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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

2 0 0 2  A H R A  W O R L D  F I N A L S

By David Hapgood
Photos by David Hapgood and Nolan Hibbard

Top Fuel event winner Craig Smith. Photo by Nolan Hibbard
Top Fuel event winner Craig Smith. Photo by Nolan Hibbard

I was certain that the economic recession would mess the race up this year. I somehow must have forgotten that this is the track whose motto should read 'expect the unexpected.'

And so, I was more than happy to see that things still aren't 'Normal' up in Spokane. It is truly a one of a kind event and this year's version was the most competitive in years.

A downside to the weekend was the absence of two AHRA competitors who have passed away since the 2001 event, Jeff Phillips and Bobby Baldwin.

Nitro Funny Car pit row with Jason Duchene, Jack Wyatt, and the Impulse. Photo by David Hapgood
Nitro Funny Car pit row with Jason Duchene, Jack Wyatt, and the Impulse.
Photo by David Hapgood

A quick tour of the pits on Friday afternoon gave some indication of what was in store. Always in high attendance, the alcohol funny car and dragster pits were packed in with even more cars than usual, all the way down to the far end of pit row by the scrap yard! The nitro funny car pits were not quite so full with six cars trying for the 8-car field. They were, however, excellent low buck cars.  Top fuel was well represented with ten cars, including the surprise entry of John Mitchell/David Grubnic. All in all a lot of nitro, though I did miss the presence of one of my favorites, the Gary Omlin TF team.

F R I D A Y  N I G H T

The one-shot qualifying on Friday generally serves as a 'get acquainted' pass for teams as they tune for this all-asphalt / high altitude track (2240'). But this year, with cooler than usual air temps, the track conditions were excellent right from the first hit. Following an uneventful session in Pro Mod- led by Tim Vogt with a 7.124, the alcohol dragsters really got things hopping. Seventeen showed for the eight-car field and competition was fierce. 

Greg Tacke broke the track ET record for alcohol dragsters on Friday night. Unfortunately for him, his record only held up for 24 hours. Photo by David Hapgood
Greg Tacke broke the track ET record for alcohol dragsters on Friday night.
Unfortunately for him, his record only held up for 24 hours. Photo by David Hapgood

Serge Dion blasted to a 5.983 to reset the track record until Greg Tacke lowered the mark to 5.833. Impressive, considering that going into this event one year ago the track record was in the six-second zone. The starting line had significant 'bite,' which resulted in some decent wheelstands, one of which ended with a car in the wrong lane and, nearly, into the opposite wall. By the time the session was over, a third driver - Bill Edwards Jr- had run in the fives. And what makes this race so different: three front-motored slingshots were trying to make this field also. 

Take a look at what passes for an Alcohol Funny Car at AHRA events. Photo by David Hapgood
Take a look at what passes for an Alcohol Funny Car at AHRA events. Photo by David Hapgood

Alcohol funny car had seventeen entries as well, but these guys were all over the track in this session. Of course, it explains a lot when you consider that four out of the seventeen were competing in ALTEREDS. When it was all over, Ken Kraus sat on top with a 6.162 at 234.35 mph.

Top Fuel was next. As I noted earlier, the Friday night session is generally a throwaway for most teams, with much tire smoke, backpedaling and ET's in the eight and nine second zone. Not this year. No less than three cars went down into the five-second zone and four more recorded six second passes. The moment of truth arrived when the Titan Express pulled out of the staging lanes.

Not much wrinkle in these sidewalls. Arley Langlo on the move. Photo by David Hapgood
Not much wrinkle in these sidewalls. Arley Langlo on the move. Photo by David Hapgood

The previous weekend the team had grenaded two engines in a row on the starting line at Sonoma. They were down to their last engine here at Spokane, which, I had been assured, was toned "way down." Even still, that 82-gallon per minute pump sent chills down my spine and, frankly, I did not relish the idea of "hitting the deck." I gave the car a wide berth. Thankfully, it was unnecessary as the run went off without a hitch. Good to see the team getting back to form. A final notable was Todd Meikle's Gary Ritter-tuned slingshot, which finished in the fifth position at the night's end. Here is how they stacked up after Friday night:

1- Chris Karamesines 5.397 / 265.04
2- Ron Smith 5.476 / 266.29
3- David Grubnic 5.736 / 231.88
4- Don Sosenka 6.039 / 174.49
5- Todd Meikle 6.545 / 198.02
6- CJ Nelson 6.747 / 133.50
7- Arley Langlo 6.947 / 134.03
8- Steve Chrisman 7.353 / 155.03
9- Michael Grekul 8.679 / 94.13
10- Craig Smith 11.776 / 65.33

Vinny 'This Space Available' Arcadi's Camaro blasts off to the top of the FC pack on Friday night. Photo by David Hapgood
Vinny 'This Space Available' Arcadi's Camaro blasts to the top of the FC pack Friday night.
Photo by David Hapgood

The funny car session was ruled by Vinny Arcadi, who hammered out a 6.07 and led second-best Jason Duchene by more than eight tenths. But it was a wonder that Duchene was in competition at all. Not that many weeks ago, he burned up his funny car. He was competing here in a borrowed ride and his crew seemed delighted when the machine cleared the traps without incident.

Duchene was not the only driver in a 'borrowed' ride, as Cory Lee was running for the first time in the IMPULSE Firebird, warming up for his new job the following week in the Worsham camp. His first pass in a year and a half was an instant tire smoker but in true Cory Lee fashion, he got back into it and did record top speed of the night despite an eight-second-time slip. When I later asked him what it felt like to be back behind the wheel he remarked that it seemed like "just yesterday" that he was running his old car. He hasn't missed a beat.

Cory Lee is back! He shoed John Lindsay's Impulse here. Photo by Nolan Hibbard
Cory Lee is back! He shoed John Lindsay's Impulse here. Photo by Nolan Hibbard

This is how the funny car field looked after the first session:

1 - Vinny Arcadi 6.076 / 181.47
2 - Jason Duchene 6.917 / 204.55
3 - Jack Wyatt 7.169 / 114.87
4 - Cory Lee 8.210 / 217.29
5 - Jeff Bennett 9.590 / 206.69
6 - Terry Haddock 15.748 / 49.44

The night finished off with wheelstanders and jets. Normally this is my cue to relax and enjoy the show. Not this time. As I got done shooting the jet in my lane, I stood back to a reasonable distance from the track- about 15 feet and watched them launch. Expecting the usual slow and lumbering launch, I was startled to see Ancel Horton blast off the line with the speed of a top fueler. What, I wondered, was I looking at here? A peroxide rocket? Wasn't that a jet car a second ago? While I was questioning this sight, I had not realized I was breaking a cardinal rule: never stare downtrack after a jet car. 

Before I knew it, a shower of grass, pebbles, corn dog wrappers, and jet fuel had begun to shower the starting line. Just as the car had left incredibly fast, the debris cloud also had arrived much too soon and I got a face full of it. But better than this: Ancel Horton had just run 301 mph, the first time anyone has ever run 300 mph at this track. The crowd went nuts. I looked at my watch: it was only 12:30 AM. The event was already over for the night? How could it be? This is the home of the world's last 2:00 a.m. nitro funny car runs! Actually, I was looking forward to getting some sleep.

S A T U R D A Y

Steve Chrisman's fueler qualified seventh. Photo by David Hapgood
Steve Chrisman's fueler qualified seventh. Photo by David Hapgood

It was 1:00 p.m., AHRA time, and the lanes were empty for the Saturday afternoon qualifying session. What a pleasant contrast to the rigid event choreography of certain other drag racing venues. Before long a few alcohol cars appeared at the top of the staging lanes and slowly towed in the direction of the starting line. Eventually the first fuel car made its appearance in the staging lanes, but, really, there was no hurry. (To the track's credit, this year's event ran smoother than any other Spokane event I've seen). 

Shortly before 2:00 p.m., it all got underway. A couple dozen alcohol dragsters and funny cars began working to improve on their qualifying positions with defending alcohol dragster champ Mike Austin blasting to a 5.847 in the heat of the day. At the moment, the top four qualifiers in alcohol dragster were strong enough to rank 4th-7th on the Top Fuel qualifying list!

The nitro session was short but sweet, with Steve Chrisman making a solo run trying to get off the top fuel bubble. The run appeared clean and netted him a 5.683 ET, good for the provisional third spot in the field. In actuality, though, the pass was not as clean as it looked with dead cylinders mangling a bank of headers in the lights. As a result, this fueler ran the rest of the weekend with a set of borrowed FUNNY CAR headers.

Jeff Bennett in the Get Ugly Motorsports - Nuffsaid Avenger, 2002 World Finals Champion. Photo by David Hapgood../../photoimages/spokane2002/Jeff Bennett in the Get Ugly Motorsports - Nuffsaid Avenger, 2002 World Finals Champion. Photo by David Hapgood.jpg
Jeff Bennett in the Get Ugly Motorsports - Nuffsaid Avenger, 2002 World Finals Champion.
Photo by David Hapgood

The lone funny car to make the session was the "Get Ugly Motorsports" Avenger of Jeff Bennett. This team qualified number one here last year before breakage sidelined them. This year, co-owner John Kiegly told me, "We want to win this." The run was straight and true, a 5.750 good for the top spot in nitro FC. Pretty impressive in the heat of the afternoon.

As always, Saturday night was one of the highlights of the event. As the last qualifying session of the weekend, all the fuel cars run, the stands are always packed, and some of the fastest times of the weekend are recorded. The ambiance cannot be beat.

Mike Cofini shattered the track record in Alcohol Dragster. Photo by David Hapgood
Mike Cofini shattered the track record in Alcohol Dragster. Photo by David Hapgood

Alcohol dragsters were the first up. With nine cars slated to miss the cut, this was the end of the line for some. Not even the application of VHT by crewmembers could save some of these runs. One driver -- who will go nameless -- did his dry hop in the VHT except the car was still in reverse and shot backwards, colliding with his tow truck. Oh, the fun never stopped. But as I watched all these teams not make the cut I was kind of bummed that the talk of expanding the fields to 16 cars for Sunday seemed to have died down. It's actually a great idea for next year (and would work pretty well in the alky funny car ranks, too).

The alcohol dragster session progressed. And then along came Mike Cofini. The Cofini team had experienced trouble all weekend, but not on this pass. It was a super-aggressive launch and then the car just kept pushing strong all the way down. 5.558 at 248.72 mph! The run broke the track record set the night before by nearly three tenths and at the time would have put Cofini into the third spot in the Top Fuel field! I was standing right behind the car when it launched and yes, it was that impressive.

Virgil Sellers' alcohol slingshot. Photo by Nolan Hibbard
Virgil Sellers' alcohol slingshot. Photo by Nolan Hibbard

In the past, the alcohol dragster fields have included the odd front-engined rail, In 1999, Mike Schewe even runner-upped in a slingshot. Not this year. Those days may well be over with all three FE dragsters failing to qualify. It was an unbelievably tough field. Here's how it ended up.

1 - Mike Cofini 5.558 / 248.72
2 - Greg Tacke 5.833 / 240.82
3 - Bill Edwards, Jr. 5.842 / 244.61
4 - Mike Austin 5.847 / 242.34
5 - Serge Dion 5.988 / 229.42
6 - Chris Denison 6.224 / 219.43
7 - Nathan Sitko 6.247 / 212.22 
8 - Randy Jensen 6.602 / 206.45
1A- Bob Lougue 6.982 / 193.96

Number seven qualifier in Alcohol Dragster, Nathan Sitko. The kid just turned 17. Photo by David Hapgood
Number seven qualifier in Alcohol Dragster, Nathan Sitko. The kid just turned 17.
Photo by David Hapgood

Alcohol funny car was another tough contest with Friday's bump of 8.11 seconds dropped down through the sevens on Saturday afternoon and then finally into the sixes at night. Leader of the pack through all of this was Ken Kraus, who backed up his earlier 6.162 with a 6.101 for a new track record. Few of the alcohol funny car teams had this track figured out yet and Kraus's closest competition was a full tenth back so he was looking pretty good for raceday.

Ken Kraus set the alky funny car ranks on fire at Spokane. Photo by Nolan Hibbard
Ken Kraus set the alky funny car ranks on fire at Spokane. Photo by Nolan Hibbard

None of the four altereds ran well enough to make the funny car field, but they put on a great show in qualifying. A genuine surprise, however, was the DNQ suffered by last year's runner up, Forrest LeBlanc. Look for that team to return next year and inflict revenge.

Here's how the alcohol funny cars ended up.

1 - Ken Kraus 6.101 / 225.88
2 - Glenn Whitehead 6.222 / 228.24
3 - Bob Hurley 6.329 / 227.15
4 - Lloyd Dyck 6.717 / 213.22
5 - John Knox 6.826 / 224.79
6 - Jamie Kemp 6.839 / 194.13
7 - Ron Richardson 6.844 / 193.07
8 - Royce Taylor 6.967 / 167.29
1A - Forrest LeBlanc

Could they have mounted the body any taller. Number 8 qualifier in Alcohol Funny Car, Royce Taylor. Photo by David Hapgood
Could they have mounted the body any taller. Number 8 qualifier in Alcohol Funny Car,
Royce Taylor. Photo by David Hapgood

Shortly after 10 P.M. -- a sensible time to begin a nitro show -- the first pair of top fuel wings appeared above their tow trucks from out of the staging lanes. With the nearby maximum-security prison serving as a backdrop, we were about to get underway in a big way. It was current number two qualifier Ron Smith going up against defending champ Craig Smith, who just happened to be the unqualified second alternate at the moment. 

Ron Smith, number one qualifier in Top Fuel and runner up. Photo by Nolan Hibbard
Ron Smith, number one qualifier in Top Fuel and runner up. Photo by Nolan Hibbard

Talk about thin ice: this was the defending champ's last chance. On the green, the two fuelers left with clean, strong header flames and without tire smoke. They got down to the top end in a hurry with Ron Smith's 5.215 taking him to the top of the field, while Craig Smith's 5.309 moved him into the field in the second spot. Karamesines was bumped back to third. 

In the next pair, Don Sosenka chopped nearly half a second from his earlier qualifying pass with a strong 5.591, momentarily advancing him from the sixth to the fourth spot while Steve Chrisman did not improve. 

Todd Meikle burns out in his classic top fueler. Photo by David Hapgood
Todd Meikle burns out in his classic top fueler. Photo by David Hapgood

Next up was Karamesines on a solo pass, trying to reclaim his number one qualifying slot. "Greek's" run was good but tire smoke before half-track cost him the two tenths he was looking for. Being the fearless scrapper that he is, Karamesines drove it through anyway (he usually does, even on crossed up and losing runs) for a 5.41.

Then it was Arley Langlo, currently 1st alternate, up against C.J. Nelson who was sitting on the bump at 6.74. Both cars needed good passes and both cars got them, with Nelson hitting a 5.491- good for the provisional fourth spot. Langlo recorded a 5.839 that got him into the eighth spot and bumped Todd Meikle.

Next, it was David Grubnic who, as a result of this session, had dropped from third to seventh on the qualifying list. One good run took care of that, as he chopped three tenths off his earlier time with a 5.451 blast, good for the fourth spot.

David Grubnic qualified 4th in Top Fuel. Photo by David Hapgood
David Grubnic qualified 4th in Top Fuel. Photo by David Hapgood

The final pair had a bit of melancholy to it: Mike Grekul and Todd Meikle in their front motor cars. The bump was a 5.83; no way they had a chance. Meikle, who had qualified last year and who had ranked fifth on the qualifying list on Friday night, gave it his best shot, improving from an earlier 6.54 to a 6.37, but it was not enough. Grekul clicked it off early.

And so, the TF field was set as follows:

1 - Ron Smith 5.215 / 285.28
2 - Craig Smith 5.309 / 283.10
3 - Chris Karamesines 5.397 / 265.04
4 - David Grubnic 5.451 / 263.17
5 - C.J. Nelson 5.492 / 222.90
6 - Don Sosenka 5.591 / 224.85
7 - Steve Chrisman 5.683 / 230.59
8 - Arley Langlo 5.839 / 229.76
1A - Todd Meikle 6.37 / 210
2A - Mike Grekul 8.67 / 94

It was the first all-five second field I've seen at this event.

Mike Grekul brought his classic top fueler down from Canada. Photo by David Hapgood
Mike Grekul brought his classic top fueler down from Canada. Photo by David Hapgood

The funny car session was intense, with five of the six cars improving. First up, Vinny Arcadi defeated Cory Lee, 5.81/192 to 6.28 at 243. You'd have to wonder what Arcadi's ET would have been if he hadn't clicked it early. As it was, he improved a quarter of a second but remained in second spot. Lee moved from 5th to 3rd. Next, Jeff Bennett laid down a smooth 5.731, cutting two hundredths off his afternoon time slip and holding onto the top position. Jack Wyatt went 6.34 in the other lane for the fourth spot.

Now we were down to the last pair of floppers. Right about this time I decided I'd been on the starting line for two days and two nights and had had enough of it for now. This year was the invasion of the digital cameras on the starting line and it seemed every Joe was out there playing with his new toy. It was real crowded. But no, it was more than that. It was the feeling that I had sort of wasted two nights of perfectly good top fuel and nitro funny cars on the starting line when my heart is really down at the top end. 

So as the Bennett and Wyatt tow vehicles went down the track to fetch their cars, I packed my camera gear, ran up to the spectator area, and then all the way down to the top end. There, a small crowd of a half dozen race fans stood at the fence in the dark, waiting for the final pair of the evening, Terry Haddock and Jason Duchene. As I looked down the track, I felt completely at home. I love the top end, always did.

A novel use of shoe polish. Photo by David Hapgood
A novel use of shoe polish. Photo by David Hapgood

The cars started up; Haddock did one of his long burnouts. It all sounded just wonderful from down there, as the noise reverberated out across the plateau. I wondered if either car would actually be under power when it went by, but I pushed these doubts aside. The run wasn't going to disappoint. I just knew it.

That's pretty much how it went down, too. Both cars went up in smoke hard. Duchene called it a day (can't blame him; I understand that the borrowed car was not a great fit). Haddock, however, got back into it and came through hard -- swept back header flames, tall up on the tires, the most beautiful sight of the weekend. But then, icing on the cake: the car goes by at speed and enters the traps.  I see that the rear brake discs are glowing bright, bright, bright orange- he's been holding the brake handle all the way down. Perfect! Great show, Mr. Haddock!

This is how the nitro funny cars ended up:

1- Jeff Bennett - 5.731 / 246.29
2- Vinny Arcadi - 5.814 / 192.02
3- Cory Lee - 6.287 / 243.53
4- Jack Wyatt - 6.345 / 163.10
5- Terry Haddock 6.850 / 232.18
6- Jason Duchene 6.917 / 204.55

After the wheelstanders and jets (Ancel Horton tried for a 4 second pass, but missed by a few hundredths), I looked at my watch: 11:30 p.m. Done before midnight? Here? No way! I think it must have been yet another track record.

S U N D A Y

Better than nostalgia... Photo by David Hapgood
Better than nostalgia... Photo by David Hapgood

Raceday began with a bit of drag racing archeology. An hour before eliminations, I was scouting out a good photo vantage point for the first round, down at about the 1,100-foot mark where the dry weeds grow three feet tall up on the hillside. This was in the spectator area, but a place few spectators ever bother to venture. (Once in a while I've seen a person or two down there but they usually leave within minutes because the view of the starting line isn't so great).

Satisfied that I had found a decent angle for photographs of the finish line, I happened to glance down at my feet and noticed a piece of fiberglass about half the size of a playing card, half-covered in dust. Noting the maroon paint on one side of it, I immediately identified the piece as a scrap of Dave Benjamin's Cutlass funny car, which blew itself to smithereens down here three long years ago. (See the complete story of Benjamin's explosion on www.motorsportunderground.com under "Hapgood's Corner.") Delighted with this find, I placed the treasure in my camera bag to take home.

So here we were, finally at raceday, 40th annual AHRA World Finals, and this is how it went:

P R O  M O D

Pro Mod winner Tim Vogt. Photo by David Hapgood
Pro Mod winner Tim Vogt. Photo by David Hapgood

With a 6.91 ET, Ross Hogenson had out-qualified his closest challenger by more than two tenths. It appeared that he might have an easy time of it in eliminations, but everything changed when Tim Vogt unloaded a 6.61 in the first round. Hogenson improved in that round also, but only to a 6.77. To raise the tension further, number four qualifier Wayne Hofer put his car into the sixes in the first round as well. Suddenly it was going to be a fight for the title.

Ross Hogenson was runner up in Pro Mod. Photo by David Hapgood
Ross Hogenson was runner up in Pro Mod. Photo by David Hapgood

In the semifinals, Hogenson dispensed of Hofer with a 6.78 while Vogt slowed a bit from his first round 6.61, slipping to a 6.81 but advancing to the finals just the same. This set the stage for the big showdown between Hogenson and Vogt. Between the two of them, they have been in more AHRA World Finals final rounds and have collected more AHRA world championships than you can shake a stick at. It really was a classic final, with Tim Vogt in his Corvette getting this one with a 6.757.

A L C O H O L  F U N N Y  C A R

Alcohol Funny Car champ and track record breaker, Ken Kraus. Photo by Nolan Hibbard
Alcohol Funny Car champ and track record breaker, Ken Kraus. Photo by Nolan Hibbard

Ken Kraus' 6.10 qualifying time was a track record, a full tenth ahead of his closest competitor and many tenths ahead of the rest of the pack. But like Ross Hogenson in Pro Mod, any illusions that Kraus would be able to walk off with the trophy appeared to be shattered in round one. John Knox (6.173), Glenn Whitehead (6.187), and defending champ Bob Hurley (6.148) each stepped way, way up with 'teen runs of their own. Although Kraus posted the best of the bunch at 6.133, it was no longer the best by much. 

Glenn Whitehead was runner up in Alcohol Funny Car. Photo by David Hapgood
Glenn Whitehead was runner up in Alcohol Funny Car. Photo by David Hapgood

But it really didn't matter: this was Kraus' day. Next he dispatched John Knox in a tight semifinal bout with a 6.156. When Glenn Whitehead's semifinal win over Bob Hurley only resulted in a 6.203 ET, Kraus pretty much had the event title sewn up. He saved his best for last, unleashing a 6.018-second, 240.84 mph blast on Glenn Whitehead, resetting the track record once again. From number one qualifier to track record breaker to event winner all in the same weekend, Ken Kraus did it all.

A L C O H O L  D R A G S T E R

Alcohol Dragster track record holder and runner up, Mike Cofini. Photo by David Hapgood
Alcohol Dragster track record holder and runner up, Mike Cofini. Photo by David Hapgood

Mike Cofini was yet another racer in a good position to destroy the competition after resetting the alcohol dragster ET record by a third of a second in qualifying (and a full half second over what it was a week ago). He was so far ahead of everyone else that it was almost assumed the event title would have to be his. But as we had seen in Pro Mod and Alcohol Funny Car, the competition heated up dramatically on Sunday. 

While Cofini nearly duplicated his 5.558-second qualifying pass with a 5.568 in round one, all of a sudden his competitors no longer were three full tenths back. Defending champ Mike Austin posted a first round 5.773, Bill Edwards, Jr. improved with a 5.700, and Greg Tacke unleashed a 5.657. With a good light, each of these cars were now within striking distance, though none besides Cofini had managed a 5.50 time slip yet (and Cofini had two of them).

Alcohol Dragster winner Bill Edwards, Jr. Photo by David Hapgood
Alcohol Dragster winner Bill Edwards, Jr. Photo by David Hapgood

In the semifinal match between defending champ Mike Austin and Mike Cofini, the light went green and then the system went down. The cars crossed the finish line without ETs, MPH readings, or a win light, though it was clear that Cofini had crossed the finish line first. AHRA rules state that when the clocks malfunction the race must be rerun. This sparked a wave of heated arguments that lasted the entire twenty minutes it took to fix the clocks. Action picked up again with the other half of the semifinal. Bill Edwards, Jr improved to a 5.670 in a surprise win over Greg Tacke.

The Cofini/Austin semifinal rematch did not happen after all. It was Cofini and Edwards pulling to the line for the final round, and the match was a study in contrasts. Edwards' short wheelbased and somewhat blandly painted machine had so far generated only a fraction of the attention of Cofini's long wheelbased, colorfully painted and track record setting dragster. The reality was that Edwards had cut straight through this field almost unnoticed. Unfortunately for Cofini, his weekend was about to deteriorate further, as Edwards saved his best for last. When Cofini's engine began eating itself at around 900 feet out, Edwards was right there to take him out. A 5.668/247.06 did the trick. Bill Edwards, Jr.: 2002 AHRA World Champ.

F U N N Y  C A R

Nitro Funny Car runner up, Terry Haddock. Photo by David Hapgood
Nitro Funny Car runner up, Terry Haddock. Photo by David Hapgood

Number one qualifier Jeff Bennett opened the round right where he left off in qualifying, with yet another 5.7 pass. This one, a 5.754, beat defending champ Jason Duchene, who trailed at 8.19. For Bennett, not only was his the fastest car on the premises this weekend, but this was his third consecutive run within three hundredths of a second. He was going to be really tough to defeat. 

The only other driver who had come close so far was Vinny Arcadi, and when he smoked the tires and lost to Terry Haddock in the next set that was that. Well, not so fast- Haddock recorded a 5.730 on that pass, becoming the quickest funny car of the event, for the moment anyway. In the next set, Cory Lee stepped up the pressure in the Lindsay & Miller Impulse, running a weekend-best 5.801 to defeat Jack Wyatt's 6.31. Better yet, Lee's 266.12-mph charge would hold up as top speed of the meet.

Haddock really turned up the heat in the semifinal, defeating Cory Lee with a 5.634 -- the quickest funny car pass at Spokane in quite a few years. On the other side of the semifinal ladder, Jeff Bennett got the bye run on the basis on his number one qualifying pass. At 5.936, it was a bit slower than his previous three passes, but it was a clean, straight run.

Jeff Bennett, event champ in AAFC. Photo by Nolan Hibbard
Jeff Bennett, event champ in AAFC. Photo by Nolan Hibbard

And so the stage was set for the final. Immediately before the FC final, however, the alcohol dragster final resulted in a serious oildown at the top end in the right lane. Haddock had lane choice. Since he'd been winning in the left lane all day, that's the lane he took for the final. Bennett would have to drive on the recently oiled lane. But Bennett is a fuel altered driver whose strategy -- easy enough -- would be to drive around the recently-oiled portion of the lane.

It wouldn't have mattered anyway. Shortly after the light went green, Haddock's car went up in smoke hard and Bennett was long gone, reclaiming once and for all Low ET of the weekend, a 5.561 at 249.80 mph. It was the quickest funny car pass at SRP in a long, long time. It was the fifth consecutive, hard pass by this team over the course of the weekend -- nobody else came close -- and it was this consistency that won the KBM team the AHRA World Finals championship. 

T O P  F U E L

C.J. Nelson's fueler from Riverside, CA. Photo by Nolan Hibbard
C.J. Nelson's fueler from Riverside, CA. Photo by Nolan Hibbard

Top Fuel was yet another hotly contested field on raceday, kicking off with low qualifier Ron Smith defeating Arley Langlo, 5.34 to 6.81. Then it was a surprisingly close match-up won by David Grubnic over C.J. Nelson, 5.58 to 5.59. Next, it was Craig Smith putting away Steve Chrisman with a 5.23. Finally, the round closed with an upset, as number three qualifier Chris Karamesines struck the tires in his match again Don Sosenka and then trailed him to the finish line, 5.58 to 5.65.

Mr. Magoo is running stronger than ever. Went to semifinals. Photo by David Hapgood
Mr. Magoo is running stronger than ever. Went to semifinals. Photo by David Hapgood

In the semifinals it was Ron Smith improving to a 5.29 to take a close one over David Grubnic and Craig Smith hitting a 5.46 to barely put away "Mr. Magoo," Don Sosenka. 

The final round between Ron and Craig Smith was an all-Washington contest between former and defending AHRA champions. They had qualified numbers one and two. Now they were the last two cars left. As it turned out, the final was an excellent side by side run down the quarter mile with the win light coming on in Craig Smith's lane, 5.243 to 5.378. As if on cue, the winner's engine burst into shrapnel and flames, blowing out the top end clocks and his opponent's rear tires.

Top Fuel champion Craig Smith. Photo by Nolan Hibbard
Top Fuel champion Craig Smith. Photo by Nolan Hibbard

And so, the flame show and burner pops of jet cars brought the 2002 World Finals to a close. It was a weekend I'll not soon forget.

David Hapgood

More AHRA World Finals Photos HERE!

 

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