GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At the Eastern Regional opener at Auto Plus Raceway in Gainesville, Richard Bourke extended his late-season reign from 2012 with a victory in Top Alcohol Dragster and veteran Dan Pomponio picked up his first Top Alcohol Funny Car win since the 2005 Maple Grove divisional, where he upset both Bob Newberry and Frank Manzo.
In unseasonably cold temperatures, Rich McPhillips, the reigning Eastern Region champ, and Bourke staged for what was expected to be side-by-side 5.30s in the Top Alcohol Dragster final. Bourke, who had more points per race than anyone in the region last year, and McPhillips, who scored once in 2012 and reached four finals, left together, but McPhillips was up in smoke before the 200-foot mark. "The car didn't really run the way I wanted it to in the last two rounds, but I guess it was enough to win," said Bourke, who picked up his sixth career regional/divisional win with a 5.46 at 259 mph. McPhillips slowed to an 11.20. Bourke stopped 2007 Gainesville divisional winner Bill Evans in the opening round and Canadian Dan Mercier in the semi's.
"The car was dropping holes all weekend, and I never really did get it figured out, but I guess it was good enough," said Bourke, who won his first national event title in Top Alcohol Dragster late last year. He paced the field in qualifying here with a 5.32, but McPhillips appeared to have an edge going into the final after setting low e.t. in the semi's with a 5.300 on a single after Artie Allen's auto-shutoff device went off on the burnout.
"With a 2.90 gear and no transmission, there's not much you can do when you smoke the tires that early," McPhillips said. "It's not like you're going to shift your way out of it. I don't know how good the air was when we finally ran, but it took a while for them to clean up the track in front of us, the track and air just got that much colder, and the corrected altitude was already 250 feet below sea level when we left the trailer."
Four of six cars in the Top Alcohol Funny Car field have run at least 5.50s, and Pomponio personally put away each of the other three. After back-to-back 5.71s in qualifying, he ran another ..71 in the first round to top three-time Gatornationals winner Mickey Ferro, who went up in smoke not far off the line.
In the semifinals, Pomponio, who hadn't competed in Gainesville since he was a Super Gas semifinalist at the 1990 Gatornationals, established low e.t. of eliminations, 5.66, in a wire-to-wire win over Todd Veney. In the other semi, Kris Hool, who qualified No. 1 with a 5.59 and defeated Mark Rogers in the opening round, took the green and shut off on his bye run.
Hool opened a huge lead in the final but drove into Pomponio's lane, handing the event title to the New Jersey driver, who coasted across the finish line at 89 mph three seconds behind Hool, unaware that he had won. "The car was shaking almost immediately, and I had to lift," Pomponio said. "I got back on it, but it did it again and started to get sideways, and I said, 'The heck with it. It isn't worth it.' I noticed something flying across my lane, but I didn't realize it was a cone. I thought maybe he blew up or something came off his car and never knew I won until I got all the way down there and turned the corner. It wasn't the way we wanted to win, but we'll take it."
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