2020 DUCK X SWEET 16 3.0 - EVENT NOTEBOOK
REESE REMAINS THE ONE - With a unique screw-blown small-block powerplant beneath the hood of "El Diablo," his Reese Brother's Race Cars 2019 Camaro, David Reese stepped up with a 3.531-seconds pass at 211.33 mph in Saturday's fifth round of qualifying to take over the top spot in Radials vs. the World qualifying for Duck X Productions' Sweet 16 Ver. 3.0 at South Georgia Motorsports Park.
Then he sat back through three additional qualifying sessions on Sunday while 22 rivals took shot after shot trying to unseat the Temple, GA-based chassis builder from his lofty perch.
"We decided to sit the day out and try to conserve parts. The engine program is still new and we don't have a lot of spare parts so we were just trying to conserve, trying to make sure we can make it through the race," Reese said.
Reese teammate J.R. Gray stepped up in the eighth-and-final session to advance from fourth to second with a 3.567 at 206.45 in his nitrous-fed 2020 Camaro, bumping "Stevie Fast Jackson and his screw-blown '15 Camaro down to third, just two-thousandths of a second back.
Marcus Birt, in a nitrous-breathing C7 Corvette tuned by Jackson slotted in at fourth with a 3.575 at 205.16 mph, while a 3.597 at 208.42 by Melanie Salemi and her screw-blown 2015 Camaro completed the 3.50s passes in qualifying.
"I always expect that the guys who step up generally do, so I was a little surprised it stood up all through the day. But then the air wasn't real well, so I knew it wouldn't happen 'til later in the night," Reese said. "But I ain't gonna' lie, I was a little worried at the end. So it feels good to hold on."
Reese will face the supercharged late-model Corvette of 16th-place starter Alex Laughlin in the opening round of eliminations, scheduled to begin at 6:30 Monday evening.
"I think tomorrow the biggest thing is going to be track focus. You've got to really pay attention to what the track does. But I think Donald (Long, promoter) always makes sure that we have a good surface to race on," Reese said. "I think it's going to be pretty spectacular."
ZERO BEATS MISSED - Eric Dillard returned at Sweet 16 after a long layoff from the driver's seat and proved he hadn't missed a beat by steering team owner Manny Buginga's Procharger-boosted 2002 Mustang to the top position over the quickest Pro 275 qualifying field ever.
Dillard took over the lead position from Jeff Miller and his supercharged "Bumblebee" Camaro with a 3.777-seconds run at 194.80 mph in the seventh-and-final qualifying session.
"I knew we had a little more in it because we've done a lot of testing with this car. It's new out here, only the second race we've been to, but this car has got a lot of laps on it," said Dillard, co-owner of Proline Racing in Ball Ground, GA.
"We went for four days, the one test session, and we just did two or three days at Darlington this week. So even though it's pretty new, we've put a lot of time in. So we're confident. We've got a lot of tune-ups ready."
Following Miller on the qualifying list was Marty Stinnett, Ron Green and Ziff Hudson, with Tim Slavens, Scotty Guadagno and Mark Micke rounding out the top half of the quickest 16-car field in class history, with Frank Miron on the bump with a stout 3.912 at 192.66 mph in a nitrous-injected '68 Camaro.
"I don't get to race that much anymore and that's kind of something I choose to do. I don't really want to race our customers," said Dillard. "But you know, it feels great, it feels like magic. It was great to be out there again like that and I'm really looking forward to racing tomorrow.
"But it's going to be tough. We'll do our best for sure, but I know it's going to be tough. I'm looking forward to it, though."
BUGINGA! - The twin-turboed '02 Mustang of Bridgewater, MA's Manny Buginga rocketed to the top of X275 qualifying with a 4.238-seconds pass at 170.04 mph in the sixth of seven rounds.
Charles Hull of Brunswick, GA, also stepped up in the final session with a 4.251 at 168.14 that boosted his turbocharged '92 Mustang from eighth to second place. With a 4.257 at 166.70-mph pass, Delaware's Ron Rhodes rounded out the top three over the quickest field in class history, anchored at 16th by a 4.335-seconds effort at 165.94 mph by New Jersey racer Robert Williams.
"We have smart people on board like Jamie Miller, Tim Davis, Marty Chance, who help us solve all the issues," Buginga said. He also acknowledged being happy with the number one start for eliminations, but added nothing can be taken for granted.
"All these guys out here put their heart into it. This is the biggest race of the year, so they're all trying to be the guy at the end of the day on the podium. We need to take everybody seriously and just go one round at a time."
THE NEXT GENERATION OF TRACK PREP - Sydney Marshall quite literally came of age within the confines of Orlando Speedworld Dragway. His parents met there in the mid-'90s and he frequently visited the track as a young boy, developing a true and deep love of drag racing long before he was even out of grade school.
"So it just felt natural to ask for a job when I got old enough to work," Marshall recalls of starting in the OSD water box as a 16-year-old high school student.
Now 21 and studying engineering at University of Central Florida, Marshall also serves as OSD track manager and track prep specialist. He says "trying to make everybody happy" is the greatest day-to-day challenge he faces.
"I run scheduling of employees, directing events, keeping an actual flow going during events, along with track prep, everything like that. Pretty much anything on the drag racing facilities, it comes to me first," Marshall says. "And sometimes you get people mad, but you just gotta' do what you think is right. Then they can work with what you give them."
This weekend Marshall is working his special brand of sticky magic at South Georgia Motorsports Park during Duck X Productions' Sweet 16 Ver. 3.0 with help from fellow OSD employee Jeff Miles and Brandon Mass of Mass Traction.
After spending Monday to Wednesday prior to Sweet 16 at South Georgia for pre-race testing, Marshall said he headed back to Orlando for Thursday, then returned to SGMP on Friday to spend nearly 12 hours scraping and spraying the all-concrete surface in preparation for qualifying to begin mid-Saturday.
"It does take a special breed to commit to this," he observed. "Because sometimes people say they want to do this job and then you bring them out there for a day and they're like,' I don't know how you do this every day.' It's not for everyone. But I love it.
"I do see this to be a full-time career. I still want to get my degree just in case something ever happens and we couldn't do it anymore, but I could see myself growing and maybe one day owning a race track out of it. If it ever came down to it, I'd really like to do that."
RVW RECORD FALLS EARLY IN SWEET 16 QUALIFYING - David Reese and his screw-blown 2019 Camaro climbed their way to the top of Radials vs. the World qualifying for Sweet 16 Ver. 3.0 at South Georgia Motorsports Park, capping five sessions with a track ET record 3.531 at an also class-leading 211.33 mph. Reese steadily improved from a 3.68 that had him fourth after round three and 3.58 in round four that boosted him to second behind then leader Marcus Birt at 3.575 seconds and 205.75 mph.
Birt sat out the late-night fifth round with his nitrous-breathing C7 Corvette, but dropped only to second, with J.R. Gray third at 5.93 and 205.22 mph in a second Reese-built 2020 Camaro. Melanie Salemi was fourth at day's end with a 3.597 at 208.42 in her screw-blown '16 Camaro, and rookie driver Luis de Leon placed his nitrous-fed '69 Camaro fifth with a 3.614-seconds blast at 200.74 mph.
After 23 cars made qualifying attempts, fan favorites "Stevie Fast" Jackson, Rick Thornton and Jamie Hancock rounded out the provisional top half of the 16-car field with another day of qualifying to go on Sunday (Oct. 11), before eliminations begin Monday.
GREEN LEADS RECORD-SETTING PRO 275 FIELD ON SATURDAY - A late-night rain interrupted round five of Pro 275 qualifying for Sweet 16 and closed the track on Saturday, but not before a record for the quickest field in class history was established many times over.
With four completed rounds in the books, Ron Green and his screw-blown Camaro led the way with a solid 3.817 at 202.67 mph set in round three, but at the opposite end of the qualifying list sat Bob Adel with his turbocharged Mustang at a record-setting bump spot of 3.949 seconds at 196.16 mph.
The record actually was set as soon as all qualified cars were in the threes, and it took all the way down to Travis Esselman in 22nd before the first four-second pass appeared on the list of 40 class entries.
POTTER PREVAILING OVER QUICKEST-EVER X275 FIELD - After four X275 qualifying rounds were in the books for Sweet 16, Yardley Potter had driven his big-block, nitrous-boosted Mustang to the top of a packed 41-car X275 entry list with a 4.263 pass at 166.95 mph.
With more qualifying to come on Sunday followed by elimination rounds on Monday, Manny Buginga was close behind at 4.281 seconds, with a 4.285 pass by Justin Curry rounding out the top three.
Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the provisional 16-car qualified field, Dom Didonato ensured the quickest X-field in history with a 4.387 at 167.63 in his turbocharged 'Stang.
FROM FAMILY TRUCKSTER TO PATRIOT WARFARE - Five years ago, Tony Caswell made the nearly 20-hour drive from his home in Durand, MI, just to experience a Duck X Production for himself at South Georgia Motorsports Park. This weekend he's back as team owner of a brand-new Pro 275 entry for promoter Donald "Duck" Long's third annual Sweet 16 event.
As a 13-year Top Alcohol Dragster racer, Caswell is no stranger to drag racing, however. For his first visit to SGMP he helped out as a crew member for doorslammer veterans Scott Carter and Bob Adel, but this time around he's teamed up with crew chief Jason French and chassis man Rich McCarren behind the wheel of his unique, twin-turboed '84 Chevy S-10 Blazer.
Dubbed "Patriot Warfare," the car sports a compelling patriotic-themed wrap designed and applied by Motor City Wraps in Howell, MI. Caswell says it represents a tribute to his Uncle Kenny, who died in the Vietnam War, as well as to all current U.S. Armed Forces members and veterans.
"I've never seen one racing before and I don't know that there's any other full tube-chassis S-10 Blazers out there," Caswell explains of his unconventional choice for a race car. "When I ran across this it was basically a stock vehicle. We just kept the roof and the quarters and the rest is fiberglass."
Caswell found the car on AutoTrader.com a couple of years ago and promptly drove down to pick it up from the original owner in Lima, OH. He was told it was a daily driver for just six months before being reserved only as a family weekend hauler.
"He told me they conceived nine kids in the backseat of that thing after church on Sundays," Caswell says with a laugh. "Then all nine kids learned how to drive in it."
Current driver McCarren, of Pro Racecraft Engineering in Romulus, MI, completed the chassis work on the Blazer, which sports a 540 big-block Chevy between the front rails with twin 88-millimeter Precision Turbos providing the boost.
"The motor in this is actually Bob's old motor that he holds the world record with for a cast block, conventional head, which was two or three years ago here at Lights Out. So we're hoping to be able to take over his record with his old motor," Caswell says of his ideal Sweet 16 weekend.
McCarren remains a little more conservative in his hopes and expectations.
"My first time driving the car will be my first qualifying run," he reveals. "Really, just to get the car qualified would be a successful weekend for me. That'd be the first step and if it does better, then that would be great. But I'd be happy just getting qualified."
HEAVY HEAD DAMAGE SIDELINES HANCOCK - After sitting out the first two rounds of Radials vs. the World qualifying for Sweet 16 at South Georgia Motorsports Park, Alabama-based Jamie Hancock stepped up in round three with a solid 3.68 at 194.55 mph to place his nitrous-breathing '69 Firebird fifth of 19 entries. Unfortunately, it also proved costly as a dropped valve created major havoc in both cylinder heads to end Hancock's weekend.
After snapping off and devastating its original chamber, the entire valve head passed through the cylinder head, traveled through the intake manifold and into the opposite head. In the end, only one piston and rod survived the mechanical carnage leashed.
"Both heads can be fixed, but the valves, pistons and rods are all junk," Hancock's father and crew chief, James Hancock III said. "We also have to check all the injectors in the manifold 'cause who knows what might've happened to them, and the whole bottom end will have to come out, too. We can fix it, but this will be a total rebuild."
At day's end it seemed clear that Hancock would be unable to continue at Sweet 16 without assistance such as a fellow racer lending some parts, and even his participation in next weekend's No Mercy event at SGMP remained in jeopardy.