2022 NO MERCY 13 IN VALDOSTA - EVENT PAGE
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - BUGINGA BIG WINNER AT NO MERCY 13
Veteran radial-tire star Manny Buginga doubled up Oct. 30, winning both the Pro 275 and Extreme 275 titles for No Mercy 13 at South Georgia Motorsports Park (SGMP). With different cars, Buginga beat Eddie Harrison in a traction-challenged P275 final and new world-record setter Rob Goss for the Extreme 275 event win.
Also making history on the all-concrete SGMP eighth mile was Houston Dial as the first African American to win a Radials vs. the World race, and Haley James as the first woman to win in any class at a Duck X Productions event.
Official NM13 accolades also went to Paul Gargus, who set a new class elapsed-time record on his way to the Outlaw Drag Radial win, and Jason Riley as the Limited 235 event winner.
Ballground, GA's Eric Dillard, driving for team owner Scott Tidwell, qualified his Proline-powered '69 Camaro on top of the 32-car Pro 275 field with a 3.70 pass at 200.08 mph. Dillard was followed on the list by Tim Dutton, Brylon Holder, Marcus Birt and Mo Hall in the top five, with eventual finalists Eddie Harrison and Buginga 7th and 9th, respectively.
Racing out of Acworth, GA, Harrison and his Procharger-boosted '03 Mustang made it past David Pearson, Steve Wooley, Heath Littrell and Adam Preston before reaching Buginga. Meanwhile, the West Bridgewater, MA-based Buginga had a first-round bye after the '57 Chevy of Otto Schulz broke, then beat Gary Anderson, Brad Edwards and Birt.
For the P275 final, Harrison lined up in the left lane against Buginga's '03 Mustang Cobra. When the tree came down, Buginga left with a sizable .041 holeshot, but by the time they reached 60 feet out, both cars had lost traction and nosed over.
Buginga recovered first, though, and steered to a 4.70 pass at 165.62, while Harrison continued to struggle and finished in 6.39 seconds at just 125.34 mph.
"I learned a long time ago from racing, you never give up until the win light comes on--or it doesn't come on in the other lane," Buginga said. "So you just keep trying and we did and we pedaled and just kept pedaling and pedaling until it hooked up again and we went."
Buginga had no time at the top end to savor the win, however, as he still had the Extreme 275 final to look forward to. He said a crewmember was waiting with an extra golf cart to whisk him back to the starting line for his date with Rob Goss and his supercharged-hemi-powered '09 Challenger, fresh off a record-setting run in the semis.
Neither finalist had qualified very well for Extreme 275, with Goss 10th and Buginga two positions beyond that in the 28-strong field. Regardless, Goss steamrolled through Scott Carter, 5th-place starter Shane Heckel and John McDonough before dropping the hammer with a 4.108-seconds run at 174.96 mph over number-one qualifier Kenny Hubbard and his Procharger-equipped '74 Nova.
On the opposite side of the ladder Buginga initially ousted Canadian Jr. Lazic, won with a holeshot against Brad Medlock, easily handled a traction-challenged Eric Moore and avoided what would have been a very close battle with Earl Stanley after the Kentucky-based driver left way too soon in the semis.
All eyes at SGMP were on the starting line as the heaviest of X275 heavyweights opened with a little staging duel before Buginga finally bumped in on the left lane, followed quickly by Goss. The exercise paid off only for Buginga, though, as an .031 light provided him with a .049 advantage off the green.
Again, however, both drivers lost traction early, but again Buginga recovered first to post a decidedly off-the-pace 5.74 at 158.74 that still was good enough to easily defeat an aborted 9.41 pass at not even 47 mph by Goss.
"Obviously the track had got a little bit worse and we didn't slow it down enough, but neither did Rob Goss," Buginga observed. "So we just kept pedaling and pedaling and pedaling, and the win light comes on. It was amazing."
Still, Buginga admitted he was feeling the pressure, especially going into the second race with championship-winning implications at hand, but also because he was racing in memory of Blake Copson, his teammate who passed away in an accident at home last March and with whom he'd enjoyed a similar double-up win.
Buginga said a lot of people can't comprehend the pressure involved in climbing into the car while running for a championship like the FuelTech Drag Radial Outlaws Series that included No Mercy 13 as a points-paying event.
"Right now we're only three rounds out of the lead in X275 and I think now we're five or six rounds out of Pro. So we have a chance now of getting these championships with double points coming up (at Orlando later this month). So that's good," Buginga said.
"But the pressure that's on the starting line, nobody realizes how much pressure is on the driver, how much strain, like you know you've gotta' do your job because the crew did theirs. So now as you're going in there, you're just more tensed up and mistakes tend to happen. But it's your job to try to do the best you can and now that you won with one car, the pressure is still on you to not fail with the second car because you're halfway to your goal," he said.
"So you shrink in the car by five inches. You're trying to just keep your breath, do your deal and don't change the thing. And people don't understand that driving one car is difficult, but coming back around and doing it all over again with another car in less than 10 minutes, it's a lot of pressure. I could definitely feel it," he added. "But it's super, super exciting. Because you're in control of your own destiny."
Upon successful completion of his mission at NM13, Buginga and his teammates went to great lengths to recreate victory lane photos taken with his and Copson's cars and their crew members at the team's last double-up victory.
Afterward, crew chief Jamie Miller, fresh off winning the 2022 FuelTech NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series championship with driver Kris Thorne, said he marvels at Buginga's ability to comprehend and give accurate feedback about what a car is doing as it moves down track.
"He's like another data logger in the car," Miller declared. "He'll come back and tell me things that honestly I can't really see on the data. He'll tell me, 'You know, it goes through the one-two gear change great, but on the two-three, it feels like it's a little soft.' So I'll make changes even though I might not see it in the data and he'll tell me that it definitely picked it up or there's still something not quite right.
"And then in a scenario like this, these radial cars are very, very difficult to pedal because the power comes on so fast. And it takes some finesse to catch them once they've spun, to kind of get 'em gathered up, and here Manny did a fantastic job in two different combinations this weekend. So he got this win for us," Miller said. "There's no doubt there."
DIAL'S DESTINY - If not for a dragging engine diaper in the opening round of Outlaw Drag Radial at No Mercy 13, it’s unlikely anyone would be talking today about Houston Dial as Radial vs. The World champ at No Mercy 13. But that’s how it turned out Oct. 30, at South Georgia Motorsports Park when Alabama’s own Dial ran a 4-flat at 184.02—a solid pass for an ODR car—against West Coast heavy hitter Jason Lee in the RVW final to score the biggest win of his career.
“I'm super excited, but emotional at the same moment. My son won today, too,” Dial revealed while waiting his turn at taking over SGMP’s victory lane. “He called me right before we were both going to the finals and then he called me again when he won. He was Junior drag racing at GALOT in North Carolina and he won, too, so this is really extra special because of that.”
No question on a personal level, but Dial and his Xavier McBride-owned team had just pulled off arguably the biggest underdog victory in Duck X Productions history. And it all started with that unintentionally ill-fitting diaper in round one of ODR qualifying that “dragged the beams” and gave Dial a quicker 60-foot time and ET than he deserved.
Strict class rules dictate that’s a disqualifying offense, regardless of intent, but with McBride also having entered his nitrous-breathing “Devil Horse” ’04 Mustang in RVW for the extra test runs it would provide, the team made the obvious choice to throw their efforts in with the big boys and see where it took them.
Turns out, straight to the winner’s circle.
Dial lived a charmed life in eliminations, though. After qualifying 18th with a 4.13 at 175.96 mph in a 29-car field led by Paolo Guist at 3.53 and 209.56, there was no reason to believe Dial would be anything more than first-round fodder.
But when Saturday’s racing began, so did Dial’s date with destiny. First, number-13 starter Jaber Almaghrabi and his Proline-powered Mustang was a no-show for round one. And then, 4th-place qualifier Norman Bryson, who opened with a 3.65 win with his nitrous-fed C7 Corvette, couldn’t answer the call for round two.
Meanwhile, Dial had advanced with a troubled 7.58 at just 93 mph, followed by a nice (but nowhere near RVW worthy) 3.98 at 186.38 to reach that night’s quarter finals. Waiting for him there was Mike Jones with his twin-turbocharged Chevy Cobalt in what looked to be a fair fight, though Dial treed Jones by .051, then outran him with a 4.01 at 173.41 to Jones’ 4.05 at 184.50 combo.
After that, Dial and company had all night long to think about the opportunity that lay ahead with the semis and final round scheduled for Sunday.
“It's been a big learning curve for me here, ‘cause it's the first time I ever drove this car. I had never drove it until Thursday here,” Dial revealed late Sunday night. “I’ve drove other cars for (McBride), but not this one, so I’d kinda’ like to just get this done, but I guess we gotta’ wait until tomorrow.”
His opponent for the semis would be Florida’s Brian Keep, who, after dropping out of Ultimate Street with three of four rounds of qualifying completed, also was living a charmed existence in RVW with his Procharged SBC-equipped ‘98 Firebird.
Keep, who ran 4.48 at 155.87 to start 22nd in RVW, also opened with an off-the-pace 6.91 at 101.55 bye run when 9th-place qualifier Jarrod Wood from Australia failed to make the start. He then outran fellow Floridian and number-23 starter Mike Freeman with a 4.48 at 155.67 in round two, followed by a 5.68 solo pass in Sunday night’s quarterfinals after Jeff Miller’s screw-blown “Bumblebee” Camaro shut off at the end of its burnout.
“Yep, gonna’ be an underdog in the final,” Dial observed later that night as the opposite side of the ladder featured Vernon, CA’s Lee, who ran 3.562 at 205.69 to qualify his Procharger-boosted ’69 Camaro third, versus 7th-place starter Calvin Franco, who went 3.68 at 202.55 to start his nitrous-boosted ’70 Camaro out of Mooresville, NC, seventh.
When the RVW semis were finally ready to go, Dial and Keep were up first and it was a weird one. Keep left with a .067 reaction time in the right lane while Dial waited an agonizing .229 before moving. But the Devil Horse ran down the deficit quickly, winning with a sizable .432 advantage after posting its best time of the weekend at 3.91 and 188.83 mph to Keep’s 4.51 at 154.94 effort.
That left Lee and Franco to determine Dial’s opponent for the NM13 win. And it was all Lee, as he left with a .035 light that translated into a .027 holeshot and led to a 3.57 win at 207.27 mph and lane choice over Dial for the RVW final.
Once there, a brief staging duel ensued, but Dial was ready, cutting his best light of eliminations at .024 with Lee late at .136. Then, just as both cars reached the 60-foot marker, Lee’s Camaro nosed over and ran 4.28 at 131.34 while Dial was dialed in to a 4.00 at 184.02 to take the NM13 win home to Harvest, AL.
“I knew the only chance I had was for something bad to happen on his side, but I also said I gotta’ leave first. And I did, I definitely left first,” Dial said. “I just tried to do my part as a driver and if we didn't have enough car, well, you know, at least I would’ve done my part.”
Still, Dial admitted he was just waiting for a white, Camaro-shaped blur to streak by as the finish line approached.
“Oh, for sure, I’m looking for him because I know he’s probably 30, 40 mile an hour faster than me. I seen his nose out front for a second and then he just disappeared and I didn't see him no more,” Dial recalled. “When we got to the end I just started to screaming on the mic.”
Team owner McBride said he was feeling mixed emotions while celebrating in victory lane. After acknowledging his crewmembers and thanking Mark Micke and Jeff Naiser for the transmission and engine in his car, respectively, McBride admitted to also feeling disappointed at the reaction of at least one rival over the weekend.
“It's bittersweet, you know, because you learn who a lot of people are when you win, and a particular racer that we've helped for many, many years showed his true colors to me,” McBride said. “So that's probably why I'm a little emotional. But you know, some people just can't stand to see something good happen.
“You know, we fought our way through the field. We did what we were supposed to do. We raced every round, and that particular guy, he’ll know who he is when you write your story. But you know, no hard feeling, it’s just in the end you're just very disappointed. So yeah, I'm disappointed. He showed me who he really was.”
Regardless, Dial thanked McBride and singled out car chief Nick Oxendine, Blake, and tuner Jack Green for their hard work and support all week long at SGMP.
“Nick goes with me everywhere,” Dial said. “But all these guys deserve a lot of thanks and credit for this. I really can’t believe it.”
It seems like that’s a popular sentiment in the RVW ranks these days.
JAMES MAKES HISTORY - Haley James made a little drag racing history Oct. 30, when she became the first woman ever to win a Duck-X Productions event by beating Stephen Barnett in the No Mercy 13 Ultimate Street final.
James made an outstanding 4.46 pass at 161.11 mph down the South Georgia Motorsports Park (SGMP) eighth mile to beat Stephen Barnett in the final round. Along the way she also officially lowered the class ET mark to 4.45 seconds in the quarter finals.
“I honestly am speechless, it really hasn’t sunk in yet,” the Brownsburg, IN-based racer said of her record-setting ways. “But I know it means a lot, to me and my team.”
Her weekend didn’t start out so well, though, as James qualified her 2000 “War Eagle” Mustang 17th of 20 entries on the Ultimate Street list. Meanwhile, her fiancé and teammate Kieffer Simpson, who won the same class on the same track at Duck-X’s Sweet 16 event in March, qualified his Coyote-motored 2013 Mustang number one with a personal-best 4.51 at 160.33 mph.
With the help of Dwayne James, her father and crew chief on both Haley James Racing entries, James found her way in the opening round of competition to a much-improved 4.48 win at 161.13 over number-four qualifier Billy Smith, who left with a .039 advantage off the tree that left him just 7-thousandths short of James at the top end.
“That was only because of the badass on the computer,” James said later, gesturing toward her dad. “He’s the one.”
James followed that up with a 4.50 at 161.94 to end the day for Alton Clements in round two, which is as far as Simpson went, too, as he fell to Dave Fiscus with a little payback after losing the final to Simpson in March.
Then came the quarters, where perhaps feeling the pressure, Martin Connelly left .083 too soon while James unleased her record run of 4.45 at 161.54 mph. That sent her to the semis versus Fiscus and his unique Buick V6-powered ’93 Mustang, where James ran another 4.48 at 161.23 while Fiscus was forced to shut down and coast to a 9-second finish.
Meanwhile, due to the short ladder, 12th-place qualifier Barnett enjoyed a solo pass in the semis, driving his Procharger-equipped, small-block ’93 Mustang to a 4.56 at 149.45 mph and giving lane choice to James.
Lined up in the left lane for the final, Barnett was ready to race, leaving with a .013 holeshot, but that would be the last time he led. By the time both cars reached the starting tree, Barnett had lost grip and was left to watch James drive toward history in the making with another outstanding 4.46 pass at a very consistent 161.11 mph.
“That’s why you run a two-car team,” Dwayne James declared later. “I know some guys don’t like it, but that’s why we do it. Kieffer’s car was good right from the start, so I just used what it was telling me to make Haley’s better and you see the results. That’s why you do it.”
In the final, James said she knew Barnett had taken a slight lead off the start, but added she wasn’t surprised. “He’s a lumberjack on the tree. I even told him that at the end of the track after the semis and he was like, ‘I have to, I’m slower than everyone else.’”
Regardless, James said she just focused on the finish and didn’t lift until her win light came on. “I just started crying immediately,” she admitted after coming into the event with a car she’d never previously won in, despite driving it for nearly three years.
“It was always either me or the car messing up, or we were just talking about how the racing gods won’t give you a win unless you deserve it, so I guess today they decided that we finally deserved it,” James said. “I mean, it had been so long. I had just kind of gotten used to something going wrong and accepting that, well, we did good, but we lost. So it just felt so good to win. It was just such a relief.”
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -
MIXED RESULTS IN P275 FOR DILLARD - With a 20-year-old race car under him, Eric Dillard earned the top spot in Pro 275 qualifying for No Mercy 13 at South Georgia Motorsports Park (SGMP). Dillard got the job done Friday afternoon when he steered Scott Tidwell's '69 Camaro to a 3.705-seconds lap at 200.77 mph in the third round that held up through two additional rounds of qualifying.
"The car's ran decent all year, but we've just had our ups and downs with it. We've hung in there, we've gone rounds and we've even had some good events, but we just haven't really felt like we've had a really good handle on it until this week," Dillard said.
"Things really came together for us here and the car's made a lot of extremely good runs. And it's an older car that Scott's stuck with and worked with for a while, and now with Chris Foster at CTR and (Steve) Petty and the whole crew, they've really come together and we've definitely got something to work with now."
Dillard added the car also carries a new 595 c.i., Procharger-equipped, Proline Racing-built engine, "and that seems to have helped as well."
"I was telling our guys on the crew that if you had videoed that (number-one) pass from the stands and turned the clocks off, it probably would've looked like our slowest run," Dillard said. "But what it is, they've got the car working so good that it doesn't try to carry the front end. It doesn't go left, it doesn't go right.
"They've worked on the chassis in the rear of the car, adding some bars and upgrading it, because just like I said, this is an old car. This is Jason Collins' old Outlaw 10.5 car, so they've just worked and worked on it and definitely it's getting a lot better. It's kind of surprising. We thought we were going to have to move on to a new chassis and now it's really making us question that."
When P275 eliminations began Saturday morning at SGMP, Dillard easily outran number-32 starter Jason Martin with his '93 Mustang out of Salyersville, KY, drilling him on the tree with a .090 holeshot before going 3.76 at 199.05 to Martin's off-the-pace 4.96 at just 142.04 mph.
In the second round, however, Dillard made a sudden exit after dropping the decision to Brad Edwards, who put together a 4.06 pass at 185.79 mph while Dillard struggled and slowed to a 6.78 while coasting across the finish line at just 84.88 mph.
SEMIS SET FOR RVW AT NO MERCY 13 - With semis and finals for all official FuelTech Radial Outlaws Racing Series classes to be determined Sunday at South Georgia Motorsports Park (SGMP), Saturday night's quarter-finals for Radials vs. the World delivered some of the most compelling racing of No Mercy 13 so far.
Top qualifier Paolo Guist and his screw-blown '69 Camaro opened the day with a 3.54 solo pass at 207.43 mph that stood up as low E.T. for the session, but in round two the Canadian went red by .029 to end his weekend. Meanwhile, Jeff Miller advanced with a 3.68 at 184.60 in the opposite lane with his similarly powered "Bumblebee" '17 Camaro.
No shows due to breakage by Kuwait's Jaber Almaghrabi and Georgia's own Norm Bryson had advanced number-18 qualifier Houston Dial and the nitrous-fed "Devil Horse" '04 Mustang owned by Xavier McBride to the quarter finals. Once there, Dial prevailed in an all-Alabama battle over Mike Jones and his twin-turboed Chevy Cobalt, winning at both ends of the track by leaving with a .051 advantage, then going 4.01 at 173.41 to beat a 4.05 at 184.50 by Jones.
Dial explained this has been a big learning week for him since he'd never driven the car before Thursday when No Mercy 13 officially began. The team intended to compete in Outlaw Drag Radial, but also entered in Radials vs. the World in order to gain extra qualifying/test sessions. However, after a dragging engine diaper forced elimination for them after round one of ODR competition, they opted to remain in RVW and test their luck.
He will face Brian Keep in a similar situation driving an Ultra Street late-model Firebird in RVW action at No Mercy 13. Dial recognizes his pairing with Keep guarantees an unlikely opponent to challenge either number-three qualifier Jason Lee or seventh-place starter Calvin Franco for the No Mercy 13 RVW win.
"We've been lucky so far," Dial admitted. "It's really been kinda' exciting for us because you never know what might happen."
Next up in the quarters, second-place qualifier Daniel Pharris took on Franco. The Sikeston, MO-based driver had previously beaten the nitrous-injected '86 Chevy S10 of Florida's Santino Rinaude and made a solo pass in round two, while Franco enjoyed a first-round competition bye, followed by a win over Canadian racer Louis Ouinette and his C7 Corvette.
Franco and his big-block nitrous '70 Camaro left with a slim .008 advantage off the tree, then ran away at 3.65 and 203.92 mph after Pharris was forced to pedal early in the run and slowed to a 4.04 at 195.28 with his Procharger-equipped '69 Camaro.
"It left and felt like it was on a decent run, but then it just washed out from underneath me," Pharris recalled. "It probably had a little bit different weight package than what we usually run in the car because we've been fighting some wheelie issues and it just kind of overloaded it. Running these cars on that tire in these different conditions is very finicky. It's tough."
Next, California-based Lee put his Noonan-powered, Procharger-equipped '69 Camaro up against the screw-blown '68 Mustang of Douglasville, GA's Tim Meisner.
In rounds one and two, Lee had dispatched Justin Wren and Larry Salvator, respectively, while Meisner had a first-round bye before sending Mark Miering and his Mod-motored '07 GT500 Mustang back to Albuquerque, NM. Meisner left first by .027 and ran 3.69 at 186.18, but it was no match for the 3.56 at 206.89 put together by Lee, who advanced to Sunday's semis.
Finally, the last RVW pairing of Saturday night featured Keep lining up against Miller and his fan-favorite "Bumblebee" Camaro.
After qualifying 22nd in RVW with a 4.38 and 155.87 and making it through round one of racing with an off-the-pace 6.91 solo pass, Keep ran 4.48 at 155.67 to get around Mike Freeman in round two. Miller, meanwhile, managed a 3.82 at 201.01 to get past a struggling Enzo Pecchini in round one before getting the red-light gift from Guist.
After both cars completed their burnouts for the quarter-finals, Miller's bright yellow machine went silent in the left lane and was unable to continue. After Miller was pushed back by crew members, Keep took the tree and made a traction-challenged single at just 5.68 and 84 mph.
When No Mercy 13 resumes with the semi-finals Sunday morning, Lee will hold RVW lane choice over Franco and Dial will choose his lane over Keep.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - BARNETT REVEALS NEW CHAPTER; BIRT RACING IN DAD'S MEMORY
BARNETT 'EXCITED' ABOUT WHAT COMES NEXT - Usually, when Lyle Barnett visits a Duck X race at SGMP he's challenging for a win. But this weekend at No Mercy 13, the Mooresville, NC-based driver arrived just as a spectator as Brad Edwards took over Barnett's role as wheelman of Grant Guthrie's wild '66 Chevy pickup.
That's because Barnett is leaving for Las Vegas and the NHRA Nevada Nationals on Saturday.
"I'm gonna' start licensing in Randy Myers' A/Fuel car on Monday. Then I'll go enjoy SEMA and finish licensing, probably on Thursday," he explained. "And then, you know, we've got some hopefully really big news going into 2023, which I can't talk about yet. But it should be good, man. I'm excited."
Driving for Elite Motorsports in NHRA FuelTech Pro Mod, Barnett won the crown jewel U.S. Nationals this year and finished sixth in championship points.
"Yeah, I haven't been in a dragster in a long time, and the last one I was in was like a 4.70 index bracket dragster, but this is gonna' be a little different, you know? No brake pedal, got a hand brake, clutch pedal, so there's a lot to get used to," Barnett said. "But Randy's got a bang-up program. They've got some fast cars, they're multi-time world champions, and I'm excited to learn from them."
Barnett is known for his versatility in the driver's seat, always ready to take on a challenge as evidenced by working his way up through the radial-tire ranks and no-prep action, into big-tire Pro Mod competition.
"You know, I tend to pick up this stuff pretty quick, but this is a little different ballgame," he acknowledged. "You know, these things are low-five-second, quarter-mile cars going 270, 280 miles an hour, so you know, they're no joke. And that will be the fastest I've ever been. I've been 5.58 in the Pro Mod before, but this thing should go my personal best on both ends--on the first lick! So yeah, man, I'm excited."
BIRT RACING IN DAD'S MEMORY - With a 3.741 at 202.94 mph in round three of qualifying, Marcus Birt jumped up from 28th to third in the 33-car Pro 275 field for No Mercy 13 at South Georgia Motorsports Park.
The last time--and the first time--Birt wheeled the Procharger-equipped '04 Mustang for team owner Tommy Youmans, they all ended up in the winner's circle together at Steele, AL, for the most significant victory of Birt's long drag racing career.
He explained his father, Howard, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late in August and was hospitalized in Macon, not far from Birt's home in Gray, GA. Birt said he was scheduled to make his debut with Youmans at the FuelTech Radial Outlaws Racing Series at Alabama International Dragway. With his dad so ill, though, Birt was inclined to remain at the hospital.
"I told him, 'Man, I think I'm just going to sit this race out since you're sick and, you know, I should spend this time with you,'" he said. "But then, he was like, 'No go race that thing and just try to win it for me.'"
Birt told his dad that would be a tall order. He'd had just two test passes in the car to that point, he would be with a new team, a brand-new car, his first time racing a Procharger car, unfamiliar crew members, and he wasn't even sure of his own ability to pull it off under the circumstances--but in the end, with the attending doctors' blessings, he agreed to try.
"And then I had a gut feeling after we qualified number one that we were gonna' be okay," Birt recalled. "I mean, I never knew none of these guys at all, but they tuned this car up and we just kind of got there and everything started just jiving really good together, man. It was just like we'd been racing together 20 years."
Birt and team made it to the final Sept. against number-two starter Mo Hall, where Birt left with a sizable .042 advantage, allowing his 3.74 at 194.13 to beat Hall's quicker-and-faster 3.72 at 197.54 to the eighth-mile stripe.
"Yeah, I won it with a holeshot, so that made it even better, but I didn't even tell him (his dad); I just got in the car and drove straight to the hospital with that trophy," Birt said. "And he just started smiling when I walked in. It's one of them moments you just don't forget, you know? You do certain things in life and that there was pretty special. I'm so thankful I got to share that with him."
Howard Birt passed away two weeks later. Beyond Birt's knowledge, Youmans had a memorial message applied to the rear window of the Mustang for No Mercy 13.
"Tommy and all the guys here have been great. I honestly couldn't ask for anything more from them, they've all been so supportive through all of this," Birt said. "Hopefully we can win another one for Dad this weekend."
WORKING OUT THE GREMLIN - Duck X Productions tends to draw some unique drag-racing vehicles to South Georgia Motorsports Park. Among the most interesting at No Mercy 13 is Brian Ambrosini's '73 AMC Gremlin out of Kenosha, WI. The SGMP race marked Ambrosini's second Duck X outing after also competing in Pro 275 at the previous FuelTech Radial Outlaws Racing Series in September at Steele, AL.
"It was a bucket of bolts," when he found it 20 years ago as a bone-stock street car, Ambrosini said, before he turned it into a 10.5-tired race car on nitrous and raced it in that configuration for several years.
However, after a switch to Proline hemi power and a crash back home at Great Lakes Dragaway, Ambrosini recently had the car's chassis refurbished and updated by Reese Brothers Race Cars in Temple, GA.
"It's working a lot better now," he said.
The combination was good enough to deliver a career-best 3.93 at 192.08 mph in the car for Ambrosini at No Mercy 13, placing him 22nd on the list of 32 Pro 275 qualifiers.
"It's fast, and it'll get faster," Ambrosini promised before eliminations began.
KABOOM - Even before reaching the 60-foot marker in Outlaw Drag Radial qualifying, the transmission in Justin Harris' turbocharged '86 Mustang let go in a big way, spraying synthetic transmission fluid all over the right lane at SGMP for about 200 feet and leading to the longest clean-up delay in Friday's qualifying.
"We noticed a noise (in the transmission) yesterday, so we took the whole transmission out, checked everything and couldn't find anything wrong. Then we put it all back together and figured everything was okay since the noise had gone away," Harris explained. "So we made a pass and went 4.26 this morning (Friday) in the heat.
"Then for this pass we stepped it up to try to go an O-bottom-teen tonight and it felt like it left on a stellar pass," he continued. "But then the converter just grenaded itself in half. Went through the belly pan and of course filled the interior of the car up with smoke and I couldn't see.
"But I could smell the fluid and I'm waiting on fire. I had my hand on the fire nozzle but fortunately I didn't see no fire," Harris said. "So I got it stopped and got out, but I think the car was actually still rolling a little and I reached around with my right foot and stopped it completely to kill the power."
Fortunately, Harris was uninjured in the melee, other than something hit his wrist and left a sore spot. He said he was thankful that his safety gear, including gloves, did its job.
The earlier 4.26 at 182.43 held up to place Harris and his Anderson, SC-based team 26th in the field and scheduled to face number-seven qualifier Dallas Buchanan and his 2000 Firebird in Saturday's opening round of ODR eliminations.
"I've got an extra converter here, but I'm not sure we'll be able to fix it here," Harris freely admitted. "Worst-case scenario, if it's too bad we'll just have to pack it up, chalk it up to our losses and come back another day."
WHOA, BLACK BETTY! BAM-BA-LAM! - Canada's Paolo Guist with "Black Betty," his screw-blown '69 Camaro, captured his first Radials vs. the World number-one qualifier Oct. 28, at No Mercy 13. Black Betty will lead 29 RVW entries into eliminations Saturday morning at South Georgia Motorsports Park.
"I'm just so proud of the people that I've surrounded myself with," Guist said of his crew. "You know, they're not just crew guys or even teammates, they're my friends, and I'm so happy to be able to share this with them."
Guist, from Manotick, ON, near Canada's capital city of Ottawa, lowered his elapsed time in each of four qualifying rounds, opening with a 3.62 at 207.11 and ending with a personal-best 3.53 at 209.56 mph. Following Guist on the list was Missouri's Daniel Pharris at 3.56 and 207.56 mph, who earned the second position over number-three Jason Lee, who ran an identical ET down to 2-thousandths of a second, but went a slightly slower 205.69 mph through the eighth-mile speed trap.
Guist said he ran well at the previous FuelTech Radial Outlaws Racing Series event in September at Steele, AL, and arrived this weekend at SGMP with essentially the same tune-up.
"We really didn't really do much to it other than just regular maintenance service. Put some rods and pistons in it and just serviced the whole car," Guist said. "We did one test hit on Wednesday when we got here, but we didn't really even test. We've got a lot of runs on this combination, so we already have a pretty good idea of what it's gonna' do."
Guist, who won his career-first RVW race this April in the FuelTech series' first of two visits this year to Steele, AL, will enjoy a bye run to open eliminations at South Georgia. Pharris and his Procharger-boosted '69 Camaro will face off against number-29 qualifier Santino Rinaude and his nitrous-huffing '86 S10 truck, while Californian Lee will pit his own '69 Camaro against the '65 Nova of Florida's Justin Wren.
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK - PHARRIS THUNDERS TO THE TOP OF RVW; DILLARD AND HUBBARD LEAD THE 275'S
Veteran small tire racer Daniel Pharris came up big on the second day of qualifying for the No Mercy 13 drag radial event on Thursday evening at South Georgia Motorsports Park outside of Valdosta, Ga.
Pharris reeled off a 3.562 elapsed time at 207.56 miles per hour to land in the top spot of Radial vs. The World qualifying on Thursday evening.
"It went a little better than what we expected," Pharris said. "We changed a few things in the car after our win in Steele, Alabama. We're getting it back to where we were in Alabama and everything's looking good.
"Steve Petty told me to get it as shallow as I could, and I did, and it, uh, it ran about one number faster than what he thought it was gonna run. So we're in the right path."
Wednesday's RVW leader Jason Lee narrowed the gap on Pharris as he stepped up in Friday's first session with a 3.567 elapsed time. Paulo Guist was third with a 3.583, 204.91, which served as top speed of qualifying and an edge over No. 4 Norman Bryce, who also turned in a 3.583.
Eric Dillard replaced Brylon Holder atop the Pro 275 leaderboard in Friday's early session with a 3.705, 200.77 mph. Holder ran a 3.717, 201.07 in Wednesday's lone qualifying attempt and held through two sessions.
Other top qualifiers included Kenny Hubbard (x275), Shawn Pevlar (Ultimate Street), DJ McCain (Outlaw Drag Radial), and Jason Riley (Limited 235).
WEDNESDAY NOTEBOOK - LEE BACK ON TOP AGAIN IN RADIAL VS THE WORLD
Jason Lee is doing pretty much what he's done for the Radial vs. The World division for the last several trips to South Georgia Motorsports... showing no mercy.
Lee, of Vernon, California, made his cross-country trip worthwhile on the first day of qualifying at the No Mercy 13 drag radial race by driving his way to the top of qualifying with a 3.573 elapsed time at 206.39.
Also leading their respective classes were Brylon Holder (Pro 275), Shane Heckel (X275), and DJ McCain (Outlaw Drag Radial).
Holder, who resides in Bakersfield, Ca., added to the west coast domination as he drove his late-model Camaro to the top of the Pro 275 division with a 3.717, 201.07.
Heckel was the top runner in X275, driving his Baytown, Texas-based '91 Mustang to a 4.226, edging fellow Texan Kenny Hubbard, who ran a 4.234. Shane Moses was third with a 4.245.
McCain was the clear top horse with the Outlaw Drag Radial with a 3.936. He and JR Pines were the only two in the class to run in the three-second zone with their Mustangs.
SCARY MOMENT - There was a scary moment during the Q1 session of Radial vs The World when Casey Buschmeyer lost control and slammed into the retaining wall, resulting in a huge fireball. The driver emerged uninjured.