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Fri, 12 Oct 2001, 12:10 AM

It's Nice To Be Injected.
By Bob Frey

Rick Santos
With all of the hoopla surrounding the professional performances at the past, two NHRA national events, Iím afraid that something may have gotten lost in all of the excitement. While the pro record book took a beating, the Federal Mogul Dragster record fell not once, but twice in as many weeks. When you consider that the elapsed time record in that class had stood for almost two years, the fact that it changed twice in two weeks is amazing. Even more amazing, possibly, is that fact that now, for the first time in over five years, the FMD marks is held by a supercharged car, the Oakwood Homes machine that is driven by Rick Santos. With that landmark achievement, the obvious question from those of us who religiously follow this class is, "When was the last time the record was held by a blown car?" And that, my friends, is a very good question.

Before getting to the answer, letís take a quick look back at the last two weeks. In Chicago, Keith Stark capped a remarkable couple of weeks, with a win and a national record to go with his recent Indy, U.S. Nationals title. When he ran a 5.302 in the semi-finals against Michael Gunderson, and backed it up with a 5.351 in the finals, Keith took the record away from Mark Woods who had set it at 5.303 at the 1999 NHRA Finals in Pomona. Stark, one of the star performers in the injected ranks, not only had the record, but he had win, too, and, as youíll see, those two donít always go hand in hand.

Keith Stark

Back in the mid 1990ís, the ranks of the Federal Mogul Dragster class were as good as any in the sport. Populated by the likes of the great Blaine Johnson, Santos, Tom Conway, Jay Payne, Bobby Taylor and the unpredictable, loveable, super-competitive Chuck Baird, the class was as exciting and competitive as any in the sport. In addition to the drivers I just mentioned, any number of fuel-injected cars would show up and throw out some huge numbers, before disappearing almost as fast as they came. Among that group are the fast cars of Marshall Topping, Cristen Powell, Ken Zeal, Chess Bushey, Woods and, of course, Ed Vickroy in Roger OíDellís entry. All, at one time or another, were record setters or barrier-bashers. To give you an indication of just how strong the class was, at the 1997 Revell Nationals in Dallas, 36 cars tried to qualify and the bump spot was an unbelievable 5.659, a mark that stood for years. At that race, Bill Ancona ran a great 5.455, the quickest time for a blown car to date. But, like so many guys who shattered records or busted barriers, he didnít win the race. The record at that time was the 5.443 that Cristen Powell had set in Topeka a full year earlier in her injected car. Oh, by the way, she didnít win that race, either.

Tom Conway
Back in 1994, Jeremy Torstveit, Chuck Baird, Rick Santos, Jay Payne and Tom Conway all held the record with their supercharged entries. Conway carried the mark into 1995 and had it until Rick ran 5.724 in Phoenix at the national event, an event which, by the way, he didnít win. About that same time, at a rained out D-4 event in Dallas, Texas, young Marshall Topping ran a strong 5.666 to reclaim the mark for the fuel boys. Not only did Marshall not win that divisional event, he didnít even go back for the rain out. Oh well, he had the record, and he would lower it to a 5.618 at the Seattle Northwest Nationals later that summer, an event which, well, you know. Not only didnít he win it, but Rick Santos did. Still, the record was safely tucked away for the nitro clan, at least, for a while.

At Gainesville, in 1996, Chuck Baird returned to the racing scene, and he returned with a vengeance. After running 5.615 in qualifying, Chuck backed the record up in eliminations, beat Jay Payne and Keith Stark in the last two rounds, set top speed and won the race. It would be the last time, that a blown car would hold the record until this week. But, in the interest of fair reporting, I should point out that he didnít hold it for very long. At the next national event, in front of a sparse, Thursday crowd in Houston, Keith Stark skipped right over the 5.50 zone, ran a 5.495 to record the quickest pass in class history, and he reclaimed the record for the nitro cars. Ironically, the run was too quick, and Keith had to "settle" for a record of 5.564, the time he ran in the final round when he did, indeed, win the event by holding off Chuck Baird in the classís first, ever, side-by-side 5.50 run. It was a classic, and it was the second time in as many races that Keith and Chuck raced for the title, the second time the record changed hands, and it would also be the last, final round for Chuck before he retired. I wish he would un-retire. AnywayÖ

Cristen Powell
The injected cars would, pretty much, have their way from then on. Cristen Powell set the record in Topeka in the summer of 1996, with a 5.443, at a race she didnít win. As an aside, that field included Stark, Payne and other top drivers of the day, but was won by Russ Conroy using a Fontana motor. It was Russís first, and only national event win. After that, Keith Stark would enjoy another moment in the sun, when he stunned the drag racing world with a 270.51 mph pass during eliminations at the Winston Finals. Again, for Keith, he was simply too good, as that run was way beyond the 1% back up required for the record, and he had to settle for a national speed record of 265.09. And he also had to settle for runner-up, because he lost to, you guessed it, Rick Santos.

The record held up throughout the 1997 season, and then, at the first race of 1998, it was Rick Henkelmanís turn to both lower the standard and lose the race. Driving the former Chess Bushey car, Rick ran back-to-back runs of 5.419 and 5.375 to re-set the record, and then, like so many of the record-setters before him, he lost in the final round to Mr. Santos. But, the run and the elapsed time were good enough to keep the record in the books for a long time, in fact, it didnít change until Dave Hirata ran his 5.372 in Memphis a year and a half later. And Dave did win the race. His mark, however, would only last a few weeks, until Mark Woods made his historic 5.303 pass in Pomona at the NHRA finals, a race, that, well, by now you really do know. But just in case you donít, Santos won. In fact, Rick beat Mark in the finals after taking out Dave Hirata, the new speed record holder at 269.08 mph, in the semi-finals. For the record, so to speak, it should be noted that Dave fouled and Mark broke, but hey, theyíre still both wins for Rick. Which brings us up to the present time. Keith Stark at 5.302 one week, Rick Santos at 5.278 the next, and, for the first time in five and a half years, the Federal Mogul Dragster record is held by a blown car. A blown which, by the way, didnít win the race. Mark Hentges did.

David Baca
There have been many, notable runs in the class over the years, like Ed Vickroyís shocking 253.18 mph blast at the 1992 NHRA Finals, Bairdís 253.73 run at Gainesville when he set the record, a speed that was unheard of at that time for a blown car, and Santosís 5.498 in Jack OíBannonís car at Seattle, the first 5.40 pass by a super charged entry, and David Bacaís 274.44 mph shot, and they have all added to the legacy of a great class. Whether you call it alcohol dragster, Federal Mogul Dragster or even Pro Comp (for the old-timers), these cars, blown and injected, have been such an important part of the landscape of racing over the past 50 years. But the way I figure it, somewhere out west Gene Adams is saying right about now, "A blown car has the record? Are you kidding me? I guess itís time to build my own car." If he does, look out!!

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