Drag Race Central - IHRA
Mon, 7 Aug 2006, 02:43 PM

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook
Jim Luikens
Photo copyright 2006 BME Photography

at the IHRA Northern Nationals

MARTIN, Mich. --

Glen Kerunsky
The largest crowd in the 25 year history of the Northern Nationals filled every nook and cranny of US 131 Motorsports Park for this event. The mass of incoming fans was so great that race traffic backed up onto the nearby US 131 highway not just once, but twice, on Saturday. Finding a place to park for all these fans was a challenge, eventually necessitating moving the fireworks from the long end of the track to create additional parking. In the end, Saturday's Night of Fire was delayed for 45 minutes to allow the most fans possible a chance to see the evening's program from its beginning.

Jody Gucwa
Alcohol Funny Car driver Jody Gucwa (Goosh-wa) was one racer that experienced the ramifications of this gigantic crowd first hand. During his afternoon qualifying run Jody's parachutes tore off the car, sending his Dodge into the sand trap. Minimal damage meant that the car could be repaired for the evening qualifying session if another set of parachutes could be located. Unfortunately, the team's spare chutes were back at their shop in Battle Creek. A team member was duly dispatched to retrieve the chutes but was concerned if he could reenter the track in time if he got caught in the backed-up fan traffic. The team's ingenious solution was to have their runner pull over onto the shoulder of the adjacent US 131 while Jody ran out to the highway to get the desperately needed chutes. The trip through the brambles and bushes were hard on Jody's legs and shins but he made it. As luck would have the heroic effort was nullified when the rear end on Jody's car broke during his final qualifying attempt, leaving him outside the Alcohol Funny Car field.

Troy Critchley's Car
So far this season a total of 40 drivers have earned points in Pro Modified. At this event 42 drivers attempted to qualify for one of the 16 starting positions. That number became 41 when Troy Critchley ran off the end of the track and rolled his 1957 Chevrolet during Friday's qualifying session. On Saturday Critchley's team was seen removing the car's driveline in preparation for a trip to Tim McAmis' chassis shop. Tim was at US 131 and inspected the car on Friday, promising priority service if the car was at his shop by Monday morning. Meanwhile, Critchley's teammate, Josh Hernandez, drove the team's Camaro right into the P/M winner's circle with a barrage of 6.13s on race day.

Josh Hernandez
With that large a P/M field, and cooperative weather for the weekend, the fact that a new all-time record bump for Pro Modified was established could not be considered a surprise. The new record mark is 6.188 seconds, eclipsing the previous P/M record bump set earlier this year at San Antonio. Among the non-qualifiers were such Pro Modified heavyweights as Ed Hoover, Billy Harper, Shannon Jenkins, Rick Distefano, Mike Janis and Glen Kerunsky, the P/M points leader entering the US 131 event

Travis Swearingen
Ironically the Pro Modified car that generated the most buzz at US 131 was the fabulous Junkyard Willys of Missouri's Travis Swearingen. The car, which can be best described as Rat Rod meets Pro Mod, absolutely captivated the fans, media and announcers here. Travis' car is prepared to represent what it would look like if you had taken it directly from the junkyard to the drag strip and features airbrushed bird droppings, bullet holes, rust, duct tape and even simulated rust repair patches on its carbon fiber body. The car was built by Larry Lawson, a midwestern chassis builder, and painted by a helmet painter from the Charlotte, North Carolina area that has never painted another car. The only place the team was remotely conventional is under the hood where they have a Chrysler Hemi from Quain Stott. In keeping with the car's junkyard theme its Brad Anderson valve covers have been powder coated an unusual rust color. Congratulations to the entire Swearingen team, who didn't just think outside the box on this one but instead built a new one from scratch.

Jeff Diehl
Another new car that made its IHRa debut here was the Toyota Nitro Funny Car of Jeff Diehl. The car features an ex-Jerry Toliver chassis as well as the Toyota Celica body that Phil Burkart was using at the end of last season. Diehl, who is most famous for his Nostalgia Funny Car efforts, plans to run the rest of the IHRA season in Nitro Funny Car with his new toy. Renowned fuel system expert Spike Gorr is the team's crew chief but new car blues kept the car out of the field.

Mark Thomas
During Friday's Alcohol Funny Car qualifying session good friends and arch-rivals Mark Thomas and Rob Atchison were matched in the final pair. Mark was well ahead at the 1000 foot mark when his blower belt broke. He pulled his chutes immediately, yet still won the race while coasting. In the turnaround area Atchison hollered over, "how come your chutes were out at 1000 feet?" Thomas, never one to miss a golden opportunity, hollered back, "it was the only way I could make it look close." On race day neither was around for the final where Tom Carter got his third win of the season, this time over Terry McMillen.

Tom Carter
Former driver, and Pro Mod team owner, Roy Hill is someone else that can be a funny man from time to time. At this event he reported to me that he got married last month. He said he chose July 4th as the lucky date so that he would always remember his anniversary. When I scoffed at the possibility of such an occurrence after he has been dating Jan Roper for nine years, Roy whipped out his cell phone and got the new Mrs. Hill on the phone. She confirmed his story and reiterated her happiness. Never one to do things in a small way, Roy proposed to his new wife live on the the syndicated John Boy and Billy morning radio show. Roy's driver, Mike Bell, qualified number one in Pro Mod but was defeated in the second round by eventual P/M winner Josh Hernandez.

Mike Bell
My t-shirt of the weekend goes to the lovely lass who was wearing the "Do I Look Like a People Person?" shirt. I certainly hope she was, considering the mosh pit of fans that were on hand Saturday night.

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