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
‘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
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
‘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
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
‘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
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
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
S A T U R D A Y
‘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
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
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.'
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:
S U N D A Y
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
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
P R O M O D
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
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
"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
A L C O H O L F U N N Y C A R
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
A L C O H O L D R A G S T E R
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
F U N N Y C A R
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
"So who is going to win this one?" Photo by
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
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.
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
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
"Stephen Neese" Photo by Hibbard
"Neese and crew celebrate their win" Photo by
T O P F U E L
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
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
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
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
David Hapgood/Nolan Hibbard