Tocher talks again w/Ian Tocher

Micke Makes Most of Sweet 16 Party

Only 800 or so people—including drivers and crew members—showed up for Donald “Duck” Long’s $101,000-to-win Sweet 16 event at South Georgia Motorsports Park on Mar. 22-24. Normally, that kind of turnout combined with that kind of payout means you have to hide all sharp objects from the promoter, or at least keep an eye out for him at the back gate, lest he opt to make an early, hasty exit.


But this event was not normal, not normal at all.


First, the tiny live attendance was by design. There were only 48 cars on the ground at South Georgia Motorsports Park, competing in just two classes: 34 in Long’s self-invented Radial vs. the World (RvW) and 14 in random-pairing No Time action. Each $2,000 entry fee covered a driver plus four crew entries, but only 500 spectator tickets were made publicly available at $220 each, with most snapped up in pre-sales by the race teams. Various media members, track workers and VIPs made up the small remainder of attendees, but a sizable online audience subscribed to a live feed that cost each viewer $9.95 for the weekend.


I arrived Friday at noon, missing Thursday’s three rounds of qualifying, but more significantly the first-ever RvW run in the 3.60s, as Oklahoma’s DeWayne Mills covered the SGMP eighth mile that night in 3.69 second at 212.69 in his twin-turboed ’68 Camaro. Mills’ reign as the new record holder didn’t last long, however, as Steve Jackson steered his blown 2015 Camaro to a 3.68 at 202.42 mph in the very next pair up. Remarkably, the record setting wasn’t over, though, with Mark Micke running his twin-turbocharged ’78 Malibu immediately after Jackson and posting a 6.67-second pass at an astounding 221.20 mph—all on M/T 315 series drag radial tires.

DeWayne Mills and crew give a thumbs up to the camera on their way back to the pits at Donald Long’s Sweet 16 event at South Georgia Motorsports Park. After becoming the first RvW driver to dip into the 3.60s during qualifying, Mills ran a career-best 3.66 in the opening round of racing, then went on to finish runner-up to Mark Micke in the final.


The incredible on-track pace continued throughout Friday’s six, count ‘em, six qualifying rounds. With so few cars available, Long had to fill the online feed with more than just witty banter between announcers Brian Lohnes and Lee Sebring, with help from “Willie Dog” on the No Time portions (and it really was quite witty at times), so he decided to just keep running qualifying from morning ‘til night.


And no one complained. About the cost or the wear and tear on parts or the work required, no one complained. As opposed to several-hour waits between RvW qualifying sessions during Long’s annual Lights Out and No Mercy drag radial extravaganzas that typically draw more than 400 entries running in several classes each, the Sweet 16 entrants were waiting only about 90 minutes between hits. Meanwhile, with favorable atmospheric conditions and track prep specialist Wade Rich was given plenty of time and opportunity to concentrate only on giving RvW teams the absolute best surface he could manage, it all added up to a racer-friendly atmosphere.


In fact, despite the big bucks—and big egos—that were on the line that weekend, the social atmosphere at the track remained very relaxed and friendly, almost like that of an extended test session. In fact, I had at least three drivers, from the top to the bottom of the field, offer unsolicited comments about their entry fee being well worth it. Beyond the chance at a big payday, they were just happy at being able to make multiple test runs in relatively short order on an ideally prepped track and with other cars present to more accurately gauge their own performances against. In other words, the format worked. Besides, Duck said, “I didn’t want to hear anyone say they could’ve made it in if they’d just had one more chance to qualify.”

No elapsed times or speeds are displayed in No Time competition, but it was clear from the start that Lights Out 9 winner Phil Bohley had a fast car at the inaugural Sweet 16 event. From the Detroit area, Bohley’s ’04 Mustang is equipped with a Precision Turbos-boosted ProLine 481X, with tuning by Josh Ledford (far right in red cap).


There wasn’t a significant amount of shuffling over Friday’s first two sessions, but in the third round of the day Jackson regained the number-one slot with a 3.66 at 202.58 mph. That held up through Round 7 of qualifying before Micke lowered the boom in Round 8 with a 3.64 run at 220.62 that more than negated any thought of his prior top speed being a fluke.


But he wasn’t yet done. Jaws quite literally dropped in the 9th and final qualifying round when Micke’s Malibu lit up the scoreboards with a 3.62-second pass at 214.79 mph.

Another sharp-looking late-model Corvette, this one driven by Daniel Pharris to a 3.64-second pass that qualified him second for raceday, then carried him to a quarter-finals finish against Keith Haney.


Meanwhile, three more drivers had joined the growing 3.60s club as Daniel Pharris finished in second overall with a 3.64 at 216.20 in Andrew Alepa’s twin-turbo 2015 Corvette, Jeff Sitton slid into fourth behind teammate Jackson with a 3.68 at 201.85 in his supercharged ’17 Camaro, and Jamie Hancock became the quickest nitrous-boosted drag radial driver on the planet after his ’68 Firebird went 3.68 at 198.12 mph.

Former ADRL Pro Nitrous champion Jamie Hancock became the first to put a nitrous car into the 3.60s on radial tires. The second-generation driver from Alabama qualified 5th at 3.68 second, won a close race against Marty Stinnett in round one, then lost an even closer match to Paolo Giust in round two.


The record-setting pace continued throughout the Sweet 16, with Mills’ barrier-breaking run being pushed down to 6th and 22-year-old Ty Tutterow anchoring the elite group with a 3.76 at 198.64-mph pass to make it the quickest and fastest field in drag radial history. Significantly, Sitton’s number-one qualifying pass from Lights Out 9 just a month earlier at the same track would not have made the cut for this inaugural Sweet 16 race.


Sitting 17th at 3.79 and 208.10 mph was the twin-turbo 2010 Corvette of Micke’s teammate Mark Woodruff, who therefore led the remaining RvW racers into Saturday’s second-chance event for non-qualifiers. Woodruff made it as far as the semis, but it came down to a pair of blown ’63 Vettes deciding the second-chance final, with Tim Kincaid of Thornhill, TN, going 3.86 at 195.14 to edge out Texas racer Rodney Whatley by six-thousandths for the $5,000 win.

Mid-West Pro Mod Series owner and promoter Keith Haney qualified “Enigma,” his nitrous-boosted ’16 Camaro, 10th in the Radial vs. the World field for Sweet 16, then reached the semifinals where he fell to Pharris.


In the main event, only Mills and Pharris managed a 3.60 pass throughout eliminations, with both doing so in first-round wins over NHRA Pro Stock regular Alex Laughlin and engine builder Taylor Lastor, respectively.

Mid-West Pro Mod Series owner and promoter Keith Haney qualified “Enigma,” his nitrous-boosted ’16 Camaro, 10th in the Radial vs. the World field for Sweet 16, then reached the semifinals where he fell to Pharris.


In the main event, only Mills and Pharris managed a 3.60 pass throughout eliminations, with both doing so in first-round wins over NHRA Pro Stock regular Alex Laughlin and engine builder Taylor Lastor, respectively.

An uncharacteristic red-light start in round two against DeWayne Mills ended Stevie Jackson’s day at Sweet 16. The false start was made even more frustrating as Jackson watched Mills lose traction and struggle to a 5.10-second pass on his way to a runner-up finish in the RvW final.

Tim Kincaid's 3.82 at 195.36 placed him 19th of 34 entries overall, but left him starting third for the RvW consolation event. The Tennessee-based racer made good use of his second chance, picking up $5,000 after beating Rodney Whatley in the final round.

With a 13th-place start and semi-finals finish in his blown ’69 Camaro, Ottawa’s Paolo Giust led a trio of Canucks who made the trek down to SGMP for the Sweet 16 event. Frank Pompilio and Enzo Pecchini, both from near Toronto, qualified 24th and 28th, respectively, with Pompilio bowing out in the opening round of the second-chance race, while Pecchini fell to eventual winner Tim Kincaid in round two.


Despite the limited crowd on hand, as is the norm at drag radial events (and much to the consternation of many), the final pair took to the starting line amidst a sea of onlookers, most holding cell phones on high, intent on recording the moment for posterity. When the lights came down, Mills left with a slim six-thou advantage in the left lane, but his “Golden Gorilla” quickly lost traction while Micke powered to a convincing 3.72 win at 214.01 mph.

Mark Micke of Jefferson City, MO, ran the table at Sweet 16, qualifying number one while setting both ends of the Radial vs. the World records (3.62 second and 221.20 mph), before going on to win $101,000 in a final-round victory over DeWayne Mills.


Micke told me later that despite the money, the pressure and the unique format that Sweet 16 brought with it, he felt supremely confident and completely relaxed all weekend. “I really felt like this was our race to lose,” he said. “I knew if I just did my job we should be okay.”


So, with a successful first Sweet 16 in the books, is limited access and pay-to-view online the way to go? Maybe, sometimes; it certainly worked here. But it’s hard to argue against the built-in excitement a large, enthusiastic, in-person crowd brings to an event. It did and does work, though, on the level that Long stated beforehand he wanted to achieve. After admitting the never-ending pressure of promoting and producing Lights Out/No Mercy were sometimes getting the best of him, he said he wanted to create an event that allowed himself and promotions partner “Lenco Jim” Taylor more freedom to mingle with his racer friends and have fun at the track again.


Judging by wide smiles all around, I have to think the Sweet 16 party has just gotten started. 


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