This could be considered a form of cheating, but it is the latest news
from the world of drag racing, so here's the Monday report from the Division
Six points meet at Mission Raceway.
How do you even begin to write about what happened over the past weekend
at Mission Raceway? There just aren't enough superlatives in the thesaurus
to adequately describe what happened. Awesome, unreal, unbelievable, are just
going to end up beaten to death before this report is done. Let's just sum
it up as the greatest Federal-Mogul Dragster race ever, and I mean ever,
in this, or any adjacent, solar system.
Come on Bob, aren't you being a little over-dramatic about this event?
NO! Just plain NO. There's no way any Federal-Mogul race has ever come close
to this level of overall performance and close racing. National events have
seen quicker fields, as the Winternationals of this year had a 5.54 bubble
for a 16-car field. But that event had the entire continent to draw cars from
to achieve that level of performance.
Here we're writing about an event that happened in the farthest corner of
the NHRA world, almost off the radar screen of 90% of the racers in North
America, and we still achieved results that will be very difficult to improve
on at any event, anywhere, any time in the near future.
Fourteen runs during eliminations, and the SLOWEST was 5.58.... What more
can you add? Yes, the Funny Car field was very mediocre by comparison, but
they did manage to deliver some very exciting moments for the fans. Two cars
hit the wall in the first round alone; a Canadian car set Low ET and Top Speed,
and the final featured a world-class battle between Pat and Bucky Austin.
The only glitch of the entire weekend came in the weather department, as
Friday was a complete washout for the Federal-Mogul cars. If they'd had that
extra day, and extra qualifying session, to sort out their combinations, one
can only imagine what the final results could have been. The final two days
of the race were almost perfect from the weather standpoint, with temperatures
just warm enough to be comfortable, occasional cloud cover, and air that bordered
on insane in the corrected altitude vein.
In the early hours of Saturday morning, despite 70% humidity, the corrected
numbers neared minus 800 feet. Even when the sun came out as the first
qualifying session began at noon, the readings were still minus 400 feet. The
gauges and calculators only ventured marginally into the positive altitude
area for the final session late in the afternoon. Sunday saw the same
conditions repeated, with less humidity and slightly more temperature equalizing
If some of the teams that had never ventured to Mission Raceway before had
been given one more tuneup run, instead of the two they were afforded, their
combinations might have been massaged to the point where all the records might
have been shattered. Thankfully, we don't have to dwell on the couldas, shouldas,
wouldas, in this report. We can just report the results and let them stand
on their own.
Starting from the top, the track records, set by Melanie Troxel in 1999,
at 5.44 and 264 mph, were broken repeatedly in the first qualifying session
on Saturday. In just the third pairing of that session, Utah's Kevin Brown
took the e.t. record down to 5.43. The next car to cross the finish line,
Rick Santos, broke both ends of the record with a 5.40 at over 264 mph. Then,
in the final pairing of the session, Mark Hentges dropped the record into
the .30's with a tremendous 5.383, at an early shutoff 251 mph.
The beat continued just three hours later, in the second and final session,
as Brandon Bernstein upped the speed mark by nearly two mph, to 266.27. And
if Mark Hentges' engine hadn't quit running at the 1200 foot mark, his earlier
e.t. record could have dropped even further. After that orgy of record setting,
the only mark that wasn't broken was the all-time quickest bump spot, with
Steve Federlin's 5.64 holding down the bubble.
So how could they top that incredible show on Sunday? Read on. At one point
Sunday the NHRA Federal-Mogul Dragster record was even in serious jeopardy,
as the first pair of the first round saw Kevin Brown lay down a 5.316. In
the other lane, Brian Hough turned a career best e.t. and speed, but he wasn't
even close. All Brown had to do in the second round was run 5.303 or better,
but not quicker than 5.26, to claim the national mark.
To finish up the round, Duane Shields set new personal bests of 5.33 and
268.97 mph. Yes, that's the quickest, by a bunch, speed ever recorded
for a supercharged methanol dragster on the planet. By the way, it wasn't
enough to turn on the winlight, as Brandon Bernstein holeshot his way to
the round win.
In total, of the eight runs in the first round, one was in the 5.50's,
four were in the 5.40's, and three were in the 5.30's. Without a doubt, the
strongest round of dragster racing that anyone in attendance had ever witnessed.
No questions asked, just the flat-out best racing this writer has ever seen.
By comparison, the semi-final and final rounds seemed tame. Brown was unable
to break the national record, nobody eclipsed Shields' 268 mph speed, but, of
the six runs in those rounds, one was in the 5.50's, four were in the 5.40's
and one was in the 5.30's. The largest margin of victory on the day was a two
car length gap between Santos and Bernstein in the semi-finals.
And the final round was an absolutely classic battle between Hentges and
Santos. Both cars had been very consistent for two days and they didn't
disappoint in the final. Santos left first, by eleven thousandths, but the
margin at the finish line was less than two thousandths, with Hentges turning
on the winlight for his fifth victory in eight races this year. (He runner-upped
at the other three).
By comparison, the Funny Car racing seemed almost an anti-climax. Yes,
there were some great performances: Bucky Austin turning three consecutive
5.70's, Calgary's Roger Bateman setting Low ET and Top Speed at 5.74 - 253
in the first round, and Pat Austin struggling to control the horsepower of
his new hemi engine combination.
Add in the wall-banging epsiodes of local racers Tim Nemeth and Rod Clough,
plus the rejuvenated Randy Parker team making the semi-finals with a pair of
5.80 runs, and you've got what should have been a pretty fair event. With the
dragsters running so well, the floppers seemed completely over-shadowed.
The spiciest moment of their eliminations, was the dual infraction match
between Pat Austin and Rod Clough in the first round. There were some serious
doubts from eyewitnesses, but the webcam on the crossover bridge provided
proof that Clough did cross the centerline just before Austin hit the wall.
The buzz from that race didn't die down until the next pair fired up after
a short cleanup.
Then, to finish up the show, we had yet another Pat vs. Bucky final round.
Neither car wanted to go into stage first, not surprising knowing their well
publicized (friendly?) rivalry, but when they got down to business, it was
Bucky taking the win after a very long thrash to replace an engine and even
make it to the lanes for the race.
Pat and Walt Austin can't feel too bad over their loss, as it was the first
competitive event for their new hemi engine combination and the horsepower
was certainly there. We would assume that by the time the Federal-Mogul Series
rolls into Mission Raceway again, in just six weeks time, they will be on top
of the combination and ready to start breaking records again.
Speaking of the next event on the Mission calendar, just how are they going
to top, or even come close to topping, the excitement and performances of this
one? The weather and atmospheric conditions probably won't be as good, some
of the cars that attended this event, like Brandon Bernstein, most likely
won't be back, and the overall performance bar has now been raised so high
that to equal or exceed it will be very difficult indeed.
On the other hand, when the word about this event gets spread through the
drag racing world, we could have another group of racers appear just for the
chance to run at a world-class track under the conditions that this event
enjoyed. It won't be very long until the pits start filling up again for that
second points meet in June. Better make your plans to be there.... NOW.
From the business standpoint, the attendance figures haven't been published,
but from my vantage point seemed to be quite healthy on both Saturday and
Sunday. Not overflowing mind you, but there weren't very many empty seats in
the grandstands, and the fences were lined two and three deep in places all
the way to the finish line.
The pre-race promotion was evident in the local newspapers, and a burnout
demo at the Indy race site in downtown Vancouver last Wednesday provided some
good media coverage. Unfortunately, the Province newspaper (official paper of
Mission Raceway) dropped the ball, and aside from printing the qualifying
results in Sunday's edition, only published two stories about the event. Both
of them were taken from the downtown demonstration, with a story featuring
Don Murray in Thursday's edition and one about
Brandon Bernstein on Sunday.
The Murray story contained several factual errors and the Bernstein story
only briefly mentioned the event. Topping off the lack of real coverage of
the race was today's edition which contained not one scrap of information,
not even the results. If you care to, you might let reporter
Gord McIntyre know how
disappointed you are in his efforts (or lack thereof). In his defense, he
was possibly still reeling from the ride in Murray's '56 Corvette on Wednesday.
Since I haven't watched more than a few minutes of television in the last
month, I'm not sure if there was anything on the local sports reports, but
there weren't any satellite trucks or pro video units at the track over the
weekend. If you saw anything about the race on TV, please let
As I asked a few paragraphs ago, how are they going to top this event at
the next FMDRS points meet at Mission? You'll just have to.... stay tuned...
as always, won't you? See you then? You'd better be there!