NORWALK, Ohio -- At the wide-open Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, Dave Hirata broke through for his first national event victory in 13 years and Kris Hool earned his second career title. Seven of the eight semifinalists in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car - everyone but superstar Frank Manzo - had combined for one national event win since the turn of the century. Hirata, who last scored at the rain-delayed Englishtown race in September 2000, won Top Alcohol Dragster with an 18-second pass when No. 1 qualifier Ray Martin red-lighted in the final, and Hool ran a consistent 5.65 to take out Fred Tigges in Top Alcohol Funny Car.
Hirata qualified just 15th but upset the most accomplished driver in the field, five-time world champ Bill Reichert, in the first round Saturday afternoon, 5.56 to a tire-shaking 5.67. He won all three rounds Sunday at the starting line, starting with Ken Perry in round two on a holeshot and his only run all weekend that would have been quick enough to advance, 5.46 to 5.42. To reach his first final since the 2007 U.S. Nationals, Hirata won the other semifinal match with a 5.54 when rival Brandon Booher red-lighted by the smallest detectable margin, .001 second, nullifying a quicker 5.42.
Martin had another .01 light in the final - unfortunately for him, it was a -.014, voiding his 5.50 and handing the win to Hirata, who collected his first Wally since the 2000 season, when he won three times (Atlanta, St. Louis, and Englishtown) and appeared in five finals.
Tigges shut off to a 6.21 in the opening round against 2009 Norwalk runner-up Chris Foster, who banged the blower, and made his best run of the event, 5.65, in a second-round decision over Lance Van Hauen, who had taken out Bartone in the first round when Bartone got over the centerline.
Tigges idled downtrack on a semifinal single when Paul Noakes was shut off at the line with an oil leak following a between-rounds thrash. Both drivers had one previous final-round appearance, both against Manzo. Tigges, whose other final came in a barrage of 5.50s at the 2011 U.S. Nationals, cut a .015 light in the final and was ahead by a full tenth at the 60-foot mark but shook the tires and had to lift.
With the win, Hool, who was coming off five consecutive first-round losses, leaped back into the top 10 with his second career title and first since Brainerd in 2011. Martin is up to fourth in the Top Alcohol Dragster standings and has been to at least two fewer races than all three drivers ahead of him - Jim Whiteley, Chris Demke, and Rich McPhillips.
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