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Steve King Crowned $50,000 Pro Mod Invitational Champion at Cecil County Dragway

Jeff Kline photo

Steve King and the Pilot Racing team added their names to the big-money Pro Modified history books on Monday when King defeated No. 1 qualifier Kurt Steding in the final round of Cecil County Dragway’s $50,000-to-win Pro Mod Invitational. The rain-plagued event was held in conjunction with the track’s NHRA Lucas Oil Series Division 1 race, so the team also walked away with a special edition NHRA Wally trophy commemorating the inaugural Pro Mod Invitational. 

Steding and King qualified No. 1 and 2, respectively, with Steding’s 3.599 at 208.78 in his screw-blown P2 Contracting ’69 Camaro and King’s 3.607 at 207.85 in the screw-blown “Savage 3.0” ’22 Corvette. Jeff Rudolf qualified third in his ProCharged “Ghetto Sleigh” ’69 Camaro with a 3.621 at 208.01, followed by Johnny Camp and his 3.623 at 207.27 in his ProCharged “Hells Bells” ’69 Camaro. Maryland’s own Chuck Ulsch rounded out the top five with a 3.624 at 208.46 in his screw-blown ’68 Camaro. Due to persistent rain showers, qualifying was cut to just one session on Saturday before going into eliminations. 

King opened eliminations with a side-by-side race with Matt Deitsch and his nitrous-fed ’69 Camaro. Deitsch was away first with a .009 and ran a 3.65, but King drove around him with a 3.611 at 207.50 to win by .010 seconds. Another quick nitrous car awaited King in the second round. This time King was first off the line, an advantage he needed to beat Scriba’s stunning 3.603 at 208.39 with a 3.618 at 206.54. 

“That makes me feel like I’m doing my job,” King said. “Every car in this field is fast and you can’t leave even a number on the table, so you gotta get out there and get up on the wheel and run these guys. With everything Gene and Jon [Salemi] and them are doing, I have to do my part. It makes you feel really good to be able to go out and do your side of what needs to be done. I’m just very lucky.”

The third-round match with recent first-time Pro Mod winner Mike Decker III was worth double round wins, as it came with a bye to the final in the next round. King left first with a .005 reaction time to Decker’s .012. He crossed the finish line first with a 3.615 at 202.24, down on power, while Decker slowed to a 5.709. With a fresh engine, King made his quickest pass in competition, a 3.59 at 207.24, on the semifinal bye run. 

“We hurt an engine there in the third round,” King said. “The rain came and gave us time to put a fresh bullet in, so that bye run was important to go out there with that fresh bullet and see where we were.”

Tara Bowker photo

King was around a hundredth behind Steding, who had a first-round bye run as the No. 1 qualifier. He then ran a 3.596 at 208.36 to take out “Nova Joe” Albrecht in the second round, a 3.601 at 208.55 to defeat two-time NEOPMA champion Mike Decker Jr. in the third round, and a 3.579 at 208.59 in the semis to knock out 2024 World Series of Pro Mod champion Derek Ward and his 3.589 at 209.92. One round earlier, Ward set a new track record with his 3.576 at 210.34. 

In the final round, the starting line celebrations started early for the Pilot Racing team, as Steding went red by .013 seconds before running a 3.602 at 207.53. King charged to a 3.596 at 205.60 to secure the $50,000 win and the Wally. 

“Jon went up there I think trying to repeat the .59, trying to improve a little bit, but the sun came out for once the whole weekend,” King said. “You gotta make adjustments for that. The car was absolutely smooth that whole run. We knew it’d take a .59 or .58 and I had to be on the tree to be close because Kurt had been good all weekend. We keep up with what everyone’s doing. He’d been right up on the tree all weekend. He cut it a little too close with the red light and I think he shook a little bit and went .60.”

King and Steding – Jeff Kline photo

King was proud to park the “Savage” in the winner’s circle for team owner Gene Pilot. The team regularly won races and set records in quarter-mile NEOPMA competition, but they’ve been fighting to find that same performance since the series – and outlaw Pro Mod racing in general – switched to eighth-mile competition.

“We’ve struggled for a few years. No big secret there,” King said. “Gene never gave up. This win was more for Gene than anything. He puts so much effort and time into this deal and allows us to do what we do. It was really great to see him at the end of the racetrack after a win like that. It was very emotional for him. Everyone was happy, obviously, but I think he was very emotional happy.”

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King and Pilot

Along with Pilot, King credited the whole team, including tuner Jon Salemi and crew chief Jeff Miller. The ’22 Corvette is maintained by the Salemi family at G-Force Race Cars, while horsepower comes from Mike Stawicki and MSR Performance. Additional components used include Quick Drive, Liberty’s Gears, Neal Chance Convertors, FuelTech, and Feather-Lite Batteries. 

“Since Wednesday, in between rain drops and everything else all week long, we ran .59 to a .62 11 or 12 runs in a row,” King said. “You gotta give credit to Jon Salemi. He’s the keyboard guy. Jeff Miller is out there making sure this car is flawless, and the G-Force guys up there prepping this car in between races. I’m just lucky enough to drop the hammer. Gene Pilot is so adamant about making this car absolutely perfect. I don’t know what else to say. I’m just lucky to be able to go out there and do it and show the hard work these guys have put in over the last year.”

King and the Pilot Racing team will have a weekend off from on-track action before continuing their pursuit of a PDRA Pro Boost world championship at the PDRA Smokies Garage American Doorslammer Challenge presented by Callies, May 23-25, at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. “I know Jon and Mike Stawicki and the guys at G-Force have some work cut out for them,” King said. “We only have seven days or so to get ready for Norwalk PDRA. The car is already headed back up there to get some love. We’re going to be there and ready to go. Hopefully we’ll have the same type of performance up there.”

This story was originally published on May 14, 2024. Drag Illustrated

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