BRISTOL, Tenn. - Racing for the first time at the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League Eastern Conference Finals presented by ViperizerRacing.com, Royal Purple Raceway made a strong initial impression, taking team championship in dramatic fashion. The team title came down to the outcome of the final race of the event, and when Brooke Heckel turned on the win light in the 16-17 class final, she not only earned individual honors but lifted her team to the top.
Royal Purple Team 1 entered the final rounds one point behind Maple Grove Raceway Team 2. When Heckel won, that put the two teams in a tie at 30 points. The tiebreaker is number of event champions. Royal Purple had one, Heckel, while Maple Grove had none, giving the Houston, Texas, track top honors.
Royal Purple Team 2 finished third with 29 points, followed by Bristol Dragway Team 1 with 28 and Lucas Oil Raceway Park Team 1 and Virginia Motorsports Park Team 2 tied for fifth with 26 points apiece.
Joining Heckel as an individual champion were Lizzie Martel (age 8-9), Chelsea Ozell Brown (10), Arabella Maitland (11), Jarrod Kissinger (12), Devin Kiser (13), Derek Raymond (14), and Camryn Frederickson (15). All were first-time winners at the event that is one of two national-level competitions for racers in the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League.
Martel, a Milan, Mich., resident who was representing Milan Dragway, outlasted Des Moines, Iowa's Camren Laffoon, a member of the Beacon Dragway team, to earn the 8-9 age group Wally. In the final, Martel got off the starting line first, .095 to .221, and wheeled her dragster to a 12.15 (12.05 dial) to beat Laffoon's closer but losing 12.05 (12.02).
Renick, W.Va., runner Brown chalked one up for host track Bristol when she paired a .074 light with an 8.91 (8.90) to turn on the win light over Ethan Hubbard in the 10-year-old class final. Hubbard, who made the trip from Princess Anne, Md., and represented U.S. 13 Dragway, broke out by ..009-second in his runner-up effort.
The 11-year-old class final was decided on the starting line when Bristol regular Kaden Haynes, who hails from Mount Carmel, Tenn., went red. That gave the automatic nod to Maitland, a Brenham, Texas, racer who was part of the third-place Royal Purple team. Maitland had a .019 light and ran right on her 9.02 dial on her victory pass.
The 12-year-old age group came down to a pair of Pennsylvania racers, Kissinger, who is from Sinking Spring, and Benjamin Spotts, from Douglassville. Kissinger, who was part of the Cecil County Dragway team, had the better light and ran closer to his dial, posting an 8.93 (8.90) to get the win. Spotts, a Maple Grove racer, settled for runner-up honors with a 9.00 (8.92).
Bristol team member Kiser, who lives in Corryton, Tenn., got the better of National Trail Raceway's Nicholas Altenbach in the 13-year-old bracket. Kiser had a starting-line advantage of more than a hundredth in the final, and he turned it into an 8.05 (7.98) to 7.92 (7.94) win against Altenbach, who is from Westerville, Ohio, and is a former Eastern Conference Finals champion.
South Lyon, Mich., racer Raymond made one of the best runs of eliminations in the 14-year-old class final to earn top honors. Raymond who was part of the Mid-Michigan Motorplex team, cut a .003 light then ran .009-second over his 8.02 dial to turn on the win light against Cullman, Ala., runner Mitchell Seymour. Seymour, who represented Montgomery Motorsports Park, cut a .032 light and ran a 7.97 (7.93).
After putting together the best package of eliminations in the quarterfinals to win his age group's Battle of the Best: East vs. West trophy, Palm Harbor, Fla.'s Frederickson went the distance in the 15-year-old bracket, outlasting Severn, Md., competitor Brad Keyton. In the final, Keyton, who was on the Mason-Dixon Dragway team, had the better light, but Frederickson, an Orlando Speed World Dragway racer, drove around him and won on an 8.44 (8.41) to 8.16 (8.09) count.
The 16-17 class final was the last race of the weekend, and it was also one of the best with the final outcome decided by just .004-second. Both Heckel and Rachael Whitney, a Virginia Motorsports Park competitor who lives in Newport News, Va., dialed 7.90s for the final. Heckel, a Baytown, Texas, resident, had a .001-second advantage on the Tree, then ran .003-second closer to the 7.90 target in the great 7.931 to 7.934 match.
During the event, drivers were also competing for special Battle of the Best: East vs. West trophies, which were awarded driver with the best package of eliminations in each age group. In addition to 15-year-old champion Frederickson, whose .014 package was the best of that age bracket, other Battle of the Best champs were Gavin Roth (age 8-9, .052 package), Alex Kish (10, .028), Haynes (11, .015), Madi Pennington (12, .009), Charlotte Mallow (13, .015), Garrett Freeman (14, ..010), and Christopher Dovenbarger (16-17, .007).
Dovenbarger's .007-second package was the best package recorded at both the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League Western and Eastern Conference Finals, making him the overall champion on the Battle of the Best. Dovenbarger will receive a custom-painted helmet from Brando Custom Paint, which did the piston-adorned trophies given to each age-group champ at each event.
The Team Spirit award was again hotly contested with several teams making strong cases for winning it. In the end, Maple Grove Raceway was awarded the honor, outlasting the efforts of Bristol Dragway, National Trail Raceway, Summit Motorsports Park, Atlanta Dragway, and others. Other special-awards winners were Jackson Core (Brando Custom Paint Best Overall Appearing Car), Katie Hall (Brando Custom Paint Best Appearing Theme Car), Trinity Marshall (Brando Custom Paint Coolest Car), and Crossroads Dragway (Best Appearing Track).
The following are the final results from the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League, Eastern Conf. Finals from Bristol Dragway:
8-9 YEAR OLDS
10 YEAR OLD
11 YEAR OLD
12 YEAR OLD
13 YEAR OLD
14 YEAR OLD
15 YEAR OLD
16-17 YEAR OLD