still posted an 8.95.
The other exciting first-round action in Pro FWD centered on Team Bergenholtz. Ed Bergenholtz qualified the Boost Mobile Mazda 6 in the second spot with a promising 8.86 at 160 mph. Dr. Charles Madrid, mad scientist of all things Honda, was at the controls of the original Team Bergenholtz CRX and the cars were matched in the first round. The Good Doctor strapped a .196 light on Bergenholtz (.295). The Mazda was quicker by a blink of the eye, at 8.709 to 8.769. The victory went to the underdog Madrid by .0390, a bit less than a fender. Top qualifier Nelson Hoyos and the Bothwell Motorsports/GM Racing Cavalier (8.47 in qualifying) had a single but still dropped an 8.53 on the field.
Round two paired Hoyos and Kubo. Kubo continued the ION's quick evolution with an 8.81 at a super-fast 171 mph, but Hoyos had his game face on, posting an 8.48. Dr. Charles putt-putted his Bye run to set up the final. Hoyos ran a slower 8.67, but Dr. Charles also slowed and we saw something fly off the car and he got squirrelly at the traps. Hoyos has a real stranglehold on the class championship as the series heads to Portland.
In Turbo Magazine Hot Rod, the other Bothwell Motorsports/GM Racing entry, Marty Ladwig's, was also atop the points race but it was a much closer pace. Hometown hero Kenny Tran grabbed the pole position and valuable points after the first round of qualifying (8.96). But in the third heat, Ladwig answered with an 8.86.
Kenny's first-round opponent was none other than Mike Crawford and the Mopar Neon. These two cars have tangled on more than one occasion and always delivered lively racing.
In Las Vegas, Kenny pulled out a close one and went on to victory. In Dallas, the two provided the fireworks again. This time Crawford turned the tables on Tran by a scant .117 seconds, taking a .057 advantage off the line and running an 8.736 to Kenny's 8.796. This was a surprise as the Neon locked up the wheels violently in qualifying and had to be manuevered off the track on a jack. Crew chief Darrell Cox knows his stuff, having revived the Mopar all season long.
In round two, Ladwig's Sunfire launched and died. With Tran out, Crawford was the only title pursuer left in the field. Could he take advantage? He won his heat and had a Bye into the final.
In the other semi, Lance Ho Lung and the HP Racing Civic fired a warning shot with a wicked 8.58 at 174 mph. On qualifying day, long after our last lemonade, Lance was seen scurrying about the HP pit swapping a blown motor. He was short on crewmembers and as we got to the track on Saturday sipping our first Starbucks coffee of the day, he was still wrenching away.
In the final, both drivers cut outstanding lights; Ho Lung had a .086 and Crawford had a .057, but Ho Lung's 8.56 was too much for Crawford's 8.73. The long overdue victory was Lance's first ever and his wife and kids were in victory lane with him.
This turned out to be a bittersweet win for him. Days after putting his Wally on the mantle, Lance stepped down from his position with the HP Civic, citing family and business issues. He didn't rule out a return to the track as a driver exclusively and we hope to see him on the trail again in the future.
A weird aura permeated the "Honda Tuning" All-Motor Class; it was the purple haze surrounding newcomer Leslie Durst and her CRX. Leslie rolled off the trailer and grabbed the number one spot with a 10.52.
The Honda camp had a little to cheer about in a class sponsored by "Honda Tuning" magazine, as Texan Ken Scheepers (class points leader) and his '85 RX-7, Jesus Padilla in his '85 RX-7 and Scott Mohler have kept the "H" out of the limelight. For some reason, the Mazdas didn't feel as fast in Dallas.
After a slow Bye in the first stanza, Durst dropped a 10.51 in the second round to prove her .52 was no fluke. Scheepers posted a 10.77 single to set up the final pairing.
Durst hasn't been around all season and gave no indication in the final, improving yet again with a 10.35 to Scheepers' 10.87. Durst won her first event and sits a tenth off the class record.
The Texas Motorplex surface had soaked up a lot of heat and there were no Pro RWD qualifiers in the 6s. Abel Ibarra showed more signs of improvement atop the ladder with a 7.08. Craig Paisley came on the radar in his Toyota Tacoma sporting Supra power. He qualified sixth with a 7.79, beat Stephan Papadakis with a 7.54 and fell to Ara Arslanian with a 7.51; but, hey, it took a 6.91 to send him to the trailer.
Abel ran into the buzz saw that is George Ioannou, who made the pass of the weekend a straight-up sick 6.87 at 205 mph. The Pro RWD final was an all Street Glow affair as the matching Bullish/Street Glow Solara squared off. Team orders were in effect as points leader Ioannou (7.22) left first and Arslanian (7.02) waited and then took off.
Modified was a "don't blink or you'll miss it" affair, where Cesar Febus was untouchable. He blasted a 7.90 in qualifying and was nearly 3.5 seconds ahead of the other two cars in the field heading into eliminations. After a Bye, his final-round competitor broke off the line and Febus saved the equipment en route to an easy Wally.
The NHRA Auto Trader Magazines Texas Nationals put two new faces in the winner's circle, saw Hot Rod tighten and Pro FWD slip further away. The NHRA heads into the home stretch with the next stop in the Woodburn, Ore.