by Todd Veney/Pro Sportsman Association
Booher, who qualified high at the first two races this season only to be upset in the opening round, paced an outstanding field (5.44 bump) with a career-best 5.32 at 271 mph and stayed in the 5.30s throughout eliminations, including a 5.38 in the final against Chris Demke, who smoked the tires, backpedaled, and lost with a 5.92 at 255 mph.
"Finally," said Booher, who had three previous runner-ups, including one in national event competition. "The car's been running well for a while now, but we could never put it all together in eliminations. Everybody was within a few hundredths in qualifying, and to win against this caliber of competition makes it even more special."
Fifteen drivers attempted to qualify, and the top seven cars were within six-hundredths of a second of one another, from 5.32 to 5.38. Booher defeated 2012 Central Region champ Gord Gingles in round one with a 5.35 at 269 mph and veteran Ken Perry in the semi's with an almost identical 5.35 at 269.
Demke was even stronger on race day, when almost everybody else slowed down. He set low e.t. of both preliminary rounds, with a 5.30 (low e.t. of the meet) against Jared Dreher in round one and a 5.31 in the semifinals against Robin Samsel, who had upset five-time world champ Bill Reichert in the opening round. With his fourth runner-up of 2013, Demke overtook rival Jim Whiteley for first place in the national standings.
In Top Alcohol Funny Car, Foster, appearing in the final at this race for the fourth year in a row, edged Cassie Simonton in one of the best races of the season. Never have two finalists been more evenly matched: Both ran 5.64s in the first round and 5.62s in the semi's.
Simonton had lane choice by a thousandth of a second and had the better of two excellent reaction times, .056 to .057, but Foster was slightly stronger on the top end for a 5.63 to 5.66 win. "She almost beat me," said Foster, who earned his first career win at this event in 2009. "I got my head together just in time. I don't know why, but I'd been overthinking things. You know how people tell you to get your head in the game? I needed to get my head out of the game and do what comes naturally."
A .208 reaction time in the first round against Wayne Butler almost cost Foster the race. "I was thinking about stupid things, like how my foot didn't feel right on the clutch pedal, and I just wasn't focused," he said. "It's easy to short-shift when you see the other guy's whole car in front of you, but I kept telling myself, 'Don't do it, don't do it,' and I didn't in either gear. I could tell I was catching him, but I was afraid I was going to run out of racetrack before I got there." Foster tracked down Butler for a close come-from-behind win, 5.64 to 5.78. In the semifinals, he beat perennial rival Andy Bohl in matchup of the season's first two winners, 5.62 to 5.67, crossing the finish line first by the exact same margin by which he'd beaten Butler a round earlier: 11 feet.
Simonton, who took out Ray Drew in the first round, won the other semifinal over Jay Payne, the second-most prolific driver in divisional/regional history, in an even closer race, 5.62 to 5.63. This was her third career final, including back-to-back national events last season, in Chicago and Norwalk.
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