ENNIS, Texas -- It was a day of unexpected and unpredictable excitement in AMS Pro Mod action at the O'Reilly NHRA Fall Nationals, and in the end, just like it has five other times this year, the last man standing was Josh Hernandez and his Dr. Moon's Rage '68 Camaro.
The Conroe, Texas resident drew a challenging side of the ladder, including fierce battles with Scott Bailey, Tony Pontieri, Jay Payne and Harold Laird to get to the winner's circle.
Jay Payne, who had a bye first round, had been on fire - delivering consistent numbers: 6.011/239.27 in his uncontested lap and 6.067/238.68 against Shelly Payne's 7.391/153.23 in round two. In the semifinal match between Hernandez and Jay, the two giants were fast off the tree, .029 for Hernandez and .031 for Payne, but the Dr. Moon's Rage Camaro never trailed, taking the stripe 6.012/240.21 to 6.046/239.57.
"Any time I run Jay, I know I'm in for a battle, because he's got one of the baddest hot rods out here," Hernandez said.
In Saturday night round-one action, Phillips, Neb. Resident Raymond Vettle and his stunning bright orange '70 Barracuda, leveled a surprising upset when heavily favored series sponsor Tim Tindle got sideways and shut down his '67 Shelby Mustang and watched as Vettle took the win light with a 6.508/210.54.
Tindle said, "I couldn't buy a break if they were on sale. When the tires broke free and I saw the wall, I just shook my head and said to myself, 'that didn't just happen, did it?' We'd been running so well, finally, I was really hoping I'd get farther into the field. But, that's racin'."
Runner-up Harold Laird in his Terry Coyle-tuned '63 Corvette left a wake of powerhouses en route to his U.S. Nationals rematch with Hernandez. Laird dodged a huge bullet in round one when hard charging Canadian Raymond Commisso in his R2B2 Motors Camaro shook hard and shut off before reaching the finish line. Commisso qualified tenth with a 6.127/233.16, but said he gave the tricky right lane too much power in the first round and smoked the tires. At the line, Laird turned in a 6.088/235.80 to Commisso's 10.653/68.61 to begin the march to the final.
Round two sparked controversy when No. 2 qualifier and new Texas Motorplex track speed record holder John Russo was timed out against Laird, costing him the win in what, on paper, should have been an exciting duel. According to NHRA officials, Russo had started the seven-second staging timer when his tire broke the laser beam, despite the incandescent lights not fully illuminating.
Russo said, "It didn't seem like seven seconds, that's for sure, but, we took a look at the computer, and reviewed NHRA's computers too, and I must have passed through and started the clock. They were correct and I did time out. I'm really disappointed, because I know we had a great car ready for that round. We've found a few things in this car, and I think our speed record proves that."
Russo set the speed mark at 241.80 in his first round win over 'Turbo' Troy Coughlin in his JEG'S.com yellow and black twin turbo.
Laird, on the other hand, was breathing a sigh of relief, as his Corvette ran an off-pace 6.267 but grabbed the win light and passed to the next round. In his semifinal match, Laird blasted past Steve Engel, delivering a 6.106/234.53 to defeat Engel's 6.177/238.81.
The final round was a re-match of the U.S. Nationals, pairing Laird and Hernandez, with Hernandez taking the win this time even before the race was won, as Laird fouled, leaving the line .033 seconds before the tree was activated.
Laird said, "I knew we'd have our hands full with Josh in the other lane, and I had to try something. He's always so quick off the line, I tried to cut a light on him, but it just didn't work out.
"In the end, though, to make the finals twice in a row is nothing short of amazing, especially since we had such a hard time even getting out here at the beginning of the year. Terry has done a great job for us, I can't thank him enough," he said.
Not only did Hernandez leave with the event win, he also was crowned the 2007 World Champion of the AMS Staff Leasing Pro Mod Challenge presented by Tindle Enterprises, Inc. on Saturday after eliminating all possibilities of being passed in the points race. In a ceremony held prior to the first round of eliminations, BAE founder Brad Anderson handed him a $25,000 check along with the coveted BAE Championship Cup.
Anderson said, "These guys really deserve this award. They worked hard all year, and definitely dominated the class. It really gives me pleasure to award them the title of World Champion."
"This weekend was just over the top," Hernandez said. "We've had an incredible season, and to win this for this amazing team -- it's really all about them. Dave Wood, Tommy Lipar, Howard Moon - all of these guys. They are the ones who deserve it.
In just three years of Pro Mod racing, Hernandez has ascended to the top after winning the Rookie of the Year honors in 2005 and placing third last year in the BAE Championship battle. Along with his team and sponsors, his wife, two sons, and his parents joined Hernandez when he received the award.
Low ET: Jay Payne 6.011 seconds Top Speed: John Russo 241.80 MPH (Track Record) AMS Pro Mod Challenge Points BAE Championship (After 8 races) Josh Hernandez 4104 (Clinched Championship) Jay Payne 2191 Raymond Commisso 2185 Tony Pontieri 1784 Steve Engel 1673 Tim Tindle 1571 Troy Critchley 1356 Shelly Payne 1248 Harold Laird 1220 Scott Ray 1120