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Chris Sears, Upshift360 and Craig Cook photos


Five Takeaways from ‘No Prep Kings’ at Flying H Drag Strip

Huge crowds, beautiful weather, great racing, a fifth different winner – and oh yeah, fights – were all on deck at the Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings event this past weekend at Flying H Drag Strip in Odessa, Missouri. 

Before I get to my five key takeaways, I should address what the entire internet is buzzing about from the race – guessing the light on an instant-green tree. There was more guessing (or perceived guessing) last weekend than I’ve seen in quite a while, leading to multiple shouting matches and at least one straight-up fight. 

I’m not including this in my takeaways for a couple reasons. First, it’s nothing new. This debate has been going on for years, so even though it garnered a lot of attention, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. And second, if I were to discuss it, the situation probably warrants a deeper look than just a simple reaction to this one race. Perhaps we’ll dive into the guessing game topic in the near future.  

Let me also say that I am grateful Jeff Lutz is okay after a nasty crash in his Mustang during testing Friday evening. The car drifted towards the center near the finish line, taking out multiple cones. It then got up on its side and hit the wall in the shutdown area. Lutz addressed the fans a bit later, saying he was fine, that the car simply got loose, and he’ll be back. Let’s hope he’s able to return sooner rather than later.

With all that being said, let’s dive right into my five “non-guessing the tree” takeaways from No Prep Kings at Flying H Drag Strip.  

Giuseppe Finds Redemption 

Craig Cook photo

A few weeks ago, Giuseppe Gentile met Ryan Martin in the final round at New England Dragway, with Martin earning his NPK-record 25th Invitational victory. It didn’t take long for the two drivers to meet up again, and at Flying H, Gentile got his revenge. Cutting a great light, Gentile led the entire way while Martin got loose and drifted across the center line at the stripe. 

“We met Ryan in New England and he got the better of us in the finals there,” Gentile said. “This was our chance to get him back and we were able to pull it off. The car was hauling ass and we made a great run. I saw a little bit of him there at first, and then I just took off. I know he made a hard move behind us and knocked out some cones, but man, what an awesome run for us.”

Gentile began the weekend with a massive qualification-round victory over Murder Nova Friday night. He began Saturday in the winner’s bracket, defeating James “Birdman” Finney in round one. Subsequent wins over Bobby Ducote and John Odom propelled him into the final-round rematch against Martin. 

Craig Cook photo

Taking home the $30,000 prize, Gentile also moved into a first-place tie with Justin Swanstrom in the point standings with 70 apiece. Martin and Robin Roberts are currently tied for third at 50 points, while Lizzy Musi rounds out the top five with 40. 

Gentile also became the fifth different winner this season, joining Martin, Swanstrom, Jim Howe, and Murder Nova. According to “Stat Guy” Chris LeCloux, this is the first time in NPK history that five different drivers have won the first five races to start a season. 

“The competition this year is insane,” said Gentile. “Five different winners, five different races. Everybody’s stepped up their programs; there’s no easy rounds anymore. You’re going to see more different winners this year, I’m sure. We plan on putting our heads down, keep getting better, and try to win a few more. We’re number one in points right now with Justin, and while the season’s still early, it’s better than not being number one, that’s for sure.”  

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Murder Nova Turns ‘Setback’ into Second-Chance Win

Chris Sears photo

Shawn Ellington has already won an Invitational this year, and the Murder Nova is consistently one of the quickest cars in the field. Which is why it was a shock to see him end up in the second-chance bracket after a loss in Friday’s qualification round. Granted, it was to eventual event winner Giuseppe Gentile, but it was still surprising not to see him in the winner’s bracket.   

“We came into this weekend, and every race this season, knowing that we have a championship car,” Ellington said. “I’m gonna take the blame for the loss to Giuseppe on Friday night. I 100% believe we had the faster car on that pass. I made a move going into the beams, it loaded the suspension a little bit wrong, and the car went towards the wall. It just wasn’t happy. After that, we talked about it and said, ‘You know, every once in a while you’re gonna have a setback.’ So many things have to come together and be perfect for you to win.”

Ellington and his team made the most of a less than ideal situation, rolling through the “loser’s bracket” field on Saturday, defeating James “Doc” Love, Jimmy Taylor, and Jerry Bird. The win pocketed Ellington $5,000 and earned him 12 points to keep him seventh in the standings – and only eight points away from the top five. I expect Ellington to ride that momentum heading into the next race.

“The car’s consistent, the car’s fast, and it does what we tell it to do – if we tell it what to do right, which we didn’t do Friday night,” said Ellington. “We fixed all that, made everything good, and went into the second-chance race knowing that to get any type of points, we gotta win today. And that’s what we did. We got our stuff together and made three consistently good passes.”

Capacity Crowd at Flying H

Upshift360 photo

The Kansas City fans showed up and showed out at Flying H Drag Strip, with an estimated 19,000 attendees over the course of two days. I was told by multiple sources that it was the highest attendance at any NPK event so far this season. 

Despite traffic getting backed up to the interstate during the afternoon, everyone in the audience appeared to be having a great time. Chris “Boosted GT” Hamilton interacted with the fans all weekend, and other drivers such as Jeff Lutz, Justin Swanstrom, and “Disco Dean” Karns came out and mingled with the crowd as well. 

  The massive turnout was a true testament to the amount of time and effort put in by the entire Flying H team – at this time last year, the property was nothing but dirt and grass. 

“Today was the one-year anniversary of when we put shovels in the ground for Flying H Drag Strip, and it was also the first sellout crowd we’ve ever had,” said track owner Scott Higgs. “The highway patrol was kind of on us – I think I got a $1,000 fine for having too many cars out on the street, but it was worth it. The Street Outlaws came in and put on a show like I’ve never seen before. Hopefully everyone enjoyed it today.” 

Brandon Mork Doubles Up

Craig Cook photo

Sometimes lost in the shuffle at NPK events is the Small Tire class, which is a shame, because these drivers consistently deliver a great show. While not a huge turnout, there were around 12 solid contenders competing on both Friday and Saturday.

While the most recognizable competitor in attendance was probably Joey Hiykel in his infamous Beater Bomb Mustang, he didn’t take home the money either day. That distinction went to Brandon Mork, who traveled down from Chicago and put on an absolute clinic both days, doubling up as Small Tire champion.

By the time I visited their pits after Saturday’s win, Mork and his team were already busy loading up for the drive home. When I asked for his thoughts about the double up, he kept it short and sweet.  

“If they can’t cheat us, they can’t beat us,” Mork said.

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I’ll be honest – I don’t know who or what exactly he was referring to. However, it was clear by his demeanor that he was out to prove a point, and his performance all weekend did just that.

Nate Sayler Raises the Bar

Chris Sears photo

Even before all the guessing games started last weekend, drama was at the forefront – in fact, it started during the very first race of the qualification round on Friday night between Nate Sayler and Jerry Bird.   

As Sayler’s team was lining him up after the burnout, one crew member quickly crawled underneath the car. Watching from the top of the tower, it was hard for me to discern exactly what was going on until I realized the wheelie bar was no longer attached. Sayler had a similar experience inside the car.

“I had no idea what was going on back there at first,” admitted Sayler. “I was sitting up there idling, thinking, ‘Man, what is taking so long?’ Then I could hear the wheelie bar drop and hit the ground, and panic settled in. I can’t go without a wheelie bar. I mean, I was gonna run it without one, but you’re not supposed to.” 

Last week, I praised Paige Coughlin and her team for allowing Lizzy Musi all the time she needed to fix her car on the starting line. It also cost her when Lizzy ended up winning the matchup. Perhaps not wanting to risk the same result, Bird immediately put Sayler on the two-minute clock. Everyone waited anxiously as four different crew members thrashed under the back of the car to reattach the wheelie bar in time. As Boosted GT counted down the final couple seconds and Bird moved in to pre-stage, Sayler fired up his car and quickly pulled into the beams. After turning on the win light, Sayler was both visibly annoyed with the situation and elated with his team’s performance.    

“Paige let Lizzy (have time last week), Scott Taylor gave Paige time…they give everybody time. Of course, he can’t beat us, so his only way to beat me was to put me on the clock. We just made it; I don’t even think we had a second to spare. But we made a monster pass and got the win.”     

Next Up: No Prep Kings heads to National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Ohio this weekend for the third points race of the season.

This story was originally published on May 28, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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