2017 LIGHTS OUT - EVENT NOTEBOOK
HEADLINER IN REDEMPTION - Joe Albrecht proved one doesn't need to grab all the headlines to be the headliner in the end.
Albrecht, who made the long haul from Bellmore, NY to Valdosta, Ga., traveled a little further by racing through four grueling rounds of competition to beat top speed runner Mark Woodruff in the final round.
"The winner of this race is the one who will be able to keep their car together throughout the whole week," Albrecht explained. "You don't have to be the one consistently setting the records, but you do have to be consistently quick.
"You have to make those good consistently good laps. You have to hit the tree and make those laps."
Albrecht entered eliminations as the No. 3 seed behind Stevie "Fast" Jackson (3.737) and Barry Mitchell (3.738). He opened with a 3.845, 201.46 to beat Chad Opalski.
Albrecht then pedaled his way to a second-round victory over Shane Stack before taking out Alan Pittman in the quarterfinals.
Albrecht fired a monster shot in the semis, taking out an upset-minded Tim Slavens with a 3.845, 201.40. Albrecht upped the ante in the final by taking out Woodruff with a 3.837, 202.00..
This year's triumph provides a huge measure of redemption after a heartbreaking final round last fall to DeWayne Mills.
"That was a heartbreak," Albrecht admitted. "To come back here and win is better than you can imagine for us."
THE THINGS YOU HEAR - A disgruntled racer of a class cancelled by extreme delays came into the South Georgia Motorsports Park control tower to protest losing a run.
"Why can't we get our run tonight?" The racer asked emphatically.
"You can thank your friends in Radial vs. The Oil for that," a quick-witted race official responded.
THINGS YOU HEAR, PT. 2 - Following Stevie "Fast" Jackson's quarterfinal crash, and subsequent decision to race the semis against Mark Woodruff, there was a rush of race fans eager to get a glimpse of the between-round thrash.
Announcer Brian Lohnes called for security to be dispatched to the Jackson pit area.
Promoter Donald Long smiled and offered, "You just invited every bit of the grandstands to empty out."
And, sure enough, they did.
A MIDWAY WHICH DELIVERS - One of the staples of the Lights Out 8 events is the success and popularity of its Manufacturers Midway from those attending the popular drag radial event at South Georgia Motorsports Park located outside of Valdosta, Ga.
During the four-day event, as many as 75 vendors are set up and doing business, with less than one-third of those participating peddling apparel and souvenirs.
Quartermax and RJ Race Cars are two of those major companies involved in drag racing who use the more targeted venue to display their products and services.
“We’ve seen people from all over the world as well as a lot of the customers from the United States,” said Rickie Jones of Quartermax/RJ Race Cars. “A lot of the guys need parts when they’re here racing, so it’s good that we’re able to come and kind of help them out and do business with them.”
The visitor to their display, Jones said, is very interactive with their wants and needs.
“I think a lot of people here are enthusiasts in some sort or fashion,” Jones said. "Either they race a car back home, or they’re racing here.”
One of those major vendors with a significant presence is Strange Engineering, and they deem their presence at the Lights Out events as a success.
“We’ve noticed a big difference in these types of events versus what we’ve traditionally done with the NHRA and some of the bigger events,” said JC Cascio, Strange Engineering rep. “Grassroots events, especially this Light’s Out 8 race, have in years past been one of our top races as far as sales go. We get great contact with the racers, and the spectators are all enthusiasts and hobbyists themselves. And so all around it’s been a very good event.”
Jones believes the package works well for companies because of a number of factors.
“They’re really friendly here,” Jones said. “Everybody at Duck X is really good to work with. It’s not too expensive to come down here, so it makes it pretty affordable, and it’s pretty cut and dry. You just show up, pay your fee, park, and do business. There’s not a lot of rules to follow. It’s basically just come down here, do your business, support the racers, support the event, and it’s a win for everybody.”
Donald Long, of Duck X Promotions, and promoter of the popular Lights Out and No Mercy events, says the Manufacturers Midway is popular to both fans and manufacturer’s because it delivers the end result its intended to.
“People actually show up to buy stuff here.” Long explained.” I think the fans that come out and the people that really relate to this; they have their own cars at the house. So when they come here, most of these guys, the reason they keep coming back is because they do a lot of sales here. And it’s because the people who are coming, these guys are real race fans. They actually have their project cars at the house. Some of them may never, ever get done, but you know how that is. It’s like me; I used to live paycheck to paycheck making sure that I could buy each little part to keep trying to get it together. There’s a lot of those guys out here that do that. That’s why I think it keeps growing, because people come out here to actually buy stuff.”
THE NEW SHADOW 2.0, SAME OLD STEVIE FAST - When you are christened with the nickname "Fast," you have a reputation to uphold.
Let the record reflect, Friday morning during the completion of the Q-2 Radial vs. The World session during Lights Out 8, Stevie "Fast" Jackson provided an object lesson.
Jackson sped to the top of the 32-car Radial vs. The World field with a 3.790, 200.08 miles per hour behind the wheel of a new Camaro-built by RJ Race Cars and sponsored by Strange Engineering.
"You’ve got these guys that come out here and talk about hauling ass," Jackson said. "And you’ve got these guys that don’t talk about it and try to do it. I like to tell you I’m about to crush your ass, and then I like to crush your ass. That’s my MO. If I tell you I can crush your ass, you can most of the time count I’ve got four aces in my hand."
In Thursday evening's postponed Radial vs. The World, Jackson pushed all the chips he and Phil Shuler into the pot and delivered a straight flush. If Mark Woodruff's Thursday 3.835 was incredible, Jackson's first full pass on the new Shadow 2.0 was a whole new level of performance.
Just to think five months after his horrific crash where his Mustang went airborne during the 2016 No Mercy Drag Radial event, Jackson made his first Drag Radial run on Tuesday since the incident.
True to traditional Jackson characteristics the first run on the car was down the same left lane. Jackson fell right back into his comfort zone after the car made a pair of successful 330 hits.
Then the combination went awry. In a flurry of suspension changes, where the crew including Todd Tutterow, changed the location of everything but the engine plate of the car.
"It was a wholesale deal," Jackson admitted. "The car just wasn’t working. Normally, when you get a new piece like this, it takes a month or two to get it lined out. We don’t have a month; we had four or five runs. Normally you’d want to change one thing and see what it does, and change another thing. We just changed everything at once and sort it out. That’s my MO."
Chassis builder Rick Jones clearly wasn't of the same mindset, suggesting to Jackson and team that they make fewer changes at once.
"I said, ‘We don’t have a hundred runs. Why don’t we change it all now and see if I’m as smart as I think I am?."
"They did a good job; everybody did a good job on this thing. It’s a beast."
But never has a beast been so tame from the inside, Jackson believes.
"We got a bunch of smart people here working on it, and for the first full run on the car, man that thing drives like a Cadillac," Jackson explained. "I mean I never touched the steering wheel. You can do the burnout, stage it and run it and never have to touch the steering wheel. So when you get a car that does like that, it’s going to be pretty fast. It’s a bullet."
Jackson said the performance was indicative of the effort which was put into the machine just to make it to the event.
"Everybody that helped us out with this car did a top notch job. All the components, everybody, the suspension, chassis people, Jeff at Strange, the motor people, everybody did a good job," Jackson added. "This thing right here is badass. Like I’ve never driven a car as smooth as this on radials. You know, radial cars are a different breed. Even when they run good, they’re a handful to drive; they’re moving around. I never touched the steering wheel in this thing. Fit and finish, it’s a good car. I’m happy with it. Could not be more happy with it."
The original Shadow was one of the original cars, a back-half street car with a Pro Modified engine stuffed between the fenders. The Shadow 2.0 was Jackson's first purpose-built Drag Radial car.
"Every other thing we’ve had has been started out as something else," Jackson said. "Even my orange car that I set the record with started out as something else. We built this as a radial tire car. So, it’s nice to see the fruit of your labor come through, especially in such a short time.
"I loved the other car, but we got to the point where it’s just too short. It’s 100 inches long; you can’t control the wheelie in the middle of the run. You can’t apply power when you need to. It was hard to leave that thing behind, but at the end of the day, we’re here to win. I race cars for a living. So if there’s a better tool that I can use, I’m going to use it. With that said, we did a lot of stuff in this car that’s not normal.
"Me and Phil picked how this thing was built, so like when this thing rolled out, it was either going to sink or swim. It was either going to be our fault why it was really fast or why it was really slow. So it looks like we did a good job."
Jackson, who never admits weakness, did point out, this kind of performance came as a pleasant surprise.
"We really expected to come here and struggle," Jackson said. "And we did. We got a lot of guys that are pretty smart working on it, and the car responds to change. The most you can ever ask from any race car is for it to do what you tell it. If you make the right decisions, you go down the race track. This thing does what I tell it, so it’s good."
And Friday morning, Jackson told the Shadow 2.0 to go fast, and it did in a big way.
FLY! BE FREE! - It's a safe bet drag racer J.R. Pines will never forget the debut race with his new Ford Mustang.
Pines, 28, from New Orleans, La., participates in the Outlaw Drag Radial division.
Sunday morning at the Lights Out 8 Drag Radial event in South Georgia Motorsports Park, outside of Valdosta, Ga., Pines got a bit more performance than he anticipated.
In the first round of eliminations, Pines' scored an unlikely victory while going through the finish line on the back wheels of his race car. Race officials initially disqualified Pines, suggesting his car had crossed the centerline, and struck one of the foam timing blocks affixed to the track.
Video replays showed it was the wind from the odd positioning of the race car which dislodged the block from its mounting, and thus handing Pines the odd victory.
"When the front-end started to come up, I figured the best thing to do was just to feather the throttle," Pines explained.
The more Pines feathered, the more altitude the Ford Mustang gained.
"You really don't have time to think about the best course of action, as much as you just react naturally," Pines admitted. "It's just part of the nature with these cars, so you are forever trying to adjust the suspension, so it doesn't fly on you."
Pines says it isn't a matter of being macho in racing without wheelie bars; as rules in the Outlaw Drag Radial classifications prohibit them.
Fortunately the car remained more grounded in round two, but unfortunately, he was beaten.
KEEPING THE LIGHTS ON - Mickey Thompson Tires & Wheels has committed to continuing title sponsorship for the Lights Out 8 World Series of Small Tire Racing. The largest small tire radial drag race in the world is back at the South Georgia Motorsports Park this weekend, and promises to provide a unique brand of motorsport excitement for racers and spectators alike.
“Mickey Thompson has been behind us since the beginning,” said Donald Long of Duck X Productions, “and we’re proud to be chosen once again. This event is truly a testament to Mickey Thompson’s dedication to motorsports, and a great way for them to show off their awesome Radial Pros.”
Lights Out 8 hosts an estimated 400 competitors over 10 racing classes, each with purses reaching as high as $10,000. Lights Out 8 also features an exclusive Radial vs. The World class boasting a $50,000 prize to the winner/
“Lights Out has a reputation for showcasing some of the best small tire racing in the world,” stated Tom Kundrik, Motorsports Manager for Mickey Thompson. “Our ET Street Radial Pro tires were designed for this kind of competition, and we’re looking forward to another successful event.”
This year's event hosted 35,000-plus spectators in a four-day total, with over 450-plus entries.
YOU CAN'T MAKE THIS STUFF UP - Hollywood's soap opera writers couldn't even come up a storyline to top this one.
Scotty Cannon and Alan Pittman are not only partners on a Radial vs. The World race car but also friends, and to their friends and family are husbands-in-law.
A story this juicy cannot be made up. It all begins in the mid-1990s when Cannon and his first wife Pam divorced, only for friend Pittman to end up marrying her. For almost two years, the two longtime drag racers never spoke.
Then they made amends, and within two years were in a chassis business together as Cannon went fuel Funny Car racing.
They are happy husbands-in-law.
"It's a we thing," Cannon said motioning to Pittman. "I think I just used the phrase one day, and it stuck like throwing mud up against a wall."
If it seems it might be difficult for them to share their personal lives, discussing their common denominator, think again.
"Easy," Cannon said with a sly smile. "Well it’s probably going to make her mad, but I really don’t care. It’s real easy. And it’s awful fun."
Pittman just smiles at the notion, which is equally as crazy as the two Pro Modified pioneers racing a doorslammer on a Drag Radial tire.
"I kind of knew we'd end up racing together one day because we were already in business together," Cannon said. "I never dreamed we’d be running on a bicycle tire with a big ol’ blower and bigger everything and it would run, and run just as fast as we’ve ever run. So half of it’s one way, and half’s the other way I guess."
Cannon, a seven-time Pro Modified championship driver and tuner, and Pittman, a past ADRL 10.5 series champion, are living out an odd twist of faith.
"These guys are going way faster than I ever thought they would on a radial tire for sure," Pittman admitted. "I don’t believe this is a radial tire like what we used to have either, though."
And neither is their racing partnership, a bonding of husbands-in-law.
ROLLING WITH THE SHORT BUS - Scotty Cannon calls it his fishing bus. The rest of the team calls it their technology vehicle. In reality, it is a former school bus, of the short-bus variety.
Cannon's 1993 International school bus is not your average public transportation vehicle.
"It’s got a 383 Stroker motor in it," Cannon boasts. "Everything’s new except for the shell."
And the always innovative Cannon isn't finished innovating beyond the television and sleeping quarters.
"It’s kind of a work in progress," Cannon explained. "But that’s my fishing bus. It was sitting there. And it’s got all the comforts of a big one. I put a bigger overdrive in it. Now I just take it to the races so I’ve got my own place to stay. It’s my technology work center. That’s my John Force private session center in there."
HIS DIVERSION - Even beastly NFL defensive linemen need a break from beast mode.
Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox has a diversion which is a beast of another sort.
Cox, drafted 12th overall in 2012 out of Mississipi State, fields a high-performance Mustang driven by Shawn Ayers, and covers the eighth-mile drag strip in four seconds.
The Cox Mustang is a bit of a hybrid, combining the best of both worlds in high-performance street and all-out drag racing vehicle. And while the nitromethane drag racing scene is the king of the drag racing world, the volatility of a 2,500-horsepower race car racing down the track on drag racing-specific radial tires has made this style of racing a hit amongst the smaller venues.
"It is really my escape," admitted Fletcher. "I love the game of football. Honestly. That’s what I live for, that’s what I do. But besides the getaway part with football, I mean it gives you that peace of mind to actually to come drag race and give you time off not to think about football.
"I could be here and not think about football, and that’s just the way the offseason goes for me. Normally it’s hunting, fishing, and drag racing. Working out, of course, training and getting ready to go for the next season. But this getaway right now is what I look forward to every year."
Cox and his team competed in the Lights Out 8 national drag race, a major event for cars which race this odd combination of high horsepower vehicles on narrow radial tires.
Cox fields his share of admiring drag racing fans, who seek their opportunity to get up close and personal with the 6-foot, 4-inch, 320 pound NFL superstar for either a selfie or an autograph. He's just fine with the interaction, even if the fan pulls for a rival team. After all, drag racing is the bond which seals their indirect acquaintance.
"People know I’m probably one of the nicest people, that I don’t mind taking a second to take a picture with somebody," Fletcher explained. "It doesn’t matter who it is. You never know. Especially kids. I don’t want the kids to walk up and not be able to take a picture. Because you never know what could happen. I just enjoy every moment of it, man. Just living and enjoy the opportunity and I’m just happy to be here."
Drag racing, unlike the National Football League, isn't a job for Cox.
Cox understands getting to play in the NFL isn't a right, it's a privilege and rightfully one he cherishes. He's very much serious about his occupation both during his time on and off the job.
"It’s a job, and you have to approach it that way," Cox said. "You’ve got to look at it as you and me sitting here, you’ve got to look at it as a job. I’m there from 8-5 every day. It’s not easy. I tell anybody that. People only see what goes on -- on Sundays. The hard work is put in during the week with meetings, and practice and workouts and you have to be mentally focused and physically ready to go on Sunday."
Cox understands he's not the only NFL player to choose drag racing as an escape, and more specifically he's the third high-profile defensive lineman to participate in the straight line sport.
Hall of Famer Alan Page once fielded a Super Stocker in the 1970s, and past Oakland Raiders draft pick Tyler Brayton raced on an amateur level.
"It’s got to be a natural fit for us big guys," Cox said with a smile. "They love to see stuff go fast. A lot of people ask me if I will ever drive. Maybe after football or something. But as of now, I think the main focus is right is to be around and be involved. A lot of people are shocked that I’m active in the pits. I’m not one of those guys that just show up."
Gearing up for the big game, or the big race; in Cox's world, they are one and the same.
"It’s about the same," Cox said. "I think the way we approach it is the way that it comes out. As a team, we have to have everybody together working together. Here as a racing team, to get all this stuff done, it’s the same way as football. You’ve got to prepare and have everybody working together, giving all the effort they’ve got, being here physically here and mentally ready to work on the car, and being physically and mentally ready to go play a football game, the approach has to be the same."
Before he became a football superstar, Cox always wanted a spot in the drag racing world. Football turned out to be a means to an end.
SAVING GRACE - Radial vs. The World racer Tom Bailey understands during Thursday’s qualifying session he actually wrecked six times, but just didn’t hit anything. Bailey executed the save of a lifetime behind the wheel of the gold and white Olds 442.
“We had a little too much power come in there at the gear change, and she got a little loose and kind of hard to handle,” Bailey admitted. “I don’t think you have a lot go through your mind. You’re just trying to wrangle the thing in. Try and keeping it down the track.”
There was no magic formula to saving the car other than to getting the parachutes out as quickly as possible.
“Got the 'chute out as quick as I could,” Bailey explained. “I had two hands on the wheel trying to get it wrangled in before I could hit the chutes. But as soon as I could, I hit it.”
STILL HUNTING - Thomas Patterson, who for years raced the Headhunter Pro Modified in NHRA competition with his father Richard, has hunted down a new way to fill his need for speed.
Patterson, the 2005 NHRA Fallnationals champion, has a new home racing in the Drag Radial community with a '68 Camaro classified in the Outlaw 632 division.
Used to, Patterson had a big honking supercharger sticking through the hood of his Camaro and later his Willys. Now he's fooling with the fuel injected, nitrous stuff.
Patterson has been away from the Pro Modified grind for almost a decade but hasn't been sitting idle.
"Been raising the kids," Patterson admitted.
Patterson didn't completely sever the umbilical cord of motorsports, however.
"I got into doing road racing," Patterson said. "That Trans Am TA2 class stuff. It’s fun. You get to stay in the car for an hour, but it ain’t drag racing. I missed drag racing.
"None of that drag racing stuff works on that road racing car. We’re going straight; then you’ve got to turn. So, yeah, it doesn’t work."
Patterson, now 45, has a bit of packrat in him. He still owns all of his Pro Modified cars.
"Still have that Willys, and I can get in it, and go right down the track," Patterson said with a smile.