The winner’s list for the all-eighth-mile Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) season ender Oct. 24, at Virginia Motorsports Park (VMP) displayed a distinct international flair as racers from the United States, Dubai, Brazil, and Canada prevailed in the pro classes for the Brian Olson Memorial PDRA World Finals presented by Mel Bush Motorsports. Olson was the PDRA’s popular trackside announcer who unexpectedly passed away early in August.
Dubai’s Bader Ahli won the premier NAS Racing Pro Extreme class, while Lizzy Musi from North Carolina took the Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous event title, Sidnei Frigo of Sao Paulo, Brazil, was the Precision Turbo Pro Boost winner, and Canadian Terry Schweigert finished first in Drag 965 Pro Extreme Motorcycle. Additionally, Ohio’s Phil Esz won in Toefco Pro Open Outlaw and a special appearance by the Disomma Racing Engines Outlaw 10.5 class saw Mike Decker Jr. take the trophy home to Baltimore.
In the PDRA sportsman ranks, Georgia golf cart dealer Ronnie Davis capped off his MagnaFuel Top Sportsman championship with a win at the season-ending race, Kathy Fisher got her first PDRA win in Dart Machinery Top Dragster, and like Davis, brother-and-sister duo Preston and Alexis Tanner punctuated their new championships with wins in Huddleston Performance Pro Jr. Dragster and Huddleston Top Jr. Dragster, respectively.
Starting from the number-six position on the Pro Extreme qualifying list, NAS Racing’s Badir Ahli was the only driver in contention to deny points leader Jason Scruggs his first season championship since 2008, but to do so not only would Ahli have needed to win the race and set a new elapsed time record along the way, Scruggs would’ve had to lose in the opening round. When Scruggs, who scored five PDRA event wins in 2015, got past a redlighting Danny Lowry in the opening session, the championship mathematically became beyond reach for Ahli.
“I want to congratulate Jason Scruggs and his team,” Ahli said. “It is disappointing for us, yes, but they deserve to win after such a great season.”
That still left the race win up for grabs, though, and Ahli made his march toward the final through Johnny Cobb, Jose Gonzales and Tommy D’Aprile to reach Brandon Snider of Atmore, AL, there. Snider, who qualified number one with a record-setting 3.51-seconds pass at 217.63 mph in his Q80-backed ’69 Camaro, defeated Lorenzo “Killer” Brooks, Carl Stevens Jr. and Paul Mouhayet of Australia in the preliminary rounds.
Significantly, in a holeshot loss to Snider, Stevens broke the 230-mph barrier over the eighth mile, going 3.56 at 230.10 in his twin-turbocharged 2014 Camaro to set a new, official PDRA speed record.
“My wife called me right after we ran, all confused because she thought she saw I’d lost (on the PDRA’s live, online video feed), but my guys were all jumping around, hugging each other on the starting line,” Stevens said. “We did lose, but to be honest, it’s a win for us right now. We couldn’t be happier. We’d run 229 earlier in the day, but 230 is a nice round number; it just sounds better.”
In the final, Ahli’s screw-blown ’69 Camaro left with a slight .009 advantage off the start and won going away despite slowing considerably to a 3.66 at 205.79 mph. In the right lane, Snider’s similar ride left hard, but carried the front wheels in the air past half track, where he had to lift in order to avoid crossing the center line into Ahli’s lane.
“It felt good at first, but then it started drifting left and you can’t steer if the front tires aren’t on the ground,” Snider observed after posting a 3.75 at 173.25-mph pass. “We wanted to win, of course, but still not a bad way to end the year. Number-one qualifier, set a new ET record, got a runner-up, and the car’s all in one piece. We’ll take that.”
Heading into the final PDRA event of the year, two-time defending NHRA Pro Mod champion Rickie Smith held a sizable points lead over Tommy Franklin, the lone Pro Nitrous competitor who could deny Smith his third major series title in three years. To win, though, Franklin needed to win the race and set a new ET record with his Pat Musi-powered ’69 Camaro, while Smith would have to suffer an unlikely DNQ or at minimum, a rare first-round loss.
Remarkably, in Friday night’s second qualifying session, Franklin ran an unprecedented 3.71-flat at 201.10 mph to secure the pole and establish the first leg of a new record. Then, during the third and final qualifying session on Saturday morning before eliminations began, Smith was bumped down the list of 16 qualifiers until sitting in the final qualified position, with plenty of capable cars behind him ready to oust him from the mix.
When his turn came to take the track, however, “Tricky Rickie” responded with a solid 3.76 at 199.29 mph that safely landed his own Musi-motored ’69 Camaro in the seventh starting spot.
The unthinkable happened in round one of racing, though, when Pat Stoken strapped a .013 light on Smith, allowing his .029 holeshot to make the difference in a 3.77 win over Smith’s quicker 3.74 effort.
Watching from the staging lanes, Franklin seized the opportunity and backed up his qualifying run within the required one percent for an official record with a 3.73 win over John Camp.
“There’s not much to say; I cut my usual light, the same as I’ve been doing all year, and he (Stoken) took a chance and it paid off,” a clearly discouraged Smith said later. “It’s not over yet, though, it’s just out of my hands now.”
Smith didn’t have to wait long to learn his fate. In round two, Franklin left first on Jay Cox, but slowed to a 4.11 at 195.45 that was no match for Cox’s 3.75 at 197.68 combo. “It just wasn’t meant to be, I guess,” said Franklin, who also finished second in the standings last year. “This class is getting so tough, so quick and fast. We almost had our first all-3.70s field here this weekend, the 16th-place car was a 3.80 with a two.”
Meanwhile, Lizzy Musi started her Musi-powered 2015 Dart from the fourth position and raced through Mike Castellana, Chris Rini and Cox with authority, setting a new class speed record of 204.01 mph along the way. In the final round she faced number-two qualifier “Stevie Fast” Jackson and his ’69 Camaro with Reher-Morrison horsepower under the hood after Jackson made his way past Tim Savell, Stoken and Keith Haney, who ran a career-best 3.74 in qualifying third.
Running in the right lane for the final, Musi moved first, leaving with a .013 holeshot and never looking back, running 3.72 at 203.55 mph to Jackson’s wheel-standing 3.76 at 200.89 mph.
“You know, I still feel like I’m pretty new out here compared to most of the other guys,” Musi said after scoring her first win of the year and just the second of her Pro Nitrous career. “I have to thank my dad and Rickie Smith for helping to sort out our new car for me, too. And we added Patrick Barnhill and let me tell you, he knows a thing or two about getting one of these things to hook up. I’m very lucky to have the people I have surrounding me.”
Pro Boost featured the tightest championship chase of all the PDRA pro classes with first-place Kevin Rivenbark holding a slim 80-points advantage–less than one round’s worth–over Kevin Fiscus heading into the PDRA World Finals. Rivenbark was aiming to make it two Pro Boost titles in a row for GALOT Racing after Todd Tutterow, who returned to Pro Extreme for 2015, won for GALOT last year.
Rivenbark gained maximum qualifying points when he put his roots-blown 2015 Corvette in first place with a 3.79 at 194.74, marking the first pass in the 3.70s by a supercharged-motor combination in the class, though in round one of eliminations Rivenbark’s teammate John Strickland, as well as Ric Fleck, would join the club.
Fiscus, who qualified his twin-turbo’d 2012 Mustang seventh, did his job in round one of racing, winning with a 3.83 run over Doug Winters in the second pair of Pro Boost entries down the track and temporarily taking over the points lead. Then came Rivenbark in the final pair of the session when the unimaginable happened and he went red by -.030 off the start to waste a 3.80 pass at 194.91 that would’ve easily delivered the win–and a return of the points lead–against a 3.89 at 190.54 by Larry Higgenbotham in his blown ’57 Chevy.
“I think that was a big advantage for me to go ahead of him,” the new Pro Boost champion said. “I was honestly feeling more relaxed than I usually do before E1, but I think the pressure got to him.”
In the race, an unlikely winner emerged from 15th place on the qualifying list as Brazil’s Sidnei Frigo won all four rounds of racing with a holeshot in each. He opened with a .032 light leading to a 3.86 at 206.76 pass in his twin-turbocharged ’15 Corvette against a puzzling .507 reaction by Strickland that negated his record 3.790 pass at 194.58 mph.
Next up was Fiscus, who Frigo beat by .021 off the line, which translated to a five-thousandths of a second margin of victory 3.84 seconds and 660 feet later. In the semis Frigo faced Fleck and left with a .045 reaction time to Fleck’s .084, which gave him an eight-thousandths advantage after going 3.85 to the finish line.
Waiting for Frigo in the final was Jeremy Ray, who drove his supercharged ’15 Corvette to wins over Tylor Miller, Paolo Giust and Anthony Disomma in the early rounds.
Once more when the lights flashed green for the Pro Boost final, Frigo left first, this time with an excellent .008 light to Ray’s .064, allowing his 3.88 at 205.98 to defeat the 3.82 at 193.10 by just four thousandths of a second.
“This is just my second PDRA race,” the ex-Top Fuel driver said. “It was an exciting day.”
PRO EXTREME MOTORCYCLE
With the 2015 championship already clinched by defending class champ Eric McKinney when the PDRA World Finals began, what Pro Extreme Motorcycle lacked in points-chasing drama, it made up for in on-track action.
McKinney’s crew chief, Ashley Owens, secured the number-one start in the all-Suzuki class with a 4.00-seconds ride at 176.33 mph, with Chuck Wilburn, winner of the previous PDRA race early last month in North Carolina, second and followed by Travis Davis and eventual event winner Terry Schweigert. McKinney’s 4.06 at 176.72 qualifying pass put him on the list in seventh place.
Schweigert made a solo pass in round one after Ronnie Smith’s bike broke, then took down Burke Foster in round two before outrunning young gun Chris Garner-Jones in the semis to set up the final against Wilburn, who made it there through Richard Gadson, Dave Norris and Davis, who didn’t get to run after arriving late to the lanes for the semis.
Wilburn posted a .090 reaction in the final and Schweigert had a .096 leave, and made up for it with a solid and consistent 4.03 pass at 173.52 mph to beat Wilburn’s 4.10 at 174.03 combination.
“Neither one of us had a particularly good light–for some reason I was having a little trouble with my reaction times here this weekend–but I know we left pretty close together, but after that I really didn’t see him or hear him. I was drifting a little over toward the center line, too, so I was concentrating on that and just on getting to the far end,” Schweigert said. “This was my second win this year and it feels so good to end the season like this.”
PRO OPEN OUTLAW
Despite winning three of the five Pro Open Outlaw races contested within nine PDRA events this year–including the PDRA World Finals–Phil Esz still finished runner-up to Jody Stroud in points.
“We had an oil leak and got shut off in round one at Rockingham and that really cost us,” Esz said after defeating Stroud by eighth-thousandths of a second in the final round at VMP. “We’ll be back next year, though.”
In the biggest turnout for the class all season, 11 cars made qualifying attempts and Paul Molnar led an eight-car field into eliminations with a straight-off-the-trailer 3.607 at 204.26-mph pass in his ’04 Spitzer dragster. Stroud qualified third with Bryan Keller sandwiched between him and Molnar, with Esz completing the top half of the field.
In eliminations, Esz set low ET and top speed for the meet and a potential new ET record with a 3.604 at 204.76 win over Andrew Johnson in round one while Stroud easily handled Eddie Careccia with a 3.68 on the opposite side of the ladder. Round two, the semis, saw Esz run 3.74 to get by Robert Frigon, but he lost lane choice for the final to a 3.65 solo run by Stroud after Keller’s car broke.
In the final, Stroud left with a sizable .032 starting line advantage, but his 3.67 at 200.17 fell short by seven thousandths of Esz’s 3.63 at 201.91 that also served as an official back-up for the ET record.
Later, Esz revealed that with the help of Top Sportsman racer Mick Snyder he’d made a hasty transmission change between the semis and final round. He also thanked GALOT Racing and Rick Hickman for their help and dedicated the win to the memory of his father, Mike, whose birthday was the same day as the PDRA race.
Three rounds of qualifying and three steps up to the top as Mike Decker Jr. went from third to second to first overall in just the second appearance of Outlaw 10.5 with the PDRA this season with a 3.985-seconds blast at 193.82 mph in Saturday’s final session before eliminations began.
Once there Decker drove his supercharged ’02 Camaro around Joel Wensley, John Bartunek and Frank Pompilio to reach the turbocharged 2000 Camaro of Canadian Nick Agostino in the final. Agostino put Scott Kline, Joe Newsham and Mo Hall on the trailer in the preliminaries.
Neither driver cut a good light in the final, with Decker waiting .115 and Agostino .138 before leaving. From there, Decker put together a 3.98 at 192.47-mph winning combination against 4.00 at 204.82 by Agostino.
Decker credited Chuck Ulsch for helping with the car’s set-up for the final and said his team changed engines between qualifying and racing on Saturday.
When Ronnie Davis arrived at Virginia Motorsports Park he had his eye firmly fixed upon the prize: the 2015 PDRA Top Sportsman championship. The Georgia-based golf cart dealer came with enough points to win so long as he qualified and won just one round of racing. Failing that, defending class champ Dan Ferguson would’ve had to win the race and set a record to overtake Davis.
After Davis slotted into 10th in the 16-car field with a 4.04 pass at 178.19 mph in his nitrous-boosted ’63 Corvette, Ferguson ran 3.99 at exactly 183 mph to occupy the last of a record six three-second passes atop the PDRA Top Sportsman qualifying sheet.
The championship chase ended quickly, though, once eliminations began as Ferguson’s borrowed ’63 Vette shook hard off the launch in round one and he coasted across the finish line for his final 5.76 seconds as 2014 champion.
“My goal has always been to win the championship in whatever series I race in,” Davis explained after defeating Chuck Mohn in round one. “I’ve won in NHRA, in IHRA, I missed in ADRL when it was around, but I’m real happy to get it done in PDRA now. I love this type of racing.”
With the championship secured, Davis set his sights on winning the PDRA World Finals, beating Rachel Edwards in round two and John Benoit in the semis. Opposite him, Don Klooster drove his own nitrous-fed ’63 Corvette to wins over Cheyenne Stanley, Mark Malcutt and Randy Perkinson.
“Don’s a good friend and we really wanted to meet in the final, get the two Corvettes out there and just go for it together,” Davis said. “I was really happy to see that work out.” It worked out on the track for him, too, as Davis left with a .024 light, then ran 4.07 at 170.21 against a 4.04 dial in to take the win over a .071/4.02/181.30 package on a 4.00 dial by Klooster.
“This feels like an important win to me,” Davis said of his third PDRA race title this year. “This is the way you want to win a championship.”
With two round wins at the PDRA World Finals, Derrik Sholar came close to overtaking Justin Melton’s points lead in Top Dragster, but a dead-on-the-dial, first-round win for Melton (3.99 at 172.21 on a 3.99 dial in) over Cody Moore was just enough to ensure the title went home to Gleason, TN.
Meanwhile, in only her third PDRA appearance, Kathy Fisher made it all the way to victory lane at Virginia Motorsports Park after qualifying fifth in Top Dragster and making her way past Jantzen Melton, George Marks, Lauren Freer and Eddie Syrek in the final round. After taking out Bob Sheridan Jr. in round one, Syrek had the distinction of ousting both championship contenders from eliminations with wins over Melton and Sholar in rounds two and three, respectively.
In the all-Procharger final, Syrek launched with a .085 reaction time, but broke and stopped on the track, while Fisher left with a .049 light and ran just one-thousandth of a second above her 3.96 dial in to take the win at 172.96 mph.
“The season is ending so completely different from how it started for us and I couldn’t be happier,” Fisher said, though she did have an anxious moment just as the final round was about to start. “We went to fire it up and she just wouldn’t start. It would fire up a little bit, but just would not keep running. Eddie had already started his car but he shut it off to wait for us and I can’t thank him enough for that.”
The PDRA will honor its 2015 champions with a banquet and awards presentation during the annual Performance Racing Industry (PRI) trade show in Indianapolis.