26th Annual IHBA NAPA Auto Parts World Finals — IHBA Bows Out, Lucas Oil Products Drag Boat Racing Series Steps Up
The changing of the guard….sometimes for the better, and then again, sometimes not. That’s kind of the mixed feelings that the elite of drag boat racing had at Firebird Raceway for the running of the 2009 season ending IHBA World Finals in late November. Before the four days of competition got underway, IHBA owner/president Charlie Feagan addressed the drivers and owners, catching nearly everyone off-guard announcing that the World Finals would be the last race sanctioned and conducted by his association which has played such an integral role in guiding and shaping drag boat racing for nearly thirty years.
The bombshell was precipitated by the decision of Lucas Oil Products, a company which has vastly expanded its reach into motorsports promotion in recent years, to unify drag boat racing across the country under a single set of rules and classes, something that has been attempted on several occasions over the past forty years, but until now, never successful.
New Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series Director, Ken Dollar said, “Drag boat racing has needed to take this next step in order to compete with other forms of motorsports racing for media attention and sponsorship dollars. Individual regional associations have done an excellent job of building the sport from the grassroots level, but if drag boat racing is going to elevate itself and become recognized as a genuine professional motorsports entity, it has to create a national presence. And with the support and resources of Lucas Oil Products, that is what we’re committed to do.”
What Lucas Oil is envisioning is a ten-race national series for drag boats in 2010 supplemented by some 40 additional races which are conducted by regional associations under the Lucas umbrella. Also on the table is another crack at bringing drag boat racing to millions of TV viewers on Speed channel. According to Lucas, the plan is to self-produce thirteen 30-minute drag racing shows for Speed, plus another four one-hour racing programs to air on the Versus channel in the coming year.
Demonstrating their seriousness about the sport, Lucas Oil is presently constructing a multi-faceted motorsports racing facility in Wheatland, Missouri. In addition to conventional asphalt auto racing, Lucas has made plans to include a 4,000 foot long drag boat track at the venue. Tentatively, the first drag boat race at the Wheatland race course is scheduled for early September 2010.
According to insiders, Lucas Oil offered to purchase IHBA some months prior to the November announcement. Apparently, the two sides could not come to terms and Lucas opted to proceed on its own, purchasing new equipment, timing and starting systems and other infrastructure necessities. IHBA owner/president Charlie Feagan commented, “We invested nearly 25 years and many millions of dollars in building this sport to where it is today and we’re not going to stand in the way of progress. Everyone at IHBA loves the sport too much to do that. It doesn’t, however, leave me much choice but to close this operation down and not schedule any new races at this time. I’m here and willing to help if Lucas has the need for what I can contribute. They have a big task ahead of them and I wish them well. I especially hope that everything works out well for the racers and the fans who are really the backbone of drag boat racing.”
Because of the new under construction Lucas motorsports complex in Wheatland, speculation immediately began about the future of Firebird Raceway which has been the traditional home of the drag boat World Finals for 26 consecutive years. Would Firebird, which has been an IHBA race course, still be the site of drag boat racing under the new Lucas leadership? Firebird Raceway Vice President Franki Buckman said, “We’ve had a long and very amicable relationship with Lucas Oil for many years at our raceway. We are still very much a supporter of drag boat racing and have every intention of continuing that tradition with the Lucas Oil banner in 2010 and into the future.” Confirming that position was an announcement from Lucas Oil that Firebird Raceway would indeed be host to its traditional Spring Nationals, March 19-21 and World Finals, November 4-7 in 2010. What’s not certain at this time is the fate of two favorite northern California race venues, Chowchilla and Red Bluff. Neither is currently listed on the 2010 Lucas schedule.
As for the 2009 IHBA World Finals, they went out in style. Although the total boat count was down slightly from 2008, it was a quality show from beginning to end. Fans were treated to a new world speed record of 260.98 mph by Daryl Ehrlich in “Problem Child” and multiple 160 mph plus runs by Tony Scaralata in the Top Alcohol Flat, “All Lit Up”. It doesn’t get much better than that.
TOP FUEL HYDRO
Champion: “Problem Child” — Driver, Daryl Ehrlich, Owner Eddie Knox
A five-boat field of fuelers still had plenty of fire power to bring spectators to their feet every time they loaded on to the staging rope. In qualifying, Daryl Ehrlich and “Problem Child” got the bye in first round eliminations thanks to a 4.630 second ET, quickest of the group. John Haas in the “Speed Sports Special” and Glen Wilson in “Toxic Rocket” looked like strong contenders, however, with passes of 4.864 ET/241.08 mph and 5.052 ET/230.78 mph respectively. During round one of eliminations, Scotty Lumbert got the “Spirit of Texas” unleashed for an impressive 5.105 ET/237.56 mph performance while the “Toxic Rocket” never made it off the starting line. John Haas then took the measure of Jarrett Silvey in “Hot Licks Bullet” thanks to a solid 4.689 ET/243.70 mph pass. In the semi-finals “Problem Child” squared off with the “Spirit of Texas”. Ehrlich thrilled the crowd with a winning 260.98 mph trip (a leg on a new IHBA TFH record) and lowered his ET to 4.626. Sunday’s final was a classic match-up between Ehrich and Haas. It was a take-no-prisoners duel as “Problem Child” got the win and the championship with low ET 4.524 and fastest speed of the World Finals at 264.82 mph. Ehrlich’s 264 Sunday run counted as the needed back-up for his Saturday 260.98 mph pass putting “Problem Child” on top of the record book.
TOP ALCOHOL HYDRO
CHAMPION: “DeJaVu”– Driver, Andy Reynolds, Owner Bob & Marge Genther
It was a 200+ mph-fest for the ten boat TAH field. In three rounds of qualifying (19 side-by-side passes), no less than 15 runs over 200 miles an hour were posted with Kent Price in “Black Draggin” recording top speed and quickest ET at 223.06 mph/5.406 on the final pass, and Joel Webber on the pedal of “What a Tomato Too” close behind at 221.56 mph/5.437. In round one of Eliminations, the tightest race went to eventual class champion, Andy Reynolds in “DeJaVu” with a 219.01 mph/5.507 victory over Mike Fry’s “Mean Streak” by a miniscule .004 in the ET column. The difference in the race was Reynolds lightning fast reaction time (.073) compared to .433 for Fry. In the Semis, Reynolds drew Price and won easily with a 213.90 mph/5.545 while Price limped through the lights at 37.34 mph/10.977. That set up a Finals between Reynolds and Tom Wright in “Cuckoo’s Nest”. Reynolds proved that consistency wins out with a strong 212.42 mph/5.599 pass to decisively beat Wright (192.16 mph/6.162) for the title.
TOP ALCOHOL FLAT
CHAMPION: “All Lit Up” — Driver, Tony Scarlata, Owner Steve Westerfield
If there was an MVP of the 2009 World Finals, the vote would have most likely gone to Tony Scaralata driving the red-hot “All Lit Up” entry of Steve Westerfield’s. Right from the opening bell, Scaralata was all over the competition in virtually every round. He started with a 154.44 mph/6.992 in qualifying one, followed up with an even better 158.96 mph/6.762 in round two making him fastest and quickest of the day for flatbottoms. In the first round of Eliminations, Scaralata was the only driver in the sixes with a 6.803 ET victory (162.48 mph) over Marcus Kinsey in “Bad Company” who red lighted. In the Semis, both Scaralata and Don Bausher in “Habit Forming III” advanced easily as their competition red lighted. Scaralata was still hot, however with a flawless 161.68 mph/6.911 pass. The much anticipated finals between Bauscher and Scaralata failed to materialize as Bausher couldn’t shake his mechanical troubles and stalled off the starting line. Scaralata cruised the quarter mile for the win and championships with a 126.20 mph/6.961. Drag boat fans may have to find someone else to cheer for in 2010 in TAF as “All Lit Up” boat owner Westerfield has announced plans to switch from water to asphalt for the coming season and campaign an Alcohol Funny Car.
CHAMPION: “Hydrochondriac” — Driver, Brian Sanders, Owner, Bryan & Dorri Sanders
No shortage of stiff competition in the Pro Mod class, a total of 14 entries in the field. In the first qualifying round, eventual winner, Bryan Sanders from Houston, Texas put the class on notice with a 189.28 mph/7.065 and a very relaxed 1.191 reaction time. In qualifying two, Travis Tuttle driving “Short Fuse” put down a solid 174.50 mph/6.848 to stay a fraction ahead of Gray Bauer’s “Excessive Force” 172.76 mph/6.884. In qualifying four, Terry Kain ripped off a big number, 179.02 mph/7.073 to make it appear that Pro Mod would be anybody’s race. During the first round of eliminations, four boats dipped under the seven second mark; Charles Duncan’s “Danger Zone”, Steve Rajcic’s “Agent Orange”, Tim Kelley’s “Alter Ego” and Terry Kain. In second Eliminations, Bryan Sanders took the win over Duncan with a 167.40 mph/7.047. The Semis were also tight with Sander winning over Marty Logan in “Livin’ Tha Dream” and Vic Esposito’s “Freak Show” advancing to the final thanks to a victory over Kyle Brawley and “Alcohol Dependent”. As expected the final showdown between Sanders and Esposito was a classic. Sanders won the class at the starting lights with a .025 reaction time compared to a .182 for Esposito. Sanders posted a 166.96 mph/7.030 against Esposito’s 163.38 mph/7.048 for the title.
PRO COMP ELIMINATOR
CHAMPION: “Head Over Heels” — Driver, Ray Florez, Owner, Paul Prange
After four rounds of qualifying, Dave Lipinski’s “Hot Shot” was the top qualifier followed by Joey Grose in “Wet Dream” and Ray Florez in “Head Over Heels”. Grose red lighted in the first round of Eliminations to take himself out of competition while Florez nd Lipinski moved on. In round two, Lipinski got bumped by Steve Schmidt in “Bad Influence” while Florez squeaked by Mike Carruthers in “Midlife Crisis”. In the Semis, Florez downed Schmidt with a 125.84 mph/7.870, index 7.82 to go to the final against Milton Tolen’s “Flat Magic” from Jacksonville, Florida. In the decider, Florez won it with a 127.98 mph/7.782 to Tolen’s 113.78 mph/8.127.
CHAMPION: “I’m Back Hot and Bothered” — Driver Paul Fontenot, Owner, Slick Racing
Second largest class of the World Finals with 18 entries. The number one qualifier was Mike Finnegan’s Ultra tunnel/jet, “Wrong Way” with a perfect 8.00 ET and a 127.02 mph. Finnegan won in rounds one and two of Eliminations to set up a side-by-side with Paul Fontenot’s “I’m Back Hot & Bothered” in the Semis. Fontenot edged Finnegan 135.62 mph/8.064 to 127.10 mph/8.116 to go to the finals against Bill Diez and “Ace of Spades.” Fontenot took the win in the head to head, beating Diez with an impressive 143.10/8.051 to a 125.52 mph/7.948 which broke him out of the 8.00 bracket.
CHAMPION: “Nut N’ Up” — Driver, Reagan Everett, Owner, Jeffrey Gibson
With 21 boats in the class, you just knew it was going to be an all-out war. Top qualifier after four rounds was Dean Maddox with a 120.40 mph/9.011 in “Spirit of Citation with Walter Dulin’s “Du It Again Dulin” in the runner-up slot and Andy Haavisto in third driving “Another Quick Piece.” Eventual class champ, Reagan Everett was only seventh in qualifying after a couple of red lights and then back-to-back 9.044 ETs. Everett kind of flew under the radar in first round Eliminations, but found his groove in Elimination round two with a solid win over Chris Starkweather in “Stark Naked”, 9.018 to 9.036. The the third round of Eliminations Everett got the win when top qualifier Dean Maddox broke out with an 8.806 ET and then in the Semis Dulin red lighted to give Everett an advance to the finals. In the showdown for the title, Everett just flat beat Andy Haavisto for the win with a 112.60 mph/9.074 to 101.40 mph/9.185.
CHAMPION: “Ain’t Scared” — Driver, Greg Carr, Owner, Greg Carr
Greg Carr’s “Ain’t Scared” had it all dialed-in in Mod Eiminator. His first qualifying run of the day was an on-the-money 10.000 ET that netted him the top qualifier position going into the Elimination rounds. Round one proved tough for Carr, however, as he went up against the 10th qualifier, Larry Florez in “Just a Lil More.” Carr eked out a win over Florez, 95.00 mph/10.049 vs. 100.94 mph/10.062 thanks to a faster reaction time at the start, .056 for Carr compared to .170 for Florez. That victory them earned Carr a bye run/single in round two. In the Semis, Carr got the win thanks to a bracket break-out on the part of Kevin Kraft in “Whacker Smacker” with a 9.950 ET. In the finals, Carr played it cool as Josh Patridge red lighted in “Lights Out”. Carr registered the win with a 99.14 mph/10.033.
CHAMPION: “Play time” — Driver, Mark Creel, Owner, Mark Creel
In qualifying, Mark Creel was no better than middle of the pack with slightly better than average ETs for this highly competitive class. Even with consistently quick reaction times, Creel’s “Play Time” qualified ninth which put him in the lower half of the bracket of 15. Al Zemke’s “Flexible Flyer” from Bend, Oregon took the top slot with a 11.002 ET and a top speed of 88.70 mph. As luck would have it, Creel faced-off with Zemke in the second round Eliminations and Creel beat him on reaction time, .110 vs. .489 which was enough to make the difference at the finish line 11.116 ET to 11.139. In round three Creel got past Bobby Laster in “Fade to Black” thanks to a red light, and then a showdown in the finals with Kevin Crane in “Shark Attack.” Again it was Creel, quicker on the pedal at the starting lights for the win with a 88.50 mph/11.248.
CHAMPION: “Capital Punishment” — Driver, Chris Osbourn, Owner, Justin Niesner
In the Finals, it was the number one qualifier, Keith Turley driving “Gitter Done” up against the tenth place qualifier, Chris Osbourn in “Capital Punishment.” In the Semis, Osbourn picked-up a narrow win over Roger Sayles in “El Bandito” while Turley took a single. Unfortunately for Turley, he broke in the Finals giving Osbourn the easy victory.*
CHAMPION: “El Bandito” — Driver, Elizabeth Sayles, Owner, Roger Sayles
It was a two-boat showdown in the Personal Watercraft class. Elizabeth Sayles driving her Sea Doo, “El Bandito” against the “Texas Slingshot” of Curtis Byler. It was a handicap pairing with Elizabeth given a sizable head-start that Curtis couldn’t over come at the finish line.
IN THE PITS