race reports

Nightfire Nationals at Boise, Idaho

There is a reason they call it the Nightfires

Words and photos by Brian Losness

For the past 47 years the New family, the owner/operators of Firebird Raceway outside of Eagle, Idaho, have hosted their signature event, the Pepsi Nighfire Nationals. The event has been held on the second weekend in August for at least the past thirty years and, being that the location of the track is topographically called high desert, it has every opportunity to get hot during the day. This year however, Mother Nature went above and beyond the call of climate extremes. On Friday the ambient air temperature -- depending on whose thermometer hadn’t melted yet -- read anywhere from 109 to 114 degrees between 5 and 6 o’clock that afternoon. Racetrack temp was near 160 degrees. (That’s damn hot!)


So, when it was published that there would be qualifying sessions at 2 p.m. on Friday and Saturday people were quietly wondering if it was going to be worth trying to run at those times.


However, the conditions were the same for everybody and when some the pro team watched the top sportsman and top dragsters cars go down the track with little or no difficulties, as 2 o’clock came around it time to see just would happen for the Big show teams. The ambient air temp was near 106 degrees and track temp was pushing 160 degrees.


The first on the pad were the Pro Mods. There were some eyebrows raised at the end of that session as Ed Thornton was the leader in his twin turbo Camaro. His 6.01 wasn’t jaw dropping but 247.75 was an attention-getter. Moreover, the fact that Mike Doushgounian was also over 247 mph at 247.11 with an ET of 6.11 told that the race track was gonna be just fine. On the bump was Jeremy Hanger in Kurt Kuhn’s Corvette at 11.00 flat when he incurred some mechanical issues.


Next were the Top Fuel cars, and the track and air just kept getting hotter. Eight of the nine fuel cars on the property came out for the first session. And for the first time in decades it was Chevrolet leading the way. Adam Sorokin in the small block dragster was low at 5.879 and 313.67 mph. Number two was the “Great Expectations” big block dragster of Tyler Hilton at 6.25/221.23. On the bump was Mendy Fry.




There was a special scenario for the funny cars. The track put up two classes. The feature class for the quick eight and the annual Tater Baker for cars 9-16.

The biggest surprise (but not really if one thought about it) was that Billy Morris at the wheel of Eddie Knox’s “Problem Child” was on the provisional pole with a 5.83 at 241.76. For those who might not know who Eddie Knox is, some would consider him the John Force of Top Fuel Hydro boat racing.


In second was not a surprise it was Jeff Arend in Don Nelson’s “California Hustler” 5.91/239.10. Holding down the bump was Scottsdale AZ/ Edmonton, AB, Canada’s own Tim Boychuk. His Twig Zeigler-tuned Happy Hour Camaro was in at 6.12/231.99 miles per hour.

The save of the entire race goes to “Hollywood” Kris Krabill at the wheel of Mark Meadors’ Fuel Curve.com Camaro. Krabill got a call from Meadors on Wednesday to come drive the car and first sat in the car Friday morning.


On his first run Krabill had a main oil line come loose as the car left the starting line. From that point he could have been just a passenger, however Krabill showed how much a professional he is and with skill and some divine intervention, he not only showed both sides of the car skating around in his own oil he showed the back end and the front end as well. He used up both lanes and nearly tipped the car over twice, but was able to get it to stop facing the right direction, and never touched either wall.


Krabill -- as NASCAR HOF driver and announcer Benny Parsons might say -- “The boy had four chances to crash that car and missed on all four occasions.”


Fuel Altereds were running on the 6.0 index. It was Dan Hix at 6.12/233.36 who was the leader in the club house while Matt Leonard held down the bump.


Qualifying session two was slated for 7 o’clock and the decision was made to push it back an hour. It proved to be an excellent choice, as was proven by enhanced times.


In Top Fuel Mendy Fry got back into championship form by driving Tom Shelar’s High Speed Top Fueler to a new number one at 5.77 at a shut off early 213.91. Sorokon did not improve and was relegated to second. Dusty Green in the “Nitro-Hemi” also jumped into the fives at 5.97 with top speed 243.11. Tyler Hilton along with co crew chiefs Bobby Hilton and Allison Lee (yes, that Allison Lee) improved to 6.07 at 240.77. Phil Ruskowski held down the bump with a 7.57/146.83.

Jeff Arend (far lane) and Dan Horan


In Funny Car the hits just kept on coming as Dan Horan flexed his muscles as crew chief David “Huggy” Fears threw down a nice 5.75/247.16. Jeff Arend improved to 5.765/245.72, followed by the multi-time champ Jason Rupert at 5.767/254.48. Holding down the bump was Mark “Mr. Explosive” Sanders at 5.90/237.30.


Pro Mod did not see the dramatic improvements that were seen in the Top Fuel and Funny Car categories. However, there was a change at the top as “Mike D” Doushgouian jumped up to number one at 5.92/249.58. Thornton stayed number two at 6.010/247.75 and Jay Deidrich stayed at number three at 6.015/241.93. Jeremy Hanger held down the number eight position at 9.58/93.75,


In Fuel Altered it was still the Dan Hix hour as he put an even tighter grip on the field running an insane 6.01/237.84 on a 6.00 index. Todd Miller came in second at 6.14/237.17, and Troy Owens in the Legends fuel altered came in third at 6.2/190.35. Shawn Callen in the “High Heaven” altered held down the bump at 10.18/75.72.

The final session of qualifying took place at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The temperature was not as unbearable as Friday however, it was still close to 100 degrees. This is why when Mendy Fry pulled the long gun metal gray High Speed special to the starting line there was no one less her and Tom Shelar who had any clue what they would be seeing. The light went green and Miss Fry showed her experience and prowess as a driver and guided the car to a 5.68 at only 240.81 mph. A .68 in 100-degree weather at a corrected altitude of over 5500 feet. That was a “mic drop” moment.


Adam Sorokin picked up a couple of hundredths running a very respectable 5.85 at 237.71. However, right past the finish line is where things got interesting. As Sorokin took his foot off the throttle, the entire clutch assembly came apart in the car. The titanium bell housing held all the fragment in place however it locked up the car and it took the team a couple of minutes to get the coupler out of the drive line so they could move the car. A scary moment for sure.


Dusty Green held down the third position followed by Hilton, Brett Williamson in Mike Fuller’s ride. Brendan Murry was sixth, March Meet winner Pete Wittenberg was seventh, and rounding out the field was Jim Murphy, last year’s Top Fuel Champion who hasn’t raced much this year due to business concerns. Phil Ruskowski was on the outside looking in in his small block dragster.


In Funny Car there would be two eight-car fields an A field and a B field which is known as the Tater Baker.


In the afternoon heat the funny car fleet showed no fear as they came to the starting line for Q3. Dan Horan went quicker and stayed number one at 5.73/250.59.


There was a change at number two as Rupert stepped up and uncorked a 5.74/252.57. Arend picked up a couple but was relegated to third at 5.75/245.27. Followed by Sanders, then Matt Bynam, John Weaver, Friday’s number one Billy Morris was seventh, and rounding out the eight car A main was this year’s juggernaut, Bobby Cottrell, who is perfect, winning all the races this year except for the Ignitor which is also held at Firebird.

Tim Boychuk


Rounding out the field for the Tater Baker was Tim Boychuk, who would be low for that group, followed by Shawn Bowen Bill Windam, Brad Thompson who returned to Idaho after suffering a massive body eviscerating event last year. The “G Men” Wally Giavia was number five, followed by “Hollywood” Kris Krabill, the “Nitro Spud” Jon Rice was seventh, and rounding out the Tater Baker was Justin Taylor in his dad’s “Evil, Wicked, Mean, and Nasty” Mustang.


Scott Stanger and Garth Widdison did not see any further action for the weekend.


In Pro Mod there was not much movement, as compared to the nitro cars, so it was still Ed Thornton at number one, followed by Doushgouian, and then Diedrich. Justin Wake rounded out the top half of the field. Roger Holder was fifth, then Garrett Richards in Walt Austin’s radical Mustang sixth, Jeremy Hanger seventh, and rounding out the field was Karl Wilson in his flamed Corvette. Troy Ferry in his very unique and bright orange Dodge Challanger just couldn’t break into the field.


The Fuel Altered final eight would consist of Hix, followed by Owens, Matt Leonard and Todd Miller driving Dave Hix’s car.

“The Tramp” driven by David Giles.


The bottom half was led by veteran Tom Padilla, David Giles in “The Tramp” was sixth, Randy Bradford in the family ride was seventh, and local hero Shawn Callen would round out the field. Jim Holtz had an off weekend and could not get into the program.




The first rounds of eliminations were run on Saturday evening, and with a low pressure system moving in to the area the temperatures started to drop. So, at 8 p.m. the Pro Mods would open the show. However, damage issues for Justin Wake and Roger Holder and alternate Troy Ferry would eliminate three cars leaving only six for eliminations.


So all the top qualified cars would advance into round two, and with the odd numbered field it would pit Diedrich against Doushgounian, giving Thornton the bye to the final. In Thornton’s round-one win over Wilson his twin hairdryer Camaro would at that time set top speed of the meet for all professional cars at 258.62 mph.


Sunday afternoon brought 15-degree cooler temps and a promise for excellent racing. In the first pair of round two Diedrich would use an .025 light and a 5.95 at 247.61-mph charge to handle Mike D and his 6.05/235.51 effort.


Thornton would not squander his bye run “test pass”. At the green the blue Camaro left the starting line and was on rails as he registered a new track record 5.86 and another run at over 258 miles per hour.


The final would pit the two blue Camaros, one blown, one twin turbo, both very stout.

At the green light Diedrich was ready and went .018 on the starting line over Thornton’s very respectable .056. As they went by the tree it was Diedrich by half a car length, and it stayed that way till about four hundred feet, then the turbo started to come into its power band. At about 1,000 feet Thornton started to drive around Diedrich and then Diedrich’s blower gave up the ghost and that would be all. Thornton’s 5.88/258.86 covered Diedrich’s 6.16/196.67.

Pro Mod winner, Ed Thornton




In the 6.00 fuel altered round one was also run on Saturday evening. All the quicker qualified cars would take first round wins except for Matt Leonard whose car was DOA after Q3. This allowed David Gilles in “The Tramp” to take the win and move on to round two.


Round two would take place Sunday early afternoon. The two semifinal rounds were pretty anticlimactic as Troy Owens took his win 6.02 235.23 over Gilles who broke.

Hix would race his brother’s car in the other semifinal. However, it too was a walk over as Hix ran a 6.08/236.09 over his brothers car driven by Todd Miller, who idled down the track after the light went green.

Hix would face off with Owens, and both had been right on the dial in for the class. At the green light of the final neither driver was going to win an award for reaction time. Hix was first at .122 and Owens .151. However, Owens started to spin and shake the tires, allowing Hix to take the win and the title at 6.17/230.10.

Dan Hix, AAFA winner.




Like the other two professional classes, there were no upsets in round one on Saturday evening. This meant that Boychuk would face Brad Thompson and Shawn Bowen would face Bill Winham.

Brad Thompson


On Sunday afternoon at the green light Thompson moved first and had Boychuk covered and was pulling away when the engine in Thompson’s System1 Camaro started to go south. Boychuk had just enough Twig Ziegler power to drive around the Visalia, CA, driver and took the win 5.87/233.96 to Thompson’s slowing 5.92/217.18 effort.


Next it was Bowen and Windham. Windham was out first with his pedal clutch, however that was short lived as he blew the tires off and Bowen cruised to a 5.82/222.69 win.

Shawn Bowen


The final round for the Tater Baker on paper should have been a real barn burner. But that all ended -.037 of a second before the green light came on as Boychuk saw the bulb and it gave Bowen the win. It might be a bittersweet win for Bowen, but time will tell. As for Boychuk after the run he was certain he saw color, however starting line photos appear to show the car’s front end go up instead of forward, maybe pulling the front end out of the beams, instead of rolling forward.

Shawn Bowen got the Tater Baker prize. (Remember, it’s Idaho.)




The teams who made the eight-car feature show decided that it was time to rumble. There were two upsets in round one, one near upset, and one good old fashion ass whipping.


The first pair out feature Bynam and Sanders. Bynam moved first .120 to Sanders .149 and the two cars were locked together the entire quarter mile with Bynam taking the win over the quicker qualified Sanders, 5.75 at 254.71.


Next pair had Arend and John Weaver facing off. Arend and Ron Swearingen seem to have chemistry and already have a win this season. Weaver is always a threat. Arend moved first but Weaver was hauling the mail right next to him. As the two reached the finish line, the boards showed the results. Weaver’s 5.69/254.52 was not enough to cover Arend’s holeshot and slower 5.70/249.86.  And to add insult to injury Weaver took a second ride into the Firebird wheat field. No damage other than being dirty.


That brought up Cottrell and Horan. On paper Horan had this in the bag, but we don’t race on paper. Cottrell was .136 on the tree, not stellar but a sight better than Horan’s .363 RT. Horan’s car ran a brilliant 5.73/251.25, but that starting line disadvantage cost him as Cottrell’s 5.840/238.76 sent Horan back to Sylmar, CA.

The last pair was Rupert and Billy Morris. Rupert decided to flex his muscles on Saturday night with a “Mike Drop” 5.64/256.50 lap to cover the “Problem Child’s” 7.15/132.33


On Sunday afternoon the first pair would be Rupert and Arend. A headliner at any nostalgia event, Rupert was in the zone, both driving and tuning. Rupert moved first and Arend just didn’t have the huevos to run with the patriotic Camaro from Anaheim Hills, CA. Rupert’s 5.61 at 260.81 covered Arends 5.74/253.71.

The other semi pitted Bynam and Cottrell. Cottrell moved first but instantly blew the tires off and Bynam sailed to the early shut off 6.18-181.11 win over Cottrells 9.50-117.42

In the final round it was Rupert and Bynam. These two have history, going back to when they were kids. Bynam’s 9-5 job is the car chief for Shawn Langdon’s funny car out of the Connie Kalitta stable.


Both drivers were ready for this one but there was a slight delay when a safety team member noticed a fire starting to burn along side the track. Nevertheless, as both car were running and the fire wasn’t growing quickly they decided to send the two cars.


They left the starting line at the same time and it was close for the first three hundred feet and then the Rupert/Brad Littlefield combination was set for kill, taking the win 5.60 at 253.47 mph to cover Bynam’s 5.73/226,66.


And the fire was extinguished.

Tyler Hilton in “Great Expectations.”


The second pair featured Green and Brendan Murry. Green got out on Murry and took the easy win 5.98/248.34 to cover Murry’s troubled 8.68/75.16 effort.


March Meet winner Pete Wittenberg then faced Adam Sorokin. Sorokin moved first but it wasn’t his usual telepathic light. However, that would be the last time Big Red would see the lead as Wittenberg drove away from Sorokin 5.73/253.85 to 5.90/244.12


The final pair Saturday night pitted last year’s champ Murphy and the odds-on favorite for this year’s title “Nitro Kitty” Mendy Fry. Murphy was not having a lot of fun at Boise this year and it didn’t get better Saturday night as Fry took Murphy to the woodshed 5.67/253.47 to WWII’s 6.48 at 158.04.


Sunday’s final two rounds were full of great racing.

Dusty Green and the “Nitro-Hemi”


First in the second round it was Green and Wittenberg. This was a barn burner. Green drilled the tree at .054 with Wittenberg cutting a .145 light. Green was running away from the Anaheim, CA, driver the death smoke started coming out of the pipes at the first mile per hour light Wittenberg was running eleven mph faster at the strip 252.38 to 241.63. However, that starting line advantage and a 5.80 covered the 5.71 of Wittenberg giving Green a six-inch victory.


In the other semi it was Fry and Hilton. As Tyler’s grandma, Allison Lee, said after the race, ”It was the battle of the lady crew chief versus the lady driver.” Lots of people were leaning towards Cinderella (Hilton), however the clock struck midnight at the starting line as Fry was out first and could not be headed as she dispatched Hilton 5.69/231.00 over his 5.880/249.81. However, there was some consolation as the looks of happiness on Bobby Hilton’s and Allison Lee’s faces when that 5.88 rang up; it was like they had won the race as it was their second 5-second run ever.


The comradery and esprit de corps that exists in drag racing was no more evident between rounds before the final. It was normal between round maintenance at High Speed. But in the lower pit area where Green was parked it was a full-on thrash.


Pete Wittenberg and his guys, Brendan Murry and his guys along with the “Nitro-Hemi” team, even local circle track racer Tim Wallace was in on the thrash of eight pistons and sleeves, and reportedly some new valves, along with normal clutch maintenance. However, Green and his guys managed the situation and in just over an hour the car was being warmed up.

In the final at the green it was Green out first, but there was just too much High Speed as Fry motored to another win 5.66/254.71 to cover Green’s 6.04 at 198.73.

Mendy Fry, Top Fuel winner.


On a personal note: It is the responsibility of a writer to state the facts as they are. The difference between the race track at Boise four years ago, and the race track in Boise is night and day. The New family and their stakeholders have put a great deal of time, resources and effort into making this track first class. When it is well over 100 degrees and the sun is baking the surface and there are Pro Mods running 247 miles per hour, it’s not by accident. Credit has to be given to the News for employing all the technology and protocols available to make this surface one of the best.


One other media member was heard to say, “Would love to see how big show cars would do here now. It would be interesting.” Yes, indeed.  



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