LAUGHLIN'S HOLESHOT WAS MONUMENTAL IN WINNING LIGHTS OUT 10
With his voice cracking, his eyes brimming with tears, and holding high the trophy and $50,000 in cash just awarded for winning Radials vs. the World (RvW) at Lights Out 10 this past Sunday night (Feb. 17), Alex Laughlin dedicated the victory to an unlikely group.
"This is for all the people that said we couldn't do it."
What he'd just done was beat Daniel Pharris with a holeshot in the closest RvW final in Duck X Productions history. After going .004 on the tree, Laughlin ran 3.694 at 205.60 mph to beat a quicker and faster 3.690 at 211.13 by Pharris, who was no slouch on the start, either, leaving with a .015 light. It all added up to just seven-thousandths of a second separating the two at the South Georgia Motorsports Park (SGMP) eighth-mile stripe.
"I never saw him beside me, but I knew he was right there because I could hear him, so I knew I was in one heck of a drag race," Laughlin said. "Then I saw my win light, I saw a .69 and a .69, and I chucked the chutes out. I literally just set my head down and started crying in the shutdown area."
Laughlin, 30, a winner in the hyper-competitive NHRA Pro Stock arena, made his radial-tire debut at this same race just one year ago, then finished runner-up to Jeff Naiser last fall at No Mercy 9, the second of promoter Donald "Duck" Long's annual radial-racing celebrations at SGMP.
Laughlin qualified his screw-blown Speed Society C6 Corvette fourth in the 32-car field with a 3.65 pass at 207.11 mph. PDRA Pro Boost veteran Kevin Rivenbark in his first career event on radials took the top spot with a record-setting 3.61 at 205.01, followed by Tim Slavens at 3.62 and 217.74 mph, which held up as top speed of the meet, and Mark Micke at 3.64 and 213.77 mph. Micke's teammate, Mark Woodruff, was right behind Laughlin in fifth (3.65/214.04), with Pharris going 3.67 at 211.43 to start from the sixth position.
The first three rounds of eliminations were completed on Saturday, with Laughlin overcoming a holeshot by Tim Kincaid to win the first round and easily handling Mike Decker III in round two.
"I was super pumped with winning the first two rounds and thinking I was gonna' go to bed knowing we were going to race on Sunday. But then they announced we're going back to the lanes and I have to face Mark Woodruff, one of the heaviest hitters in this entire category, a legend of the sport, and he's running good so I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I also thought it was just gonna' be cool to run beside him," Laughlin said Saturday night after winning with a 3.66 at 199.64 to Woodruff's 3.68 at 211.03 combination.
Meanwhile, Pharris' day began with a stripe-to-stripe lead over Brad Edwards, an easy win over Jack Greene, who shut down early, and a 3.68 at 209.92 pass in his twin-turbocharged 2017 Mustang to beat a wheelstanding Paolo Giust.
"We'd never run this car on drag radials until we came here. First radial outing with it, so just to get this far, we're pretty excited," the 32-year-old from Sikeston, MO, said.
The semis for Radials vs. the World were underway shortly after noon on Sunday beneath cloudy skies and with rain forecast by evening. Pharris was taking on Slavens and his largely original '69 Camaro-bodied machine, while Laughlin had to face the Steve Petty-tuned Rivenbark in his Pro Mod-style, ProCharger-equipped '69 Camaro.
Pharris left first by .014 and never looked back, going 3.69 at 209.59 to beat Slavens (3.70/213.33) and earn lane choice for the final.
"Just to qualify and go some rounds, that's awesome. To go to the final? That's a feat on its own, man. There's no room for error, no room for mishaps, you've really got to be on your game. Just look at the sheets, look at the reaction times. The driver's got to be on his A game," Pharris said.
Meantime, Slavens admitted he and his Marshfield, MO-based team "got a little nervous" when the sun briefly appeared shortly before racing Pharris.
"We maybe second-guessed ourselves a little when we took some power out of it down low. It took it out alright and we just couldn't make it up in the middle," he explained, though not with regret. "Quite honestly, we'd rather make the pass and get outrun than knock the tires off at the start. We did what we thought would be enough, but just came up a little short."
Next was Laughlin versus Rivenbark, who despite posting some up-and-down reaction times (.113, .044, .115), made short work of Nick Agostino, last year's Lights Out runner-up Keith Haney, and inaugural event winner David Wolfe in Saturday's action.
When the tree came down against Laughlin, though, Rivenbark's side glowed bright red after he left -.006 too soon, negating a 3.66 at 201.85-mph pass, while in the left lane Laughlin had a .019 light leading into a 3.72 run at 192.91 mph. Crew chief and fellow Texan Frankie "Madman" Taylor later revealed they had a small problem with the crank trigger that prevented the big Hemi from reaching its normal 10,000-plus RPMs at the top end and it also affected the shift indicator, forcing Laughlin to estimate when to change into high gear.
"He almost hit it dead on, too," Taylor said. "That kid's a good driver."
The admiration runs both ways as Laughlin credited Taylor for making a key tuning call after their round two win over Decker.
"I knew we had a shot at least after we sped the blower up. We went .72 in the second round, so we changed the pulley on the blower, sped it on up and we got everything back on our 60-foot (time) and downtrack and we've still got more in it because it was fat on the top end."
That left only the final to be run late in the afternoon with rain on the way. Regardless, thousands of fans remained in the stands, while hundreds more lined the fences and crowded the starting line as the two young fighters prepared to do high-speed, gloves-off battle. Regardless, they appeared relaxed and enjoying the moment as Pharris approached Laughlin in the staging lanes and playfully mocked his rival's last-second cellphone call. Then they quickly exchanged well wishes and retired to their respective corners.
Pharris took the right lane, Laughlin the left. Turbo versus blower. Ford versus Chevy. Missouri versus Texas. And the bets flowed freely between their respective camps.
"All weekend I liked to stage first, just so I'm ready because I'm not super acclimated to the whole transbrake deal after I've been leaving with the clutch (in Pro Stock) for about the last five years now," Laughlin said. "So I staged and Pharris, honestly, he took so long I thought he was going to time out. But his light flickered, and I just thought, 'Here we go, man, we're running now.'"
When the green light flashed, both cars left hard and kept their front ends down, with Laughlin's Vette rising just a little higher as they passed the 60-foot marker. Laughlin clearly had the advantage by that point and held it just long enough to hold off Pharris' twin-turboed terror and turn on the win light.
"When you have a .015 light and run .690, you should win that race," Pharris said afterward. "But Alex was double-oh-four on the tree; that's that Pro Stock training coming in. I really don't think I could've done any better on my end. I mean, shoot, that's just close drag racing.
"It's almost like first round at an NHRA Pro Mod race every time you go up there," he added. "We had to go with our guns fully loaded every round."
For Laughlin the Lights Out win represents more than just money or a trophy for the mantle back home in Bluff Dale, TX. It represents redemption, vindication and more than just a little pride of accomplishment.
"You don't even know what this means for all of us," he said. "You know, so many people just bash us all the time and at the end of the day we do have what it takes (to run) with some of the baddest drag racers out here."