Jet Car Bracket Racing in Southern Maryland
By Bill Pratt
Bob Motz, once again, was simply awesome. Photo by Tim Pratt
You heard right - bracket racers powered by incredibly powerful jet engines. It happened Saturday night at Maryland International Raceway in Budds Creek, MD. Well, OK. I'm fibbing a little. But it was a lot like the TV commercial where guys in the Sport Utility Vehicles play a game of polo. I think the saying went, "It's not that you would, but you COULD."
Witness: Jessica Willard in Al Hanna's Queen of Diamonds Jet Dragster: 5.24 at 300, 5.23 at 301, and 5.22 at 301.
Witness: Rich Hanna in the First Strike Firebird Jet Funny Car: 5.70 at 278, 5.70 at 279, and finally, just to mix it up, 5.70 at 279.
Witness: Bob Motz Kenworth Jet Semi Truck: 7.53 at 212 and 7.53 at 208.
Witness: Jim Medley in the Jet Stream jet dragster: 5.50 at 259, 5.51 at 288, and 5.55 at 276.
Witness: Al Hanna in the Eastern Raider Firebird Jet Funny Car: 6.20 at 260 and 6.21 at 259.
Witness: Ernie Bouge in the Blast from the Past '57 Chevy Jet Funny Car: 6.15 at 261 and 6.17 at 261.
Witness: KC Jones and the Cannonball Express Jet Locomotive: 6.31 at 260 and 6.23 at 261 (OK, so KC was EIGHT WHOLE HUNDREDTHS off his first time!)
Wacky or wacky? We half expected MIR's Super Pro bracket racers to begin elbowing the jet car fans out of the autograph lines in order to get racing tips!
Charlie Gambino did double duty, driving his Godfather altered and Ed Parker's Cape Codder.
Photo by Tim Pratt
The "jet bracket race" began with a couple of surprise attendees. First, MIR Frantic Four altered racer Charlie "The Godfather" Gambino (who attends every MIR special event from FLORIDA), was doing double duty. In addition to driving his killer 6.20 blown alky altered, Charlie was going for his flopper license. Ed Parker had towed the "Cape Codder" down from New England and stated, "If Charlie gets his license and we don't end up killing each other, look for us at Norwalk." I slapped two
Draglist decals on the flanks of the 'Codder for luck and sent Charlie on his way. While he didn't go the 6.50 normally needed for a drag racing green card, expert handling of the errant Cutlass on tire shaking 6.70 and 6.94 runs convinced everyone that Gambino was ready for big time alky funny car racing. Charlie actually said that he was able to see BETTER out of the funny car than his normal altered ride. Works for me...
The Jet Stream team carried the Draglist banner into battle. Photo by Tim Pratt
The next shocker to roll up to the line was a fabulous bright orange '63 Corvette split window coupe. Typical MIR Frantic Four doorslammer fare, but the name on the side of the car blew EVERYONE'S mind: Larry Plummer! Yes, the king of big inch, nitrous injected Frantic Four dragster racing has encased himself in doors. Larry didn't get the car down the track straight once, but it ran 6.50s at 212 anyway. When this baby gets sorted out, LOOK OUT! John Cole was also on hand with his '92 Trans Am with three time Frantic Four champ Billy Farmer lending a hand. An early 7.22 at 191 looked pretty good for the aging door car. Finally, Frank Gugliotta has replaced his automatic with a Lenco and has replaced his 600-inch mill with a 700-inch nitrous Ford howitzer. He gathered up the Mustang and blew down the MIR quarter to the tune of 6.76 seconds at 205 mph. Oh by the way, the Frantic Four doorslammers weren't even BOOKED! These guys just showed up to race in front of the fans for FREE! Mid six second doorslammers fill the joint in southern Maryland; getting as a bonus was, well, a BONUS!
KC Jones and Ernie Bouge made a good match-up. Photo by Tim Pratt
First round action kicked off with the first of the two jet bracket runs of the night, although nobody knew about it at the time. In an interesting and ingenious match-up, Royce Miller pitted Ernie Bouge's "Blast from the Past" '57 Chevy jet funny against KC Jones' "Cannonball Express" Jet Locomotive all the way from Van Nuys, California. It was great to see KC on the East Coast. A staple at West Coast events from Seattle to San Diego, fans on the East Coast didn't know who KC was. His train replica puts on a great show, but with its heavy J-34 Westinghouse engine, is no match for the lighter J-85 and J-60 powered machines. Lining KC up against Bouge's '57 was a perfect match. After the fire show, Bouge got one round on KC, 6.15, 261.72 to 6.31, 260.
Rich and Al Hanna put on a great show, but Rich took the match easily. Photo by Tim Pratt
Rich and Al Hanna were up next for the first of a three-round father versus son match. Rich Hanna has owned the MIR Jet Car Nationals for about the past ten years and he showed signs that he wasn't about to give that up. Rich took the First Strike on a 5.707 lap at 278.06 mph for the win after Al left the starting line before the light turned green and received no time. (Despite the digression from the night's script, later reflection surmised that the run was most probably a 6.20 at 260!)
Up next was Al Hanna protégé Jessica Willard in the high-tech Queen of Diamonds car taking on the new team of Jim and Tammy Medley from Joppa, Maryland. Yes, Maryland now has a hometown jet dragster team! The Medley's Jet Stream machine was plastered with
Draglist decals for the match, but the colorful pieces of paper and glue didn't have the same effect on the Medleys as they did on Charlie Gambino... or, given his tire shake problems, maybe they DID have the same effect! Anyway, it was close at the green, but Jessica steadily pulled away to post a 5.247, 300.40 to 5.503, 259.61 win when Medley ran out of fuel at the top end.
Under the watchful eye of Dick Rosberg, Ernie Bouge did everything right
and earned his Jet Dragster license upgrade. Photo by Tim Pratt
Up next was an unexpected treat for two reasons. Ernie Bouge, Jr., the former Pro Mod racer, brought
his new dragster in addition to the Blast from the Past '57 Chevy. It was the Dustman Bros. "Jolly Roger Express," and he was out making passes for his license. And that meant treat number two - IHRA Jet Dragster Director Dick Rosberg drove up from North Carolina to check out Bouge's new ride and to certify him for licensing in the car. What a pleasure it was to have Dick Rosberg share the microphone during the jet car races. Announcers Ken Stout and Bill Pratt and the MIR fans all learned a lot of inside information about jet cars and heard lots of great bench racing tales from Dick's blown fuel funny car days. One fascinating tidbit Dick laid on the troops was the effect known as "shock diamonds." Those are the distinct bands of energy that appear within a jet car's flame during hard acceleration caused by the molecules approaching the speed of sound. As many dozens of jet races I've seen, I couldn't remember seeing such a thing, but when the jets dropped the hammer, there they were! Back to Mr. Bouge... after an earlier 5.51, 235 mph, 1000-foot pass, Ernie clicked off a nice 5.336 at 284.81 mph to win approving nods from Dick Rosberg.
Bob Motz, the God of Hell Fire, reigned once again at MIR. Photo by Tim Pratt
Finishing off the round was the king of drag racing exhibition cars, Bob Motz and his absolutely incredible J-79 powered Kenworth semi truck cab from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. Bob did his usual unbelievable fire show and sledgehammered the crowed with a 7.535 at 212.13 mph. Now that we were tuned into watching the flame upon acceleration, the shock diamonds coming out of Motz's afterburner were GROSSLY apparent! Concentric rings spaced out about every three feet could clearly be seen exiting the truck within the blue white flame. Check it out next time you watch the jets...
Phil Adams (far lane) and William Proctor line up during Frantic Four qualifying.
Adams went on to win the event. Photo by Tim Pratt
Round two of the race kicked off with the first round of the Frantic Four dragsters and altereds. The supercharged and nitrous oxide injected warriors had qualified before the jets began with the following results:
1. Bob White, 526 inch supercharged altered, 6.261 at 219.94 (career best)
2. Charlie Gambino, 509 inch supercharged altered, 6.424 at 213.50
3. Phil Adams, 615 inch nitrous dragster, 6.510 at 209.01
4. Mike McKenzie, 400 inch supercharged dragster, 6.619 at 205.41
Alternates were as follows:
5. Dan Dietrich, 540 inch supercharged dragster, 6.747 at 196.39
6. George Paul, 526 inch nitrous dragster, 6.870 at 203.52
7. William Proctor, 527 inch supercharged altered, 7.559 at 162.82
The McKenzie's Miller Lite dragster was up against Bob White's altered in the first go. White killed 'em earlier with the superb career best 6.26 in the first round of qualifying. However, on the second qualifying shot, he lost it, went across the centerline and took out a foam timing system block. McKenzie and Holtzner, on the other hand, are one of the most incredibly consistent cars in history. This machine has run basically 6.60 at 200 mph on nearly every run they've made over the past five years. The second of the two scenarios held out, as McKenzie murdered White on the tree, .424 to .607, then hit a predicable 6.611 at 196.02 to take out Bob's out of shape 7.159 at 158.69.
Charlie Gambino and Bob White led qualifying, but both lost
in round one upsets. Photo by Tim Pratt
The other race was filled with drama. Gambino, the clear favorite, could not start the altered, while Adams was already going through his burnout. Royce Miller put the Godfather team on the clock, giving them about a minute to get things together before sending Adams on a single. Finally, the starter signaled Adams to take a single. Just then, Gambino got the altered fired and raced towards the starting line without a burnout, but doing several short chirpies on the way. Gambino got into the beams just in time, but Adams absolutely trainlengthed him at the tree, .470 to .702. Adams was gone and Gambino planted his foot and used up about 1500 feet of asphalt trying to catch the fleeing digger. He almost did it, too, but he ran out of real estate. The nitrous dragster held off the screaming blown altered by a couple of
car lengths, 6.696, 204.76 to a quicker but losing 6.645 at 209.36 mph. Whew!
Al Hanna was a little down on power, but his showmanship was second to none. Photo by Tim Pratt
The Blast from the Past versus Cannonball Express show was up next, and it had the same result. Remember the bracket racing angle? We're back to that... After another great fire show, Bouge held off the black dragster train, 6.178, 261.02 to a super close 6.235, 261.93. The Cannonball Express deal is great, as it has a smokestack on top of the car that billows gray smoke the entire way. Cool.
Rich and Al Hanna were up next to continue the bracket racing story line. Rich went 5.700 at 279.04 to defeat dad's 6.205 at 260.16. The Eastern Raider car was definitely off its normal five second, 270 mph pace. Observer Dick Rosberg got a huge kick out of Rich Hanna's 279.04 speed because Rosberg still held the MIR track record at 279.06 mph from a 1993 pass in the Main Event Warrior Beretta! Rich missed setting the eight year old record by two hundredths of a mph! Dick predicted that Rich would take his track record before the night was out.
Jessica Willard drove Al Hanna's Queen of Hearts entry to three straight wins. Photo by Tim Pratt
Jessica Willard and Jim Medley were up next. Medley shocked the crowd by doing something that most jet drivers never do - he put a light on Jessica Willard! Jim got the white Jet Stream machine off the line like a rocket with a .457 light. However, Jessica being Jessica, she wasn't far behind with a .479 bulb. And Hanna being Hanna, the Queen of Diamonds machine was up to the task of overcoming a .022 starting line deficit. The cars were welded together all the way down the track, but Jessica eked out a 5.237, 301.13 to 5.512, 288.15 victory.
Bob Motz said farewell with another mind numbing pyrotechnics display and a bracket like 7.536 at 208.62 mph. Put a number on the side window of that thing and let's see who's tough enough to take the challenge!
Jet and nitro veteran Dick Rosberg (R) joined us in the tower to provide expert analysis.
Photo by Tim Pratt
The final round featured the Frantic Four finals, plus the fast dragsters and funny cars one more time. Before that, however, the Frantic Four cars came out to play. Dan Dietrich put down a nice 6.683, 198.90 in his new Titan Engineering digger. Robert Tyree took his incredibly beautiful purple-blue '57 Chevy to a 7.424 at 184.12 mph to defeat Frank Snellings's out of shape Chevy Lumina. Larry Plummer's door car (!) was ALL OVER THE PLACE on a 6.558 at 212.23 mph pass that bodes ill for the other Frantic Four doorslammers at their next race. Charlie Gambino came out and ran the aforementioned 6.945 at 185.61 in the Cape Codder to get his FC license through sheer ability to get a bucking bronco down the track. Finally, Ernie Bouge came back out with the Jolly Roger Express and laid down a superb 5.279 at 286.62 to win his license with flying colors.
Dan Dietrich's new blown Chevy entry went 6.60s, but didn't make the Frantic Four field.
Photo by Tim Pratt
The Frantic Four dragster final featured two first round underdogs. McKenzie had won before, but Phil Adams has only begun to qualify regularly and this was his first final. McKenzie's screaming blown small block contrasted sharply with Adams' lumbering big inch nitrous motor. Both cars moved FAST at the green, but.... oops. Well, one car moved TOO fast... McKenzie left a .396 redlight glowing and immediately gave the race to Adams, who left with a super .434. The times: Phil Adams A&A Racing machine went 6.586 at 210.73 to defeat McKenzie's 6.594 at 205.85. Adams was thrilled with his first win and will take a lot of confidence into the remainder of the Frantic Four season.
A few more free six second doorslammer runs were up next! Billy Farmer himself jumped into John Cole's '92 Trans Am and faced off against Paul Woods' '99 Camaro. Woods got seriously out of shape and recovered to go 7.922 at 164.13. Farmer finally got the Cole machine sorted out in the other lane and sped away to a 6.931 at 199.05 mph. Frank Snellings then brought his Chevy Lumina back to face James Justice and his '63 Corvette. Snellings took a lazy 7.320, 199.14 mph win over Justice's shut off 9.60.
The final two pro runs of the event brought back the Hanna clan followed by Willard versus Medley again. Rich hit his third straight 5.70 and Al hit his second straight 6.20 as Rich put a hurting on pops the third and final time. The numbers: 6.212 at 259.56 for Al, and an incredible 5.702 at 279.61 mph for Rich. That's right! Rich Hanna broke Dick Rosberg's eight year old track speed record for jet funny car at MIR. Rosberg was the first person on hand to congratulate Rich.
Local racers Jim and Tammy Medley acquitted themselves well with the Jet Stream entry.
Photo by Tim Pratt
Jim Medley wanted to win one bad for the home town crowd. Dropping two close decisions to one of the best jet teams in the country was impressive, but Jim and Tammy Medley wanted a win. Jim proved that with a .446 to .506 holeshot at the starting line and it looked for 1000 feet like the Jet Stream team would get a consolation win out of the night. That Al Hanna horsepower came though on the other end, however, as Jessica drove around the Maryland team with Low ET and Top Speed of the Meet, 5.223 at 301.40 to defeat Medley's close 5.551 at 276.63 mph.
MIR put another good match race into the books and the fans went away happy. Royce also had booked in the Underground Riders motorcycle stunt team, who entertained the fans during down times. Of course, MIR mascot Lugnut the Racing Squirrel and the Second Dimension Dancers were on hand to keep fans occupied during cleanups, too.
Royce Miller confers with Lugnut and the Second Dimension Dancers
on down-time entertainment strategies. Photo by Tim Pratt
The next MIR special event will be the War on Wednesday, Wednesday night, August 29. The event will feature EIGHT car fields of Frantic Four dragsters/altereds and Frantic Four doorslammers, plus full fields of unpredictable 10.5 inch tire outlaw Top Street machines.
See ya there!