When Don Lamana departed his south-Florida home for South Georgia Motorsports Park almost a month ago he harbored no delusions of even qualifying for the elite Sweet 16 field, nevermind actually winning the $101,000 top prize. After all, the event was designed to showcase the absolute best of the best in Radial vs. the World (RvW), with educated predictions for the bump spot typically falling in the high-3.70s to low-3.80s.  

Meanwhile, Lamana was showing up at SGMP with his twin-turboed ’89 Fox-body Mustang in full-legal Pro 275 trim, which meant carrying at least 200 pounds more than the RVW 2,750-pound minimum weight and hooking up with Mickey Thompson 275 drag radials instead of the wider RvW 315-series tires. For him, Sweet 16 represented a glorified test session.

“We wanted to work on our program, try things that we don't really get a chance to work on because when you do your typical race there are three, four, five hours between rounds, whether it's qualifying or racing. Whatever you're doing, whatever change you make, you can't 100-percent say it worked or it didn't work because the track may have been a little different, the air may have been a little different. Here, you make a change and it’s only 90 minutes or so (between rounds), so then you know the track is pretty much the same and you know your change worked or it didn't,” explained Lamana, who co-owns Pro Fab Performance Plus in Port Richey, Florida.

“So we came here with a plan to get a 3.90; that’s what we were looking for. We’d been 4.05, 4.04, 4.02, but could just never get that last couple of hundredths, so getting that three-second run was our goal and I knew this race would give us our best chance.”

He was right and it didn’t take long, either. In the last of three sessions Mar. 22, the first day of qualifying, Lamana got the job done, tripping the eighth-mile beams in 3.992 seconds at 194.66 mph.

“We were all happy and that was mission accomplished to me. If nothing else happened I would’ve been happy,” he said. “So we were satisfied and all, but then you know, we had a whole other day to go.”

Actually, two more days as Friday saw another six rounds of qualifying for a unique event that featured only two classes: a No Time division for grudge-type racers, and the premier Radial vs. the World, which on race day would be split into the Sweet 16 top runners vying for a the big winner-take-all purse while all remaining cars went after $5,000 to win a second-chance race.

After struggling some during the day, Lamana’s big moment came Friday night when his 3.945 at 196.04 mph eclipsed the previous Pro 275 elapsed time record of 3.97 seconds. 

It also qualified him 27th overall among 34 RvW entries or 11th on the ladder for the second-chance event. By comparison, the Sweet 16 bump spot ended up going to young Ty Tutterow with a very quick 3.76 at 198.64, while the number-one slot was occupied by an otherworldly, record-shattering 3.62 by Mark Micke, who also obliterated the speed record with an unreal 221.20-mph effort in a separate qualifying pass.

“We kind of brought a knife to a gun fight, but we knew that when we got here. We did everything we could do based on our combination, I think,” said Lamana, who runs a ProLine engine outfitted with Frankenstein Engine Dynamics heads, a pair of Precision Turbo 94-millimeter units and Haltech engine management. The resulting horsepower is fed to a combination of Santhuff and Racecraft suspension parts via a two-speed M&M transmission with a ProTorque converter.  

“Obviously I’m very happy with that 3.94 because it way exceeded our expectations,” Lamana added. “And they had the track just perfect for us. That’s really why we came here.”

Regardless, come race day, Lamana opened with yet another 3.94, this one with a 7 tacked on but at a slightly faster 196.19 mph to send Frank Pompilio and his twin-turbocharged ’67 Mustang back home to Canada. Lamana then overcame a holeshot by Ron Fisher in his supercharged ’68 Chevelle to advance to the semis with a 4.35 at 186.48 mph. His good fortune finally ran out, however, with a 4.08 pass at 195.45 against Tim Kincaid, who went on to win the second-chance final over Rodney Whatley in a battle of blown ’63 Corvettes.

Despite the late-round loss, Lamana left the track feeling positive about his Sweet 16 experience.

“It felt good to back up the .94 up this morning in the first round. I mean it was already official, but it made it even more official when we came out and did it again,” said Lamana, who went so far as to take photos of the SGMP scales showing his car made weight for Pro 275 after each record run. 

“I was at exactly 2,950 (pounds) last night and 2,955 this morning, which is important because we didn’t want to lower our weight because that changes everything, all your data, all your percentages, and then you've got to basically start over. So to change all that for one test session it's not worth it to us to reinvent the wheel, per se. We don't gain any knowledge in our program by doing that.”

In addition to his wife, Jeri, Lamana credited and thanked crew chief Matt Larue and tuner Wade Hopkins of SSR, as well as Troy Fedora, Mark Michlovitz and Morgan Oliver back at the Pro Fab Performance Plus shop for helping to make his record-setting weekend a reality.

“This Sweet 16 event gave us all the chance to test things we couldn’t do anywhere else and the results were amazing. We ended up as the fastest car on 275s in the world at any weight, and then we end up going to the semis in the last-chance race, which was just a bonus for the whole event,” Lamana concluded. “And this event was genius, genius. I mean (promoter) Donald (Long) never ceases to amaze, with his ideas and the way he treats everybody and the way he takes care of everybody. It was just a great time.”