Several recently crowned world champions of the Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) backed up their titles with season-ending wins at the PDRA Brian Olson Memorial World Finals at Virginia Motorsports Park, Oct. 20-23. NAS Racing Pro Extreme champion Brandon Snider defeated defending world champion Jason Scruggs in the final round, while Tommy Franklin (Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous presented by MoTeC), Kevin Rivenbark (GALOT Motorsports Park Pro Boost), and Eric McKinney (Drag 965 Pro Extreme Motorcycle) ran world-record performances en route to their victories.
PDRA Extreme Pro Stock winner Buddy Perkinson scored an emotional win for team owner Enoch Love. DiSomma Racing Engines Outlaw 10.5 number one qualifier John Carinci swept the weekend, also winning the event.
In the PDRA’s sportsman classes, Jeff Pittman was the winner in Ronnie Davis Top Sportsman presented by MagnaFuel after more than 85 cars attempted to qualify. Junior Houston scored the win in Lucas Oil Top Dragster. Dalton Hayes won in Talbert Pro Junior Dragster, while Jackson Williams won in MegaCorp Top Junior Dragster.
Points leader Brandon Snider went into the World Finals knowing that he would only need to win one round in order to lock up his first PDRA world championship. The Atmore, Alabama-based driver qualified number one for the sixth time this season, setting up a favorable ladder position against number eight qualifier Monte Grace. A 3.542-second pass was more than enough for Snider to win the round and the championship.
“It was tremendous,” Snider said of the round win. “We knew we had to win that round to seal the deal. Going into eliminations as the number one qualifier helped out. I didn’t try to push the tree or anything, just needed to go down the track. That round win took a lot of pressure off.”
Snider’s Q80 Racing 1969 Camaro ran a 3.552 at 217.11 to defeat Swedish racer Mikael Lindahl in the semifinals. Waiting for Snider in the final round was outgoing world champion Jason Scruggs, who pushed his ScruggsFarm.com Camaro to a 3.492 at 220.66 pass in his semifinal victory over Frankie “Mad Man” Taylor. With a wounded rear end, Snider was unsure if he would be able to overtake the “Mississippi Missile”.
“We had some rear end problems all weekend, and it hurt the rear end again in the semifinals. I figured Jason would go another 3.49 or quicker, and I knew we couldn’t do that. We just hoped the rear end would last another pass without destroying itself, and fortunately it ran a 3.52 and Jason didn’t make it down the track,” Snider admitted.
One of the strongest competitors all season long, Snider was rightfully proud of the accomplishments of his team, made up of crew chief Jimmy Crenshaw and crew member Michael Elsberry.
“This championship is huge for us,” added Snider, who tunes his screw-blown Camaro. “People don’t realize how hard we’ve worked. People see that we race once a month or so, but they don’t realize how much time, effort and money is funneled into this car. We worked hard the last couple years to develop a good program. To be rewarded with this championship is just huge for me, Jimmy and Michael. It says a lot because we have one of the smaller teams and smaller budgets. This just proves that it can be done.”
Pro Nitrous stars Jay Cox and Tommy Franklin looked to be the championship favorites entering last weekend’s Bradenton and Virginia races, though Travis Harvey also had a mathematical shot at the title. The championship ultimately came down to the semifinal round, when Franklin’s Pat Musi-powered 1969 Camaro unleashed a 3.699 at 204.20 alongside Cox’s troubled 5.76 pass. With that, Franklin locked up the championship and set himself up for a potential world record.
With all of the pressure off, the Fredericksburg electrical contractor fired off a screaming 3.677 at 204.70 against Bradenton winner Steve Jackson’s 3.765 pass.
“The conditions were ideal for setting records,” Franklin claimed. “We don’t get that too often – at the beginning of the year and the end of the year. We knew we were going to have some good air. We made it into the final after winning the championship. As much as we wanted to win the race, the pressure was off and we decided just to see what we could lower the record to. We don’t always get that opportunity, so we swung for it.”
It was a storybook ending to a dramatic weekend for Franklin. He entered the final qualifying session on the bump spot. His Bickel-built Camaro broke the driveshaft around 400 feet into the run, but a 3.759 pass was enough to take the eighth spot in qualifying. Franklin and team spent all of Saturday night looking over every section of the car to help prevent any further issues from getting in the way of the championship. The result was a 3.705 win over Randy Weatherford in the first round, followed by a 3.706 over Dean Marinis in the quarterfinals. The drama ramped back up again for the semifinal run against Cox since the winner would clinch the championship.
“A lot of emotions were going around,” said of the atmosphere around his team. “After winning the round, it was the best way it could’ve happened, right? But leading into it I’m thinking, Man, this is in my hands now. Nobody knocked Jay out before me and no one knocked me out for him.”
Franklin went on to thank the Lord, as well as wife Judy and daughters Amber and Ashley, adding, “We have great horsepower, a great car, and a great crew to put this thing together every pass.”
Now six times a winner this season, Kevin Rivenbark was primed to bring a second Pro Boost championship to the GALOT Motorsports team. The only driver who could unseat him from the top spot was his teammate, John Strickland, who won the other three races that Rivenbark didn’t win. The two North Carolina drivers faced off in the semifinals from the rain-delayed Bradenton race on Saturday, with Rivenbark taking the round win and the championship with his 3.725 pass. He backed it up with a 3.721 in the final round to beat first-time finalist Marc Caruso and reset the ET world record.
Moving on to the Virginia race, Rivenbark and his Todd Tutterow and Jeff Bohr-tuned 2015 Camaro continued the streak of blistering elapsed times. Rivenbark’s first-round 3.711 reset the world record again in a winning effort over Ric Fleck. Further round wins over the turbocharged entries of Eric Dillard and Rick Hord sent Rivenbark to the final round, where he faced young teammate Ty Tutterow. The son of tuner and veteran driver Todd Tutterow posted a strong run in his Pro Boost debut, but another 3.715 at 200.77 out of Rivenbark’s machine was too much for Tutterow’s 3.763 at 197.97.
“After the first few runs this weekend we realized we could run quick enough to reset the record,” Rivenbark recalled. “When we ran Ty, we were actually shooting for the sixties and it just didn’t happen. Tommy (Franklin) ran a 3.67 right behind us (in Pro Nitrous), so obviously the track conditions were there. We just missed it somewhere. I’ve set the record four times this year. We set it at Tulsa, Rockingham, and then Bradenton. To do it four times in one year…words can’t describe it. All of us at GALOT have had a remarkable year.
“Ty was driving an older car that his dad used to drive. For him to enter his first race in Pro Boost and come out with that kind of success just goes to show how much potential he has,” Rivenbark boasted of his 21-year-old teammate.
The dominant weekend was a fitting way to end the season for Rivenbark and the Earl and Peggy Wells-owned GALOT Motorsports team. Between Rivenbark and Strickland, the team leaves the 2016 season with the world championship, the ET world record, and nine wins in as many races. Strickland also won a National Tractor Pulling Association national championship this season. He finished second in the PDRA Pro Boost championship points.
PRO EXTREME MOTORCYCLE
Like Franklin and Rivenbark, Pro Extreme Motorcycle rider Eric McKinney won the race, reset the world record, and won the world championship all in one day. He rolled into Virginia Motorsports Park second in points behind Chris Garner-Jones, leaving the two-time champion to fight down to the wire for the title.
“We just about didn’t qualify at Bradenton and I think I lost first round at the race before that,” McKinney remembered. “It’s been an up-and-down rollercoaster season – going from being a dominant team for the last couple years to chasing and chasing and just getting beat. It was brutal the last couple races, just about enough to take the wind out of your sail.”
The McKinney Motorsports team set their program into overdrive in the tail end of their championship defense season, making an estimated 50 test runs in the last month. Their efforts paid off, as McKinney qualified number one at Virginia and recorded three of the quickest runs of the season – 4.025, 3.997, and 3.986 – in eliminations. The 3.986 at 178.12 in the final round was an ET world record, though McKinney insists he wasn’t expecting such a quick run.
“I went 4.02 first round, then we went into championship mode. After Chris (Garner-Jones) went out first round, I knew I needed to win the race, so our goal was to get down the track every round. The weather and the track conditions came to us, and it just happened. We chased a 3.99 run since we first ran in the threes at Dallas last year. We ran numerous 4.01s or 4.02s, then boom, it happened. Now that Ashley (Owens) has the tune-up figured out, I think common three-second runs won’t be out of the question. To run two of them back-to-back this weekend was pretty impressive.”
McKinney thanked his team – tuner and teammate Ashley Owens, who he was scheduled to run in the final round; father Scott; uncle Steve McKinney; and fiancé Ashley Fischer for their efforts.
“It’s a team sport, and I’m just the fortunate one who gets to ride the motorcycle. Everybody behind the scenes, this is their championship; their race win; their world record. I’m just the guy who gets to ride it, and I don’t think they get enough credit. Everyone does their job well, and that makes my job that much easier because I know my motorcycle will do the job,” McKinney noted.
EXTREME PRO STOCK
The starting line at Virginia Motorsports Park was full of emotion when Virginia’s own Buddy Perkinson turned on the win light over John Pluchino in the Extreme Pro Stock final round. Perkinson was driving for team owner Enoch Love, who was fielding a car for the first time since 2011 when his former driver, Bert Jackson, succumbed to injuries sustained at a race in Rockingham, NC.
“I knew we had a very good engine and the right parts, but I don’t think anyone had the expectation to come out and have a weekend like we did,” Perkinson admitted. “It was more about just getting back to the track. It’s been about five years since E. Love last fielded a car. It was a very emotional deal. A lot of people came together to help get the car ready.”
Perkinson qualified 11th and earned an opening round holeshot win over Elijah Morton, courtesy of a perfect .000 reaction time. His performance picked up in his following victories over Frank Gugliotta and Doug Kirk, eventually running a weekend-best 4.077 to defeat Pluchino’s 4.096 in the final round.
“It was really a storybook weekend, a really cool deal for E. Love and all of the original crew members who were around when Bert Jackson was driving.”
The Extreme Pro Stock victory was the second win of the weekend for Perkinson, who drove his family-owned Camaro to the Top Sportsman win in the rain-delayed Bradenton event.
“You don’t have very many races like that in drag racing, especially in the PDRA where the competition is so tough. I was feeling good about our chances on Thursday – we were going down the track and making the right calls. We got lucky in the final round. The car didn’t shift and (Dan) Ferguson went red. I think you need to be good when you need to be good, but you gotta’ have a little lucky every now and then,” laughed Perkinson, who thanked parents Mark and Terri Perkinson, crew chief Christian Thompson, and crew member Brian Terrell, as well as XPS team owner Enoch Love and his team for the opportunity to drive the Pro Stock car.
Canadian driver John Carinci proved that he had the car to beat all weekend long, qualifying number one and marching past opponents Brian Weddle, Jesse Lambert, and Martin race winner Frank Pompilio before lining up against Ron Green in the final round. Green left the starting line first, but Carinci powered to a 4.032 at 195.53 to set low ET of the weekend and take the Outlaw 10.5 win.
TOP SPORTSMAN/TOP DRAGSTER
Hickory, North Carolina’s Jeff Pittman was victorious in the Top Sportsman Quick 16 field, running 4.096 on a 4.08 dial-in in the final round versus Randy Perkinson, cousin of Extreme Pro Stock winner Buddy Perkinson. Pittman previously defeated John Benoit and John Prime before getting a single in the semifinals. Perkinson faced Dwayne Silance, 2016 world champion Dan Ferguson, and Cheyenne Stanley in his journey to the final round.
Top Dragster winner Junior Houston was simply perfect in his final-round defeat over Matt Sackman, leaving the starting line with a .000 reaction time and running a dead-on 4.040 on his 4.04 dial-in. Sackman, who races with the PDRA on his off weekends as a crew member on Antron Brown’s NHRA Top Fuel dragster, broke out on his 3.92 dial-in, running 3.917 in his first final round appearance.
The PDRA will recognize the 2016 world champions at the 3rd annual PDRA Championship Awards Banquet, held at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown during the Performance Racing Industry show, Saturday, Dec. 10.