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The latest update as of August 5, 2023

52nd annual Nightfire Nationals

52nd annual NIGHTFIRE NATIONALS presented by BI-MART

Day one of the event is in the books, and what a day it was. Despite a few weather hiccups, with rain in the morning, and for a short time in the afternoon, the program went on as scheduled, with a few minor alterations. PRO qualifying, starting shortly after 8:00 pn, was the highlight of the day and the racers did their best to entertain an almost full house of fans. The AA/Fuel Dragsters showed some serious horsepower, with the top three qualifiers in the 5.80`s, led by Californian Tyler Hester in the "Overtime Special" with a very strong 5.813 - 234.21 pass. Best speed of the round was posted by the long distance travelers from Ohio, defending series champions, the "Great Expectations II" team, with Tyler Hilton driving, and lighting up the scoreboards with a 239.21 speed.

The highlight, or lowlight, depending on how you view it, was multi-time series champion Jim Murphy in his "WW II", as he ran hard to the 330' mark before the car got waaay out of shape, up on three wheels (or one as was seen by some), and swinging from the centerline to the wall, but not crossing the line or hitting the guardwall, as he somehow saved the car for Saturday's next qualifying session. Possibly 50+ years of experience in nitro-burning Funny Cars and dragsters played a major part in that outcome.

Seven of the eight dragsters in attendance made qualifying passes, as Canada's hope, Phil Ruskowski, in the small-block Chevy powered "Xibitionist" entry ran into trouble in the pits when they tried to warm the car up. It ran fine and sounded great in their earlier warmup, but the team found some of the new parts installed after their "Kentucky Fried Canadian" adventure at the previous Heritage Series race in Bowling Green, KY, weren't working well together. When this reporter left the track at 11:30 last night, Phil and his faithful crew were still working on modifying some valvetrain parts in an attempt to salvage their weekend.

After a short break from the fuel racing that allowed the sportsman classes to run, the AA/Funny Cars took center stage. With 14 cars in the staging lanes, all trying to fit into an 8-car field, the first session was guaranteed to be intense. The first pair out of the lanes turned into a single for Mike Peck Sr., as Ryan Horan, in the "Infinity Plumbing" entry, was forced to shut off after the burnout. Peck wasted no time getting to the finish line, hammering out a great 5.800 - 241.63 to show the troops what the track could handle.

Next up was Derrick Moreira in his "Nitro Junkies" Camaro, and he wasn't much slower, with a very good 5.874 - 238.22 pass. Running an ex-Ron Hodgson car, with a Canadian crewchief, John Evanchuk (ex-NHRA national event champion in TA/FC), and Jay Mageau (Nostaliga Funny Car racer), the team was more than pleased with their results. The third pair of the round produced a couple of surprises, as Drew Austin launched hard in the "Pro Max" Mustang, but ran into heavy tire shake and shut off. In the other lane, the "Cecil Matthews Motorsports" Camaro, driven by Jim Maroney, and tuned by veteran nitro tuner/racer Glenn Mikres absolutely bombed the scoreboard with career best numbers of 5.591 - 261.02 to take the top spot and nearly rewrite the track records.

After several pairs of side-by-side low 6-second times, the final pairing of the round featured two of the heavy hitters in the Heritage and Legends series, with multi-time defending Heritage series champ, Bobby Cottrell, in the "Austin & O'Brien" Camaro laying down a strong 5.804 - 250.69 to slot into the #3 spot, just behind Peck, while in the other lane, Geoff Monise in the "Quarter Pounder" wasn't far behind with a #4 qualifying 5.873 - 247.47 pass. After the first session, the bump spot sat at a 6.323 with Jim Maroney in the "Speed Sport" Dodge Omni.

Closing out the competition segment of the evening show were the totally iconic "Awful Awfuls", aka the AA/Fuel Altereds. With ten cars vying for the 8-car field, it promised to be intense. Adding a little more excitement to the show was a modified 6.00-index rule that allowed - in qualifying only - a driver to go under the index without being penalized. In other words, the eight racers closest to the 6.00 index, either over or under, would be qualifed. However, they would then revert to the "hard" 6.00-index rule for eliminations.

It didn't take long for some great numbers to start showing up on the scoreboards, as three of the first four cars ran in the 6-teens, with young Dylan Winefsky in the family's "Nitro Moose" '32 Bantam leading the way with a very good 6.132 - 230.25 pass. Running alongside him was the "nitro whisperer" Johnny West in the "Plan A" '23 T, laying down an almost as quick (6.155), coupled with a big mph charge of 238.60. That was followed by side-by-side 6-teens by Mark Whynaught in the "Nitro Mamba" and transplanted Aussie Matt Leonard in the "Nitro Rat".

The second to last pair of the session included AA/FA rookie, Vince Karstetter in the beautiful "Sudden Pleasure" car. Purchased several years ago from Texas Funny Car racer Dal Denton, the team slowly pieced together everything needed to run a competitive fuel altered. Assisting in that task was fellow Arizonan, Johnny West. No surprise, eh? He helped them get licensed recently at Tuscon Dragway, then turned over the tuning duties to a man well known in these parts, Jake Sanders. Right out of the trailer they blitzed the timers with a brilliant 5.991 e.t. at only 209.42 mph to take the top spot and shock the troops.

The round closed with a pair of early shutoff runs by the only non-qualifiers after the first of two sessions, Keith Wilson in the "Witch Doctor" Topolino, and Bill Windham (yes, the Funny Car racer), in the "Burkholder Bros." Fiat. Finishing the evening's entertainment were Ed "The Outlaw" Jones in his wheelstanding "Jelly Belly" stagecoach, and a match race between a Jet Funny Car and a Jet Dragster. The "Hocus Pocus" flopper of Mark Matthews had a flameout at half track, while the "Iceman" dragster of Curt White blasted out a 5.621 - 283.27 to finish the show in fine fashion.

We've got tons of pit notes, but not enough time to post them this morning, but we'll leave you with one tidbit. Well known Top Alcohol Funny Car racer, Nick Januik, has added another car to his ever-growing team. In fact, he's also added a bike as his daughter Peyton Januik is here riding a 1000cc Suzuki GSR. But the big story is Januik debuting his brand new Pro Mod entry and making the runs necessary to crossgrade his license. His first two runs saw some very good numbers to half track and today he's making his two full passes to complete the process. If all goes well, he'll make his national event debut at the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd in two weeks time.

As with the pit notes, we haven't got time to post any photos today either. Maybe Sunday evening, but it could be next week before we get into all of them. As always, stay tuned for updates.