The 3rd Annual Toyo Tire NMRA Ford Nationals at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan, officially marked the end of the first half of the ’06 season, and racers found a combination of some of the best racing weather we’ve seen so far this year and a world-class facility ready to host the NMRA tour. Last year’s late-spring US 131 event was notable mainly for being interrupted by snow, of all things, but this year’s mid-summer meet will go down in the books for some of the best racing we’ve seen all year.

Though it’s not ‘officially’ his home track (that honor goes to Milan), Michigander Don Walsh, Jr. played the role of local hero in Diablosport Pro 5.0 qualifying, taking top honors in qualifying with a best effort of 6.684 seconds at 207.38 mph. Legendary engine builder Tony Bischoff was trying his hand behind the wheel for the first time in NMRA Pro 5.0 competition, and was rewarded with a 6.703 in qualifying, good for second rung on the ladder. The lion’s share of the rest of the field, an additional four cars, all posted a 6.7-something before the end of the day on Saturday, with David Hance the lone driver still in the sevens.

When eliminations began on Sunday, Walsh ran out the odd field first round single with a 6.728, then faced off against Burt Kelkboom in the second, who was driving a new (to him, at least – the chassis has an IHRA Pro Stock pedigree, as his previous ride did) car for the first time in competition. Walsh got the holeshot, then steadily extended his lead, running 6.744 to Kelkboom’s 6.814 straight into the final round. There, he would meet Bischoff, who had taken an honest win from Hance in the first round despite giving up a .547-to-.477 holeshot, then faced Pennsylvania winner Chuck DeMory in the second round. That time, it would be Bischoff away first, and despite a big top-end charge, DeMory just ran out of track before he could catch the number two qualifier. When Bischoff and Walsh squared off in the feature race, the defending champ had his brain set to “kill” and hit a .407 light to Bischoff’s .454, and needed all of it and then some. By half-track, Bischoff had nosed ahead and was extending his lead, running 6.683 and 211.35 mph out the back door to Walsh’ 6.771 at 205, taking the Pro 5.0 win and proving he turns a wheel as well as he turns a wrench.

MSD Super Street Outlaw saw some of the best action of the weekend, starting with the test and tune session on Friday. SSO vet Billy Laskowsky knocked off a blazing personal best 7.52 pass, putting the class on notice and demonstrating that their long struggle to get a handle on the car’s potential had finally been won. Of course, no matter how good your quick-draw is, there’s always another gunslinger out there who can beat you, and when the smoke cleared on Saturday, it was John Urist who had come out on top of qualifying. His 7.513 at 190.51 would go Laskowski one better, as he could “only” muster a 7.600 in official qualifying, still good for second slot. The sixties went all the way down to fourth, with a total of seven out of the eleven car field finding a sub-eight tuneup.
Urist took his first round single in eliminations as an opportunity to prove the pass in qualifying wasn’t a fluke, running 7.573 and backing the previous number up for the new SSO record. Urist was on a roll, and in the second round he pegged yet another seven-fifty (this time with a five) against a clearly-struggling Don Burton. Urist would still have to find a way around Jarrett Halfacre to get to the final, and got an unexpected gift when Halfacre left early to the tune of a .367 light. Despite the freebie, Urist busted out yet another 7.5X pass. Clearly in the groove, that left just one race left to win for the Fireball, and that race would be against the only guy who seemed to be having the same sort of luck, Billy Laskowski. ‘Sky started off the day with a race against Mike Trimandilis that started out neck-and-neck but saw Laskowski ahead at the stripe, 7.763 to 7.976, then continued with a victory over Ed “Fluffy” Imhoff, 7.813 to 7.939. That put Laskowski into the semi-final single, where he turned it back up and ran 7.576 and 189 mph through the traps. With the crowd primed for what could be the best race of the day, the SSO final began with ‘Sky grabbing the holeshot, .424 to Urist’s .545, but by the eighth, that lead had shrunk to just a hundredth of a second and Urist was already carrying more than four mph on Laskowski. By the thousand-foot mark Urist had nosed ahead, crossing the finish line with a 7.778 to 7.601 lead and a .056 margin of victory.

ProCharger EFI Renegade drew more than a dozen entries at US 131, and Aaron Stapleton clinched the top slot in qualifying with an 8.705 pass at 159.10 mph. The top half of the field qualified solidly in the eights, with another four cars making nine-second passes and the rest of the field trailing behind. Once the real fun started on Sunday, Stapleton had his mojo working again, breezing through his first round odd-field single, then taking out Rich Groh in round two despite giving up the holeshot. That earned Stapleton a rematch of the Maple Grove finals against George Seeger, but this time the roles were reversed and Stapleton advanced again into the finals, cutting a too-close-for-comfort .401 light in the process. Meanwhile on the other side of the ladder, defending Renegade champ Scott Lovell had made his way past the still-struggling Zoop Zellonis in the opening round, then trailered the overmatched Chris Van Gilder in the quarter-finals. Though he might have been looking for a little payback for fallen teammate Zellonis’ loss, Jay Mingolelli didn’t get the chance in the semis when he left before the tree came down and gave the uncontested go-ahead to Lovell. That left just two cars and one race left, and when the tree dropped, Lovell was away first but couldn’t hold off Stapleton’s charging S197, and Stapleton was rewarded with a trip to victory lane for his 8.677-to-8.863 win.

Just one driver managed to find an eight in Edelbrock Hot Street qualifying on Saturday, and wouldn’t you know that it would be Charlie Booze, Jr. Coming off a win in Pennsylvania, Booze’s 8.986 took top honors in qualifying, leading a nine car field that spanned just two tenths for the first eight spots. In eliminations, by the semi-finals the field had narrowed to the top two qualifiers, and Leo Johnson, who inherited the single into the Big Show by virtue of getting past third-qualified Andy Schmidt in the first round. In the Battle of the Bumper-Draggers, Booze faced Bob Hanlon to see who would take on Johnson, and Hanlon was away first with a .425 reaction against Booze’s unusually slow .599. From there, things got weird with an obvious timing system glitch turning on the win light in Hanlon’s lane just 2.1 seconds after he cleared the staged beam, but both drivers stayed in it and despite the gremlins, it was clear that Hanlon would be moving on. In the deciding round, Hanlon again took the initiative off the line, cutting a .423 light to Johnson’s .474, but by half-track Johnson had caught the Amish Buggy and was pulling ahead, crossing the stripe with a 9.057 to Hanlon’s 9.111 and giving Ragdoll Racing a long-anticipated Hot Street win.

After bookending the Maple Grove round with a TQ and win in BFGoodrich Tire Drag Radial, Chad Doyle appeared poised to do the same in Michigan, leading the class with a best effort of 8.247 at 175.16 mph. It wouldn’t be a cakewalk, though – all nine drivers in Drag Radial found an eight of one kind or another before the ladder was set on Saturday afternoon. In eliminations, Doyle caught the first-round bye, but gave it all away in the second round when a huge .115 redlight against Jason Lee ended his day. Lee took full advantage of the gift, putting Mauro Vitale on the trailer in the semi-finals, 8.408 to 8.435. Working his way through the field to meet him for the finals was John Kolivas, qualified mid-pack in fifth. After victimizing a clearly-hurt Tony Akins in a no-contest first round match, Kolivas got another break when Mike King redlit in the second. On a roll with Lady Luck, that meant Kolivas would inherit the semi-final single straight into the finals without ever having to display his true Kung Fu. That all changed against Lee – Kolivas busted out a .425 reaction to Lee’s .482, and needed every thousandth. At the stripe, Kolivas was still ahead despite running a slower 8.349 to Lee’s 8.325, a true holeshot victory with a margin of victory of just .033 seconds, or a little over eight feet.

5.0 Magazine Real Street has been almost as exciting off the track as on this year, with several racers vigorously campaigning for rule changes to correct perceived disadvantages to their combinations. For whatever it’s worth, a nitrous car came out on top in Saturday’s qualifying, with Bruce Hemminger running 9.994 at 133.94 mph. Joining him in the single-digit club was Brian Meyer, just behind with a 9.998. In eliminations, that pair would again rise to the top – Hemminger began the day on Sunday by roughing up an obviously problem-plagued Jim Breese, then put away Tim Matherly in the semi-finals with an end-to-end victory, getting the holeshot and stretching the lead down-track. Meanwhile on the other side of the ladder, Meyer pulled an easy win over Mark Magnuson in the first round with a big holeshot, then slipped past Uncle Robin Lawrence in the semis, 10.187 to 10.266. In the money round, both drivers pulled out all the stops, and Meyer was away first with a stellar .409 reaction to Hemminger’s just-very-good .449, but down-track it was all about Hemminger, who ran the best Real Street pass of the day and the only single digit ET, a 9.989 to Meyer’s 10.129.

Tremec Pure Street drew an even dozen entries to US 131, and Ron Anderson led the pack in qualifying with a 10.388 at 129.57 mph. A ten would be the price of admission to the top two thirds of the field, and trap speeds hovered in the low buck-twenties on Saturday. In the first round of eliminations, Anderson took an easy win over Jack Fifer, despite giving up the leave, then did the same to Greg Curtis in the second round, 10.348 to 11.140. The semi-finals brought up a competition bye for Anderson, delivering him straight into the last round where he’d face off against Bad Brad Meadows. Meadows began the day with a gimme against Amy Sherwin when she rolled the beams in the first round, then followed up with an honest 10.441-to-10.578 win versus Victor Downs in the second. In the semis, Meadows met and trailered David Hill, who ran an off-pace 11.277 at just 119.74 mph. That led to the final against Anderson, and when the tree dropped Anderson was away first by a small margin, and he stretched that lead as the pair headed North, running 10.355 to Meadows’ 10.402 for the Pure Street victory.

Eight cars filled the K&N Factory Stock ranks, and Jeff Schmell led qualifying with a best effort of 11.621 seconds at 117.17 mph. Schmell’s good fortune continued into eliminations on Sunday, when a first round redlight from opponent Steve Gifford gave him the go-ahead into the semis. There, he’d face Brian Marr, who’s sleepy .713 light assured Gifford a spot in the final round. Fourth-qualified Jonathan Paulk would meet him there after handily defeating Louis Sylvester in the opening match and Maple Grove winner Shawn Johnson in the second in a very close race. In the final, Schmell got the holeshot and struggled to maintain it, the cars very evenly matched, but in the end it would be Schmell on top, winning 11.752 to 11.834.

As usual, Vortech Modular Muscle was stuffed to the gills in Michigan, with 23 cars in the lanes at the start of eliminations. Don Bowles topped the qualifying stats by virtue of his perfect .500 light in qualifying, but by the time the giant field had narrowed to the semi-finals, it was down to just three drivers; Stacy Estel, Louie Manglos, and Adam Smith. By the luck of the ladder, Smith caught the odd-field bye straight to the main event, while Estel and Manglos had to duke it out to see who’d join him there. Estel was just a little bit too quick on the draw, and pegged a disappointing .493 redlight, allowing Manglos to move on unhindered. In the final round, Manglos caught the better light, .518 to Estel’s .521, and with a head start thanks to a slower index, Estel had to stay on the gas to try to keep in front of Manglos. Unfortunately, that led to a 13.055 on a 13.08 index for Estel, breaking out and giving the Mod title to Manglos.

Nearly 30 drivers fought it out in Toyo Tires Open Comp in Michigan, with Drew Lyons at the head of the class in qualifying with a perfect light. It took three rounds of racing to get down to the final four, where Steve Tucker faced Mr. Open Comp, Larry Geddes, and Randy Conway and John Motycka squared off. Both pairs were all about reaction time, with Tucker’s .558-to-.633 holeshot ending Geddes’ weekend, and an amazing .509 light from Conway retiring Motycka. Tucker, representing the University of Northwestern Ohio, put up a good fight but lost the final round reaction time battle .687 to Conway’s .571, and couldn’t come close enough to his index to overcome the handicap.

While the turnout in Detroit Locker Truck & Lightning might have left a little to be desired, there was no disappointment when it came to the level of competition – Top qualifier “Captain” Keith Kohlmann earned his slot with a .508 light on Saturday, but even his quick transbrake finger wasn’t enough to guarantee a trip to the finals. That honor was reserved for Mike Motycka and Dave Cole, and in their showdown both drivers clicked off near-identical reactions, leaving the race to whoever would come closest to their index. At the stripe, it was Motycka across first, running 12.186-on-12.13 to Cole’s 11.089-on-11-flat, earning him one last trip on Sunday, this time into the winner’s circle.