K.J. Jones
October 11, 2006
Leo Johnson jockeyed Raggdoll Racing's flagship coupe to the Hot Streettitle, setting off a celebration we're sure could be heard back in thepopular driver's hometown of St. Louis.

Horse Sense: "Night" racing(after 8 p.m.) at US 131 Motorsports Park goes down in near broaddaylight during the summer. Martin, Michigan, is roughly 70 miles awayfrom the imaginary line that separates the Eastern and Central TimeZones, and true nightfall doesn't set in until almost 10 p.m. Eternallight, indeed.

Racers, fans, and even a few dignitaries from Ford Motor Companyconverged on Martin, Michigan, to take another shot at getting the ToyoTires NMRA Ford Nationals completed at US 131 Motorsports Park.

A mixture of rain, wind, and snow put a premature kibosh on the secondrunning of the event in April 2005, and our Florida-bred editor, SteveTurner, scrambled back to warmer climates. Hopes were high that badweather would stay clear of the Martin area during the '06 edition ofthe NMRA 'Stangfest at the beautiful, small-scale motorplex.

Don Bowles introduced his new "Coal Digger" '06 'Stang at Martin. TheRoush Industries-backed GT is a 9-second player in Modular Muscle,thanks to its Ford GT powerplant and Jerico four-speed transmission andthe 67-year-old's driving skills. Don does kick the clutch pedal betweenshifts, which earned him low-qualifier honors in the always-tough class,with a 0.500 reaction time backed up by two other sub-0.520 lights,proving the double-zero was no fluke.

With clear skies, bright sunlight, and low-to-mid-80-degree temps, wehad no doubt the race would run in its entirety, and every competitorwas ready to prove that the NMRA's decision to reschedule the race tothe middle of the summer was a good one. The racing action was exciting,despite relatively small car counts in some of the premier heads-upcategories, with first-time (for 2006) finalists and first-timeNMRA-event winners in several classes.

Unlike last year, where racers such as Manny Buginga, Charlie Booze Jr.,and Gene Hindman were dominant points leaders in their respectiveclasses at mid-season, the same can't be said about competitors in anycategory at the '06 season's intermission point, which tells us thatthus far we have experienced some of the hottest, all-around 'Stangbangcompetition and personal-best performances we've seen in a long time.

The madness at Martin was great from start to finish and we're willingto bet the remaining four NMRA events will be even better, as racers andrace teams start making big moves toward earning championship jacketsand rings.

If we said, "Tony Bischoff," what would be your immediate response? Ifyou said, "He's one of the top Ford race-engine builders in thecountry," you'd be only half correct. At Martin, Tony proved he's also apretty good driver, as he jockeyed his '01 big-block/nitrous MercuryCougar past David Hance and Chuck DeMory en route to a final-roundshowdown with Donnie Walsh Jr. "I started off the weekend thinking I hada small chance of winning the race, but after qualifying [number twobehind Donnie] I felt my chances were better," Tony said. He can credithis own BES horsepower and three stages of Speedtech nitrous for helpingsecure the victory, as he needed all of it to overcome Donnie's holeshot(0.407 to 0.454) and drive around the defending class champion.

Team Walsh's quest for an unprecedented fourth NMRA Pro 5.0 points titletook a turn for the better, despite not winning the Martin event. Thanksto a 6.68/207 low-qualifying effort, coupled with Michael Hauf'sfirst-round exit and a convincing win over Bert Kelkboom in round two,Donnie regained the Pro 5.0 points lead, which, next to winning, is thebest thing that could have happened for the team in its home-state race.

John Urist captured the Pole position for the 10-Inch-Tire Freak Showand never looked back. John's consistent 7.50-something e.t.'s (7.51 inqualifying at US 131) and record-setting, 190-plus-mile-an-hour blastshave been the talk of Super Street Outlaw since the second race of theseason, and he certainly didn't disappoint the crowd at Martin. In adramatic, come-from-behind, final-round win over Billy Laskowsky (Johnwas way late with a 0.544 reaction time to Billy's 0.424), John managedto get his Nitto Tire-sponsored 'Stang to the finish line just ahead ofBilly, with a 7.60 at 188 mph.

Billy Laskowsky's many seasons of frustration took an abrupt change forthe better at the Toyo Tires NMRA Ford Nationals, when the popular SSOracer carded an off-the-gas 7.52/184 during Friday's test-and-tunesession, and followed it up the next day with a 7.60/188 qualifyingeffort that earned him the second spot on the 11-car ladder. "We made afew upgrades to the motor for a bit more strength and decided to run itout, and it all just finally came together," Billy said of the landmarkpass. He also cites extensive testing to improve eighth-mile performanceas one of the reasons for the great showing in Michigan. Wins over MikeTrimandilis and Ed "Fluffy" Imhoff cleared the way to Billy'sfinal-round appearance with John Urist, which was a victory in its ownright, as Billy's ProCharger-blown 'Stang had been running with acracked block throughout eliminations.

Aaron "The Shark" Stapleton and his support crew from Sutton HighPerformance made it two in a row for NMRA final-round appearances. Theteam was runner-up at Maple Grove, but this time they closed the dealwith a win in Renegade at US 131. "I wanted this win badly," he said.The victory rounded out a performance trifecta for the Sutton '05Mustang. Prior to winning on Sunday, Aaron qualified the car first outof 13 'Stangs, and he also eclipsed the class mile-an-hour record with a160.1 mph trap speed during Saturday's qualifying sessions.

Scott "Swill" Lovell capitalized on big-time vacancies on his side ofthe ladder and once again ended up in the Renegade final after handilydefeating Chris Van Guilder. Zoop Zellonis was not able to make the callin round one, nor was Jay Mingolelli in round three. In the money round,despite beating winner Aaron Stapleton at the tree (0.421 to 0.442), alack of traction proved to be the Swill team's nemesis and had Scottusing a lot of racetrack in an effort to catch the Sutton Ford car afterit went by him and drove away.

Leo "Pretty Boy" Johnson had to be the happiest man on the property whenthe Toyo Tires NMRA Ford Nationals finally came to a close, as three ofhis Raggdoll Racing Mustangs appeared in finals at the Martin race andtwo emerged victorious. Leo piloted his '91 LX coupe to the Hot Streetwin with bracket-style consistency, in the form of nearly identical 9.06defeats over a mega-late (0.600) Andy Schmidt and Mike DeMayo in roundsone and two respectively. He then enjoyed a bye into the final, where heoutmuscled Bangin' Bob Hanlon's wheels-up stick 'Stang to the stripewith a 9.05/152 to a losing 9.11/150.

Bangin' Bob Hanlon is the other "new face" who made it to the final inHot Street. Bob is far from being "new" to the class, as he's one of thepioneers of Hot Street, so his appearance in the Martin final was arefreshing change from Charlie Booze Jr. versus any other competitorthat had become the norm over the last two seasons.

The NMRA has a new "Johnny Lightning" in its ranks, and this one drivesa Drag Radial car. Lightning-quick reaction times are becoming atrademark for John Kolivas this season. His triumph in the Martin finalagainst Jason Lee marked the second time this season (a 0.423 got himthe win over Maruo Viatle in the season opener at Bradenton) that he'sused a holeshot to capture the gold in the super-tough Drag Radialcategory. "Jason and I had similar e.t.'s in the semis, so I knew thatthis final would be decided at the tree," John said. "Jeff [crew chief]and I decided to leave the tune-up alone and focus on getting out first,and we just hoped he didn't break off a number on us." John's 0.425reaction proved to be the difference in this contest, and it also movedhim within striking distance of the points leaders.

Jason Lee capitalized on points-leader Chad Doyle's 0.115 red light,then dispatched Mauro Vitale in round two and eventually met JohnKolivas in the final round of Drag Radial. Despite having a slightperformance advantage over John's turbo '95 Cobra, Jason's first-gen Foxfell about a car-length short of overcoming a reaction-time deficit andhaving the final's outcome go his way.

In a surprise move, Bruce "Almighty" Hemminger drove his own Real Street'Stang into the 9-second zone (9.99 in qualifying) and to victory in thefirst event run with the widely debated new rules in place. Bruce isunofficially the lead lobbyist for rule changes in RealStreet--nitrous-jet sizes being one of them--that he feels will helpimprove parity between supercharged and nitrous-injected cars andhopefully encourage others to race in the class. It seems unbelievablethat Bruce fared so well in a car that was mothballed for more than ayear, but great tuning calls, with help from Billy Glidden via cellphone, a near-perfect chassis setup and 60-foots in the low 1.30s, andkiller reaction times proved the man to be unstoppable as he made hisway from the top-qualifier spot to the final. He came out on top in aclassic nitrous-versus-supercharger duel with runner-up Brian Meyer.

After having to sort out clutch issues, such as swapping a disc andcable, and enduring the pain of a badly cut finger during the course ofthe race weekend, a win would have been more to Brian "Hollywood"Meyer's liking instead of a second-place finish. The reigning pointschampion even took a stab at deep staging to get the extra reaction-timeedge in his final against Bruce Hemminger and, with a 0.409 to Bruce's0.448, it appears the tactic worked. But getting the second notch inRaggdoll Racing's belt at Martin was not to be. With the runner-up, thereigning class champion snagged a 350-point lead over Tim Matherly goinginto the second part of the season.

Longtime Real Street competitor Jim Breese made the show with a10.16/number-five qualifying shot, but fell to Bruce Hemminger in roundone.

Mark Magnuson returned to NMRA Real Street competition driving JPC's"Blue Car" and taking over the seat left vacant by Bruce Hemminger. A0.711 reaction time in the first round brought an early end to Mark'scomeback, and had Brian Meyer cruising on to the second round.

Grandpa Ron Anderson is the other member of the Raggdoll Racing trio whovisited the winner's circle in Michigan. Ron stayed true to the formthat garnered him multiple victories in Pure Street, qualifying firstwith a 10.38/129 on Saturday, then making his way past Jack Fifer andGreg Curtis in the first two rounds of eliminations before taking thebeams in a round-three bye to get ready for the final with Bad BradMeadows. The highly anticipated Pure Street final was over at the start,as Brad's SN-95 didn't have enough to overcome Ron's 0.446 reactiontime, which let Grandpa capture his second win of the season andtightened up the points outlook considerably.

The Meadows/Anderson Pure Street finals are starting to look like theclassic Hindman/Groh battles of a few years ago. The Martin race markedBad Brad Meadows' fourth trip to the money round, but getting there wasfar from a cakewalk, as he found himself in an out-of-character numberfive in qualifying. "We only made one round of qualifying to get on theladder and buy time to work on the motor. Saturday and Saturday night wepulled the oil pan and put on a band aid for eliminations [changedbearings]," Brad said. While it was unbeknownst to many in the standsthat Brad's 310 small-block was hurt, the car still ran competitivemid-10s at more than 130 mph, in round wins over Amy Sherwin, VictorDowns, and David Hill. "We felt fortunate to make the finals withoutcausing further damage. We'll be ready for Joliet," Brad said.

Jeff Schmell shook the runner-up monkey off his back with a closevictory over Jonathan Paulk in Factory Stock. As the number-onequalifier, Jeff never looked back, as he cruised by snoozing racers JohnLeslie Jr. (0.784) and Brian Marr (0.713) in the first two rounds, andon to a chance to bag his first win of 2006. In the final, Jeff barelyheld off Jon's hard charge to the stripe with an 11.75/116 to Jonathan'slosing 11.83/115. By taking the title at his home race, he closed inquite a bit on Shawn Johnson's points lead.

Jonathan Paulk had another "solid" outing in Factory Stock and, despitebattling big-time traction problems in every round, he managed to end'05 champion Shawn Johnson's winning streak in the semifinals andappeared in his first final of 2006. "This event was a turning point inmy season. By going to the final round and putting out Shawn Johnson, weclosed some on the points lead and we're still within reach of the '06F/S championship," Jon said. "I would like to thank RGR for the greatpower and Justin at JPC for his continued support and direction, andfinally, my wife, Denise, for being understanding about my passion forthis racing!"

The Modular Muscle class saw its usual gaggle of Two- and Four-ValveMustangs, and when it was all said and done after five rounds of racing,Louie Manglos and his '03 Cobra emerged as the big dog in the pound. Inthe final, Louie left second, then forced Adam Smith to keep the hammerdown on his '98 GT and run out the back door to a 13.05 breakout on his13.08 index.

Only five trucks were in the lanes by the time eliminations kicked offat Martin, and "Captain" Keith Kohlman led the way with a 0.507low-qualifier reaction time. But in the end it was Mike Motycka and his"Uncle Jesse" early F-150--a big rig in comparison to the more-popularLightnings and Rangers in the class--who grabbed the win over Dave Colein an extremely close big truck/little truck showdown.

Randy "Redline" Conway's Open Comp victory was all about redemption. TheRockwood, Michigan, racer suffered a first-round loss at Maple Groveafter breaking two transmissions and was looking to simply go somerounds at Martin and get back the points lead. "I had to race my friendKevin Meine (who borrowed a car after breaking his Mustang inqualifying) in the first round, but the rest of eliminations were smoothsailing. I did my part, and the new transbrake in the Dynamic MightyMite C4 worked flawlessly," Randy said. His final-round victory over theUniversity of Northwestern Ohio's cool '69 Mercury Cougar driven bySteve Tucker moved Randy back on top of the Open Comp points tally, soit's safe to say he did what he set out to do, and won the race while hewas at it.

Redford, Michigan's Rob Batha stood alone as the best of the rest, aftersurviving the 40-mile cruise and laying down consistent back-to-backdragstrip-passes testing that would determine who would be Wild Street'soverall champ. Rob's '92 'Stang averaged 10.16 overall, which no doubtwas bolstered by a 9.98 blast that proved to be his best. A 331 strokerand a 175 shot of nitrous make up the new King of Michigan's formidablestreet/strip combination.