Jill M. Caliendo
March 1, 2001
Photos By: John McCartney

With names like Ed Smith, Bob Hanlon, Catalanotto and Curcio in the show, the road to the title round was not gonna be easy. All the top runners made it past round one and even round two, save for Smith, who was ousted by the Briante Racing-built GT driven by Catalanotto.

In the semi-finals Curcio got the bye and Catalanotto squared off against the tough Hanlon. Catalanotto fired the shot, left first (.489 to .576) and then blasted to an event best-of 9.43 at 142 mph to beat Hanlon's 9.83-effort. This set up the final between the pair of big-inch Windsor Hot Street/Street Bandit race cars. Both Catalanotto and Curcio were poised cutting identical .499 lights, but it was the power of the Briante-built 408 that pushed Catalanotto to a winning 9.44 over the 9.76 of Curcio.

With such a great variety of Blue Oval breeds to chose from it can be said that Open Comp was probably the most varied of the classes at E-Town. Mustangs like the 9.15-second 4-speed equipped GT of John Vilardi and the 8-second LX of Scott Osani made the races interesting and quick. Open Comp also takes great concentration on the driver's part because the .400 tree comes mighty quick.

And no one was more consistent than Old Bridge's Stan Bachonski driving his wheelstanding '86 GT. Running off his 10.06 breakout index, Bachonski cut repeated lights in the .400 range all day. He got past the '87 Mustang wheeled by Bill Gammond in the opener, Joe Grant's '86 Mustang in the second round, and then he won a close one against Vilardi in round three. Bachonski singled in the semis and that set up the final match between he and Osani. Bachonski left first with his slowest light of the day (.552), but it didn't matter because Osani couldn't wait for green. Osani came up .353, giving Bachonski the instant Open Comp win.

Radial Waves
It's no secret that Gutridge has been the class of the Drag Radial tire racing class since its inception. He's been a promoter of the class and has run darn near the 8s when no one though it could be done. But after wrecking his new ride on Friday night, it seemed someone other than Big Daddy would claim gold at E-Town.

However, with $3500 at stake, the hard-working owner of Outrageous Performance quietly loaded his machine and headed back to his nearby Jackson-based shop. With his crew helping out, Gutridge disassembled the injured car and worked to place the "good" parts back in the popular black LX he raced earlier in the season. Amazingly, Gutridge finished the job and rolled back to E-Town with a rebuilt car and an obvious lack of sleep.

Despite missing the first two qualifying sessions, Gutridge strapped in and shot right to the top of the 16-car heap with a 9.63 at 147 mph, topping the Mustangs of Nick Bazil at 9.87 and Chris Little, who ran 10.06. Gutridge then worked his way through eliminations with ETs of 14.55 (on a single), 9.62, 9.41 and 9.55 for the win. The 9.55 came in the final against Maryland's Ed Thomas, who placed a set of BFG tires on his FFW, championship-winning Renegade Mustang and ran an impressive 9.85. Though he came up short against "Big Daddy" in the final, his 9.90 against Dwayne was nothing to laugh at, and is sure to make him a heavy hitter in the class in the future.

Despite a nice payout of $750 to win, Mod Motor attracted only eight Ford racers. Wayne Yarnell qualified in the top spot with a quick 11.81 from his sharp '98 convertible Cobra. He was followed by Inkster, Michigan's Barry Shepard in a Cobra, and by Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords' John Hedenburg, driving the Paxton-supercharged "Barely Legal" project Mustang for editor Jim Campisano. Other notable racers were Ron Diaz, Bill Hull and "Rockin" Randy Stinchcomb.

Racing off the .400 Pro tree and with a one-tenth breakout rule in effect, Mod Motor eliminations kicked off with Hedenburg defeating Stinchcomb in a close race, Shepard beating James Buras and Hull and Diaz taking wins in their respective rounds.

With four cars to go Hedenburg nailed a 12.45 on his 12.40 index to trailer Hull, while Shepard knocked out Diaz, who broke out of his 12.58-second index by running 12.55. This set up the much-anticipated final between the Mod rookie Hedenburg and veteran Mod Man Shepard. With a slightly slower index, Hedenburg got the green first and the flamed Paxton car left with a whoosh. Shepard followed with a good green in his '97 Cobra, which is backed by Ford Racing Parts and features parts from the FR Mustang. Shepard rowed through the gears chasing and then catching Hedenburg just before the stripe. The Michigan racer then touched the brakes to tighten the gap and not breakout, but Hedenburg laid into his brake harder. When they crossed the stripe, both racers broke out, but it was the flamed GT breaking out less and taking the victory-the first of many, said wishful-thinking editor Jim Campisano.