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Low Qualifiers Thorne, Franklin and Montecalvo Add Victories at PDRA Northern Nationals

The No. 1 qualifiers in all three professional classes parlayed their qualifying success into event victories Saturday evening at the Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) Northern Nationals presented by Callies Performance at Dragway 42 in West Salem, Ohio. Kris Thorne (Moroso Pro Boost), Tommy Franklin (Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous) and John Montecalvo (Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock) left the northern Ohio facility with trophies.

Walter Lannigan Jr. earned the largest payday in Pro Outlaw 632 history, as he won the special non-points Pro Outlaw 632 Shootout presented by $hameless Racing. The win came with a $7,500 prize.

Also earning the Northern Nationals “660 Man” trophies in the sportsman classes were Glenn Butcher in MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman, Zack Fisher in Lucas Oil Elite Top Dragster, Buddy Perkinson in Top Sportsman 32 and Noah Johnson in Top Dragster 32. Joe Soucek Jr. won the Edelbrock Bracket Bash competition.

In Coolshirt Pro Jr. Dragster presented by Knoxtown Products, Melanie Sheets left the starting line first and went 7.994 to defeat Makala Stevens’ breakout 7.899, both a 7.90 dial-in. Connor Shields scored the Gilbert Motorsports Top Jr. Dragster win when he ran 8.111 on an 8.13 dial-in alongside Gabe Milligan, who red-lighted and went 8.348 on an 8.29 dial-in.


Pro Boost rookie Kris Thorne survived a bizarre first round and outlasted the largest Pro Boost field of the season to earn his second career victory in his Mikey Rees-tuned ’16 Corvette. It was an all-Pro Line Racing final round, as Thorne wheeled his twin-turbocharged ‘Vette to a 3.716 at 212.36 to take out Kevin Rivenbark and his 3.718 at 199.73 in the ProCharger-boosted GALOT Motorsports ’69 Camaro. The margin of victory was nine thousandths of a second.

“I knew it was going to be close with Steve (Petty) on the keyboard over there,” Thorne said. “It was tight down there. It was definitely a good race. I’m happy those folks put up the fight they did. I’m super-blessed to be out here and have a hot rod that can take out folks like that. This Jerry Bickel race car and Pro Line power, it’s a win-win combination.”

After defeating Pat Moore with a 3.83 at 212.06 in the opening round, Thorne was a star on the starting line. He used a .001 light and 3.776 at 211.67 to beat Chuck Ulsch, then a .009 bulb and 3.74 at 213.07 to defeat GALOT Motorsports driver John Strickland and his 3.77 at 195.48, preventing an all-GALOT final round.

For his spot in the final round, Rivenbark steadily improved from the No. 2 qualifying spot, first running a 3.833 at 195.91 over Matt Hutter and his 4.092 at 176.82. He stepped up to a 3.794 at 197.11 over James Beadling’s 3.835 at 195.57, then tuner Petty turned it up again with a 3.771 at 197.72 to eliminate Mike Yedgarian’s hard-charging turbocharged entry in the semifinals.


The two most evenly paired Pro Nitrous competitors in qualifying met in the final round, as two-time world champion and No. 1 qualifier Tommy Franklin squared off against points leader Jim Halsey. The two drivers were separated by just two ten-thousandths of a second in qualifying, but it was Franklin all the way in the final round. He grabbed a .007 starting-line advantage in the Musi-powered “Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro and pulled away with a 3.69 at 204.36 to Halsey’s 3.739 at 194.22 in his Fulton-powered ’68 Camaro.

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“Halsey’s had my number for a while now,” Franklin said. “I was able to get him second round at Valdosta then get him here in the final round. When you get somebody that’s got your number all the time, it feels good to start getting back after it. But they’re great racers and a great team over there. We were both even on the tree. It was just a heck of a race. You can’t leave anything on the table with them, that’s for sure. I just thank the Lord for the opportunity to get the win.”

Franklin broke traction on his first-round bye run, but he quickly found the sweet spot for his Bickel-built Camaro. He ran a 3.773 at 203.62 over Todd Fontana’s 3.831 at 196.85, but a stout 3.715 at 203.80 next to Chris Rini’s 3.744 at 201.07 set the tone for the final round.

Halsey in his Brandon Switzer-tuned Camaro used a pair of 3.77s to first defeat John Vergotz and Ron Muenks. The nitrous Pro Modified veteran moved on to the final round with an unopposed 3.713 at 203.34 after defending world champion Jason Harris broke on the starting line.


Mountain Motor Pro Stock veteran John Montecalvo entered the Northern Nationals with an intense focus on gaining ground on the leading Extreme Pro Stock competitors in the championship points standings. He jumped right to the top after qualifying No. 1 and securing his first win of the season in his third consecutive final round. Montecalvo used a holeshot and 4.151 at 172.81 in his Sonny’s-powered ’18 Camaro to defeat Elijah Morton and his 4.135 at 174.28 in the final round.

“I knew Elijah was gonna go fast,” Montecalvo said. “He’s had a good car all weekend. Elijah can definitely drive that thing. I figured he was going to play a little bit of a game up there (on the starting line) because he likes to do that, especially against me. We’re good buddies. I expected something, but you never know what’s going to happen. I was happy to get the holeshot on him because he’s really good on the tree and he has a fast car. The problem is once I was out I got over towards the wall. I hit second gear, the car spun the tire, shoved me over against the wall. I really probably should’ve let off, but it’s very hard to let off when you’re ahead. I didn’t see Elijah anywhere, so I pedaled it a bit, got back in it and got to the stripe first.”

Montecalvo and tuner Tommy Lee were each consistently strong in their respective roles through eliminations, running a 4.178 at 173.48 to defeat rookie Johnny Pluchino and his 4.195 at 173.14 in the opening round. A 4.172 at 172.94 followed in the semifinals, besting JR Carr’s 4.213 at 173.34.

Morton was also consistent in his Allen-powered Morton Brothers Motorsports ’18 Mustang, first posting a 4.182 at 172.74 over Jeff Dobbins and his 4.69 at 132.47. Morton was quicker than semifinal opponent Chris Powers on the starting line and at the finish line with his 4.194 at 172.41 alongside Powers’ 4.198 at 170.97.


The Summer Nationals was a planned weekend off for the Pro Outlaw 632 teams, but championship contender Wes Distefano and his Michigan-based $hameless Racing team put up money for a Pro Outlaw 632 Shootout worth $7,500 and bragging rights. Walter Lannigan Jr. picked up the win in a double-red-light final round, with his C&C Pumping ’53 Corvette leaving .007 too soon, but .002 after opponent Tony Gillig left the starting line early. Lannigan ran a 4.294 at 166.48, while Gillig posted a 4.359 at 161.06.

“I feel great,” Lannigan said. “I want to thank Chris Holdorf and Ms. Leslie Holdorf from C&C Pumping for giving me the chance to do this and giving us the equipment to do it. I’d like to thank $hameless Racing for hosting it and giving us a place to race today with PDRA. I want to thank my guys. I didn’t think we would be here today. All the 632 guys came around and helped us when we had a situation to get the car going.”

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Lannigan in the Nelson-powered, nitrous-assisted ‘Vette took out Joe Valerio in the opening round, then put teammate Chris Holdorf on the trailer with a 4.286 at 166.05 to Holdorf’s 4.404 at 163.16.

Gillig’s naturally aspirated Gillig-Wagner Motorsports ’96 Olds Cutlass was fighting adverse air conditions, but he steadily improved as the day went on. He started with a 4.414 at 159.46 over Sylvester Barnes before stepping up with a holeshot win in the semifinals, leaving on Distefano and his 4.373 at 167.10 with a 4.386 at 160.37 in his Madcap-powered entry.


Dolestown, Ohio’s Glenn Butcher earned the home-race victory after taking on some of the toughest racers in Elite Top Sportsman in his nitrous-assisted ’69 Camaro. He defeated Erica Coleman, Travis Harvey and Louis Ouimette on his way to the final round, where he met points leader Scott Moore. Moore left with a .002 light in his nitrous-assisted Mustang, but Butcher was better at the finish line with a 4.092 on a 4.09 dial-in compared to Moore’s 4.079 on a 4.04 dial-in.

In Top Sportsman 32, Valdosta event winner Chris Nyerges was denied his second consecutive win when he broke out in the final round alongside Buddy Perkinson. Perkinson won with a 4.432 on a 4.42 dial-in, while Nyerges went 4.517 on a 4.52 dial-in.


It was a battle of young guns in the Elite Top Dragster final round, as Zack Fisher took on Kellan Farmer. Fisher ran right on his dial-in twice on his way to the final round, taking out championship contenders Nick Hamilton, Kyle Harris and Chase Beverly. Farmer matched that feat, then Fisher used a 4.066 on a 4.05 dial-in in his ProCharged dragster to beat Farmer’s 4.05 on a 4.02 dial-in in his nitrous-assisted Race Tech dragster in the final.

In Top Dragster 32, a starting line advantage allowed Noah Johnson to defeat Kimberly Messer in the final round. Johnson ran a 4.853 on a 4.83 dial-in, while Messer went dead-on her 4.67 dial-in just one race after the Jr. Dragster graduate won her first event in a “big car” at the Summer Nationals.

The next stop on the 2019 PDRA Tour is PDRA Drag Wars VI presented by Pro Line Racing, Sept. 5-7 at GALOT Motorsports Park in Benson, N.C.


This story was originally published on July 21, 2019. Drag Illustrated

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