2019 LIGHTS OUT 10 - EVENT NOTEBOOK
LIGHTS OUT 10 ELIMINATIONS NOTEBOOK
ON A HOLESHOT - 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."
As the sun peaked over the horizon, the daylight revealed a South Georgia Motorsports Park facility that put through the wringer for the last five days, but still had plenty of gas left in its tank.
Multi-faceted drag racer Alex Laughlin can relate.
Laughlin hopes his challenges encountered on the first day of the marathon Lights Out 10 drag radial event remain in the past. The licensed NHRA Pro Stock, Pro Modified, Top Alcohol Dragster and this weekend Radial vs. The World driver made his way down to the four cars in the $50,000-to-win marquee event.
Laughlin might have made the process look effortless along the way from qualifying No. 4, and beating Tim Kincaid, Mike Decker II, and Mark Woodruff to make it to the quarter-finals.
The shredded blower belt still sitting over in the corner of his pit area from Wednesday serves as a reminder of how the race didn't exactly get off on solid footing.
"Whenever we were at the end of the track, I noticed the belt was off and noticed that had something to do with the mile per hour being down," Laughlin explained. "Ultimately it did, but the problem is I am still manually shifting this car, and I ran all over the rev-limiter.
"This is the third door car I've driven this year. I drove a Pro Stock car last weekend. It never carries the front end at all, but on Wednesday's pass, it did. I was being a little timid with it, and missed the shift."
Laughlin believes the first run should have opened the event with a 3.64.
Missing the shift and shredding the belt was the sanest part of the Wednesday run. Laughlin arrived 25 minutes following the final call for the opening Radial vs. The World qualifying session.
"I missed my first flight into here, got on another one and got here, grabbed my rental car and got out here as fast as I could," Laughlin explained. "I literally put my suit on the way to the staging lanes."
Laughlin wasn't expecting to set the track on fire out of the gate; he just wanted a strong baseline to walk up to low elapsed time.
"Let’s just duplicate that run every single time, and we can end up winning the race," Laughlin told crew chief Frankie "Mad Man" Taylor. "Every time that we’ve rolled this thing out, we have started off with a lazy tuneup, and just tried to kind of sneak up on it and get better and better, which there’s no problem with that but this time we went straight for it, and we nailed it. If we can just hang onto it right there, there’s no learning to be done; we just need to keep doing the same thing."
The impressive part of Laughlin's foray to the front in the early is that he didn't even crank the car from last September when he raced to a runner-up finish at No Mercy 9 until Wednesday's first run of the year.
"I put another engine in it because we hurt the one that we ran at No Mercy, so I swapped motors; otherwise it’s just been sitting, collecting dust," Laughlin said.
When you live life at breakneck speed as Laughlin does, there's very little time for maintenance.
"Last week I was in a Pro Stock car, I’m here this weekend in RVW, next weekend back into a Pro Stock car and the next week it will be NHRA Pro Mod," Laughlin explained. "We’ll be testing in it in Bradenton the weekend before the Gatornationals. So I’ll go Pro Mod the weekend before, Pro Mod and Pro Stock at the Gatornationals, I’ve got my hands full for sure."
Laughlin returns to South Georgia Motorsports Park for the Sweet 16, $101,000-to-win Radial vs. The World event next month. For Laughlin, the challenge of competing with three diverse yet competitive combinations provides a unique challenge.
"As long as I can keep scraping up the money to be able to do it, you know I like being diversified," Laughlin said. "Nobody else really does it, you know, so I think it’s cool."
DOUBLE JEOPARDY IN RVW SECOND-CHANCE RACE - Round one of the second-chance race for Radials vs. the World non-qualifiers saw James Linton Jr. sideswipe the left guardwall at South Georgia Motorsports Park, while his opponent Jason Terrell wound up nosing into the right wall near the eighth-mile finish line after he locked up the brakes to avoid Linton's car.
"I'm not hurt at all, but I don't really know what happened. I don't know if it was something on the track or what, but all of a sudden it just shot off to the left and hit the wall," Linton said after struggling with his crew to load his wounded Andy McCoy-built '70 Duster back in its race hauler. "Totally unexpected. That was the first time it did anything like that all weekend."
Adding insult to injury, Linton's run began with a red-light start and the car launching hard before abruptly turning left as it neared half-track. Seeing this, Terrell correctly predicted the "Demon Duster" would rebound across the track.
"I knew he was coming, so at that point I threw the chute and got on the brakes, a little harder than I would have liked to just because I thought he was about to hit my door. But we did avoid hitting each other," Terrell recalled. "My car hit nose first into the wall and that was actually very fortunate because it could have been a lot worse because he did end up in my lane. Drag racing happens, though, so thankfully everybody was okay."
Terrell's 1990 Mustang had arrived in pristine condition for Lights Out 10, fresh out of his and Brad Schnieders' Tin Soldier Race Cars shop in Covington, KY. They planned to compete in the much slower DXP 235 class, but double entered into RvW in order to post some extra test passes with the new whip. Then the crash came.
"As soon as we got off the track my business partner looked at me and said, ‘Do you want to fix this thing?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we’re racing today.’ So we got back and immediately there was probably 20 of our friends here, friends, customers, just people we do work for, everybody, they came and we started blowing it apart. That's when we figured out that the turbo was damaged," Terrell said.
When Precision Turbo didn't have the parts onsite to fix the 76-millimeter unit, Terrell said Bart Tobener of Race Part Solutions stepped up with an extra turbo on loan, Ron Hargett from Hargett Automotive was instrumental in cobbling back together the car's torn-up front end John Pryor temporarily donated a pair of new front wheels.
"And then my business partner, obviously we’ve set up a ton of cars, he would not let me go down the race track unless this thing was perfect. So we checked the alignment, actually put it on toe in, toe out scales. So this was not a just hurry up and fix it and send it down the race track deal," Terrell stressed.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the SGMP property, Linton and his crew were glumly packing up his wrecked ride and preparing for the back trip home to Charleston, SC.
"The body's gone; it's gonna' need a whole new body. The chassis is salvageable, but it's gonna' need a lot of work, too," he said dejectedly. "This is it for me. I mean it. I'm done. I'm gonna' me find a new hobby."
FORMER TEAMMATES FACE OFF - Easily the most-anticipated showdown for round two of Radials vs. the World eliminations in both the pits and the stands at Lights Out 10 was that of former teammates and business partners "Stevie Fast" Jackson (left) and Jeff Sitton. In the opening round, number-10 qualifier Jackson went 3.74 at 199.02 to score his first win against DeWayne Mills in their sixth career pairing, while 7th-place starter Sitton made a 3.70 at 201.58 solo pass thanks to a no show by Eric Kvilhaug.
The helmeted combatants shared a brief hug and brief words of well wishes in the staging lanes moments before hundreds of fans crowded the starting line with cell phones held high to record the moment for posterity. When the tree dropped, neither driver had a particularly good leave as Jackson posted a .077 reaction time and Sitton a .098. Still, it made the difference as Jackson's 3.73 at 198.73 combo beat a quicker and faster 3.72 at 200.92 by Sitton. And despite their closely associated past, Jackson insisted he treated the race just like any other.
"It's extra sweet any time you can beat anybody out here. I respect Jeff a lot as a friend and a former business partner, and also as a competitor," he said. "Those guys have got their hot rod flyin' and Jeff's doing an awesome job driving it, I'm proud of him, and I know they're going to win some races.
"But it's always sweet to win and I really don't care who's in the other lane. At the end of the day we can all be friends, but my job is to get them loaded up and headed home, whoever it is."
RVW SEMI-FINALS FIELD SET FOR LIGHTS OUT 10 - And then there were four. Lights Out 10 is guaranteed a new Radial vs. the World winner as rookie entry and number-one qualifier Kevin Rivenbark will be joined by Daniel Pharris, Alex Laughlin and Tim Slavens when the semi-finals resume Sunday afternoon (Feb. 17).
In just his ninth pass with the small tires on his ProCharger-equipped '69 Camaro, Rivenbark qualified first with a record-setting 3.61-seconds run at 205.01 mph. The Clinton, NC-based driver then bested Canadian Nick Agostino, nitrous racing star Keith Haney and inaugural Lights Out champion David Wolfe in the early rounds.
Taking on Rivenbark in the semis will be NHRA Pro Stock star Alex Laughlin in his screw-blown Speed Society C6 Corvette. Laughlin ran 3.65 at 207.11 to start from the fourth position, then overcame a holeshot by Tim Kincaid to win the first round, beat Mike Decker III in round two, and won a very close quarter-finals match against Mark Woodruff.
Significantly, Rivenbark and Laughlin ran identical 3.669 elapsed times in their semi-finals wins, but Rivenbark got the nod for lane choice based on going 203.40 mph compared to Laughlin's 199.64 result.
"Looking at the results from this last round we've got three of us at .66 and one at .68; I mean, we're in Pro Stock territory here," Laughlin observed. "So all it comes down to reaction time, and if we go off this, I would've won."
On the opposite side of the ladder, Sikeston, MO's Pharris drove his ProLine-powered '17 Mustang to a sixth-place start (3.67), and beat Brad Edwards, Jack Green, and Canada's Paolo Guist to round out his Saturday.
Meanwhile, Slavens, who first came to Lights Out with his former bracket racing '69 Camaro in 2016, briefly held the new RvW E.T. record before Rivenbark's heroics in qualifying, but his 3.62 at 217.74 remained strong enough for the number-two start and his speed remained top mark of the meet through Saturday night.
With a fresh engine installed after qualifying wrapped up Friday night, Slavens benefited from a pair of redlight starts from Jason Hoard and Taylor Lastor in early eliminations, then came from behind to beat fan favorite Stevie Jackson in the quarters. He will have lane choice over Pharris based on going 3.66 to Pharris' winning 3.68 effort.
"This car started life as a factory '69 Camaro. It's still got the factory rocker panels, the door jambs, the roof, part of the floor pans; it's all factory steel," Slavens stated. And despite being justifiably proud of having the only truly competitive former factory car in RvW, Slavens also admitted to feeling a little overwhelmed by the prospect.
"It's a little bit surreal, to be honest, looking at where we were three years ago to where we are now. For a while we questioned ourselves if we would ever get into the three-second zone, but then you just keep chipping away at it in the .80s and the .70s and the .60s now. And I don't know about for us, but I think the .50s are just over the horizon for several teams here," he predicted. "So it really is surreal at this point to look back at our progress."
Despite his relative inexperience compared to the competition, Rivenbark has to be considered the favorite heading into the last two rounds, thanks largely to the influence of multi-championship winning crew chief Steve Petty calling the shots.
"I strive every time to make the perfect run and we've run seven in a row so far, so if we make it to the finals and win that'll be nine in a row, which would be pretty gratifying to me," Petty said. "I don't want no gimmes, you know, I don't want to be a tenth faster than everybody else out here. I want to race for it."
LIGHTS OUT 10 QUALIFYING NOTEBOOK
RIVENBARK RULES RADIALS VS. THE WORLD QUALIFYING - Heading into the fourth and final round of qualifying for Radials vs. the World at Lights Out 10, four drivers had already run in the 3.60s, led by Tim Slavens at a then-record 3.62 at 217.74 mph.
But when the fourth-and-final qualifying session wrapped up it was class newcomer Kevin Rivenbark on top with a new record 3.61 seconds in his ProCharger-boosted, Pro Mod-style '69 Camaro, with Slavens and six more entries lined up behind him in the vaunted 3.60 range. Incrementals on Rivenbark's pole-sitting pass included an impressive .919 to 60 feet, 2.410 to half-track, and 3.613 at 205.01 mph at the eighth-mile stripe.
"I can't even fathom it all right now; it really hasn't sunk in," admitted Rivenbark, who earlier in the week made his career-first test passes on radial tires in a test session at Orlando led by crew chief Steve Petty. A veteran Pro Mod racer and the 2016 PDRA Pro Boost champion, the record-setting run at SGMP came with just his ninth pass on radial tires.
"I mean, this is a big deal. This is a team that's already proven, but the combination of us together, plus a new deal with ProCharger that made this happen at the first event together is just awesome. But they all make my job easy. I feel very confident that the car is going to go A to B every time, so they're the ones who give me confidence and make me look good.
"I also have to thank Mr. Earl Wells at GALOT Motorsports. He's been so important to my racing career and I really wouldn't be in this position now if it wasn't for his support."
The record setting continued within the rest of the field, too, as all 32 qualifiers posted 3.80s or better ETs for the first time in 10 years of Duck X Productions history at South Georgia Motorsports Park. Significantly, more than three-quarters of the field posted personal bests, anchored by Jason Hoard of St. Charles, MO, with a personal-best 3.88 at 199.76 mph in his twin-turbo '68 Camaro, creating a spread of .275 from first to 32nd.
Additionally, Connecticut's Ken Quartuccio and his C7 Corvette ran 3.75 at 210.44 mph to place 16th, making the top half of the Lights Out 10 field quicker than last year's inaugural Sweet 16 field with its 3.76 bump spot held by Ty Tutterow.
The overall strength of the field was not lost on Rivenbark.
"I think there are several teams here that are capable of taking a run at us. It's just a question of getting the combination together and tomorrow I don't think there's even one out there that you'd want to take lightly," he said.
Eliminations for Lights Out 10 are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday.
HANEY FIRST BIG WINNER OF LIGHTS OUT 10 - The much publicized and very much anticipated grudge match between "Stevie Fast" Jackson and Keith "You Know My Name" Haney went down as the first pairing of second-round Radials vs. the World on Thursday night at Lights Out 10. It ended with Haney adding another layer of name recognition.
"You know, he's a great competitor with me; I think we bring out the best in each other and it's something that the fans love," Haney said after going 3.85 at 195.76 to beat Jackson's 4.01 at 181.94-mph effort.
"I mean, I heard the crowd was going crazy while we were staging because everybody bet on Stevie winning, but guess what? My fans got paid!"
Jackson left first with a .017 holeshot in his screw-blown 2018 Camaro, and ran just two-thousandths of a second quicker to the 60-foot marker (1.004). However, Haney's nitrous-assisted '16 Camaro ran quicker in the first 330 feet by eighth thousandths before posting a .049 margin of victory in front of the largest Thursday-night crowd in Duck X Productions history at South Georgia Motorsports Park.
"It was awesome. You know, we've been racing a long time against each other and our bet isn't just on the win; we bet on reaction time, 60-foot, 330, just everything, and he won reaction and 60-foot this time, but I won to the 330 and finish, so that's even better," Haney said. "And it lasts all weekend so our bet is long, we bet on who's got a better light next round, who runs fastest next round, who goes furthest in the race, so we've got all these side bets going, it's not just about the one round. And we had a little bet last November at the Elite 16 race in Dallas (TX), and he paid me there, too! So that's two in a row he's lost to me. People forget that!"
Meanwhile, Jackson claimed he was well on his way to winning the round when his transmission failed shortly before the eighth-mile finish line.
"It just broke," he said. "I was pulling on him and it just let go at the end. It's done that a few times to us now and we don't know why. Something's not right, but we'll find it. We have to."
Haney's pass placed him 21st in the provisional 32-car Radials vs. the World field, led by a record-setting 3.62 run by Tim Slavens, while Jackson was 34th, just outside the all-three-second field with three more planned qualifying sessions to go before eliminations begin Saturday afternoon.
ONE TIRE GETS THE JOB DONE - It's common enough to have become expected. Every year during promoter Donald "Duck" Long's radial-racing extravaganzas, the ETs go down and the speeds go up. Technology develops, combos change, tuners get smarter, drivers get better, but one constant remains: the Mickey Thompson radial tires that put the traction to the track at South Georgia Motorsports Park.
"I mean, every race, not even every year, these guys take it to the next level. They up the bar every race. Just six years ago we were going 4.40s, and last year Mark Micke went 3.62 at over 221 miles an hour," M/T Motorsports Manager Tommy Kundrik points out.
"And you know, I think if we get the right air here we’ll see .50s. I said it a couple years ago when we came out with the Pro (tire), that I thought we could go .40s on them. Even without some more technology, I think the tire can handle it."
Remarkably, today's so-called "small tire" stars rely upon the same rubber introduced more than 15 years ago on the Mickey Thompson E.T. Street Radial.
"It's exactly the same compound," Kundrik states from within the Mickey Thompson sales and service truck onsite at Lights Out 10. His M/T trackside team attended 109 motorsports events last year and he personally shows up at two dozen or more annually.
"The difference is the old E.T. Street Radial was a steel-belted radial and the Street Radial Pro tires here are nylon-belted polyester. All the construction material is more forgiving. The old tire being steel belted, you couldn’t bend that thing; now they’ll wrinkle a little bit, but they always stay round."
Kundrik says the original M/T E.T. Street Radial was designed in the early 2000s on a nine-second street car and about 12 years later DeWayne Mills broke into the 3.80s with the identical construction. That prompted the release four years ago of the current M/T E.T. Street Radial Pro in 275 and shortly afterward 315 sizes.
"The good thing about a radial is that it doesn’t absorb power; the bad thing is that it doesn’t absorb power," Kundrik says. "So it’s harder to get it off the starting line, but once you get it going it’s very predictable. It’s round from the get go, so your gear ratios can remain the same, nothing changes. You get all your ratios right and away you go."
Kundrik says it was exactly that predictability that inspired Mickey Thompson to launch a line of Pro Bracket Radial two years ago.
"Those things are dead money because they do the same thing every time," he says. "Where a slick will ball up and you’ll run it over because the track gets better, these things don’t do that. They just do the same thing, every time. And with a radial you don’t have to worry about roll outs matching because they’re all made the same and they keep their shape.
Regarding the future, Kundrik says Mickey Thompson tire engineers are currently working on a radial application for Stock Eliminator entries.
"We should radialize the world," he says.
GHOST WINS BIG! - In what was billed as a six-figure(!) grudge race, Jason X (left lane) faced off against Ghost with the clocks blacked out at South Georgia Motorsports Park. The Mustang left first, but the bright white Vette quickly reeled it in to take the win. Scary stuff indeed--especially for Jason X backers!