race reports

Nightfire Nationals at Boise, Idaho

A little rain, a little controversy … to be continued

Words and photos by Brian Losness

There was a bit of controversy before the run between Jason Rupert (near lane) and Ryan Hodgson.


If you do something for forty-six years, one could image it is possible that everything that could happen, would happen.


For forty-six years Firebird Raceway has held the grand-daddy of all independent races, the Nightfire Nationals. There have been all kinds of interesting occurrences that have happened on and off track that have delayed the conclusion of the event.


There was the year a dry “micro-burst” (mini tornado) hit the track sending awnings and easy-ups all over the place. One year an intoxicated driver drove off the road near the track hitting a power pole and knocking power out to the facility. The late Richard Schroder was flag starting fuel altereds and jet cars to keep the fans entertained.


But this year, nothing like that would take place to take away from an absolutely fantastic event except for one thing: late Sunday afternoon weather.


Yes, the weather was hot, which was not a surprise for this part of Idaho. There was a change in the run order of the event which for the first time gave teams two qualifying sessions on Friday, one session on Saturday evening, and the final rounds to be run in the early Sunday afternoon.


This change turned the race from a night race to a day race. This would not detract from the performances that were displayed on the new racing surface. Along with the track management team bringing on some good help in the form of the Bowser family who came up from Bakersfield to help with track prep. The Bowsers brought up their “Rotator” tire machine.  This decision by Firebird Track Management essentially made a good surface even better.


The fly in the ointment was an annoying low-grade weather cell that had just enough moisture in it that just about the time the professional finals were ready to run, it started to rain. Rain in August in this part of Idaho is just about as rare as hen’s teeth. And it rained just enough to keep the track crews from getting the track dry.


Therefore, a decision was made to run the finals of Top Fuel and Funny Car at the California Hot Rod Reunion at Bakersfield in October.

It was also announced that the Fuel Altereds would also run off there, however that decision was later rescinded and Bryan Hall was awarded with win based off earlier performances.




When qualifying started on Friday at 2:30 the first session of Top Fuel came out for their first hit at the track.


Eight cars had been scheduled for the eight-car show, however, earlier in the week reigning champ, Tony Bartone, had called to say he would not be attending due to continuing issues with his back. Dusty Green was on the property, however his team pulled into the track just as the session began, so only six cars would make this first session.

The heat would not affect the track as some might have thought. As Mendy Fry in Tom Shelar’s High Speed Motorsports Front Engine Top Fuel dragster ran a very stout 5.78/223.58 to take the temporary number-one spot.


Jim Murphy had the second spot at 5.96/220.12.


The sixth spot was held by Adam Sorokin at 16.35/75.36.


Later Friday night it was time for Q2, and with lower ambient air temperature and cooler track temps made for a spectacular session. All the cars on the grounds made qualifying attempts, and all of the cars made huge improvements. Fry was still low at 5.69 at only 219.26.

Murphy was second, with an expensive 5.71 at 245.63 lap. He suffered an engine explosion and fire, made worse when the fire bottles’ activators malfunctioned. Jim suffered some minor burns to his face, but was otherwise OK.

In Q3 there was no change in the quick eight, only that Radford had stepped up from his 6.24 to a 6.200/230.57, however he was still eighth.


Rob Moore made the biggest jump as he went from the outhouse to the second floor, running 6.202/238-34. Tenth was Karl Wilson at 6.23/234.90. Eleventh was John Durden at 6.313/236.71, followed in twelfth by series leader Sean Renterria at 6.314/184.14. Andy Kouerinis at 6.317/214.96 Keeping with the 6.31 theme it was Rob Cacioppo at 6.318/225.00. In fifteenth it was David Armstrong at the wheel of Don Kuramoto’s “Mistress” Corvette at 6.68/215.07 and rounding out the field was Mike Weiss at 6.71/212.19. Eric Peterson made a valiant try but got bumped out.


Round One


All the quicker qualified cars took wins in the first round, except for the final pair down the track, Dennis Radford and Rob Moore.  Radford was first out of the gate but his 903 Sonny’s motor just couldn’t hold back Moore’s blower car and Moore took the win from the ninth spot 6.09/239.65 to cover Radford’s improved 6.15/231.12.


Round Two


This round was full of upsets as Moore continued on his upset quest and took out the number one qualifier Bret Williamson 6.11/239.65 over Williamson’s off pace 6.57/162.72.

Then it was Ed Thornton Jr. taking out a tire shaking Tony Jurado 6.24/228.77 to 6.83-225.75.

The hits just kept on coming as number seven qualifier Rick Snavely went 6-flat, 242.54 over number two qualifier Jeremy Hanger’s 6.06 at 245.90.

In the final pair, the earth came back to balance as number three qualifier Mike Maggio (shown) took out “The Kentucky Kid” Billy Harper 5.98/249.16 to 6.02/237.05.


Round Three


Maggio would face Snavely, and it was Maggio taking the win 6.02/248.61 over Snavely’s 6.03/252.85.


The final pairing in round three saw Thornton take out Moore’s Impala 6.16/235.64 over Moore’s 6.29-/36.46.


The finals for this class also will be run at the California Hot Rod Reunion.


Sportsman Winners for the weekend courtesy of Firebird Raceway


All Access Challenge presented by Meridian Automotive & Machine


Bracketeer 4-Day Champion: Mike Coltrin


Pro 4-Day Champion: Chad Campbell


Heavy 4-Day Champion: Stephanie Frisch


Sled/Bike 4-Day Champion: Zak Pedraza


On a personal note, this was my 24rd Pepsi Nightfire National. While the weather was hot, so was the racing. The place was packed to the gills with fans on Friday and Saturday evenings. Good racing from the heavy class all the way through the professionals, which was enjoyed by the fans and other racers alike.


Credit must be given to where credit is due, you don’t do something for 46 years and not know what you are doing. The management team at Firebird deserves a job well done for this event. Sure, there are going to be bumps in the road along the way; it’s going to happen when you do something for that long.


However, when there are teams coming from multiple states as far away as Kentucky and numerous Canadian provences; and there are Big Show world champions coming out to race in Super Pro and Heavy, and others just to hang out, watch and document the event, the Firebird team deserves a big atta-boy.


The improvements made to the racing surface over the past two years have paid off in spades, and the cooperation with the Bakersfield management team has raised the bar for other tracks to follow.


My job is to tell the truth about what happened at the events I cover, and it was the best Nightfires I have been to in 24 years. Can’t wait for next year. 

Dan Hix


The next pair out was Keith Wilson and Dan Hix. At the green it was Wilson out first, Hix never was able to catch up, and Wilson took the win 6.05 to Hix’s 6.28.


Next up was Bryan Hall and Troy Owens. Hall got the starting line advantage and Owens in his beautiful ‘33 Vicky was trying in vain to catch up, but was unable to do so. Hall ran a nearly perfect 6.01 to cover Owens 6.45.

Jim Holtz


The final pair pitted Las Vegas racer James Generalao and Jim Holtz. Generalao got a huge lead at the tree and was never headed as his shut off early 6.34 easily covered the 7.48 of Holtz.


Round Two

James Generalao


It would be the battle of shorty cars as Generalao and Sullivan would square off. At the green it was Generalao by nearly six hundredths out of the gate first, but that didn’t last long as Sullivan’s stealth black altered drove around Generalao and took a 6.06—6.35 win, and a spot in the finals.


Next up it would be Hall and Wilson. Hall (for those of you in Rio Linda) would take a nearly seven hundredth starting line advantage and all Wilson could do is watch him take the victory 6.17-6.72.


Final Round


It was first announced during the rain delay that the fuel altereds would run off at the California Hot Rod Reunion, then a decision was made to award Hall the win based on overall performance. Therefore, Bryan Hall was the only professional winner for the Nightfires crowned at the Nightfire Nationals.


Pro Modified


The Xtreme Pro Mod series made their first trip to Idaho as a group, but many of these teams had been here before with other series. Seventeen cars strong came up for the sixteen-car show. All variations of Pro Mods made the trip, providing a wonderful representation of the class to the fans in Idaho.


In Q1 all seventeen cars made the session. In the heat of the day, and with very few cars having any sort of data on the track it was more like a “feel out” session. The first three qualifiers were Jeremy Hanger in his ‘59 Corvette at 6.01/245.99. Second was a former winner at Firebird, Mike Maggio, at 6.06/229.55. Holding down the third spot was Tony Jurado in his ‘57 Chevy at 6.16/233.20. On the bump was Rob Moore at 9.32/91.23.

Brett Williamson also wheeled a Pro Mod at Boise.


In Q2 there was a change at the top of the board as Bret Williamson (yes, the one mentioned in the Top Fuel section of this article) took the number one slot in a ‘63 split window Corvette running the only sub-six second run of the session at 5.98/239.65. Hanger was still second with his earlier 6.01, third was Maggio and his earlier 6.06, fourth was Tony Jurado at 6.103/217.11. Fifth was Ed Thornton Jr. at 6.108/245.18.

Mike Peck


Then it was Hodgson and Peck. Hodgson got out first on Peck, however Peck was quicker at 60 feet to a thousand feet, that starting line advantage and just a bit more steam for Hodgson, took the win for the Canadian.


Now this is where things got interesting. As both teams were doing between round maintenance, the NHRA Tech official and a Firebird Tech official made a visit to Rupert’s pit informing the team that someone had filed a protest. The subject of the protest was a device in Rupert’s fuel system.


According to both Rupert and crew chief, Brad Littlefield, the device is a hi/low valve which allows excess fuel during a burnout to be returned to the tank, so that the engine runs cleaner and, using Littlefield’s term, does not “blubber” on the burnout. Many teams run such a valve. The valve is then closed before the run to allow the engine to use all the fuel in the system. However, on Rupert’s car the valve is open and closed with an air solenoid that is controlled manually by Rupert with an air shifter button on the steering wheel.


The rule in the NHRA Heritage Series Rules on page 38 states: ”The use of electric, pneumatic, or any other automatic way of switching or sequencing of fuel system is prohibited. Fuel system must operate on its own pressure as far as adding or subtracting fuel volume. Manual high-speed fuel system allowed.”


The word going around the pits was that Rupert was pressurizing the fuel tank with the air from the system, which drew many comments from all sides on whether or not it was possible.


1. Pressurizing the tank would force fuel to be at the pump at all times making it easier for the pump to work at peak efficiency.

2. The response to that by those in the know, is how do you pressurize a fuel tank with a one inch vent in it?


Another point to be made is that the device has been on the car for a few years according to Rupert and has been inspected by both NHRA and IHRA Tech Officials and both sanctioning bodies deemed it legal. The car was teched by and NHRA Official in Boise as well.


Before the run with Hodgson, the tech officials told Rupert to disable the system, which he did.


The other sticking point is the wording of the rule. “The use of electric, pneumatic, or any other automatic way of switching or sequencing of fuel system”.  Then the last line: “Manual high-speed fuel system allowed.”


It can be rightfully argued that the air system is pneumatic.


However, does the rule apply to the car at all times, when it is in the pits, during a burnout, or only during the competition run? Questions that might need to be answered and clarified.


Moreover, is pushing an air shifter button by the driver a manual operation or an automatic operation?


[Editor’s Note: Word came down on Wednesday, Aug. 16, that NHRA had allowed Rupert’s set-up.]


The final round of the Nightfire will be run at the California Hot Rod Reunion at Bakersfield, CA, on Oct. 20-22.


Fuel Altereds


Ten fuel altereds, which run on a 6.00 index, made the trek to Idaho for the Nightfire Nationals.


In the first qualifying session, Oregon’s Dan Hix was number one at 6.25. Jim Holtz was second at 6.29, Troy Owen was third at 6.44, and then James Generalao also at 6.44, Todd Miller went 6.77. In the sixth position was local hero Shawn Callen at 6.93.

Rounding out the session was Jeremy Sullivan with a very entertaining 12.11. Sullivan was making a first hit with his new car, and the car did a four-foot wheel stand and truly got people’s attention.


During the evening session on Friday night, things got better as teams were able to work off the notes they had from the 2 pm session.


In the Friday night session, Todd Miller driving Dave Hix’s blue altered shot to the number one spot at 6.02. Hix’s brother Dan moved down one with a 6.113, Bryan Hall went to third with a 6.113 on the bump was Shawn Callen at 6.93. Sullivan was still having issueS with wheel stands and was on the outside looking in.


In Q3 on Saturday afternoon, all ten cars made attempts. James Valencia made is one and only attempt but did not catch a break and smoked the tires to a 15.40 elapsed time. There was no movement in the order, except that Callen had mechanical issues that forced the team to withdraw from the event, and that put Jeremy Sullivan into the eighth position.


Round One

Todd Miller


First pair out would be Jeremy Sullivan and Todd Miller. Sullivan got his wheel standing problem under control and ran a 6.10 to cover the 6.93 of Miller.

Keith Wilson

First Round

Mark Sanders


The top half of the field all advanced on Saturday night, except for Mark Sanders who inexplicitly went -.187 red against Shawn Bowen giving the Bartone and Lebor team their first ever-round win.

Goodguys head honcho, Marc Meadors.


Peck went 5.80-235.72 to take out the G-Man Team, who overall had an excellent weekend. Hodgson got back some of his performance in his first-round win with a 5.77/251.30 over Mark Meadors.

Bowen got the aforementioned gift from Sanders and still rand a 5.94/240.55.


The punch to the throat came from Rupert who went 5.63/258.52 in his win over his friend Matt Bynam.


Round Two

Jason Rupert


Like the engine stands with wheels, the floppers’ second round was run in the early afternoon and first up it was Rupert and Bowen both in Camaro’s. Bowen had a slight disadvantage, due to the fact that there has to be twenty pounds of metal flake in the paint job on this car. It is stunning. Rupert in the pedal clutch car is out first and was never headed running another low sixty, a 5.62 at 256.89 mph to cover Bowen’s 5.88/239.87.

Matt Bynam, who had the weekend off from his day job of working on the DHL Funny Car driven by JR Todd, was the bump at 6.03/239.36.


However, there were some very stout cars that were on the outside looking in after Q1. John Weaver, Spokane winner Danny Gerber; Tim Boychuk, Rick O’Rogers, Jason Rupert and Bill Windham. Which would mean the night session would be a barnburner, literally and figuratively.


As the sun set even farther on the horizon, there was a feeling this could be a very exciting session. The first pair of cars out would be Brad Thompson and Bill Windham. At the green Windham’s car jumped up off the ground and blew the tires off, conversely Thompson’s “Jail Break” Camaro looked like it was shot out of a gun and was hauling the mail, at about 700 feet it shot either a plug or a valve out of it, and a split second later the motor stumbled and then exploded. The body was vaporized and the engine was eviscerated. One fan said “it looked like and IED went off.” Parts and pieces rained down on the track and in the pit area. No one in the pits was injured just lots of souvenirs. Thompson walked away with an injured knee.

The track crew did a great job with a quick clean up, and qualifying resumed in earnest.


Many teams stepped up and ran excellent numbers. Jason Rupert went to the top with a 5.67/256.21. Ryan Hodgson didn’t improve from his earlier 5.68; the always-shy Mark Sanders stepped up to a 5.79/242.71; Mike Peck also stepped up to a 5.80/228.77; Shawn Bowen, in Michael Bartone’s new ride ran a 5.809/237.21; Wally Giavia just would not go away, he also stepped up and recorded a 5.865/233.24; Marc Meadors was right behind the “G-Man” with a 5.866/231.68, and rounding out the top eight was Matt Bynum at 5.894/246.53.


On the outside looking in were Bobby Cottrell at 5.895/242.41 and Tim Boychuk at 5.899/237.38.


As the cars filled the staging lanes for Q3 on Saturday, the 800-lb. gorilla in the room was could Bobby Cottrell get into the show, after a four-race run where he kicked everybody’s collective booties and not just a little bit, getting three wins in four races.


For that matter could anybody step up and get into this very stout eight-car field?

Bobby Cottrell

Tim Boychuck


Alas, the temperature and lack of oxygen just precluded anybody from stepping up and the field was set and Cottrell, Boychuk, Rick O’Rogers, and John Weaver would make up the “Tater Baker” field, or for some of you who are circle track fans you might know it as the “Hooligan”.

Stepping up to the number-three spot was Dusty Green who ran a 5.96 at 242.84 mph in the evening conditions.


Holding down the final spot was Phil Ruskowski at 6.84 in his small block Chevy dragster with a pedal clutch.

The final session during the heat of the day on Saturday, showed no improvements except for Adam Sorokin whose crew chief, Bobby McLennan, was literally sneaking up on a combination. His 6.01/214.42 was a two-tenths improvement, and the car still had not gone past a thousand feet under power.


First Round


As the sun had started to set on Saturday evening and the temps started to cool, the diggers came out for round one and things played out with all the quicker-qualified cars taking wins: Mendy Fry, Jim Murphy, and Dusty Green.

Brett Williamson in Mike Fuller’s “Forever Young” dragster.


The exception, one person who is truly different, Adam Sorokin, had not run the car past a thousand feet, but went a little farther this round just enough to get by Bret Williamson in Mike Fuller’s “Forever Young” ride 5.89/217.14 over Williamson’s 6.17/199.82. This would not be the last time we would see Mr. Williamson, however.


Second Round


The first pair out on Sunday afternoon would pit Mendy Fry and Adam Sorokin. Fry had everybody covered, but Sorokin has a very valid reputation of being one of the best leavers in all of nitro drag racing. And this might have played into Fry’s -.313 redlight, and Sorokin taking a 5.92/192.88 win. Fry was visibly upset in the shutdown area, showing some genuine passion.


The other half of round one pitted Dusty Green in the “Nitro-Hemi” against Jim Murphy’s “WWII” fueler. Green was out on Murphy by five hundredths, but by the 330 clocks, the Roland Leong tune up had closed that gap. Green hung tough with Murphy, but the red “Nitro-Hemi” just didn’t have enough steam to keep up with the Santa Rosa, California runner, and Murphy took a 5.80/235.31 to 5.95/243.55 win to advance to the finals, which will be run in Bakersfield.



Eighteen nitro funny cars, many affiliated with the United Nitro Funny Car group, made their way to Firebird for the Nightfires. However, this year it would be an eight-car field, which really put pressure on teams to make the field if they wanted to stay in the hunt for the points championship. As with the Front Engine Top Fuel dragsters, the floppers made Q1 on Friday afternoon. The mean average of runs were in the high 5.90-6.00 range until Ryan Hodgson (above) came up to bat. Ryan, driving dad’s car with the great Bob Papernick tuning, went out and just stole everybody’s lunch money running an unbelievable 5.68-255.73 in the heat of the day.


Another lap that got everybody attention, is the one made by Wally Giavia. Between Wally and crew chief Pete Jensen they have spent way too much time in the hospital as of late. So it was wonderful to see them run a 5.91 at 236.80.




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