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Sat, 10 Nov 2007, 11:12 AM

Something Old And Something New
By Bob Frey
Photo copyright 2007 Auto Imagery, Inc.

With all of the hype and excitement that surrounded the professional classes at the final race of the 2007 season, a lot of folks missed the performances of the sportsman racers. Not only were there seven champions crowned for the season, but a couple of them also put a nice finishing touch on their season by winning the last race of the year. In addition to that, two brothers faced each other in a final round and one of the best sportsman racers ever added his name to the "fifty win" list.

Duane Shields vs. Reichert
Coming into Pomona three of the sportsman championships had already been decided, but the Super Stock, Stock, Super Comp and Super Gas categories were still up for grabs. Veterans Bill Reichert and Frank Manzo had secured their 2007 season titles with great performances all year long, and, of that pair, only Bill came to town to race. Bill not only competed, but he won the race for the third consecutive year which put his name on a very short list, a list that includes two of the greats in the class, Rick Santos and Al DaPozzo. Bill also became the first guy to win the Lucas Oil Championship in Top Alcohol Dragster in back-to-back years since Rick Santos strung five consecutive titles together from 1997 through 2001. Bill's Rislone sponsored car is as good as any that we've seen for a while and he should be a threat again next year. Other than Tony Schumacher, Bill was the only number one qualifier to win in Pomona and, like Tony, Bill ran low elapsed time of the meet in his final round, a 5.191 at 275 miles per hour that just indicates how good he is. Along with his wife, Gloria, and a very talented crew, Bill brought the best car in the class to Pomona and left with a pair of trophies, the event win and the series championship. And, if he keeps running the way he has over the past two seasons, he'll win lots more in the years to come.

Payne vs. Smith
Two of the champions, both from the northeastern part of the country, were hanging out in Pomona but not racing. Frank Manzo, who won his record eleventh championship, watched as his good friend Jay Payne went the distance to record his seventeenth win in a funny car. Jay got the win when Von Smith fouled out and then Jay promptly thanked Valvoline's Mike Gruber who is leaving the company at the end of the season. Mike has been a great friend to all of the sportsman racers, even those who didn't use his products, and he will be greatly missed. It's not easy to find someone who loves the sport and the racers as much as Mike did and we wish him the best in his future endeavors. With the win Jay moved into a seventh place tie with Bucky Austin for the most wins in the alky funny car class. Jay finished the year in second place, the third time he has done that, and he ended up in the top ten for an amazing nineteenth time in the last twenty two years. Jay truly is one of the greats in the sportsman ranks, whether it's in a dragster or a funny car. He also spent some time in his Pro Mod car this weekend and he ran that in Competition Eliminator. Jay qualified for the field with a 6.08 which gave him the number one spot and established him as the quickest driver in the history of the eliminator. In the interest of fair reporting I must add that Jay lost in round one to Sean Dodd, but he was a lot of fun to watch.

Mettler vs. Carter
Speaking of Comp, Tom Mettler won his second race of the year when he won a strange race with the former two-time Lucas Oil World Champion, Dean Carter. Strange because Tom's .103 reaction time got him off the line first when Dean had a .169 light. Tom has now won three events, one against Dean and his first, in 2006 against Frank Aragona, this year's champ. Frank and his dad were in the house this weekend but, like the "other" Frank, they weren't racing. They did get presented with their championship trophy on Monday evening and Frank was very gracious in thanking his dad and his wife for their help and support. Winning Competition Eliminator is not easy and winning it when you have to run out of Division 1, where the fields are full almost all of the time, is even tougher. Of course Frank started the season out west and he had great runs at both the national event in Las Vegas and the Division 7 points race early in the season and that helped establish him as the guy to beat. Frank has finished in the top ten several times and he made a real run for the championship in 2001 when he finished third behind Mike Saye and the champion, Don Stratton.

Fletcher vs. Iacono
Dan Fletcher won the battle and Darren Smith won the war in Super Stock this weekend. Dan, driving his venerable Chevrolet Camaro, won the 50th race of his career when he beat Michael Iacono in the final round. The win was the 32nd for Dan in Super Stock to go along with sixteen wins in Stock and a pair in Super Gas. It should be pointed out that Dan's total number of wins in both Super Stock and Stock are the best in the history of the sport and his fifty wins ties him for tenth place on the all-time win list. It's also worth noting that, since there are only a dozen drivers who have won fifty or more races, four of them, Dan, Bob Newberry, Greg Anderson and Jeg Coughlin all joined that exclusive club this year. The big question is who will be next? Gary Scelzi has forty-three wins, Edmond Richardson forty-two, while Angelle Sampey, Larry Dixon and Tony Schumacher all have forty-one wins. Darren Smith, meanwhile, held on to win his first national championship. Darren came in with the lead and with Jimmy DeFrank as the only guy who had a shot at catching him. After qualifying number one, Jimmy got a bye run in the opening round and then he beat Mike Graham before running into Fletcher in the third round. Dan got the win and Darren got the championship, the first of his career.

Jody vs. Toby
Michael Iacono, who was runner up to "Fletch" in Super Stock eliminator, was crowned the Lucas Oil World Champion in Stock Eliminator when his closest challengers, Jerry Emmons and Brad Plourd went out early in eliminations in Pomona. At least it was early for what they had to do. Brad needed to go to the final round and he only made it to the fourth round before running into Jody Lang. Jody, who put a .008 reaction time on the board against Brad, then hung a 12.357 on him on a dial-in of 12.35 to get the win. As we often say, poor Brad, he didn't have a chance. Jody went on to face his brother in the final round and he won that race, too, with another great reaction time of .005. Jody finished third in the points this year and he may be the best sportsman racer, especially in Stock Eliminator, to never have won the championship. He has several top ten finishes and a pair of runner-up spots to his credit and he's going to win the whole deal one of these years.

Langdon vs. Stinnett
Second generation racer Shawn Langdon won the race and the Super Comp championship this year. Shawn, driving one of the many Lucas Oil sponsored cars, beat one of the best, Gary Stinnett in the final round at Pomona to punctuate his championship season. Shawn also drove in the Top Dragster class and the Lucas Oil alcohol dragster during the course of the year and he did well in each of them. Shawn is one of a legion of children who have followed in their parent's footsteps by winning on the national event level. Dad, Chad, won back in Denver in 1984 and those who still have a copy of the National Dragster coverage of that race will find a very young Shawn in the winner's circle with his dad. Of course dad won a race long before that, taking the Stock title at Pomona back in 1977. Shawn is one of the new breed of racers who will drive anything at anytime and do very well with it regardless of class. He led the points for a long time this year but still had to hold on until Anthony Castillo, the last guy with a chance to catch him, went out at Pomona in round three.

Balough vs. Parsons
The final champion was Sherman Adcock, Jr., the 1990 champ. Sherman, who drives one of the many Valvoline cars (to give equal time to the oil companies), only had to hold off Val Torres in Pomona in order to secure his second national title. Val managed to go a couple of rounds before bowing out and Sherman was the champ. Sherman was one of three champions this year who now own multiple championships. Ironically, even though Val had the only shot at catching Sherman in Pomona, he finished the season in sixth place, behind Michael Ruff, Jim Hughes, Ray Connolly and Jeff Cheney in addition to Adcock. Still, for Val, a long time west coast racer and participant in the Super Gas circuit in Division 7, it was the best finish of his career. Steve Parsons went on to win the race over Randy Balough who also had the second top ten finish of his career when he ended the season in tenth place. Steve won the race by running right on the 9.90 dial in the final round against Randy.

In the upcoming weeks we will profile the sportsman champions as well as the Summit Racing E/T Series champs from this past weekend. A special tip of the hat has to go out to Micheal Nash who won the Summit E/T Series national championship in the motorcycle class for the second consecutive year. Congratulations to all of the individual race winners and the season champions for a job well done. Now a lot of the racers will head south to Florida or stay out west and go to Las Vegas for all of the big money bracket races that will be held over the next few weeks, or they may just take some much needed time off. Whatever you do, enjoy yourself and we'll see you all in 2008 when we start all over again.

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