2017 NHRA GATORNATIONALS - SPORTSMAN NOTEBOOK
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -
IMPRESSIVE FIRST IMPRESSION - You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and for Justin Ashley, he's making the most of his opportunity.
Ashley has raced in two Top Alcohol events, last weekend's NHRA D2 LODRS opener and this weekend's NHRA Gatornationals, and in both instances qualified No. 1.
Ashley maintained his torrid pace in Saturday's first round recording a 5.176, 282.36 during a single run when Jerry Powell's dragster would not fire.
Thus far, the son of NHRA U.S. Nationals Funny Car champion has run the sixth and eighth quickest passes in Top Alcohol Dragster history. He will race Robin Samsel (who beat Josh Hart) in the second round.
Other first round winners included Rich McPhillips (Duane Shields), Dan Mercier (Jared Dreher), Richard Bourke (Mia Tedesco ), Megan Meyer (Artie Allen), Alex Laughlin (Jackie Fricke) and Marty Thacker (Dan Page).
ABOUT THE FUNNY CARS - Just like Ashley, Top Alcohol Funny Car low qualifier John Lombardo Jr. singled for his opening round win. Lombardo's NAPA Auto Parts Camaro smoked the tires at the hit.
No. 2 qualifier Phil Burkart ran a 5.534, 267.37 to beat Tyler Scott.
Other winners included Andy Bohl (Bryan Brown), Annie Whiteley (Bill Naves), Ray Martin (Rob Pfeister), Dan Pomponio (Ulf Leanders) and Aryon Rochon (DJ Cox Jr.)
UPSETS ABOUND - Allen Wilson's D/Super Mod Automatic scored the big win of Competition Eliminator by taking out low qualifier Doug Engel's D/Econo Dragster in the second round.
David Rampy will head into Sunday as his Econo Altered took out Anthony Bertozzi.
Other second round winners included Pat Ross and Wes Leopold.
Orlando LODRS winner Jenny Treadwell scored the easy win with a competition bye run into the third round.
SUPERS IN GAS - South Carolina racer Jamie Southards will head into Sunday's final eliminations joined by Larry Bernshausen, David Tatum, Justin Lopes, Brad Plourd, David Davis and Frank Altilio.
THE FACTORY SHOWDOWN - Chris Holbrook, a former IHRA Mountain Motor Pro Stock Champion, proved on Saturday he's going to be a force to be reckoned with as the Factory Stock Showdown winds down during Saturday's final eliminations.
Holbrook, who entered eliminations at No. 2 qualifier, ran low elapsed time of the first session with an 8.151 elapsed time at 162.43 miles per hour to beat Geoff Tucker.
Low qualifier David Barton ran an 8.186 to take out Erica Enders.
Chuck Watson upended Peter Gasko Jr. to advance to the semis, while Stephen Bell took out Todd Patterson.
Sunday will pit Holbrook versus Gasko while Barton races Bell.
THREE DECADES STRONG - Division 2 racer Tony Terry has a passion for Competition Eliminator.
“I originally started out Super Stock racing in the early 1980’s,” Terry said. “As a Super Stock racer, I always admired Comp because it was as close to being in a pro class as I probably could get because I’m not able to be gone as many
weekends as the professionals are. I also admired the technology that goes into the Comp class.”
Terry drew his inspiration from veterans like David Nickens and Mike Edwards.
“I gotta say, people like Nickens, Edwards, and all those guys were the ones that got me excited about Comp racing and I ended up buying my first Comp car in the early 1990’s,” he reminisced. “I started out with a Street Roadster and that was a fun little ride.”
Terry went on to race a Super Modified car and a Jerry Haas-built F/AA Chevrolet Cavalier in the class. In 2011, he built the Chevrolet Cobalt he now races.
“There is a certain prestige racing Comp and that’s why I wanted to start racing the class,” he added. “My wife always says you should dress for the next level and that’s how I approach my business life and racing. Super Stock racers are good racers but I wanted to move myself along to that next level and that was Comp.”
When he’s away from the racetrack, Terry finds success in the Volkswagen and Subaru dealership he owns in Lynchburg, Virginia.
“I bought the dealership in 1985,” he said. “I started out selling cars and saving up my money and some gentlemen I knew owned a dealership and wanted me to buy it. They gave me an opportunity to buy part of it and two and a half years later, I bought them out. It’s been really good to me and I’ve got some really good people working for me.”
The Forest, Virginia-native acknowledges that his trust in his great staff at Terry Volkswagen Subaru allows him to go play at the racetrack during the weekend.
“Without my people, I really wouldn’t be able to race like I do because they give me the freedom to leave on Thursday and not come back until Monday,” he acknowledged. “I figure I put in enough time in the early years to do that now. I trust the people that work for me.”
Above all, Terry credits his wife as his biggest support system.
“My wife, God bless her,” he said. “She never gets upset when I go racing. She doesn’t come as much as she used to but it’s great to have your better half understand what you do and what your passions are.”
Almost four decades into his sportsman racing career, Terry has not lost the love he has for drag racing and Comp Eliminator.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - ROOKIE ASHLEY FIRES MONUMENTAL SHOT TO LEAD FRIDAY'S LUCAS OIL QUALIFYING
DO WHAT? - Just how well was the air for Friday's opening runs in Stock Eliminator? How about 2100 feet under sea level.
QUICK STUDY - Justin Ashley is proving a quick study in the Top Alcohol Dragster.
The second-generation drag racer in his first two events ever driving the Randy Meyer dragster has qualified No. 1, initially last weekend at the NHRA LODRS event in Gainesville, Fla., and provisionally during the first day of qualifying at the NHRA Gatornationals.
Ashley, the son of past Indy Funny Car champion Mike Ashley, had no idea as he turned off of the Gainesville Raceway drag strip Friday morning he'd just recorded the seventh quickest run in the class' history with a 5.150 elapsed time at 280.49 miles per hour.
"I’ve got to be honest, I had no idea the car went a 5.15 at all," Ashley said. "You know, as I pulled through the traps, I thought to myself, ‘Alright, you know that’s a good run to start off the weekend. First National event. Feels good, it was pretty straight down the track. I’m pretty sure you know I probably ran a mid to high .20, which is awesome. I was perfectly content with that."
In a repeat of the previous week, teammate Megan Meyer was second with a 5.153, 283.73.
Ashley understands such success at a rapid rate is not the norm, and isn't concerned he could be achieving too much too soon.
"The bottom line is we come to the races to win the races. Period," Ashley said. "It doesn’t matter if it’s my first race, it doesn’t matter if I’m a ten-year veteran. We come to win, so we expect to do this well. It doesn’t concern me because it’s not me that's making this team successful. It’s Randy Meyer, it’s Megan Meyer, it’s Mary Meyer, it’s the entire Randy Meyer racing team. That’s the reason behind this success."
Ashley's run represents the quickest run since Bill Reichert in 2007.
ENGELS LEADS COMP - Doug Engels, more commonly known for his neat Super Stock Corvettes, drove his D/Econo Dragster to the top of the Comp Eliminator qualifying order with a 7.192, -0.828 performance. AA/AM racer Rodney Rosenstiel slipped into second with a 6.215, -0.825. Thursday's top runner Anthony Bertozzi remained third.
CHANGE OF SCENERY - The view of the drag strip might be drastically different from the starting line, but some things never change for Alex Laughlin.
"What can I say? I'm a racing junkie," Laughlin said. "I love it all. Heck, if someone has a boat I'll race that thing too. I just love to compete. I love to go fast. I love the thrill of it all.
If it's got wheels, he'll drive it, and chances are he has. Already on the Gas Monkey Energy Drink sponsored drivers resume are stints driving a go-kart at Daytona, a Legends car at Volusia, and even a piece of farm equipment at the annual Tractor Pull in nearby Ocala, Fla.
Top Alcohol Dragster appears to be a means to an end, with Top Fuel being the ultimate goal.
"I get asked a lot what my goal in racing is," Laughlin said. "I don't really have an answer other than to say I want to race whatever I can whenever they'll let me.
"We should have a good car this weekend. We ran the regional event here last weekend and got some good data, so we'll be better prepared. I really like the car and the horsepower. It's a lot of fun to drive. We'll go out there and do our best and see what happens."
Let the record reflect, Laughlin isn't finished with Pro Stock either. He plans to run some races later in the season. Last season, Laughlin won his first national event in St. Louis and scored top qualifier honors in Denver. In his first full year in the class, he narrowly missed making the playoffs, finishing 11th overall.
TIME TO GET ON DEFENSE - Winning the championship is one thing, defending is going to be another for newly-crowned Super Gas champion Mia Tedesco.
"I feel really good, really excited, and we are definitely prepared for the weekend," said Tedesco, who races both Super Gas and Top Alcohol dragster. "We made some really nice runs here at the regional race, and we feel like both cars are working well.
"We made it to the third round in Super Gas and then my car died. Up to that point, I was really happy with my driving and the tune-up Jason (Lynch, crew chief, and teammate) put in the car. We just had a minor glitch end our day a little early. That's been fixed. In the dragster we just lost a really close semifinal race by .02 seconds. That happens all the time."
As is always the case, both the Super Gas and Top Alcohol fields are stacked with big hitters, especially the east coast stalwarts who are just beginning their 2017 campaigns.
"Nothing comes easy in this sport," Tedesco said. "There's really great competition at every race. So many teams can win. It just has to be your day, and everything has to fall into place for you to win one of these deals. I know if we do our jobs we'll have a great chance to go rounds and put ourselves in position to get the trophy at the end of the day."
GLOOM, DESPAIR, AND AGONY ON ME - The Follow A Dream/Permatex Top Alcohol Funny Car team has already gone through a season's worth of adversity - lending hope there's smooth sailing from here on out..
Early last week en route to Gainesville Raceway in north central Florida, the team's transporter broke down, forcing it to be towed about 50 miles to the track so that repairs could be made.
"The racetrack was great to let us get in after hours," team owner Jay Blake said. "We appreciated that very much."
Then, driver Phil Burkart was flying from New York to Florida when the airplane he was on experienced engine failure and had to make an emergency landing in Tennessee.
After Burkart made it to the drag strip, the RacePak installed during the offseason on the team's 2015 Chevrolet Camaro inexplicably broke, forcing team crew chief/tuner Anthony Terenzio to run the car without one of the most important things needed in drag racing: computer data.
"That was pure torture for Anthony," Team owner Jay Blake said. "Still, Anthony did a great job. He did it by feel, going in blind, really, and doing it the old fashioned way.
"Anthony, Phil and everybody worked great together. We did it the old school way."
All in all, though, the team became much stronger because of all that adversity. It did well in two days of testing at Gainesville, and then qualified fourth and reached the semifinals in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series regional event last weekend.
"There were a lot of good things, way more good things than bad, so it was really a good weekend," Blake said.
"It's like in life, you have all kinds of adversity but you've got to keep going. The number and caliber of cars and the quality of racing will be a little bigger at the Gators, but they're both just as important as the other. You want to win it - it's the Gators - but you don't do anything different."
Adding to last weekend's success, Blake and the team also hosted 10-year-old Dwayne Lewis, who like Blake is also visually impaired.
"His parents brought him to the racetrack and they spent the day with us," Blake said. "Phil showed him the whole car and was absolutely awesome with him. He was just great. It was fun to have him there with us on Saturday."
IT'S A MOPAR THING - Gainesville traditionally marks the opening round of the five-round NHRA Factory Stock Showdown series. Drivers using Dodge vehicles have extra incentives.
The Mopar-powered Factory Stock Showdown drivers will receive points towards the Magneti Marelli Offered by Mopar Drag Pak Rewards program, which is designed specifically for Mopar Dodge Drag Pak racers. Competitors can still register for the program, which will reward the top 20 in points at the end of the season based on their performance in all national events. All Mopar Sportsman drivers are also eligible for monetary awards through the Mopar Contingency Program as well. Contingency rewards are available for drivers who compete and win with Mopar valve covers, intake manifolds and cylinder heads. The contingency decal is available at the Mopar display trailer.
In addition, the recently introduced Dodge Top Finisher award will provide $500 to the highest finishing Dodge or Plymouth driver in both Stock and Super Stock competition in all 24 national events.
DOUBLING UP - Pro Stock Jeg Coughlin Jr. is racing in Super Gas with his JEGS.com Chevy Corvette.
"It's a busy weekend, but a fun weekend," Jeg Jr. said. "The Super Gas car is perfect, nice and smooth, but I don't feel we've hit our stride with either car just yet. Super Gas always has been my favorite sportsman class. It's a fun release for me and it keeps my mind focused on racing during a national event. T.J. (Troy Coughlin Jr.) won this race a few years ago in this same car so it already knows it's way to the winner's circle. I just need to do my job."
FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN QUALIFYING - Two of the Factory Stock Showdown's titans lead qualifying for the sportsman factory hot rods after two sessions during first-day qualifying at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.
Stephen Bell (8.148), Peter Gasko Jr, (8.167), Pro Stock superstar Erica Enders (8.170), Geoffrey Turk (8.204) and Todd Patterson (8.220) were in the field with one session remaining.
Chuck Watson stands on the bubble with an 8.238.