BIG TIME FOR FRANKIN - Two-time world champion Tommy Franklin had a big weekend at the East Coast Nationals. His daughter Amber was celebrating her high school graduation while making her Top Dragster debut, the series Franklin co-founded in 2014 was finally starting its seventh season after being put on hold by the COVID-19 crisis, and he ended the weekend with a decisive Pro Nitrous victory.
Franklin wheeled his Musi-powered “Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro to a 3.687 at 205.51 to get the final-round win over Jim Widener, who led out of the gate with a .002 reaction time but trailed at the finish line with a 3.754 at 202.91 in his BES-powered Corvette. 
“From the PDRA standpoint, we were really just trying to get the season started so we could put on a championship season,” said Franklin, who owns and operates the PDRA with his wife, Judy. “Our race team is awesome. They don't stop working. The same thing with the PDRA team – they rocked all weekend long just to get this race in. They definitely had some challenges. Hat's off to everybody. Coronavirus is not stopping us this weekend.”
Franklin, the No. 2 qualifier, went 3.691 at 203.22 on a first-round single. A 3.669 at 205.01 followed to beat Rob Hunnicutt’s 3.78 in the second round. He slowed slightly to a 3.674 at 204.51 in the semifinals, but it was enough to beat rival Jay Cox, who fell with a 5.75 pass. 
Widener qualified No. 13 and moved past the first round with a 3.738 on a single, as opponent Jackie Slone Jr. couldn’t make the run. He recorded a 3.718 to defeat Fredy Scriba in the second round, then slowed to a 5.232 on another single. He was set to face defending world champion Jim Halsey, who was shut off after a fuel leak developed while backing up from the burnout. 
ALL IN THE FAMILY - Melanie Salemi and her family-based team, led by her husband, Jon, and brother-in-law Jim, arrived at GALOT Motorsports Park a few weeks before the event to start testing for the 2020 season. Their efforts paid off Sunday afternoon, as Salemi took out hometown favorite John Strickland in the Pro Boost final round. 
Strickland went red on a 3.70 at 203.61 pass in his ProCharger-boosted GALOT Motorsports ’69 Camaro, while Salemi sailed to the win with a 3.804 at 187.96 in her roots-blown “Purple Reign” ’68 Firebird. 
“I feel like I live here,” Salemi joked. “We tested here three weeks ago, then went to Florida, raced the radial car and came back here to race this car. I tested a customer's car here while we were here earlier that week too, so I've been doing a lot of racing on this racetrack. To be able to win after all this, it feels pretty good.”
Salemi used a holeshot advantage to defeat Strickland’s GALOT Motorsports teammate, Kevin Rivenbark, in a 3.741-to-3.731 first-round match. She improved to a 3.725 at 203.65 over Jeff Rudolf in the second round, then caught a break when two-time Pro Nitrous world champion turned Pro Boost rookie Jason Harris red-lit away a 3.674 to Salemi’s 5.263 at 92.56. 
Strickland had the quickest car on the property, racing past Chuck Ulsch with a 3.70, John Camp with a 3.654 (low E.T. of the event), and Kurt Steding with a 3.67. 
FIRST TIME IS THE CHARM - Johnny Pluchino kicked off his first full season in Extreme Pro Stock competition with his first-ever victory in the class. Driving his father John’s 2016 championship-winning Strutmasters.com ’13 Mustang, Pluchino recorded a weekend-best 4.059 at 179.23 in the final round, while opponent Elijah Morton lost traction and slowed to a 5.208 in his Morton Brothers Motorsports ’18 Mustang. 
“We have high goals and high expectations for this year,” said Pluchino, the 2018 and 2019 Pro Outlaw 632 world champion. “I had a feeling the win would come this year. I didn't know it would come at the first race. I should've expected it since we're at GALOT – this place is gold to me. I wish they ran every race here. To do it here, to do it right away, to start off the championship chase here and put this weekend together, it’s awesome. I'm ready to get to Darlington.”
Pluchino qualified No. 5 in his Kaase-powered Mustang. He opened eliminations with a 4.118 at 177.21 victory over Todd Hoerner and his 4.125 at 174.75. The New York native stepped up to a 4.075 at 178.64 to defeat 2018 world champion Steven Boone’s 4.116 at 176.63 in the semifinals. 
Morton reached the final round after qualifying No. 3 in his Allen-powered Mustang and taking out Dwayne Rice with a 4.137 at 175.39 and No. 2 qualifier JR Carr with a 4.058 at 176.88, which stood for low E.T. of the event. 


SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST - The Pro Nitrous Motorcycle class had an unusually small field, with just four entries on the grounds, but the final round made up for it. Two-time and defending world champion Travis Davis aboard his Timblin-built Hayabusa took on drag bike veteran Paul Gast on his Fast By Gast Hayabusa. Davis’ .026 reaction time and 4.03 at 176.14 pass helped him hold off Gast’s quicker 4.013 at 175.78 to start the season with another win. 
“It's good to start the season off winning the first race,” said Davis, who thanked his wife, Brandy, and sponsors Timblin Chassis, Web Cam Racing Cams, Monster Race Heads and Fast By Gast. “I knew Paul is the record holder. At any time he can lay one down, and sure enough, he went 4.01 and I beat him on a holeshot with a 4.03. You just take 'em how you can get 'em sometimes. Everything went good. Didn't have any mishaps, no tear-ups this weekend. Just service the bike and do it again.”
Davis improved from a 4.053 at 175.02 winning pass over Chris Garner-Jones’ 4.08 in the opening round Saturday night. 
Before the final round, Gast qualified No. 1 and won first round with a 4.098 at 173.03 over Brunson Grothus, who hurt a piston to slow to a 4.492 pass. 
PRO OUTLAW 632 WINNER - Pro Outlaw 632 veteran Walter Lannigan Jr. planted the Black Flag Motorsports flag in the winner’s circle Sunday afternoon, as he defeated Wes Distefano in the final round. The two drivers left the starting line with nearly identical reaction times, then Lannigan pulled ahead with a 4.275 at 165.78 in his Nelson-powered ’53 Corvette over Distefano’s 4.298 at 169.21 in his Musi-powered $hameless Racing ’68 Camaro. 
Lannigan qualified No. 1 before eliminating Jordan Ensslin and Robert Sellers on the way to the final round. 
Distefano earned his spot in the final by defeating Alan O’Brien and Chris Holdorf, Lannigan’s teammate. 

PRO STREET AND MORE - Radial vs. the World heavy hitter Mark Micke, now competing in Pro 275 on the drag radial scene, was one of six racers trying out Pro Street, the PDRA’s new small-tire class. He qualified No. 6 after two qualifying sessions, but it turns out he was on the cusp of breakthrough performance. 
Micke in his Jason Carter-owned, turbocharged ’78 Malibu knocked out No. 1 qualifier Russell McManious in the first round of eliminations, running 4.049 at 190.78 to McManious’ 4.088. He lowered the boom with a 4.028 at 195.08 on a second-round bye run, establishing the class records in the process. The racing transmission guru laid down a smooth 4.051 at 194.13 to dispatch New York’s Joseph Rivera and his 4.342 at 162.94 in the final round. 
Rivera qualified No. 5 in his nitrous-assisted Camaro before defeating a tire-spinning Paul Gargus in the first round and taking a semifinal single when Brian McGee was unable to make the run. 
The Elite Top Sportsman final round was a battle between turbochargers and nitrous, with Cheyenne Stanley in his ’07 Mustang running 3.96 on a 3.95 dial-in to beat Buddy Perkinson, who ran a 3.802 on a 3.77 dial-in in his nitrous-assisted ’69 Camaro. 
A pair of Buck-powered entries faced off in the Top Sportsman 48 final round. Jeff Talracchio cut a .003 light and went 4.525 on his 4.50 dial-in, defeating defending world champion Chris Nyerges, who broke out with a 4.422 on his 4.44 dial-in. 
North Carolina’s own Steve Furr and Chaz Silance raced off in the Elite Top Dragster final round. Furr left first and laid down a 3.843 on a 3.83 dial-in, while Silance broke out by the narrowest margin with a 3.809 on a 3.81 dial-in. 
In the Top Dragster 48 final round, Barry Brown wheeled his ’10 M&M dragster to a 4.772 on a 4.77 dial-in to grab the win over Kendall Payne, who ran a 4.58 on a 4.57 dial-in. 
The next stop on the PDRA’s adjusted 2020 schedule is Darlington Dragway in Hartsville, S.C., for the PDRA Carolina Showdown presented by ProCharger, June 11-13. 



MORE OF THE SAME - Defending Pro Nitrous world champion Jim Halsey picked up right where he left off at the end of the 2019 season, qualifying No. 1 and setting low E.T. of first round in his Fulton-powered “Daddy Shark” ’68 Camaro. His 3.708 at 204.57 mph set the pace in qualifying, then he dropped a 3.68 at 205.10 on his first-round competition single. 
“We did a lot of work to the car over the winter,” Halsey said. “There were a lot of unknowns that we had coming at us. We tested some over the winter and things looked good. This is kind of what we expected.”
First-round results: Chris Rini 3.737 def. Brian Shrader 3.817, Rob Hunnicutt 3.793 def. Billy Albert 9.452, Tony Wilson 3.859 def. John Vergotz 3.818, Fredy Scriba 3.801 def. Lizzy Musi 4.522, Jim Widener 3.738 def. Jackie Slone Jr. (broke), Jay Cox 3.681 def. Tommy Mauney 3.765, Tommy Franklin 3.691 def. Ed Burnley (no show), Jim Halsey 3.68 (single)

CHANGE STILL DOING HIM GOOD - Former Pro Nitrous racer Randy Weatherford, who made the switch to Pro Boost late last season, showed up ready to fight for a championship in his ProCharger-boosted WS Construction ’19 Camaro. He qualified No. 1 with a 3.687 at 202.79 in the first session before dipping back into the .60s with a 3.691 at 202.55 on a first-round single. Competitor Eric Donovan couldn’t make the run. 
“Let's see if we can move forward and build on the momentum we had last year,” Weatherford said. “Going forward into 2020, it feels great. The car's working good. We're picking up where we left off last year. We ran pretty good [last year], had some issues, but it looks like we're back at it.”
First-round results: Kurt Steding 3.733 def. James Beadling 3.829, Marc Caruso 3.714 def. Mike DiDomenico 3.737, Melanie Salemi 3.741 def. Kevin Rivenbark 3.731, John Camp 3.712 def. Clint Satterfield 3.827, John Strickland 3.70 def. Chuck Ulsch 3.919, Jeff Rudolf 3.774 def. Eric Gustafson 4.194, Jason Harris 3.726 def. Stan Shelton 3.852, Randy Weatherford 3.691 def. Eric Donovan (broke)
NO NEW CAR BUGS - The decision to bring out a brand-new car for the 2020 season is paying off for JR Carr, who qualified No. 2 and went low of the first round in his RJ Race Cars-built 2020 Camaro. The Washington-based driver was ultra-consistent in the Frank Gugliotta-tuned entry, qualifying with a 4.097 at 175.09 and winning first round over Dave Hughes’ 4.129 with a 4.095 at 176.14. 
“I feel today was positive,” Carr said. “Low for the round is huge because it wasn't the prettiest run – it was a good run – but we've made nicer runs. The track's a little different than it was when we tested, and I believe it puts us in a great position. We feel really good.”
First-round results: Johnny Pluchino 4.118 def. Todd Hoerner 4.125, Elijah Morton 4.137 def. Dwayne Rice 4.163, JR Carr 4.095 def. Dave Hughes 4.129, Steven Boone 4.129 def. Chris Powers 4.102

 IT'S NOT HOW YOU START - Despite not running his Timblin-built Hayabusa since October when he won the Pro Nitrous Motorcycle world championship, Travis Davis didn’t show any signs of rust with his Saturday evening performance. Davis only qualified No. 3 in the four-entry field, but he fired off a 4.053 at 175.02 to defeat Chris Garner-Jones’ 4.08. He’ll take on Paul Gast in the final round.
“We started out the day struggling some with this air,” Davis said. “We hadn't been out since October last year and hadn't changed anything on the bike since then. Just adjusted for the air and it went .05, and looks like there's more left in it. Maybe we can pick it back up and get it back in the 3.90s – I hope.”
First-round results: Travis Davis 4.053 def. Chris Garner-Jones 4.08, Paul Gast 4.098 def. Brunson Grothus 4.492
FINISH UP TODAY - The East Coast Nationals presented by FuelTech will continue Sunday at 10 a.m. Visit www.PDRA660.com orwww.Facebook.com/PDRARacing for schedule updates and results.



 Thunderstorms and rain showers kept racers in the pits Friday at the season-opening Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) East Coast Nationals presented by FuelTech at GALOT Motorsports Park. Race officials called off the day’s qualifying sessions later in the evening. Jr. Dragster racers completed one qualifying session between storms. 
“We sure tried to get some racing in today, but Mother Nature wins this one,” said Tyler Crossnoe, series director, PDRA. “The PDRA and GALOT Motorsports Park track teams worked hard to get the track dry all afternoon and evening. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
The original Friday schedule included three qualifying sessions for the professional classes and two qualifying sessions for the sportsman classes. 
The PDRA East Coast Nationals presented by FuelTech will continue Saturday morning with Q1 at 10 a.m., beginning with Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous. The run order will then cycle through the rest of the pro classes – Penske Racing Shocks/Precision Racing Suspension Pro Boost presented by WS Construction, Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock, Drag 965 Pro Nitrous Motorcycle, $hameless Racing Pro Outlaw 632 and Drag 965 Pro Street. Then, MagnaFuel Top Sportsman and Lucas Oil Top Dragster will hit the track for their first qualifying session. 

MISSING MONTE HAUL - If the PDRA’s delayed season-opening race goes off this weekend as planned, it will take place without the series’ reigning champion in the Extreme Pro Stock ranks.

John Montecalvo told competitionplus.com Thursday afternoon that he isn’t making the nearly 600-mile trip from his home on Long Island, New York, to the outskirts of Benson, North Carolina, for a race that was shoved to the back burner for nearly two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2019 Extreme Pro Stock titlist said there are three reasons he won’t be among the competitors at GALOT Motorsports Park.

First, Montecalvo is heeding the advice of his daughter-in-law, a doctor who has “been on the front lines of this stuff” in New York. The Empire State has been hit hardest by the coronavirus with 29,643 deaths reported through Wednesday -- a number more than twice that of neighboring New Jersey, the state that’s No. 2 on the list of American losses. 

Second, he said he’s providing leadership by example for his employees at John T. Montecalvo Inc., whose primary focus is paving. Staying on home turf, he believes, reduces the chances he could contract the virus at the track and bring it home with him.

Third, Tommy Gray’s Pro Mod crash at Darlington, S.C., has left the veteran racer hospitalized for nearly two weeks. That incident and its ensuing effects weigh heavily on Montecalvo’s mind.

“My family was really against me going,” Montecalvo said from his office Thursday afternoon. “My son, his wife Rose, she's a doctor and they're very leery as to ... she's been on the front lines of this stuff, and they just didn't think it was a good idea for me to go, to fly.

“And we've got to go to grocery stores, and it's a little bit different situation with us. Everybody else takes their motorhomes and they stay there. We've got to go back and forth to hotels and all that. We've got more exposure.”

“Family” also plays into the scenario involving Gray, whose “Undertaker” Camaro slammed into the retaining wall on both sides of Darlington Dragway. Gray broke seven ribs in the crash and underwent surgery to repair them. 




The crash itself isn’t what concerns Montecalvo, given that it’s part of the sport of racing at 200-plus miles per hour. What bothers him most is the solitary recovery Gray is having to make before he is released from a Darlington-area hospital to return home to Maryland.

“We’re not supposed to crash, but it does happen, obviously,” Montecalvo said. “I mean, Tommy's a great driver, but things happen. And he's stuck in some hospital down in South Carolina. I think he's getting out the next day or two.

“But anyway, he's been down there for a week and a half, almost two weeks. And because of the COVID, nobody could visit him. He can't see his wife, he can't see his daughter, he can't see his family. And I don't know, that's a little unnerving to me, you know?”

It’s unsettling because he can’t imagine himself, or anyone in his family, facing a similar situation alone -- so he won’t risk putting himself in the same position.

“Anytime any member of my family has been in the hospital, somebody is there with them 24/7, staying there. Whatever they have, if they're hospitalized, there's a Montecalvo sitting next to them. And that's just the way we operate, to coordinate things with the doctors and whatever we have to do.

“And that was a little unnerving to me, knowing that Tommy Gray was sitting there and nobody could visit him. So that played into my mind.”

Then there’s his commitment to his employees. The paving company has been -- as is customary -- idle during the winter, when laying asphalt is virtually impossible in New York due to the cold climate.

“We made a deal. We've got a very limited staff here working,” he said. “The deal that we made is basically we were going to keep our circle tight and we were just going to associate with close family. That's it, very close family -- basically who lives in our household, you know?

“So I'm the guy that's supposed to lead by example. How does it look (if) I go running off racing and these people have been following the rules to the letter? Thank God nobody here has gotten sick because they have been following the rules to the letter. And it gives them some security to come in here and work beside me and know that I've been doing the right thing.

“So it's all about leading by example. We lock the front door to the office and we don't let anybody in. The UPS guy drops packages out front. And we've been very, very careful here because obviously we're in a high-risk area. There's no doubt that where we live is certainly more of a risk than any other area in the country.”

And then there’s the fact that Montecalvo and others in his business received approval from the state of New York on Wednesday to resume operations. Now isn’t the time, he said, for him to concern himself with racing when his livelihood -- and that of his employees -- is having to play catch-up with a late start to the paving season.

“It's a seasonal business so we haven’t been paid yet since December. And, again, it's not right to my employees,” he said. “We're finally getting some work, we're finally allowed to work. ... So they need me here to get everything organized and get everything going.”




WEATHERFORD GOES TO THE TOP - The East Coast Nationals presented by Fuel Tech is the delayed 2020 season opener for the PDRA racing series. Wednesday was scheduled as the first day of testing but was a complete washout due to rain. Thursday had rain most of the day but cleared up late in the afternoon to allow testing with a couple of delays for sprinkles. Once things got going, the PDRA managed to complete two full rounds of testing before the 11PM curfew. Qualifying will begin at 9:30 Friday morning weather permitting 

Randy Weatherford posted an ET of 3.683, 203.49 mph to pace the teams to make passes. - Roger Richards