By Paul Huizenga

A month and a half is a long layoff for drag racers – while some relished the reprieve between the second round of the season in Reynolds, Georgia and the follow-on race in Milan, using the opportunity to test, sort their combinations, or compete in the World Ford Challenge, others were chomping at the bit. None were more anxious to get back to the track than the final pairs left over from the rain-postponed Reynolds race who would settle things during qualifying in Michigan. For the rest, there was the lure of something new – namely a never-before-visited track, Milan Dragway, which would be hosting the 4th Annual Toyo Tires NMRA Ford Nationals for the first time. With Motor City just a few minutes away, the location was a natural, and the proximity meant a heavy Ford corporate presence in the form of employees enjoying the show and the inaugural Ford Media Invitational bracket competition. Despite the warm weather and competition from Father’s Day and a NASCAR race on Sunday, the lanes were stacked and the stands filled all weekend long.

Five Diablosport Pro 5.0 racers tested the limits of Milan’s dragstrip in qualifying on Friday and Saturday, with Tony Bischoff, who was typically a mid-pack player during quals in 2006 but unbeatable in eliminations, showing his chops at the top of the order with a best of 6.677 at 200.09. Pro 5.0 defending champ Mike Hauf was just a tick or two behind at 6.695, with Burt Kelkboom in third at 6.780 but hurting enough hardware in the process to take himself out of contention before the first round. Joe Morgan’s 6.820 at only 170 and change put him in fourth but hinted at a lot more in store once the team sorted out the top end of the track. Howard Michael rounded out the field with a 7.268 effort.
In eliminations, Hauf predictably bested Michael, running just a hair quicker than he had in qualifying despite worse air. Kelkboom’s no-show gave Morgan a bonus bye, which he ran out to a loafing 18-second pass, while Bischoff took his competition single as an opportunity to see how much power the track was willing to hold. With three cars left, the semi-final bye fell to Hauf, and he clicked off another 6.6 pass just to show he had a handle on his tune-up. That left Bischoff and Morgan to square off in a nitrous-on-nitrous battle to see who’d run against the champ, and in a bit of an upset, this time it was Morgan moving on despite a last-moment charge at the top end by Bischoff. The last Pro 5.0 race of the day turned out to be a good one – Hauf was away first with a .037 light to Morgan’s .055, but the pair were locked side-by-side all the way down the strip until the very top end, where Morgan slowed and let Hauf and the win slip away.

You’d think that finding just one racer crazy/brave enough to run in the mid sevens on a tiny, true 10.5-inch tire would be hard, but in Michigan, we found no less than seventeen, looking for glory in MSD Ignition Super Street Outlaw. Coming straight off a WFC victory, Samuel Vincent turned up his nitrous small-block to the tune of 7.504 at 183.74 mph to take the top qualifying slot, followed by 2006 champ John Urist, running 7.520 but carrying almost another ten miles an hour through the traps. Jarrett Halfacre took third with a 7.541 to make the order spray-blower-turbo, while Zack Posey and Billy Laskowsky rounded out the seven-fifty club. You’d have to go all the way down to lucky thirteen on the list, the ever-colorful Dwayne James, to get to the last of the sevens in the field, making for one of the toughest SSO hills to climb we’ve seen in quite a while.
The overstuffed qualifying order meant an extra round first thing in the morning on Sunday, and polesitter Vincent almost missed his bye – as he and his family were pulling in the gate, James was warming up his tires in the bleach box. Fortunately, a few on-track delays meant that Vincent had time to get his car to the lanes and get a bottle warmed up, leading to a 7.693 eye-opener of a pass that put the car hard on the bars through the 330-foot beams. Vincent was just getting started, though – the second round paired him against former SSO champ Manny Buginga, and Vincent was wide-awake for that one, running a deadly-quick 7.484 pass and trailering the turbo car despite Buginga’s .008 light. The victory paired Vincent with Yanni “SuperGreek” Papakosmas in round three, and a combination of a slow reaction and off-pace nine-second run ended the Greek’s climb up the ladder. The oddness of the 17-car ladder gave Vincent one more bye in the semis, but he acted like he had to use every whiff of nitrous he’d brought that weekend anyway, proving the earlier forty was no fluke with a single-pass 7.491. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ladder, another racer well-known for his nitrous prowess was working his way up to meet Vincent. In qualifying, Don Burton had only pulled a mid-pack 7.70, good for 11th seed, but things were going his way once eliminations got rolling. Halfacre was the first to fall, an off-pace 7.87 not enough to hold off Burton’s 7.778. Next up was Phil Hines, who put an end to his own day with a .001 redlight that gave Burton a chance to improve his standings unhindered, running 7.688 in the process. With five cars left, the round three bye went to Burton, who elected to break the beams and save his mojo for the next round. He’d need it, too – standing between him and the finals was none other than Urist, and under normal circumstances a 7.7 pace wasn’t going to cut it for Burton. Abnormal would be a good way to describe Urist’s .155 light, though, and despite running a quicker 7.634 to Burton’s 7.707, the lost holeshot cost Urist a trip to the finals. In the all-nitrous affair, despite Burton’s killer .007 light, Vincent clearly had the performance advantage and finished more than two tenths ahead, winning 7.475 to 7.768.

One of the things that made Milan special was that it is one of only three events that will feature the Vortech Outlaw 10.5W class this year. A full ladder of eight cars was on hand, topped by Brian Carpenter’s 7.243 at 206.51. Hot on Carpenter’s heels in qualifying was Tim Essick, running 7.246, with Keith Neal right behind at 7.295. Carpenter wouldn’t need the speed in the opening round on Sunday, when a .050 redlight took Jim Monson out of the picture. The second round was another story altogether – it was Carpenter’s turn to take a big shot at the tree against Neal, and he came away very, very lucky with a .004 to Neal’s .196. He’d need every bit of it, too; the holeshot gave Carpenter the win despite running a slower 7.324 versus Neal’s 7.202. Meanwhile, the other half of the field was sorting itself out in dramatic fashion. Sixth-qualified Greg Blevins found a whole bunch of quickness overnight, running the fastest pass of the first round, a 7.286, in an upset win against Tim Essick. Blevins followed up with a respectable 7.333 versus Ray “Hollywood” Johnson’s 7.828, setting up the final round between him and Carpenter. Carpenter pulled out all the stops for the last Outlaw race of the day, pulling a slight advantage at the tree, then hammering it out to a stunning 7.170 at 206.59, leaving Blevins three tenths in his wake and taking the Milan title.

Seventeen seemed to be the magic number at Milan; just like SSO, ProCharger EFI Renegade also drew that many competitors, and the ‘all run’ format meant another round of racing to get to the finals and another weird ladder. In qualifying, Tony Orts bucked the presumed underdog status of nitrous cars in the class and put his Coast Guard-approved S197 into the top spot with an 8.734 at 154.78 mph. Bart Tobener found a seventy as well, running 8.778 and slotting in behind Orts. From there, it was eight-eighties all the way down to the number seven spot, with the balance of the eight second club extending down into the mid-field. Anything can happen in Renegade, though, and frequently does – this time, it would be the number five and number twelve qualifiers in the finals, and the first nitrous victory in the class since 2004. The upsets started off right away on Sunday, with Chris Beary advancing against last year’s champ Brian Mitchell on a 9.225 to Mitchell’s 12-second half pass. Beary next faced another familiar Renegade racer, Sal Arena, ending his day 9.350 to 9.915. That put Beary smack up against Orts, a quarter-final mismatch that ended with a twist before it even began – a double-redlight start that went in Beary’s favor. That one bit of luck gave Beary what would have been Orts’ bye in round four straight to the finals. Meanwhile, on the other side of the ladder, Joel Howard was carving up his half of the field, starting with Randy King in the opening round. Though King put a .13-second holeshot on Howard, he managed to catch up at the last possible moment and crossed the line .02 seconds ahead, for about a four and a half foot margin of victory. The second round was a virtual replay of the first; Dave Guy put another holeshot on Howard to the tune of .07-seconds, but Howard once again made it up on ET, and once again won by a nose, this time with a .025 MOV. Howard seemed to be fated to drive around holeshots in Milan; once more, he’d have to do it in the third round against Bart Tobener, but this time Howard’s 8.722 to Tobener’s 8.963 gave him a little more breathing room. Only Brian Tuten was left between Howard and the finals, and a dead-even start let Howard stretch his legs down-track to an easy 8.751-to-9.078 victory. The final Renegade matchup was almost a foregone conclusion – Despite a glacial .328 light, Howard had plenty in the bank against Beary, running an 8.746 and crossing the line with the better part of a second to spare.

Edelbrock Hot Street is heating up (pun intended), clearly evident from the tight spread in Milan’s qualifying field. Roush engine builder Ben Mens came out on top with an 8.842, followed immediately by Robbie Blankenship (running an engine built by Mens) at 8.848. Charlie Booze took third slot at 8.851, with Mike Demayo and Justin Curry right behind in the 8.87 zone. You’d have to go all the way down to 12th place in the 14-car field to find your first nine, showing both the quality and quantity of the Hot Street mix. With the field so closely condensed, some interesting first round matchups were inevitable. Mens found himself paired with Bangin’ Bob Hanlon, and had to drive around a little bit of a holeshot to get out of the opening round alive. With seven cars remaining, the second round produced a competition bye for Mens, which he ran out to an 8.874 just for the sake of practice (and lane choice). The semi-finals pitted Mens against Booze, and Booze hit the tree hard to grab every advantage he could get – a little too hard, as it turns out, with a heartbreaking .001 redlight keeping the little red wagon out of the finals. With Mens set for the last round, he’d face the number two qualifier Blankenship, who had worked his way though an equally tough half of the field. Blankenship started off by driving around a significant holeshot from David Murray in the first round, then outran Justin Curry in the second. The semi-finals gave him possibly his hardest challenge to that point, with Mike Curcio running an 8.983 to Blankenship’s winning 8.904. In the final, it was clear that Mens builds as good a motor for his customer as he does for himself – after giving up the tree, .051 to .023 to Blankenship, Mens caught up and drove around, but just barely, taking the Hot Street win with an 8.852 to Blankenship’s 8.882.

BFGoodrich Tires Drag Radial has been a magnet for controversy so far this year, with the blower contingent crying foul against the stunning performances turned in at the season opener by turbo racers John Kolivas and Chris Tuten. With the class regulations static by rule until after the Milan race, all eyes were on Drag Radial to see what effect the weekend’s racing would have on the status quo. It was no surprise that the final qualifying sheet had Tuten and Kolivas at the top of the order, with an 8.088 and 8.137 respectively, but ProCharger-boosted Chad Doyle was right there in the mix in third with an 8.183, though almost six miles an hour down on Tuten’s trap speed. Bob Kurgan was also there to show you can never count him out, in fourth slot with an 8.230. Kevin Fiscus, Dave Hopper, Jason Lee, and Enzo Pecchini all found an eight, with the remainder of the 11-car field stretching to the nines and beyond. The odd field meant that Sunday started off for Tuten with a competition bye, which he ran out to an 8.139 just for kicks. He next turned his attention to Kurgan, dispatching him with an 8.185 to the Flyin’ Hawaiian’s off-pace 8.739. Hopper was next on the agenda, but a no-show gave Tuten a bonus bye, and again he gave it the wood anyway, stopping the clocks with an 8.163 at 175. With half the final settled, it would be a second turbo car facing Tuten, but not the one you might expect – After an easy first round win versus Pete Johnson, Kevin Fiscus did the unimaginable and ended Kolivas’ weekend in the second round, running 8.241 to Kolivas’ uncharacteristic 8.566. Clearing that hurdle awarded Fiscus with the next competition bye, sending him directly to the finals for the confrontation with Tuten. Though Fiscus might have seemed the underdog, it wasn’t a sure thing – nobody had turned a higher trap speed in qualifying, and he’d nursed his car through his semi-final bye to save it all for the big money round. When the tree dropped, Fiscus was away first, .021 to .113, but had to pedal a bit and could only run 8.829 to Tuten’s 8.211, relegating himself to runner-up status but giving fans what may have been the best final round race of the weekend.

Eleven racers made the trip to Milan to compete in 5.0 Magazine Real Street, with 2006 points runner-up Tim Matherly taking top honors in qualifying thanks to a best of 9.901 at 137.60. Nitrous racer Bruce Hemminger posted a second-slot time of 9.908, while Jim Breese and Don Bosley clocked a 9.944 and 9.978 to round out the single-digit qualifiers. As eliminations progressed on Sunday, it was clear that the number one and two on the ladder were fated to meet in the finals – Matherly started off with an almost-gentle 10.02 pass in his opening round bye, then ran away and hid from Bosley in the second round, 9.981 to 10.153. The third round was a weird one for Matherly, with a double breakout against Paul Alfeo decided in his favor thanks to Alfeo rolling the beams and Matherly reacting to his motion rather than the tree. Meanwhile Hemminger had gotten an opening bye of his own when former Factory Stock champ Shawn Johnson left early, then Hemminger slipped past Joey Taylor in the second, 10.029 to 10.440. That brought up the semis and Hemminger’s competition bye, leaving just two cars left in the class. When the tree dropped in the Real Street final, it landed in Matherly’s lap thanks to a .005 to .031 holeshot from Hemminger, and Hemminger stretched the tiny advantage down track just a little more, running 9.926 to Matherly’s 9.942 and picking up the Milan Real Street crown.

In addition to the usual Friday and Saturday antics in Tremec Pure Street, qualifying was also highlighted by the B&M/Hurst/McLeod shootout, which rewarded the top drivers in the class with a shot at fabulous cash prizes in elimination rounds held during quals. When the dust had settled, Brandon Alsept was on top of the qualifying heap with a 10.278 at 130.45 mph, though he would have to settle for runner-up status in the shootout thanks to a loss to Brad Meadows in the deciding round. In addition to the shootout cash, Meadows also had the number two spot on the ladder firmly in hand on Saturday night, running a best of 10.363. Rocky Mason, Jimmy Wilson, and Ryan Hecox rounded out the top five qualifiers in the 12-car field. On Sunday, a no-show in the first round took Alsept out of the picture, while Meadows continued his winning ways right off the bat, though through no effort of his own – A redlight from Victor Downs sent Meadows on to round two without a fight. There, a faltering mid-twelve from Ryan Hecox wasn’t going to end Meadows’ climb, but the semi-finals would give him his first challenge of the day in the form of Rocky Mason. Taking the tree, .036 to .061, Meadows ran out the pass to a 10.382, extending his lead over Mason, who’s respectable 10.414 wasn’t going to be enough. Meadows’ opponent in the finals turned out to be Jimmy Wilson, who started off the day by sending Ron Cullember home in a fair fight in the first, then followed up with an easy win when Mike Tymensky struggled to get a clean pass in the second. That meant that Wilson would step into Tymensky’s position on the ladder, which he in turn had taken from Alsept, which meant that the semi-final bye was now Wilson’s by right. With the final pair set, both drivers cut sub-.1-second lights, with a slight advantage to Meadows. Wilson did his best, running 10.483 at 128.95, but was outpaced by Meadows’ 10.433 that took him straight to the winner’s circle.

K&N Filters Factory Stock might be considered an “entry level” heads-up class by the woefully uninformed, but don’t tell that to the 11 drivers who went at it hammer-and-tongs in qualifying at Milan. “Farmer Steve” Gifford somehow managed to urge his steed to an 11.494 at a huge 118.44 mph trap speed to win top qualifying honors, while Jonathan Paulk found that his 11.578 was good enough for the second rung on the ladder. Jeff Schmell and Tommy Godfrey slotted into third and fourth position with 11-sixty efforts, while Brian “BrrMrr” Marr and Eric Holliday finished off the top half of the field. On Sunday, Gifford’s opening competition bye was the only break he’d get – the second round found him on the losing end of a matchup with Godfrey, going down on a holeshot loss despite having a slight edge in ET. Godfrey stole Gifford’s thunder and ran with it, facing down Schmell in the semis with a tight 11.688-to11.691 win that sent him to the big show. There, he’d face BrrMrr, who drove around a holeshot to win the first round against John Leslie, Jr., then trailered Dennis Morrow in round two, 11.885 to 12.234. That put him in the catbird seat (whatever that means) going into the semis, as the remaining three-car field gave him the last bye of the afternoon straight to the finals. When Marr and Godfrey got it on in the deciding match, Godfrey’s inadvertent deep-stage led to a big .379 redlight, handing the Factory Stock crown to Marr unopposed.

An even score of racers filled the lanes for Roush Performance Modular Muscle, and with the qualifying order of this open comp-style class determined by the best reaction time on Friday and Saturday, top honors went to Brandon Peterson thanks to his .0012 light. Jeff Stafford wasn’t far behind at .0019, and you’d have to drop all the way down to 18th on the list to get a one right behind the decimal point. Eliminations took five rounds to get to a winner, and the final confrontation came down to two very familiar Mod Muscle competitors: Tom Motycka and Chris Colitas. With both drivers so well-matched in skill and experience, it was no surprise that the competition ended in a crazy double-breakout. Thanks to a .015-to-.055 advantage at the tree, Motycka gave Colitas no choice but to keep the hammer down and run .0151 under his index to Motycka’s .0059 breakout.

Crane Cams Open Comp was filled to overflowing with three dozen drivers, with not one but two clocking perfect-to-three-digits lights in qualifying. By virtue of having done it first, Andy Blackmon was awarded the pole position over Sam Dyer, and the double-oh times extended all the way down to seventh spot. In competition, five rounds of eliminations took the field down to the final pair, pitting Scott Baumgartner against Shane Williams. Baumgartner, who had qualified mid-pack with a .040 light, had been hitting the tree pretty well all day, leaving as quick as .004. But when the lights dropped for the final, his .163 light sealed his fate – Williams, cutting a .039 and in the leading position due to his slower 12.30 index, made Baumgartner overshoot and break out, running 10.834 on a 10.92 index.

Drag racing a truck is an inherently crazy act, but building one that will run deep into the nines is even more nuts. That’s just what several Detroit Locker Truck & Lightning racers have done, though, and perhaps the craziest of all, Johnny “Lightning” Wiker, found himself not only the quickest qualifier in the eight-truck field with a 9.107 ET, but also the top qualifier by virtue of his .009 light. Lightning parlayed that position into a trip to the finals, where he’d face the number-two-qualified (at .019) big rig driven by Mike Motycka. The huge offset in indexes gave Motycka a full three second head start, and he left with a .011 light and put as much daylight between him and the starting line as possible before Lightning’s side of the tree dropped. When it did, Lightning left with a .033 and began to reel in the big beige Ford, catching him in the traps but overshooting the mark. Lightning’s .079-second breakout put Motycka into the winner’s circle with a victorious 12.136 on his 12.12 index.