K.J. Jones
January 23, 2006

Horse Sense: Marty Chance confessed that he made the trip to KCIR and entered Super Street Outlaw more for the opportunity to dial-in his '87 coupe for Extreme Street competition at upcoming NMCA events than to actually make a run at beating the NMRA's big dogs. On Sunday, the popular torque converter guru surprised everyone (including himself) and totally dispelled the old "knife at a gunfight" adage when his heavily outmatched (the ProCharger F-1R he uses is common on NMRA EFI Renegade or Drag Radial Mustangs, not SSO rides) LX scored round wins over SSO veterans Mike Trimandilis and Don Burton before losing to John Urist in the semifinals.

As a scientific term, "heat" is defined in the dictionary as, "a form of energy associated with the motion of atoms or molecules that is capable of being transmitted through empty space by radiation." However, looking at the definition in simpler terms, it's "the condition of being hot" that was an understatement at the second annual Aeromotive NMRA Ford Nationals; the midway event of the nine-race, NMRA season.

Temperatures that averaged in the mid 90s, humidity that hovered in the 40 percent range, and altitude well beyond 4,000 feet above sea level all contributed to an event that had slower performances and a lot more attrition than usual. Several teams experienced major engine damage between Friday and Sunday, with most of the carnage occurring during the second round of qualifying/heat of the day on Saturday. Folks clamored for a chance to head over to nearby Longview Lake with ProCharger's Dan Jones, in an effort to cool down and catch a thrill on the company's 70-mph, blown personal watercraft. "Heat" will always be an applicable term when talking about all-Ford drag racing during the dog days of summer because the action and atmosphere are bound to be hot at every show.

Representin' Noo Yawwk to 'da fullest! Jay Mingolelli's JBA-sponsored ragtop '03 was leaving with the wheels up like this all weekend, with 60-footers in the high 1.20s. Despite a second-round exit, Jay and Crew Chief Damen Dinolfo had reason to celebrate, as their number-four qualifying spot (the team's highest ever in Renegade), first-round win all season (versus Greg Price in round one) and finally cracking the 8-second barrier (their ProCharger-blown Cobra motor carried the GT to an 8.98/149 in the second round of qualifying and marked the first, 8-second pass by a Four-Valve modular in EFI Renegade history) were among the highlights and was redemption for the early exits and engine problems the team struggled with in the first half of the season. "We've been dedicated to running mod-motors for a long time," said Damen. "And with the way the car is working now, we're finally seeing a return on that commitment."

SAM students got a crash course in "low-tech," front-end alignment Sunday morning following an overnight thrash to repair their Hot Street Cobra. The car suffered minor bruises when a broken A-arm sent Pat Topolinski into the wall in the second round of qualifying. Jason Smith at PA Racing, FedEx "same day" service, a local racer who stepped up with a set of Goodyear front runners, and the roll of twine and tape measure that you see in this photo helped get the car race ready, but it wasn't quite up to handling Mike Abdalla's 9.28/147 in round one. Patrick lifted when the car got out of shape and finished with a way-off-the-pace 13.07 at 66.23 mph.

Healthy burnouts were about the only thing Wild Bill Devine could muster in Kansas City. Bill and his wife, Cheryl, battled through a broken datalogger, severe tire shake, and a series of other gremlins brought about by several wholesale changes made to the car prior to the race. In the first round, the wild one clocked what had to be the slowest-ever round win in Pro 5.0 history; he crawled to a 27.58 at 36 mph (thankfully) on a single, when he basketballed the rear tires and knocked his transmission out of gear. Bill's competitor, Michael Hauf, was unable to make the call Sunday morning after a broken rod knocked his '04 GT out of action in qualifying.

We didn't try to fry an egg in the staging lanes, but the readout on this temperature gun gives you a good idea of just how hot it was out there. At its highest point during the proverbial "heat of the day," track-surface temperature reached a scorching 145 degrees. Couple that heat with a steamy humidity index and 4,500-foot elevation, and it's a miracle that cars even moved from the line, let alone got down the track.

After an all-night thrash on Saturday to replace pistons, rods, and a transmission, Don, Burton, SSO's lone nitrous competitor at KCIR, was certainly hoping his luck would turn around. Unfortunately, the bad luck turned horrible on Sunday. After blowing head gaskets in the first round, Don brought his wounded 'Stang into round two with hopes of somehow getting by Marty Chance. In a scene taken from the NMRA season opener at Bradenton, both drivers took what seemed like more than a full minute to stage. And, while the apparent staging duel wasn't quite as long as the Don versus Jarrett Halfacre classic (which Don lost), it was long enough for the water in his injured 'Stang to finally reach the boiling point and let loose on the starting line. Don's car was pushed off the line after the party foul, and all he could do was watch as Marty motored away and into the semis.

Editor Turner was psyched to hear about fresh blood in the the Real Street ranks in Kansas City. Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you Michael Bell of Dayton, Ohio, and his '92 LX. Michael was off the pace, qualifying with a 10.92 at 129.44 mph, but we we'll see this new racer again, as well as many other Real Street newcomers in the future.

Pro 5.0 - The race was like deja-vu for Walsh Motorsports. Donnie Walsh Jr., Crew Chief Chris Tumpkin, Mike Wesley, and DiabloSport's Chris Johnson returned to the KCIR winner's circle (Don won Pro 5.0 at last year's event) with a wire-to-wire performance that included a win over Wild Bill Devine and victory in a bumper-to-bumper slugfest with Dave Schorr's Escort ZX2 in the final. On the whole, and despite having to repair the Bruno/Lenco transmission in his Mustang after it rolled a sprag in round two of eliminations, Don said his weekend was great and the win was a badly needed morale booster for his team. "We lost in the semifinals at Reynolds and in the first round at our home event (Martin, Michigan). It doesn't matter who you are-when you're working with different combinations like we were doing for those races, unfortunately, you wind up getting pushed back a few steps at the same time you're trying to move forward. On the way to Kansas City, we talked about how important a win would be for our position in the points standings and our quest for a third-straight Pro 5.0 championship. This victory has me confident that we are once again going in the right direction."

Pro 5.0 - Appearing in the final at his first NMRA event, number-two qualifier (6.86/203) and hometown favorite, Dave Schorr, knew what had to be done for his showdown with Don Walsh, but it was a certain "look" that his wife gave him prior to the final that left no room for discussion about the tune-up call. Dave's '04 Escort ZX2, carrying 135 additional pounds and sporting levers for the first time ever on his Lenco five-speed (to comply with NMRA rules), showed a significant horsepower gain in qualifying after Job Spetter Jr. had a look at the engine data, then made a few adjustments to the FAST program. On race day, after deciding to run with the new tune-up and a few changes he hoped would work, luck got Dave the win in a tire-shaking first round, when Tom Jacobs redlighted. After staying with the hotter program and blazing the tires again in a semifinal bye, "my wife came into the trailer and just looked at me-no words. I said, I know, I know, I'll put it [the original tune-up] back," Dave said. He came up a little short against Don, but the ZX2 did get down the track on a rail. We [us guys] hate to admit it, but sometimes they [our wives] really do know what's best.

Super Street Outlaw - Celebrating the return of Pat "Feeemurrrr" Speer (a Team Buginga crew member who managed to break the femur-the largest, strongest bone in the body-in his left leg, when a tree grew in front of the quad he was riding) to NMRA action, Manny "The Terror" Buginga continued with his winning ways in Super Street Outlaw at the Aeromotive NMRA Ford Nationals. Manny's Job Spetter Jr.-tuned, '91 LX coupe paced the 12-car field with a 7.67/184.69 qualifying effort, and, as he'd done so often, proceeded to run the table (defeated Jarrett Halfacre and Phil Hines) to an eventual meeting with John Urist in the final. Despite what many fans have called "dominance" in the class in the first half of the season, Manny B noted the importance of each event with regard to championship points. "Every race holds points implications," he said. "So to come out of this race with a win, despite the heat and track conditions we had to fight all weekend, was very big for us going into the Chicago race."

Super Street Outlaw - John Urist was among the several racers who put in overtime at KCIR. During most idle moments throughout the weekend, when crews were trying their best to keep cool, John and his girlfriend, Amy Lynn, were at their pit fixing broken parts on the Fireball's '00 GT. "We tested on Thursday and hurt a transmission," John said. "With help from ProCharger employees, we got it fixed and replaced that day." But the broken tranny wasn't his only major mechanical problem. In the second round of qualifying, a bolt from one of the rocker stands pulled up from its thread, causing significant damage to the cylinder head. With help and parts from fellow SSO racer Mike Young, John completed the repair Saturday night. On race day, he marched to the final by overcoming Zach Posey's holeshot in the opening round of eliminations and also driving around Don Shobe in round two. A little luck was also on Fireball's side; had Marty Chance not experienced a problem during their semifinal clash, John's absolutely comatose .258 reaction time probably would have blown his chance of getting to the final.

Drag Radial - Chris Tuten used a number-three qualifying spot to his advantage since a nine-car ladder meant that reaching the semifinals would give him a bye into the final, and bagged his first win of the season. But the road to victory wasn't easy. On Friday, Chris and his crew chief, "Big Mike" Coleman, discovered their '87 LX might be saddled with 200 additional pounds, after measurements taken on their 82mm turbo's inlet showed the opening was slightly bigger than the maximum diameter permitted to race at 3,100 pounds.

The team used a strip of 200-mph racer tape and a tube of super glue to make a reducer of sorts that downsized the inlet (see arrow on photo). "Nobody thought the fix would work and it did," Chris said. "They all thought there was no way the tape would hold and that it would end up getting sucked into the turbo." The win put Chris about 200 points back from first place, but with a lot of racing remaining in the '05 season, he hoped to be in line for a Top-5 finish.

Drag Radial - "Amazing" is the only word we can use to describe how Chris "Noodles" Hemmeter was able to regroup from Saturday (see sidebar) and reach the final round at KCIR. Chris' 8.74/164.92 qualifying shot put him in the second spot in the stout Drag Radial field, and he somehow managed to campaign his '93 GT through eliminations with a hurt cylinder that progressively got worse. "In the final against Chris, we had the biggest band-aid we could have on the motor," Noodles said. "We ramped the boost in really slow, knowing there was a good chance we'd spill water again. At 200 feet, the head gasket let go and water came up through the shifter area, the windshield, and around the fenders. I stayed in the throttle [and hazed the tires beyond half track], but I couldn't catch Tuten."

EFI Renegade - Testing during the hottest part of the day for three straight weeks leading up to the Kansas City event helped Bob get a grip on hot-weather tune-ups for his '86 GT. The effectiveness of those test sessions was evident by his 8.88/156 performance in the brutal heat during qualifying. However, a mistake when changing some tune-up settings just before the final could have cost him the race. "My fat fingers punched an incorrect number in my VE table, and when I went to go on the 'brake it flooded the motor," Bob said. "By the time I lifted to clear the motor, Swill had gone red and I automatically won." Bob didn't get the "all-Bob" final he had hoped for since Bob Cook lost to Scott Lovell in the semis, but with the way this victory was won, we're sure it's more meaningful than racing the other Bob would have been.

EFI Renegade - Swill Racing sat on the pole at the Michigan and Maple Grove events, and Scott "Swill" Lovell brought his top-qualifier momentum to Kansas City, leading all racers in the Renegade field with a solid 8.83 at 156 mph. The Swill team's '89 LX trunk car was the fastest 'Stang in each round of qualifying and it appeared they had a handle on hot-weather tune-ups. However, Swill's first win in Renegade remained elusive, no thanks, in this case, to Lovell's 0.037 red light in the final. "I knew Kurgan has always been able to cut good lights under pressure, so I went in pretty far against him but I didn't deep stage," Scott said. "I must have hit the gas slightly before I hit the transbrake button, because when I put my right foot to the floor, the car moved forward another inch or two and the top bulb went off, which I didn't see. When I saw yellow, I popped the button and was just a little bit early." Despite the loss, the Swill team was confident that once they got a better handle on the launch and 60-footers, win number one couldn't be too far off.

Hot Street - Charlie "Dude" Booze Jr. and Crew Chief Matt Wirt have to be intimately familiar with P&G procedures after having engines pumped two times during the weekend. On Friday, Tech Director Thom Bates pumped Booze's primary Kuntz bullet to end speculation that the engine may have been similar to that of another Kuntz customer, and bigger than the 440ci limit for Hot Street. The motor checked out fine, but, on Saturday, Booze and Wirt suspected the engine had a problem after the second round of qualifying, so they blew the dust off a used, backup piece and installed it Saturday night. On Sunday, with the smaller 436ci and tired replacement mill, Charlie shocked everyone when he blazed to a 9.09 at 149.32 over David Purlee in the opening round of eliminations (the quickest/fastest pass of the weekend for any all-motor entry) and went on to take out Pat Topolinski in the semifinals. The two were Hot Street finalists at last year's KC event, and after winning his rematch with Andy Schmidt in the final, the engine Charlie referred to as "Ol' Reliable" also had an appointment with the P&G pump. And, like the first engine, it also checked out fine.

Hot Street - Andy and Matt Schmidt tried to get a handle on a hot-weather tune-up and increasing the survival rate of their valvesprings prior to the Kansas City race. After making several test-and-tune laps on Friday, the brothers found the preferred settings their BES 400ci engine and it rewarded them with a 9.10/148.41 shot in qualifying that put them at the top of the ladder-without having to replace any valvesprings. On Sunday, Andy Schmidt backed up his qualifying number with another 9.10 in a first-round single, and reached the final after his 0.003 reaction time ended Dan Paolini's day. With payback on his mind (Andy and Charlie met in last year's Hot Street final), Andy pulled a holeshot and led Charlie to the 330-foot mark, but a malfunction with his shifter sent the transmission into Neutral instead of High gear and ended his weekend at KCIR with a runner-up finish for the second straight time.

Real Street - Tim Matherly's win in Real Street was a testament to his skill as an engine builder. The '04 class champion qualified number one (9.77/135.86) in the five-car field, burning two pistons along the way. Tim tore down his injured 4.6 (see photo) and worked all day Saturday and early Sunday morning, completing repairs right before the start of eliminations. If his 9.80 at 133.84 in a first-round single had fans wondering whether some performance was lost with the rebuild, Tim's 9.78 in a round-two victory over Uncle Robin Lawrence confirmed that his '01 Bullitt hadn't missed a beat during the downtime.

When asked about his race weekend, Tim said, "I came into this race 100 pounds lighter because of a mid-season rule change [mod-motor/blower combinations now can weigh a minimum of 3,000 pounds]. The heat was killer and the track was real bad, but we were lucky enough to win."

Real Street - The runner-up finish was the lone bright spot in Craig Baldwin's weekend. He made the trip to KCIR with a heavy heart after putting his dog down, then in the first 100 miles of his journey, he had two flat tires on his trailer. "I almost turned around and went back home when that happened," Craig said. Another member of the "Round Two of Qualifying Got Me" club, all eight pistons in his brand-new engine were hurt after the timing apparently moved right before the lap. However, despite the damage, Craig was able to squeak by Real Street newcomer Mike Bell in round one, and the luck of the ladder, thanks to the small field, gave him a free trip into the final.

Real Street - Jim Breese, plagued by transmission/clutch problems throughout the weekend, qualified last and lost in the first round to Uncle Robin. Despite beating Robin convincingly off the line (.061 to .082) in their first-round matchup, Jim could only watch as the red '05 drove around him when his transmission wouldn't go into Fourth gear.

Pure Street - Gene Hindman continued with his winning ways in Pure Street. Gene took this one from wire to wire, qualifying number one with a 10.49/128.38, and winning the final over Rich Groh, in what has become one of the more-popular (but friendly) rivalries in Ford drag racing. The victory brought Gene's '05 record to a perfect five for five midway through the season, and stretched his points lead considerably. When asked after the race how his brother, Robert, made out in Mod Motor at the FFW event in Norwalk the same weekend, Gene said that when they're racing at different events at the same time, they usually don't talk until after they've both returned home. Silence must really be golden, as the KC/Norwalk Ford racing weekend had them both talking about victories back in Knoxville, and gained Gene another step on the road to wearing a Pure Street Champion's jacket at the end of the year.

Pure Street - Rich Groh's race got off to a rather abnormal start when he qualified "last" out of six cars, with a 13.84 at 72.90 mph. A broken intake valve caused the out-of-character performance; it was the second straight race in which the defending class champion had to deal with valvetrain issues. Rich replaced a cylinder head and made it to his second final of the season after beating Derek Downs, then taking out Brad Meadows with a holeshot in the semis. "This has been a tough season and we've been breaking a lot of parts," Rich said. "The backup cylinder head didn't perform as it should have, but I'm grateful for making it to the final." Despite the loss, Rich said he was pleased that Rich Groh Racing Engines powerplants also made it to final rounds in two other classes.

Factory Stock - Shawn Johnson's tuning gamble paid off with a win in over Jon Paulk in the Factory Stock final. With heat and track conditions at KCIR similar to those at Maple Grove, Shawn deviated only slightly from the engine and chassis settings that took him to victory in Pennsylvania. While others were trying to simply hook on the minimal traction the track gave up, Shawn proceeded to knock down the class e.t. record with an 11.49 on his first qualifying attempt, and carded his quickest 60-footer of the season along the way. "None of my crew could make it for the KC race so my wife helped me with everything, and I thank her for her support. I also need to thank John Gilmour for giving me the fuel regulator off his Mach 1, which got me back to racing after a problem we had in the first round.The track held out good even in the hot temperatures, and the setup we had pulled us through for the win."

Factory Stock - Jon Paulk has taken over the driving duties of the Team JPC "Green Car" that Michael Washington made famous a few years ago, and he said that testing and hard work between races played a major part in getting to his first-ever NMRA final. Jon also benefited from the ladder, as he found himself on the opposite side of class heavyweights Shawn Johnson and Jeff Schmell, and earned his trip to the final round by taking out John Leslie Jr. in the semifinals with an 11.76/114. "Shawn had a fast car and just plain outran me in the final," Jon said. "Thanks to Justin for giving me the opportunity to drive the Green Car, and to my wife for letting me spend all our money to go racing." The runner-up finish moved Jon into third in the points chase.

Modular Muscle - Derek Downs brought his ultra-clean '00 Mustang GT to KCIR intending to gain points, and the win brought him closer to finishing in the Modular Muscle Top-10. To get to the final, Downs squared off against good friend Nick Sprague in round one. This was an emotional pairing for Derek, due to the tremendous amount of time he had invested in working on Nick's car (he did a cam swap and all of the tuning, just so his buddy could make it to the event). "It was like racing my own car," he said. Consistent 12-teen e.t.'s on an 11.91 open-comp-style index and a brilliant .005 reaction time in the semis earned Downs a trip to the finals, where he defeated Tom Motycka's 5.4-powered '96 GT by .06 at the stripe. "I have been racing in Modular Muscle for two years and this was my first time in the finals. To come away with the win is indescribable," Victor said.

Truck And Lightning - Johnny Lightning can be considered Johnny Lucky when it comes to the way in which Lightning ended up in the final round at KCIR. On Friday, Johnny finished up his NHRA license testing and said his truck was running flawlessly. But despite being "ready to race" on Sunday, Johnny's first- and second-round wins were handed to him in the form of red lights by Dave Cole and Randy Henry respectively. After a ladder bye in the semifinals, Johnny squared off with Captain Keith Kohlmann's popular purple Ranger for a highly anticipated final (Keith had been in every Truck and Lightning final leading up to the Kansas City race). But, once again, the red bulb glowed, this time in the Captain's lane. Unfortunately, the victory celebration was short-lived; Johnny's van was broken into while the team ate dinner during a stop on the trip home. While several thousand dollars worth of personal belongings were stolen, Johnny said he looked forward to the next event at Joliet, and added, "We'll get over it and move on."

Wild Street - All hail the king! John Puckett, simply known as "Puckett" to his friends, and even his wife, in his hometown of West Des Moines, Iowa, was crowned the King of the Street after running his Wild Street '83 Capri to a 10.93 average e.t. in back-to-back-to-back passes after a 30-mile cruise around Kansas City. While Saturday's oppressive heat apparently didn't have any ill effects on the nitrous-fogged 306 in Puckett's car, it did have a hand in claiming a Wild-Street record, five victims during the tour.

Open Comp - Jeremy Gillam said he had another solid outing with his red '91 LX. The WFC8 Open Comp champ ran eliminations with 10.20s consistently on his 10.15 index and wound up facing his buddy and reigning points champ, Larry Geddes, in the final. "The champ is always a tough competitor, but I cut a great light (.001 to .046 for Larry) and was able to sneak around him on the top end. It was a sweet race," Jeremy said. In the Open Comp points scenario, Jeremy moved up from third to second with the win. He hopes to bring himself within striking distance of Bruce Parker, whose early exit from a second-round red light against Larry might have been a critical stumble in his quest for this year's title.

On Saturday, during the third round of qualifying, Hot Street racer and friend-to-all, Nick Bacalis, was involved in an absolutely terrifying accident at KCIR's top end. With no brakes and traveling between 80 and 100 mph, Nick went straight off the end of the dragstrip, crashing through woods and into a river beyond the shutdown area, where his car began to sink quickly. Had it not been for the quick and selfless actions of Chris "Noodles" Hemmeter, who jumped into the water and pulled Nick from the wreckage, the tragedy could have been fatal. Miraculously, Nick suffered only a broken finger, several bruises, and some soreness. While the Dan Parker chassis held firm and was a major contributor to Nick's walking away from this accident, the '87 Mustang GT around that 'cage unfortunately was damaged beyond any chance of repair.

We didn't ask Noodles if he felt like a hero after his actions. We didn't need to. He is a hero in our book. Nick's dad, Matt Bacalis, said he is grateful for the selfless and courageous efforts of Chris Hemmeter, and also asked that we thank Dave Hopper and Andy Schmidt for their quick actions in the rescue of his son.

Despite being understandably shaken, both racers were gracious enough to grant us exclusive interviews shortly after the accident and rescue. Here, in their own words, are accounts of what happened:

"I hit the brakes, I had no brakes, and I pulled the parachute. I tried to scrub speed off after I pulled the 'chute by swerving the car back and forth, but it wouldn't slow down. At the end of the grass there's a cliff going into the water. I hit the water, unbuckled, tried to kick open the doors but the doors, wouldn't open, so I was kickin' one door and then Noodles was able to open one door as I was kicking it, and he saved my life 'cause I was drowning.

I was doing at least a hundred (mph). It's a 15- to 20-foot cliff, and I almost made it to the other side [of the river]. When it hit [the opposite riverbank], the front nose hit and it just slid down into the water and turned sideways. I almost jumped it all the way over to the other side of the river. It landed and just stayed on its four tires and started sinking. The hood was thrown about 40 feet away from the car and the parachute was tangled in a tree. All you could see was the top of the car. By the time he pulled me out there was no more."

"I was folding my 'chute and I didn't believe that the car had gone by, it had to be going at least 80 mph. I heard him crackling through the woods . . . and then I stood there and realized that it really happened, so I started running into the woods and ripping all my gear off. Once I ran in there, about 20 feet in there's a 5-foot ditch. I fell down, but I looked ahead to try and see where the car was, like straight ahead, but it wasn't there, so I got up and started running more, and the next thing you know, I'm flying down an 18-foot mudslide. When I first got into the water I could hear him yelling, 'Help, help,' and I was freaking out 'cause I don't know CPR or anything. I actually thought he was gonna be busted up 'cause the car was hauling when it went by.

"By the time I got back up and ran through the water, there was only like 6 or 7 inches of car visible. Well, I'm thinking that the car had stopped sinking, so I started swimming through the mud and when I got to it there were about 2 to 4 inches sticking out of the water. Once I got to the door I just wailed on it and it just flew right open and water rushed in. I think there was something, possibly part of the [Funny Car] rollcage that was holding him 'cause he was kind of turned around in there, but once I put my arm inside the car and he realized what was going on, he grabbed me and we went out. Then we just lay on the back of the car, got his helmet off and water out, and waited for help getting out of there."