It can often be hard for an event to live up to its hype. It is even more rare for a race to surpass it. Well, that’s exactly what happened with the second annual Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod at Bandimere Speedway, which was the very definition of a terrific race and a special event.
How many incredible moments were there? Honestly, probably too many to list. This could easily be a Top 26 as an ode to the 26 standout performers that took the WSOPM to an entirely different stratosphere in 2018. But we settled on the Top 10 awe-inspiring moments from an event that’s deemed the biggest and richest Pro Mod race in the history of the known universe – and it’s not one bit hyperbole.
Rotten Tomatoes has something called the Tomatometer that compiles all the reviews for a movie or television show, putting together a percentage of 0-100 for that particular work based on how well it was received.
Had there been a Dragraceometer, those reviews for the WSOPM would be glowing and we would be looking at a percentage easily in the high 90s, and dare we say 99% – because, you know, you can’t please everybody.
Any way you slice it – thumbs up, five stars, 99%, Yelp reviews – the second WSOPM was a smash hit, raising the bar from a race that debuted in great fashion a year ago. By all accounts, the WSOPM took a giant step forward in year two. Sponsors like One Cure and the Whiteley family’s J&A Service raved about the event, and fans – from all over the world, mind you – and drivers did the same. The cool part? It’s only getting better. Promoter, Drag Illustrated Founder and Editorial Director Wes Buck already recognized tweaks to deliver an even better show in 2019, already putting us in an anticipatory state for next August.
Carl Stevens Jr. Triumphs On The Mountain
Seeing a driver’s reaction after they win a race like the WSOPM is always a telling sign for how much it meant to them. The smile, the disbelief, the shock and the utter excitement from Carl Stevens Jr. said a thousand words and all of it was great. The tuner/driver was marvelous all day, stepping it up with a 5.856 at 246.26 mph in the final round win over Danny Rowe. It was the quickest run in the two-year history of the WSOPM and the biggest run of Stevens’ standout career.
He made that exuberantly clear in the winner’s circle, sharing the moment with a team that included his father and car owner Jim Bell. It was a magical time, if only because Stevens and his team worked hard for every round win and then delivered in resounding fashion. Of course, it was about much more than the car’s performance, as the emotion in the winner’s circle was truly special and told the story of Stevens’ unforgettable night.
Rowe Proves More Than Worthy Adversary In Finals
The progress has been immense for Danny Rowe since debuting his new RJ Race Cars Camaro this season, and Denver’s performance was an all-timer for the Pro Mod veteran. He certainly wanted the win – and the six-figure paycheck – and he made an extremely competitive run against Stevens, leaving first on the starting line and running a 5.949 at 242.54 in the final round.
It was his best pass of the weekend and huge step up in performance by the Jimmy Rector-led team when it mattered. Sure, Rowe came up just short, but he truly didn’t have anything to hand his head about. It was an all-star performance at an all-star event and that is bound to have some serious carryover the rest of this season and beyond. It will also surely leave Rowe plenty motivated to finish the deal in 2019.
Nitrous Cars Can Hang
Well, I think it’s safe to say this one was answered in big-time fashion. The answer is yes, by the way. Yes, nitrous cars can hang on Thunder Mountain. Chad Green, Aaron Glaser and Robert Costa all did yeoman’s work as nitrous car pioneers at Bandimere Speedway, and their efforts laid the groundwork for the WSOPM continuing to prosper with all three power-adders at the race.
Glaser was impressive to the eighth-mile – doing it as a last-minute invitee, no less – and was thoroughly blown away by the experience, while Green and famed tuner Pat Musi put together some serious passes during the shakedown runs. If it’s the start of nitrous cars making up more of the field at the 2019 WSOPM, the work Green, Glaser and Costa did this year paved the way.
Burnout Contest Delivers
The WSOPM Drag 965/Nitrous Outlet burnout contest started as a cool way to entertain the Friday crowd at Bandimere Speedway and turned into something much, much bigger. With a groundswell of support, smack talk and conversation building on social media in the weeks leading up to the race, the burnout contest took on a life of its own and delivered in a major way.
Clint Satterfield started out with a brilliant burnout, fish-tailing down the left lane. It set an awesome tone and everybody delivered, from Brandon Pesz to Todd Tutterow to Marc Caruso, who was named the people’s champ after he performed a killer burnout and then backed up and made a strong run after it. The picture of Caruso celebrating on top of the car on the return road in front of the grandstands is, without question, one of the lasting images of the weekend.
In the end, Stevie “Fast” Jackson won the burnout contest for a second straight year, nearly going 1,000 feet in the burnout that brought the chutes out. He called it nearly as cool as winning the race, pretty big talk for the fan-favorite driver. But it also indicated one more thrilling aspect to the event.
Enders Excels In WSOPM Debut
Enders made her NHRA Pro Mod debut earlier this season, but if the two-time Pro Stock world champion continues to drive the car – and all indications are she will – then the WSOPM may be where she and the team really came into their own in the class.
From struggling to build boost on the starting line and nearly throwing in the towel for the weekend to winning in the first round and nearly beating Stevens on a holeshot, Enders and her Elite Performance team rose up with a great performance. Enders went 5.922 at 243.99 in the second-round loss to Stevens, as he tracked her down at the top end. Still, it was a major step forward for the team, while Enders seemed to enjoy every part of the event. For a star racer who has a genuine love when it comes to driving anything, this was a definite highlight of the weekend.
Imagine being so dedicated to being at the WSOPM that you spent the night in a race shop halfway across the country for a week to ensure your car would be ready.
That’s the tale for defending event winner Mike Bowman, whose feat to just get to the event was the stuff of legend. You could tell how much it meant to him to return and defend his title, and that’s the type of stuff that builds legendary events.
But Bowman didn’t tread lightly in the rebuilt turbocharged Chevelle, putting together a string of solid passes. The quarterfinals will be on event – and Pro Mod – highlight reels for years to come, as Stevens nipped Bowman at the finish line by a mere .007. Bowman ran a blistering 5.912 at 249.03 mph in the side-by-side thriller and thought he had enough to move on. But even as his title defense ended in the quarterfinals, Bowman’s efforts were not lost on anyone, earning a legion of new fans in the process.
Biehle, Menholt, Molinari Blowing The Doors Off
The weekend didn’t end as planned for any of the trio of Shane Molinari, Michael Biehle and Derek Menholt, who suffered the worst fate after crashing in his first-round matchup against Bowman. But each gave the fans something to talk about – once they picked their collective jaws off the floor.
Based on the eye test, Molinari had the best run of the test session, setting an immediate tone, while Menholt, whose enthusiasm for the event didn’t go unnoticed, had the performance of the shakedown runs with a 5.86 at 251 blast on Friday. Biehle went red in his semifinal showdown against Stevens, but he also put together runs of 5.877 at 249.12 and 5.879 at 246.17 leading up to that moment. It was amazing to see everyone step up their level of performance when it mattered most, and this trio certainly did that on the biggest level.
More Than Just A Race
The popular line on what has made the WSOPM tick is the blend of fun and camaraderie with intense, high-stakes action. It’s made for the perfect mix, as everything from the racer welcome party to the driver ride-alongs made it an all-encompassing event. Whether it was Steve Matusek’s epic burnout in a Dodge Challenger during the media races to the festive atmosphere at the party, everyone felt welcome and every left Thunder Mountain with a story. It’s one way to ensure they will be back for another one in 2019.
Hruska With The Drive Job
Harry Hruska could never quite put together the run he wanted on Thunder Mountain, but the highlight of his first-round driving job in the win against Tommy Johans was certainly memorable.
Seemingly left for dead after getting loose early in the run, Hruska fought the car all the way down the track but had enough power to track down Barker at the finish line. It was the perfect example of doing whatever it took to win, signifying just how much the event meant to every driver.
That was certainly the case for Hruska, who called the WSOPM the race of the year leading into the event. Never afraid to show his skills as a wheelman, Hruska went from going sideways to grabbing a victory in round one. It was a great showcase of his talents, treating fans to an excellent comeback as well.
Photographs by Joe McHugh, Cole Rokosky, Katie Anderson, Scott Arnold/SRA Photo, Rob Pearson and Johnny Law