An epic season of quarter-mile battles came to an end at Pomona and hard-charging import drag racers used the occasion to make one last assault on the NHRA record book. The drama went beyond the track as the race was held amidst the worst wild fire outbreak in California history. In fact, on Sunday, one of the fires was three to six miles away from the track in the nearby foothills. We heard rumors that houses across the street from the track were given voluntary evacuation notices.
But, the show must go on and, boy, was it rolling. When the smoke cleared (sorry) we had the ultimate Cinderella story, two female class winners, and some historic performances.
As has been the case for most of the 2003 season, George Ioannou and Ara Arslanian of the Street Glow/Bullish Racing team pulled off 6-second performances. The Solaras went 6.778 at 206 mph (George) and 6.98 at 204.43 mph (Ara) in the first qualifying stanza.
Stephan Papadakis joined them later with a stout 6.882 while Matt Scranton and the Turbonetics Celica and Abel Ibarra and the K&N Filters RX-7 just missed the 6s with 7.044 and 7.065 runs respectively.
As hot as it was at the top of the tree, the danger would come from below. Hiroshi Shiobara squeaked in the field with a 9.045 in the Escort Racing Service 300ZX. In the first round, Shiobara got by class champion Ioannou who had problems at the line and could only manage a 10.11. In the semis, Matt Scranton popped something off the line and sputtered 20 feet, so Shiobara advanced. Would his Cinderella story come to fruition against Steph and the AEM Civic in the final?
Steph moved first, while Shiobara had issues at the start. But the glass slipper fit when Steph drifted offline in the dark. He crossed the centerline, handing the Wally to the would-be princess. Starting slow was a blessing for Shiobara because things could have been tragic if the Nissan was at speed when Steph swerved into the other lane.
In Pro FWD, it was all about being the first in the 7s. After three rounds of qualifying, Lisa Kubo and the APC/Saturn Motorsports ION were at the threshold with an 8.046 at 185.68 mph, well under the class record. Class champion Nelson Hoyos was poised to break the barrier with an 8.146 at 192.38 mph. Team Bergenholtz's Mazda 6 blasted an 8.32 to qualify third. And class record holder Shaun Carlson ran an 8.45.
In eliminations, Lisa had a Bye in the first round. Would she save the car are be gunning for a record? The burnout dropped a hint and at the green the Saturn screamed down the track, stopping the clock in 8.087, which easily backed up the .046. Minutes after having his record of 8.22 crushed, Shaun Carlson made a stab at 7s with a wild 8.195 at 178 mph. In the next round, the two squared off; Lisa won with a sizzling 8.101. This set up a Kubo vs. Hoyos final. Hoyos had problems at about 330 feet and Kubo had to fight the car down the track. Her 8.70 was good enough for the Wally. Sevens in Pro FWD will have to wait until next year.
In Honda Tuning All-Motor barrier breaking was at the forefront as well. The mission; be the first NHRA all-motor car in the nines. Rising star Leslie Durst made a statement rolling off the trailer and blasting a 10.001 at 134 mph. The top five qualifiers were Durst (10.001), Ken Scheepers (10.215), Scott Mohler (10.218), Jack Sacchette (10.228) and Bisi Ezerioha (10.261). This was one of the fastest all-motor fields ever as the slowest car posted an 11.35.
In eliminations, Durst dropped a 10.155 on number 16 qualifier, Lo Vang. Mohler and Scheepers, who are in a tight points race, also advanced. In round two, Sacchette and his '64 Beetle joined the battle for the 9s with a smooth 10.091.
Then Durst made history with a 9.934 at 134.99 mph, becoming the first NHRA All-Motor racer in the 9s, setting the NHRA record in the 9s and becoming the quickest All-Motor spec import.
In the semis, the two title contenders battled the quickest cars in the class. In the first pairing, Mohler's nice 10.31 couldn't beat Durst's amazing 10.011. The next pairing was Sacchette and Scheepers; if Scheepers won, he'd be class champion, but if he lost, Mohler would be the champion. Sacchette's 10.14 was too much as Scheepers slowed on the top end. In an anticlimactic money race, Sacchette red-lit on a 10.08 pass, giving the win to Durst.
Over in Modified, Vinny Ten ruled the day. The Queens, N.Y., native made the most of his first West Coast trip. His JZA80 Supra has been the dominant force in the class late in the season. Vinny reeled off a 7.871 to qualify first and 7.851-, 7.833- and 7.725-second e.t.s in eliminations to take the win. Vinny needs a sponsor, and we want to see more of him here so step up, sponsers!
In Turbo Magazine Hot Rod, the top five qualifiers ran 8s. The ladder was topped by class champion Marty Ladwig (8.648) followed by points runner-up Mike Crawford (8.764), Sav Leone (8.809), Bruce Mortensen (8.812) and Gary Gardella (8.861). In eliminations, Ladwig kept the 8s flowing until he encountered trouble in the semis. In a meeting of champions, both cars were wounded and Ladwig outlasted 2002 champ Mortensen to advance to the finals.
Ladwig faced number two qualifier Crawford in the money race. After getting a good jump, Crawford's Mopar Neon came to a stop and there were flames under the car. He'd chucked a rod through the block while Ladwig exorcised his demons and laid down an 8.89 for the win.
The 2003 season was a wild ride and the NHRA record book suffered quite a beating. The 2004 season should be even more exciting, with aftermarket trannies approved for use in Hot Rod and some wicked Pro FWD cars going together. We'll be out there, too. Check Backpressure (pg. 114) for the 2004 NHRA and NDRA schedules.
|2003 NHRA/SUMMIT SPORT COMPACT DRAG RACING SERIES CHAMPIONS|
|PRO RWD||George Ioannou|
|PRO FWD||Nelson Hoyos|
|HOT ROD||Marty Ladwig|