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Rini, Salemi, Gillig, Stewart, Davis, Kasper and Rhodes Outlast Storms and Competition to Win PDRA Summer Shootout

Photo by Geoff Sculley

Longtime Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous driver Chris Rini scored his first-ever Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) win Sunday night at the Drag 965 Summer Shootout presented by Classic Graphix at Virginia Motorsports Park. Rini’s .006 reaction time and 3.732-second, 202.97 MPH pass gave him the win over first-time finalist Dane Wood and his 3.963 at 178.00.

The final rounds closed out a long weekend that extended into Sunday due to afternoon rain showers on Friday and Saturday. A brief shower on Sunday afternoon also tried to derail the completion of the series’ fifth of eight races.

The other winners in the pro classes are Melanie Salemi in WS Construction Pro Boost presented by P2 Contracting and Ty-Drive, Tony Gillig in Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock presented by AED Competition, Daryl Stewart in $hameless Racing Pro 632, Travis Davis in Drag 965 Pro Nitrous Motorcycle, and Ty Kasper in Menscer Motorsports Pro Street presented by AFCO.

Radial racing star Ron Rhodes became just the second winner in the PDRA’s new small-tire class, AFCO Super Street presented by Menscer Motorsports, putting together a dominant performance in his nitrous-assisted, small-block ’68 Camaro.

In the sportsman classes, event victories went to Bruce Thrift in MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman presented by US Rail, Michael White in Lucas Oil Elite Top Dragster presented by Laris Motorsports Insurance, Nick Meloni in MagnaFuel Top Sportsman 32 presented by Vortech Superchargers, and Randy Midgett in Lucas Oil Top Dragster 32 presented by Laris Motorsports Insurance. Vince Fourcade Jr. scored the win in Edelbrock Bracket Bash presented by COMP Cams in a tight final round, where he ran a 5.286 on a 5.28 dial-in to beat Ben Jones and his 5.964 on a 5.96 dial-in.

The PDRA’s future stars also raced at the Summer Shootout in the Jr. Dragster classes, where the winners were Chris Suppers in Coolshirt Systems Pro Jr. Dragster presented by PRP and Carter Jackson in Classic Graphix Top Jr. Dragster presented by PRP. Suppers bounced back from a runner-up finish at the last race, winning on a double breakout with a 7.892 to Justin Kerby’s 7.872, both on a 7.90 index. Jackson also won on a double breakout, running an 8.891 on an 8.90 dial-in to beat Wyatt Stanley’s 8.966 on an 8.99 dial-in.


Chris Rini has been a part of Pro Nitrous since the PDRA’s inaugural season in 2014, but a win in the class has escaped the New Yorker-turned-North Carolinian. He took a brief hiatus from the class in 2021, then returned this season to finally earn his first Pro Nitrous win in the fifth race of the season. He lined up against Chesapeake, Virginia’s Dane Wood in the final round, where Rini laid down a 3.732 at 202.97 in Bryant Marriner’s Buck-powered ATI Performance Products ’69 Camaro to beat Wood’s 3.963 at 178.00.

“It means a lot because we put a lot of years into [Pro Nitrous] prior to this year,” said Rini, thanking his crew, wife Emily, Brandon Switzer of Switzer Dynamics, ATI, Buck Racing Engines, Jerry Bickel Race Cars, Pro Fab Headers, and Callies Performance. “We just always struggled to get to the final and when we got to the final, we just couldn’t get it done. So it was great to get it done tonight. It feels like we’ve been here a week. We put a lot of time and hard work in at the shop, at the racetrack. My guys dedicate all the time. We’re just a bunch of guys trying to have some fun.

“There’s some tough, fast cars here,” Rini continued. “At the end of the day, these are the fastest eighth-mile cars out there. The competition is stiff. There’s not a lot of mistakes happening out there. Everybody pretty much has their cars and their programs on point.”

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Rini opened eliminations with a big win over two-time world champion Tommy Franklin, running a 3.767 at 202.67 to Franklin’s 5.402. He then defeated fellow Big Dog Shootout star Travis “The Carolina Kid” Harvey’s 4.43 with a 3.778 at 202.82 in the second round. Rini made his best run of the day, a 3.722 at 203.83, next to a red-lighting Marcus Butner to move on to the final round.

On Wood’s way to his first Pro Nitrous final round, he drove his family’s Albert-powered ’13 Mustang to a 3.811 to beat two-time Pro 632 world champion Wes Distefano and his 3.831 in the first round. He upset three-time and defending world champion Jim Halsey in the second round, posting a .006 reaction time and a 3.818 over Halsey’s 4.456. Wood used a weekend-best 3.784 to beat two-time world champion Jason Harris and his 4.784 in the semis.


Melanie Salemi has had the quickest Pro Boost entry at multiple races in the first half of the season, and now she has a 2022 win to go with her elapsed-time record set at the season opener. Driving Eddie Whelan’s roots-blown Slice-and-Ice ’19 Camaro tuned by her husband, Jon, and brother-in-law, Jim Salemi, she defeated points leader Todd “King Tut” Tutterow in the final round. Salemi, who’s No. 2 in points, left first and fired off a 3.624 at 204.76 to finish ahead of Tutterow and his 3.629 at 207.02.

“I just played it like it was any other race,” said Salemi, who thanked her family-based crew, as well as car owner Eddie Whelan and engine builder Mike Stawicki. “Right now, I believe that Todd is probably my biggest competitor. You know what I want to do? I want to beat him every single time I race him. We haven’t been as fortunate lately. I love the competition side of it and I love that he is as good as he is. I love that we are as good as we are as well, and I love to prove it. To beat him, it’s an accomplishment for our team. They may feel the same way when they beat us. They work just as hard as we do and they do this because they’re just as passionate as we are.”

Salemi qualified No. 1 for the third time in five races, then ran a 3.683 at 201.94 on a first-round single. She lifted to a 5.673 at 83.23 in the second round alongside a red-lighting Kurt Steding, who won the last race on tour. The Salemi camp made a big step up for the semifinal round, where a 3.631 at 204.66 beat Ken Quartuccio’s 3.672 at 204.42.

Tutterow in his screw-blown P2 Contracting ’20 Camaro was appearing in his third final round after winning the first two races of the year. He qualified No. 2 and steadily improved through eliminations with a 3.68 over William Brown III, a 3.669 over Chip King, and a 3.631 to beat Johnny Camp and his 3.642 in the semifinals.


After runner-up finishes in Extreme Pro Stock at the last two races, Tony Gillig and his Gillig-Wagner Motorsports team grabbed their first win of the season and took over the points lead. Gillig in his Kaase-powered Dayco ’10 GXP put together his best run of the weekend, a 4.093 at 176.51, to win in the final round over No. 1 qualifier Elijah Morton, who went red by .008 on a 4.077 at 178.19.

“This is a huge morale booster,” said Gillig, who thanked his team and supporters Dayco, Jon Kaase Racing Engines, Chris’ Electric, Ron’s R&B Auto Body, NGK Spark Plugs, Right Trailers, and Flatout Gaskets. “Despite going to the final three times, we’ve been struggling. We’ve been winning some rounds on some luck, and maybe some guys were struggling more than we were. This is huge for us. We were in the dumps after losing in the final in Maryland. This is an awesome win.”

Gillig qualified No. 8 and won first round with a 4.157 at 176.21 over Derrick Reese’s 4.178. Defending world champion Chris Powers went red against Gillig in the second round, while Gillig lifted to a 5.329 at 93.69. He then used a semifinal single to run a 4.099 at 176.70.

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Morton, who qualified No. 1 for the second consecutive race, recorded a 4.099 in his Allen-powered Morton Brothers Motorsports ’19 Mustang on a first-round single. He improved to a 4.081 to knock out Mountain Motor Pro Stock rookie Jr. Ward. Morton’s 4.087 over Dillon Voss in the semifinals gave him lane choice in the final.

PRO 632

Daryl Stewart admittedly didn’t have a strong first half of the season in Pro 632, but the defending event champion earned another Summer Shootout victory to start the second half on a high note. The former bracket racer qualified No. 1 and raced through eliminations to meet No. 2 qualifier Walter Lannigan Jr. in the final round. Stewart left first with a .009 in his Hameetman-powered Chassis Engineering ’17 Camaro and ran a 4.147 at 171.01 to beat Lannigan’s 4.171 at 171.47.

“It was a long road back,” said Stewart, who credited tuner Clayton Murphy of Chassis Engineering, engine builder Daryl Hameetman of HRE, and crew members Chris Boudreau and “Trucker Johnny” Smith. “It was a good feeling. We got one for the old guys. Walt [Lannigan] is 50-something and I’m 50-something, and those young girls [Amber Franklin and Lexi Tanner] have been tearing ‘em up. That was good for them. We finally redeemed ourselves and got a little piece back, so we’re excited.”

Stewart started Sunday with a 4.198 at 166.58 win over Mike Harvey, then used a 4.201 at 162.84 to beat fellow south Florida racer Jason Ventura and his 4.313 in the second round. Stewart dipped back into the 4.10s with a 4.157 at 170.13 in the semis against Mike Murphy, who went red on a 4.201.

Driving $hameless Racing’s Troy Russell-tuned, Musi-powered ’68 Camaro, Lannigan raced to his third final round of the season after a 4.232 win over Brian Clauss, a 4.192 win over Vinny LaRosa, and a 4.167 victory over points leader Amber Franklin in the semifinals.


Multi-time Pro Nitrous Motorcycle world champion Travis Davis didn’t plan on attending the Summer Shootout, as his son, Brayden, was racing his Jr. Dragster at the NHRA Eastern Conference Finals in Bristol, Tennessee, all week. But a last-minute trip to Virginia paid off with Davis’s second consecutive win, as he won in the final round over a red-lighting Chris Garner-Jones. Garner-Jones was .005 red, while Davis was .005 on the green side and followed through with a 4.088 at 169.51 to take the win.

“This is kind of unexpected,” said Davis, who thanked his wife, Brandy, as well as Brayden, chassis builder Walt Timblin, Dan Wagner of DTM, and Steve Nichols of MaxxECU. “We went to Bristol with our son racing with Capital City [Motorsports Park]. He won on Tuesday in his age group in one of the classes. First time we’ve ever won anything at Bristol. When the ECFs started, we got beat first round, and we had the bike in the trailer, so we loaded everything up because we saw [PDRA] got weather delays here and we saw we would be able to get some qualifying in. We hauled tail here, and here we are in the winner’s circle.”

Davis, who said he was down on power, qualified third before winning first round with a 4.108 at 175.50 over Terry Wynn. Second-round opponent Mohammad Alawad went red by .299, causing Davis to go red by .032 on his winning 4.028 at 175.87.

Garner-Jones, the defending world champion, qualified No. 1 to bounce back from a DNQ at the last race. He then set low ET of the weekend, a 4.015, on a first-round single. He moved on to the final round with a 4.086 over Tyrone Lemons.

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Pro Street young gun Ty Kasper earned his long-awaited first career win at the last race, the North vs. South Shootout in Maryland, and he had to wait just a couple weeks to add his second win at Virginia. It was an unusual weekend for Kasper and the rest of the class, but it ended with Kasper posting a 4.065 at 198.26 on a single in the final round. Kasper in his turbocharged Victus Sports ’05 Mustang was set to face No. 1 qualifier Nick Agostino, who wasn’t able to return for the final after a high-speed wheelstand in the semis.

“I feel the same as I did last time. I’m so excited,” said Kasper, who went on to thank supporters Victus Baseball, Vibrant Performance, ATI Transmissions, and JNE Automotive. “It feels like the first time winning again. I don’t think this will ever get old. This weekend, we had a lot of luck on our side. I’d rather be lucky than good, honestly. I just want to thank everybody who came out this weekend to help us – my dad, my girlfriend, my brother, my sister, and my nieces and nephews. Everybody did their job. We’re still working on it. We put a piston in it Friday night, so it’s not like we’re just cruising along. We’re still doing work. But it’s finally working. It feels great.”

Kasper qualified No. 6 before winning the closest race of the day in the opening round, a 4.147 at 197.08 over Jesse Lambert and his 4.167. He simply took the tree in the second round, as opponent Joe Thomas had to leave after the first round. Because of the 10-car ladder, another bye run was waiting for Kasper in the semifinals. This time, though, he recorded a 4.11 at 197.94 to earn lane choice for the final.

Ontario, Canada’s Agostino started eliminations with a 4.881 on a single, as opponent Steve Crisafulli couldn’t stay for Sunday eliminations. He stepped up to a 4.074 on another single in the second round. Things got exciting in the semifinals, though, as Agostino’s turbocharged, small-block ’69 Camaro picked up the front wheels and drove into a huge wheelstand before slamming back down near the eighth-mile finish line. He got the win with a 4.47 over Nick Schroeder’s 5.316.


In just the second race for the new Super Street class, X275 star Ron Rhodes made a major statement with his Summer Shootout performance in his small-block, nitrous-fed ’68 Camaro. The Delaware driver qualified No. 1 and posted a string of passes deep into the 4-second range to pick up his first PDRA “660 Man” trophy. Rhodes’ 4.716 at 161.61 in the final round defeated Dan Whetstine and his 5.402 at 115.29.

“We knew there would be some challenges, but didn’t realize how much of a challenge it was going to be,” said Rhodes, referencing the switch from drag radial tires to slicks. “We left Maryland not knowing where we were going with it and trying to figure it out. We went testing and made some progress there, then we came here and tested. It was spinning, then we finally got it going down the track, then it was getting a little crazy on the top end. We almost lost it through the finish line in qualifying. Got into eliminations and it just all started coming together one pass at a time. From a radial car to a slick car, we have changed every single thing except for the engine itself. From tuneup to shocks to transmissions to gear ratios to converters – there’s nothing the same as the radial car. It’s been a fun challenge. I never thought I’d have this much fun slowing down.”

Rhodes set the tone for the day with a 4.778 at 155.97 on a first-round single, as Tyler DeSantis didn’t stay for eliminations. He lifted to a 6.832 at 78.79 on a single in the second round. Rhodes’ best run in eliminations followed, a 4.684 at 161.65, to knock out Dennis Moore and his 4.949.

Waiting for Rhodes in the finals was Dan Whetstine, the crew chief for defending Pro Street world champion Tim Essick. Whetstine qualified sixth in his ProCharger-boosted ’93 Mustang, then won first round over Matt Schalow with a 5.09. He improved from there, first a 4.964 on a second-round single, then a 4.938 over Scott Marshall’s 4.99.


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Veteran racer Bruce Thrift scored a major Elite Top Sportsman win in his PAR-powered ’07 GTO, taking the slimmest starting line advantage over defending world champion Tim Molnar and posting a 3.946 on a 3.92 dial-in to get the win. Molnar broke out in his nitrous-assisted ’68 Camaro with a 3.887 on a 3.89 dial-in.

Defending Top Sportsman world champion Nick Meloni is on his way to another title, as the points leader earned the Top Sportsman 32 win in his nitrous-fed TT Motorsports ’69 Camaro. In the final round, the New Hampshire driver left the starting line first and ran a 4.319 on a 4.29 dial-in to defeat Johnny Brooks in his ’67 Chevy II, who posted a 4.491 on a 4.47 dial-in.


With a .004 margin of victory in the Elite Top Dragster final round, Michael White picked up his first win of the season in his centrifugally supercharged ’15 Maddox dragster. White was first off the starting line next to David Petrofske and his nitrous-assisted ’21 Glick Fire Equipment Precision dragster. White ran a 3.853 on a 3.85 dial-in, while Petrofske ran a dead-on 4.13 in the runner-up effort.

It was a starting line advantage that helped Randy Midgett win in Top Dragster 32 as well. He turned on the final win light with a 4.657 on a 4.59 dial-in in his ’06 Undercover dragster, beating Tom Reese and his 4.372 on a 4.37 dial-in in his ’99 Undercover entry.

Qualified PDRA drivers and teams will return to Virginia Motorsports Park in two weeks for the second annual Summit Racing Equipment PDRA ProStars race on July 30. Held in conjunction with VMP’s K95 Richmond Night of Fire, ProStars is a race-your-way-in special event with nearly $70,000 in payouts. The one-day show will also feature performances by country artists Jon Langston, Adam Doleac, and PJ North.

This story was originally published on July 18, 2022. Drag Illustrated

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