Mon, 27 Dec 2010, 06:08 PM
Thanks to the Lucas Oil Racers for Another Great Year
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2010 Auto Imagery, Inc.
Ferro vs. Manzo
As you all know, old habits die hard. For years we (I) always referred to racers as "professional"
and "sportsman." Those in the Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle classes
were called pros and all the other classes were known as sportsman racers. The motorcycles only
became a full-fledged professional class, officially, in 1987 when they got a series sponsor and
started running for a real national championship. Prior to that, they were run at a variety of
races in a variety of forms that included Top Fuel, Pro Stock and even Funny Bike classes. And, for
a few years the Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Cars were referred to as "Federal Mogul" cars when
that company sponsored the classes. Then along came the Pro Mod cars who were treated like the
bikes were in their formative years. In fact, they were also treated like the original Funny Cars
were back in the late 1960's. Anyway, this all leads me to a point that I made once or twice during
the season and that is this. The NHRA now has three distinct racing groups, the Full Throttle drag
racers, the Lucas Oil racers and the Get Screened American racers. None are (or should be) referred
to as professional or sportsman classes. It's just like NASCAR with their Sprint series, Nationwide
series and the Camping World Truck series. Or at least it should be. So with that in mind, and
behind me for now, I'd like to point out a few, a very few, of the highlights from the NHRA Lucas
Oil racers in 2010. Keep in mind the total number of runs by these racers in a year is staggering,
so I'm bound to miss a lot (most) of the highlights from the year, so if your favorite isn't in
here, please understand. Please!!
Tony Bartone at Pomona 2.
I would have to start with the strong season that the two top winners in the series had, Bill
Reichert and Frank Manzo. As I mentioned right after the Lucas Oil awards presentation, Bill has
put himself into a very select group with his fifth consecutive title and Frank, well, he's Frank.
With fourteen national championships to his credit Mr. Manzo is just one behind that John Force guy
for the most titles in NHRA history. Anyway you look at it, that's pretty good company. But while
Bill and Frank took home the big hardware this year, they did get serious challenges from two guys
who had career years in 2010. Chris Demke, driving for Jerry Maddern, won three national events in
2010 and had a shot at the championship until the last day of the year. Mickey Ferro, who put up
numbers that would have been good enough to win a championship in a lot of other seasons, won
twenty-nine rounds at national events this year and that's very impressive. Equally impressive was
the 5.49 run that he made at Gainesville against Frank. The only problem was that Frank was going
5.47 in his lane. Still, for Mickey and his partner Anthony Terenzio, they had a fabulous year and
they should be proud of everything they accomplished. Ditto for Chris, Jerry and the Peen Rite
team....As good a year as Frank had he actually lost ground in one department. Beginning the 2010
season Frank had nine of the ten quickest runs in the class. Only Bob Tasca's 5.451 at Gainesville
in 2007 was better than anything Frank had run. Well, at the end of the 2010 season, Frank has
eight of the ten quickest runs in the class. That's because Tony Bartone, in Rick Jackson's car,
stunned everyone with a 5.449 - 266.00 mph blast at the last race of the season. That's quicker and
faster than anyone in the history of TAFC, including Frank. When you can make a statement like that
you should be very proud of what you, your car and your team did.Looking at what Tony, Frank,
Mickey and the others did in 2010 my first prediction for the new year is that we will see a
5.3-second run in the alky Funny Car class next year. Clip that out and put it on your
Al Ackerman gets special mention for the year he had in Competition Eliminator. I believe I had
earlier stated that Al had the most points in Comp history, but he actually had the second most.
Bruno Massel put up 718 last year and Al tallied 717 this year. Like Demke, 2010 was a "break-out"
year for Al who has been racing for a long while and has always been competitive, but he never had
a year like he did in 2010, but then, who has?...Two other Comp drivers made my "Best Of" list this
year and they did it at the same track but they did it ten months apart. To start the season, Brian
Fitzpatrick brought his little H/D to Pomona and quickly grabbed the top spot with a stunning
6.223. That, for the Comp junkies out there, was .777 under his national index. It was also one of
the most spectacular runs in Comp history, at least in my mind. When you consider that he was
driving a turbocharged six-cylinder car, that 6.223 is simply amazing. At that same race John
Mihovetz was the number two qualifier with a 6.505 and that was .765 under his index. But it was at
Pomona in November that John really got everyone's attention. At the last race of the season John
cranked out an other-worldly 6.333 at over 231 mph. For the record that was .937 under his index.
Neither Brian nor John won the races where they set those big numbers but their performances earn a
spot in the Comp Hall of Fame nonetheless. At least I think they do. Congratulations to both.
Remember, Bruno won the championship in '09 with a turbo car so maybe, just maybe, they are the
wave of the future in Competition Eliminator.
Rampy celebrates '03 win.
It seems that not a year goes by that David Rampy doesn't do something extraordinary and 2010 was
no exception. While he didn't win the championship or finish in the top ten, both of which are news
worthy when talking about David, he did manage to win three national events which brought his total
to 74 for his great career. That, by the way, puts him sixth on the all-time NHRA win list and he's
just one behind Pat Austin. But that's not the only thing he did this year. When David beat Lou
Ficco in the finals at Topeka it marked the eighth time that he had won the Heartland Park Topeka
event. For any driver to win one national event eight times is special, but to beat the guys David
had in Kansas makes it even more special. Over the years his wins have come against Lou, Dan
Fletcher, Thomas Schmidt, Al Weiss, Doug Engels, Larry Mayes, Jeg Coughlin and Todd Patterson.
That's a very good list of drivers to beat anytime let alone in the finals at the same event over
the years. David is one of the truly nice people in the sport and he works hard at what he does,
and with the help of Barry Davis he is, truly, one of the great drag racers of all time. Just for
the record, he has also been runner-up at that event four times including in 1993 when he lost to
Larry Morgan, not in Comp but in Pro Stock.
Ben Wenzel vs. David Rampy
in Norwalk final.
Any mention of the year in the Lucas Oil ranks would not be complete without a mention of the Stock
Eliminator Champion at Norwalk and that would be one Mr. Benton Wenzel. I'm sure you know the
story, he won the 1967 U.S. Nationals in a Chevrolet Camaro that he had just purchased. He then
went almost forty-three years before winning another event and he did it in the same car that he
won with in '67. I have the pleasure of saying that I witnessed both of those races, and I don't
think there is a person in the sport, maybe even including the guy he beat in the final round at
Norwalk, who wasn't happy to see Ben win. And in case you've forgotten, the guy in the other lane
just happened to be David Rampy. Now I ask you, how cool is that? By the way, I had occasion to be
going through the entry list for the 1963 Nationals the other day and I saw Ben's name there, too.
He was driving a 1961 Chevrolet and I wonder if he still has that car.
John Bojec at Reading.
I also had a couple of drivers on my "Most Improved" list this year. In the for-what-it's worth
category (as most of my stuff is) I included the aforementioned Chris Demke on that rather short
list along with John Bojec. John, who competes in the Top Alcohol Funny Car class, had a wonderful
season that included his first national event win at Maple Grove. That came shortly after a
devastating DQ at Indy where he came up a few pounds short at the scales after his semi-final round
win over Tony Bartone. John shook that off and had a great run in Pennsylvania where he beat Steve
Harker to get the win. All year long John had been making steady gains in performance and it all
paid off at the Grove. Oh yeah, I almost forgot that John also ran a career best numbers this year,
a 5.571 at Indy and a 258.07 pass in Chicago.
Vinny Barone vs. Kevin Robb
One of the more colorful racers in Competition Eliminator history has to be Vinny Barone. Vinny,
who won the World Championship in 1986, has been a fixture at the NHRA races for over two decades.
In the past he has been a national championship driver, and in 1995, a national championship owner
when Sal Biondo drove for him. But you'd be hard pressed, with all that Vinny "Bad to the Bone"
Barone has done, to find a more successful year than 2010. Along with Sal Biondo, Anthony Bertozzi
and Kevin Robb who all drove for Vinny this year, they had a record that will be hard to match,
even for Mr. Barone. As a driver, Vinny won the Atlanta race for the second time in the last five
years when he beat none other than Al Ackerman in the finals. He also made it to the final in
Pomona where he lost to Dan Fletcher. Hey, a lot of guys have lost to Dan, but just getting to the
final round at one of the NHRA's top events is quite an accomplishment. Vinny was also the
runner-up at the Division 1 race at Lebanon Valley. Sal, meanwhile, won Gainesville in Super Stock
and he won Englishtown in Comp. He almost pulled off the ever-popular "double-up" in E'town when he
also went to the final round in Super Stock. Throw in four finals at divisional races, including a
win in Las Vegas, and Sal and Vinny had a very good year together. Anthony was runner-up at
Englishtown in Comp (to Sal) while Kevin got into the picture with a final round showing in Comp at
Atco. I may have missed one or two, but take my word for it, Vinny fielded some very good cars, had
Sal Biondo vs. Anthony Bertozzi
in the Englishtown final.
great drivers and had a year that was good even by Vinny's high standards. But no matter what he
does on the track, Vinny, the fierce competitor that he is, will tell you that nothing makes him
smile like knowing that his daughter, Elizabeth, is happy. I know that because when Vinny won
Atlanta and when the engine busted in the other Comp car at that same race (and that can be very
costly), Vinny's only thoughts after the race were about Elizabeth. "As long as she's healthy I'm
happy," he said. Hey, maybe Vinny isn't that tough after all. Congrats to him and his entourage and
I can't wait to see how they line up in 2011.
One last word, and I know that I just did a story on him a few weeks ago, but I have to mention
Jeff Hefler. To win two division titles and to bring a pair of cars to Pomona for the Summit E/T
finals is quite an accomplishment. But when he almost "doubled" in Pomona, well, that was one of
the great driving jobs of the year. Jeff did win in the Sportsman class and just lost to Butch
Weinreich in the Pro final. Still, to get so close against some of the best drivers in the country
has to earn him a special mention from me. And Jeff Lopez, who was the only Lucas Oil racer to win
two classes at a divisional race this year, also deserves a tip of the cap. Jeff won both Super
Comp and Super Gas at the Noble, Oklahoma race to put his name of a short list of drivers who have
won twice at the same event. Way to go, Jeff.
I know there were a lot of other great accomplishments in 2010, like Dan Fletcher's five wins, Tony
Mandella's first (and second) win, Marco Abruzzi winning in St. Louis, Steve Benoit's third silver
anniversary race win in Dallas and Mike Ferderer's fourteenth top ten finish, but these stand out
in my mind. To all of the men and women who compete in the Lucas Oil series, and to all the friends
and family that support them, thanks for giving us another great year of racing action. And while
the start of the Full Throttle series may still be sixty-two days away, the Lucas Oil season starts
in a mere forty-nine days. I can't wait.
Oh yes, there is one more thing (or did I say that already?). I want to thank Forest and Charlotte
Lucas for all they do to help the racers across the country. They all can't tell Forrest and
Charlotte personally, but they all do appreciate everything the Lucas family does, and I know that
because they tell me. The series is strong and better because of them, so for all the racers who
will be shooting for a Lucas Oil World Championship next year, thanks to Lucas Oil for all you do.
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