Behinds the Scenes: Sixth Annual IHRA
Amalie Motor Oil North American Nationals
By Billy Anderson
The IHRA Summit Drag Racing Series made their annual stop at New England Dragway September 7-9 and did not disappoint. While hot, humid weather prevented the sweeping of World Records the drivers have posted in the past at the Epping, NH facility, there was a smattering of excellent performances and the usual surprise performances.
TOP FUEL Clay Millican arrived at New England Dragway on a mission: to win his fifth national event in a row. The Werner Enterprises driver used strong performances and some luck to do just that. Millican had the capacity New England Dodge Dealers Night of Fire crowd rocking, as Mike Kloeber tuned him to the quickest and fastest pass in IHRA history, a 4.614, 323.58 blast. It was not lonely at the top, as points rivals Paul Romine (4.638, 318.32) and Bruce Litton (4.684, 316.52) were hot on his heels. Steve Smith rode the quickest bump in Epping history with a 5.311. All of that performance went away with the heat and humidity of round one action.
Defending event champion Jim Head had a forgettable weekend, losing to Jim Bailey's 4.87 in round one. Litton and Romine were then defeated in consecutive pairs, opening the door for Millican. Litton smoked the tires in the Wix Filters entry, and pedaled to a 5.13 that was not enough against Louie Allison's 4.88 in Jack Ostrander's 300 Bowl dragster. 1999 event winner Romine felt the same sting, as his pedaling 6.01 in the Car Quest dragster was all for naught against Roger Dean's 5.20. Millican had luck on his side when the blower belt fell off before the 1000' mark, but his coasting 5.31 was enough against Smith's 5.47.
For the semi-finals, two drivers who had never been to the final battled it out, with Allison topping Dean, 4.85, 307.65 to a 5.27. Millican ran a 4.74, 305.56 to book his spot in the final. Bailey, the 1993 Alcohol Funny Car winner, lost the blower belt in the Bobby Rex Havoc-entry. Allison and crew gave it their best effort in the final, but a 4.97, 301.47 was not enough against Millican's consistent 4.75, 314.75.
NITRO HARLEY The Screaming Eagle Nitro Harley contingent stepped up the performance in the overall eliminator. Steve Stordeur set Low ET in qualifying with a 6.478, while Tony Mattioli set Top Speed with a number two qualifying 6.480, 220.87. Stan Verheijen rode the quickest bump ever in Epping, a 6.670 that almost half-a-second quicker than the previous best (Jamie Emery's 7.12 in 1998).
Stordeur was not able to capitalize on his pole spot, as he got out of shape and had to shut off and watch Verheijen drive around him after smoking the tires early in the run, 7.34, 191.32 to 7.54, 120.96. This opened the door for points leader and defending event champion Doug Vancil. Vancil's Vance & Hines entry ran a 6.50 in round one to best Johnny Mancuso's 6.57, followed by a 6.60, 213.30 win over Verheijen. 1998 event winner Jay Turner joined Vancil in the final with a 6.65 win over crowd favorite Mattioli, riding Jim McClure's bike. Vancil defended his title in the final with a 6.51, 211.10 effort, as Turner's consistent 6.65, 199.23 was not enough.
PRO MODIFIED Mike Janis qualified number one with a 6.182, 228.81, .003 seconds away from the IHRA World Record, and never looked back. The Lancaster, NY driver of a blown '63 Corvette was the class of the field all weekend. Number two qualifier was Fred Hahn at 6.23, and Janis kept his performance advantage during Sunday eliminations. Six of the top eight qualifiers, including the top five, were blower cars, at a track where they tend to have an advantage thanks to its location at sea level. Janis opened up with a 6.27, 226.89 defeat of Harold Martin's 6.41, 218.62. Hahn was right there with Jim Oddy's Summit Corvette, with a 6.27, 226.62 win over Todd Howard, who suffered a nitrous explosion. Hahn, who has never had luck in New Hampshire except at the Super Chevy events, left before the tree was activated in round two, handing the win to Carl Moyer's '57 Chevy. Moyer used that break to advance into the finals by defeating the quickest nitrous car of the weekend, Quain Stott. Moyer ran a 6.34, 222.25 while Stott had to backpedal to a 6.60, 224.73. Janis kept on marching to the final. In round two he ran a 6.29, 222.66 to defeat Paul Athey, who was behind the wheel of Johnny Rocca's Ironhorse. Even driving the car that won in 2000 did not help Athey, although his 6.33, 222.75 was second-quickest of round two. Janis got a break in the semi-finals when 1999 event winner Al Billes had throttle problems, and failed to backup after the burnout. Janis eased down to a 13.80 win.
Without lane choice, Janis was in the less-preferred left lane. He fought his machine to a winning 6.31, 226.58 that edged out Moyer's 6.35, 221.78, and padded his lengthening points lead.
ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR. The performances in Alcohol Funny Car were second to none. Nine drivers qualified in the five-second zone, led by John Vouros. Vouros piloted his Competitionplus.com Firebird to a 5.859, 236.46 lap during Saturday afternoon qualifying. Defending Pro Outlaw winner Laurie Cannister (5.863), Mark Thomas (5.869), and Jimmy Rector (5.878) rounded out the top four, and they were the competitors that made up the semi-final round.
The local contingent of five-second hitters Jim Libby (#6, 5.91), Fred Tigges (#8, 5.97) and David Rowe (#9, 5.99) were all gone by the round of four. In those matches, it was the numbers three and four qualifiers prevailing over the top two. First, Rector, who had been setting Low ET throughout the day, ran a 5.89, 237.25 that drove around Vouros' fouling 6.14. Thomas then took his Ethanol Avenger to a 5.90 holeshot win over Cannister's 5.88 in the Girl Power Camaro. In the final, both drivers were looking for their first Amalie Motor Oil North American Nationals title, and Rector got it with a 5.94, 236.22 to Thomas' tire-shaking 5.97, 239.87.
PRO STOCK Gene Wilson had dominated the Sunoco Pro Stocks all season, and the beat did not stop in Epping. Wilson qualified number one with a 6.581 at a new IHRA World Record speed of 212.13 MPH. 1999 event winner John Montecalvo was number two at 6.632, but never seriously challenged throughout the race.
Wilson, in Don Smith's Mercury Cougar, laid down times of 6.59, 211.73 on a round one bye; 6.60, 211.46 over Ron Miller in round two; and a 6.59, 211.53 in the semi-finals to best Steve Spiess' 6.69. Montecalvo, behind the wheel of the Citgo Cavalier, recorded laps of 6.72, 198.41 over a broken Mike Del Nagro; a 6.69, 208.62 defeat of Carl Baker's 6.72 in the Summit Cougar, and a 6.64 win over Tom Lee after surviving a lengthy staging burndown. Lee ran a 6.66, 210.24 after staging last.
Wilson continued his domination in the final with a 6.58, 211.79 victory over Montecalvo's game 6.65, 210.05.
SPORTSMAN Eight categories in the Holley Sportsman categories were in competition, featuring a mix of New England locals and IHRA's touring professionals. The Annihilator Top Dragster paired down to Tim Butler's blown Amalie entry and Brian Lampton's nitrous-assisted Winnebago dragster. Butler ran a 6.83 on a 6.79 dial to best Lampton's tardy but dead-on 7.10.
1999 NOS Top Sportsman winner Steve DeRosa defended his title. DeRosa, who won with a Beretta in 1999, competed in Top Dragster at the 2000 event, losing in round one. For 2001, he returned to Top Sportsman with a nitrous powered '01 S-10. DeRosa, of Winchester, MA, faced off with Brookline, NH resident Mark Brown. Brown's '63 Corvette bobbled for the first time all day, and missed his 7.06 dial. DeRosa ran a 7.40, 189.07 on a 7.35 dial for to remain undefeated in Top Sportsman for the two consecutive years he competed in the class.
Doc Bilbrey, the 1998 winner, returned to the top of the Hooker Modified heap. His C/ED ran a +.01 7.68 in the final to defeat Michael Lyons' Ford powered A/ED, who also went +.01, 7.35. Anthony Bertozzi became the first ever three-time winner of the Amalie North American Nationals by taking the Lunati Super Stock title. Bertozzi, who doubled up in 1993 in Top Dragster and Modified, defeated Gianni Cantusci in the final. Bertozzi's Parts Pro SS/PDA-1 '98 Grand Am ran a 9.42 on a 9.41 dial. Cantusci's GT/IA '00 Firebird only ran +.05, 10.77.
Two New England veterans settled the Earl's Stock title. George Mirza's E/SA '71 Duster dialed an 11.92 versus Gene Monahan's J/SA '86 Firebird, dialed at 11.39. Brockton, MA resident Monahan ran right on his dial to best Mirza's +.01.
New England's own Wayne Horton found himself in the Dominator Quick Rod final against one of the best Sportsman racers ever, Edmond Richardson. Richardson, who was listed as one of NHRA's Top 50 drivers, had already lost in the quarterfinals of Hot Rod, and was not looking to repeat that performance. Horton had other ideas, and his 8.91 edged out Richardson's 8.96 for a monumental victory.
Michele Leo was the New England resident in the Holley Team G Super Rod final, opposite Summit driver Mark Horton. Leo's '64 Corvette lost a double breakout contest, as Horton ran a 9.898 to Leo's 9.88.
Steve McCarrick took the Weiand Hot Rod title over Donald Webb's '70 Nova. McCarrick's '56 Chevy ran a 10.92 to a 10.93 for the win.
During the New England Dodge Dealers Night of Fire Saturday night, Top Sportsman and Top Dragster drivers competed in their respective Quick Eight battles. Ron Iannotti had issued a press release that his main reason for competing at the 2001 Amalie North American Nationals was to win the Lizzard Racing Engines Quick Eight. He did not disappoint. The West Coast Choppers Corvette driver qualified number one with a 6.40, then sliced through the competition, meeting Super Slammer Challenge rival Pat Doherty in the final. Doherty's nitrous '63 Corvette was overmatched, running a 6.73, 207.98 that paled to Iannotti's 6.49, his first Quick Eight title.
After IHRA ended the Pro Outlaw category, the racers scattered in various categories, and some moved back into the Top Dragster class. The Lenco Top Dragster Quick Eight featured two racers who went back to Top Dragster, Randy Fraker and Jeff Chatterson. Fraker was the class of the field, setting Low ET with a 6.09, and running a 6.13, 223.28 in the final in the Schefus Racing blown Hemi. Chatterson's Canadian blown Ford faltered to a losing 10.66, after running a best of 6.36.
As part of the New England Dodge Dealers Night of Fire, Bob Hall's Paddy Wagon Wheelstander, Jim Neilson's Jet Mercedes Limo, and Bob Motz's incredible jet-powered Kenworth provided exhibition action. All in all, the 2001 edition of the Amalie Oil North American Nationals was the race of the year at New England Dragway. While not as many upsets as in the past, the racing was top quality, with fields recording new track records in every category but Alcohol Funny Car.
The IHRA Summit Drag Racing Series moves to Rockingham in two weeks, as the season winds down at picturesque New England Dragway