2021 LIGHTS OUT 12 - EVENT NOTEBOOK
ELIMINATIONS NOTEBOOK -
LEE RUNS THE TABLE IN RVW AT LO12 - Set a new elapsed time record, qualify number one, set low ET in every round of racing, win convincingly in the final round: check, check, check, and check. Jason Lee did at all Feb. 25-28, at South Georgia Motorsports Park, where he defeated Marcus Birt for the much-coveted Lights Out 12 Radials vs. the World title.
"I've got a lot of small-tire radial experience, but never at this level, never on the bigger tire, so this is pretty cool," the Toledo-based driver said after only his fourth RVW outing. "But I couldn't do it without this great team, a great team owner, a great car, and just everything it takes to win a race like this."
Driving the Coast Packing Company '69 Camaro for 2020 NMCA Pro Mod World Champion Eric Gustafson, who was recently injured in a traffic accident, Lee established himself as a frontrunner early in the week with a 3.507 test pass, which if official, would've set a new class record. Regardless, on Wednesday night as half of the first pair to make an official RVW qualifying pass for Lights Out 12, Lee proved it was no fluke by going 3.502 at 211.46 mph to officially put his name in the record books and secure the number-one position over 37 class entries.
If there was any downside to the team's weekend it was coming up just a little short of being the first to the .40s on radial tires, an honor that remains there for the claiming.
"With our combination we use 100 percent of our horsepower, so we needed the weather conditions to cooperate and when the weather went away our opportunity to go .40s went away," Lee explained. "But we got real close and what that tells us is that there's still a real opportunity out there when Sweet 16 (the next Duck X Productions event at SGMP next month) rolls around and that'll keep us digging."
Saturday night saw the opening round of eliminations in which Lee set low elapsed time with a 3.56 win over Paul Gargus. On Sunday he opened again with low ET for the round after repeating within four-thousandths another 3.56 against Tim Slavens, which sent him to the quarter finals where a 3.58 was again quickest of the round and put Daniel Ray on the trailer.
The semi-finals had Lee and his Procharger-boosted ride going up against number-five starter Jamie Hancock, but a .058 holeshot and a 3.60-seconds run sent Hancock and his nitrous-fed '69 Firebird packing and gave him lane choice for the final.
Waiting there would be third-place qualifier Marcus Birt, who defeated Eddie Harrison, Jody Voyles and Melanie Salemi before beating runner-up qualifier Bryan Markiewicz with a solid 3.61 at 204.29 mph effort in his own nitrous-huffing C7 Corvette.
Lee chose the left lane for the final and left with a .021 light, giving him an immediate .036 advantage over Birt. Both cars ran well down the SGMP eighth mile, but coupled with a late start Birt's 3.58 at 202.39 combination was no match for a $20,000 winning 3.56 at 208.46 mph in Lee's lane.
"I knew that I left first, but I did see him out of the corner of my eye and there's a spot at the end of the 60 foot where I knew if I went into any shake at all he could've went by me, but it did stay hooked and once we got past there I pretty much knew we had it done," Lee said.
Afterward, Lee said only the last-minute help of Nicole Liberty from Liberty's Transmissions allowed his team to avert late disaster.
"Motor wise we were in pretty good shape, but transmission wise we broke right before the final," he revealed. "Luckily, Nicole was actually here at the track, so our guys yanked the transmission out and as soon as it came out she was going through it and she rebuilt the transmission before we made that final round. She really helped us out."
Obviously disappointed, Birt said his car performed "pretty much what we thought it was gonna' run, but just fell a little short. The track was a little iffy and we just didn't want to shoot ourself in the foot.
"And he got out on me a little bit, but we 60 footed and ran to the 330 pretty close to the same, but his car was really something on the far end. We just didn't have enough for him this time, but we'll get to work on it and figure something out."
RHODES RIDES CONSISTENCY TO X275 WIN - A 4.22-seconds pass at 170.19 mph put Ron Rhodes and his '68 Camaro fourth in final X275 qualifying behind a star-studded lineup of Rob Goss, John Urist, and Blake Copson in the number-one slot with a 4.17 at 170.43 mph.
Rhodes ran another 4.22 to advance past Dave Fiscus, who was a no-show for their first-round pairing in eliminations, then made another solo run at 4.31 seconds after D.J. McCain was unable to continue in round two. Rhodes next overcame a slim holeshot to win with a 4.29 over fifth-place qualifier Charles Hull, leading to a semi-final showdown with John Davidson and his '80 Malibu, which encountered traction trouble as Rhodes ran 4.26 at 170.04 to reach the final.
His opponent would be Eric Laferriere and his Cypress, TX-based '97 240SX, who qualified sixth and made it past Mark Rogers, Jason Berchoff, Goss, and Scott Kincaid, who Laferrierre beat with a 4.21 at 175.75-mph pass to secure lane choice.
Laferriere left with an outstanding .009 light to Rhodes' still-solid .020 start, but an early shutoff allowed Rhodes to turn on the win light in 4.23 seconds at 170.69 mph.
Also winning at Lights Out 12 was Ryan McClaskey of Enchanted Oaks, TX, with his '67 Camaro in Ultra Street; number-one qualifier Shawn Pevlor from Cincinnati, OH, in DXP Street; second-place starter Jason Riley and his '87 Mustang in Limited 235; Ken Grant and his '73 Nova in Open Comp; and, Jackson Henderson with his Madison, AL-based 1972 Nova in the 6.0 Index class.
QUALIFYING NOTEBOOK - THE INSIDE STORIES IN THE PITS AND ON THE TRACK
LEE LASTS THROUGH 5 ROUNDS OF RVW QUALIFYING - Jason Lee's record-setting 3.50-seconds pass at 211.46 mph in the very first pair of Radials vs. the World qualifying Wednesday night at Lights Out 12, held up through Thursday night's session, two rounds on Friday and Saturday morning's last chance to knock Lee and his Procharger-boosted '69 Camaro from their pedestal atop 37 RVW entries.
Following the defending NMCA Pro Mod champion into eliminations at South Georgia Motorsports Park was Bryan Markiewicz at 3.55 and 206.95 in another Procharger-equipped '69 Camaro. Georgia's own Marcus Birt placed his nitrous-fed '16 Corvette third with a 3.58 at 205.10 mph, fan favorite Stevie Jackson secured fourth with a 3.59 at 211.53 in his screw-blown 2015 Camaro, and Jamie Hancock and his Alabama gang rounded out the ytop five with a 3.60 at 200.92 in their nitrous-huffing '69 Firebird.
In order, Melanie Salemi, Mike Decker, Tim Meisner, Daniel Ray and Norm Bryson filled out the top ten starters. The opening round of RVW eliminations also was held Saturday night at the eighth-mile speed plant near Valdosta, GA.
RECORDS ROLL IN LO12 QUALIFYING - In addition to Jason Lee's oh-so-close Radials vs. the World qualifying run toward being the first to the .40s on radial tires, several other classes saw record results on the top of their sheets at Lights Out 12.
Driving his Procharger-boosted '03 Mustang, Manny Buginga of Bridgewater, MA, crushed the Pro 275 elapsed time record with a 3.70-seconds pass at 200.29 mph to sit first over 40 entries. In fact, the first four qualifiers all eclipsed the prior 3.72 record, with Jeff Miller following Buginga at 3.712 at 202.67, Eric Dillard third at 3.715 and 198.20, and Shawn Ayers qualifying fourth with a 3.717 at 203.16 mph.
In Limited Drag Radial, 47 entries made qualifying attempts on the South Georgia Motorsports Park eighth mile, where Justin Cyrnek of Rockdale, IL, took the top spot with a 3.95 at 191.95 mph in his '04 Mustang, resetting his own record set just a few weeks earlier during the U.S. Street Nationals at Bradenton, FL. Also eclipsing Cyrnek's previous record was second-place qualifier Justin Martin who ran 3.96 at 190.38 in a '72 Nova. Paul Gargus placed third, followed by Shane Stack and his venerable '86 Monte Carlo, with California's James Lawrence fifth.
Blake Copson and his '04 Mustang from Perkasie, PA, qualified first over 40 X275 entries with a 4.17 at 170.43 mph, while Florida's Brian Keep reigned over 31 Ultra Street cars with a 4.51 at 154.40 in his '98 Camaro.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati racer Shawn Pevlor earned the number-one start in DXP Street with a 4.87 run at 141.74 in his Fox-body Mustang and Danny Nicely of Strawberry Plains, TN, put his 2000 Corvette into the Limited 235 qualifying lead with a 4.95 pass at 137.40 mph, the only run in the 4s for the class.
PROFANITY PREVAILS IN SGMP FLAG FLAP - In the opening round of racing on Saturday night at Lights Out 12, Carolina No-Time racer Anthony Sellars opted to fly a flag depicting a profane political message during his burnout in front of a packed grandstand at South Georgia Motorsports Park.
Just minutes earlier, Sellars visited the SGMP control tower where he spoke with Duck X Productions founder and president Donald Long, who had earlier expressed concern about the flag's presence. Long obviously preferred the flag, which declared "F**k Biden. And f**k you for voting for him," not be displayed on Sellars' blue Mustang, but said to Sellars, "I'm not telling you what to do."
Despite a generally positive response from the SGMP crowd, it didn't take long after Sellars' winning pass for a fan to arrive at the tower asking to speak with whomever was in charge. Long addressed the issue for several minutes in calm conversation with the woman and though little was actually resolved she left satisfied with his explanation.
Sellars also briefly visited the tower later in the evening and confirmed the Biden flag was retired for the weekend and an American flag would fly in its place on Sunday for as long as he remained in contention for the Lights Out win.
EARLY EXIT FOR 'STEVIE FAST' IN RVW - In a shocking development, "Stevie Fast" Jackson was shut off by the starter at Lights Out 12 for leaking fuel after his burnout for a first-round match in Radials vs. the World against Mark Micke.
"That's embarrassing," last year's Lights Out RVW champion said. "That's the first time we've been shut off for a leak since 2016. It's frustrating for us to have a mistake like that--a fitting on the fuel line that returns to the tank from the barrel valve came loose--but I really hate it for our fans that came here to see us race. That's the worst part of it."
Meanwhile, Micke laid down a 3.99 at 159.04 pass with his '78 Malibu that was supposed to be just a test pass for his real focus in Pro 275 this weekend.
"I told Stevie not to mess this up, that I didn't even really want to win. But now it turns out this is all I have," Micke said after falling in round one of P275 with tire spin off the line against Brian McGee's 1990 Mustang. He was actually in Jackson's pit at the time looking for 315-size radial tires to replace the 275s he'd been racing on all week.
"The 275s are only about nine inches wide and the 315s are 12, maybe 12-and-a-half inches. The 315s are a little taller, too, more rollout, so they're just bigger overall, which means a lot more traction, which I definitely will need tomorrow."
CONTACT SPORT FOR SINGLETARY - The only on-track incident for Saturday at Lights Out 12 came in round one of racing for Pro 275 when Billy Bogojevski out of Detroit, MI, struck the right guardwall just past the finish line and careened across the track to sideswipe the right, rear quarter panel of David Singletary's 2015 Camaro.
Bogojevski's '93 Mustang then recrossed the track to end up against the right wall where a small fire erupted while Singletary was able to bring his ride to a safe stop in his shutdown lane. Fortunately, neither driver was injured and both were able to exit their cars on their own, while SGMP safety crewmembers quickly extinguished the flames.
Living up to the name of his hometown Surprise, AZ, Singletary said he never realized anything was wrong until Bogojevski made contact.
"I had just pulled the chutes going across the finish line, same routine as always, and about the time they caught to slow me down he hit me in the side. Luckily, he managed to get his front end turned away from me at the last second," Singletary explained.
"It was a pretty good hit, but thankfully both of us are okay, which is a testament to how these cars are built, good rules, good equipment. I know my car builder, Lyons Custom Motorsports, did a great job on my car."
With original sheet metal on the rear quarters, the Lyons crew made short work of beating the body panel back into shape, but Singletary said repairing the right door, which separated at its main seams, would require more complex fiberglass bonding repair.
"It probably won't look as good tomorrow, but that's okay. The good Lord took care of us, me and him, and that's what's most important," he stressed.
LANES CLOSED TO 'CAMPERS' at LO12 - They had to address the problem at Lights Out 12 with Radials vs. the World on Friday night and Saturday morning it was Pro 275's turn.
The issue? Certain teams arriving and camping out in the staging lanes in advance of being called to the lanes for qualifying, sometimes for several hours. Their motive was to get first shot at a freshly prepped--scraped and sprayed--racing surface at South Georgia Motorsports Park.
The problem? It creates a bottleneck at the head of the lanes for other classes and grossly aggravates fellow P275 competitors who follow repeated instructions issued over the PA to remain in their pits until called for their scheduled sessions.
Everything came to a head shortly before noon Saturday, just prior to the fifth and final round of Pro 275 qualifying. One prominent team owner suddenly entered the control tower, visibly agitated and complaining about some of his rivals' tactics.
"I'm shaking, I'm so upset," he said. "And it takes a lot for me to get this way, but you've got to do something. You've got to tell those guys they're not special; that this just isn't fair."
Lights Out 12 officials once more took heed and held an impromptu P275 meeting in the staging lanes, where they repeated instructions issued to RVW the night before. The decision was reached to run the last round of P275 qualifying in reverse order, with hopes of putting an end to the "campers."
As it turned out, it made little difference to the final qualifying order, with only a couple of relatively minor alterations to the list resulting from Saturday's lone qualifying round.
Eliminations will begin Saturday night when Manny Buginga will lead the 32-car P275 field into battle after posting a record-setting 3.70-seconds ET at 200.29 mph on Friday in his Procharger-equipped '03 Mustang.
LDR DELIVERS - Justin Cyrnek and Justin Martin delivered record-setting performances in the second qualifying session of Limited Drag Radial. Martin drew first blood in the quick Q-2 session, stopping the timers with a 3.966. A few pairs later, Cyrnek snatched the top spot and record with a 3.950. During Wednesday qualifying, Cyrnek also topped the record with a 3.967.
LONG TIME COMING - Drag Radial promoter Donald "Duck" Long understands nothing lasts forever; however, his Duck X Productions success has come as a pleasant surprise.
Long is now in the 12th season of his popular Lights Out and No Mercy drag radial events. He's also been able to sprinkle in a few specialty events along the way.
"It did worry me in the beginning that everything that goes up must come down," Long admitted. "So you always wonder. You're always looking at the numbers. If you have one event where you got bad weather, then it's like, 'Hey, is it going to be good or bad? Basically, I always figured you could do a standalone event, and you could keep it going. The problem is now is that we have three races; basically, we do every year. So that worries me more than if I was just doing one event. I think one event can sustain no problems. When you start talking about three or four or five, that's when I think people get in trouble."
In a world where reinvention appears to be the norm and not the exception, Long admits his philosophy has been minor, calculated adjustments.
"I just always want to keep an eye on the classes and what people really want to be able to do," Long said. "I think the whole idea is you got to find that class that draws cars. So you just got to study your programs."
Right now, Duck's homegrown division Radial vs. The World is still holding its own, as is his homegrown Pro 275, as the drag radial icon, X275 continues to draw strong fields.
"You got to keep those core classes running strong," Long said. "Then you throw in the other ones, and then some work and some don't. You just keep going until you figure it out."
Figuring it out has been a staple of Long's approach, as he admitted when he got into the drag racing promotions business got a crash course on what worked and disappointingly what didn't.
"We weren't promoters; we were s*** talkers," Long said with a smile. "So we talk s***, and it's entertainment to us. It's no different if you're harassing somebody here and there. So we knew that you can always find something to push somebody's buttons."
Long began trolling a drag radial message board, and before he knew it, the seed was planted for his entertaining events.
"We did stuff where it would either entertain or get people motivated," Long admitted. "We were motivators more than anything."
Twelve seasons later, the risk still outweighs the reward for Long, although he's been rewarded over the years.
"I think it's a very stressful situation," Long said. "I think that it's not for anybody with the faint of heart. I think that even I'm one of those guys, and you're sitting there thinking, "Are you going to push all your chips in?"
"You got to make sure that you have a little bit of money to back you when you get ready to do it. But Johnny Fenn told me it's high-stakes gambling, no matter what. He's 100% right. All you're doing is gambling. You're pushing all-in on black and red and hoping for the best."
Long admits he's considered what his life would be without the high horsepower gambling.
"I don't think I'd have gray hair," Long admitted. "I know that I wouldn't have the anxiety that I have right now. And trying to make everybody happy, I think, is my biggest problem."
DRIVER OF THE CORN - Chad Henderson is the kind of person you want to know. He's personable and brings a positive attitude which entices folks to gravitate towards the corn farmer from Madison, Alabama. Plus, Henderson knows what his destiny is.
Stevie "Fast" Jackson, the outspoken and flamboyant two-time NHRA Pro Modified champion, has already bestowed a lofty standard on the Limited Drag Radial racer.
"He's the Stevie Fast of corn farmers," Jackson declared.
"That's what he says," Henderson said with a smile. "You know how he is. He'll stretch a few things.
Henderson is a fourth-generation farmer who also specializes in wheat and soybeans. He makes a living in a challenging world.
"It's definitely something that has to be inside of you," Henderson explained. "You don't see many kids growing up and saying, 'I want to be a farmer."
"Not many say that.
"It's something that's instilled in you. I'm a fourth-generation farmer, and my son will be fifth. And it's kind of honoring to know that they give me opportunity to do this, because it'd be very hard for a person to start out. It's just too much money. You go buy a piece of equipment, for instance, a combine, and it's $5-$600,000. You go buy a tractor, and it's another $300,000. It's very hard for a young farmer to get started and established."
Henderson is appreciative of the sacrifices made to ensure that he had a chance to make it.
"My grandfather went through the days when it was hard to keep going," Henderson explained. "My father and grandfather went through the '70s, and then the '80s put a lot of people out of business. The Jimmy Carter administration, it was rough on the farmer. And then you come through different things and stages and you're just blessed to keep it going. And then you sure don't want to be the one to let the farm fail."
When one has a tough job, it's always good to have an escape. For Henderson, it's racing his big-block Chevrolet-powered, nitrous-injected Buick in the Limited Drag Radial division. Ask him, and he'll tell you he's okay keeping his drag racing as a hobby.
Henderson laughs about an exchange on that very topic he had with Stevie Fast several years ago.
"He said, 'Henderson, I'm going to race for a living," Henderson recalled. "I said, 'Man, you sure?"
"He said, 'You going with me? You going to race for a living?" "I said, 'Man, no. I'm doing what I want to do for a living. I'm farming for a living. My racing is a hobby."
Henderson paused and continued, "If I had raced for a living, I'd have quit them both, probably."
Today, both are going strong in their respective vocations, and a few years ago, Jackson became Henderson's crew chief when longtime tuner Monte Smith died unexpectedly.
"Monte helped us for a long time," Henderson said. "He was probably with me, probably 12 years. I think it was about 12 years he was with me. He passed away, and it was pretty rough on me because he had done all the tuning, and of course, we're sponsored by Holley, and Monte worked for Holley, and it was just a really good deal for us. And we just had a real good family connection.
"Stevie had always been there and we'd always been friends and everything else. I remember when he found out Monte died and he called me and he said, 'I got you. I got you. I'm going to do all I can do. I'm going to fill in the gap."
Jackson is also helping Henderson away from the track. He is pushing for Henderson to become a candidate to appear on the reality series Corn Warriors. If he earns a nomination, Henderson must then win a fan-vote competition.
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His campaign manager is none other than Jackson, who is pimping hard for Henderson.
Henderson would love to earn a spot on the show, if only for his family.
"It's an opportunity for my family to shine in a more of a national light and what we do," Henderson said. "I would enjoy doing it, but if I don't get to be a Corn Warrior, it ain't going to change the way I get up the next morning. I'm going to get up. I'm going to go to work. I'm going to do my job.
"It's something to have fun with. It's something to educate people. That's a big deal. You need to educate people about farming, like we have to educate people about racing. You have to educate people about farming and what it is."
"Ask 90% of people where their milk comes from or where their eggs come from, and they'll say, 'Walmart."
"It's another line of defense in there somewhere that we've got to make sure that gets instilled in people, to know what the American farmer is doing and how we're providing."
Even more challenging than educating the masses, as reminding himself what he has and doesn't have control over.
"You control the controllables," Henderson counsels. "It's the same way as racing. You control the controllables. And in our corn growing, we've done just like a race car, we monitor everything in it, and we take it to the next level of what needs to be done. That's what sets us apart, sometimes, from other farmers, is the attention to detail, just like racers, it's attention to detail."
Playing his role in ensuring humanity is fed means more than anything to Henderson.
"There's a lot of people that farm because it was this, or it was their family business, or it was something that they were born into, but 90% of your farmers, we enjoy what we do and we're doing it," Henderson said. "It's not just a job to us. It's something that we were born to do. And it means a lot to me."
LEE BRINGS IT EARLY - Jason Lee knew the timing meant everything. If he wanted to be the first Radial vs. The World racer to run in the 3.40s, there was no time to waste.
During the first qualifying session at the Lights Out 12, in the first pair down the highly-prepared South Georgia Motorsports Park, Lee went to the top of the qualifying list and established the quickest mark in small tire racing with a 3.502 elapsed time at 211.46 miles per hour.
Just how stout was Lee's first hit? Bryan Markiewicz was second quickest with a 3.567, while Marcus Birt was third with a 3.584.Jason Lee knew the timing meant everything. If he wanted to be the first Radial vs. The World racer to run in the 3.40s, there was no time to waste.
During the first qualifying session at the Lights Out 12, in the first pair down the highly-prepared South Georgia Motorsports Park, Lee went to the top of the qualifying list and established the quickest mark in small tire racing with a 3.502 elapsed time at 211.46 miles per hour.
Just how stout was Lee's first hit? Bryan Markiewicz was second quickest with a 3.567, while Marcus Birt was third with a 3.584.
"I wanted to go right to the front," said Lee, who ran 3.507 in Tuesday testing. "The chances are if we had waited a little bit, the air would have come down 100 feet. The air was slightly worse than it was last night, and the track was a little better."
For Lee, he admits he and his team threw everything they had at it.
"We have nothing left horsepower-wise," Lee admitted. "All we can try to do is get more aggressive down-low to try and achieve it. That's where we are at right now. I believe we have one more night that we can try to achieve it. Beyond that, the air will get out of reach, and the car will slow down to the mid-3.50s."
Lee believes there is a 3.40 out there to be had.
"The math tells us that we could go a 3.48," Lee said. "If all the stars and planets align right."
Lee and the Eric Gustafson-owned team are competing in only their fourth Radial vs. The World event.
SKYROCKET'S IN FLIGHT - Radial vs. The World racer Tim Slavens learned a valuable lesson on Wednesday afternoon at Lights Out 12, the Duck X Productions drag radial event hosted by South Georgia Motorsports Park.
Slavens will never hope for his car to fly. Instead, he will hope it just runs fast.
Slavens, during a testing pass, was along for the ride as his 1969 Camaro went airborne. He emerged uninjured but couldn't say the same for his wounded race car.
"We made a good lick last night," Slavens said. "It was a personal best, went 3.81 last night. Come back out this morning and put just a little bit in it in the middle. We needed to get a little quicker on our 330 number. It got out there, it wheelied a little bit. Wheelie control caught it, set it down, caught it on the bounce, I guess. And when it fed the timing back to it, it came back up super aggressive. And the wind at this place seems to be an issue, got under it, and I was just along for the ride then."
What a ride it was. For Slavens, who is from Missouri, it was as if a tornado had picked his car up.
"Looking at the data, it looked like it was in the air about three seconds," Slavens said. "It felt like about 15 minutes worth of real-lifetime there because it just goes into slow motion, and you're just floating along literally. And I thought that the car went right when it got up in the air.
"So I thought it was going to come down on top of the wall. So I just braced myself and thought this is going to hurt. And I didn't realize that it went towards the centerline when it got in the air. So fortunate that [Brad] Medlock was paying attention and was able to get out of the throttle, and I didn't cause an issue getting into his lane there. But it was a blessing, in the long run, that it went to the center and not to the wall kind of thing."
Slavens knows there's so much that could have gone wrong, including a broken back.
"Knock on wood ... I may feel different in the morning when I get up, but right now, no aches or pains and no sore muscles or anything like that," Slavens said.
The team was thrashing on Wednesday afternoon to get the Camaro repaired.
"Lots of bent bars, but they're replaceable and/or straightenable where we can straighten them," Slavens said. "Broken wishbone, got a little work to do, but we've got some parts coming in the morning. We didn't find a reason to throw in the towel so we're going to give it our all."