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NMRAPaul
08-14-2007, 02:47 PM
By Paul Huizenga

With the 2007 season coming into the home stretch, the NMRA Keystone Ford Nationals series returned once more to Atco, New Jersey for the 4th Annual NMRA Ford Nationals presented by Downs Ford Motorsport. Atco Raceway is familiar territory for many of the NMRA faithful, and home track to more than a few heavy hitters. It’s also a dragstrip known for an unusually large and enthusiastic hometown crowd, and the fans certainly got what they came for over the course of the racing weekend.

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DiabloSport Pro 5.0 saw several drivers struggle in qualifying on Saturday – only the unsinkable Tony Bischoff got away clean, topping out at 6.685 and 193.16 mph to take the top spot. Sunday’s eliminations quickly brought the four-car field to the finals, where Bischoff faced local favorite Mike Bavlsir, who was getting some seat time in the car he’d recently acquired from Team Aruba. A staging miscue on Bavlsir’s side meant he was caught out when the tree dropped, leading to a 1.334-second reaction time and an essentially unopposed win for Bischoff, who ran his pass out to a 6.761 at 208.39 mph in his third victory in five races.

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MSD Ignition Super Street Outlaw drew another stout field of 14 cars in Atco, led in qualifying by John Urist with a sizzling 7.488 at 193.07 mph. Despite looking untouchable at the end of the day on Saturday, thanks to the fact that he had four hundredths and nine miles an hour in the bag against number two qualified Don Burton, Urist was out of the picture in the semis on Sunday, thanks to a faltering 7.978 against Yanni “SuperGreek” Papakosmas, who ran out a 7.795 at 193.57 straight into the finals. There, he’d face Burton, who had been running a low-7.60 pace for most of the day. In a bid to get an early lead, SuperGreek threw down a big .007 light to Burton’s .071, but a wisp of tire smoke on the short end announced that Papakosmas wouldn’t be able to maintain the narrow margin, and he went down swinging with a 7.892 at 189.52 to Burton’s winning 7.681 at 181.40.

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ProCharger EFI Renegade has been drawing deep, quick fields all season long, and Atco was no exception with a full ladder of 16 cars on the property, led by defending champ Brian Mitchell in qualifying with an 8.627 at 157.96 mph. Mitchell was able to maintain his position until a holeshot from Aaron Stapleton cost him the race in the semis, sending The Shark on to face nitrous racer Tony Orts in Mitchell’s place. Stapleton, who had shown mid-seventies speed earlier in the day, fell off to an 8.821 at 156.30 in the finals, not enough to stay ahead of Orts’ 8.765 at 157.08, earning him the event win and making the championship picture a little more complicated with just two races left to run.

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“Tight” isn’t a strong enough word to describe the Edelbrock Hot Street field in Atco – The top four qualifiers in the dozen-car class were all within 22 thousandths of a second, led by Mike DeMayo’s 8.779 at 151.43 mph. Eliminations were just as tough, with the last two standing coming down to fourth-qualified Charlie Booze, Jr. versus second-seed Justin Curry. With both drivers keenly aware that neither had any edge in power or chassis, they both threw everything they had at the tree, and Curry came away second-best with a -.015 redlight to Booze’s .010. Despite the win light already shining in Booze’s lane, both racers kept their feet in it and ran it out to side-by-side 8.86’s to the delight of the crowd.

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Defending BFGoodrich Tires Drag Radial champ John Kolivas just can’t leave well enough alone – after switching to an 85mm turbo in just two weeks before Route 66, he immediately turned around (literally) and switched again to a forward-facing 85 in time for Atco. In any case, Kolivas had it worked out well enough to once again earn the number one spot in qualifying with an 8.096 at 176.35 mph, a full tenth ahead of Chris Tuten, his closest rival on Saturday. The rivalry would carry right over to Sunday’s eliminations, where Kolivas and Tuten both fought their way through to the finals. Intent on not letting Kolivas having anything for free, Tuten threw a holeshot on the normally-unbeatable-at-the-tree Iceman, .044 to .078, but didn’t have enough in the car to stay ahead, a faltering 8.638 at just 139.23 giving the win to Kolivas, who ran the pass out to an 8.224 at 174.21.

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Tim Matherly and Bruce Hemminger have been fighting it out all season in 5.0 Magazine Real Street, with a pair of wins to each and Matherly leading with three pole positions to one for Hemminger going into Atco. Matherly extended his narrow lead with another top qualifier award on Saturday, running 9.795 at 137.06, while Hemminger could only muster a 9.854 for second spot. When the field had winnowed itself down to the final pair, wouldn’t you know that it would be Matherly and Hemminger once again. In the beams, Matherly pulled a narrow .026-to-.080 holeshot, but Hemminger immediately drove around him and stretched out his advantage to a 9.844-to-9.930 win, carrying a huge-for-a-nitrous-car 139.21 mph trap speed.

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For the third time this season, Bad Brad Meadows earned top qualifying honors in Tremec Pure Street, heading up the eight-car field with a 10.340 at 131.74 mph. Meadows was also looking for his third win, but stopped short by a redlight against Jimmy Wilson in the semis. That cleared the way for Wilson to square off against Victor Downs, second on Saturday and running in the .380 range during the opening rounds. When the ambers flashed in the finals, both racers were away simultaneously to the thousandth of a second, and both carried the wheels past the tree, with Wilson drifting towards the wall and having to dial in a course change as soon as the fronts touched down. That bobble was enough to decide the race, with Downs crossing first with a 10.422 at 131.09 to Wilson’s 10.453 at 131.15.

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We’ve never seen so many cars in K&N Filters Factory Stock so far this year – 14 to be exact – and another thing we haven’t seen was anyone other than Farmer Steve Gifford at the top of the leader board at the end of qualifying. That’s just what went down in Atco, though, with Jeff Schmell nudging Gifford out by two hundredths with an 11.473 at 117.69 mph. With the pair qualified 1-2, it was like they were destined to meet at the end of the day on Sunday, and when they did, Schmell was looking to become the first two-time winner in FS this season, while Gifford was intent on ending his final-round drought in a decisive win to go with his string of top qualifier awards. The tree dropped and Schmell was away first, hammering hard to maintain his lead despite a big top-end charge from Gifford, and crossing the line first with an 11.425 at 117.93 to Gifford’s 11.455 at 119.63.

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Roush Performance Modular Muscle drew a total of 25 cars, and out in front in qualifying was class stalwart Derek Kernodle, thanks to a perfect .000 light. On Sunday, four rounds of eliminations led to the final pair, pitting Rick Doern, who had been cutting sub-.020 lights all day, against Susan McClenaghan, who had qualified fourth and dispatched a bunch of tough drivers on her way to the deciding round. Indexed slower, Doern went in deep and pulled off a .069 to McClenaghan’s sleepy .219, but what decided the Mod Muscle title was the double breakout at the far end, with the nod going to Doern’s slightly-less-bad 13.745 on his 13.76 index over McClenaghan’s 10.612-on-10.65.

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42 cars filled the lanes for Crane Cams Open Comp in New Jersey, and the field was thick with some of the best drivers in the NMRA’s ranks. Best of the best on Saturday was Brent Blacker, a .010 light earning him top honors in qualifying. When things kicked off on Sunday, Blacker found himself sidelined in the second by Don Bowles, thanks to a holeshot that Blacker couldn’t drive around without breaking out. Bowles continued his march through the field all the way to the finals, where he’d meet none other than Mr. Open Comp himself, Larry Geddes, who had qualified all the way back in tenth spot but redeemed himself by chewing through his half of the field with gusto. When the pair faced off, Geddes got the light first and put a slim .068-to-.099 holeshot on Bowles, but had to run for his life to stay ahead and broke out trying, running 9.891 on his 9.95 index, while the victorious Bowles laid down a near perfect 9.019-on-9.01.

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Detroit Locker Truck & Lightning drew the deepest field we’ve seen since the Bradenton season opener, with Craig Cain leading the 15-truck pack in qualifying by virtue of his .012 light. After three rounds of eliminations, the field had narrowed to the final pair – John Riccio, who had inherited Cain’s spot on the ladder in the second round when the top qualifier couldn’t break the beams, and Jim D’Amore, who had earned his spot in the finals when the inimitable Johnny Lightning went -.003 red in the semis. When the tree dropped, D’Amore was away first thanks to his slower dial, and caught a .033-to-.061 holeshot, but down-track Riccio caught and passed him, and held on to a fender-length lead to win with a 10.464 on his 10.37 index to D’Amore’s 13.289-on-13.09.