March 14, 2003

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The NMRA opener at Bradenton Motorsports Park addressed most of the questions we asked prior to the event. However, will the answers hold up until the World Final exam at Bowling Green in September? Will the Bradenton winners be those at the microphone at PRI making acceptance speeches? One thing's for sure, if the rest of the season is like the Bradenton opener, we can't wait to see how it all plays out.

We were a little worried after Friday's attendance from a racecar standpoint, but come Saturday our worries disappeared when we pulled into the Bradenton Motorsports Park with more racecars on the property, including that of Real Streeter Jason Hoots.

In ATI-Procharger Pro 5.0, Chuck Samuel was in attendance with the Kevin Marsh ride, and it typical fashion he was the man to beat when the qualifying smoke settled. Samuel seemed to have cruise buttons on his steering wheel with a series of 6.87-6.88 runs, but Donnie Walsh uncorked a 6.86 blast that lead to a race people will be talking about for some time. With a .460 reaction time compared to Samuel's .534, Walsh leaped out of the hole and got the traction necessary to stay out front of Chuck's 6.98 at 202 mph. The Bradenton crowd went nuts at the sight of one of the most entertaining Pro 5.0 races in quite some time.

Doug Mangrum had a bye that same round, and when asked if his guy could match Walsh's 6.86, Mangrum's crew chief Fuzzy Crow answered with a decisive nod, indicating he might have something up the blower tubing. It was definitely on for the final round.

It was kind of fitting that the ATI-Procharger Pro 5.0 class would feature two ATI-Procharger supercharged cars. Both Walsh and Mangrum run the new chain-driven F3SC supercharger, which made its debut at the 2002 PRI show. In the final, Walsh once again cut a cat-like .437 reaction time, but Mangrum was no slouch with his own .467 light. However, Mangrum was unable to keep up with Walsh's 6.90 at 202 mph. With the new ATI-Procharger chain-driven superchargers, if competitors can keep their engines together, consistency should become a regular part of the program.

In MSD Ignition's Super Street Outlaw, the field was very strong even without the likes of Murillo, Mike Smith, Jason Cohen, or Chris Derrick. However, John Urist would step to the forefront by qualifying in the top spot with a 7.97 at 173 mph, just a tick ahead of Todd Fluman's 7.98 at 174 mph. Rounding out the top five were the rides of Jim Blair (8.091), Randy Haywood (8.095), and the big block coupe of Joe Morgan (8.14).

As it was in the past, consistency would win out with Urist consistently running 8.teens when it counted on Sunday. Yet, with all the talent at Bradenton, two new names in the Outlaw game showed they had what it takes to compete at a high level. Mauro Vitale and Mark Van Meter qualified 11th and 12th respectively, but they both went rounds thanks to consistent times and the bad luck of others. Mauro and Mark would battle for the right to take on Urist even though it appeared that neither would have anything for Mr. ABQ. Vitale jumped out to a slight lead thanks to a quicker reaction time, and Van Meter was unable to catch Mauro even though Mark ran a quicker time. However, it turned out to simply be a battle for second as Vitale would go on to red light against Urist, possible knowing he would have to get one heck of a jump to be able to take the top prize. However, Urist still turned on the cruise and had a sandwich on his way to another 8.teen at over 170 mph.

In BF Goodrich Drag Radial class, with just 13 cars in the running the numbers were definitely down, but that didn't keep the racing from being exciting. For once, the two green coupes of Chris Little and Ronnie Wilson would be running the same class although they never did run each other (That would've been really cool). True to form, Chris Little was at the top of qualifying with Peter Champani hot on his heels. Our boy Jimmy Byrne tried to hang with Little, but he didn't quite have the hook necessary. Sal Arena couldn't quite put it together against Little either. And if Ronnie Wilson could cut a light (Did we say that out loud?) we would've seen an all green coupe final, but Peter Champani made Wilson pay for his tardiness by barely edging out the south Florida racer in round 3 with a 9.10 at 154 to Wilson's 9.04 at 153 mph. Champani cut a .521 light compared to Wilson's .589 reaction time. However, like Outlaw, it was really a matter of who was going to finish second at Bradenton, and that would be Peter Champani. Chris Little was the only Drag Radial racer in the 8s on Sunday, and that doesn't usually bode well for his competitors.

In Edelbrock Hot Street, for once competitors didn't have to worry about facing Billy Laskowsky since he made the move up to Super Street Outlaw. However, the usual suspects were still in attendance and whenever you have Scott Budisalich, Shane Long, Max Gross, Brian Booze, Bob Hanlon, Mike Curcio, JR Heuring, Charlie Booze, Jr, Nick Bacalis, and Duane Busch in the same class it's going to a barnburner. Greenville, SC resident Shane Long drew his line in the sand by qualifying in the top spot with a stout 9.29 at 144 mph, closely followed by Scott Budisalich's 9.30 at 144 mph. With such tight racing that has become the norm in Hot Street, reaction times would play a major role in deciding the Bradenton champ.

Combined with 9.20s on Sunday, Scott Budisalich cut the lights necessary to stay out front of his fellow Hot Streeters. In the final, Budisalich beat Shane Long to the stripe with a 9.23 at 145 mph to Long's 9.33 at a matching 145 mph. In ATI-Procharger EFI Renegade, Kurt Gallant stormed to the top of the ladder with a 9.18 qualifying hit. From there he chiseled his way through the field with victories over Eric Buck, receiving a bye run when Scott Lovell was unable to make it to the line, then beating Bob Kurgan with a 9.23 at 146 mph to Kurgan's 9.29 at a matching 146 mph.

Though Gallant seemed to follow up the success fellow nitrous racer Tim Lyons enjoyed last year, look for Renegade to tighten up as the year goes on. Many guys were unable to do any testing leading up to Bradenton because of inclement weather back home.

5.0 Mustang and Super Fords Real Street came out of the chute like a bucking bull at Bradenton. With Robin Lawrence and Justin Burcham moving up from Factory Stock both figured to play key roles in setting the tone for the 2003 season, and they did exactly that at Bradenton, if only in different ways. In true Robin Lawrence fashion, he tested ten ways to Sunday, and it paid off on Sunday. Likewise, in true Justin Burcham fashion, it was a total thrash session to get ready for the race. Cam spec worries threw Justin for a loop at the last minute so he had to rip the engine out of his daily driver, which had over 50,000 miles and 50 nitrous passes on it.

Justin and his JPC crew entered Bradenton Motorsports Park gates around 4:00 Friday afternoon, and work continued to get the car ready to run. However, just like last year, his efforts were futile since he was not even in the Real Street ballpark when eliminations came around. However, he did put on a show by putting it on the bumper the last round of qualifying.

Chris Tuten made only one qualifying hit, but his 10.24 at 131 mph was all he needed to be in the top spot. Chris was running a stock bottom end and was worried he would split the thing if he made too many runs. We need to start lottery numbers from Chris because that's exactly what happened in round one of eliminations. He had a bye the next round so he took the green and hustled back to the pits to get a replacement engine in the car. However, right when it looked like the ATS crew would be able to make it happen Chris discovered his clutch had broken.

Likewise, Bruce Hemminger, Mike Wesley, Jeremy Martorella, Brian Meyer, Mike Dezotell, and Jim Snoke were having their own issues. Furthermore, last year's champ Fred Felt went red in the first round against Wesley so he was out of the running early. John O'Brien, Michael Hughes, Robin Lawrence, and Jason Hoots took advantage. Hughes then took advantage of John O'Brien's .783 light with his own .503, then held off O'Brien with a 10.80 compared to a quicker 10.69. Hughes then enjoyed a bye run thanks to Tuten's problems, but he was unable to take care of Robin Lawrence.

Jason Hoots basically made a pulley change to correspond with the new rules for 2003 and left for Florida with last year's combination. Obviously, he didn't need to do much else since he ran 10.50s all day Sunday when it counted. In the final, Robin Lawrence rolled through the lights as a result of a malfunctioning clutch, and Jason Hoots got his first win. Hoots is one of the original Real Street racers and he has gone through his share of problems and set backs, and that's not even counting the ones on the track, and it was good to see him get the victory.

In Tremec Pure Street action, Gene Hindman looked like he was up to his old bag of tricks once again. He qualified in the top spot with a 10.82 at 122 mph with Darin Hendricks in the old Evil Twin not even a tick slower with a 10.86, also at 122 mph. Dwayne Barbaree was one of those racers not in attendance until Saturday, and he was racing the green coupe he debuted at Bowling Green's 2002 World Finals. Brad Meadows debuted a flamed 95 Cobra, and he did quite well, qualifying in the 3rd spot, but falling to Gene Hindman in round 3. Mike Houser also debuted a new car with his 94 Mustang.

In Pure Street eliminations, Hindman ran a string of 10.80s while Hendricks was stuck in the 10.90s. Hindman and Hendricks were the only Pure Streeters in the 10s on Sunday and both can cut a light so naturally they ended up against each other in the final. Interestingly enough, both drivers cut .503 lights and they also swapped times with Hendricks getting to the stripe first with a 10.89 at 122 mph compared to Hindman's 10.94 at 121 mph.

With John McGowan not in attendance at Bradenton, will that hurt his championship run? Will Hendricks become the one to beat in Pure Street, or will Hindman rebound and go on to repeat as champion? Who will step up their program to run with these guys? Will it be Rich Groh or Dwayne Barbaree? Everyone knows John McGowan will be a force to reckon with, but will it be the Hindman/Hendricks show from here on out? We can't to see how Pure Street turns out.

With Robin Lawrance and Justin Burcham moving up to Real Street, BF Goodrich tires will crown a new champion for 2003. Michael Washington, driving the old Will Buckworth car out of the JPC camp showed he just might take it to the house in 2003. Washington won his second consecutive NMRA Bradenton opener, and this time he had competition in the final with Factory Stock stalwart Tim Duncan in the other lane. Duncan cut an awesome .422 light, but Washington more than capitalized on Duncan's final round troubles to take home another Bradenton victory.

Factory Stock newcomers Jamie Holten and Chris Hemmeter figure to liven up the joint, and Troy Carter will surely be ready for Reynolds so get ready for side by side Factory Stock racing all year long.

In Vortech Modular Muscle, a few of the usual final round suspects made early exits during Sunday's eliminations, including defending champion Jim Breese. We knew when we saw him casually enjoying Bassani chili that he was out of the game. Lupe Davila, Shane Williams, and Richard Lelsz, just to name a few were bounced from the modular game sooner than normal. These guys left it all to Robert Hindman and Rick Doern, but Doern redlighted with a .489 light, handing Hindman another win.

In Dynomax Truck and Lightning competition, Jim Owens went to the final round even while posting horrendous reaction times (His best light on Sunday was a .699 in round one). What he did do well was run right on his 13.13 dial-in, which was how he was able to stay in the game. However, in the final top qualifier Mark Morales cut his best light of the day with a .539 reaction time and ran a 9.97 on a 9.81 dial-in to keep Owens from the victory.

Open Comp competitors got a first hand look at Stacy Estel's new ride for 2003, and we're sure a lot of people were impressed with it's first outing. Stacy doesn't have his 9-second license so he made do with low 10-second passes.

This divergent class played host to 31 cars at Bradenton, but in the end Mr. Open Comp Larry Geddes scored another win to start his year off on a good note. All in all, we thought Bradenton serves as an excellent springboard to a big year in NMRA competition. Sure, many people were missing from the Sunshine State, but we're sure Silver Dollar Raceway in Reynolds, GA will be packed come April 5-6. Hopefully, those from the north won't be able to use the weather as an excuse for not making the second round on the NMRA 2003 tour.