SAN ANTONIO, Texas --
Tue, 28 Mar 2006, 10:25 AM
Notes from JIm Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the IHRA Texas Nationals
by Jim Luikens
Photo copyright 2006 BME Photography/Roger Richards
Ricky DiStefano & Crowd
The largest crowd in San Antonio Raceway history welcomed the IHRA and its
racers back to Texas to start the 2006 eMax series. Leading up to this event the buzz had been
about the return of Nitro Funny Cars to IHRA events. While the fuel floppers no doubt helped the
crowd turnout, it was that IHRA staple, Pro Modified, that featured the largest field of drivers
attempting to qualify for one of the starting spots.
Eleven cars and drivers attempted to qualify for the eight car IHRA Nitro Funny Car
field, the first in a decade and a half, with Jack Wyatt, Terry Haddock and
Gary Cooper the odd men out when the four rounds of qualifying were completed. For the
record Gary Densham became the first Nitro Funny Car winner in IHRA's modern era when he
defeated Paul Lee in the final.
Gary Cooper was driving a Dodge Stratus (ex-Jim Head) for Hartley Racing
painted identical to the familiar red with black accents color scheme that is seen on the
Hartley Top Fuel Dragster. Gary, who hoped to cross-grade his dragster license during qualifying
and then make the F/C show here, had his effort short circuited during Saturday's afternoon
qualifying session. Gary's parachutes shook out near mid-track and thwarted a run that was
shaping up to be quick enough to make the field. The team is committed to IHRA Nitro Funny Car
racing and plans to run the entire IHRA series this year.
Jack Wyatt was the first alternate in Nitro Funny Car and he actually could have made
the field when Vinnie Arcadi
damaged his engine beyond repair during Saturday's final
qualifying session. Unfortunately Jack, running in his first IHRA race ever, did not know that
the IHRA has a break rule for the pro categories. By the time he found out he had already packed
up his equipment and the opening instead went to second alternate Terry Haddock. Wyatt, working
as a color commentator when he couldn't race did provide the laugh of the day when he said that
nitro was the fastest-working solvent on earth. According to Jack, it can dissolve marriages and
bank accounts in nothing flat.
Bobby Lagana, Jr.
debuted a 2006 Murf McKinney
-built top fueler at this
event. According to Bobby this is the first brand-new race car ever in the long history of
Lagana Family Racing. Bobby drove the car right into the field with a 4.751 elapsed time despite
no prior testing with the new car. The broad smile never left Bobby's face all weekend despite a
first round loss in eliminations to perennial T/F powerhouse Clay Millican
Bobby Lagana Jr.
After sitting out most of 2005 Rick DiStefano
returned to IHRA Pro Modified in a
big way, qualifying number one in P/M. He recorded two 6.06-second elapsed times, one in each
lane, during qualifying with the quicker one, a 6.062, holding up for the number one spot. He
also recorded a 237.50 mile-per-hour top speed, which would have been good enough for a new top
speed world record if he had been able to back it up. While he was not able to notch the record
he did earn a teardown from IHRA tech officials after his high speed blast. Rick's power comes
from Al Billes
via a new collaboration that was formed during the off-season. Fellow
Canadian Kenny Lang
was also running DiStefano/Billes power and he qualified sixth with a
career-best 6.108 elapsed time, a nice improvement over his previous best of 6.25 seconds. Both
DiStefano and Lang lost in the second round after winning their opening race on Sunday.
A pleasant surprise in Pro Modified was the impressive debut of 18 year old Jason
from Demotte, Indiana. Jason, in the ex-Mike Stawicki G-Force Corvette, qualified
17th with a great 6.202 elapsed time but made the eliminations field when Scott Cannon
crashed his new 2006 Pontiac GTO during final qualifying and was not able to return for race
day. Jason uses a 470 cubic inch Chrysler Hemi for power that is hooked to a Lencodrive
transmission. Indiana's Larry Snyder
assists with the team's powertrain.
North Carolina's Chip King
was racing his Dodge Daytona Pro Modified here with
its newly modified front end. After debuting his car late last year Chip was told by IHRA Tech
Director Mike Baker
that his car's nose would have to be shortened to IHRA's 45" standard
front dimension despite the fact that the Daytona's original nose was 51" from the factory.
Well-known aerodynamic engineer Johnny Stamper
developed the new nose profile. Chip plans
to run the entire 2006 IHRA season and has purchased a hauler from fellow Dodge racer Allen
in order to do so.
No less than 33 entries tried to qualify for the 16 car Pro Modified field. Ed
Hoover, Harold Martin, Eddie Ware (in a new 67 Camaro), Thomas
Patterson, Shannon Jenkins, Charles Carpenter, Steve Vick, Billy
Harper, Steve Bareman and Dennis Radford were among the notable
5-time Alcohol Funny Car champion Mark Thomas
debuted his beautiful new 2006
Chevrolet Monte Carlo at this event. The car is true work of art and even features a custom
painted Ken Veney
fuel injector that matches the paint scheme. Luckily the Veney injector
is a three hole type whick is perfect for GM's E85 Ethanol advertising campaign. In fact the car
has already been shot for an upcoming General Motors' "Live Yellow, Go Green" commercial. Mark
drove his new car all the way to the final round where he faced, and defeated, the similar 2006
Monte Carlo of Rob Atchison
. Mark dedicated his win to fellow ethanol believer Paul
who lost his life earlier in the day in an Indy Car accident at Homestead, Florida.
Two weeks ago Frank Gugliotta
, who finished second in Pro Stock points last year,
found himself rideless when his previous car owner unexpectedly chose to sit out the 2006
season. Frank's retirement was short-lived when Charlie Taylor
tapped him to drive in
2006. After hastily relettering the car, and two test squirts at Houston, the Taylor/Gugliotta
team rolled into San Antonio on Thursday. Three days later they could be found in victory lane
as the new team celebrated its first-ever win.
Sgts Marsh, Dausman and Williams
The number of cars that reached the sand trap at this event was unusually high.
Among those that took a trip to "the beach" were Dale Creasy
, Rob Atchison
, Kenny Lang
and Gary Goforth
. Scott Cannon, Mike Bruno
and Carl Spiering all experienced top end crashes of varying degrees of severity at one time or
another over the weekend. In every case the driver was uninjured and the car can, and will be,
Master Sergeant Gary Marsh as well as Tech Sergeants Don Dausman and
Jeff Williams were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime experience on Sunday when they were
able to stand on the starting line during a round of Nitro Funny Car. All three were enjoying a
weekend at the drags when they were discovered in attendance by ace photographer Roger
Richards who brought them to the attention of IHRA officials. The three sergeants are
currently attending classes at the nearby Lackland Air Force Base studying munitions (how to
blow things up) and figured that the drag race would be a great place to expand their knowledge
One of the most popular parts of my columns last year was the t-shirt of the event
winners. The tradition continues in 2006 with our first winner from San Antonio. His shirt said,
"I was out of sick days so I called in dead".
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