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Bellemeur, Cunningham Win Big with MWDRS at St. Louis

In a final-round clash of world champions, Sean Bellemeur maintained his perfect record Aug. 16, by scoring a second-in-as-many-tries Top Alcohol Funny Car win with the Summit Racing Equipment Mid-West Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service (MWDRS). Bellemeur, the two-time and reigning NHRA TAFC champion, defeated first-time Funny Car pilot and defending NHRA Pro Mod world champ “Stevie Fast” Jackson for the Domino’s Summer Speed Spectacular title at World Wide Technology Raceway, near St. Louis.

“Stevie and his team, they’re proven champions, so it didn’t surprise me at all they made it to the final,” Bellemeur said. “He’s a great driver, makes waves wherever he goes and likes doing it, so it was a fun weekend. And I’m especially glad the outcome turned out the way it did.”

Also on the St. Louis eighth mile, class veteran Tommy Cunningham scored his first official MWDRS Pro Mod event title, Marty Blair prevailed over 20 entries in the Pat Musi Racing Engines Top Sportsman class, and Tim Paap won over a packed field of 27 entries in the Race Star Wheels Top Dragster class.

In the American Logo and Sign Jr. Dragster ranks, Brianna Chancey of Bixby, OK, got the better of Sam Stewart in Friday night’s Pro Jr. Dragster final, but Stewart rebounded on Saturday with a win of his own over Lauren Chamberlain in an all-Missouri final. Keeping it in the family, Stewart’s sister, Sarah, also won Friday’s Sportsman Jr. Dragster final over Tyler Wells, then posted an equally impressive victory over Rylee Clocker in Saturday’s final to sweep the weekend.

Originally scheduled to wrap up on Saturday, just the opening round of racing was completed before a late-afternoon storm postponed all remaining eliminations to the next day.

“I have to give all the credit to all my Mid-West Series crew: Jimmy Boles, Randy Hancock, Lonnie Grim, Misty Hayes, Ellen Eshenbacher, as well as everyone at World Wide Technology Raceway for not skipping a beat,” MWDRS founder and owner Keith Haney said. “They reorganized everything and got the track back in perfect shape for Sunday’s racing. We wrapped everything up in about four-and-a-half hours time and sent everyone home happy.”

All eyes were on the recently added Top Alcohol Funny Cars in St. Louis as Jackson made his class debut in a car owned by Jim and Annie Whiteley and prepared by crew chief Mike Strasburg. Meanwhile, Jim Whiteley strapped into “The Shadow,” Jackson’s screw-blown 2016 Camaro that usually competes on radial tires, to race on slicks in the MWDRS Pro Mod class at St. Louis.

A quick learner, Jackson qualified third among seven entries with a 3.68 at 207.24 mph, behind only Kyle Smith and Bellemeur on top with a 3.64 at 211.69 combination in his Steve Boggs-tuned ride. Fourth through seventh included Bryan Brown, Bob McCosh Jr., Shane Westerfield and Robbie Massey.

Bellemeur opened with a 3.61-seconds bye run on Saturday, then posted another 3.61 to get past McCosh and set low E.T. for the meet, while Jackson ran 3.68 to beat Westerfield and improved to a 3.62 to oust Smith from the semis.

Unfortunately, despite the showdown everyone anticipated all weekend long, the TA/FC final was over right at the starting line. Jackson turned on the dreaded red bulb by two-thousandths of a second, signifying a false start and negating a solid 3.64 at 211.03-mph effort while Bellemeur left with a .012 light, then charged to a 3.63 win at 214.11 mph that also set top speed for the weekend.

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“I knew that he had a fast hot rod. And when you go up there knowing you got to get it on the tree and push it, sometimes you push too far,” Jackson admitted later. “So yeah, it was two-thousandths away from being a spectacular finish.”

Meanwhile, Bellemeur felt he may have staged a little too quickly, allowing his car’s clutch to heat up a little while Jackson followed to the start line in his convertor-equipped ride.

“I’m not saying he hung me out or anything and I’m definitely not complaining,” Bellemeur stressed. “But my car started creeping a little and I felt it. So when the tree came down I saw a red light on and because my car was creeping I wasn’t positive if it was for me or him. Then I looked up and I saw our win light on, up on the scoreboard, so I knew, alright, we got this.”

Bellemeur added that his entire Tony Bartone-owned Hussey Performance team also was racing in memory of longtime shop manager, crewman and team driver Charlie Kominski, who just last week succumbed to leukemia after successfully fighting through a recent Covid-19 infection.

“Charlie had a huge role and worked for Tony for a long time, so it was hard for all of us,” Bellemeur said. “It was kind of good and bad all at the same time that we had a race so soon after. We knew how difficult it was going to be our first race without Charlie, so I’m glad we were able to get it out of the way and get the win for him.”

Damon Steinke photo

The Pro Mod class also saw a debut driver make it all the way to the final round as Joey Oksas made his first laps in the twin-turbocharged ’67 Mustang usually driven by his father, Scott. After running a best of 3.81 at 211.03 in qualifying, Oksas actually missed the 16-car cut by just one-thousandth of a second, but was reinserted into 11th place after Todd Moyer’s car broke and was unable to continue.

On top of the field, after 20 entries made qualifying attempts, was John Camp at 3.68 and 202.94 mph, followed by defending class champion Aaron Wells, Khalid al Balooshi, and eventual race winner Cunningham at 3.74 and 198.93 mph.

Round one of racing saw Oksas score a big holeshot win over sixth-place starter Whiteley in Jackson’s Camaro. He then eked out a two-thousandths advantage at the finish of round two courtesy of a second holeshot over Jim Widener and advanced to meet Cunningham after Wells went red against him in the semis.

On the opposite side of the ladder, Cunningham overpowered Jeff Rudolf in the opener before notching his own holeshot win over Todd Martin, then outlasted Jon Stouffer after both encountered troubles.

For the final, Oksas again left first with a .015 reaction time, his best in eliminations, but a 3.74 at 214.48 wasn’t quite enough, as Cunningham countered with his quickest run of the weekend at 3.71 seconds and 200.53 mph to put the young Oksas on the losing end of a two-thousandths difference.

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He credited his dad and crew chief, Larry Cunningham, for the winning tune-up and thanked his mother, Susan, and wife, Anita, as his only additional crew members. “I also have to thank everyone back at Stroud Safety for running the shop and keeping things going while we’re out here racing,” Cunningham added.

“I knew he (Oksas) got out on me, but it was so close at the end I told Dad I drove it a little further out than what I normally do. I waited ’til I heard him get out of it before I got out of it, just in case,” he explained.

“I didn’t really have much of a clue once we got to the finish line, so it was great when I learned we’d actually won. It’s our first win in the big show. We’ve won the second-chance Slammers race twice before, but this is our first main-event win with the Mid-West Series, so it feels really good.”

In the Pro Mod Slammers class, long-time supporter Kurt Riffel took the win. This is Kurt’s first win with the MWDRS. Popular with the crowd, Kurt’s wife Shelly Riffel fired up the Pro Mod and drove it back to the pits after the photos.

Leaving St. Louis, Clint Satterfield holds the MWDRS Pro Mod points lead, followed by Wells, Cunningham, Jim Sackuvich and Martin in the top five. Of course, with two wins after two races, Bellemeur leads the J&A Service Top Alcohol Funny Car ranks, with McCosh, Smith and Bryan Brown following, and the top spot in Pat Musi Racing Engines Top Sportsman belongs to Blair, with Bob Henry leading the Race Star Wheels Top Dragster crowd.  In the American Logo & Sign Juniors classes, Brianna Chancey leads in Pro Junior while Tyler Wells leads in Sportsman Junior.

The Summit Mid-West Drag Racing Series–featuring Pro Modified, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Top Sportsman and Top Dragster–will return to action Sept. 11-12, at U.S.131 Motorsports Park in Martin, MI, where the Tulsa-based series will stage a unique double-points event for all classes prior to the MWDRS World Finals at Osage Casino Tulsa Raceway Park in October.

This story was originally published on August 20, 2020. Drag Illustrated

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