It didn’t take long for Victor Alvarez to put his late friend Rob Mapps’ iconic “Goldie” XFWD entry back in the winner’s circle, as Alvarez raced to victory Saturday night at The Reunion held at Bradenton Motorsports Park. It was a surreal ending to a special weekend for Alvarez, who owns the track and worked with his team to develop the event concept. He was surrounded by family and friends throughout the weekend, and they all helped him celebrate once that final win light came on.
Alvarez took ownership of “Goldie” over the winter before making his debut in the car in the XWFD Challenge at the Drag Illustrated World Series of Pro Mod presented by J&A Service at Bradenton in early March. He failed to qualify there and vowed to come back with a vengeance at The Reunion. The Induction Performance team went over the car between races, giving Alvarez confidence in the car from the time the trailer door dropped in testing to the final round of eliminations.
“We went to Publix [Saturday] morning on the way in, and the guys bought champagne because they’re like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to spray this on you later on tonight,’” Alvarez said. “It’s hard to explain because it felt so right. We felt like we won when we got there, and the car just did its thing.”
In the first qualifying session, Alvarez laid down a 7.928-second pass at 186.85 MPH to qualify No. 1. He held that position through two more rounds of qualifying, earning a first-round bye. He then used a .040-second holeshot and an 8.244 at 158.59 to beat Andrew Fernandez and his 8.269 at 187.68 in the second round. His semifinal round opponent, Carlos Olivo, broke in the second round and couldn’t make the call, allowing Alvarez to coast to a 16.185 into the final round.
Waiting for Alvarez in the final was No. 2 qualifier Dennis Navarez.
“I ended up in the final with another really good friend of Rob’s, and we were all a small circle, and another one of the guys that kind of got me into the XFWD class, my buddy Dennis Navarez,” Alvarez said. “It was just such a relaxed feeling going into the finals, which is not usually that way, but we were both just like, ‘This is a win, us two going into the final.’ We’re friends, we help each other out with each other’s cars all the time. It was really cool, really relaxed. We talked, got in the lanes, we hung out for a little bit, and we’re like, ‘All right, let’s do this.’”
Even though everyone was calm, Alvarez admits he didn’t know what to expect when they started up for the final round.
“We weren’t sure what the car was going to do because it gave us issues on our second-round run,” Alvarez said. “We weren’t sure, but we were like, ‘Hey man, the car’s got oil pressure. We’re going to go up there and just keep doing what we do. And if Dennis has a better car than us, he’s just going to have to show us.’ We made a run, and he had some issues, and that was that.”
Alvarez ran an 8.457 at 163.81, while Navarez coasted through to a 14.65 in the runner-up effort.
With the win under his belt and the event completed, Alvarez was able to celebrate in a jam-packed winner’s celebration.
“I was telling my wife, it’s a whole new level of enjoyment. It’s like a cheat code,” Alvarez said of racing and winning at his home track. “Getting to race with all of your friends and family is really special in itself, but the vibe all weekend was just amazing. A lot of friends, a lot of family, and that was the first time my wife had ever been there for an entire race of mine. My good luck charm, apparently.”
Alvarez also felt like he had his late friend riding with him all weekend. The car was a proven winner when Mapps drove it, but Alvarez feels there’s a little something more than performance carrying “Goldie” to success now.
“It’s an out-of-body experience,” Alvarez said. “Honestly, that kind of sums up what driving in that car is. It’s the oddest thing; I feel like I’m not by myself when I’m in that car. Actually, I drive that car with a small urn with ashes from Rob Mapps. I don’t know, I’m almost convinced that he’s in there with me just rowing gears or doing something.
“But it just all happened so easily. It’s just one of those cars that it’s just hard to beat. No matter what the circumstances are, I feel like if Goldie pulls up next to you in XFWD, you’re like, ‘Damn, I’m going to have to really work for this one.’”
Alvarez credited his team and sponsors for helping to make the weekend a success. His partners include Brian Crower Inc., Induction Performance, Precision Turbo, and TurboSmart, which was also the title sponsor of The Reunion.
“Everybody that jumps in and helps with this car, it’s just a labor of love, and it just translates to everything,” said Alvarez, who’s also the co-owner of Induction Performance. “It just makes everything so much better. And the car performs like it’s got a lot of love behind it.”
The next stop for Alvarez and many other XFWD racers is Virginia Motorsports Park’s Shakedown Nationals XXI, May 11-13. First, Alvarez has to sort out an electrical issue on his car, and teammate and tuner Rob Reinen has a broken transmission that needs fixed before the two-car team heads North.
“We really want to put on a show for Shakedown, as does everybody,” Alvarez said. “It’s the first time that they’re having this class at that race. I think we’ve got 30 cars confirmed. Shakedown has a lot of history, and XFWD really was kind of born in the Northeast, and so was Shakedown. It’s very special to a lot of people that we get to race in Shakedown. Obviously, Virginia Motorsports Park is one of the nicest facilities in the country, so we’re excited about that.”
As for The Reunion in general, Alvarez feels it was an overall success. The event was created in the COVID-stricken 2020 season as a way to get everyone back together for a special, one-off race. Alvarez didn’t plan on holding it again, but a variety of factors – including frequent requests to bring it back – inspired Alvarez to put The Reunion back on the BMP schedule this year.
“Just like the first Reunion, everybody had a blast,” Alvarez said. “We got a lot of great feedback and we learned a lot. It was a really good time. We paid out really good money. The schedule was great. It was just a fun event, start to finish.”
Along with Alvarez, The Reunion winners included Jim Braun in Street Car Shootout, Joel Grannas in Outlaw Stick Shift, Asier Torres in AWD vs. DCT, Jomar Gomez in Brawlers vs. Tres Cuartos and 9.50 Index, Carlos Olivo in Modified, Chris Diehlman in N/T Shootout, and Ryan Norton in 10.50 Index.
Alvarez and his team used the event to try a number of new classes or different formats for existing classes. It was a proof of concept for changes that could come into play at FL2K, which returns to BMP in October after Hurricane Ian forced Alvarez to move the event inland to Gainesville Raceway last fall.
“Not being able to do it at home last year, right after doing all of those upgrades, was extremely hard,” Alvarez said. “Everything we did to the track, we did with the intention of FL2K being the big debut. And that didn’t happen. We got robbed of that cause of the hurricane. We moved to Gainesville, and it all worked out. But because of that, I’m more amped up and just fired up. I want this to be the biggest, baddest FL2K ever.”