WOODBURN, Ore. --
Cowie's triumphant return began with a 5.45 test run on Thursday that was a victory in itself. Just getting the car down the track would have been a major accomplishment, but Cowie qualified No. 1 with a 5.33 that held up throughout eliminations for low e.t. and ran low e.t. of two of three rounds, including the final, where he edged Demke, 5.41 to 5.43, to cap a fairytale weekend.
Demke, coming off a win at the Route 66 Nationals, qualified No. 2 behind Cowie with a 5.39 and advanced to his seventh final already this season with back-to-back 5.38s against Megan McKernan, who backpedaled into a wheelstand, and track co-owner Joey Severance, who banged the blower.
Cowie's Mundie's Towing team took out defending event champ Gregg Lawrence in the opening round with a 5.37 and Norwalk runner-up Ray Martin in the semi's with a 5.41. Demke and Cowie left simultaneously in the final with .054 reaction times, and Cowie pulled ahead to win by half a car, 5.41, 267 to 5.43, 268 as Demke fell out of the 5.30s and the 270-mph zone for the first time all day.
Demke's 271.00 in the semifinals was good for top speed of the meet, and his latest final-round showing catapults him over yearlong leader Jim Whiteley and into the national points lead. Cowie's victory actually is his second in a row; in his last race before his accident in April 2011, he won the SummitRacing.com Nationals in Las Vegas.
The final was the only race all day in which the lower-qualified driver didn't win. No.8 Payne defeated No. 5 Steve Gasparrelli in one semifinal match, and No. 7 Lombardo took out No. 6 Sean Bellemeur in the other. In the first round, all four drivers from the top half of the field lost - No. 1 Clint Thompson to Payne, No. 2 Doug Gordon to Lombardo, No. 3 Annie Whiteley to Bellemeur, and No. 4 Brian Hough to Gasparrelli.
Qualifying was a show in itself. The bump was a 5.663 - the second-quickest ever behind only the 2009 Sonoma event (5.659 bump) won by Gasparrelli. Four drivers from that field also were a part of this one: Lombardo, Gordon, Gasparrelli, and Payne.
Oregon's Thompson qualified No. 1 with a 5.60, and another home state driver, Hough, set top speed with a barrage of 260-mph blasts, including a best of 262.23. Former Division 7 champion Terry Ruckman and 2013 national event winner Jirka Kaplan ran in the 5.60s and didn't qualify, and top-five driver Shane Westerfield just missed with a 5.70. The entire field was separated by less than six-hundredths of a second, from Thompson's 5.604 to Payne's 5.663.
Only one run in all of eliminations would have been quick enough to make the field - Lombardo's 5.62 in the first round. He ran a 5.70 against Bellemeur in the semifinals, Payne dispatched Gasparrelli a 5.75 in the other semi, and both drivers duplicated their semifinal times in the final.
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