Frank H. Cicerale
September 1, 2008
Photos By: Paul Rosner

Wanting a more central location from which to run its space missions, in 1961 the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) moved Mission Control from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to the newly constructed Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. While launch operations are still handled at the Florida location, as soon as any of the Gemini, Apollo, or Space Shuttle launches clear the tower, control of the mission is handed over to Houston until the flight is completed.

In nearby Baytown, Texas, the business of handling the Houston Raceway Park quarter-mile was taken care of by the combatants in the Fun Ford Weekend's heads-up and bracket classes at the 17th Annual Texas Thunder FFW Nationals. Originally scheduled to be the third event of the '08 racing season, the Texas event became the second when track repairs at Atlanta Dragway forced FFW officials to move that event to June. In addition, Houston marked the first of FFW's three planned Battle of the Brands events, meaning the Blue Oval nation would be pitted against those of the Bow Tie Brigade and the Pentastar Posse in a battle of bragging rights.

It took close to three months, but someone was finally able to beat Conrad Scarry. Unstoppable since the opening event in Orlando, and scoring wins at both NMRA races this year, Scarry was gunned down by the '05 Mustang of Grant McCrary in the final round of Street Outlaw. McCrary didn't leave anything to question, as he qualified in the No. 1 spot with an eye-opening 6.74 at 214 mph. After ripping off an even quicker 6.70/216-mph moon shot in an opening-round win over Brendon Dominy, the Keller, Texas, native threw up a 6.88 in the final to beat Scarry's troubled 8.83. McCrary moved into Second Place in points with the win, but he's still a ways back from Scarry, who leads the standings based on his win and runner-up at both FFW events.

Angel Padilla took advantage of his opponent's mistakes to take home the prize in Street Renegade. Padilla, who qualified in the bottom half of the field with an 8.18-second effort out of his Mustang, snuck past No. 2 qualifier Kenjo Kelly when Kelly broke after taking the Tree. Padilla then moved on to the final round when defending class champion Travis Franklin turned the red light on by a mere 0.009 second in Round 2. Waiting for Padilla in the final would be No. 1 qualifier Richard Lelsz. Lelsz, who had bettered his 7.72-second qualifying effort with a 7.71 winning effort in the semifinals, slipped up on the Tree in the final round, giving Padilla a huge holeshot. At the stripe, Padilla's 8.10/179-mph blast was enough to hold off Lelsz's 10.95 for the victory. Even though Franklin lost in the opening round of competition in Orlando and in the second round in Houston, he was able to hang onto the points lead over Second-Place Ronnie Wilson.

In the 10.60-second index class that is Street Bandit, Brian Warwas handled the task of Gary Miller in the trophy round. Both Warwas and Miller were the category's top two qualifiers, as Miller hit the index dead-on with a 10.600, with Warwas just a tick behind with his 10.605. When the Tree fell in the final, it was Warwas who scored the starting-line advantage and never looked back, as his holeshot-aided 10.67 was just enough against Miller's closer but losing 10.62-second effort. The win moved Warwas into Second Place in the points standings behind Tom Conrad.

Grant McCrary accomplished something no one has been able to do all year-he defeated Conrad Scarry. McCrary ran the table in Baytown, running a string of low-6.70-second elapsed times to take home the Street Outlaw prize.

Ultra Stang saw a former champion defend his home turf as S.D. Wheeler wheeled his '07 Mustang to victory against the '05 version of Lloyd Mikeska. Wheeler, who was the rental-car king when he won the title a couple of years ago, settled into his new ride nicely, using competitive reaction times and a consistent 11.30-second car to take home the glory. Wheeler recorded his best light of eliminations in the final, an 0.030, and then used the resulting holeshot over Mikeska to come around at the stripe, running an 11.31 (11.26 dial-in) to force Mikeska under his 13.40 prediction with a 13.19. The win, coupled with his second-round finish in Orlando, moved Wheeler to the top of the heap, though Mikeska is breathing down his neck in Second Place.

After finishing in a tie with Mark Anderson in the '07 Street Stang campaign, James Meredith came out swinging in his first event of the year, scoring the class win in Baytown with a final-round triumph over the Cobra of Cliff Nelson. Meredith qualified Second on the speed chart, and drew a final-round bout with Nelson after both drivers made their way through three previous rounds of competition. The Tree was activated, and Nelson was away first by slightly over 0.1 second. At the stripe, though, Meredith was able to track down Nelson's snake for the win, as his 12.16-second effort was closer to the 11.90 class index than Nelson's 12.34. With the runner-up, however, Nelson moved into Second Place in the points standings behind Orlando winner Tom Conrad, who went out in Round 2 at Baytown.

Lupe Davila gave everyone in Mod Comp one heck of a driving lesson, as the Houston native slapped together some killer reaction times with an extremely consistent and closely dialed car to take home the accolades. After qualifying No. 1, Davila, who put together a nearly perfect run on the Round 1 bye run with an 0.003 reaction time and a 12.062 on a 12.06 dial, rolled over Trevor Land in the semifinals. Waiting for Davila on the pad in the final was Michael Sulzbach and his '02 Mustang. Davila caught Sulzbach napping on the starting line and took the easy win with an off-the-throttle 12.26. As for the points tally, after two events, Jim Fitzgerald holds down the top spot over the Pickering clan.

After taking a bit of time off from racing, Paul Gamino is making everyone in Tough Truck wishing he was still in retirement, as he scored his second win in as many races with a final-round conquest over Jim Roberts. Gamino, driving the JDM Engineering-campaigned Saleen truck, wheeled the behemoth past Jeff Bland in Round 1 and Dale Orsak in the second frame, before taking an easy bye run into the money round. Both Gamino and Roberts left the starting line on time in the final, though Gamino's 0.018 reaction time gave him a bit of an advantage over Roberts. At the 1,320 mark, Gamino's 13.47 (13.33 dial-in) was just enough to allow him to slip past Robert's 16.43 (16.29 dial-in) for the win. With his second victory of the season, it comes as no surprise that Gamino leads the Tough Truck points standings by a wide margin over Second-Place Robert Chuhran, who fouled out in Round 1.

In the True Street category, 55 cars lasted through the 30-mile cruise and subsequent trio of trips down the dragstrip. After opening with a 9.99, the only 9-second run in the class, N. Cooper (yes, that's how he filled out the tech sheet) slowed to a 10.52 before slamming a 10.06 to take home the True Street win with a 10.19-second average. William Calcote ended up in Second Place with a 10.55-second average. Calcote earned the runner-up honors with three consistent runs in the mid-10-second zone, the quickest being a 10.52 and the slowest a 10.58. Rounding out the top three was Jason Roberts, who had a bracket car for a ride. After opening with a 10.72, Roberts ripped off a 10.71, followed by a 10.70 to wind up Third with a 10.71-second average.

The FFW crew gets a couple of weeks off before the cars are loaded up, trailers are packed, and battle is waged in the bayou country of Louisiana in Belle Rose.