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Mon, 22 Nov 2010, 01:18 PM

Nicholson, Manzo and Ackerman Tops in Northeast
By Kelly Wade

Darren Nicholson
Photo by Bob Johnson Photography
It's tough all over, but the notoriously strenuous competition in the Northeast Division translates to a serious battle for event wins, let alone the crown. At the end of the 2010 season, the happy victors within Division 1 included the hard-fighting, West Coast-based Darren Nicholson in Top Alcohol Dragster, the always terrorizing Frank Manzo in Top Alcohol Funny Car, and the quietly pulverizing Al Ackerman, who sealed the deal on the division title in addition to claiming the first national championship of his career.

Top Alcohol Dragster champion Nicholson, of Mission Viejo, Calif., drove Joe Cantrell's J C Auto Glass rail to a runner-up finish in his first Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event of the season, the Southeast Division's opener at Bradenton Motorsports Park. After finishing second in the Northeast last year to John Finke, Nicholson kept the momentum going in the new year when he met with Duane Shields in the Bradenton final and rallied hard, trading off the lead with Shields as they raced down the track. The scoreboards reflected a 5.384 to 5.391 victory in favor of Shields, but the ball was rolling for the eventual season champ.

John Finke
Photo by Jim Samuel
After back-to-back first-round losses at the Gainesville and Reading divisionals where Finke tallied points for a round win and a runner-up, Nicholson rebounded with a victory in his home division at Lebanon Valley Dragway on 4th of July weekend. As the No. 4 qualifier, Nicholson successfully defended the event title when he beat Richard Bourke in the first round and then outran No. 1 qualifier Dan Mercier in the semifinals before squaring off with the then-defending Division 1 champion Finke. Nicholson got the nod on a 5.511 to 5.698 and packed up for the next event at Cecil County Dragway, where he notched a round-win over Karen Stalba before exiting in the semis at the hands of Mike Kosky, who would go on to finish third in the division for the second consecutive season.

Finke collected 43 marks at Cecil County, the same as Nicholson, and the fight for the title was set to continue as the series moved on to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park, where Finke exited early and Nicholson advanced to his third final round of the season. Nasty weather delayed the outcome of the event, but one month later - at the Toyo Tires Nationals at Maple Grove - Nicholson beat first-time divisional event finalist Darvin Martinets, who shook the tires and had to shut off early.Finke and Nicholson both secured even marks at the home division race at Atco Raceway, the title was virtually in the bag for Nicholson, and he finished 9th in the nation.

Frank Manzo
Photo by Jim Samuel
The Top Alcohol Funny Car championship would have been difficult to pry out of the hands of Al-Anabi Racing driver Manzo. He has now been the Northeast titlist at the end of the season 19 times and rightly so; his consistency in racing to the winner's circle is unrivaled in the category, and he has 107 Lucas Oil Wallys as proof.

Manzo's season began in May at the North Central Division opener at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, where he was the No. 1 qualifier and clocked a quick 5.500 to stop Ray Drew. Two weeks later, Manzo, of Morganville, N.J., was the victor in a final-round match with Thomas Carter in Reading, but the champ struggled with tire shake at Lebanon Valley and exited in the semifinals while his opponent, Todd Veney, set low e.t. of each round and went on to win the event. Manzo quickly got back in form and bested Veney in the Cecil County money round and then again in the delayed Englishtown final.

Todd Veney
Photo by Jim Samuel
But the triumph in Lebanon Valley launched a hot streak for Indiana-based Veney, and he finished the season with four consecutive final rounds and what might have been a championship-worthy effort were it not for Manzo's blazing trail. Driving Jay Blake's Follow A Dream Top Alcohol Funny Car, Veney accumulated the pair of runner-up finishes to Manzo and put a cherry on top of an awesome year with a win at the division's closer at Atco Raceway in New Jersey, where he again got ahead of the world champion in the semifinals. Veney's points total: 341 to Manzo's 383, and his next closest rival, Thomas Carter, ended the year with 214 marks.

Ackerman only had two round wins by mid-season while fellow Division 1 title chasers Steve Szupka, Sal Biondo, and Frank Aragona Jr. already had wins on their respective scorecards, but Ackerman wheeled his F/D rail to three consecutive victories, beginning at the out-of-division event in Columbus and ending at home at Cecil County, to aid in sewing up the Competition Eliminator division title. He finished the season with a runner-up in Englishtown and a semifinals finish at Atco Raceway.

Al Ackerman
Photo by Auto Imagery, Inc.
Aragona Jr. made it close, reeling in wins in Atlanta, Lebanon Valley, and Atco, but at the end of the season it was 422 to 411 in favor of Ackerman, who also tallied the most points in the history of the class overall to earn his first world title. Third place Sal Biondo didn't trail by much; his 368 marks included a pair of Wallys and a runner-up.

Saddle Brook, N.J., racer Ackerman defeated Brian Browell in the Columbus final and went on to put a noteworthy notch in his belt with a final-round victory over then-defending world champion Bruno Massel in Cordova. Ackerman outran Biondo in the Cecil County final and was a near-miss in his effort to preserve his win streak when he fell to Szupka in the Englishtown final, but a quarterfinals finish at the Atco points meet and an early exit by Aragona in Noble, Okla., decided the championship. Biondo put in extra effort and rounded out the year with a win in Las Vegas, and it was enough to finish third.

Frank Aragona Jr.
Photo by Auto Imagery, Inc.
Look for more recaps of the Northeast Division's championship chases in future postings, with breakdowns of the Division championship runs within the other six regions coming soon.

Division One Top Alcohol Dragster Top Ten Point Standings
Pos Driver         Points Events 
1  Darren Nicholson  320  8 
2  John Finke        257  7 
3  Mike Kosky        246  7 
4  Rich McPhillips   244  6 
5  Dan Mercier       193  8 
6  Arthur Gallant    150  5 
7  Darvin Martinets  148  5 
8  Karen Stalba      127  6 
9  Tom Pickett       116  6 
10 Richard Bourke     84  4 

Division One Top Alcohol Funny Car Top Ten Point Standings
Pos Driver         Points Events 
1  Frank Manzo       383  6 
2  Todd Veney        341  6 
3  Thomas Carter     214  5 
4  John Anderika     203  7 
5  Dan Pomponio Jr.  182  5 
6  Wayne Morris      160  6 
7  Eric Lourie       117  3 
7  Fred Tigges       117  4 
9  Frank Schuster     74  3 
10 John Headley       52  3 

Division One Competition Eliminator Top Ten Point Standings
Pos Driver         Points Events 
1  Al Ackerman       422  7 
2  Frank Aragona Jr. 411  8 
3  Sal Biondo        368  8 
4  Steve Szupka      357  7 
5  Vinny Barone      282  8 
6  Kevin Robb        260  6 
7  Dave Yediny       249  6 
8  Joe Carnasciale   216  5 
9  Scott Benham      205  5 
9  Brian Darcy       205  6 

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