Huw Evans
September 1, 2006
Photos By: Francis Butler

Gateway International Raceway, Madison, IL May 18-21, 2006
It was our first time going to this event, but getting there proved to be one of the toughest parts. Your trusty editor was due to fly down to St. Louis on Thursday afternoon, but storms came across the Ohio Valley and I ended up stranded in Cincinnati overnight with no bags and almost until the last minute, nowhere to sleep. Things looked up on Friday as normal progress resumed, yours truly was reunited with said bags and eventually got to the grounds of Gateway International Raceway sometime before noon. In the meantime, ace photographer Francis Butler had already collected the rental car, set up camp and got a few shots in - including a test and tune run by a Camaro, yeah, at a Ford event, but the guys who ran that car can do things like that. So with the whole Modified Mustangs team now present and correct at WFC 9, it was time to get down to business.

The thing about this event is that it draws people and cars from all over the place. The pits are an absolute hive of activity. One of our first ports of call was the Team Aruba pit area. We caught up with Van, Burt and the crew as they got the Mountain motor ZX2 bodied machine read for qualifying. Now being from the island of Aruba, it's not easy to come to this race, nor any others. While many of the North America based teams have their chance to test between races, the Aruba guys are usually back home on the island for a few weeks, while the car and support equipment remains in the US. Anyhow, Burt and his crew chief were optimistic. "We'll see how it goes out there," Kelkboom said with a smile.

Not far away, everybody was falling over Robert Patrick's new car. Sporting an '07 Shelby GT 500 body it was quite the beast and impeccably clean. A brand new machine often requires a bit of time and patience before really coming into its own, but the Patrick crew were up for the challenge.

As the temperature started heating up, and the sun beat down between the clouds, the entire GIR grounds reverberated to the sounds of horsepower, as drivers got out there to test their cars and get ready for a chance at making it through qualifying. With so many entries (try over 30 for Pro alone) it wasn't going to be easy. However, when push came to shove, it seemed that cubes mattered. The number one spot in Pro was grabbed by Frank Gugliotta, in his mountain motor Escort bodied dragster, with 820 inches of Kasse power, he was packing more cubes than anybody else in class, save Robert Patrick who got the number 5 spot. Behind Frank was John Nobile, Jeff Dobins, last year's winner Tony Gillig, of course Patrick and then Richard Penland, Elijah Morton and Larry Larson, followed by some familiar faces - Mike Hauf, Chuck Samuel and Don Walsh Jr. Team Aruba started off Eliminations in 14th place.

On Sunday it was time to get down to business. With a full field, nobody caught a bye, but after round one, it looked like this: Gugliotta against Hauf, local boy Dan Saitz against Patrick, Nobile against Samuel and Jeff Dobbins against Donnie Walsh. Frank G was pushing hard against Mike Hauf, but the Gomaco driver was right with him off the tree, but then had to let off and coast through, pushing Gugliotta through to the next round. Saitz muscled passed Patrick, grabbing a better light and motoring on to a 7.016 (versus Robert's 7.220), while the Purple people eater of John Nobile got the hook on Chuck Samuel with a 6.471, against Chuck's 6.589. Don Walsh put down a 6.526, putting him through final, leaving rival Jeff Dobbins picking up the pieces of his wounded ZX2 dragster. So for the semis it was Gugliotta against Saitz, and Nobile against Walsh. And for the most part it was very, very close. All four drivers put in some very respectable times - Donnie Walsh even cutting a .013 light. However, when the dust settled the two left standing were John Nobile and Frank Gugliotta. In the final it was almost dead even all the way down GIR's 1320, but Nobile had cut a better light than Frank (0.50), so although Gugliotta cut the better ET, it was John who made history by becoming champion of WFC 9. That's the thing about this event, you never know who's going to come out on top. We've had three different winners in the last three years, Randy Eakins, Tony Gilig and now John Nobile. What will happen at the decade anniversary WFC is difficult to say.

Outlaw is getting big these days, to the point that there were two classes at WFC9 and both were packed with entries. First off was Pro Outlaw and these guys put on a real show. There were some tense moments, notably when Conrad Scarry lost traction in qualifying. The car squirrelled left and right as Conrad fought to maintain control, he did a good job and although the blue beast hit the wall, the damage was relatively minor. One guy to watch out for was Forest Lake, MN's Brian Carpenter, behind the 2003 Mustang bodied machine. Carpenter got the top spot in qualifying with a 6.901! Behind him was Tim Lynch, Scarry and Livernois' Dan Millen. Hot on the heels of the Desert Eagle was Chip Havemann, who bagged a 7.311. Make no mistake, these guys were running fast, especially considering the size of their rear tires, which can often make maximum traction a tad on the tricky side. As Eliminations began, the ranks thinned quickly. Carpenter caught a bye in round two, while Millen drove around Dennis Bailey and Havemann got past Lynch, who was having problems. For the semis, it was Chip Havemann's turn to get a bye, leaving Millen and Carpenter paired up on the other side of the ladder. Dan was quicker on the tree than Brian, but Carpenter started coming on strong and by the end, had nudged past Millen, landing him a 7.09. In the final, Chip Havemann put up a fight, but Carpenter was clearly getting into his groove and drove one seamless run, right from the .117 reaction time, to the 6.996 second Elapsed Time at 210.08 miles per hour. Havemann coming in behind with a 7.077. So the guy from Minnesota gets the crown for '06.

Over in Street Outlaw, New Mexico's John Urist let his presence be known. The Fireball set the pace in qualifying with a blistering 7.508 to land him the top spot in qualifying. Behind him were four Fox based rides, the four-eyed piece of Don Burton, the '93 LX of Mike Trimandilis and Jarrett Halfacre in his '91 LX hatch. Don Shobe brought down his beautiful, flamed S197 based car for the proceedings and started off in 10th place, ahead of Christian Helms. NMRA regulars Sam Vincent and Phil Hines were also present, qualifying 8th and 9th respectively. On race day things took an interesting turn. Urist caught a bye early on, while Burton got around Brian Felder. By the semis we had Urist against Shobe on one side of the ladder and Don Burton against 'Kentucky' Sam on the other. John U was going all out by this time, demonstrated by his trap speeds which were close to 200 mph. Urist ran a 7.559 to put Shobe on the trailer, while Burton went tooth and nail against Vincent, finally winning out with an 8.338 against Sam's 8.613. So it was Urist against Burton for the final, old school Fox body against New Edge technology. A more interesting match up could not have been found. John was quicker off the light and blazed down the track, but it was Don Burton who got the edge in Elapsed Time, with a 7.5 even by the time the dust settled. Urist ran a 7.546, so this year, the Street Outlaw cup was Burton's a - fitting and well deserved final outcome.

There was perhaps one word to sum up the Drag Radial ranks at WFC 9 - insane! D/R pioneer Dwayne 'Big Daddy' Gutridge came ready to play with his '89 coupe. Meanwhile David Wolfe, made the trip up from Ft. Worth Texas ready to stake his claim in what is one of the most exciting classes to watch at this event. And let's talk about the speeds these guys were running - how about mid 7s for the quickest entries? Yes that's right. Every single one of the top six qualifiers posted seven second runs. Remember, these are vehicles with DOT street tires and stock style suspension which makes this aspect all the more incredible. On Sunday, we watched a battle unfold between Wolfe and Gutridge. David put down a 7.586 in the first round, 'Big Daddy' a 7.636 (at 191.19 miles per hour no less!). These guys were simply on fire and nobody else could catch up, though Jason Ardron did his best and managed to break into the 7s, but hegot taken out by Dwayne in the semis, while Wolfe caught a bye. In the final, everybody by the starting line and in the grandstands watched with baited breath as the two demons of drag radial did their thing. Gutridge cut a better light and right out of the hole it was going to be tight, but when both Fox cars flashed by the boards, it was Wolfe who won out, getting to the line first with a 7.408, Gutridge bagging a 7.616. Excellent racing.

In the Real Street ranks we had six drivers qualify, including some very familiar faces, Brian Meyer, Tim Matherly, 'Uncle' Robin Lawrence and Craig Baldwin. 'Uncle' Robin was unfortunately put back on the trailer when Matherly got past him in round one, while over on the other side, Meyer and Baldwin both muscled past their competitors in the first round to face each other in the semis, while Matherly got through on a bye. Meyer was out of action when Baldwin ran a 9.677 to his 9.864, so that left Tim waiting in the wings. However, it was quickly over in the final when Matherly fouled at the tree, a real shame because he ran a stellar 9.759. Baldwin, after punching off two consecutive 9.677 second passes in rounds one and two, could only muster a 11.63 for the final, but still, he made it to the end and was declared class champion.

Open Comp saw no fewer than 29 drivers make the call for Eliminations and we had a whole selection of different rides, from classic '60s Mustangs to late model ponies and even Fairmonts and Rangers. Steve Gasich was the number 1 qualifier, but the guys to watch on race day were Larry Cleek, behind the wheel of his '70 Mach 1, and Robert Hindman, piloting his brightly colored '87 Mustang GT hatchback. With Cleek having seen off Keith Jarkson in the semis, and Hindman taking care of David Lanman, the two finalists got ready for their shot at the WFC O/C championship. As many know, Hindman is a master when it comes to consistency and keeping close to his index - he cut a .064 at the tree and ran on to a 11.111, (his dial-in being a 11.09). Cleek broke out, so Open Comp honors this time around went to the Tennessee native and his KSS sponsored GT hatch.

Wild Street in St. Louis had a number of drivers eyeing up the trophy, including veteran Nick Yarber. However, things didn't go quite according to plan for Mr, Y; for although he caught a bye in the first round on Sunday, he couldn't quite match the allconquering progress of Mike Keenan who ended up bagging the quickest ET (7.568), fastest top speed (193.16 mph!) And the class win, when he beat out Mr Olsen with a deal sealing 8.741, against Olson's 9.695.

Over in the truck ranks, we had the Pro and Street Lightning classes to contend with. The fastest guys in Pro were running in the 8s and Oklahomans Justin Embrey and Jerry Skinner, both packing 370 cube motors in their first gen Lightnings put in some stellar times all weekend. However, this is another class were the key to ultimate victory lies in consistency, and Frank Formato, seemingly came out of nowhere, to challenge Skinner in the final. Frank, thanks to some steady driving behind the wheel of his '01 Lightning, came through when Jerry fouled at the tree. Formato's winning ET was a 11.160, his dial-in, a 10.89. When it came to Street Lightning it was the number 3 qualifier, Royal Palm Beach, FL resident Kevin Mac- Donald who bagged the class win. Dialedin with an 11.76; macdonald was bang on the money in round one with an 11.766 and then ran an 11.946 in the final against Jarret Bencie.

Modular Street, saw Michigan's Paul Svinicki, win the title when he put number 1 qualifier Mike Capitano on the trailer. Paul's brand-new '06 Mustang sported a 5.4 Triton motor and powered him to a 9.968 in the final (his dial-in was a 9.93 in case you're wondering).

In the Cobra and Diesel Challenge Classes we had some interesting developments. In the Snake class, Randy Wickenhauser with his blown '03 proved most consistent - he had a 10.88 dial-in and ticked off a low 11-second pass, a very high 10 second pass (against James 'Rat Fink' Rose) and then a winning 11.008 in the final against Ken Tingle.

In the Diesel truck ranks, Kinetic's Tim Olsen, behind the wheel of a brand new '06 Dualie was declared the winner, when he got the better of Al Cantrell. Olsen managed a .036 reaction time and 15.32 second ET, that on a 15.09 dial-in. Congratulations Tim, good on ya!

The above highlights just some of the intense racing that went on at GIR that weekend. Adjacent to the track on the far side, was a sizeable car show featuring in excess of 200 plus vehicles. There were Fords of all types, from classic '60s Mustangs, T-birds, Cougars, stock and modi- fied. One car that really caught our eyes was that belonging to Springfield, IL's George Lambert. At first glance it appeared to be a nice early Fox hatch with a set of rims. On closer inspection we realized it was actually a 2003 Cobra masquerading as its 1980 namesake. The drivetrain, dash, suspension, electronics - everything save for the sheetmetal was late-model supercharged snake. And he drives it everywhere. Very neat. We also had a chance to catch up with some old friends, make some new ones, and generally have a good time, the getting there notwithstanding.

It can often be very difficult to really sum up in a few paragraphs what the World Ford Challenge is actually like, but what we can say is that after having been to this one, we are looking forward to the next. And if you haven't been to one of these events, mark your calendars, because next year's is the 10th running of the WFC and a very special occasion. George Gonzalezs and his staff put on one impressive, well organized and fun event and if you're into Ford and Ford powered vehicles of any persuasion, you owe it to yourself to be there. As far as we're concerned our plans for the '07 event are already in place. We'll see you then.