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Five Takeaways From ‘No Prep Kings’ at New England Dragway

Ryan Martin earned his 25th Invitational win at the Street Outlaws: No Prep Kings event Saturday evening at New England Dragway in Epping, NH. The victory came as no surprise to anyone who follows the series; how he won is another story. 

Martin hurt the motor during testing Friday evening, causing him to miss the call for his first-round matchup against Jerry Bird. However, with only nine opening-round winners, he was placed in a second-chance bracket to fill up Saturday’s 16-car field – but again wasn’t able to get his Fireball Camaro fixed in time. At most NPK events, that would be the end of the story. But Martin drew a lucky chip on Saturday to insert himself back into the field, and never looked back.

With some key storylines emerging heading into the fourth event of the season, here’s a look at my five major takeaways from this weekend’s race.

Ryan Martin is Still the GOAT

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While Martin certainly had an abundance of luck on his side this weekend, he took full advantage of it in securing his first Invitational win of the season and the $30,000 prize that goes with it. Giving the three-time series champion a second chance would typically be bad news for the competition, but a third chance? Forget about it.

Martin mowed through the field on Saturday, defeating “Dominator” Joe Woods, Jerry Bird, and Jimmy Taylor before a close-fought victory in the finals against Giuseppe Gentile. 

“We definitely got lucky,” said Martin during his post-race interview, noting that half the blower belt was missing after the final. “That was a door-to-door race. He was right there the whole time. There’s a lot of people that said, ‘You need to bring the gray car back out, this old thing can’t do it no more.’ But guess what? It did.” 

In doing so, Martin has now won an Invitational with three different power adders – twin turbos, ProCharger, and a screw blower. He is the only NPK driver to accomplish that feat, proving once again why he is the undisputed king of no prep.  

Car Count Conundrum? 

Perhaps overshadowing Martin’s win in Epping was the lack of big-name drivers making the trip to the northeast. Jim Howe and Murder Nova – winners of the first two races this year – were both missing, along with contenders like Kayla Morton, Robin Roberts, Nate Sayler, Clay Cole, and Kallee Mills. It’s been many years (if ever) since NPK only had 18 cars in the field. There’s a myriad of reasons for this, but many of them can be linked to the fact that the first three events are non-points races.

Let’s face it: the schedule for the past few seasons has been brutal. With points not being awarded during these first three races, it makes it harder for teams to justify the high cost of traveling every weekend, especially as far as the northeast. In past years, the publicity gained from being on television could potentially offset some of those costs, but with Discovery Channel no longer airing the show, it will take time to build that viewership back up through streaming.

I’m not all doom and gloom about the situation like some are, though. The points championship begins this coming weekend at Empire Dragway in Leicester, NY, which should boost the car count. No Prep Kings then returns to the Midwest the following weekend at Flying H Drag Strip near Kansas City, a much easier drive for many of the teams. Let’s see what happens there before we start making a final assessment.     

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Jeff Lutz’s New Car is a ‘Game Changer’

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Fans at New England Dragway were in for quite a surprise, as veteran Jeff Lutz was not competing in his signature yellow GTO. Instead, Lutz sat behind the wheel of the Game Changer Mustang, most recently seen being driven last year by the “Axman” Larry Roach.

Lutz encountered a few bumps early on, falling to Daddy Dave in Saturday’s opening round. He quickly recovered in the second-chance bracket, however, making it to the finals where he defeated Lizzy Musi to take home $10,000. With some more laps under his belt, Lutz could quickly show how the car received its name. 

Kye Kelley Notches 200th Round Win

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Although Kye Kelley lost in the quarterfinals in Epping, he joined some very elite company along the way. According to “Stat Guy” Chris LeCloux, Kye Kelley’s first-round win Friday night gave him 200 round wins in his No Prep Kings career. He now joins Ryan Martin as the only members of this prestigious club.

Alex Laughlin Fights New Car Blues

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When Alex Laughlin won the $10,000 second-chance bracket at the first event of the year in Maple Grove, I thought we might be seeing the beginning of a new top contender. But drag racing is a humbling sport, as Laughlin found out in New Hampshire.

“We got our teeth kicked in every time we started the car,” Laughlin posted on social media. “From broken parts, aborted runs, (and) mechanical problems, we took a whoopin.”

Despite the issues with his new Redline Corvette, Laughlin says they know what the problems are and how to fix them. His next NPK appearance will be in two weeks in Kansas City, and with prestigious wins in multiple doorslammer categories (Pro Stock, Pro Mod, and Radial vs. the World), I expect Laughlin and his team will right the ship sooner rather than later.  

This story was originally published on May 13, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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