"Stevie Fast" Jackson and crew celebrate Lights Out 9 victory at SGMP

In the end, Radials vs. the World (RvW) fans got what they wanted Feb. 15-18, at promoter Donald "Duck" Long's Lights Out 9: a final-round showdown between two of the most popular and polarizing stars in the sport. The stakes were high, too, with $50,000 in cash (plus a sizable but undisclosed side bet between the two finalists) going to the winner of the annual drag radial extravaganza at South Georgia Motorsports Park (SGMP).

After three qualifying sessions and five rounds of RvW eliminations spread out over the event's four days, it all came down to number-two qualifier and local favorite "Stevie Fast" Jackson of Evans, GA, going up against Keith Haney, the colorful, outspoken car dealer from Broken Arrow, OK. Jackson also called the tune-up on "The Shadow," his blown-Hemi-powered 2015 Camaro, while Haney relied on crew chiefs Brandon Switzer and Brandon Pesz to tweak "Enigma," his nitrous-assisted 2016 Camaro.

Despite running an identical 3.787 elapsed time to teammate and polesitter Jeff Sitton in qualifying, Jackson was bumped down to second based on going less than one mile an hour slower over what turned out to be a tricky SGMP eighth mile. Haney, meanwhile, held the top spot after the opening round of qualifying on Thursday night, but his 3.858 eventually fell down to eighth. Daniel Pharris, Jamie Hancock and Canadian Paolo Giust rounded out the top five, while Lyle Barnett anchored the 32-car RvW field after a record 59 entries made qualifying attempts. However, Matt Bell was added as first alternate as a replacement for 10th-place starter Taylor Lastor, who fortunately was uninjured in a qualifying accident with his 2017 Camaro on Friday night.

Once eliminations began, Jackson marched through Barnett, Enzo Pecchini, Ryan Martin and Tim Slavens, going quicker and faster each round on his way to the final. His Killin' Time Racing teammate also crashed in round one of eliminations, though, losing control in the shutdown area shortly after beating Bell to the stripe. Sitton also was fortunate to escape uninjured after sideswiping the left guardwall, but crew chief Jeff Pierce deemed suspension damage to the supercharged 2017 Camaro meant their weekend was over.   

Haney, meanwhile, rode out a huge wheelstand in the opening round of racing to beat Jeff Shawver, then dispatched Paul Major, Kenjo Kelley, and Giust with a holeshot and career-best ET on radials (3.798) in a very close semi final while also improving his time and speed with each passing round.

Keith Haney

"You're going to see a great final," Haney promised. "Stevie's fast, but it's cooling down and there's moisture in the air, which is good for us, so that means these guys (Switzer and Pesz) are going over the numbers and they'll be turning it up. We won't be leaving anything on the table and if I can do my job as a driver again I think we'll be in great shape."

Jackson, meanwhile, conceded atmospheric conditions were improving for Haney's nitrous combination, but insisted he still had some untapped horsepower to unleash, too.

"He better be ready because 'The Shadow' is about to fall over Keith Haney Racing," Jackson said as he tapped new tune-up coordinates into a laptop computer. "Everyone better hold on, because this one's about to go down!"

With lane choice for the final going to the quicker elapsed time from the semis, Jackson chose the right side, not at all unexpectedly putting Haney in the left lane for the first time in eliminations. Both cars performed lengthy burnouts amidst a sizable starting-line crowd, then backed into place, where Haney purged his nitrous system while Jackson repeatedly rapped the throttle on his supercharged Hemi.

There was no starting-line gamesmanship once the cars edged toward the beams. Jackson went in first for both pre-staging and staging, with Haney following each movement within a second or two. Then the tree was activated and Jackson left with a .027 reaction time, his second-best light throughout eliminations (he had a .023 in the semis), while Haney posted .081 off the start, by far his worst after going .017 in the semis.

Regardless, though both cars ran nearly identical speeds the gap grew even larger 660 feet later, as Jackson crossed the SGMP finish line in 3.742 seconds at 199.67 mph compared to 3.770 at 199.52 for Haney, adding up to a sizable .082 margin of victory.

"A wise man once told me, once you get your foot on their throat don't let 'em up until you're sure they're dead and that's exactly what we did here today," Jackson declared in victory lane. "We should've won this race last time but we had some parts failure so we wanted this one pretty bad and poor ol' Haney and his guys were just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Though understandably disappointed, Haney found encouragement in again lowering his career-best ET on radials, getting his 2018 racing season off to an encouraging start and contributing to an overall positive drag racing experience.

"Amazing. You know, we won Mid-West Pro Mod Series championships with both this car and my other car (a nearly identical appearing Pro Mod '16 Camaro) last year and to come out here and run like this and get to the final round and make career-best runs in this car, well, it really couldn't be much better," Haney said. "We didn't do any testing before coming here. None, and everybody knows that, so my team, I just couldn't be any prouder of them.

"And at the end of the day, between the grudge race Stevie and I did in qualifying and the way things ended today in the finals, I think what we did for drag racing is what's really important. In my opinion, and I think a lot of people would agree with this, I think this was one of the best radial races we've ever seen. And that's including everything, the talking crap leading up to it, the videos on Facebook, the trash talking and the betting at the track, it's all part of the bigger show. It all came together exactly as planned; it just didn't work out in my favor."

Also earning big trophies and checks at Lights Out 9 were Alabama's Shane Stack with a final-round Limited Drag Radial win over Ray Parsons; Ken Quartuccio of Wallingford, CT, in Outlaw 632; Mike Terry from Round Rock, TX, in Limited 275; and Rodney Ragan taking the Ultra Street honors home to Babylon, NY.
The X-275 win went to John Keesey of Coatesville, PA; Martin Connelley of Salyersville, KY, won in DXP 235; Georgia's own Ken Grant prevailed over a huge Open Comp field; and Hunter Burgess of Bankston, AL, won a double-breakout final over Dennis Smith in the 6.0 Index final.