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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

The 41st annual AHRA World Finals
Spokane, Washington Aug 8-10, 2003

By David Hapgood
Photos by David Hapgood and Nolan Hibbard

They say that variety is the spice of life: the Spokane event continues to be full of surprises. It has increasingly become a 'Winternationals' of sorts for mom and pop nitro, with obscure teams emerging from the 'woodwork,' often (but not always) with refurbished parts and paint. It is at Spokane that the low buck rumor mill, having run amok for a year, is put to the test. 'The first tall tale to bit the dust had been circulating up and down the West Coast in recent months. As the story went, defending TF champion Craig Smith had sold every part he owned and retired. Only half true. He borrowed a bunch of it back -- car included -- to defend his title. His luxurious semi rig was long gone, downsized to a borrowed fifth wheel trailer. In fact, the pits were loaded with a number of supposedly retired teams, including the resurrected 'IMPULSE' Firebird of Lindsay and Miller and, a little further down pit row, Lee Kohlman's 'BLOWN WAGES' top fueler.

‘Lee Kohlman and crew prepare for Friday night's battle' Photo by Hapgood

The truth is that for the first time in several years the nitro pits at Spokane were in a state of overflow  certainly great news for everyone on hand. Alongside the contemporary rides, a quartet of nostalgia fuel funny cars and fuel dragsters promised at least a few interesting  if not wacky  pairings. In any case, the prospect of getting to see an unusual fleet of nitro cars -- a fleet that one cannot follow weekly on the internet  has to be one of the greatest thrills left in drag racing. The all-asphalt/high altitude/wildly variable track temperature of Spokane Raceway Park insures that any of the nitro competitors might conceivably win the event: you certainly cannot say that about any other meet (especially in fuel funny car).

‘Sosenka and crew prep MAGOO' Photo by Hapgood

The weather conditions for this year's event were fairly brutal, with daytime temperatures hovering around (and briefly surpassing) one hundred degrees and mid day track temperatures nudging one hundred and forty. Friday night kicked off with the Pro Mods. Defending champ Tim Vogt was one of the few to figure out the surface, leading with a 6.800 -- a tenth faster than his nemesis (and last year's runner up) Ross Hogenson. From there, the field stretched back a second and a half to the provisional bubble. A total of thirteen cars made qualifying runs, with much sliding around the 'groove.' This did not bode well for the more powerful cars that were to follow but, the again, Friday nights at this event traditionally pose the greatest challenge of the weekend for tuners in every category.

‘Perry Thyr on Friday night' Photo by Hapgood

The alcohol dragster field was well attended but lighter than usual in terms of heavyweights. Most notably absent was Spokane's own Mike Cofini --  the driver who lowered the track ET record by nearly five tenths (!) last year and who two weeks ago went to the finals in Seattle. Also absent were 2001 AHRA World Finals champion, Mike Austin, and 2000 champion, Serge Dion. Between them, these three drivers have accumulated more than eighty percent of alcohol dragster final round berths at this event in the past three years. To say that their absences were noticed would be a major understatement. In any event, a total of fifteen entries were on hand to qualify for an eight-car field  --  a healthy turnout that included three front-engined cars. 

Defending champion, Bill Edwards WAS on hand to defend the title. In light of the majority of heavyweights being elsewhere, any thoughts that Edwards would have an easy time of it were put to rest when the underrated Greg Tacke unleashed a 5.86 and Nathan Sitko hit a 6.11. Edwards, meanwhile, slid to a 6.57, good enough only for the provisional fifth spot, with the rest of the field dwindling down to a bubble in the mid sevens. The envy of the class, however, was Friday's number one qualifier, Bob Meek, who came out of nowhere to post a 5.828. 

Alcohol funny car (or Professional Alcohol Funny car, as it is known in this sanctioning body) was in much the same state as the dragsters, with a large number of entries, but several recent former champions (John Knox, Forrest LeBlanc, Glenn Whitehead) nowhere to be seen. Several other former champions, however, were in attendance, including defending champ Ken Kraus, who proceeded to reset the track record (held by Kraus) with a 6.014. 2001 champion, Bob Hurley was a distant second at 6.87 and Friday night's bump was pinned down by 1999 champ Darrell Van Dyke with a loose 7.87. Throughout the alcohol sessions there was much tire spin and several large (LARGE) oil downs, the most spectacular of which was applied by Derek Snelson in the ALASKA AUTO TRIM Firebird, which blew out an oil plug, greased the rear slicks at the top end and sent him on a wild path through the gravel and weeds at track side and then across both the lanes. It was only due to Snelson's excellent save that the car lived to run another day.

‘Edmonton's Mike Grekul, a 'David' against the Goliaths' Photo by Hapgood

In any case, by the time the oil downs were cleaned up and the first pair of fuel cars pulled out of the lanes, it was heading toward eleven o'clock and, if the alky car oil downs were any indication, it appeared we might be in for a long, long night. A fresh coat of rosin sprayed with VHT was applied to the starting line and, finally, the first pair of fuelers came to life -- the front-engined cars of Mike Grekul and Ron Sellers. Grekul managed a 7.13 shutoff, Sellers had no luck. Next, Arley Langlo made a weak burnout and then lost fire, while Lee Kohlman in the other lane took a solo to the provisional pole of 5.93. At this point, the fans, who had endured much downtime and consumed much beer, started becoming impatient. As Langlo's TITAN X-PRESS was towed off the track it seemed that the program was on the verge of collapse.

‘Gene Davis warms the tires' Photo by Hibbard

CJ Nelson in the Robert Phillips-tuned car lined up next to battle the Keigley and Mosby fueler, driven by ex-rocket car pilot, Gene Davis. Nelson blasted to the new pole of 5.413 while Davis slowed to an 8.42. Next up was Chris Karamesines against Don Sosenka. Both cars stayed lit for the beginning but only the 'Greek' made it to the top end under power, with a 5.502 to Sosenka's coasting 6.70. Next up was a solo shot for defending champion, Craig Smith. This team had made a checkout launch earlier in the day and their homework appeared to have paid off, as Smith drove it through to a 5.247 for Friday's top spot.

‘Defending champion Craig Smith picked up where he left off, posting Friday night's best pass in top fuel, a 5.24.' Photo by Hapgood

Next up were the nitro funny cars, and if the fuelers had had their traction woes and breakage it was nothing compared to their shorter wheelbased cousins. Cory Lee in the (once-lettered) IMPULSE came to the line sounding a bit too rich given the conditions. In the other lane was Jack Wyatt. On the green, the Impulse hopped way, way up on the tires, which spun ridiculously tall for a moment before Lee clicked it off. Wyatt launched into a cloud of tire smoke and called it a night a hundred feet out.

‘Arcadi, looking good early on' Photo by Hapgood

Next came an interesting match between Vinny Arcadi's beautiful GCS Camaro against 2001 AHRA champion, Jason Duchene in the CASTROL of Canada Firebird, newly painted in iridescent silver. This match ended after the burnout, as Duchene backed it up to the line with fuel spraying from the injectors all over the windshield. The spray continued for a good fifteen seconds as the crew deliberated, finally giving Duchene the 'kill' signal. Arcadi staged alone and then blew the tires off with a 6.53 at a slowing 157 for the pole!

‘Dale Pulde is doing the tuning on this car' Photo by Hapgood

Next up was a California duel with Dan Horan Jr. against Joe Clement. This was Clement's homecoming -- his first Northwest appearance in some twenty years (race fans with a memory will recall him as a Northwest regular back in the 1970s when he ran out of Washington State). The celebration was short-lived, as Clement broke on his burnout and coasted to a stop at the edge of the track down near the lights. Horan staged with Clement's car still on the racing surface (talk about excitement!) and managed to pedal his way down to mid track where the tires broke loose completely and the car got crossed up.

The last pair was the 'Flamed Fortune' 1963 Corvette of Bob Godfrey against Stephen Neese in the John Keigley run (at least for this weekend) Neese & Knowles Camaro. As Neese is the 'world record' holder in this same car in AA fuel altered trim, it seemed that if anyone could get a funny car down this track on this night that it might be him. But when the light went green it was much the same as the others, with crippling tire smoke. He did, however, repeatedly stab the throttle, not giving up until he had cleared the lights, setting top speed of the evening for funny cars at 220.40mph. Godfrey slowed to a 12.14. It wasn't quite over yet.

'Does this car look familiar?' Photo by Hapgood

The last car to pull out of the lanes was the Ron Smith top fuel car. This is an ex Johnson/Scelzi car, still painted in the basic old Winston theme, but dramatically improved upon with great new lettering. Smith laid down a 5.309, shutting off early. The run put him into the second spot, just behind Craig Smith. The night was then finally rounded off with exhibition runs by Virgil Sellers (wheelstander) and Neil Hansen/Brad Janishewski (jets). This is what the nitro qualifying charts looked like after Friday.



1- Craig Smith 5.247 261.73

1- Vinny Arcadi 6.535 157.93

2- Ron Smith 5.309 250.31

2- Stephen Neese 6.960 220.40

3- CJ Nelson 5.413 266.27

3- Jack Wyatt 8.267 111.10

4- Chris Karamesines 5.502 254.25

4- Dan Horan 10.158 92.82

5- Lee Kohlman 5.931 243.13

5- Bob Godfrey 12.144 103.42

6- Don Sosenka 6.703 134.02

6- Cory Lee 17.650 72.58

7- Mike Grekul 7.134 152.57

7- Jason Duchene - No time

8- Ron Sellers 7.226 166.49

8- Joe Clement - No time

1A Gene Davis 8.429 93.57


2A Arley Langlo - No time



‘The signage on this trailer reads, "RAT NOW AA/BAD dragster," in thirty year old paint. The car retains its original paint as well! Check out the old mags!' 
Photo by Hapgood

Saturday morning started out warm and just got hotter as noon approached. By the time the pro session got underway the thermometer was hovering at one hundred degrees and the track temperature had climbed to 138 degrees -- not ideal conditions. But, as more of the same was expected for Sunday, this would be the racers' last chance to dial in their race day tune-ups. The Pro Mod field tightened considerably. This was all the more impressive in light of the disqualification (and subsequent removal from the field) of Friday's #3 qualifier, whose car was deemed -- on technical grounds  to be an alcohol funny car! In the most significant development, Ross Hogenson moved to within half a tenth of #1 qualifier Tim Vogt. The bump went from an 8.496 down to an 8.073, held by Eddy Whipple's audacious SUV.

Eddy Whipple's ungainly SUV Pro Mod' Photo by Hapgood

In alcohol dragster, only two drivers made significant moves in the field. The first was defending champ, Bill Edwards, who improved on his Friday night 6.57 with a 6.25, moving him up one position in the field (yet well below the performance potential for this vehicle) and Randy Jensen, who slipped into the provisional 7th spot with a 6.713. In the end, the bump dropped two tenths, down to a 7.192, and Bob Meek held onto the #1 spot with his Friday night pass of 5.82.

Bob Meek held onto the top spot in alcohol dragster through Saturday afternoon's session.'
Photo by Hapgood

Greg Tacke's rebound effort is named 'Second Wind,' following a crash a Pomona earlier this year.'
Photo by Hapgood

‘Ken Kraus runs the first TAFC 'five' at SRP'

Alcohol funny car was another matter altogether. In the heat of the day, Ken Kraus broke the track record with SRP's first five-second alcohol funny car pass, a 5.901 -- quite possibly the world's fastest TAFC pass on an asphalt pad, and in the midday heat at that! Bob Hurley then laid down a stellar pass with a 6.101, much improved from his Friday night 6.87. These times would have been strong enough to qualify these alky racers #1 and #2 in nitro funny car! In all, seven drivers improved and the bump went from a sluggish 7.973 to a merely 'slow' 7.515!

‘Montana's Bob Hurley posted a 6.101' Photo by Hapgood

However, it should be noted that this 7.51 was recorded by Leon Aines (of Canadian 'Beach City Corvette' fame), who normally runs the 7.50 funny car circuit. And this is the beauty of alcohol funny car fields at this event: a number of 7.50 cars compete against the faster machines, often upping the tuning considerably and sometimes making the field. To make things even more interesting, several AA/Altereds often join the mix and compete with the funny cars, occasionally making the final cut. It's a great format.

David Spease fought hard all weekend to keep his altered in the alcohol funny car field.'
Photo by Hibbard

'Titan X-Press team tries again.' Photo by Hapgood

The Saturday afternoon nitro session was short but highly entertaining. First up was the Roach/Langlo TITAN X-PRESS fueler, which had failed to make a pass on Friday. Here they smoked the tires immediately and Langlo shut off with a 14.56, remaining out of the show. They would have one more chance.

Joe Clement returns to his old turf after a 20-year absence.' Photo by Hapgood

Next up was a funny car match-up between Joe Clement and Dan Horan -- a repeat pairing from Friday night. Clement kept the motor lit this time and staged for his first pass in the northwest in a couple of decades. When the (tire) smoke cleared, he had recorded a 6.92/148, good for the provisional #3 spot. Horan went down cleanly, with a 6.793/213 -- good for the provisional #2 spot. Half the field was now in the...sixes! Next up was Cory Lee in the Lindsay & Miller Firebird, causing much eye-watering around the starting line as they had the thing running very rich. The burnout was great but the run was never meant to be, as Lee shut the thing off before staging.

Just one of several anxious moments during the Lindsay & Miller team's cursed weekend.' Photo by Hapgood

Despite the heat, the fans continued to filter in throughout the afternoon and by sunset, the place was filled to near capacity. As always, Saturday night is the centerpiece of this event. Despite the nearby crackle of nitro cars firing in the pits, this track continues to retain a relaxed ambiance reminiscent of years past.

‘Leon Aines prepares for Saturday night's battle in his Corvette. Note repairs to the front fender: it's got to be convenient when the color of duct tape blends in with your paintjob! Photo by Hapgood

‘Norm Mitchell towed from Canada with his nitrous injected Chevy dragster only to suffer irreparable breakage on Friday night. In keeping with the vacation like atmosphere of this event, they hung around the rest of the weekend, with the car on display.' 
Photo by Hapgood

The night was kicked off with Pro Mods. Half of the twelve entries improved on their earlier performances. Most of these improvements came in the entries on the bottom half of the field. When it was over the final qualifying order looked like this:

  1. Tim Vogt 6.80 209.25
  2. Ross Hogenson 6.84 205.73
  3. Randy Vischer 6.90 200.66
  4. Keith Korecki 6.93 203.73
  5. Todd Hoerner 7.15 193.01
  6. Timothy Mann 7.43 172.27
  7. Perry Thyr 7.70 185.16
  8. Justin Jones 7.82 175.82
  1. 1A- Eddie Whipple 8.05
  2. 2A- Scott Benner 8.09
  3. 3A- Emory Dylina 8.81
  4. 4A- Ken Peplinski 9.03

‘Scott Benner's pretty Monza went faster with each pass but just didn't quite have the power to stay in the field.' Photo by Hapgood

One of the crowd favorites, Timothy Mann's Corvette, also improved with each pass, ending up sixth.'
Photo by Hapgood

In alcohol funny car half of the entries improved on earlier ETs, none more than Derek Snelson, who cut his previous best by nearly five tenths. Jamie Kemp cut nearly three tenths off his previous best to run a 6.59- pretty good for a 7.50 car! The spread between first and eighth qualifier was compressed by four tenths of a second and, as it turned out, two of the three AA/Altereds made the field!

‘ Shane Harter played the role of spoiler, putting his AA/A into the alcohol funny car field.'
Photo by Hapgood

Undoubtedly the highlight of the session occurred when Royce Taylor dropped a header and dragged it -- under power -- almost the entire length of the track in a fantastic trail of sparks. Here's how the field looked after final qualifying:

  1. Ken Kraus 5.90 245.76
  2. Bob Hurley 6.10 235.55
  3. Derek Snelson 6.46 226.01
  4. Jamie Kemp 6.59 199.77
  5. Darrell Van Dyke 6.72 220.50
  6. Shane Harter 6.73 207.29
  7. Ron Sellers 6.81 195.86
  8. David Spease 7.16 183.78
  9. 1A- Leon Aines 7.23

  10. 2A- Royce Taylor 7.78

  11. 3A- Gary Hough 8.20

  12. 4A- Lee Frank 8.80

‘Mark Aguilar's beautiful 'American Thunder' cutlass did not make the field. 
Photo by Hapgood

In alcohol dragster, Greg Tacke took charge of the field with a 5.67 blast, a tenth and a half ahead of the rest. Bill Edwards stepped up to a more customary pace at 5.87 from his earlier runs in the sixes.

‘The defending champion came to life on Saturday night.' Photo by Hapgood

Nathan Sitko almost found the 'fives' with a 6.01 and John Howell rose from fifth alternate to take the eighth spot in the field with a 6.78. In all, nine of the thirteen entries improved and the bump fell four tenths. Here's where they ended up:

  1. Greg Tacke 5.67 249.93
  2. Bob Meek 5.82 209.39
  3. Bill Edwards 5.87 243.42
  4. Nathan Sitko 6.01 221.51
  5. Chris Dennison 6.41 212.96
  6. Neil Lachett 6.50 205.28
  7. Randy Jensen 6.71 182.97
  8. John Howell 6.78 190.80
  9. 1A - Kerry Beebe 7.10
  10. 2A - Troy Clayton 7.11
  11. 3A - Tim Eickstadt 7.19
  12. 4A - Chris Davis 7.40

‘Chris Davis missed the cut in his beautiful antique dragster' Photo by Hapgood

Sometime around ten o'clock the fuel cars rolled from the lanes. With ten top fuelers vying for eight spots, we were going to have a pair of alternates when the night was over. The bump going into the session was a 7.22 by Ron Sellers. It was doubtful that this would hold, but who knew. First up was the pole sitter, Craig Smith, running against the FE car of Mike Grekul. Smith easily made it to the finish line first but his 5.55 must have been a mild disappointment as it did not improve on his earlier 5.24. To compound it he left one of his parachutes at the finish line. Grekul motored through with a much-improved 6.49. Next up was Lee Kohlman VS Chris Karamesines -who drove through mid track tire smoke, blasting to a 5.14 at 277.55 for the number one spot in the field. Kohlman slowed to a 6.26.

"The 73 year old 'Greek' prepares for his #1 pass" Photo by Hibbard

Ron Smith was up next for a solo pass which resulted in a fine 5.22, settling him into the #2 spot behind Karamesines and demoting Craig Smith into the #3 spot. Next up was CJ Nelson against Don Sosenka, who was holding onto the 7th position and in danger of being bumped from the field. This was a great drag race with Nelson recording a 5.38 to Sosenka's 5.52. Nelson held onto the 4th spot while Sosenka moved up to 5th- at least momentarily.

"CJ Nelson ran consistently on both Friday and Saturday nights" Photo by Hapgood

Next up was Gene Davis in the Keigley & Mosby dragster, currently sitting outside the field as first alternate. This team had thrashed to put this car together over the past six months and now the moment of truth was at hand. It turned out that the pass was a good one -- a 5.48, ending in a spray of sparks in the lights but the crew was delighted just the same.

"The legendary RJ Trotter was tuning for Gene Davis this weekend" Photo by Hapgood

This bumped out Ron Sellers, who was up next against Arley Langlo -- the other alternate. Unfortunately, the TITAN X-PRESS lost fire after a smokeless burnout and coasted to a stop a few hundred feet down the track, leaving Sellers to a solo run where he would try to beat Mike Grekul's 6.49 bump spot. He did not, instead shooting 'tracers' over the grandstand and oiling down the left lane pretty heavily.

"Ron Sellers has converted his FE alky dragster into a top fueler" Photo by Hibbard

This is what the final order in Top Fuel looked like:

1 - Chris Karamesines 5.14 277.55

2 - Ron Smith 5.22 269.71

3 - Craig Smith 5.24 261.73

4 - CJ Nelson 5.38 266.35

5 - Gene Davis 5.48 227.26

6 - Don Sosenka 5.52 258.37

7 - Lee Kohlman 5.93 243.13

8 - Mike Grekul 6.49 221.92


1A - Ron Sellers 7.22

2A - Arley Langlo 14.56

It was a long cleanup after Sellers' oil down but here's where things got real interesting. After the mess was cleaned up -- and it did take a while -- the first pair of funny cars came to life -- Cory Lee and Jack Wyatt. Lee's car was already trailing oil when it rolled toward the staging beams and when the light went green Wyatt started leaking, too!

"Just when things were looking up" Photo by Hapgood

The side by side run lasted about one second, at which time the IMPULSE exploded the blower, lifting the body several feet before it plopped back on the chassis, leaving a nice trail of nitro-laced oil in its wake. Now a cleanup commenced in both lanes. Meanwhile the fans were growing restless and, while the track workers pushed their brooms, a drunk in the grandstand threw off his clothes and ran naked through the crowd. After about a half hour of sweeping and deliberation, a decision was made to close the left lane and finish up with solos in the right lane. This did not sit particularly well with the fans, who booed the when the announcement came over the PA. Stephen Neese was the first out and was on and off the throttle several times to post a 6.04 at 255mph to take the number one spot from Arcadi.

"Sometimes it takes an AA/FA driver to turn the trick: Stephen Neese qualified #1"
Photo by Hapgood

Joe Clement was up next, lighting the slicks and getting all crossed up, stabbing the throttle repeatedly all the way down to the top end trying to get the thing to hook.

"Joe Clement" Photo by Hibbard

Vinny Arcadi was up next and he was on and off the throttle three times on his way to a 6.20 for the #2 qualifying spot. Jason Duchene followed and he laid down a clean, conservative 6.25, good for the #3 qualifying slot.

"At last, a Castrol of Canada car that looks like it was painted in Canada! Jason Duchene's pretty Firebird." Photo by Hapgood

Next was Dan Horan Jr., who followed up on his tremendous burnout (he stopped 300 feet past the finish line) with a short 'chirp' at the green and a long coast down the track. Next was Bob Godfrey, who had a similarly disappointing run. Some of the fans were less than happy with the procession of solo runs ending in shutoff passes but, well, that's drag racing for you. There were a number of heated discussions on the starting line between drivers and officials regarding the 'closed', oiled down lane. Some of these 'talks' were amicable, a couple of them were not. That's life. Brian Janishewski finished the night with... a solo in his jet funny car. Here's how the funny car qualifying ended up:

1 - Stephen Neese 6.04 255.46

2 - Vinny Arcadi 6.20 171.10

3 - Jason Duchene 6.25 199.36

4 - Dan Horan 6.79 213.27

5 - Joe Clement 6.92 148.44

6 - Jack Wyatt 8.26 110.10

7 - Bob Godfrey 9.71 116.20

8 - Cory Lee 17.65 72.58


Race day was another scorcher. By noon a hot tailwind had already kicked in from the south. Sundays at this event tend to be a more subdued affair than the Friday and Saturday night qualifying sessions. Maybe two days of drinking and screaming have exhausted the more obnoxious spectators. In any case, Sunday attendance is always a bit lighter than Saturdays -- in the case of this year's event that was a shame for those who missed out because Sunday was far and away the best day of the event. Here are the sportsman winners:

ET STOCK: Winner: Jason Metz, Runner up: Jeffrey Windham

TOP COMP: Winner: Justin Juel, Runner up: Dale Hornby

SUPER STREET: Winner: Mark Bell, Runner up: Horris Lester

And here is a sampling of sportsman cars:

Photo by Hibbard

Photo by Hibbard

Photo by Hibbard

Photo by Hapgood

Photo by Hibbard


With a one second spread between first and last qualifiers, the bottom half of the Pro Mod field never really stood a chance. As with the other categories, the Pro Mod drivers with lane choice avoided the left lane, which had been oiled down heavily the night before.

"Justin Jones had the misfortune of qualifying 8th and running into #1 qualifier Tim Vogt in round one." Photo by Hibbard

The day's first titanic battle took place in the semifinals, with defending champ, Tim Vogt, facing off against Keith Korecki, Corvette against mustang (though there's not a whole lot of Detroit in any of these contraptions). This match resulted in a significant UPSET, as Korecki, who has been plagued by inconsistency and breakage in recent years -- left Vogt on the starting line and advanced to the finals to face 2X former World Finals champion, Ross Hogenson. Hogenson had marched through the competition and seemed well on his way to another championship. As the final approached his presence was nearly larger than life and the main question was whether Korecki had enough luck to pull off two colossal upsets in a row. He did not. Crossed up at mid-track, Korecki fell back and then chased Hogenson to the finish line, losing with an 8.01/193mph to Hogenson's 6.85/204.

"The Pro Mod final." Photo by Hibbard

"Defending champ, Tim Vogt lost in the semis" Photo by Hapgood

"Crowd favorite Keith Korecki was runner up." Photo by Hapgood

"Randy Vischer qualified 3rd and went to the semifinals" Photo by Hapgood

"Ross Hogenson, 2003 World Finals champion." Photo by Hapgood


Round one saw six funny cars and two altereds -- a lively mix. The spread from first to eighth qualifier was, however, a whopping 1.26 seconds so, as in Pro Mod, a great disparity existed between the heavyweights and the rest of the competition. As it turned out that didn't always matter. The round opened with a major upset as Ron Sellers, who failed to qualify in his top fueler, advanced in Larry Van Unen's alky flopper with a 6.66 in the dreaded left lane when #2 qualifier Bob Hurley redlit and threw away a 6.09 -- his best pass of the weekend.

"Ron Sellers (near lane) prepares to run Bob Hurley." Photo by Hibbard

The remainder of the first round match-ups went according to form, with the better-qualified cars each taking wins in the right lane: Derek Snelson over Shane Harter's altered, 6.80 to 7.24, Jamie Kemp over Darrell Van Dyke, 6.54 to 6.68. Then there was Ken Krause. With Bob Hurley out of the show there wasn't another alky flopper on the premises within half a second of Kraus. It would seem that the title was wrapped up before he even fired for the first round. His opponent, David Spease, gave it his all in his pretty altered, but pretty doesn't count when your opponent sails to another 5.90 -- this one with a '9.' Kraus into round two.

"Ken Krause -- a monopoly on Spokane's five second alcohol funny car passes."
Photo by Hibbard

Three and a half hours later the semifinals were held, with Ron Sellers taking the favored right lane against Derek Snelson. Despite getting crossed up, Sellers' luck held out as he defeated yet another higher qualified car, this time with a 6.67.

‘Semifinalist, Derek Snelson.' Photo by Hapgood

The other semifinal pairing was a bit of a mismatch, with Ken Kraus' five second Firebird up against Jamie Kemp's 1980's era Dodge -- a car running 6.50s this weekend but one which normally campaigns on a 7.50 circuit! On the green, Kraus launched on another five second pass with Kemp trailing but, and here's where it got 'good' (depending on your perspective): Kraus blew the supercharger at the 800 foot mark, with a loud POP ejecting the (hood) burst panel fifty feet into the air and Kemp, who just a moment earlier was on a losing pass, now had a chance to catch the coasting Kraus. He did just that -- the biggest upset of the meet!

"Jamie Kemp" Photo by Hapgood

And so, the final round -- three hours later -- matched a pair of lucky upstarts in vintage Daytona shells, Kemp versus Sellers. Kemp gave it his all but Sellers stepped up to a 6.32 -- by far his best pass of the meet. And so, the man who had begun the weekend failing to qualify his top fuel car and barely qualifying in the Larry Van Unen alcohol funny car looked a bit surprised to be standing in the winners' circle.

Photo by Hapgood

"Ron Sellers, 2003 AHRA World Finals champion" Photo by Hapgood


Yes, there were upsets in every category. The first round of alcohol dragster started off with a bit of a shock as #7 qualified Randy Jensen upset #2 qualified Bob Meek when Meek redlighted away a decent 6.12 pass, handing the win to Jensen who ran a considerably slower 6.71. The rest of the pairings went pretty much according to form with defending champion Bill Edwards taking a 5.85 to 6.57 win over Neil Lachett, Nathan Sitko fending off Chris Denison and top qualifier Greg Tacke putting a holeshot on bottom qualifier John Howell just for the hell of it.

"Nathan Sitko (near lane) defeated Chris Denison with a 6.09" Photo by Hapgood

The semifinals produced another major upset when #1 qualified Greg Tacke -- who by all appearances seemed to be heading for a final round meeting with Bill Edwards -- lost fire on the burnout. When Tacke's crew was unable to restart the car Nathan Sitko got a lucky break -- a free pass into the finals, which he rode to an early shutoff at 6.59.

"Randy Jensen" Photo by Hibbard

All of this must have been a welcome sight to defending champion, Edwards, who was in line to run next: all of a sudden he was the only remaining five second dragster on the premises! His semifinal opponent, Randy Jensen, stepped up to his best pass of the weekend, a 6.65, but Edwards stepped up with his own best pass, a 5.78 and the contest wasn't even close. This set the stage for the final round between Sitko and Edwards, with Edwards never relinquishing control, running a 5.891/244 to Sitko's 6.019/218. Bill Edwards, the 2003 alcohol dragster champion in his 1979 Swindahl chassis racecar!

"Bill Edwards, 2X AHRA champion" Photo by Hapgood


The opening round of funny car kicked off in the heat of the day. The right lane was certainly the lane of choice and first up was Stephen Neese in the 'good' lane and Cory Lee in the 'bad' one. After the previous night's blower explosion and a host of other ills on their other runs this weekend, I was kind of surprised to see Lee and the IMPULSE team make the first round call. I'd been doubtful they had the parts to repair but it turns out they had a spare motor...just not a spare windshield! Take a look at how they solved the problem. When Cory Lee pulled to the line in round one he was staring at the track through this!

As it was, the team had not run faster than seventeen seconds all weekend. Now with the spare motor the car sounded better than ever, launching hard opposite Neese and when #1 qualified Neese went into heavy tire smoke it appeared that the 'Impulse' team's luck might actually be turning around. Not a chance. The burst panel blew and that was the end of their weekend. Despite being sideways a couple of times, Neese had no intention of lifting and blasted through the winner with a 6.44 to Lee's slowing 7.91.

"So who is going to win this one?" Photo by Hapgood

Next up, Bob Godfrey in the Godfrey and Close FLAMED FORTUNE 1963 nostalgia Corvette had the challenge of racing Vinny Arcadi's modern car...and it was just too much. Despite half track tire smoke Arcadi recorded the weekend's first five second funny car (nitro funny car at least!) pass, a 5.667 at 246mph. Godfrey gave it a good shot with a 7.14 but he never had a chance.

"Bob Godfrey's nostalgia Corvette" Photo by Hibbard

Next up was another contemporary versus nostalgia battle, with Joe Clement (for the third time in three days!) taking on Dan Horan Jr's 1960-whatever mustang. Clement recorded his best time of the weekend and the race really shouldn't have been as close as it was but the cars were nearly dead even in the traps owing, depending on one's perspective, to either Horan's awesome holeshot or Clement's extended nap on the starting line. In any event, a 6.91 beat a 6.64! As I mentioned earlier, it seems that anything can happen at Spokane.

"At the 900 foot mark it was a close race." Photo by Hapgood

The final pairing for the round was Jack Wyatt against Jason Duchene. Wyatt was late off the line but when Duchene's clutch cannon malfunctioned at three quarters track, Wyatt came around him to win the race with a 6.36/184 -- the only funny car win in the left lane.

"Jack Wyatt resurrected his spare shell at Spokane" Photo by Hapgood

Three and a half hours elapsed between the first and second rounds but once the semifinals arrived they were over with quickly. Vinny Arcadi laid down a 5.495/234, the first sub-5.50 funny car time at Spokane in several years. In the other lane Jack Wyatt went up in smoke early and disappeared on the horizon in a cloud of burned rubber and fuel (7.04/137). In the other pairing, Dan Horan Jr. gave it his best shot (6.83) but it was no match for Stephen Neese, who came up with a '5' of his own, a 5.68 -the under-powered Horan could only watch Neese drive away. It was probably a good thing that they were not side by side as Horan was reported to have encountered a crosswind after the finish line, pushing the car completely into Neese's lane.

"Vinny Arcadi" Photo by Hibbard.

Three hours after the semis, as the sun was getting ready to set, the final between Neese and Arcadi rolled around, and it was a great one -- the best race of the weekend. Neese was in the dreaded left lane which he hadn't run since Friday night while Arcadi had already put down two relatively good passes in the right lane on race day. Neese, however, puts in time driving his racecar in fuel altered trim and I wondered if his experience driving the most notorious type of racecars might not make a difference. After all, it seemed fairly likely that either or both cars might spin the tires.

Photo by Hapgood

When the tree came down Arcadi's clutch malfunctioned, and his car immediately went into hard tire smoke. Neese was pulling away toward an apparent win, and this is where it got really good. Neese cruised out to the slippery midsection of the track where HIS tires broke loose. Arcadi saw this and began backpedaling hard. Neese's car then went somewhat out of control, swerving hard enough to raise the right wheels off the track and jam the left header into the asphalt in a spray of sparks. Arcadi's hopes must have been gaining by the moment, as he tried repeatedly to get his car to hook. Neese came back to earth but then swerved toward the wall, raising his left wheels off the track, with more sparks off the headers. Somehow he managed to clear both the centerline and the wall! Arcadi got his car to hook briefly before the tires broke loose again. At the same moment, Neese got his car back on 'all fours' and aimed at the finish line and that's how they finished the run, trailing tire smoke all the way through the traps, with Neese the winner, 6.92/236 to Arcadi's 8.49/141.

 It was the wildest funny car final I've seen in many years and, fittingly enough, the second year in a row that a fuel altered driver has won the funny car title on this track (Jeff Bennett won in 2002). This year it was the John Keigley/Neese and Knowles Camaro, 2003 AHRA AA/FC world champions.

"Stephen Neese" Photo by Hibbard

"Neese and crew celebrate their win" Photo by Hapgood


The top fuel cars were the first vehicles down the track on Sunday. The round began with number one qualifier Chris Karamesines taking on number eight qualifier Mike Grekul -- and what a mismatch this was: 'Greek' in his modern day monster (fresh off his career best the previous weekend in Sonoma) against Grekul in his FE cast iron Chevy. Though Karamesines had run the best time of this meet (so far) in the left lane, that side of the track had since been stigmatized by Saturday night's oil down (and closure). The 'Greek', like every pro driver with lane choice for the rest of the day, went with the right lane.

Photo by Hapgood

His run was fine, at 5.28/253. The under-powered Grekul obviously never stood a chance at 6.92. Next up it was #7 qualified Lee Kohlman -- Montana's 'other' RE top fueler -- taking on #2 qualified Ron Smith, and this was a great drag race, as Smith was charging to the win when the rear tires lit up hard, the car swerving wildly. Kohlman gave him a big chase from half track all the way through the lights, with Smith winning it, 5.39 to 5.97.

Photo by Hapgood

Next up was a great match-up between Sosenka in the 'Magoo' car against Craig Smith in the 'Nitrocat' car.

'The one and only Don Sosenka' Photo by Hibbard

Sosenka gave it a good shot but it was Smith first at the finish line, 5.25/271 to 5.67/242. Next up were the fourth and fifth qualifiers, CJ Nelson and Gene Davis -- two rarely seen top fuelers.

"Gene Davis in the Keigley & Mosby fueler" Photo by Hibbard

"CJ Nelson out ahead" Photo by Hapgood

This one might have been closer but Davis left way late and compounded it by smoking the tires heavily down track, swerving all over his lane and finally taking out the top end lights, which in the case of SRP involves more than the usual foam reflectors. The car went into glass timing bulbs and took a direct hit at a heavy rubber cone (which really went flying!). The impact crushed the left front wing and bent the left rim. Somehow, Davis was able to bring the car to a stop without further damage. Pretty wild! CJ Nelson in the Robert Phillips car took the win at 5.49/266.

Three and a half hours later the semifinals got underway. First up was the classic Northwest rivalry between Ron Smith of western Washington and defending champ Craig Smith of eastern Washington. In fact this was a repairing of last year's TF final round. It had been five years since a Craig Smith vehicle has NOT been in the final round here and it is nearly expected that he will either win the event or at least runner up. Yet the truth is that Ron Smith is one of the few teams capable of stopping him here in a heads up race. The main question was whether or not he could give it a reasonable shot from the left lane.

‘Craig Smith' Photo by Hibbard

'Ron Smith launches in the semis' Photo by Hapgood

The run turned out to be good passes for both drivers, with identical 5.308 ETs in both lanes at speeds of 271 (Ron) and 277 (Craig). The margin of victory at the finish line, however, was substantial, as Craig Smith had strapped a two tenths of a second holeshot on his opponent! When Ron Smith's car hazed the tires at mid-track the race was over and Craig Smith advanced to the finals once again. The other half of the semifinals pitted CJ Nelson against Chris Karamesines, Karamesines with lane choice.

‘Chris Karamesines' Photo by Hibbard

"The FULLSCOPE TF of CJ Nelson" Photo by Hapgood

This run was over with quickly, as Nelson fell back to a 5.94, losing to the 'Greek's' 5.34. Unfortunately for Karamesines, 5.34 lost final round lane choice to Craig Smith and, to this point, not a single top fueler had won out of the left lane.

Several hours later, as the sun was sinking toward the nearby hills, the final round took place. Karamesines was the sentimental favorite but the smart money was on 2X and defending champion, Craig Smith. And yet, the track was cooling off (especially the 'dreaded' left lane, which had partially been in the shadow of the grandstands for forty five minutes) and, who knew: maybe the left lane 'paranoia' was just that at this point in time. The left lane was, after all, the side of the track that had produced the quickest ET of the weekend so far. Perhaps it had had time to come around. We would find out.

‘Craig Smith coasts to a stop after his final round burnout.' Photo by Hapgood

The cars lined up and staged -- and the launch was clean in both lanes.

Photo by Hapgood

It wasn't until mid track that Karamesines began to haze the tires and, just at this critical juncture, Craig Smith's car made a serious move. The old Greek chased him almost all the way to the finish line (5.538/187.40) as Smith went through with Spokane's quickest top fuel pass in nearly a decade -- a 5.069 at 288.69 mph! (Who knows -- maybe the 'fours' really are right around the corner here!). It was impressive! Craig Smith was now the 3X (in a row) AHRA World Finals TF champion.

‘Craig Smith and crew enjoy another win.' Photo by Hapgood

The day finished up with the final in a best of three jet car match between Brad Janishewski and Neil Hansen. On this pass, Hansen went 274.64 mph -- reportedly within a hundredth of a mph of the all time fastest pass for J-34 engines. Oh yeah, he also won his best of three against Janishewski!

If there was a sad note about this year's event it had to be the absence of longtime AHRA starter Duke MacIntyre, who passed away three months ago. I did not know Mr. McIntyre personally but was familiar with his legendary presence on the starting line. After the race I spoke with AHRA tech director, Bill Pelozzi, about the loss of his mentor and friend. This is what I learned -- As a teenager in the late 1950s, Duke got into drag racing on the track crew at the old Deer Park Dragstrip (Spokane Timing Association). For the next four decades he worked at area tracks- his several years of service in Vietnam were the only significant time period that he was away from the sport.

Duke began working for SRP's Orville Moe beginning in 1972 in the tech line and as a starter and throughout the decades was known to everyone who raced at Spokane. In recent years his dedication was further proven with 1100 mile weekly commutes to the Spokane from his California job on the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe railroad. He also raced his own cars on occasion and had a dragster project in the works at the time of his death. To that I will add this: the starting line just wasn't the same this year without him.

David Hapgood/Nolan Hibbard


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