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Sun, 26 Dec 2010, 11:02 AM

Good Guys, Great Competition, Worthy Champs
By Kelly Wade
Photo copyright 2010 Robert Grice






Ryan "Chase" Copeland
They call themselves The Good Guys, those racers based in NHRA's South Central Division, and the large majority of competitors call the great state of Texas or surrounding areas home. One thing is for certain: Ya'll should know that the friendly off-track nature of this group is tempered with a deep desire to kick some tail on the 1320, as exemplified by 2010 division champs Ryan "Chase" Copeland (Top Alcohol Dragster), Tony Bartone (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Joey Tanksley (Comp), and Keith Raftery (Top Sportsman and Top Dragster).

The Top Alcohol Dragster numbers showed a tie at season's end between Gainesville, Texas, driver Copeland and fellow Texan Michael Manners; they each posted 278 marks but Copeland broke the tie with a better outcome at his counted Division 4 events.

Manners traveled south to start the season early and pocketed points for a win at Gainesville Raceway over final-round opponent and division rival Monroe Guest, who kept his own points meter ticking as he reeled in another runner-up at the first South Central event, held at Texas Motorplex. The victory was awarded to rookie Kristen Wootton, of Magnolia, Texas, who set career best numbers en route to her first trophy.


Michael Manners
Copeland, driver of the Snow Racing A/Fuel Dragster, got on the board with a runner-up at the second Division 4 meet, held at Houston Raceway Park. Mark Taliaferro of Odessa, Texas, made his best run of the weekend to win their money-round match. Two weeks later, Copeland again went to the final, this time in Tulsa, where he was stopped by No. 1 qualifier Manners.

A quick trip up to Topeka for the Division 5 event yielded little reward, but Copeland drove right back to the title round when he returned to his home division for the meet at Belle Rose. David Brounkowski earned the crown and secured a top 5 finish in the region, but Copeland's runner-up marks were important to his eventual season victory. Shortly after the Belle Rose race, Copeland landed his first national event victory back home at the Motorplex, enabling a top 10 finish in the national standings.

Following the Tulsa win, Manners attended three more Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events (Belle Rose, Noble, Okla., and the Division 7 event in Las Vegas), but he was unable to advance from the first round. Copeland finished the year without fanfare but with the title in hand, exiting in the second round in Noble and also at two out-of-division events (Reynolds, Ga., and Las Vegas). Guest was third in the division with three final rounds and 234 marks.


Tony Bartone
Bartone, who cleared a fourth place finish in the Pacific Division last season, returned to the top as a South Central claimer this year. The former Top Alcohol Funny Car national champion was hitting hard from the get-go, logging back-to-back wins in Dallas and Houston, picking up a round in Tulsa, getting back into the winner's circle in Belle Rose, exiting in the second round in Noble, and finishing off with a final-round performance at the Division 7 event in Las Vegas. His 362 points at the conclusion of the year were 126 ahead of second-place Chris Foster.

The Long Island City, N.Y., resident also visited two final rounds on the national event level and was fourth in national points driving the Rick Jackson Racing Centre Pointe Collision Center Ford Mustang.

The highpoint of the division chase for Foster was a runner-up at the event in Tulsa, and former Division champion Lee Callaway, of Channelview, Texas, enjoyed a portion of the glory when he went to the final round in Houston and was the titlist in Tulsa.

Glenwood, Iowa's Kirk Williams won the final meet within the division, stopping Sean O'Bannon in the final.


Joey Tanksley
In 2009, Tanksley competed in just four events and finished the season 8th in the division's Competition Eliminator standings. This year, the crown was his after running hard from April to October and then sitting back to watch and wait. The Tanksley family effort was effective, and the 281 points they garnered were enough to earn the championship with 271-mark earner Don Thomas coming in second.

Ernest Watson won the first event in the region, where Thomas was runner-up and Tanksley accumulated an unpromising 30 points, but the dismal outing for the eventual champ was but a memory at the next event, Houston, where he notched a victory in his C/Dragster over local racer Adam White. He picked up a few more combined rounds at the Tulsa and Belle Rose events and went to the third round at the Division 2 race in Atlanta before finishing with a round-win at the Noble South Central closer. Then the waiting game began.

Thomas followed his title-round performance at Texas Motorplex with a trip to the semifinals in Houston and round wins in Tulsa, the Division 5 race in Topeka, and Noble. Taking a last shot at the title, the Amarillo, Texas, driver headed west to Division 7's meet at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but fell in the first round, and the crown was secure in the possession of Tanksley.

Keith Hall, hailing from Ravenna, Texas, was third in the division on the basis of a runner-up and a trip to the semifinals along with a handful of round wins, and Watson finished fourth in the South Central standings.


Keith Raftery
The season was twice as nice for Raftery, who put together his third consecutive Division 4 Top Sportsman championship winning year and claimed the Top Dragster title for the first time after finishing third in the category in 2009.

The Lake Charles, La., racer tallied 378 points in his seven outings for an 86 point lead over second place Allen Firestone when every event was completed in Top Sportsman competition. Mark Pickens pulled in the No. 3 spot on 270 points over the course of seven races.

Raftery kicked off his season with a trip to the semifinals in Belle Rose and accelerated towards another championship with back-to-back wins in Dallas and Houston. Tulsa and the Division 5 race in Topeka were non-producers, but he wheeled his GTO to victory again in his return to Belle Rose to keep the competition at bay.

Firestone's best performance of the year came at the Topeka meet, where he was the victor over fellow South Central competitor Jerry Holt in the money round. Pickens' respectable season included a win in Tulsa and a semifinals visit at Division 2's Silver Dollar Raceway. Heidi Robison, of Gardner, Kan., won in Noble and came in fourth in the division.


Keith Raftery
The Top Dragster battle went down to the wire, with Raftery traveling West to Las Vegas and going to the final round to secure the gold. He drove his Undercover rail to a win at the first event he attended at Belle Rose, didn't fare so well in Dallas, but went to the semifinals in Houston to remain a contender.

Crown Point, Louisiana's Pete Vicari was hitting them out of the park in the first half of the season, though, winning the Dallas meet and then again in Houston. Jerry Story, hailing from Norman, Okla., was looking to be a threat as well. His runner-up in Dallas and trip to the semis in Houston put him on the radar, as did a Houston final round for Highland, Texas-based Mike Weaver.

But Raftery's wise journey to sin city was the decider; the double-up champ clocked out for the year with 346 marks on his Top Dragster scorecard to Vicari's 302 and Story's 282.

The ace multi-class competitor also enjoyed success on the national event trail, pulling in a victory over Dave Connolly at the Cajun SPORTSnationals in the Top Dragster category. Rounding out an awesome year, Raftery was a four-time division winner in five final rounds.

Sit tight. The South Central champion recaps will be continued soon.

Division Four Top Alcohol Dragster Top Ten Point Standings
Pos Driver                    Points Events
1   Ryan Copeland               278   8 
2   Michael Manners             278   7 
3   Monroe Guest                234   6 
4   David Brounkowski           181   4 
5   Mark Taliaferro III         171   3 
6   James Thompson Jr           170   4 
7   Kristen Wootton             149   3 
8   Forrest Fair                 97   2 
9   Buddy Domingue               96   3 
10  Malcolm Wahle                75   2 

Division Four Top Alcohol Funny Car Top Ten Point Standings
Pos Driver                    Points Events
1   Tony Bartone                362 6 
2   Chris Foster                236 7 
3   Lee Callaway                181 3 
4   Steve Burck                  96 2 
5   Bryan Brown                  64 2 
6   Ron Morrison                 42 2 
7   Ro Yale                      33 1 
8   Burl Brown                   32 1 

Division Four Top Alcohol Funny Car Top Ten Point Standings
Pos Driver                    Points Events
1   Joey Tanksley               281   7 
2   Donald Thomas               271   7 
3   Keith Hall                  260   5 
4   Ernest Watson Sr.           259   7 
5   Mike Trumble Jr             249   6 
6   Charles Watson Jr.          238   6 
7   Clark Smiley                216   7 
8   Scott Cashio                207   4 
9   Craig Bourgeois             205   7 
10  Dennis Smiley               183   7 

Division Four Top Sportsman Top Ten Point Standings
Pos Driver                    Points Events
1   Keith Raftery               378   7 
2   Allen Firestone             292   7 
3   Mark Pickens Sr             270   7 
4   Heidi Robison               248   5 
5   Vince Hoda                  239   7 
6   Jerry Holt                  238   6 
7   Jeffrey Cummins Jr.         227   6 
8   Bob Gulitti                 216   5 
9   Daniel Leibham              205   6 
10  Kyle Firestone              194   6 

Division Four Top Dragster Top Ten Point Standings
Pos Driver                    Points Events
1   Keith Raftery               346   8 
2   Pete Vicari                 302   8 
3   Jerry Story                 282   8 
4   Mike Weaver                 249   6 
4   Mark Jones                  249   5 
6   Robert Lejeune              238   6 
7   Jimmy Lewis                 237   9 
8   Jimmy Arabie Jr.            227   6 
8   John Garner                 227   6 
8   Scott Barker                227   7 





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