POMONA, Calif. -- Abel Ibarra has always loved the thrill of speed. Ibarra got hooked on going fast at a young age when his uncle used to speed him around Los Angeles in his Trans Am. Soon thereafter you could find him behind the wheel of one of his signature Mazda's which he's been racing since his teenage years in the mid-1980s.
Ibarra, from Mira Loma, Calif., will be chasing a championship at the inaugural Mazda NHRA Import World Finals presented by Toyo Tires, Sept. 29-30, at Pomona Raceway, the final of six races in the $120,000 NHRA Summit Import Drag Racing Series.
At 32, with more than 15 years of racing experience, Ibarra is one of the veterans on the import drag racing scene, so he has seen, firsthand, the swift growth of import drag racing. Ibarra doesn't see the rising popularity of import drag racing slowing any time soon.
"I think the future is pretty big," said Ibarra whose two cars have combined for more than 20 import event victories. "I think, down the road, the imports will blow away the domestics at the Pro Stock and Sportsman levels."
Ibarra, who pilots his Toyo Tires/K&N Air Filters-sponsored 1998 Mazda RX7, attributes the growth of import drag racing to the wide variety of automobile choices for consumers.
"The kids have so many cars to choose from, Mazda, Toyota, Honda, Mitbubishi," said Ibarra. "These cars are neat, fast and economical and the aftermarket companies will miss the boat if they don't cater towards the import crowd. So, with all the equipment out there, it's pretty easy to build a fast car."
Earlier this summer, Efren Vasquez drove Ibarra's 1970 Mazda R100 in the Super Comp division at the Pep Boy 50th Anniversary Nationals at Pomona Raceway and Ibarra plans to campaign his Mazda RX7 at the Auto Club Finals and possibly compete in a few NHRA Federal Mogul Series divisional events. However, he doesn't see too many import racers competing against the domestics.
"I don't think they'd be committed enough to go to the divisional races and earn points," said Ibarra. "Plus they'd be intimidated that they might break something and embarrass themselves, but I'm confident enough in our abilities that we'll go out there and put on a great show for the fans."
Heading into the final race, Ibarra is within striking distance of his two toughest competitors, Team Puerto Rico and Ben Ma's ABS Ford Focus, for the Pro category championship, so he is looking forward to racing at his home track
"Pomona Raceway is our local track, so our friends who wouldn't normally be able to see us race can come out and have fun," said Ibarra. "When prepped right, Pomona is a very fast race track and we know we can do well. Since this our sponsors race there is a little added pressure to do well for them, but we'll just go out and race our race and we're confident we'll do well."
Ibarra feels the NHRA's decision to get involved in import drag racing has the potential to deliver many positives to the up-and-coming sport.
"I think NHRA's involvement can be really good," said Ibarra. "With their
involvement, big sponsors will pay attention and make a commitment to the sport.
The quality of the fields have been great, all the top teams have been showing up to
the NHRA events. With the NHRA series expanding next year it will give more racers
the opportunity to commit to it. We can only do so much, and with all the different
sanctioning bodies it makes it tough. The expansion is great for me because next
year I can commit to running the NHRA and NIRA events."