MURPHY TIES BIG DADDY DON GARLITS WITH FIFTH MARCH MEET TITLE
It had been nearly twenty years since Jim Murphy last visited the winner circle at the March Meet, with the most recent coming in 2004. In his final start in the highly revered race, Murphy went all the way on Saturday at the rain-delayed event, defeating Pete Wittenberg in the final round to claim his fifth March Meet title overall, tying the legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits for the most all-time in Top Fuel eliminator.
"It's really special, I got to tell you," Murphy said. "We won it in 1998 and 1999. Won it again in 2003 and 2004, and we've been trying ever since to tie Garlits with five. I didn't know if it was ever going to come, and here it is at my last race. It's just awesome. It's a storybook ending."
Murphy opened up eliminations with a clutch round win on Friday afternoon at Famoso Dragstrip when his opponent Tyler Hilton smoked the tires, handing the reining NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel champion and current points leader coming into the weekend his first-round loss of the season as the driver of the Great Expectations Top Fuel Dragster was undefeated on the year up until that point.
Sitting second in the points entering the double race at Famoso, Murphy not only kept his drive for March Meet title number five alive, but he also kept his championship hopes on life support with that round win. Murphy's 5.804 at 246 miles per hour was good enough for lane choice over Tyler Hester in the semifinals.
Unfortunately, in the continuation of eliminations on Saturday afternoon, it seemed like his road to glory got cut short sooner than expected in the semifinals when Hester, at the wheel of the Overtime Special, seemed to eliminate Murphy in competition as both cars were neck and neck approaching the finish line.
While a 5.849 at 239 and a win light lit up the scoreboard in Hester's lane, nothing showed in Murphy's lane as his scoreboard was absolutely blank. Due to the malfunction in the timing system, officials could not deduce a decisive winner, so a rerun of the semifinal matchup between Murphy and Hester was declared to take place in the middle of the day. The two racers returned to the starting line and put on a phenomenal drag race again. This time, there was no doubt in who won the race as Murphy pulled it out, and his scoreboard lit up this time with a 5.751 at 255 to Hester's 5.834 at 244. Murphy's semifinal elapsed time was also good enough to put him fourth in the qualified field.
In the final round, it was a clash of the titans as Murphy went head to head against two-time March Meet winner and driver of the Circuit Breaker Top Fuel Dragster, Pete Wittenberg. Wittenberg seemed to have the better car throughout eliminations, laying down a 5.798 at 249 in the opening round, defeating Frank McBee Jr, which was good enough for the No. 1 qualifying position after the first session. Wittenberg stepped up and went in quicker in the semis, running an even stronger 5.716 at 251 to take down a tire-smoking Bryan Hall.
With the shadows lengthening over the iconic Famoso Dragstrip, the final round showdown between Murphy and Wittenberg did not disappoint as both drivers put on a March Meet final for the ages. Murphy edged out Wittenberg in a close one, as the WW2 driver's 5.773 at 252 was good enough to outlast Wittenberg's 5.807 at 249.
Murphy now turns his attention to Sunday, the final day of his driving career, and the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals. His March Meet win on Saturday pulled him to within just -24 points behind leader Tyler Hilton in the battle for the championship, and Murphy says he's not going down without a fight.
"Oh, we want it real bad. Real real bad," Murphy exclaimed. "We're going to have a good time finishing it up tomorrow. We haven't quit just yet."
While all eyes were on Murphy claiming his fifth March Meet trophy, Pete Kaiser, who hadn't been behind the wheel of a Top Fuel Dragster since this race last year, where he came up just short in the final round, was riding to the No. 1 qualifying spot on Saturday afternoon. Kaiser paid down a phenomenal 5.631-second pass at over 259 miles per hour in the second session, jolting him to the top of the charts, and will take on Tyler Hester in the first round of eliminations on Sunday. However, Kaiser had no idea he would be behind the wheel of the Horan-owned race car this weekend.
"Feels good to come out here once a year, jump in the car, and do that," Kaiser admitted. "Last year, I was way more prepared for this because Dan (Horan) told me three months in advance, 'Hey, you're going to drive at the Reunion in October, and I said, 'OK, cool."
"So I got on this big exercise regimen and lost a bunch of weight. Then last night after he lost in eliminations for the March Meet he goes, 'You drive that car man. I got to get my kids' Funny Car running better, so you're driving tomorrow.' So pretty cool."
Points leader Tyler Hilton, who's going for his second consecutive NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel crown enters championship Sunday at Famoso qualified in the No. 2 position with a strong 5.657 at 238 which he also ran in the second session and will face off against Adam Sorokin in the Champion Speed Shop in round number one.
The rest of the first-round matchups in Top Fuel at the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals include Pete Wittenberg versus Bret Williamson; and Jim Murphy versus Frank McBee Jr.
If that wasn't exciting enough in Top Fuel, the hits just kept on coming in Nitro Funny Car as the floppers competed in their first round of eliminations for the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals on Saturday afternoon. It was upset Saturday night as No. 1 and No. 2 qualifiers Jerry Espeseth and Billy Morris fell in the opening round.
Jim Maroney in the Speed Sport Camaro from the No. 16 qualifying position pulled off the upset of the round when he took down the No. 1 qualifier and the only 5.50 race car on the property. Maroney used a 5.770 at 257 to take down Espeseth who fell off considerably, only running a 5.988 at 235.
No. 15 qualifier Derrick Moreira followed suit, upsetting the defending Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals champion Morris. Both drivers ran into trouble and had problems during the run but the Problem Child Funny Car driver Morris just suffered worse, slowing to only a 9.959 to Moreira's 6.211 at 236.
Nonetheless, the matchup everyone was looking forward to in the first round of Nitro Funny Car was the "battle of the Austins" as young Drew Austin took on the six-time and reigning NHRA Heritage Series Nitro Funny Car champion Bobby Cottrell. These two drivers went at it on the very same racetrack seven months ago in round two of the March Meet and put on a show as Cottrell's 5.79 was just enough to squeak by Austin's 5.80.
Seven months later, the results were the same to no one's surprise, Cottrell went low for the round with a stellar 5.640 elapsed time and a booming top-end speed of over 260 miles per hour. The young Austin got a considerable starting line advantage over Cottrell, cutting a .040 reaction time to Cottrell's (.171) but it wasn't enough as Austin was only able to muster a 6.273, 184.
The second-best run of the round went to Cory McClenathan who laid down an impressive 5.667, 257 which was also a career-best elapsed time for the for the former NHRA Top Fuel driver. Geoff Monise at the wheel of the Quarter Pounder in the other lane recorded a strong 5.756 at 249 but just wasn't enough to hang with the thirty-four-time NHRA Top Fuel national event winner.
The rest of the first-round winners in Nitro Funny Car included Brad Thompson (Cory Lee), James Day (Ryan Hodgson), Michael Peck Sr. (Kamaka Pocock), and Tim Boychuk (Ryan Horan).
The rest of Nitro Funny Car and Top Fuel eliminations from the Wally Parks NHRA Nostalgia Nationals conclude on Sunday.