With nostalgia flowing through the pits in IHRA's return to its traditional stomping grounds, the ghosts of drag racing's all-time greats witnessed a classic as IHRA's most dominant driver, Jason Rupert, and a brand new face, Brad Waddle, headlined a weekend full of great racing in the heart of drag racing country at Rockingham Dragway.
Rupert won a race for the ages in the finals of IHRA's nostalgia Nitro Funny Car class, as the driver of the Bays & Rupert "Black Plague" '69 Camaro bested three-time IHRA Nitro Funny Car champion Peter Gallen by four thousandths of a second at the line. Rupert joined Kansas native Brad Waddle, winner of Mountain Motor Pro Stock, in the winner's circle, along with pro winners Mike Scott (Nitro Harley), Ron Maroney (Nitro Altered) and Marisha Falk (Jet Dragster).
Brad Waddle (near) vs. Kevin Bealko
Sportsman winners during day two of the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment Pro-Am Tour presented by AMSOIL were Mike Koontz (Top Sportsman), Jeffrey Dobbins II (Top Dragster), Jim Reynolds (Super Stock), A.J. Currie (Stock), Dale Harrison (Quick Rod), Gerald Pierce (Super Rod), Michelle Pelo (Hot Rod), Zach Pennington (Junior Master), Wallace Wilson (Junior Advanced) and Mallory Logan (Junior Beginner).
But there was no bigger winner than Rupert.
Destined to meet in the finals from the very start, Rupert and Gallen, two longtime, dominant figures in their class representing each side of the country, both proved significantly ahead of their peers. The pair qualified first and second on Saturday and made easy work of their competitors on Sunday, ending in one of the closest races of the entire 2014 racing season.
With an Ironman on the line between two former world champions in the nostalgia flopper class, Gallen got off the line first with a .081 reaction time to Rupert's .130, but Rupert flexed his muscle on the top end and powered past the driver of the "Poverty Stricken" '77 Vega with a 5.684-second pass at 253.18 mph, besting Gallen's 5.737, 242.50 by four thousandths at the line.
"I saw him out of the window and then he started to disappear on me. At that point, all I could do was look up at the scoreboard and hope I have enough room," Rupert said. "I am used to driving modern Funny Cars and you sit so far back in those that if you see someone out your side window, then they are way ahead. With these cars, it is a bit different. I only saw his front quarter panel so I thought I better rev this thing up and hope the track is long enough.
"When I crossed the finish line I had no idea who had just won. Luckily we had the full 1,320 feet!"
Not only was the pass good enough for the win, but it also handed Rupert a brand new IHRA Nitro Funny Car elapsed time world record.
Rupert's 5.698-second pass during qualifying on Saturday was good enough to back up Sunday's record run and place him first on the ladder, .01 better than Gallen. From there it was only a matter of time until the pair met in the finals.
Rupert bested Mike Halstead and Mark Sanders on his way to the championship round, posting laps of 5.843 and 5.736 as his bracket-like weekend paved the way for his third win in four races.
"I have so much respect for these guys out here that is it is truly humbling to have the success that we have been having," Rupert said. "I can only speak for myself, but I was a little nervous going into the final as I am with most of my runs. We were both probably nervous to run one another, I knew there was a lot of people watching, but it turned out to be a great race.
"We are on top right now, but you never know how long that is going to last."
Sunday's other big winner in Rockingham was Salina, Kan. native Brad Waddle. The driver of the Innovator's West 2013 Ford Mustang Mountain Motor Pro Stock overcame a weekend full of challenges on his way to his first career Pro Stock victory over Kevin Bealko. With a much smaller operation encompassed in a three-person crew, Waddle worked his way from last on the ladder to the championship round where he ran the quickest and fastest quarter-mile pass of his career to take home his first career Pro Stock win.
Waddle bested Bealko, driver of the AMSOIL-backed 2014 Chevrolet Camaro for Black Diamond Motorsports, with a 6.412 pass at 220.66 mph to claim the win. Bealko had a 6.440, 212.93 in the runner-up effort.
"About 20 years ago we got into drag racing and about four years ago I got my first taste of Pro Stock. We loved it, but we never thought we would ever be able to run with the big boys, especially over here in IHRA," Waddle said. "But holy cow. When I went out there with a chance to win, it was unreal. I left and saw Kevin up beside me, so I pulled fifth and I could feel the car start pulling right on by and I thought, hey, we just won this deal!"
Waddle overcame a smoking John DeFlorian in the first round and earned the bye into the finals by taking out the weekend's top qualifier. From there, it was just one pass that stood between himself and IHRA glory.
"They know that we have the potential, but we don't always have the expertise to get it done. We are getting there. We are a rookie team compared to most of these guys, but we stay aggressive and resourceful and now it has finally paid off," Waddle said. "I have to thank Hurco, Innovators West and everyone back at the shop, my crew chief Marc Brown, co-crew chief Chuck Lawrence and Jon Kaase for the big power.
"I have always wanted one of these big trophies. I have never even held one until today."
Nitro Harley kept the excitement alive as Mike Scott, representing the small town of Blind Bay in British Columbia, defeated teammate Randal Andras in the finals of the nitro-powered Harley Davidson class. From the second spot on the ladder, Scott overcame a slight holeshot to take the win with a 6.449 pass at 207.72 mph, just ahead of Andras' slowing 6.767, 211.46 run.
Scott had wins over Alvin Kobernusz and local favorite Mark Cox on his way to the final.
Ron Maroney and Marisha Falk wrapped up the professional competition with wins in Nitro Altered and Jet Dragster respectively, bringing the thrilling return of the IHRA Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series to Rockingham Dragway to a close.
Maroney, behind the wheel of the "Blind Faith" nostalgia machine, bested Shane Harter in "Nasty Benjamin" in the Chicago-style elimination with a 6.319, 215.44 as Harter broke on the line.
Falk, on the other hand, won her third Ironman of the season in a thriller in the finals of Jet Dragster, besting teammate and birthday girl Dawn Perdue. The top qualifier out of Port Orange, Florida drove the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University jet-powered dragster to a 5.703, 275.28 pass to edge Perdue's 5.765, 271.08.
The IHRA Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series will be back in action June 13-14 at the IHRA Nitro Jam President's Cup Nationals at Maryland International Raceway.
IHRA NITRO JAM SPRING NATIONALS FINAL RESULTS
Rockingham, N.C. - Final results from the 2014 IHRA Nitro Jam Spring Nationals at Rockingham Dragway
Nitro Funny Car - Jason Rupert, Yorba Linda, Calif., '69 Camaro, 5.684, 253.18 def. Peter Gallen, Broomall, Pa., '77 Nova, 5.737, 242.50
Pro Stock - Brad Waddle, Salina, Kan., '13 Mustang, 6.412, 220.66 def. Kevin Bealko, Bridgeport, W.Va., '14 Camaro, 6.440, 212.93
Nitro Harley - Mike Scott, Blind Bay, B.C., '14 American, 6.449, 207.72 def. Randal Andras, Amelia, La., '12 Harley, 6.767, 211.46
Nitro Altered - Ron Maroney, Chandler, Ariz., '32 Bantam, 6.319, 215.44 def. Shane Harter, Wenatchee, Wash., '27 Ford T, broke
Jet Dragster - Marisha Falk, Port Orange, Fla., dragster, 5.703, 275.28 def. Dawn Perdue, Oxford, Pa., dragster, 5.765, 271.08
Top Sportsman - Mike Koontz, Warrenton, Va., '00 S10, 5.014, 134.00 def. Rick Whaley, Reidsville, N.C., '90 Camaro, 4.862, 142.19
Top Dragster - Jeffrey Dobbins II, Wilmington, N.C., dragster, 4.800, 143.06 def. Jack Trussell, Sumerduck, Va., dragster, foul
Super Stock - Jim Reynolds, Raleigh, N.C., '60 Corvette, 5.422, 127.75 def. Corey Taylor, Lumberton, N.C., '87 Camaro, foul
Stock - A.J. Currie, Godwin, N.C., '85 Camaro, 10.498, 40.79 def. Anthony Walton, Jacksonville, N.C., '68 Camaro, foul
Quick Rod - Dale Harrison, Sanford, N.C., dragster, 5.728, 124.11 def. Darrell Collins, Clemmons, N.C., dragster, 5.714, 142.55
Super Rod - Gerald Pierce, Albany, N.Y., '97 Cutlass, 6.394, 126.97 def. Chris Lewis, Bloomingdale, Ga., '34 Chevy Roadster, 6.388, 115.48
Hot Rod - Michelle Pelo, Jacksonville, N.C., '67 Camaro, 7.001, 103.24 def. Casey Sims, Pelzer, S.C., '77 Vega, 6.978, 114.63
Junior Dragster Masters - Zach Pennington, Lexington, S.C., dragster, 7.892, 80.89 def. Tucker Creech, Clayton, N.C., dragster, foul
Junior Dragster Advanced - Wallace Wilson, Taylors, S.C., dragster, 8.936, 73.62 def. Hayden Lambert, Albemarle, N.C., dragster, 8.967, 69.40
Junior Dragster Beginner - Mallory Logan, North Chesterfield, Va., dragster, 11.973, 52.79 def. Katie Hall, Nokesville, Va., dragster, 11.941, 54.60
IHRA NITRO JAM SPRING NATIONALS ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS
Rockingham, N.C. - Final round-by-round results from the 2014 IHRA Nitro Jam Spring Nationals at Rockingham Dragway
Nitro Funny Car
Round 1 - Jason Rupert, 5.843, 247.70 def. Mike Halstead, 6.086, 241.07; Mark Sanders, 6.106, 243.41 def. Mike McIntire Jr., 6.558, 228.81; Peter Gallen, 5.925, 237.30 def. Jake Crimmins, 12.018, 68.74; Mike Smith, 6.034, 228.73 def. Tim Boychuk, 9.550, 93.13
Semis - Rupert, 5.736, 249.07 def. Sanders, 6.200, 219.90; Gallen, 5.740, 235.60 def. Smith, 6.117, 181.64
Final - Rupert, 5.684, 253.18 def. Gallen, 5.737, 242.50
Round 1 - Brad Waddle, 6.564, 217.32 def. John DeFlorian, 7.302, 154.49; Cary Goforth, 6.249, 222.95 def. Pete Berner, 19.423, 49.95; Kevin Bealko, 8.285, 152.14 def. Todd Hoerner, broke
Semis - Waddle, 6.365, 222.33 def. bye; Bealko, 6.383, 218.19 def. Goforth, 6.558, 220.80
Final - Waddle, 6.412, 220.66 def. Bealko, 6.440, 212.93
Round 1 - Jay Turner, 6.963, 151.75 def. Tii Tharpe, 14.432, 74.68; Randal Andras, 6.818, 236.63 def. Larry Brancaccio, 23.296, 20.94; Mike Scott, 6.468, 213.27 def. Alvin Kubernusz, broke; Mark Cox, 6.648, 196.76 def. Jake Stordeur, 6.819, 192.06
Semis - Andras, 6.345, 219.65 def. Turner, 6.910, 158.32; Scott, 6.407, 220.84 def. Cox, 6.515, 223.28
Final - Scott, 6.449, 207.72 def. Andras, 6.767, 211.46
Round 1 - Shane Harter, 6.256, 222.44 def. Mike Hilsabeck, 6.482, 198.41; Don Blackshear, 6.277, 186.28 def. Kyle Hough, 6.695, 215.58; Ron Maroney, 6.372, 211.46 def. Ron Hope, 7.104, 194.30
Final - Maroney, 6.319, 215.44 def. Harter, broke
Round 1 - Dawn Perdue, 5.779, 266.85 def. Elaine Larsen, 5.720, 273.61; Marisha Falk, 5.773, 276.41 def. Kat Moller, 6.475, 260.81
Final - Falk, 5.703, 275.28 def. Perdue, 5.765, 271.08