RISING SUN, Md. - Cecil County Dragway played host this weekend to the NHRA Northeast Division Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series which was also the East Region closer for the Top Alcohol Dragster and Funny Car classes.
Karen Stalba, who endured a disappointing title defense last year after winning the 2011 Division 1 championship, got back on top in Top Alcohol Dragster, and incoming point's leader John Anderika clinched the championship by personally taking out the only two drivers who had a mathematical shot at overtaking him in Top Alcohol Funny Car.
Stalba, who did not qualify at five of six regional events last year and had won just one round so far this season, went from the No. 8 qualifying spot to victory, taking a final-round decision over current points leader Dan Page, 5.51 to 5.70. "For a year and a half, it's been nothing but frustration," Stalba said. "We got lost. Nothing went right all year last year, nothing went right all year this year, and nothing was going right at this race. We smoked the tires on both test runs on Thursday and when we did it again in the first qualifying session, I thought, 'Man, I hope we can just qualify. There were a lot of long faces around here."
Stalba ran a 5.53 on her final qualifying attempt to make the cut and upset No. 1 qualifier John Finke, who dominated qualifying with 5.30s on both runs, including a 5.31 that held up for low e.t., with a 5.51 in round one. Finke drove into smoke and was the third driver in a row not to make it down the right lane, which has always been the lane of choice at Cecil County and was throughout qualifying.
Dan Mercier ran a 6.67 in that lane and lost to Page's 5.52, and No. 2 qualifier Rich McPhillips slowed to a 6-flat in a loss to defending event champ Richard Bourke's 5.66. The only driver to win from the right lane was Jackie Fricke, who ran a 5.47 in Joe Cantrell's JC Auto Glass dragster to edge Wayne Morris, who ran a 5.54 in Cantrell's old car in the only close race of Top Alcohol Dragster eliminations.
Stalba stayed consistent in the semifinals with a 5.48 win over Fricke's up-in-smoke 10.09. Page set low e.t. of eliminations in the other semi with a 5.43 against Bourke, who had trouble firing, made it to the line at the last minute, and struggled to a 5.93.
In the final, Stalba became the only driver in either alcohol class to win in the right lane since Fricke beat Morris in the first pair after the National Anthem with a consistent 5.51 against Page's laboring 5.70. "Low 5.50s usually aren't enough, but on that track and in those conditions, it was exactly what we needed," said Stalba, who last scored two years ago at New England Dragway, also over Page in the final. "We tried something before the final session, it worked, we went further in that direction in eliminations and it worked even better, and the next thing you know, we won the race. It just goes to show that you never know, and hopefully, this was the start of a turnaround."
Anderika struggled in qualifying, ending up fourth in the short five-car field with a best of 5.87, but he came to life when conditions changed in eliminations. He won a crucial first-round race with Dan Pomponio, who won the first two regionals of the season, 5.72 to a tire-shaking 14.08, and beat Todd Veney in the semifinals, 5.70 to an up-in-smoke 9.95. Either of them could have won the regional title with a win at this event.
There was no runner-up. D.J. Cox, who hurt an engine on his only qualifying run, a 5.67, wounded another in a backpedaling 5.84 first-round win over Marie Ferriolo and didn't return for the semifinals. "I could have dragged it up there for the semifinals, taken the Tree, and shut off," he said, "and I could have done the same thing in the final, hoping the other guy red-lighted or crossed the centerline or something, but I'd had enough fun for one weekend."
With the win and the regional championship secured, Anderika putted down the track to a 21.58 at 50 mph for his second career win and second in a row. "This makes all the runner-ups and everything I've ever been through worth it," said Anderika, who was 0-10 in final-round competition from 2008 through June of this year. "We beat both of the guys who could have passed us, and everything happened the way it should have. Not many people knew, but I said at the beginning of the year that this is my last year driving. I'm retiring. Maple Grove is going to be my last race, and this is a perfect way to go out."
In Comp Eliminator, Frank Aragona grabbed his third win of the year while Byron Worner picked up his second having won last month in Epping, N.H. Aragona knocked out Pete Hanratty with a lap of 8.596 seconds at 117.49 mph. Worner, the defending event champion, beat Michael Iacono by about 6 inches in Super Stock. Worner clocked in at 9.902 on his 9.90 dial at 129.74 mph in his '96 Camaro.
Ken Robinson was better at both ends of the track to take the Stock Eliminator title over John Fedeli at 10.942, 112.66 and Kyle Cultrera ran down Shawn Fricke for the Super Comp win. Fricke was out first but Cultrera was better at the finish line clocking in at 8.919, 180.50.
The division's Mangaflux Top Sportsman and Top Dragster classes went to Ronnie Proctor and Gary Koebbe respectively. Procter defeated Michael Daniele Jr., by about 4 inches in one of the closest races of the day and Koebbe won when Bill Russell left early with a red light.
Other winners visiting the winner's circle this weekend were Earl Nichols Jr. in Super Gas; Donald Webb in Super Street and Daniel Meyer in Pro Stock Snowmobile.
Northeast Division racers head to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park for their next NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event, September 6-8.
The following are the final results from the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at Cecil County Dragway:
TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER: Round 1 4) Jackie Fricke, Flemington, N.J., 5.474, 259.16 def. 5) Wayne Morris, Lincoln University, Pa., 5.548, 258.57; 3) Dan Page, Hampstead, N.H., 5.520, 266.53 def. 6) Dan Mercier, LaPrairie, Quebec, 6.674, 149.95; 7) Richard Bourke, Old Tappan, N.J., 5.667, 260.51 def. 2) Rich McPhillips, Phoenixville, Pa., 6.009, 209.88; 8) Karen Stalba, Hammonton, N.J., 5.515, 259.46 def. 1) John Finke, Selkirk, N.Y., 6.018, 227.80; Semifinals Page, 5.439, 269.35 def. Bourke, 5.936, 225.00 Stalba, 5.488, 258.81 def. Fricke, 10.094, 100.97; Final Stalba, 5.519, 258.42 def. Page, 5.709, 255.05. TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR: Round 1 4) John Anderika, Wyoming, Pa., '10 Monte Carlo, 5.727, 248.48 def. 3) Dan Pomponio, Berlin, N.J., '10 Monte Carlo, 14.083, 57.27; 2) DJ Cox Jr., Whiteford, Md., '09 Monte Carlo, 5.840, 240.85 def. 5) Marie Ferriolo, Allentown, N.J., '02 Camaro, 6.163, 242.02; 1) Todd Veney, Indianapolis, '08 Impala, 15.835, 49.50 was unopposed; Semifinal Anderika, 5.705, 242.02 def. Veney, 9.952, 88.74; Final Anderika, 21.582, 50.55 was unopposed; COMP ELIMINATOR Frank Aragona, Freehold, N.J., dragster, F/ED, 8.596, 117.49 def. Pete Hanratty, Speonk, N.Y., BOS, A/DA, foul. SUPER STOCK Byron Worner, Duncannon, Pa., '96 Camaro, SS/IA, 9.902, 129.74 def. Michael Iacono, Wading River, N.Y., '87 Camaro, GT/CA, 9.808, 125.16. STOCK ELIMINATOR Ken Robinson, Toms River, N.J., '67 Camaro, E/SA, 10.942, 112.66 def. John Fedeli, Staten Island, N.Y., '76 Cutlass, K/SA, 11.944, 109.13. SUPER COMP Kyle Cultrera, Eliot, Maine, dragster, 8.919, 180.50 def. Shawn Fricke, Flemington, N.J., dragster, 8.887, 165.84. SUPER GAS Earl Nichols Jr, Wilmington, Del., '78 Corvette, 9.868, 165.31 def. Brenda Hunter, York, Pa., '63 Corvette, 9.864, 166.93. SUPER STREET Donald C. Webb, Four Oaks, N.C., '70 Nova, 10.874, 125.42 def. Casey Grubb, Milford, N.H., '68 Camaro, 10.867, 130.33. TOP DRAGSTER PRESENTED BY SELECT PERFORMANCE Gary Koebbe, Fairfield, Conn., dragster, 6.945, 195.00 def. Bill Russell, Russell, Mass., dragster, foul. TOP SPORTSMAN PRESENTED BY SELECT PERFORMANCE Ronnie Proctor, Harpers Ferry, W.V., '09 Mustang, 6.864, 198.82 def. Michael Daniele Jr., Wantagh, N.Y., '05 Cavalier, 6.894, 200.68. PRO STOCK SNOWMOBILE Daniel Meyer, Raymond, Maine, '99 Ski Doo, 8.358, 152.81 def. Mark Case Jr., Rensselearville, N.Y., '10 Ski Doo, 8.573, 147.94.