Barriers were broken at the 2005 NHRA season kickoff at Moroso Motorsports Park. Said breakage was both literal and figurative as four cars suffered wicked top-end crashes and longtime import racers Ed Bergenholtz and Shawn Hillier had breakout performances, each nabbing their first-ever NHRA wins.
On the crumpled sheet metal side of the ledger Boris Rojas wrecked the infamous rotary-powered Datsun 1200 Pepe Loco, tumbling through the traps posting a 9.03 at 101 mph e.t. before slamming the wall mere feet past the finish and bursting into flames. Rojas was okay. Tirso San Juan, who put up the first 6-second run of 2005 in qualifying, got out of the groove in his first round match-up against Stephan Papadakis and finished his pass on his lid. Steve Topletz did a Tony Hawk-like 920 at the end of the strip, barrel rolling and catching major air in his Norwood-built T&T-backed Modified class Celica.
For those who successfully navigated the quarter mile there was fierce competition in every round. Stephan Papadakis, who was far out of contention when San Juan crashed made the most of his new lease on life as he defeated Matt Scranton in the Pro RWD final. While many will point to the "get even" aspect of the win (Steph lost the 2004 championship to Scranton by 11 points) Steph sees the big picture and this was merely the first step down a long road that he hopes will end with a championship.
In Pro FWD Ed Bergenholtz and his Golden Eagle Mazda6 defeated Jason Hunt, driving Lisa Kubo's old Saturn Motorsports Ion. The celebration on the line after the final was an outpouring of emotion; long overdue.
The two most thrilling finals were in Modified and Turbo Magazine Hot Rod. Modified 2004 class champion Paul Efantis had his hands full with Luis Ferrer Jr. Efantis and his Lucas Oil Solara parlayed a .067 to .130 second starting line advantage into a Wally by notching an 8.02 e.t. to Ferrer Jr.'s 8.16. In Hot Rod it was Ron Lummus in the Garrett Turbo Pontiac and Gary Gardella debuting his Ecko, Dupont-backed Chevy Cobalt. Lummus had a small advantage out of the whole with a .101 60-ft compared to Gardella's .132, but Gardella pulled ahead by a scant .033 seconds at the 330-foot mark. At half-track it was Lummus by a thinner .003 seconds. At the line Lummus' 8.119 was enough to beat Gardella's 8.188 by 25 feet.
The Skunk2 RSX delivered on its promising debut in late 2004 by rolling through the field. Like the NCAA basketball tournament the final pitted the number one and number two seeds. Jesus Padilla and his stout '85 RX-7 qualified on top with a 10.081 while the Skunk2 Acura, piloted by Shawn Hillier, posted a nearly identical 10.083 to take the number two spot. In the finals, Hillier piloted the RSX to victory lane with a 9.957 e.t. to Padilla's red-light 9.984.
The 2005 NHRA Sport Compact campaign will reach full boost quickly as there are four more events dropping in the next two months and a number of high-profile cars make their debut. Stay tuned.