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Nine Takeaways From The 2024 PDRA Season-Opening East Coast Nationals

Photos by Tara Bowker and Gary Rowe

The 2024 Red Line Oil PDRA Drag Racing Series season got off to a smooth start over the weekend at the Summit Racing Equipment East Coast Nationals presented by FuelTech at GALOT Motorsports Park. Uncommonly good weather conditions and the usual PDRA and GALOT track surface provided racers with everything they needed to set records and go rounds throughout the weekend. 

I’ve been covering the PDRA extensively since the second race of the 2016 season, and this past weekend was one of the best weekends of racing I’ve seen in the series. We saw record-setting fields in Pro Boost, Elite Top Sportsman, and Elite Top Dragster, as well as side-by-side racing on Saturday. 

In this piece, we’ll take a look at some of the highlights and takeaways from the season opener as the series kicks off its second decade of all-eighth-mile racing. Check out our full eliminations recap here to read up on all the winners. 

1. The Greats are Back

When two-time Pro Boost world champion Todd Tutterow announced after his 2022 championship season that he would take a step back from driving in 2023, doorslammer drag racing fans hoped he’d rethink that decision soon. It didn’t take long, as Tutterow accepted an offer from car owner Justin Smith to drive his new screw-blown Quik Fuel ’69 Camaro this season. The wheelman and tuner known as “King Tut” had it running in the 3.50s in just a handful of passes at the U.S. Street Nationals in Bradenton, then took it to the semifinals at the Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod at Bradenton last month. 

Tutterow was in championship form this weekend as he made his return to Pro Boost competition. He qualified No. 2 in a field that saw nine drivers run in the 3.50s, then raced his way to a final-round win over reigning world champion Jason Harris. Tutterow himself admitted he had some luck earlier in the day, but he used a holeshot advantage to take out Harris. Tutterow is now the second-winningest driver in Pro Boost history, breaking a tie with former teammate John Strickland. No doubt Tutterow will keep that tally going this season. 

Eric McKinney, who was dominant in the final years of ADRL Pro Extreme Motorcycle and the first few years of PDRA Pro Extreme Motorcycle, reminded everyone why he’s a multi-time world champion when he returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since Norwalk 2021. He wasn’t the quickest in qualifying, nor in eliminations, but he made good runs when it counted and used a holeshot advantage to beat two-time and reigning world champion Chris Garner-Jones in the final round. Like Tutterow, McKinney is back for a full championship pursuit season. 

2. Pro Nitrous is Mixing It Up

For the last five or six years, it’s been the Jim Halsey and Tommy Franklin Show in Pro Nitrous, and rightfully so. The two top dogs, responsible for seven collective world championships in the series’ 10-year history, show up with max-effort programs and veteran driving abilities. 

After qualifying, where Halsey broke his own E.T. national record to qualify No. 1 and Franklin ran a 3.615 to qualify second, it looked like the two were going to race their way to another final round. But No. 3 and 4 qualifiers Fredy Scriba and Brian Shrader had other plans. In the semis, Scriba ran a 3.658 in his brand-new Robert Hayes-built, Musi-powered ’69 Camaro to beat a slowing Franklin, then Shrader laid down a 3.657 in his Hayes-built-and-tuned ’17 Corvette to knock out Halsey and his 3.638 on a holeshot.

It was a side-by-side, mid-3.60-second final round with Shrader posting a 3.654 over Scriba’s 3.667 to claim his first-ever Pro Nitrous victory. Amazingly, the East Coast Nationals played host to first-time wins for Halsey in 2019 and James Hancock in 2017. 

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Franklin and Halsey are as strong as ever, but a few other players in the class are also rising to the occasion. Shrader and Scriba both proved they’ll be players this season. Young gun Marcus Butner with Jay Cox tuning will also be a contender. That’s not to say Franklin and Halsey won’t be fighting it out for a championship come October, but these other guys won’t make it easy for them. 

3. Pro Boost Is On Another Level

Though the usually strong Pro Boost field was down a few cars due to NHRA Pro Mod running at the Arizona Nationals in Phoenix this weekend, the cars that did roll through the gates at GALOT put on an absolute show in qualifying. By the end of the third qualifying session Friday night, all 17 cars ran quicker than 3.70 seconds. Derek Ward, a month removed from his $100,000 win at the WSOPM, set a new class record with his 3.555-second blast to qualify No. 1. Eight other drivers also ran in the 3.50s. Steve King laid down a 3.599 and didn’t get lane choice. Chuck Ulsch ended up on the bump with a 3.687, while Joel Wensley was on the outside looking in with his 3.696. 

We’ll likely have to wait until the Brian Olson Memorial World Finals in October before we see another barrage of 3.50-second passes, but expect to see cutthroat fields in Pro Boost throughout the season, especially when there’s more than one car trying to bump into the 16-car field.

4. GALOT Motorsports Park is Johnny Pluchino Country

Two-time Extreme Pro Stock world champion Johnny Pluchino may hail from Long Island, but Benson, North Carolina’s GALOT Motorsports Park is Pluchino’s track. Before this weekend, Pluchino and his father, 2016 world champion John Pluchino, each had one Extreme Pro Stock win at the GALOT spring race, as well as a few in Pro 632 and some at the fall race. The younger Pluchino added another win to the family’s GALOT trophy case when he beat 2018 world champion Steven Boone in the final round. Yes, rival Chris Powers also has three wins here, but it’s hard to bet against Pluchino at GALOT. He’ll have the chance to add another here in October at Drag Wars. 

5. There’s New Players on the Block 

The two finalists that came to the line in Pro 632, Andy House and Carson Perry, had never even entered a Pro 632 race before this weekend. House, based just down the road in Dunn, North Carolina, drove Meade Baldwin’s Southern Diamond Company ’69 Camaro to the win over Perry, the 20-year-old son of former Pro Nitrous racer Danny Perry. It was over on the starting line since Perry went red by .018 seconds, but both drivers ran in the mid-4.10s. They both had solid reaction times all day, proving they’ll be in the mix throughout the season to make things interesting for defending world champion Jeff Melnick, 2022 world champion Amber Franklin, and the rest of the field. 

In Pro Street, past Pro Jr. Dragster world champion Ethan Steding made his big car debut driving a roots-blown P2 Contracting ’24 Camaro that was assembled and tuned by Todd and Ty Tutterow and the Wyo Motorsports camp. The son of Pro Boost contender Kurt Steding impressed everyone including Tutterow as he qualified No. 7 and made the second-quickest pass of the first round to get his first win light in the class. 

Another new Pro Street contender is former Top Dragster racer Dan Norris, who was runner-up in the Pro 10.5 Challenge at the WSOPM then qualified second at GALOT and came up short to Scott Kincaid by just .012 seconds in the semifinals. 

6. Scott Kincaid Can’t Be Stopped

Last season, young gun Scott Kincaid set the Pro Street world on fire when he won all four races he attended in the screw-blown ’69 Camaro formerly driven by his father, Tim. Kincaid’s undefeated record continued at GALOT, where he used a 3.947 to beat two-time world champion Tim Essick’s 3.987 in the final round. He wasn’t dominant, but the Tennesseans have mastered the art of going down the racetrack. 

Kincaid came up less than one round short of the world championship last year running just four of the seven Pro Street races. This year, the Kincaids plan to run the full eight-race schedule, and with the start they’re off to, don’t be surprised when Kincaid is fighting for a championship in six months. 

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7. Blake Denton Is Back For More

Blake Denton raced to the first-ever Super Street world championship last season driving his nitrous-fed ’76 Camaro tuned by Jeff Pierce, then rolled into GALOT ready to defend. He qualified third then raced past Brad McBride, David Knight, 2023 championship rival Derek Mota, and fellow Virginia-based nitrous racer Matt Schalow to claim the first win of the season. Other than a late light in the first round, Denton left the line first in all three other rounds and set a new career best E.T. in the final. Denton and the Tommy Franklin Motorsports team knew the rest of the class would step up this season, but they did their homework and were ready for them. 

8. PDRA’s Top Sportsman and Top Dragster Program is Top-Notch

Anyone who’s ever been to or watched a PDRA race on FloRacing knows the series is home to some of the nicest Top Sportsman and Top Dragster rides on the planet, as well as ultra-competitive drivers. That was evident this weekend, as the 16-car “Elite” fields had their quickest fields ever. The Elite Top Sportsman field featured all-sub-3.90-second passes for the first time, with Tim Molnar’s 3.726 leading the way and Jeff Simons’ 3.886 holding down the No. 16 spot. It was also a record field in Elite Top Dragster, topped by KC Ingram’s 3.683 and rounded out by past world champion Larry Roberts’ 3.814. 

9. The FloRacing Livestream is New and Improved

Make no mistake – FloRacing saw your messages and comments about their livestream issues at the WSOPM. Everyone involved realized they needed to do right by the drag racing community, and specifically the eighth-mile segment. The result was a massively improved livestreaming experience at the East Coast Nationals. That included new-to-the-PDRA camera angles courtesy of a boom camera operator on the starting line and a drone operator flying up and down the track. The stream also benefited from some incredible pieces by Matthew Dillner, the Senior Racing Producer for FloRacing Films, who carved out time in his jam-packed schedule to check out his first PDRA race. FloRacing’s Courtney Enders and PDRA Series Director Tyler Crossnoe also went live on Saturday morning for a 30-minute pre-race show to recap qualifying and take a look at marquee matchups for the first round. The fans, racers, and PDRA team were all wowed by the new production level, and it sounds like this is just the beginning. 

If you missed the action this weekend, you only have to wait about 10 days to catch the next PDRA race, the Kaeser Compressors Mid-Atlantic Showdown presented by Classic Graphix, April 18-20, at Virginia Motorsports Park. 

This story was originally published on April 8, 2024. Drag Illustrated


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Since 2005, DI has informed, inspired and educated drag racers from every walk of the racing life - weekend warrior and street/strip enthusiasts to pro-level doorslammer and Top Fuel racers. From award-winning writing and photography to binge-worthy videos to electric live events, DI meets hundreds of thousands of racers where they live, creating the moments that create conversations.