Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
December 1, 2003
Contributers: Michael Johnson Photos By: Michael Johnson
Having recovered from a catastrophic engine failure, Andy Burnett's ride qualified in only the 11th spot. He also had the misfortune of clashing with Darin Hendricks in round one. Still, Andy had a great bumper-dragging launch, which didn't help his e.t., but it helped him get in the mag. By the way, what's with the "Blwn 91" tag in Pure Street?

Horse Sense: NMRA Tech Director Wesley Roberson must have been busy at Joliet 'cause the records were falling left and right. Here's what the official rule book requires to make a record stand: "In order to reset a record, the contestant must provide the NMRA Technical Director with the record setting and back-up timeslips immediately after each run. A back-up run within 1 percent of the record-breaking run is required to set an official NMRA National Record. In the event that two runs exceed the existing record but are not within 1 percent of each other, the quicker time or faster speed will be acceptable as the back-up for the slower time, which will stand as the record."

It's hard to believe it had been nearly two months since the NMRA brigade laid down rubber on the track. We went from blistering heat in Texas to a rainout in Maple Grove and finally sunny skies and a cool breeze in Joliet, Illinois, which is just southwest of Chicago. Often called the Windy City, Chitown actually got its nickname for its tempestuous political environment, not its blustery lake-driven weather, but you'd never have known that at Joliet's Route 66 Raceway, where the tailwind certainly didn't hurt the amazing performances in qualifying.

Check this out. Of the 16 records available in the heads-up classes (eight e.t. and eight mph), only six remained untouched after Joliet concluded. Don Walsh set both ends of the Pro 5.0 record, Kurt Gallant both ends of Renegade, Charlie Booze both ends of Hot Street, Bruce Hemminger both ends of Real Street, and Dave Hopper (e.t.) and Chris Little (mph) shared the Drag Radial honors. The madness didn't stop with the records either. Twelve SSO racers qualified in the 7s, three Real Street cars in the 9s, and 16 Hot Street cars in the 9s. Drag Radial had four cars in the 8s, and even Pure Street had four cars in the 10s.

Suffice it to say the performances easily lived up to the facility in which they took place. We hadn't been to Joliet since WFC2 in 1999, and we'd forgotten how impressive the place was. From the awesome stadium-style grandstands to the bumper-scraping hook, Joliet lived up to its rep. The only downer was the Saturday afternoon rains that delayed racing for a few hours, but the NMRA didn't hesitate to fire up the jet dryers and turn on the lights to get the event in. If you missed it, just remember your boys at 5.0&SF had your back. Check out the photos and captions for the scoop.

What can you say about Grape Ape? He took a tumble when the Sunday afternoon rains rushed in, but the Motive Gear monkey, dubbed "G5" by the company's designer, stood proud for most of the weekend displaying the event's title sponsor to all. We couldn't help but think of senior tech editor Mark "Hamburger" Houlahan when we saw the big guy carrying on at the end of the track.

Just when you think you've seen it all, you see an automatic Real Street car make a qualifying pass. Let's see. Oh, yeah. A quick look at the rule book shows you have to have a manual transmission to run in Real Street. It was a valiant effort, but this guy was bounced out shortly after making this pass.

Another paint scheme for Billy Laskowsky's SSO ride? Sure enough. A bright yellow base with a generous dressing of Sticker Dude art makes this ride stand out in any crowd. Unfortunately for the Dome, the crowd he was trying to stand out in was frontloaded by 12 7-second qualifiers at the top of the qualifying sheet, on which Billy was 16th. Drawing the powerful Mike "Punk" Trimandilis in round one ended Billy's race, but we can't wait to see if this LaRocca EPEC-tuned combo runs well against the speed-density pack.

Dubbed the first stadium of drag racing, Route 66 Raceway was obviously built for speed. When the wind picked up on Saturday, it not only made it difficult for us to hold a steady camera, but it also blew right down the track behind the racers.

Don Walsh Jr. is glad he traded in last year's disastrous luck for this year's rabbit-foot run. Don has his Chainsaw ProCharger-blown cover model running consistent 6s at more than 200 mph, and he's adjusted to the maintenance involved with that kind of consistency. At Route 66, he topped the qualifying sheet with a 6.81/209.69 flyer after freshening head gaskets on Saturday morning. When Sunday rolled around, Mr. 0.400 had to do it only twice. He took a first-round bye. Then he took out Jeff Allebach's nitrous machine in round two. And he spoiled Vick Williams' debut in the finals with a 6.75/209.65. Though the Walsh Motorsports team just freshened the car's short-block and chose a new Neal Chance converter, the biggest trick to their consistency has been getting run after run with the new chain drive. Don says they spent a lot of time talking with a Pro Stock bike team about the idiosyncrasies of the chain, and that team's advice has paid off.

It had to be a good weekend for Vick Williams and his partner Tom Sanders, as it was their first Pro 5.0 race and their first trip to the finals in the same weekend. After a successful run taking on the world of SSO with a bottle-fed big-block, Vick brought the big cubes and juice to Pro 5.0. His finals debut also marked the first appearance for a big-block in the finals of NMRA Pro 5.0-kinda strange to say big-block and Pro 5.0 in the same sentence, huh? Anyway, Vick qualified in the fifth spot. He lined up against number-two qualifier Ross Stomp, who promptly broke. Round two gave Vick a bye into the finals against Mr. 0.400. We know what happened there, as Vick lost traction and Don cruised to the win.

Super Street Outlaw John Urist was off the chain at Joliet, with 28 cars in attendance. However, John continued his tear. "The car ran a 7.86 with the tongue hanging out of it," he says. His car was torn down Saturday morning to check for traction-control devices and boost controllers because of his '03 successes. The car was clean. John then qualified in the sixth spot running the quickest turbo car in attendance. He used his cat-like reflexes to get a jump on all his competitors on Sunday, including Gary Rohe in the final for the second race in a row (you can see Gary's comment in the next caption). Although Gary ran a quicker time, John's 0.416 light kept him at bay long enough to take home the victory with a 7.86 at 175 mph to Gary's 7.81.

For Joliet, Gary Rohe stayed put with his NOS setup that he's run all year, along with a safe tune-up to make sure the car goes rounds. Gary's been way consistent this year with times in the high 7s, but at Joliet he was running 7.80s every pass, with his fastest-a 7.81 at 175 mph-being in the final round against John Urist. However, Gary got tree'd by John with a 0.416 light to his own 0.485 light. "That will never happen again in my lifetime," Gary says. He made a living over at the NMCA with his quick reaction times (and faster car), and getting tree'd doesn't sit well with him. Gary runs a 420ci 351 Windsor-based stroker he put together after hours at his employer at BES Racing Engines [(812) 637-5933] in West Harrison, Indiana.

Dave Hopper dumped his Outlaw ride in favor of this Drag Radial mount so he'd have something to drive to Taco Bell. We guess the Emerald Green coupe gets a few burritos as well because this thing has a serious case of the runs. At Joliet, Dave and the coupe wiped up Drag Radial after qualifying in the third spot behind Chris Little and our boy Jimmy Byrne. It looked as if Joliet would just be another win for Chris, as he ran an 8.67 at only 158 mph with the 'chute out at the finish line during qualifying. However, he got out of the groove against Dave in round three and sheered off the right-rear wheel studs, which sent the perennial Drag Radial king straight into the wall, then across the track into the other side wall, and into a series of 360s. This opened the door for both Dave and Jimmy to vie for their first Drag Radial victory. In the final, though, Dave broke off an 8.59 at 161 mph for Jimmy, who mustered an 8.93 at 156 mph. Dave runs a Petit Race Engines 357 with Fox Lake-ported Trick Flow Street Heats, a Precision Turbo T78 single turbo, a Joel's on Joy Powerglide transmission, and Bogarts at each corner. Dave borrowed a FAST box from Mark Van Meter with a killer Steve Petty tune-up in it to run the car's quickest times so far. Drag Radial's going to be a blast to watch at Atco and Bowling Green.

The Joliet track definitely had some bite to it, and Jimmy Byrne is the first to attest to that fact. If there was an award for the wild ride of the weekend, he would likely be the top vote-getter with his on-the-bumper-with-all-four-wheels-off-the-ground effort during third-round qualifying. Of course, we were too busy shooting feature cars on Joliet's back 40, but we did see the trip on tape. After putting the car on the bumper (and then some), all four tires came off the ground, and then it came down and pogo-sticked on each wheel before Jimmy reined her in. He said he shifted his Powerglide into high gear to try and keep it from getting any higher but that doing so just perpetuated the whole situation (so much for the shift-it-before-it-gets-out-of-hand theory). As a result, the front struts and both front wheels bent, the back half of the car behind the cage buckled, and the front strut towers shifted. Using a tape measure and his girlfriend Leann's keen eye, the two were able to get everything straightened out for the most part. "The car kinda went straight and then Leann and I moved some things around until everything looked good," Jimmy says. However, in eliminations the car was still doing wheelies, so he consulted Gary Rohe and Jason Smith, who advised him to put weight in the front. With a fresh bottle for the finals, Jimmy wheelied again and he had to pedal it. By that time Dave Hopper was long gone-so much so that Jimmy saw Dave's time as he went through the lights.

After his string of 8.90s at Joliet, the blower boys were all cowering at the sight of Kurt Gallant's black nitrous beast in the staging lanes. Kurt says it isn't the nitrous that makes his car fast. It's a combination of a strict diet of testing, testing, and more testing, with a generous splash of genius from Ron Sharp at Advanced Airflow. Kurt says they try new things and make their mistakes in testing, so when it's time to race they know what to do. At Joliet they were scratching their heads with ailing 60-foots, but Mark Wilkinson of RaceCraft Inc. made some suggestions, and they got the car back down in the 1.30s when it counted. Kurt qualified in round one with an 8.97/151. He didn't have a serious challenge until he ran against Donna Sydor in round three, but he won that at the Tree. Miller Lite fan Brian Mitchell ran the fastest blower pass of the weekend-a 9.01-but despite getting tree'd, Kurt had the oats to take the win. In the finals, Bob Kurgan saved parts and Kurt cruised to a win and a healthy points lead.

We don't think he's Hawaiian, but Bob Kurgan has been flyin' in Renegade for a long time. Despite running at the front of the pack this season, Bob has been fighting some nag-ging problems. He still had a miss, so before Joliet he made wholesale front suspension changes to get the car's 60-foot times to come around, and they did. Bob had some help from a celebrity crew chief for the weekend-none other than Renegade legend Bart Tobener. (Bart is in the process of opening his own shop, mentioning to us an Outlaw car in the works.) For the most part, Bart lined Bob up, and Bob knocked 'em down. Qualifying second with a 9.03, Bob had a much tougher road to the finals, including close calls against Joel Howard and Dan Jaynes, before acquiescing to Kurt Gallant's inevitable win in the final.

All you Melvins out there-brace yourselves! What do you do with a perfectly good '79 Indy Pace Car? Sure, it's the most collectible version of the first Fox Mustang, but why not drop in a 342 on the jug and bust off some 9s in Wild Street? It worked for Damon Dais of Winona, Minnesota, who for one day was crowned the King of Illinois, thanks to his low-average e.t. on Saturday. Damon bought the car when he was 16 and has been chipping away at the e.t. ever since. Ten years later he's dropped it down to the 9.70s!

After a near-total meltdown in the Texas heat, Uncle Robin Lawrence rebounded with a vengeance in his home state. He didn't win the event, but he did win the race to the starting line for qualifying. Thanks to urging from his son, Robin decided to hurry up to the line. He ended up next to Mike Wesley, who despite his clutch issues, also thought he had a shot. Robin ripped off a 9.944 at 135.44, instantly writing himself into the history books as the first Real Street racer in the 9-second zone during competition. Robin's first scare came in round four when his pal Craig Baldwin stepped it up, beat him off the Tree, and gave him all he wanted-until Robin edged Craig to head into the final versus Bruce Hemminger. Prior to Joliet, Robin repaired his bent exhaust valves, worked two days on the dyno to find more rpm, and enlisted the help of his friend Mark Wilkinson, who helped him change to Santuff struts. Mark was also on hand to give advice between rounds.

Unfortunately for the rest of the Real Street world, Bruce Hemminger cured his lean cylinder problems with a revamped fuel system, including new fuel rails and lines. Now Bruce says he can tune all eight cylinders rather than just one, and the difference shows in his record-setting mph. Additionally, Bruce spent considerable time prior to Joliet working on the car's hook. He added new struts and then tested at several different tracks to get a handle on the car. It showed at Route 66, as Bruce did almost everything a racer dreams of. He qualified in the top spot, set the e.t. record, set the mph record, and won the event. In the finals he got the jump (0.096 versus 0.136) on Robin Lawrence, which was enough to win the race by a half car length at the stripe (10.04 to 10.07). By the way, the shot here of Bruce (far lane) running against Brian Meyer marked the first side-by-side 9-second pass in Real Street history.

What a difference a new tranny makes! Craig Baldwin had been busting gearboxes like Mike Johnson does front splitters, but at Joliet his new Pro-Shifted beauty "shifted like butter." Craig was just happy to be going rounds without breaking-though he did have to change a head gasket after quali-fying. After mustering only the ninth qualified position with a 10.43/127, Craig didn't start turning up the wick until round three against the always-dangerous Jason Hoots. There Craig busted out a 10.29/130. He saved up his best pass of the weekend for his buddy Uncle Robin in the semis, but his 10.28 wasn't quite enough. Craig says his decision to head out to Atco hinged on this race, so he obviously decided to make the trip.

Some like it hot, and Chris Tuten is one of them. After setting the Real Street world on its ear with 10.10s in the searing Texas heat, Chris was searching for answers in the cool breeze at Joliet. Not that he was crawling, but his fourth-place 10.03/135 seemed suddenly pedestrian amongst the flurry of 9s. Chris attributed the gap to testing and con-ditions, saying he'd never really run in such weather and it was hurting. Despite the early struggle, Chris solved his problem and cruised through the first two rounds before clashing with fellow juice-junkie Bruce Hemminger. There Chris had some electrical gremlins steal what he thought could have been his race thanks to a nice holeshot. The result was a loss and a perforated piston, but Chris plans to have his game back on at Atco.

Consistency was the key to a championship for Fred Felt last season, but this year it's turned into a problem. Fred has consistently run e.t.'s similar to what he did last year. Even switch from a Paxton to a Vortech didn't prove the immediate cure to Fred's frustrations this season. He's making noise about stepping up to an 8-second class next season, but at Joliet he scored the 11th qualified spot thanks to a 10.54/126. From there, Fred had two easy rounds against stangcrazy.com's Frank Peterson, who had the new-car blues, and Justin Burcham, who broke. In the third, Robin Lawrence chopped down the Tree and hit Fred over the head with it en route to an easy win.

After Darin Hendricks and Gene Hindman entertained us for the first half of the NMRA season, it looks as if there may be a new Pure Street sheriff in town. Rich "Almost Famous" Groh had been chasing his tail and blowing up his junk for a couple years, but a solid week of testing definitely proved worthwhile at Joliet. The '01 NMRA Factory Stock champ has struggled since taking on Pure Street, but he returned to his winning ways. It was good to see the white GT at the top of the qualifying ladder once again, but Darin Hendricks, Dwayne Barbaree, Mark Whitney, and Gene Hindman weren't far behind. However, come eliminations Rich proved he still had more, with a sandbagging 10.88 at 117 mph in round one, a second-round bye, a 10.87 at 113 mph (so that's what sandbagging is) in round three, and a 10.74 at 118-mph (anyone for a bag of sand?) bye run into the final where Dwayne Barbaree awaited. Rich told us the car would run 10.60s on Sunday, but he didn't bust one out until the final with a 10.67 against Dwayne's 10.84.

Dwayne Barbaree's '03 season didn't really get kicked into high gear until the World Ford Challenge, where he defeated Gene Hindman in the final. At Joliet, where he capitalized on the misfortunes of Gene Hindman and Darin Hendricks, Dwayne ran consistent 10.80s-10.90s on the way to the final against Rich Groh. But those times weren't enough, even though-judging by his final round reaction time (0.444)-Dwayne had shrugged off the effects of Swill Racing's Saturday night party.

Brian Booze-and all the other Hot Street racers, for that matter-just might regret introducing his bro Charlie to the wild and woolly world of NMRA Hot Street. From the time Charlie showed up, he has been competitive. He topped the qualifying sheet with a blistering 9.18/145 pass, which really paid off when they drew up the ladder. Charlie had the easiest path to a final we've seen in quite some time. Round one was a bye, in round two Jeff Richey broke, in round three Shane Long fouled out, and in round four he had another bye. It's good luck if you can get it, but Charlie never let up, running low 9s on every pass. He did step it up in the final against Bob Hanlon, but Charlie won this close race at the Tree.

Just a couple years ago, Bangin' Bob Hanlon was the man to beat in Hot Street, and at Joliet Bob rejoined the Hot Street elite. The transmission expert qualified in the number-two slot with a 9.18/148. After taking out one Booze brother (Brian) with a 9.28, Bob banged the gears through the field with a bracket-like string of 9.20s, including one on his bye run. The other two runs ended the races of Scott Budisa-lich and Duane Busch. The finals saw Charlie Booze avenging his brother's round-one loss, but it was a close one. Bob had the quicker 9.14 e.t., but Charlie got the leave and that was enough to edge Bob with a 9.15.

As of this writing, the only race Michael Washington didn't win was at Maple Grove, and that was because it was rained out. At Joliet, Michael's main competitor Jamie Holten made a quick exit after bogging horribly in the first round without being able to run down Moby Smith's modular machine. Michael didn't get a chance to trample his buddy Chris "Noodles" Hemmeter since his car was back at the shop with a busted-up tranny (put a stick in it and come up with a better story about that redhead, Noodles). That meant in round three Troy Carter had the quickest car next to Michael's. But it was up to Brad Carroll in the final. Michael jumped out in front right off the line and took it to the house to wrap up the Factory Stock championship for 2003-and there's still two races to go.

Brad Carroll has been a Factory Stock regular for a couple years now, but Joliet brought him some good luck-Jamie Holten bowed out early and Michael Washington took out Troy Carter. For those two reasons-and the fact that he didn't have to face anyone faster until the final round against Michael Washington-Brad had a relatively easy time during eliminations. But Michael was up to his usual tricks, and Brad didn't have quite enough to put out the NYC firefighter.

Thanks to newfound power from her Livernois cams, Roxanne Shepard has her Vortech-blown Two-Valve flying these days. She drove the Tweety to the number-two qualified spot with a 10.77/125 pass, and then she took it the full five rounds for the victory. But it's consistency, not quickness that reigns in these open-comp-style classes, and she must have picked up some consistency pointers from husband Barry, 'cause Rox was on the money for much of the weekend, including running a 10.67 on her 10.67 dial-in in round three, before squaring off and besting Eric Hicks in the final.

When it comes to Truck and Light-ning, if Mark Morales isn't in the final round, there's something seriously wrong. Following up on his Columbus victory, Mark came out to Joliet from Pennsylvania and qualified second with a 9.83 at 133 mph. During eliminations, he simply cut good lights and ran as close to his 9.73 dial in without breaking out. In the final, Mark beat number-one qualifier Scott Sexton to pick up another Truck and Lightning victory.