In the eight-year history of NMRA racing in Bowling Green, we’ve never seen so many classes still undecided going into the Nitto Tire NMRA World Finals at Beech Bend Raceway. In fact, only two classes had been locked up, and even there, pitched battles for position were still being waged among the remainder of the top ten. Adding to the drama were weather delays that forced the delay of Saturday’s qualifying and cancellation of the third round outright, and a series of wild rides (fortunately, none causing injury) fueled by the red mist descending on racers looking for one last shot at 2006 glory.

Perhaps the most dramatic battle of all unfolded in Diablosport Pro 5.0, with last year’s class runner-up, Mike Hauf, going in to Bowling Green with a narrow lead on three-time champ Don Walsh, Jr. In qualifying, Hauf fired the first shot with a class-leading 6.641 at 210.83 in his first attempt, then ratcheted the mark down to 6.594 in his second hit at the track in the cooler night air. With a third-best 6.678 off the trailer, Walsh looked to improve his situation once night fell, but disaster struck instead – through the thousand-foot beams during his second pass, Walsh’s Mustang got loose in its own coolant and began a wild pendulum swing that ended with the car brushing the walls on both sides of the track before sliding to a stop. Through supreme presence of mind and driving skill, Walsh kept the damage to a minimum, but once the team got the car back to their pits the decision was made that the car couldn’t be brought back to a satisfactory state in time, and Walsh would sit out eliminations as a spectator. With Walsh done, the moment Hauf fired his motor for the first round on Sunday he was the 2006 champion, but that didn’t mean the other four drivers in the class were going to give him an easy victory lap. In the first round, Joe Morgan gambled at the tree and lost, posting a .010 redlight, while Hauf banged off a 6.633 at 208 and change. Second round earned Hauf a competition bye, but with no fear of having extra miles on the odometer at the end of the lease, Hauf ran it out to a 6.685 at just short of 210 mph. That led to the last Pro 5.0 race of the year, and wouldn’t you know that it would be against the one man who’s never lost in NMRA competition, Tony Bischoff. Qualified second on Saturday, Bischoff got a free pass in the first round of eliminations when Bruce Dykes didn’t make the call, then dispatched Bert Kelkboom in the second when the Aruban lost traction at mid-track and had to lift. Bischoff’s 6.636 performance in that round promised a close match against Hauf, and that’s exactly what fans got when the two finally crossed swords. Away first with a .064 light to Bischoff’s .074, Hauf ran another slot-car-perfect pass and the cars crossed the line almost side-by-side. Bischoff’s 6.590 had been just enough to get past Hauf’s 6.651, the margin of victory a scant .051 seconds.

A short, three-race schedule meant that the 2006 Vortech Outlaw 10.5 championship battle wasn’t quite as epic as the other well-established classes, but that didn’t diminish the excitement generated by the narrow-tire monsters one bit. In qualifying, David Hance was the only driver to find the right mix of power and traction to run quicker than seven flat and faster than 200 mph, posting a 6.974 at 209.95 good for the top of the order. Jim Monson, Tim Essick, Dwayne James, and Jared Brunner rounded out the five-car field.With the first round bye, Hance took it easy to start off his day on Sunday with a leisurely high-eight pass, then got serious again against Brunner in the second. Despite giving up a .110-to-.053 holeshot, Hance’s 7.047 had Brunner’s 7.190 covered, advancing him to the finals. There, he’d meet “Bring the Pain” Dwayne James, who had qualified fourth, then gotten around Monson in the first round when Gumby’s gumballs went up in smoke. That earned James what would have been Monson’s number two bye in the semis, but James gave it the wood anyway and ran it out to a 7.374 at 196.67. With the final set, James hit the tree hard and left it in Hance’s lap, a monster .036-to-.240 holeshot looking like trouble for the top qualifier. But Hance knew he could take his time getting away, and reeled in James by half-track, making James’ slowing 8.494 a moot point. With another six, this time a 6.932 at 212.29, Hance took home both the Bowling Green win and the inaugural Vortech Outlaw 10.5 championship.

With the 2006 MSD Ignition Super Street Outlaw title already in the bag for John Urist, the focus at Beech Bend was on the three-way battle for second between Sam Vincent, Phil Hines, and Billy Laskowsky. The big surprise of the weekend was the fact that Vincent was on the property at all, having vowed that he was done with the NMRA after Route 66. Qualifying saw Urist at the top of the heap with a scary-quick 7.462, followed in lock-step by Don Burton at 7.472, Mike Trimandilis with a 7.498, and Phil Hines at 7.503. With thirteen drivers qualified altogether and the top four running at or under the national ET record in qualifying, nobody was too disappointed that the championship was already a foregone conclusion. In eliminations, Urist took his first round bye to feel out the track, running “only” a 7.520 at 191. He found a worthy second-round opponent in AJ Powell, who had beaten Urist in the finals at the previous round in Ohio. The rematch went in Urist’s favor leading from stripe to stripe and clocking another seven-fifty to Powell’s 7.76. In the semis, Urist paired with Zack Posey, who hit the tree too hard and was rewarded with a .063 redlight for his trouble. Urist ran his pass out to a 7.556 anyway, straight into his seventh final round of the year. On the other side of the ladder, Phil Hines had been making his way through the field to meet him, putting away Carlo Catalanatto in the first round by a full second, then getting a freebie when Yani Papakosmas couldn’t make the call in the quarter-finals. The tipping point came in the semis against Don Burton, who had Hines’ number down-track but gave up the holeshot with an unusually sleepy .315 reaction to Hines’ .024. With the Fireball lined up against him, Hines turned up the wick for the finals, running his best past in eliminations, a 7.533 at 191.40. It wasn’t enough, though, as Urist added to his slight holeshot advantage on the top end, running 7.524 and capping his championship with a victory at the World Finals.

With five racers still in the mix going in (six, if you’re a believer in miracles), ProCharger EFI Renegade was the championship battle to watch at Beech Bend. Aaron Stapleton, Brian Mitchell, and defending champ Scott Lovell were all effectively tied with less than a round between them, with Zoop Zellonis and Bob Cook ready to blow past should any of the top three falter. Even George Seeger had a shot, if everything went his way. In qualifying, Zellonis took top honors with an 8.607, with Seeger doing his best to catch the lead pack with a second-place 8.614. Mitchell, Lovell, and Cook rounded out the top five, with Stapleton stuck all the way down in eighth place with an 8.906. The top 11 qualifiers in the 19-car Renegade field all had an eight to their name by the close of Saturday’s racing, promising some interesting matchups on Sunday. Seeger immediately went to work in eliminations, getting the next best thing to an opening bye against a limping Greg Price, and another in the second versus Dave Guy, who was having something of a snake-bit weekend. That brought up the quarter-finals and the first real competition bye for Seeger. Only one racer still stood between him and the finals, and that racer was Scott Lovell. Both drivers hit the tree hard, but Lovell had to pedal a bit and Seeger shot ahead and into the finals, 8.928 to 9.452. There, he’d face Brian Mitchell, who was cementing his own championship bid with a string of victories that began in round one against James King, who’s slumbering .274 light gave Mitchell an added cushion to his ET advantage. Round two pitted Mitchell against Stapleton, who struggled off the line and limped to a 22-second pass that ended his weekend and 2006 season on a down note. The third round posed more of a challenge for Mitchell in the form of Rich Groh, but a perfect triple-zero light put Mitchell out ahead from the very start by more than a quarter-second, and the rest was just window dressing. The win bought Mitchell a semi-final competition bye into the finals against Seeger, and there he’d again do his lumberjack routine, cutting a .002 light to Seeger’s not-unimpressive .019. Down-track, it was all Mitchell, an 8.703 against Seeger’s 9.189 capping the event win and the 2006 EFI Renegade championship.

Though Charlie Booze, Jr. was already the Edelbrock Hot Street champ-in-waiting and Bob Hanlon had second in his pocket going in, that didn’t make the fight for the Bowling Green title any less fiercely contested. Qualifying saw 16 drivers taking a shot at the beams, with Max Gross earning top honors thanks to an 8.861-at-153.65 blast in the first round. Hanlon, Booze, Mike Curcio, and Mike Demayo rounded out the top five, while Ben Mens slipped in under the nine-flat mark in sixth place with an 8.995. On Sunday, Booze began his victory tour with an 8.949-to-9.071 win over Mike Abdalla, then followed up with a quicker 8.862 to Andy Schmidt’s 9.036 in the second. The luck of the ladder paired Booze against top-qualified Gross in the semi-finals, and it would have been a good race save for Gross’ heartbreaking .004 redlight that gave the trip to the finals away for free. Meanwhile, Robert Blankenship, who had qualified smack in the middle of the pack with a 9.013, had dispatched Andy Law largely on the strength of a holeshot in the opener, then gotten a break when Curcio couldn’t make the call in the second. Blankenship’s semi-final pairing would be the more exciting of the two, when Ben Mens got out of shape at half-track, bicycled on two wheels, then crossed the center line and struck the far wall. Fortunately, Mens was unharmed, and Blankenship was far enough out to avoid being caught in the fracas. That left just Booze and Blankenship, and when the tree dropped, there was just .003 between the two. Down-track, Booze pulled the lead and held it, putting the cherry on top of his 2006 championship with an 8.805 to 8.988 victory in Beech Bend.

BFGoodrich Tires Drag Radial is always a complicated balancing act between power and traction, but with a full season of experience behind them the drivers contesting the World Finals had their tune-ups down cold. Points leader John Kolivas had certainly found his stride, taking top honors in qualifying with an 8.156 at 174.77, and 2005 champ Chris Tuten was on his game as well with an 8.163, good for second spot. Twenties were cheap in qualifying, with the next seven drivers ranging from 8.207 to 8.297, and another three of the 14-car field in the eights as well. In eliminations, Kolivas methodically worked through his side of the ladder, dispatching Aussie Modular racer Joey Bridge in the first round, 8.216 to 8.238, then claimed the first competition bye in the second round. That led to a semi-final match against Tony Akins, and an easy victory for Kolivas who had found another tenth and ran 8.101 against Akin’s 8.862. Meanwhile, the other half of the field was falling victim to the Flyin’ Hawaiian, Bob Kurgan. Qualified fourth, Kurgan got a freebie in the opening round when Steve Thompson could only manage a 13-second half-pass, then fought back from a .011-to-.071 holeshotting at the hands of Dave Hopper to cross the line first, running 8.225 to Hopper’s 8.422. The semis brought Kurgan face-to-face with his biggest potential challenge so far, Chad Doyle, and Kurgan took the lesson learned at the tree the previous round to heart, pulling out a holeshot win and running 8.163 to Doyle’s lightning-quick 8.108. Of course, nobody hits the tree like Johnny K, and in the final Drag Radial race of 2006, Kolivas pulled it out, roots and all, with a .001 light to Kurgan’s .033. That reaction time lead wouldn’t be enough, though, as Kurgan pulled ahead on the short end of the track and even a monster top end charge from Kolivas couldn’t reel him in in time. The end result? A Kurgan victory to cap the season, 8.244 to Kolivas’ 8.392.

Going into the finals, the points chase in 5.0 Magazine Real Street was looking like a repeat of last year, with Brian Meyer and Tim Matherly once again one and two. The wild card in the mix this time around was nitrous racer Bruce Hemminger, who’s streak of three mid-season victories in a row put him within striking distance of the lead pair. In qualifying, yet another familiar face came to the fore, with “Uncle” Robin Lawrence taking the pole by the slimmest of margins, running 9.872 at 136.39 to Matherly’s 9.873 at 136.84. Hemminger slotted into third position in the dozen-car field with a 9.946, with Meyer batting cleanup with a 9.959, the last of the single-digit qualifiers. When push came to shove in eliminations, Meyer got a freebie in the opener when Kevin Scott couldn’t break the beams, running it out to a 10.005, then pushed past Jim Breese in the second round; despite losing the holeshot by four hundredths, Meyer ran his first nine of the day, more than enough to cover Breese’s 10.287. With top qualifier Lawrence out in the first round and Meyer stealing his bye from Breese, it was clear sailing through the semi-finals and straight into the big show against, you guessed it, Tim Matherly. He’d started off the day with a half-second trailering of Paul Alfeo, then taken down Craig Baldwin in the second round, 10.328 to 10.541. That pitted Matherly against Hemminger in the semis, but a lifting 11.756 wasn’t going to do it for the nitrous coupe and Matherly’s 9.931 took him directly to the final round. In that match, Meyer was away first with a .017 to .049 holeshot, but down-track Matherly caught and passed the defending champ, crossing the finish line ahead and running 9.898 to Meyer’s 9.951 for the win.

Tremec Pure Street drew a healthy 14-car field for the 2006 season’s last hurrah, led in qualifying by “Grandpa” Ron Anderson, who’s record-pace 10.228 first past in qualifying had second-qualified Bad Brad Meadows covered by a full tenth. In all, nine of the fourteen had found a ten-second tuneup on Saturday, but Pure Street was destined to be the Ron and Brad show as the pair fought for the championship down to the wire. Anderson lead off by trailering Larry Weir by a decisive half-second margin in the first round, then followed up with an easy competition bye in the second. The third round was a strange one, with Anderson coming out on the winning end of a double-redlight against Ryan Hecox. For his part, Meadows started his Sunday with an easy win over Pat Herron, then took a 10.275-to-10.476 victory over Rocky Mason in the second round. The semi-finals found Meadows paired against Teddy Weaver, who’s 10.390 wasn’t going to do it against Meadows’ mid-twenties pace, setting up the climactic final. When the two frontrunners met, Anderson was away first by a hair and stretched the lead, running 10.217 to Meadows’ 10.269, winning the race and earning himself the number one for his windshield next year.

Though the championship in K&N Filters Factory Stock was destined to come down to either defending champ Shawn Johnson or last year’s runner-up Jeff Schmell, the battle for third place had no fewer than five drivers still duking it out, making for a good deal of excitement in the hotly-contested class. Qualifying saw two drivers under the national ET record, with Steve Gifford in first with an 11.427 and Eric Holliday just behind at 11.437. The first driver to experience Gifford’s quickness firsthand was Brian Marr, who fell 12.003 to 11.557 in the opening round. That brought Gifford into his top-qualifier second round bye, and from there he faced Johnson to see who’d be going on to the finals. Against Johnson, Gifford demonstrated that he had a little bit of luck on his side as well, cutting a .036 light to Johnson’s .143, enough to eke out a holeshot win with his 11.614 against Johnson’s quicker 11.563. On the other side of the ladder, Holliday was on a tear, brushing past Louis Sylvester in the first round, then outrunning Schmell in the second despite giving up a huge .308-to-.055 holeshot. Holliday was slow off the tree again in the semi-finals, posting a .207 to John Leslie, Jr.’s .090, but driving around him to a 11.657-to-11.833 win. Though it looked like a dream matchup for the final round, attrition finally took its toll and Gifford was unable to make the call, leaving Holliday to take an uncontested 11.403-at-117.99 mph victory lap.

The Vortech Modular Muscle class fell just three entries short of an even 50 cars at the World Finals, and at the close of the abbreviated qualifying sessions on Saturday, Adam Smith had the upper (invisible) hand with a .001 reaction that earned him top honors. On Sunday, five rounds would be contested before the final pairing, which matched class veterans Robert Hindman and Chris Colitas. Hindman’s path to the finals began with a broke single against Casey Fyfe in the first round, then past Barry Burich in the second. Third round found Hindman victorious over Mike Bowen on a breakout, and the quarter-finals paired Hindman and Louie Manglos, who went down swinging with a .005 light but an off-pace 11.246-on-10.86 pass. The semi-final competition bye dropped Hindman straight into the big show, where Colitas was waiting. Colitas’ day started off with a redlight gift from Ken Tingle, then another (to the tune of just .008) from Mike Catapano in the second round. Trouble loomed in the third, when Colitas faced veteran index racer Tom Motycka, but a .017 light from Colitas forced Motycka to break out trying to chase him down. Fourth round was almost an anti-climax thanks to a sleepy .267 light from Peter Del Pino that gave Colitas the go-ahead. The redoubtable Adam Smith was all that remained between Colitas and the finals at that point, and Smith did his best (and just a little bit more), running under his index and surrendering the trip to face Hindman. When the lights dropped for the last time, Hindman caught the reaction time advantage and chased down the quicker-indexed Colitas, with a double-breakout win going to Hindman to cap a long and prosperous day of racing.

Toyo Tires Open Comp also put together more than two score racers at Beech Bend, with a list 45 names long by the end of qualifying. Andy Blackmon’s name was at the head of that list thanks to a perfect triple-zero light on Saturday. Just like Modular Muscle, Open Comp would take five rounds to get down to the last pair, and that pair turned out to be Sam Dyer and Jeff Moses. Moses began to part the sea of Open Comp competitors in the opening round with a double-breakout win against Randy Conway, then put away Brent Blacker with a tidy holeshot in the second round. Another double breakout sent Moses past Steve Gasich and into the quarter-finals, where his opponent Bruce Parker plagued himself with a redlight start. By comparison, the semi-final against Jim Brown was tame by comparison, starting with a Moses holeshot and finishing with a Brown breakout. Meanwhile, back on the other side of the ladder, Dyer started things off right with a .001 light against Kevin Meine, then gave Saul Walker a good old-fashioned trailering with a 10.879-on-10.82 to Walker’s 9.684-on-9.54. The third round pitted Dyer against his first real competition, Mr. Open Comp himself, Larry Geddes. The reactions were within a few thousandths, with the advantage to Dyer, and that would be the margin of victory as well, with both drivers running exactly .011 off their index. Despite giving up the holeshot, Chad Allmandinger’s 11.622 on a 11.45 index in the fourth round wasn’t going to cut it against Dyer’s 10.843-on-10.82, and that win gave Dyer the competition bye in the semis. With just two drivers left, Moses performed another big holeshot miracle with a .007 light to Dyer’s .161, but passed over his shot at the winner’s circle with a double-breakout 10.911-on-10.93 that gave Dyer, with a 10.806 pass on his 10.82 index, the Open Comp win.

Bowling Green drew one of the most vigorous Detroit Locker Truck & Lightning fields this season, with a dozen drivers wheeling their rigs into the lanes for qualifying on Saturday. At the head of the convoy was Captain Keith Kohlmann, cutting a .014 light to earn the top qualifier position. The Captain parlayed his starting position into a trip to the finals, starting with a holeshot win over Jason Carnes in the first round. Round two found Kohlmann racing Robert Staley, who broke out in an attempt to stay ahead of the Captain at the stripe. A competition single in the semis brought Kohlmann his sixth final round appearance of the year. There, he’d face Mike Motycka, who started off eliminations by driving around a Scott Sexton holeshot, then followed up with another similar victory over Dave Cole in the second. A big .008 holeshot for Motycka in the semis left Craig Cain struggling to catch up, with a breakout loss as his reward. That brought Kohlmann and Motycka together for the last Truck & Lightning race of 2006, or would have, if Motycka had been able to make the call. As it turned out, Kohlmann would round out his championship title defense with a single pass and victory at the season finale.