EARLVILLE, Iowa -- At Tri-State Raceway in Earlville, Iowa, Top Alcohol Dragster veteran Jared Dreher, who opened last season with a regional victory at Indianapolis, and defending Central Region Top Alcohol Funny champ Kirk Williams both scored for the first time this season.
Dreher picked up the fifth regional/division event title of his career with a final-round decision over reigning Central Region and event winner Gord Gingles, who had won his last two races - the Lucas Oil Nationals in Brainerd and the Central Region race in Topeka. Gingles, who has established himself as one of the best on the Tree in just his second year in an A/Fueler, was second off the line this time and shook violently before shutting off to a 6.31 at 179 mph.
"We both shook hard, but he shook worse," said Dreher, who won with a 5.48. "His was so violent that it broke the puke tank and had body panels hanging off the car when we got down there. Mine shook pretty bad too, but not that bad."
Dreher's win comes just days after he was knocked out of the U.S. Nationals field in last-shot qualifying and missed the cut by two-thousandths of a second. "This isn't Indy, but a win's a win," he said. "This was exactly what we needed right now. Indy was a pretty big disappointment, being so close to home. I don't think we've ever gotten out of a track as fast as we got out of there."
On the all-concrete Earlville surface, Dreher qualified in the middle of the field with a 5.48 and picked up dramatically in the first round with a 5.38 against Jackie Fricke, who slipped from her 5.47 qualifying pace to a 5.55. Gingles followed one pair later with a 5.34 (low e.t.) win over Dave Hirata's cylinder-dropping 5.70. North Central points leader Brandon Booher, who qualified No. 1 with a 5.41, also ran in the 5.30s in a win over Dean Dubbin, and Topeka winner Randy Meyer just missed with a 5.41 against Edwin Schmeeckle's close 5.45.
Gingles stayed consistent and emerged as the clear favorite for the final with a 5.35 semifinal win over Meyer in a race that had huge points implications. With one race to go, he holds a 32-point edge over Meyer for the regional championship. Dreher won the other semi with a 5.45 against Booher, who had to lift near half-track when his steering shaft broke, then negotiated the tricky conditions better than Gingles in the final for the 5.48 win.
In Top Alcohol Funny Car, Williams beat Van Hauen in the final in a battle of the first and last qualifiers, 5.73 to a shutoff 8.58. "I've been here probably 12 or 13 times, and you really have to know how to get down this track," said Williams, who won here for the second year in a row and appeared in the final for a third straight year. "The groove is narrow, but this place can be pretty fast if you have the right setup."
Van Hauen, appearing in his first final since last year's Noble event, was fifth of five cars in qualifying with a 5.95 but stepped up to a 5.79 in the first round, just a few thousandths of a second from low e.t. at the time, to beat No. 2 qualifier Billy Davis' 5.86, then singled in the semi's. The field was tight in qualifying - every driver but Van Hauen ran between 5.79 and 5.83.
Williams paced the field in qualifying with a 5.79, lowered low e.t. to a 5.77 in a semifinal win over Wayne Butler and reset low e.t. again in the final with a 5.73 while Van Hauen strayed toward the centerline and eventually had to lift.
"I really have to hand it to Lance," Williams said. "What a guy. NHRA was telling him to head for the lanes, and he could have had a single for the win, but he didn't take it. He stayed right by our trailer until we were ready to go. That's the kind of guy he is."
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