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THE DI AWARDS: Looking Back on the Best of 2018

We’re now into 2019 and we can only hope it can match what took place at dragstrips across the country in 2018. From championship moments to clutch performances, to mind-blowing runs and incredible events to the totally bizarre and off the wall, we can’t stop thinking about the outstanding action last year.

With that in mind, let’s hand out some awards!

DRIVER OF THE YEAR AWARD: Making history on a single run is one thing. Doing it over six races – in the midst of a championship race – is quite another and that’s why Steve Torrence is the driver of the year. He made history by sweeping the Countdown to the Championship, winning 24 straight rounds in the playoffs to win his first world championship. It was a stretch that was brilliant and will be remembered forever as one of the biggest accomplishments in drag racing history.

RUN(s) OF THE YEAR AWARD: Let’s just make this multiple runs for the otherworldly performances from Mark Micke at Donald Long’s Sweet 16 race. Micke won the event and the $100,000 and along the way turned the radial world on its head, going 221 mph on one run, 220 mph on another and breaking into the 3.60s on several occasions, including the mind-blowing 3.623 run that had everyone talking.

BEST USE OF THEIR FREE TIME AWARD: Jonnie Lindberg & Richie Crampton Hit the Open Road in the Sh!tbox of Doom. What an unbelievable idea this was and seeing the massive reception was so cool to see. Getting the car to go 200 mph was also pretty spectacular and a major thing worth remembering in 2018.
Special Mention: Bo Butner isn’t afraid to try something new and in 2018 that meant making his No Prep debut at Thunder Road Raceway in Gilliam, La.

BEST SIDE-BY-SIDE RACE AWARD: So many amazing ones, but the one between Mike Bowman and Carl Stevens Jr. at the World Series of Pro Mod stuck out. Champ versus eventual champ and both delivered incredible performances, with Stevens’ 5.88 at 246.21 nipping Bowman’s 5.912 at 249.03 by .007. It was so close Bowman thought he won, but it was the type of run Stevens needed to win the $100,000 in 2018.
Special Mention: Carl Stevens Jr. vs. Michael Biehle, World Series of Pro Mod. Short a red-light start for Biehle, this could have been considered race of the decade.

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CLUTCH PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR AWARD: J.R. Todd for his awesome performance down the stretch to win his first NHRA world championship. Facing stiff competition from Robert Hight, Todd went to three straight finals to end the year, winning the last two races to claim the Funny Car world title.

BEST SPECIALTY NIGHT OF RACING AWARD: The Norwalk Night of Fire. For a single-day specialty event, you can’t do any better than this one and it was even better in 2018, drawing a solid-out crowd to Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park. The entertainment and fun factor continue to be off the charts at this race, and the Bader family sure knows how to put on a show.

BEST COMEBACK AWARD: Stevie “Fast” Jackson for winning the U.S. Nationals. Not only had Jackson not qualified for two straight races, he was on the outside looking in heading into the final qualifying session. No biggie. But he responded with a great run and then swept through eliminations for the biggest win in a season that also included a Lights Out victory.

HEART-WARMING MOMENT OF THE YEAR AWARD: Terry McMillen nearly left the sport a few years ago. This year, he won the biggest race of the year, taking the Indy win in Top Fuel. It’s been a heck of a journey for the fan-favorite underdog and good things are heading his way.

BEST FINISH AWARD: Matt Smith laid claim to that with his clutch performance against Eddie Krawiec in the final round of the final race of the season in Pomona in Pro Stock Motorcycle. It was a winner-take-all matchup for the race and the world championship, and Smith won it with a record-setting speed performance, going 201.54 mph to beat Krawiec and claim the title.

BEST UNDERDOG STORY AWARD: Jeremy Ray, NHRA Pro Mod. Pretty much a one-man band, Ray more than held his own in the Pro Mod ranks, winning in Dallas and putting together a series of massive runs in Charlotte. Ray is a definite throwback and it’s great to see him have success.

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BEST MEME DUEL AWARD: This goes to the seemingly yearlong back-and-forth between Britt Cummings and Johnny Ezell. The bracket racing standouts settled things on the track, but they did a brilliant job of building of their duel on social media, landing one meme blow after another on each other. That wins out over Donald Luck wearing us down with sheer quantity.

BEST PODCAST AWARD: J.R. Todd and Shawn Langdon gave us unprecedented access and zero filter on the Nomex Effect and it made for a thoroughly enjoyable podcast. They got guys like Antron Brown and Tommy Johnson Jr. to open up and it’s this type of access that is only going to grow the sport.

WILDEST CRASH AWARD: This goes to Jonnie Lindberg and John Force’s collision in Phoenix after Force hit the wall and barreled into – and on top – of Lindberg’s Funny Car ride. The picture from Lindberg with the tire mark on his helmet made this one truly unreal.

BEST SIDE-BY-SIDE EXPLOSION AWARD: We had a serious case of exploding Funny Car bodies early in the year, but none was bigger than the finish line dual explosion from Robert Hight and Matt Hagan at Gainesville. Hagan grabbed the round win, but is was a pretty surreal moment seeing both bodies go skyward at the finish line.

BEST OPPORTUNITY TO PERFORM ON KILL AWARD: This award goes to Donald Long’s Sweet 16 and Keith Haney’s Elite 16 events, which gave drivers approximately 27 qualifying sessions.

THE FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT AWARD: Goes to the Top Alcohol Dragster class, which boasted a bevy of young talent in 2018. You had the likes of Megan Meyer, Troy Coughlin Jr., Justin Ashley, Josh Hart, Julie Nataas, Rachel Meyer and Jordan Vandergriff, who’s already moved onto the Top Fuel ranks for 2019. It’s always awesome to see so many young drivers thriving in a big-time class.

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BEST VIDEO SERIES AWARD: World Series of Pro Mod Embedded produced by Blake Fontinel. Welcome to the video future, folks. The behind-the-scenes look at the WSOPM gave fans access like they’ve never seen before. If you want to make fans feel really part of the action, this is the stuff they want to see. DI is already well on its way to producing plenty more of this in 2019.

BIGGEST HOLY SH!T QUALIFYING MOMENT AWARD: Pro Mod qualifying at Charlotte. Runner-up: Pro Mod qualifying at St. Louis. You get the idea. The qualifying times during the NHRA Pro Mod season got insane toward the end of the year, the latest sign of the incredible ascension in the class. Seeing 5.60s on the regular was pretty incredible, now let’s just hope the momentum in the class is used in the right way.

HOPE IT WORKS AWARD: After years of tinkering, let’s hope Pro Stock and NHRA got it right with 18-race schedule in 2019. We’ve had all sorts of changes in the class, but no long-term solutions. Everyone seems on board with a shorter schedule in terms of more participation for the class, so let’s hope this is a step in the right direction.

BEST NEW IDEA AWARD: Okay, it’s not necessarily a new idea, but the Vegas 4-Wide was an absolutely massive success with sellout crowds across the board. Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay and it’s cool to have a 4-Wide race out west. Then, at the two-wide race in the Countdown, the track sold tickets to watch the action from the unused lanes bringing a little bit of STREET OUTLAWS style event operation to the big stage.

BEST CONCESSION FOOD: How can you go wrong with $1 ice cream at Norwalk? We don’t foresee this award changing anytime soon, possibly ever.

BEST USE OF A JET ENGINE AWARD: Neither had anything to do with going down the dragstrip, but we saw a jet in a van – A VAN! – at the DI After Hours show, and there was also one literally burning down the house at the Brainerd Zoo. Wild times, indeed.


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BEST BURNOUT CELEBRATION AWARD: Marc Caruso celebrating on top of his car after his burnout at the WSOPM is one of the lasting images of the year for me. Just an awesome guy putting on a show and enjoying every minute of it.

BEST INTERVIEW AWARD: Apologies to loads of others, but Dan Fletcher unfiltered for two hours in his trailer at zMAX Dragway for this year’s Sportsman Issue cover story was incredible. Give that man a mic more often!

BEST PRE-RACE DECISION AWARD: Using walk-up music for the pro categories at NHRA races. It was nothing major, but definitely added a little more entertainment value to a race weekend.

BEST USE OF THE GYM AWARD: I mean, is there really another option than Matt Hagan?

FOUND HIS HOME AWARD: Jason Hamstra, who continued to carve out an excellent Pro Mod career with a banner year racing in NMCA Xtreme Pro Mod and Mid-West Pro Mod Series.

LONG TIME COMING AWARD: Mendy Fry had raced for nearly two decades trying to win a Nostalgia Top Fuel world championship, finally breaking through in 2018 with a dominant season. It was a true mark of perseverance and it was great to see Fry enjoy all the well-deserved accolades.

LIKE YOU NEVER LEFT AWARD: Virginia Motorsports Park. It had been nearly a decade since the NHRA last raced there, but the closing of Englishtown was VMP’s gain. The race attracted massive crowds, rave reviews for the new track surface and seemingly cemented itself as a strong facility and annual race for years to come.

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THANK GOODNESS HE’S OKAY AWARD: Steve Collier had a huge blow over at Heartland Park Topeka in Top Alcohol Dragster, and it was definitely one of the wildest moments in 2018. He walked away with no serious injuries and one major highlight.

BEST OFFSEASON PUBLIC REACTION AWARD: During a fairly informal Pro Mod State of the Union meeting at the recent Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis, NHRA technical officials presented to the crowd assembled their case for leaving the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series rules untouched headed into the 2019 season. On the heels of a season packed with side-by-side competition, the aforementioned officials cited racing amongst the eliminator’s notorious three power adders as being within “fifteen hundredths” and therefore making any sort of rule adjustment unnecessary. Renowned nitrous engine builder Pat Musi, in the audience along with several of his clients, as well as Chad Green, for whom he serves as crew chief in NHRA Pro Mod competition, abruptly stood and left the gathering – with his wife and clients in tow. While we can’t argue that the racing is close, we tend to side with Mr. Musi on this matter. With only two confirmed nitrous cars committed to the entire 12-race tour in 2019, it seems that the writing is on the wall for this beloved engine combination when it comes to legal, quarter-mile Pro Mod racing. If something isn’t done to bring those cars back closer to potential frontrunner status, we fear these flame-throwing, nitrous-purging hot rods will soon be relegated exclusively to the outlaw eighth-mile.

BEST MOVIE SCRIPT AWARD: It’s a tie between John Force Racing teammates Robert Hight and Brittany Force. Hight broke his collarbone during a crash just past the finish line during his win at St. Louis, but then returned in two weeks to win in Dallas under improbable conditions. Brittany Force had her own redemption story after her massive crash in Pomona, returning to the winner’s circle just two months later in Houston.

BEST WHEELSTAND AWARD: This goes to Harry Hruska for his wild wheelstand at Topeka earlier this season.

BIGGEST CONTROVERSY AWARD: The track prep conversation in Top Fuel and Funny Car was only missed if you were living under a rock this year. In the end, it seemed to level the playing field, created greater parity in Top Fuel and Funny Car, while the best teams were able to adjust and still run great numbers this year. It drew plenty of criticism, but seemed to work itself out by the mid-point of the year.

MOST AMBITIOUS PLANS AWARD: Goes to Elite Motorsports, who will have three drivers (Erica Enders, Jeg Coughlin, Alex Laughlin) competing full-time in Pro Stock in 2019, with two of those (Enders, Laughlin) also running a full season in PM with new teammate Steve Matusek.

BEST DISPLAY OF PERSEVERANCE AWARD: Chad Green was not going to be denied in his standout rookie season, coming back from two crashes, including one at his NHRA Pro Mod debut in Gainesville. He suffered another one in Bristol, but was back racing a week later in Norwalk. Green ended his year with two finals appearances and is poised for a big 2019.

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NO ONE-HIT WONDER AWARD: This goes to Clay Millican, who had a magical moment winning his first NHRA Top Fuel race a year ago in Bristol. But that was no fluke as Millican won twice in 2018, set the E.T. record in Pomona and finished with 10 No. 1 qualifiers.

BIG NUMBER AWARD: Hector Arana Jr. became the first rider in Pro Stock Motorcycle to go 200 mph, doing it to kick off the season in Gainesville.

Bring on 2019!

This story was originally published on January 4, 2019. 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.