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Derek Ward Wins $100,000 World Series of Pro Mod Title

Luke Nieuwhof photos

In a final round Pro Mod fans will be talking about for years, Derek Ward outran Jim Halsey to take home the $100,000 winner-take-all payday at the fifth Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod presented by Johnson’s Horsepowered Garage and J&A Service Sunday night at Bradenton Motorsports Park. Ward’s 3.625 seconds at 208.17 MPH run defeated Halsey’s 4.304-second pass at 126.09 MPH in front of an overflow crowd on the starting line. 

“It’s incredible,” said Ward, the 2023 NEOPMA champion. “The field of drivers they have here is the best in the world. And we won it today. It’s quite an exciting day. This is the biggest win of my career.”

The World Series of Pro Mod also included the second annual Mountain Motor Pro Stock Invitational and the inaugural Pro 10.5 Challenge, which both paid $25,000 to win. Matt Giangrande earned the Mountain Motor Pro Stock win, while “Quick Nick” Schroeder was victorious in Pro 10.5. Jeff Rudolf won the Chicago-Style Pro Mod Second-Chance race, which paid $10,000 to win. 

A pair of record $50,000 paydays went to the winners in the inaugural Intercontinental Top Sportsman Championship presented by FTI Performance and the inaugural Intercontinental Top Dragster Championship presented by FTI Performance. PDRA world champions Tim Molnar (Top Sportsman) and Steve Furr (Top Dragster) collected those big checks. “Fast” Freddy Perkins picked up the Top Sportsman Second-Chance win. Bradenton local racer Michael Carpenter won the $5,000 Super Pro Shootout. 

PRO MOD

In a double act of sportsmanship, both Derek Ward and Jim Halsey allowed each other additional time to make the final happen. Following the semifinals, Halsey and his team realized they had a serious issue with their motor, so they began the process of replacing their powerplant. Knowing the show had been delayed throughout the day, they did not want to further delay the final, but they needed some additional time.

“We needed to freshen an engine up before the final because we had a mechanical failure,” said Halsey, a four-time PDRA Pro Nitrous world champion. “It took us an hour to do what we needed to do. We talked to Derek’s team to make sure that they didn’t have a problem waiting if we needed extra time. It was like an hour and 10 minutes and we were ready to roll.”

Racing in the supporting classes continued, and eventually Halsey and Ward pulled to the starting line to go head-to-head for $100,000. As Halsey sat in his Fulton-powered ’68 Camaro, drama unfolded in the lane beside him as Ward’s race car would not start. Immediately dozens of crew people, track personnel, and some fans leapt into action to try and start Ward’s car. To no avail, they could not fix the issue on the starting line, and Drag Illustrated publisher and race promoter Wes Buck asked Halsey if he would consider returning to his pit and allowing Ward to replace his starter.

“I like to start last, but my procedure is still pretty fast,” said Halsey. “So, I usually end up waiting on everybody else. I usually let them start first and after a minute or so I knew something was wrong. I saw their guys running back and forth. They asked me what I wanted to do, but that’s not really my decision. That’s the race director’s decision, and he said he wanted to run a side-by-side final and I was fine with that.”

After a 40-minute delay, Ward was once again ready to get into the fight and both cars started and rolled through the water box. The excitement and tension on the starting line was palpable and Ward took a starting line advantage when the tree activated and he never trailed in the race. Looking back at the delayed start and then the eventual race win, Ward was happy but also thankful to Halsey.

“It was stressful up until we got it started in the burnout box for the last final,” said Ward. “You have to forget everything when stuff like that happens. I have to say thanks to Jim Halsey for giving me time to do what I had to do to get up the start line. I don’t even pay attention to all that stuff when it is happening. I’m looking at the tree and down track. That’s it. I wasn’t thinking anything until we got that win light on the finish line.”

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With a $100,000 payday in his pocket, Ward is looking forward to a busy 2024 Pro Mod season. The young driver does not have major plans for his winnings.

“We are going to just keep working hard and keep going racing and see what happens,” said Ward.

For Halsey, the 2024 season is off to a bittersweet start. He was breaking in a new car, and it obviously showed promise winning four rounds on race day against some of the quickest teams in the class. Not getting a fifth win light might take some time to get over.

“This was the first race on a brand-new car so we’re very happy with it. Jerry Bickel builds a bad ass racecar,” said Halsey. “I am just looking forward to the season and I am very excited about what it can do the rest of the road. I don’t know about getting more luck. You know, sometimes nice guys finish last. Derek is a good guy, and he runs good. He deserves to win just as much as we do.”

The race day was stacked with quick runs and quality side-by-side racing for both finalists. In the quarterfinals, Halsey and his ‘68 Camaro took out reigning PDRA Pro Boost champion Jason Harris in a 3.652 at 208.33 to 3.684 at 205.35 race. Ward drove his G-Force Race Cars-built, screw-blown ‘68 Firebird to a holeshot win with a 3.673 at 206.45 over Marcus Butner’s 3.667 at 207.40.

Stevie “Fast” Jackson defeated Randy Weatherford, and Todd Tutterow took out Preston Tanner to reach the final four of the World Series of Pro Mod. Halsey (.027) 3.635, 208.71 trailered Tutterow (.057) 3.632, 205.57 on holeshot, and Ward’s 3.639 at 207.85 defeated a red-lighting Jackson (-.070), 5.823 at 79.83 to reach the final round.

MOUNTAIN MOTOR PRO STOCK

Matt Giangrande raced through a tough field of 16 Mountain Motor Pro Stock competitors to take the $25,000 top prize in the second annual Mountain Motor Pro Stock Invitational. Giangrande, from Pleasant Garden, N.C., drove car owner Enoch Love’s ‘19 Camaro to the winner’s circle defeating Johnny Pluchino, of Smithtown, N.Y., in his Feather-Lite Batteries ’13 Mustang. In the final it was Giangrande’s 4.108 at 175.37 paired with an .025 reaction time getting to the finish line in front of Pluchino’s 4.137 at 175.71. 

“This is unbelievable,” said Giangrande from the winner’s circle. “This is definitely the biggest win of my career so far. I really want to thank Drag illustrated and Bradenton Motorsports Park. Of course, I want to thank my entire team – Jennifer, Tim, Wayne, Joe – and Enoch for allowing me to drive the car. We started off with no expectations and we wanted to just be reasonable.”

Giangrande finished two days of qualifying as the No. 8 Pro Stock car, but the unique chip draw format had him racing drivers from across the qualified field. Giangrande started his day with Elijah Morton, then defeated Bo Butner in the second round.

“We just kept pecking away at it. We started the week a little mild with a mild tune up. We got down every time and we just kept working on it. We finally hit on all cylinders, for lack of a better term, in the final,” said Giangrande.

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In the first round, No. 1 qualifier Bo Butner got the win with a strong 4.112 at 177.00 over Derrick Reese’s 5.570 at 89.16. The quickest run of the opening session was posted by runner-up Pluchino, who ran 4.111 at 176.97 to trailer Tony Pontieri and his 8.287, 54.35 pass. Mountain Motor Pro Stock newcomer Randi Lyn Butner grabbed her first career round win with a clutch outrunning Scott Benham with a 4.137 to 4.163.

In the semifinals, it was a battle of heavyweights with Pluchino taking out Dwayne Rice with a 4.109 to 4.132. Giangrande drove past Rick Cowger’s Cobalt with a winning time of 4.150 to Cowger’s 4.175.

The final round saw Giangrande get the jump on Pluchino and never trail in the drag race. The racer who is originally from Long Island had nothing but positive thoughts for his opponent and the thrill of winning the Mountain Motor Pro Stock trophy.

“I was ready. Johnny’s a great driver,” said Giangrande. “I’ve known Johnny for a very long time. I’m originally from New York up there with those guys so to race them in the final was great. I knew I had to be on the wheel and make a good run or else. We were not coming home without this trophy.”

PRO 10.5

Racing on a narrow 10.5-inch-wide tire in the Florida sunshine, Nick Schroeder and his fellow racers in the Pro 10.5 Challenge fought hard to get down the track in the first round of Sunday eliminations. But Schroeder in his screw-blown ’06 GTO progressed in the following three rounds, ultimately setting low E.T. of eliminations with his winning 3.977 at 191.40 in the final round. The past DI 30 Under 30 honoree defeated former Top Dragster racer Dan Norris in his brand-new, supercharged ’22 Mustang, which slowed to a 4.192 at 181.54. 

“We struggled at first but we came through,” Schroeder said. “We changed gear ratios, four-link, and just tried something that my dad used to run when he used to run 10. 5 and it paid off. I do concrete work and it’s just me and one other guy. It’s pretty tough to run these things by myself, and I’m pretty young as you can see. I’ll use this money to race the rest of the year.”

Schroeder qualified No. 7 out of 24 drivers attempting to qualify for the 16-car field. He defeated Richard Reagan in the first round, then knocked out two-time PDRA Pro Street world champion Tim Essick in the second round in a matchup Schroeder counted as perhaps the biggest round of the weekend. 

“I took every round one at a time, but when I raced Tim Essick, he has whipped my ass more than many,” said the Delaware-based driver. “When you’ve got to race him, you’ve got to step your game up and it worked.”

Schroeder then used a starting line advantage and a 4.044 at 190.70 to beat fellow young gun Joel Wensley Jr.’s quicker 4.02 at 195.36 on a holeshot in the semifinals to punch his ticket to the $25,000-to-win final round. 

Michigan’s Norris debuted his supercharged ’22 Mustang by qualifying on the bump spot, then beating the turbo cars of John Carinci and Jesse Lambert in the first two rounds. He used a 4.023 at 189.10 to defeat teammate and reigning PDRA Pro Street world champion Bill Riddle’s 4.049 at 189.12 in the semis. 

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PRO MOD SECOND-CHANCE SHOOTOUT

After two days of qualifying, nearly three dozen Pro Mod drivers from across the country were on the outside looking in at the World Series of Pro Mod 32-car qualified field vying for the $100,000 winner-take-all payday. Jeff Rudolf and Mike Decker III were two of the drivers outside of the top 32, but on race day, they took one more shot at winning the $10,000 Pro Mod Chicago-Style Shootout. All the non-qualified Pro Mods got one shot at the track Sunday morning, and the two quickest race cars came back to run for $10,000.

Rudolf’s 3.652 at 205.72 defeated Decker’s 3.664 at 206.85 in the final. Standing in the Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod winner’s circle, Rudolf was all smiles.

“Winning this $10,000 takes a lot of the sting out of not making the Top 32,” said Rudolf, from Brownsburg, Ind. “We had a car – I don’t know if we could run a 3.63 – but we had a car that competed. We just struggled with some tires and got behind testing this whole entire week. We’ll take this one all day long. This crew is bad ass and I can’t say enough about [tuner] Brandon Stroud. He’s a bad man. He is hands down the humblest person I’ve ever met in my life. Everyone as a team worked great together. No failures, no screw-ups. That’s why we’re here in the winner’s circle.”

TOP SPORTSMAN

A pair of Top Sportsman veterans driving nitrous-assisted machines rolled to the starting line for the $50,000 final round presented by FTI Performance, a Florida-based manufacturer of racing transmissions and torque converters. Ohio’s Tim Molnar and West Virginia’s Ronnie Proctor made it through four rounds to reach the final, where Proctor went .011 red in his ’09 Mustang. He lifted after seeing the red light come on. Molnar in his ’68 Camaro rolled to a 3.765 on a 3.76 dial-in to punctuate the win. 

“There’s nothing bigger or anything close to the World Series of Pro Mod,” Proctor said while waiting to take winner’s circle photos. “We appreciate Wes [Buck] and Drag Illustrated and FTI Performance to give us this stage to race on, because without that, we wouldn’t get to race for this big of a purse. It’s awesome and I’m so happy for my family and my teammates.”

Molnar defeated Dylan Stott, Keith Raferty, Buddy Perkinson, and Andrew Johnson on his way to the final round. 

“The car was going to run dead-on every round,” said Molnar, who thanked Jerry Bickel Race Cars, Rickie Smith, Billy Albert, wife Rikki, and crew. “All I had to do was get in there and let off the button and it was on rails.”

TOP DRAGSTER

In a final-round battle between PDRA world champions Steve Furr and Tisha Wilson, Furr used a perfect reaction time and a 3.85 on a 3.84 dial-in to win the $50,000 Top Dragster prize courtesy of FTI Performance. Wilson ran a 4.344 on a 4.32 dial-in to take runner-up honors. 

“It feels good to collect that big check amongst this bunch of killers, like Anthony Bertozzi and so many racers that I’ve raced with for years,” said Furr, a mult-time world champion. “I’ve never staged for fifty-grand, so for me it was once in a lifetime. I am honored to get invited to this event, and what Wes Buck and Drag Illustrated did is awesome.”

Furr’s road to the finals included round wins over Shannon Roberts, Robert Tehle, past WSOPM Top Dragster winner JB Strassweg, and Johnny Tolisano. 

“I was very fortunate to get through a couple of those rounds. My man was like .002 and dead-on zero in the semis, and somehow I managed to beat that with a stroke of luck. I would like to thank Jeremy Youker, who paid my entry fee so I would come here instead of going to the Baby Gators,” said Furr as he continued to thank Hoosier Racing Tire, VP Racing Fuels, Right Trailers, PAR Racing Engines, and American Race Cars.

TOP SPORTSMAN SECOND-CHANCE RACE

The racers who didn’t make the 32-car Top Sportsman field had the opportunity to compete in the second-chance race. The final round came down to “Fast Freddy” Perkins in his ’57 Chevy Bel-Air and Wes Goddard in his one-of-a-kind ’58 Nash. Perkins was first off the line and ran a 4.228 on a 4.22 dial-in for the win over Goddard and his 4.24 on a 4.22 dial-in. Perkins made the trip South to compete in both Top Sportsman and Top Dragster, while Goddard returned to Bradenton with his race car in tow after helping fellow Canadian Spencer Hyde win the WSOPM in 2023. 

SUPER PRO

Michael Carpenter, who lives just north of Bradenton in St. Petersburg, cut a .007 reaction time and ran a dead-on 4.87 in his yellow dragster in the final round to defeat Travis Logan for the $5,000 Super Pro Shootout win. Logan was similarly impressive with his 6.192 on a 6.19 dial-in, but his .022 reaction time put him behind from the start. Carpenter raced past Brad Gibbs, Scott Ewing, Jeneane Pickett, and Jon Siegel on his way to the final. 

For more results and coverage from the World Series of Pro Mod, visit the Drag Illustrated (www.Facebook.com/DragIllustrated) and World Series of Pro Mod (www.Facebook.com/WorldSeriesofProMod) Facebook pages, as well as www.DragIllustrated.com

This story was originally published on March 4, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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