Walking In Memphis: Thursday IHRA Summit World Finals Notebook
By IHRA Media
Oct 11, 2012
It is move-in day in here in Memphis and we are getting pumped up as hundreds of racers from across the United States and Canada are unloading, polishing and primping their race machines for a full weekend of competition at the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals at Memphis International Raceway.
The race weekend will feature three separate races spread of the three-day weekend with the open-to-all Summit Sportsman Spectacular presented by AMSOIL set for Friday and Saturday, followed by the invitation-only Summit SuperSeries World Championship presented by AMSOIL and Moser Engineering on Saturday and Summit Tournament of Champions presented by AMSOIL on Sunday.
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The deadly No. 1 on Gianni Cantusci's Firebird
Sometimes the toughest thing in racing is being the man on top.
Just ask Gianni Cantusci.
Cantusci came out of nowhere to win the Super Stock World Championship at the 2011 Summit Tournament of Champions earning him the coveted No. 1 on the side of his car for the 2012 racing season and the title of world champion for an entire year.
But as Cantusci came to find out, that isn’t always a good thing. While the number on the side of his car earned him more respect in the garage area, that little sticker also meant his competition would throw more at him than ever before and try a bit harder than usual to come out on top. Not always the best of situations for a guy that is not used to being the center of attention at the dragstrip.
Cantusci after winning the 2011 Super Stock World Championship
“It seems like with the No. 1 you get beat up on quite a bit,” Cantusci said. “Everyone tries harder to beat the champ. I know when I raced someone with single digits I always raced a little harder and I got to experience that first hand. It has been tough with the new number on the side, we only won one race this year despite going to a lot of races and sometimes we ditched the number altogether and went back to our old number at some races. It has been a trying season.”
But as trying as it has been, this weekend Cantusci will be back behind the wheel of his 2000 Pontiac Firebird with the No. 1 proudly adorning the side as he goes for a second championship after qualifying for Super Stock via a third place finish in Division 1. It wasn’t the dominating return to the TOC he had hoped for, but he will certainly take it.
And while a win in the Tournament of Champions would mean another year of getting beat up and pushed to the brink, Cantusci says he would gladly put up with all of those all over again to wear the championship number once again.
“If I thought it was tough at regular races this season that is nothing compared to what it is going to be like this weekend as a champion trying to defend that title,” Cantusci said. “That is a big weight on my shoulders as we try to keep our title. If nothing else, we are going to give it our all.”
Cantusci’s quest for a second championship will actually begin on Friday as he enters his Super Stocker in the Summit Sportsman Spectacular to try and tune the car and pick up a few extra bucks in preparation for the tournament on Sunday. It won’t be easy, but if Cantusci can pull out the win once again it would turn around a tough year and give him a second shot at taking the No. 1 somewhere special from his home in Stittsville, Ontario.
“We traveled quite a bit this year and that includes being here this weekend,” Cantusci said. “We have never been here before, but so far we like what we see. We are going to race the Saturday race to get some laps on the car and hopefully make a little extra in the process. If we can do it again on Sunday, that would be something special.”
Amanda and Cameron Manuel
THE FAMILY THAT RACES TOGETHER…
Drag racing is a sport known for its family atmosphere.
Fathers, sons, wives, daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles all are brought together by their love for one thing and one thing only – the sport of drag racing.
Nowhere else in the world of sports will you such a unique family dynamic as entire families come together to compete together, and against, one another. And that is what truly makes the sport of drag racing so special.
Take for example the Manuel and Justice families.
Cameron Manuel is no stranger to the straight line game. The 2010 Super Rod World Champion, 2011 Sportsman Driver of the Year and a multi-time divisional champion, Manuel has been a force in the sport for quite some time. This year Manuel is once again qualified for the Tournament of Champions and will be chasing his second championship after winning the Division 1 Top Dragster title, earning him a first-round bye in the tournament.
Joining Manuel here this weekend is his younger brother Corey who qualified for the Tournament of Champions in Quick Rod after a big win at Richmond Dragway in May and his wife Amanda who will try her hand at qualifying for the tournament during the Sportsman Spectacular.
Both Cameron and Amanda grew up in racing families. They went to races as kids, were groomed into drivers as teenagers and eventually found one another and bonding over their love of the sport as adults. Eventually the two young racers were married earlier this year and in the process formed a bit of a super family in the sport.
Currently Cameron drives in Top Dragster behind the wheel of a car owned by his in-laws. When not racing the pair also help manage Farmington Dragway in which Amanda’s parents, Everett and Holly own.
Cameron Manuel on his way to the 2012 D1 Top Dragster crown
Through track ownership and a fulltime racing operation, the pair spend quite a bit of time on the road chasing big wins and championships, but that dynamic has led to a family that is much closer than most. And when a sport shapes so much of your life as drag racing has with the Manuels and the Justices, it is hard to argue that fact.
“I think it makes our family stronger because we all go everywhere together and we all work together,” Amanda said. “We win together, we lose together, but the key thing is it is all done together.”
And that togetherness will never be more evident as it will be this weekend as the entire family chases a championship in Memphis.
“It brings us together and makes us stronger. I mean, this is all we do is race and be around racing and the fact that we all love it makes our bond that much stronger,” Cameron said. “I mean, most families never get to spend any time together and with us we are always together, sharing in these experiences as a family. It is neat and it is something I feel lucky to have.”
Of course, one thing that keeps that family bond so strong is that few of the members of the family race in the same class. That helps keep down the tension as each person can concentrate on their own car in their own class.
“I think if we raced one another it would be fine. I think no matter who would win we would be happy because one of us gets to keep going,” Amanda said. “But that isn’t to say it wouldn’t be tense.”
Tense, or at the very least a little uncomfortable.
“I am glad I don’t have to race her. I don’t think that would be very good,” Cameron said with a laugh.
It is certainly a unique way to spend time together, but you can’t argue that it is a good way to keep a family together. After all, as the old saying goes, the family that races together…
8,000 MILES, ONE RACE, ONE GREAT OPPORTUNITY
No one traveled farther to be in Memphis this weekend than Monte Soper.
From the doorstep of his home to Memphis International Raceway it is over 4,000 miles – and that is just one way. That is quite a haul for any race team, let alone a tiny operation based in the massive state of Alaska. But despite the challenges associated with hauling a racecar across 4 provinces and nearly a dozen states, Soper is safe and sound in his pit space in Tennessee and looking forward to an opportunity to add his name to the record books as a world champion in the Top ET class in the Summit SuperSeries.
“It was a long drive, as much of an understatement as that is,” Soper said with a laugh. “I actually cheated a bit by sending my car and truck ahead to Seattle and then drove down here, but I will be driving back home the entire way. It is worth it, we are super excited to be here. Why else would we take two weeks out of our lives just for one race?”
Soper qualified for the Summit SuperSeries presented by AMSOIL and Moser Engineering via the Wild Card drawing, a special drawing for drivers too far from a Team Finals to give all Summit SuperSeries participants an opportunity to qualify for the world championship.
From a pool of several dozen drivers Soper’s name was pulled in early September and couldn’t quite believe what he was hearing.
“I couldn’t believe I got the call,” Soper said. “This is a pretty meaningful event and it means a lot to be here. This is such a prestigious race and there is so much on the line. We can’t wait to get the car on the track and see what we can do.”
Soper is one of 16 drivers qualified in the Top ET class this weekend, joining an equal grouping in Mod ET and Junior Dragster competing for the three Summit SuperSeries championships. And given the past history of Wild Card recipients at the Summit SuperSeries, Soper can’t wait to try and add his name to that list.
“I am definitely aware that the wild card drivers have won this thing before and that really makes you believe it can be you,” Soper said.
Soper with several Alaska stickers on his car
Among that list is the last two Mod champions Matt Hawk from Arizona and Chris Hall from Utah, both winners and both recipients of the Wild Card draw. Add in drivers from as far away as Aruba when Jonathan Tromp won the Top title in 2004, and anything can happen at the Summit SuperSeries World Championships.
For now, however, Soper’s primary focus is getting adjusted to the big-race atmosphere in Tennessee this weekend after years racing at Alaska Raceway Park.
“You don’t really grasp it all until you actually get down here and see it. Being from Alaska and being from a smaller racing network, this is all a bit overwhelming,” Soper said. “This is very different from what we are used to, but we are excited to get going. It should be a fun weekend.”
The winner of the Top ET class this weekend will receive $10,000 from Summit Racing Equipment, a brand new dragster courtesy of American Race Cars with a Trick Flow engine, a vacation to Aruba, IHRA Gold Card, championship Ironman and more.
SOARING LIKE A HAWK
Move over Petty. Step aside Force.
There is a new family name in the world of motorsports – Hawk.
The Hawk family is certainly no stranger to the world of tall trophies and big stages. Son Matt is the defending Summit SuperSeries No Box World Champion, father Chuck is a regular winner at his home track of Southwestern International Raceway and now you can add mom Cindy to that list as well.
With the IHRA Nitro Jam series rolling into town for the Arizona Nitro Jam in March, the Hawk family knew this was their time to shine. A sold out crowd greeted Matt Saturday evening during prerace ceremonies and roared to life with a standing ovation when their hometown champion was introduced. A few hours later that same crowd was on their feet cheering Matt’s mother Cindy as she took the crown in the Top Dragster category and earned an even bigger honor, qualifying for the Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions presented by AMSOIL later.
A few months later Matt, the reigning Summit SuperSeries champion in Mod ET, qualified for Tournament of Champions in Stock at the San Antonio Summit Sportsman Spectacular. And if dad Chuck can qualify for the tournament this weekend during the Sportsman Spectacular that will be the entire family going for a championship all in one race.
“This is all so very exciting,” Cindy said. “After Matt won last year we got so much attention and everyone was calling us and congratulating us. Then this year I won at our home track in Tucson and Matt qualified for the TOC this time and if my husband can qualify that would really be something special. It has a remarkable year, like a dream really, but we have a chance to make it that much more special this weekend.
The Hawk legend began some four decades ago when Chuck started racing at the age of 16. After years in the sport, Chuck finally got wife Cindy into the sport in 1997 followed by both of their sons at the age of 10 in Junior Dragster. While the family has enjoyed a good deal of success locally over the years, it has been nothing to the extent they have enjoyed over the last 12 months.
Matt Hawk after winning 2011 Mod ET Championship
Now all three family members are in Memphis for the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals with two chances at another world championship and a third chance at adding to those odds when dad Chuck tries to get in via the Sportsman Spectacular.
“It would be awesome if all three of us could be qualified for Sunday,” Cindy said. “It has been a whirlwind year, but that would be special.”
Traveling from their home in Tucson, the family spent the week in Tennessee touring the area and sightseeing and now Cindy says it is time to race, something this family lives for.
“We came in early and had some fun sightseeing. We went downtime, we went to the zoo, we had some fun in the area,” Cindy said. “Now we are here and we are ready to race. This is what we do and this is what we live for. I can’t wait until Sunday.”