The 2009 Orlando World Street Nationals Results And Review
17th Annual Orlando World Street Nationals 2009
Written by Susan Wade; Photos by Chris Simmons
17th Annual Orlando World Street Nationals 2009
17th Annual Orlando World Street Nationals 2009 Photo Gallery By Chris Simmons at Competition Plus Online
The World Street Nationals Complete Coverage by
INTRODUCING YOUR WINNERS
SUPER PRO STREET
Winner: Coby Rabon - 6.273 seconds, 234.21 mph
Runner-up: Mike Hill - 6.365 seconds, 233.17 mph
No. 1 qualifier: Coby Rabon - 6.269 seconds, 235.31 mph
Low E.T.: Coby Rabon - 6.235 seconds
Top Speed: Coby Rabon - 237.92 mph
RABON'S DECISION TO RETURN TO RACING PAYS OFF
Coby Rabon tried to turn his back on drag racing. And he was pretty successful at it -- for a couple of years.
But what once had sapped all of his energy has re-invigorated the quietly determined man from Ridgeway, S.C.
Rabon's plan to approach the sport at a sensible pace and with leaders in the industry paid off in a major way Sunday at the World Street Nationals. He earned not only the $10,000 winner's share of the Super Pro Street purse but an extra $1,000 and trophy as No. 1 qualifier, as well as another grand and a third trophy as the "Clean Sweep Award" recipient. The honor goes to the driver who wins from the top spot and posts low elapsed time of the meet.
The crowd at Orlando Speed World Dragway got a thrill Friday morning, when Rabon sent a message to the rest of the class with a 6.269-second elapsed time (at 235.31 mph) in his '05 Mustang that held up through fives sessions for the top qualifying position.
"That first pass was awesome. I knew then that we had something," Rabon said. "With that pass, we knew we were going in the right direction. I felt like if we could just get down the track that we would stay No. 1 the whole time."
His hunch was right. But Rabon treated fans to more thrills Sunday, opening his march to victory by setting both ends of the track record with a 6.235-second pass at 237.92 mph against Greg Denis. The fast Ford with the 67-cubic-inch Steve Petty-engineered Pro-line power plant made consistent 6.2/6.3-second runs all during eliminations before Rabon denied Mike "Hitman" Hill a second consecutive WSN title in the final round. Rabon capped his weekend with a 6.273/234.21 effort to Hill's 6.365 / 223.17.
Rabon also advanced past experienced Super Pro Street drivers Tony "The Sandman" Williams, Steve King, and Tony Christian. (Hill, who took home $4,000, drove past Mike Moran, Mike Stavrinos, Doug Horween, and Chris Rini to reach the final in his '07 Pontiac GTO.)
"It was nine rounds here, and we were low E.T. seven rounds," Rabon said. Then with a grin that suggested he might just continue to vex his competitors for some time, he said of the car, "It's got potential."
What makes Rabon's domination even more remarkable is the fact he was making his on-track debut at this race.
"This is the first time we've been to Orlando. This is the first time we've rolled in the gate," he said. "This is just the beginning."
The well-worn racing surface always is prepared to its optimum. Nevertheless, it was "green" because of a brief shower Friday morning and no real pre-race activity, save a Thursday night golf-cart drag race, to lay down any rubber.
"This track is a challenge," Rabon said. So was the entire weekend for the man who knows first-hand now why a trophy from the World Street Nationals is so valuable.
"We broke a tranny one round. It hasn't been easy. We took the tranny out three times this weekend. Behind the scenes, there's a lot of work, but we had fun," Rabon said. "It was worth it."
Was drag racing "worth it" to Rabon? For awhile it was -- then it wasn't -- and once again it has become a passion. So what happened to Rabon? Why did he leave the sport for two years?
"We had an Outlaw car. We ran it for a year or two," he said. "We tried to go somewhere every weekend. We burned our bearings out. We got tired of it. I got totally out of it. I went to a couple of racetracks about a year ago, and the bug bit me again. So here we are again."
And how did Steve Petty get involved?
"I already had a turbo car, so turbos were on the top of the list. I went to Pro-line, struck a deal, and here we are," Rabon said.
Ah, but it wasn't that easy, really. After all, a lot of outlaw/street-legal drivers would love to have Steve Petty's attention.
"I went to him and I said, 'Look, I want you to be a part of this. Y'all know what I want to do. So let's do it together.' I'm loyal. I told 'em, 'I need your help,' and they gave it to me. It took a little bit of talking and when they finally realized I was serious, everybody came together. It didn't take long, about a month."
This young business relationship -- Rabon owns and operates the car, while Petty orchestrates the tuning -- seems to be working splendidly.
"Steve's a character. He's a big part of what we're doing right now. Steve's everything to us right now," Rabon said. "He really helps us. He does whatever he can. We try to help how we can.
"He does all our tune-ups. He's the brains behind it. He's the brains of the operation on the computer. He comes in there and mashes a couple of buttons, and I just watch and try to keep up." Said Rabon, "We're still learning."
That's all reassuring to Rabon -- but not to the rest of the Super Pro Street drivers.
MICKEY THOMPSON OUTLAW 10.5
Winner: Chuck Ulsch - 6.522 seconds, 223.99 mph
Runner-up: Tim Lynch - 16.587 seconds, 47.51 mph
No. 1 qualifier: Chuck Ulsch - 6.450 seconds, 224.62 mph
Low E.T.: Chuck Ulsch - 6.450 seconds
Top Speed: Tim Lynch - 232.31 mph
ULSCH NABS ORLANDO VICTORY -- WITH HELP FROM JOHN DILLINGER
Everybody's heard of John Dillinger.
But how many could identify his accomplices? Let's see . . . James Ward, Richard Mauzy, Jeff Weddle, Cody Ulsch, Brian Mobley . . . Oh, and special gang members Brian Weddle, Mike Weddle, J.C. Gloyd, Jim Gloyd, Drew Smith, and Robbie Long.
Nah -- we're not talking about the notorious gangster John Dillinger. This is John "Pops" Dillinger. The others were key witnesses and collaborators Sunday as show-stealer Chuck Ulsch stormed into Orlando Speed World Dragway, roughed up the Mickey Thompson Outlaw 10.5 class with a World Street Nationals victory, and made off with more than $10,000.
Ulsch, who has made Gil Mobley Motorsports' '02 Camaro just about the Most Wanted ride in street-legal racing, swiped top-qualifier honors, as well, with a 6.450-second elapsed time at 224.62 mph. That stuffed another $1,000 in his pocket. Ulsch raked in an additional $1,000 for the "Celan Sweep Award," for he also set low E.T. with his qualifying time.
But grabbing all the loot was no breeze for the Clarksville, Md., legend. Part of his concerns were the Lynch Mob -- rival Tim Lynch and his team, who faced him in the final. Although Ulsch ran a stout 6.522-second pass at 223.99, Lynch lost power early and never was a threat in the quarter-mile showdown. His cut of the purse was $3,000, some consolation for his 16.587-second, 47.51-mph showing.
"We really worked this weekend. It was a battle," Ulsch said after winning at Orlando for the first time in three final-round appearances. "We did one good pass on Friday night. Everything looked good on the car. Once we came up there Saturday morning, we had the right lane, kind of didn't get down, came back and they made us take the right lane -- we didn't get down. We wanted the left lane. Then we had a problem -- our CO2 bottle went empty and we didn't get down. (Sunday) we pretty much backed it down, just to get down (the track). We had an issue -- fuel burned the piston up in the first round. We had to put a piston in it after second round, and we had the blower off every round.
"All these guys, everybody who's on my crew -- there's about 10 or 12 of us -- every single person did something to get us in that winners circle, whether it became cleaning oil off the back, packing the chutes, helping put the cylinder head on, putting a piston in, going to get parts, whatever," Ulsch said. "We battled. We battled. And we got it done. Every time, we had a reasonable amount of time to get the job done."
He said the 32-car ladder played out the way he had expected.
"The four fastest cars were in the semis," he said. Because of that, he knew he needed to keep lane choice each round. "The left lane's a good lane here. So we were shooting to have that left lane all day. Once we got back on track, we pretty much set the pace for ourselves."
After losing to Bill Futch in last year's final, Ulsch might have wondered if his string of poor luck would continue. "We've always had to fight for it here, because we've always had problems. We've never had an easy day where we can just put the plugs in it and make sure everything's tightened up, make a pass and be done. It's always been a fight. But it makes it good. It makes it real rewarding when you win," he said.
"I didn't do this myself," Ulsch said. "I'm the one who gets to drive it down the track. I'm the one who gets to do this right here (speak with reporters), talk to the people. I just want to make sure I tell everybody that John Ferguson and Gil Mobley Sr. and Gil Mobley Jr. own this car. They're the ones who put me in here."
Referring to the newly crowned ADRL Battle of the Belts champion Todd Tutterow, he said, "Todd Tutterow tunes this car."
Although Ulsch certainly is aware of Lynch's capabilities, he wasn't overly focused on his opponent in the final. "We were doing our own thing, just make sure we got that lane choice, make sure we got all our Ts crossed and our Is dotted, and do what we had to do. If he could come up and beat us, I'd have dealt with it. You put what you have up on the table. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose."
Ulsch explained his domination by saying, "We have good people and good equipment, and we have a pretty good work ethic. Everybody loves it. We don't do this for money. This is a hobby. It's not a business. Sometimes people think everybody on this teams gets paid for what we do. We do it for the love of this.
"We want to win. We want to prove that we can run with the best of them. We want to be the best of them. We want them to want to run with us," he said.
After raiding the World Street Nationals, Ulsch and the Mobley Militia are about the most feared hombres in outlaw drag racing.
MICKEY THOMPSON DRAG RADIAL
Winner: Dave Hance - 7.249 seconds, 206.13 mph
Runner-up: Mel Nelson - No time
No. 1 qualifier: Dave Hance - 7.436 seconds, 201.13 mph
Low E.T.: Dave Hance - 7.249 seconds
Top Speed: Alex Vrettos - 213.91 mph
PEANUT BUTTER, JELLY SHARE GLORY AS HANCE TASTES VICTORY
Lined up on the roof of Dave Hance's fancy black '93 Mustang were three World Street Nationals trophies.
One was for being the $3,000 Mickey Thompson Drag Radial class winner -- and recipient of a championship jacket that will make him the envy of racers and fans and his friends in his Long Island neighborhood of Inwood, N.Y.
Another was for the "Clean Sweep Award" -- along with a $1,000 bonus -- he earned for being the winner, No. 1 qualifier, and driver to set low elapsed time at the 17th annual door slammer extravaganza at Orlando Speed World Dragway.
The third trophy was for leading the field with the 7.346-second pass Hance used to nudge Mel Nelson (his eventual final-round opponent) from the No. 1 spot in a last-minute fifth qualifying session.
("They tell me we get bonus money! And more trophies!" Hance said, his boyish enthusiasm leaping out.)
Those three trophies made sense. But Hance plopped three more items on the roof. They didn't make sense -- unless you know Dave Hance and how far he has come in his racing career. What's sitting on the roof of the racecar, as much a part of the winners circle as the trophies, the trophy girls, and the lined-up crew, were a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, and a loaf of bread. What in the world. . . ?
"Back in the old days, 20 years ago or so, when all of us had no money," crew member Scotty Guadagno said, "we were racing low-budget cars, that's all we had to live on. And believe me, that's what we lived on every day. You went to Dave's apartment, all you would find in the cabinet and the refrigerator was peanut butter and jelly and some white bread. That's it. That's all we had. That's why he brings it with him everywhere he goes. Oh, he eats it now -- when you go in his trailer, that's all you see: peanut butter and jelly. Believe me when I tell you -- it's true."
Hance defended himself: "That was quick! That was cheap!"
He was quick Sunday, but his performance wasn't cheap. He plowed through the field, eliminating Floridians Kirk Hatley, Ari Birchfield, and Angelo Graham, then Steve Turley, before surviving in the final with a swift, clean 7.29-second, 206.13 pass while Nelson took a frighteningly wild ride and ended up crossing into Hance's lane behind him and keeping his own '02 Camaro off the wall.
"Out of the corner of my eye, I saw his car flinch," Hance said. "But that County Auto Mustang was really going, so I had to keep my eyes on it. We were floating the wheels a little bit ourselves. He said he shook. We both turned it up. We both knew we wanted to rock and roll."
The victory, the near-catastrophe at the top end of the final run, just finally getting he car dialed in -- it all seemed a bit hard for Hance to believe . . . except for his comfort food sitting there to remind him of struggling and overcoming. He said he certainly did not think that this would be a winning weekend.
"I was a bit disappointed," he said. "The whole weekend we couldn't get down (the track). It was constantly finding, finding, finding. After that fourth qualifying session, which was supposed to be the last, I got down far enough that I knew what I had to do. So when they said, 'You've got an extra one,' we went out there and it did what I was hoping it would do.
"The real credit goes to the crew; Randy Connor, our crew chief; Don Bailey, our tuner (who does the same job for ADRL driver Spiro Pappas)," he said. "It's really them. They gave me an awesome car. I just jumped in and had to let it go."
Said Hance, "Hats off to Orlando for giving the fans an extra round, and a good round it was in all classes. What can you say? We're tickled."
He morphed from an animated race winner to a promoter in a subtle second. But that's what Dave Hance is: part promoter, part racer. He's the architect of a Northeast outlaw race at Englishtown, N.J.'s Old Bridge Township Raceway Park that started 10 years after these World Street Nationals but has become a must-enter fall free-for-all.
Hance dances around established dates to make choices easier for the racer -- after all, he has competed in the World Street Nationals since 2001 with a variety of his own cars. And many of these drivers at Orlando -- including winners Chuck Ulsch (Outlaw 10.5), Gary Naughton (Heavy Street), and Coby Rabon (Super Pro Street) -- plan to hail their cars to New Jersey for the rain-rescheduled Shakedown at E-Town this coming weekend.
Hance might be a whiz at slapping together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but take a tip from Guadgano: Say no thank-you if Hance offers you spaghetti. The old tale goes that Hance's racing buddies found a bowl of spaghetti that had been left in the refrigerator so long it was sprouting mold. "That must be broccoli or something," Hance told them. (He confessed to the fib, saying, "I tried to play it off.")
This World Street Nationals victory wasn't Hance's first race triumph, by any means. The peanut butter and jelly, while still a legitimate lunch for Hance, simply serves as a reminder of how much he has progressed. But it paid enough to shelve the peanut butter and jelly, maybe at least for one night, so he and his team can enjoy a steak dinner.
Winner: Gary Naughton - 7.098 seconds, 206.13 mph
Runner-up: Sam Gottier - 7.179 seconds, 193.71 mph
No. 1 qualifier: Gary Naughton - 7.092 seconds, 206.07 mph
Low E.T.: Gary Naughton - 7.092 seconds
Top Speed: Gary Naughton - 207.56 mph
NAUGHTON'S HEAVY STREET TRIUMPH IS 'OKIE-DOAK'
Gary Naughton accomplished a feat Sunday that's known in drag racing as "running the table."
It means a driver captures just about every performance achievement possible at a single event by winning, earning the No. 1 qualifying position, and setting low elapsed time and top speed.
Naughton did all that in ADRL Extreme 10.5 class driver and business partner Kenny Doak's '67 Camaro, pocketing $5,000 for the victory and $1,000 bonus for the "Clean Sweep Award."
That he did so at the World Street Nationals was something that in an emotional moment in the winners circle afterward he called "a dream come true."
He came close to the prize last year, but a mechanical glitch doomed his chance.
"Kenny qualified first last year. I think I qualified fourth last year," Naughton said. "The transmission popped out of gear in the semis last year. It was a bit of a heartbreaker. So I redeemed myself this year.
"It's five rounds of racing, the only 32-car race field in the country. Ah, it's just amazing," he said, trying to soak it all in the gathering darkness at Orlando Speed World Dragway. People asked for his autograph on T-shirts. A lineup of professional photographers and three times as many folks with recreational-grade cameras wanted him to smile and pose with his crew by the car, holding his trophy. A reporter or two probed into his background, asking him the "how it feels" questions.
"This is a dream come true. I still can't believe it," he said.
Finally things were coming together the way he had dreamed about it when he was building race cars for other drivers who drove them to big-race victories and a measure of fame, at least in the drag-racing world.
Naughton has been racing since he was 16 years old, for almost 29 years, he said. Most recently, he said, he competed in local Quick-8 racing at Atco Raceway in South Jersey and Cecil County Dragway in Maryland, neither far from his home in Eastern Pennsylvania.
"I've been building and racing cars forever. But I never could do it at the level I am now, if it wasn't for Kenny Doak giving me the ride in his car," he said. "I can't say enough for Kenny Doak and Billy from Oddy's -- the motor is just unbelievable . . . Coan Converters, Bruno Lenco . . .
He said he and Doak "just started a race car shop of our own, Advanced Door Car Technology. We're an up-and-going race car shop.
"He has a state-of-the-art machine shop, does a lot of medical work. Kenny really set me up, bought me every piece of equipment I need to build race cars," Naughton said.
At that point the humble Naughton allowed himself a smile. But the smile wasn't just for himself and his own team, although they did advance past Omar Obando, reached the quarterfinals on a bye, then beat Lee Saunders and Ronnie Souza to make the final for the first time.
As his car was lined up next to those of fellow winners Dave Hance (Drag Radial) and Chuck Ulsch (Outlaw 10.5), he glanced over at Ulsch's '02 Camaro with pride.
"I was the shop foreman at Vanishing Point Race Cars until about six months ago. I built Chuckie's car," Naughton said. So in one sense, he was a double winner. The victories just kept mounting for him.
For Naughton, Sunday was a day of 3Rs -- no rest, for sure, but certainly running the table, redemption, and rejoicing.
Winner: Ken Scheepers - 7.761 seconds, 179.33 mph
Runner-up: Raul Reyes Buozo - 7.135 seconds, 191.19 mph
No. 1 qualifier: Alex Dieguez - 7.161 seconds, 193.27 mph
Low E.T. : Raul Reyes Buozo - 7.135 seconds
Top Speed: Luis Ferrer Jr., 195.34 mph
Ken Sheepers, of Flower Mound, Texas, drove his '05 Mazda RX8 to a 7.761-second, 179.33-mph victory over Bayamon, Puerto Rico's Raul Reyes Buozo, who red-lit in the final. Track operator Carl Weisinger gave the Extreme Import drivers one shot each in the cooler conditions at making a six-second pass following the scheduled program. None hit the mark. But the last in line, Luis Ferrer Jr., of West Palm Beach, hit the wall. He was not hurt.
SUPER PRO STREET
RABON STILL RABID -- Coby Rabon continued the Steve Petty/Pro-line mystique at the World Street Nationals. As if his 6.269-second, 235.31-mph qualifying run weren't eye-popping enough, he made that look like he had simply been toying with the field. It didn't matter that Greg Denis red-lit by two-thousandths of a tick in their opening-round match-up. Rabon ripped off a record-breaking 6.235-second, 237.92-mph pass. That lowered his own track-record elapsed time by three-hundredths of a second and his own speed standard by more than two miles an hour.
STUDENT MAKES GRADE -- Super Pro Street driver Trevor Eman might not be the hometown favorite, exactly, but he had a positive start in Sunday's eliminations. He took advantage of Mike Holdridge's red light in the first round.
Eman, an Aruba native who's in his fourth year as a mechanical engineering student at the nearby University of Central Florida, racing at Orlando Speed World Dragway for the first time since 2007 is like old-home-week.
"This is my backyard," he said. "We don't get here that often, because they don't have races that fit our circuit. We usually stick to the IHRA Pro Stock program. It's once a year that we'll make it out here."
Ironically, Eman had to "go soft" Saturday to make a hard move up the ladder.
He began his weekend in 20th position as only 30 cars took a chance in the first qualifying session. But he found himself on the outside looking in by the end of Friday qualifying and through Saturday's opening go, 35th and 36th among the growing list of 47 drivers. But he corrected the trouble he was experiencing with the clutch on his '04 Ford Escort but decided "to make it as soft as possible" to get down the racetrack under full power. It earned him the No. 12 qualifying spot. The hastily arranged fifth session knocked him down a couple of places.
His car, with its Jon Kaase-built 820-inch naturally aspirated motor, is for sale. But he still has plans to race next season -- he said he just isn't sure where.
Eman, who also competed at two ADRL races this season, said, "We're sort of in limbo to decide what we're going to do next year. I think we're just going to finish out the year with this race, then just settle down a little bit and enjoy the offseason."
He'll leave his car at the team shop in Union, S.C., finish his current semester at school, then head home to the Caribbean island nation of Aruba for the holidays. "I can't wait to get back to the beach."
NO GO -- In back-to-back disappointments, No. 8 qualifier Frank Cersosimo and No. 4 Craig Miller broke at the starting line, handing their respective Round 1 races to Kevin Benham and Halvor Hansen Jr. Benham got a big break on that run, for he had an embarrassingly snoozy .248-second reaction time. John Cobb had a similar fate as Cersosimo and Miller against the much-higher-qualified Steve King, who would have been hard to beat with a 6.651-second elapsed time at 217.91 mph.
WOW . . . OOPS! -- In the final first-round pairing, Tony Christian zipped down the left lane with the only 6.2-second blast besides Coby Rabon's. As he ran through the lights to post his 6.298-second E.T. and 216.97-mph speed, he lost the hood scoop but advanced over Rome Berry.
HILL HAULIN' -- In a match-up far juicier than a traditional "No. 7 versus No. 26" billing, Mike Hill -- the 2008 class winner here -- defeated fellow veteran Mike Moran in stunning fashion. Hill improved his 6.483-second qualifying time by seven-hundredths, moving on with a 6.416-second pass at 219.69. Moran exited with a 7.014 / 161.48.
IS THERE A GLASS MAN IN THE HOUSE?
Outlaw 10.5 No. 3 qualifier Brad Brand was scrambling following his stellar 6.65-second, 228-flat-mph run that defeated Pat Adams. The victory came with a price. It cost him his back window. Public-address announcer Pat Budd gave him some valuable help, using the microphone to solicit parts help for the highly specialized '92 Mustang.
LYNCH ON TASK -- Not even John Marconi's .005-second reaction time in his snazzy-looking '58 Corvette could stop Pro Stock juggernaut Tim Lynch in the first round. Lynch, who qualified second only to Chuck Ulsch, rolled on with a 6.761-second elapsed time at 228.15 mph.
ULSCH HAS ENOUGH -- Top Outlaw 10.5 qualifier Chuck Ulsch's elapsed time and speed (7.861 / 129.54) were nothing memorable -- it would have relegated him to the 25th place in time trials. But even with an early shutoff, he had plenty to make it through to Round 2.
'ALL BY MYSELF . . . '-- Six drivers advanced with solo passes in the first round of Sunday's eliminations. The lucky drivers were Mark Kyger, Nick Scavo, J.C. Richardson, Jerry Mitrovich, Mark Ingle, and Dave French.
HANCE HAS MORE -- No. 1 Drag Radial qualifier Dave Hance used a conservative 8.286-second, 174.23-mph clocking to advance, knowing that opponent Kirk Hatley had fouled out with a red light. But fans knew this '93 Mustang with a 615-cubic-inch Chevy power plant is the Drag Radial ride that first dipped into the six-second range. So the strong crowd looked forward to Hance's Round 2 showing.
NOVEMBER SURPRISE -- Brian Criste qualified toward the bottom of the list, at No. 30, and wasn't given much of a chance to upset No. 3 qualifier Alex Vrettos. But Vrettos, who had led the early qualifying, had a mechanical malfunction at the Christmas Tree and had to sit and watch while Criste rolled to a 13.350-second, 95.54-mph victory.
MAJOR A MINOR PLAYER THIS YEAR?? -- Paul Major, last year's winner, had to settle for the 22nd qualifying spot. Referring to Major's dominance at the 2008 World Street Nationals, track General Manager and P.A. announcer Randy Weisinger said Major at that time "had more muscle than T-shirt." Major did upset No. 11 qualifier Angel Padilla with an 8.278-second run at 152.71 mph.
COOL CAR -- Ken Scheppers, of Flower Mound, Texas, won his first-round test against Luis Corujo. But in this lineup of ultra-chic, uber-hot hot rods, he just might have the best (funkiest -- grooviest -- at least) nickname for his '05 Mazda RX8: The Nuclear Banana.
QUICK DECISIONS -- Red-light disqualifications and solo passes decided exactly half of the Heavy Street first-round races. And No. 5 qualifier Jeff Lutz was among the victims.
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -
SUPER PRO STREET
RABON STILL TOPS --
The happy news for Greg Denis, of Punta Gorda, Fla., is that he squeaked into the Super Pro Street field with a 7.256-second elapsed time in his classy '57 Bel-Air. The ugly news, though, is that he must face firecracker-hot Coby Rabon, the No. 1 qualifier, who reset the track speed record with a 235.31-mph pass and a 6.269-second E.T. that was .139 of a second quicker than No. 2 John Vergotz. Rabon, the latest Pro-line Race Engine / Steve Petty disciple, is third driver in as many years to lower the Super Pro Street top mark. His 6.26 tops Vinny Budano's 6.38 from last year, and Budano's effort bested Annette Summer's 6.42 the previous event.
BAPTISTA BY FIRE -- Tim Baptista blew the door off of his '67 Camaro -- literally -- in the unscheduled fifth round of qualifying Saturday evening. Doug Horween had been in the other lane, but he discovered some sort of problem that caused his crew to push the car off the starting line. So he wasn't in any danger of the flying door hitting him or his '94 Chevy Lumina. Randy Weisinger, general manager of the racetrack, rode down the left lane on a scooter and retrieved the door for Baptista. The truly frustrating part of the whole fifth-session exercise for Baptista, who hauled his car to Orlando from Massachusetts and was bumped from the field in the "bonus" session. He was 30th at the end of four sessions and sat on the bubble at 32nd even after his calamitous run. But by the time the rest of the racers took their turns, he wound up 33rd, seven hundredths of a second too slow for the show. Horween was able to come back a few minutes later and slipped to 15th.
GONE (DOWNTRACK) AND VERGOTZEN -- John Vergotz improved from fourth to third to second Saturday, using a 6.398-second run in the bonus qualifying session to bump Chris Rini to third.
UP-AND-DOWN TIME FOR HILL -- Winning this prestigious race guarantees a driver nothing the following year. Mike Hill found that out this weekend. He defeated Vinny Budano in the Super Pro Street final last October, but in this visit to Orlando Speed World Dragway, he had a roller-coaster ride in his effort simply to make the field. He didn't make a pass in the opening session, and was a precarious 29th after his Friday evening debut. Bumped out the show, down to No. 37, after three sessions, Hill leaped 30 spots in the order to seventh place. The fifth session didn't hurt him, for he stayed seventh with a 6.483-second elapsed time at 205.04 mph in his '07 Pontiac GTO.
GRUDGE MATCH --
Hill and Craig Miller (pictured), the No. 4 qualifier, are longtime friends and Outlaw 10.5 rivals, but they'll face each other in a grudge match Nov. 14 at Savannah River Dragway at Sylvania, Ga. It will be part of the Georgia State Outlaw Championships that weekend. "Everybody in the country's into grudge racing now," Gary Fowler, Miller's crew chief, said. Miller is an Outlaw 10.5 veteran who also has raced Pro Mods and is a three-time Jegs Allstars champion in NHRA sportsman action.
'KING TUTT' IS ULSCH'S ACE -- Pro Modified ace Todd Tutterow didn't sit around, admiring the National Guard ADRL Pro Extreme championship belt he won the previous weekend at the Texas Motorplex at Ennis, Texas. He has been busy helping Chuck Ulsch grab the Outlaw 10.5 top-qualifier honors from the Gil Mobley Motorsports headliner's archrival, Tim Lynch. Even while sorting out an entirely new engine combo in his '02 Camaro, Ulsch -- with advice from Tutterow -- took the No. 1 position in Friday's evening session and held onto it through three more. Ulsch leads the field with his Friday-night 6.450-second pass. Lynch's consolation is that he's qualified second and his 232.31mph is top speed of the meet. S for the second straight year, Ulsch and Lynch started eliminations as the Nos. 1 and 2 drivers. It's another feather in the cap this year for Tutterow, who shared the winners circle with 14-year-old Junior Dragster-driving son Ty at the St. Louis ADRL race this summer. Ty Tutterow might have been helping his dad this weekend, but he was busy with a Junior Dragster Shootout at Farmington, N.C.
STYCK-ING WITH DESIGN --
Lance Styck's '04 Mustang sports side-mounted turbos. "We did it more just for the weight, trying to get the weight past this fender," The No. 21 qualifier said of the unique configuration. "We actually set the car up to run (in the Extreme) 10.5 (class)." Just before they left the shop at home in Americus, Ga., G2 Motorsports -- and George Bryce of NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle repute -- prepared the headers for the '04 Mustang.
START SPREADING THE NEWS -- Before the fourth session -- which he figured would be his last chance to put his New York Motorsports '93 Mustang at the top of the heap -- Dave Hance predicted he would rip off a 7.35-second elapsed time in the neighborhood of 213 mph. He didn't pull that off, recording a 7.768 / 167.91, but did elevate himself from 12th to seventh. Then after learning he would get a third opportunity to run Saturday -- and in cooler conditions -- Hance reeled off a 7.436-second performance with a 201.13-mph speed to replace Mel Nelson as the class leader. Not bad for the man who keeps his own ego in check by referring to himself as "the lead sweeper." He actually does sweep the shop floor at his Long Island business every day. But the dubious title came years ago from an elderly gentleman who kidded him when he was doing menial labor by "complimenting" him with a promotion to "lead sweeper." Hance's blast also was a sweet tune-up for his own race, The Shakedown at E-Town. The Shakedown, which he established and is promoting for the seventh year, will run this coming weekend at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park at Englishtown, N.J., after being postponed because of a winter-like storm. Perhaps ironically, this Mustang that took Hance to the top qualifying spot Saturday is the same one he debuted -- and crashed -- at last year's Shakedown. He then rebuilt it and drove it to three straight victories, breaking the six-second barrier in the process (a 6.93 at Bradenton, Fla.). Sunday's eliminations, he said, promise to be a tuning war, whereas his Shakedown, because of the later timing, is shaping up to be a horsepower shootout.
FULL NELSON -- Mel Nelson swiped the No. 1 qualifying position in the Drag Radial class in Saturday's second session. His 7.486-second pass at 201.04 mph came with some tuning help from Bill Futch, last year's Outlaw 10.5 winner here. He supplanted Alex Vrettos, who still owns the class' top speed at 213.91 mph.
GOTTIER: GOTCHA! --Sam Gottier's 7.148-second blast in Saturday's first session in his '71 Chevelle didn't set an event record. However, it was good enough to put the Canterbury, Conn., driver at the top of the order. In leaping past Gary Naughton, of Pipersville, Pa., Gottier gained some extra confidence, knowing he can run that kind of a number in the heat of the day. The sunshine, missing for most of Friday's activity, appeared Saturday and gave all racers a peek at the forecast for Sunday's eliminations. However, Naughton used the extra qualifying session to pull the "Gotcha!" on Gottier, blazing to a 7.092-second elapsed time at 204.66 mph.
AMBUSH BY ALEX -- Heriberto Santiago had enjoyed a comfortable lead through four qualifying sessions, improving both his elapsed time and speed along the way. But Alex Dieguez, who jumped into the mix late and was lurking in third place, rocked him from his comfort zone with a dash of 7.161 seconds at 193.27 mph to take over the top spot Saturday night.
HANGING IN THERE -- All business executives today are trying to combat the economic woes and find creative ways to maintain clients and maybe even gain a few. Naturally, World Street Nationals promoter Carl Weisinger and track GM son Randy Weisinger had been a bit anxious about the crowd and car count for this 17th edition of this event. With a Friday audience that Randy Weisinger said was encouraging and full grandstands Saturday, they didn't appear to suffer too much at the gate. And the final car count for all four classes was a total of 161, certainly respectable in this economic climate.
NESS WRECKS --
Richard Ness already had qualified sixth in the Drag Radial class. But he crashed his '87 Mustang head-on into the opposite wall, lost four places in the lineup, and likely ended his season. Ness, of Belleview, Fla., took a hard left and crunch the front end of the car. He was uninjured, and the accident set the schedule back only 15 minutes.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - NOTES FROM THE EARLY SESSIONS
NAUGHTON DOMINATES -- Gary Naughton (Pipersville, Pa.), shop foreman at K&K Adavnced Door Car Technology Enterprises, was head and shoulders above the rest of the 37-car Heavy Street field in the first Friday session. His closest competitors gained some ground on him, but Naughton was unchallenged in the night session.
With a 7.211-second run at 206.07 mph, he was more than three-tenths quicker than No. 2 Sam Gottier, of Canterbury, Conn. No. 3 Jeff Lutz, at 187 mph, had the second-best speed but was nearly 19 mph off Naughton's pace. Gottier improved from a 7.530 to a 7.266 in keeping his No. 2 spot.
BURN, BABY, BURN -- Eddie Miller didn't qualify in the top 10, but he might have won a prize for the coolest-looking burnouts. Public-address announcer Patrick Budd called Miller "he of the look-at-me burnouts."
FIELDS FULL OR NEARLY FULL -- Heavy Street, with 39 racers making passes Friday, and the popular Super Pro Street carding 43, are the two classes that have no problem filling their 32-car fields. Outlaw 10.5 has two more open slots Saturday, and Drag Radial was one competitor short of a full field.
HUPP NOT UP YET
Mike Hupp, last year's Heavy Street runner-up to Scott Husted, held down the bump spot in that class early Friday. But he dropped to 38th by nightfall and will be scrambling in the final two sessions Saturday to make the field. Husted is 10th heading into Saturday. Among those missing the cut in the 32-car field after one session were Reggie Chapman, Omar Obando, Ronnie "Pizza Man" Souza, Aaron Bridwell (who scraped the wall but kept his foot in the throttle), and Simon Lister (who knocked out a timing cone and also was disqualified). Souza climbed into the field at ninth Friday night, as did Lister at 13, Bridwell at No. 22 and Obando at No. 27.
SMART ALEX -- Alex Vrettos, of Springfield, N.J., one of the first radial-tire drivers to run in the six-second bracket this year, blistered the Speed World Dragway quarter-mile in the first session with a 7.548-second blast at 206.39 mph. Only three Drag Radial competitors cracked the seven-second barrier -- Vrettos, Walt Drakeford, and Steve Turley. No. 6 Ev Bernardo, in a '96 Mustang, was the only other driver to surpass 200 mph (at 203.74) in the first session. Vrettos established the class' top speed of the meet so far in his night run, clocking a 213.91 mph. Turley, who settled fourth overnight, and Buck Walker, who's fifth for now, also has seven-second runs. Bernardo leapfrogged Drakeford for the No. 2 spot with two more chances remaining before Sunday's eliminations.
REYNOLDS RAP -- Dave Reynolds, of Lake Mary, Fla., halted action in the first Drag Radial qualifying session, crashing his Chevy S-10 pickup. Reynolds was racing in the right lane but got loose, perhaps into some sort of liquid on the surface. His truck shot across both lanes, perpendicular to the wall, but swung the back end around in time for it to make contact with the wall first. He was uninjured.
IT WAS ALTOGETHER HOOKEY --
Leave it to the Adams Family to throw a bit of a scare into the fans on this Halloween weekend during the Mickey Thompson Drag Radial. Glenn Adams sat behind wife Karie Adams, awaiting his first trip down the track this weekend with his '89 Ford Mustang. She made his heart race even more than usual by doing a major wheelstand in her '92 Mustang, then parked the car along the left-side wall. Glenn refocused, made his run, and was fifth at that time and 10th by the end of that session. Karie Adams regrouped, returned, and registered a respectable 9.067-second, 153.54-mph slip. That put her 14th heading into the final day of time trials -- two places ahead of her husband. Glenn Adams was bumped down to 16th by day's end. The Adamses are from Orlando.
SUPER PRO STREET
RAGIN' RABON -- Coby Rabon's 6.269-second class-leading elapsed time beat his closest competition -- Doug Horween, of Loxahatchee, Fla. -- by a whopping five-tenths of a second in the first qualifying session. Rabon's speed (235.31 mph) was 30 mph faster than Horween's 205.54. The two were the only Super Pro Street drivers to top 200 mph in the first session -- although 11 did so once the track became a little more broken in. Only four in the class, including John Vergotz (Erie, Pa.) and Lance Styk (Americus, Ga.), were in the six-second range in the first go-around. Eight others joined them for the distinction in Q2 -- Craig Miller, Chris Rini, Steve King, Jimmy Marino, Tony Williams, John Hall, Jose Norel, and Sean Carpenter. It looks like Rabon likely will have a brighter finish to his season, coming back strong from a May testing accident at Atlanta.
DEWEY HAVE TO START THIS WAY? -- In one of the early pairings of the day, Super Pro Street racer Dewey Pedrick crashed his '63 Corvette into the left retaining wall but appeared to be unhurt. The NHRA Division 2 Top Sportsman driver from Light House Point, Fla., started getting sideways in the left lane at about 800 feet downtrack. Something let go in the engine, splattering fluid on the tires. The car nosed into the wall, sending parts and pieces flying. Pedrick, 61, got out of the car on his own and sent word back to the tower that he was all right. Racing resumed one hour, 11 minutes later.
QUICK SHOTS -- While Super Pro Street's John Hall grabbed the attention, lurching hard to the right at the hit of the throttle, Doug Horween took his '94 Chevy Lumina down the right lane to the No. 1 spot with a 6.763-second pass at 205.54 mph in the opening session. That lasted for about three pairings, until Ridgeland, S.C.'s Coby Rabon, with some help from Steve Petty, vaulted to the top with a stunning 6.269 / 235.31.
WORKING ON TIMING --
In the first qualifying session for the Super Pro Street class, New York veteran Top Sportsman racer Chris Rini was at the right place at the wrong time again. Make that at the right place with the wrong time. He could coax only a 9.389-second E.T. and 83.50-mph speed from his Hemi-powered '07 Dodge Stratus. That left him 23rd in the order. Rini, who never had crashed his race car, was on U.S. Airways Flight 1549 that pilot Chesley Sullenberger landed in the Hudson River January 15. He was on his way that day to Charlotte to see engine builder Charlie Buck. Rini had a reversal of fortune in the second session, recording a 6.465-second E.T. at 213.37 mph that lifted him to third place at the time. At the end of the first day, Rini had made the biggest improvement, from 23rd place to fourth, a jump of 19 positions.
BIGGEST LOSER -- John Vergotz lost 75 pounds to make his Jerry Bickel-built A-1 Automotive '68 Camaro run quicker. And it paid off, as the Erie, Pa., driver finished the first session in third place among the 30 entrants with a 6.841-second elapsed time at 173.09 mph. He stayed third through half of qualifying, despite improving both his time and speed to 6.451 / 217.04.
LARGE LEAP -- Craig Miller, of Savannah, Ga., catapulted himself nine spots in the lineup, from ninth to second, with his evening run of 6.437 seconds at 217.60 mph in his '02 Pontiac Grand Am. By contrast, Doug Horween, who had been second after one session, dropped to seventh by the time he came to the line for his second qualifying attempt. And that's where he stayed overnight.
SPECTACULAR DEBUT -- North Carolinian Jason Harris didn't make a qualifying attempt in the first go for the Super Pro Street class. When he brought out his Camaro, he crossed over into the left lane and plowed into the wall. He was not hurt. He was able to deploy the parachute as he headed for the wall, lessening the blow somewhat but not enough to save his car. The clean-up took about 40 minutes.
THE BUZZ ABOUT THE BUMBLEBEE --
For Louisville's Kevin Benham, Super Pro Street qualifying was better the second time around. He had staging trouble the first time with his new, 20101 twin-turbo Big Block Chevy Camaro, and his crew pushed "The Bumblebee" off the starting line. In the second qualifying session, he stormed back with a 7.054-second E.T. (at 200.23 mph) to take the provisional 14th berth. Benham's month is looking up. The previous weekend, while testing at this track, the car caught fire, reportedly because of a loose fuel line.
LYNCH SHINES . . . AGAIN --
Tim Lynch, who each year uses the World Street Nationals as a premier showcase for his driving prowess, led the Mickey Thompson Outlaw 10.5 field in Friday's first session with both the low E.T. (6.592 second) and top speed (226.32 mph) in his twin-turbo '02 Mustang. He was nearly three-tenths quicker and almost 11 mph faster than No. 2 Nick Scavo (6.859 / 215.86). Lynch yielded the No. 1 spot to nemesis Chuck Ulsch in the second session, although he ran a better speed than in his first pass and held onto top speed at 232.31 mph.
UN-ULSCH-ISH, AT FIRST -- Chuck Ulsch saved the best for last Friday, capturing the No. 1 position in the Mickey Thompson Outlaw 10.5 division with a 6.450-second, 224.62-mph feat in the nighttime session.
Ulsch turned Orlando Speed World Dragway into his own amusement park last October, taking the No. 1 qualifying position with a with a 6.555-second E.T. in his '02 Camaro that was three-tenths quicker than the event's previous record. He lost to Bill Futch in the final. But Futch, in a show of respect and sportsmanship, split his $10,000 winnings with Ulsch. That put an extra $3,500 in Ulsch's pocket.
"In the final, we were both capable of running faster than we did. We both stepped our programs up, and we both spun our tires. He had the faster car and lost. It could've gone either way. I try to do the right thing," Futch said. "We're too good of friends not to split the money. It's more for bragging rights."
But things started out differently in this trip. Futch wasn't part of the competition Friday. He's tuning Mel Nelson's Drag Radial car. And Ulsch couldn't rekindle the mojo from a year ago in the opening session. In an un-Ulsch-like performance, the Maryland-based Gil Mobley Motorsports "Militia" headliner wound up 20th among the 23 Outlaw 10.5 racers.
IMPORT 'KIDS' ON SCENE -- In an effort to reach out to the Fast-and-Furious generation, track operator and World Street Nationals architect Carl Weisinger invited eight drivers from Maryland to Texas to participate in a new class called Extreme Import. Only five of the eight had gone through tech inspection by Friday's first session, and only four of them made passes in the opening opportunity. Herbierto Santiago, of Haines City, Fla., driving a '90 Mazda RX7, set the class' low elapsed time (7.222 seconds) and top speed (190.27 mph). The field grew to six in the evening session, but Santiago's time and speed held up as best.
FRIDAY - WISE WEISINGER STILL PACKING 'EM IN AT ORLANDO
Gone are the October nights of the Race Rock Cruises on International Boulevard that signaled to the Disney dreamers and the NASCAR-smitten that the
drag-racing crowd was in town.
Those gatherings of racers and collectors of spit-shined show rods -- preludes to Orlando Speed World Dragway promoter Carl Weisinger's annual doorslammer extravaganzas -- were the epitome of sexy style, of automotive nirvana. Overflow crowds snaked through the maze of displays, and as the sun went down the sense of anticipation rose. People ran for spots along the boulevard, like they were lining up for the Tournament of Roses Parade. Some crawled into comfortable vantage points in the inviting trees that line the median. And the cars left the Race Rock Café in single file but not necessarily in an orderly fashion.
Everyone wanted to witness the beer burnouts that raised clouds of smoke -- and the blood pressures of the Orange County Sheriff's deputies trying to prevent the crowd from spilling into the thoroughfare. Under the gauzy harvest moon, it was pure paradise for gearheads. When the Race Rock Café closed its doors in 2007, the action shifted to a Hooters restaurant near the racetrack, and Weisinger has his hands too full to participate.
But Weisinger, who crafted and orchestrates the World Street Nationals -- uh, pardon us . . . the Real World Street Nationals -- has built this event, shaped it, for 17 years. And all the hype is a testament to Weisinger's wizardry. How, for example, back in the Race Rock days, did he get the local police to be so accommodating to supervise this audacious display? After all, it isn't natural for Americans to run into the streets to celebrate much of anything in the news. So this was definitely a spectacle.
"I never asked 'em," he said, as though the thought were a truly novel idea. "It's always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission."
In the fall of 2004, three hurricanes raked across his facility in six weeks, and a foolhardy local TV camera crew clocked winds at more than 100 miles an hour huffing and puffing against his three-story cinder-block tower. Aside from an adios to sponsor signs atop his scoreboards, a few leveled fences, and a giant pile of splinters that used to be trees, Weisinger and his Orlando Speed World Dragway did more than survive.
They tidied up and got ready for company, folks who brought along their Willys coupes, their '54 Studebakers, their '72 Hurst Olds, their '67 Camaros and Novas and Mustangs, their '71 Hemi Barracudas, their Biscaynes, Bel-Airs, Chevy IIs, Chevelles, Cobras, Fairlanes, Firebirds, Grand Ams, Trans Ams, Malibus, Mark 7s, Mercurys, Monte Carlos, S-10s, Vegas, 'Vettes, Vipers, and Z-28s. And they put on The Show, the Southeast mecca for street-legal outlaw racing.
Weisinger, it seems, is almost untouchable by statute and by storm.
However, brutal economic winds have blown hard against all American business owners this year, and not surprisingly, against operators of small local racetracks.
Before the worst of the financial downturn started to swirl, Weisinger was able to install new concrete guard walls, along with about 5,000 new grandstand seats. He has a completely new speaker system, upgraded timing equipment and scoreboards and upgraded restrooms among his sweeping renovations.
But he explained his modest racetrack by saying, "It's kind of like you didn't know a guy was a drunk until you saw him sober. Well, if you never saw this place before today, you have no idea what it was like." He remembers inheriting in 1987 a place where the restroom roofs were such that "you could look at the stars while you went."
So Weisinger is a small-track operator . . . with a big reputation, big expectations to satisfy, and big chutzpah to attract the traditionally large car counts by offering incentives to the racers.
"Our $1,500,000, two-year track and equipment update is finished and this year we want to say thank you to the racers in a way that has some substance to it," Weisinger's advertisement said. "We'll waive the $150 car and driver entry fee for this years 2009 World Street Nationals if you raced at the 2007 or 2008 World Street Nationals."
Referring to last year's rain-delayed finals and the 2007 washed-out event (the only two times the World Street Nationals was derailed in a major way by rain), Weisinger himself said, "We wanted to thank all the people who stuck with us through all the crap."
And if the dollar savings weren't enough, his latest ad features three classy chassis (two blondes and a brunette), who invite racers, "See you in tech, boys." (By 9 p.m. Thursday, he had 95 cars with dozens more to register in the four classes: Super Pro Street, Outlaw 10.5, Heavy Street, and Drag Radial. That's a respectable number in an unrespectable economy.)
Weisinger knows he has to do everything he can to maximize his gate. He recognizes that what once was an automatic pilgrimage to Orlando -- an open event for street-legal cars that has grown popular enough simply to go by the name "Orlando" -- is no longer a given for outlaw racers.
And unlike mega-machine Disney World on the opposite corner of town, Weisinger can't rely on fantasy-weaving, inherent pop-culture hype, and pixie dust to keep the public mindlessly marching through the turnstiles. He said of Disney, "They make more at one hot dog stand by accident in one day than we make all year." It's a bit of an exaggeration, but the analogy is spot-on.
Still, Weisinger uses the same superlatives as the marketers for "The Happiest Place on Earth." He has called the Orlando World Street Nationals "absolutely, positively the most outrageous doorslammer shootout in the known universe!" A later version was billed as "the most talked-about drag race in the world."
Drag racing is the ultimate escape, and that might provide Weisinger with the crowd he needs to turn a profit in a pitiless economic climate.
"There are places that people can sit, but they don't want to sit. They'd rather stand down there at the fence," Weisinger said. "And some of them are waving dollar bills for some reason. I don't know what it could be," he said with mock surprise. "Maybe investment counseling down there. But they're six deep at the fences. They want to be close to the cars. Wagering? Really, that's news to me."
One spectator is an imposing man named Ralph, a tall, muscular man with a row of gold-capped upper teeth, a Bud in one hand, and a wad of C-notes in his other. Dangling from the heavy gold chain around his neck was a cobra pendant, and three fingers of his left and two of his right were adorned with massive gold rings.
He moved fluidly among the crowd that had gathered near the fence at the starting line. "It's just like football," Ralph said of his decidedly Southeastern practice that's as common as tailgating. "We're just havin' some fun. Got to take a chance." The lone woman in on the game had a funnel-shaped bun plastered to her head and a fistful of twenties. "Whatcha got?" "Inside lane!" "I got the blue car!" "Shiiiiii -- I don' want' no blue car. I take the white one." "You break a hunnert?" The banter flies back and forth. One sturdy, straight-from-Stark dude with a goatee looked as if he could've been from either side of the bars at the state prison there. But he was discriminating in who he'd take on, and he waved off several offers for the outside lane. Even if a driver makes a solo pass, the Big Boy makes a deal, "What'll he do? Beat a 6.7? . . . Yessir -- Woooo-hoo! Gimme my twenty!" He got twenty dollars, though it might easily have been twenty years if he had been busted.
It's an eclectic following here at Orlando Speed World Dragway, with drivers from as far away as St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Come hardship or high winds, Carl Weisinger still knows how to pack in the fans. And the 2009 financial climate appears just to be a speed bump in his road.
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