race reports

PDRA Finals at Virginia Motorsports Park

Champions named, records set at final event of 2018

Words by Nate Van Wagnen

Photos by Roger Richards

Jeff Dobbins became the first mountain motor Pro Stock driver to dip into the 3-second range with a 3.988 at 181.26 mph in pre-race testing Thursday afternoon. He wasn’t able to make the first official 3-second run in competition Friday, but he was the closest to the historic mark with a 4.01 at 181.20 in the opening session.


The 2018 Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) season came to a dramatic close Monday afternoon, Oct. 22, as world champions were crowned and world records were broken at the 4th annual Brian Olson Memorial PDRA World Finals at Virginia Motorsports Park.


Event winners were also decided at the weather-delayed conclusion to the season finale. The PDRA 660 Man trophies in the professional classes went to Jason Harris in Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous presented by MoTeC, Melanie Salemi in Moroso Pro Boost, Chris Powers in Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock, and Paul Gast in Drag 965 Pro Extreme Motorcycle. The remaining competitors in East Side Auto Transport Pro Outlaw 632 split the purse after first round Saturday night. Ken Quartuccio Jr. earned the Atomizer Racing Injectors Outlaw 10.5 victory.


The World Finals victors in the PDRA’s sportsman categories were John Prime in MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman, William Brown III in Top Sportsman 32, Chaz Silance in Lucas Oil Elite Top Dragster, and David Batchelor in Top Dragster 32. Jonathan Edwards picked up the win over Al Burkett in Edelbrock Bracket Bash.


In Coolshirt Pro Jr. Dragster, Casey Wagner took his ’12 Half Scale dragster to the winner’s circle with a 7.936 next to outgoing world champion Amber Franklin’s 7.969, both on a 7.90 dial-in. The top two qualifiers in Gilbert Motorsports Top Jr. Dragster battled it out in the final round, with Connor Shields using a holeshot advantage and 7.968 pass to defeat Connor McGee’s 7.956.



Jason Harris (far lane) got the win over Jim Halsey and the Pro Nitrous championship.


After securing the 2018 Pro Nitrous world championship with his first-round win on Sunday, Jason Harris went into Monday’s continuation of eliminations with the weight off his shoulders. Still, the Boone-Harris Racing driver was hungry for a third and final victory on the season. He slipped past the second and third rounds unopposed, but had to earn a major victory over Jim Halsey in the final round. Halsey, who reset the ET world record with a 3.646 in the semifinals, slowed to a 5.519 at 86.71 next to Harris’s career-best 3.689 at 202.15 in the “Party Time” ’69 Camaro.


“I put myself in (Halsey’s) shoes,” Harris said of his strategy for the final round. “If I’d just run a 3.64, I’d either leave it alone or calm it down a little bit. I knew I’d have to be on my A-game and I knew I’d have to be fast. I definitely knew I couldn’t go 3.65 or anything like that, but I felt like I could run a .67 pretty easily. I gave it what I thought the track would hold. I won all year long just being consistent and being the one that could go down the track. I didn’t want to throw the kitchen sink at it, but I didn’t want to give it away either. I just found a place in the middle and stuck with it.”


Harris, who won the first PDRA Pro Nitrous world championship in 2014, qualified No. 9 and won first round on a holeshot before two consecutive singles when Danny Sauro didn’t make the second-round call and Todd Fontana broke before staging.


Halsey in his Fulton-powered ’68 Camaro fired off a 3.659 at 206.04 over Randy Weatherford, a 3.68 at 205.35 over Tommy Franklin, and the record 3.646 at 205.69 over Jay Cox in the semifinals.

The Pro Nitrous speed record was reset in the second round by Lizzy Musi and her 209.23 mph blast.


“It feels really good to be back on top,” said Harris. “We had a runner-up to start the year and I thought, ‘maybe I’m back on top.’ Then we went out second round at the next race. It’s really just been about learning the car. Danny Perry’s been helping me tune the car and learn what we need to do between rounds and race to race. We learned more at every race and even lucked up and won a couple. We’ve had a great year.”


Harris, who admittedly struggled for the three seasons since his championship in the PDRA’s inaugural season, earned his second championship on the strength of back-to-back event wins at Martin and the Virginia summer race. He held off the late-season charge of two-time and defending world champion Tommy Franklin.


“Coming into this race, we had a lot of weight on our shoulders,” Harris said. “Even though Tommy had to win the race to pass us, we still needed to win some rounds. Tommy is a great competitor and anyone in Pro Nitrous can win at any time. It feels good to win a championship in Pro Nitrous because I feel like they’re the elite of drag racing.



Melanie Salemi (near lane) got the win over Kurt Steding.


Following a career-best 3.70 in the Pro Boost final round at the Fall Nationals, Melanie Salemi jokingly asked her husband and tuner, Jon, for a 3.6-second time slip. He delivered in spades, tuning Melanie and the “Purple Reign” ’68 Firebird to a string of 3.6s at the World Finals. Most notably, Salemi fired off a 3.624 at 206.20 to reset the Pro Boost ET world record in the second round, then a 3.662 at 204.66 in a decisive final-round victory over first-time finalist Kurt Steding and his 3.886 at 196.16.


“It’s really awesome to finish off the year like this,” Salemi said. “I just want to thank Jon, (brother-in-law) Jim, (stepson) Evan, the guys at the shop, (engine builder) Mike Stawicki, and everybody who has a hand in this. This win came with really good timing and it’s awesome for all of us to capture the win and the record right before winter. We have one more race in Florida, then we’re going to get super-serious on the dyno and work on our program for next year.”


Salemi qualified No. 2 with a 3.661 at 204.76, then improved to a 3.642 at 206.07 over Mike DiDomenico and the record 3.62 over Larry Higginbotham. An unopposed 3.648 at 205.07 in the semifinals gave the Buffalo, New York, resident lane choice over Steding and his P2 Racing ’16 Corvette in the final round. For his spot in the final, Steding moved past the first round on a single, won a pedalfest over Andy Jensen in the second round, and a career-best 3.743 at 197.62 to defeat 2018 world champion Tommy D’Aprile in the semifinals.


The season-long championship battle between Pro Modified veteran Tommy D’Aprile and Outlaw 10.5 star-turned-Pro Boost rookie Chuck Ulsch ended in the first round of the World Finals as Ulsch lost his match with Andy Jensen. D’Aprile and his Al Billes-led team were declared the world champions, then four pairs later recorded a 3.688 at 204.45 to move on to Monday’s quarterfinals.

Tommy D’Aprile is the Pro Boost champion.


“I still don’t believe it,” D’Aprile said. “We came into this race with the lead, but anything can happen out here. All of the weather delays made it like pulling off a Band-Aid; you just want to rip it off. We were having some issues with the car, so we were just hoping everything would work out. We just couldn’t stop crying when we knew we won it.”


D’Aprile, who competed in Pro Extreme for the last several seasons, teamed up with longtime crew chief Al Billes for a 2018 Pro Boost championship bid with a ’69 Camaro powered by a Noonan engine and supercharged by one of Billes’ roots-style blowers. The formidable duo qualified No. 1 at all but one of the seven contested races and reached the winner’s circle at the North-South Shootout, Drag Wars and the Fall Nationals two weeks ago.


Chris Powers (near lane) got the XPS win when Elijah Morton went red.


The storyline of the World Finals in Extreme Pro Stock was the possibility of the first 3-second run by a mountain motor Pro Stock car. While no one hit that mark, a few drivers came close, including event winner Chris Powers in his Liberty’s Gears ’14 Camaro. He was a part of the quickest side-by-side race in class history – identical 4.012s by Powers and Jeff Dobbins in the second round – on his way to the final round. Opponent Elijah Morton went red, but Powers was ready with a 4.032 at 178.71 to get the win.


“It’s definitely a great feeling to get things working right again after a tough year,” Powers said. “We put together a couple good runs and ran a 4.01, then just decided to keep the car somewhat tamed to try to get the win instead of going after that 3.9 run. We definitely have a car that can do it, but it’ll take good air and a good track to accomplish it. We’re just really happy to finish the year with a win; it gives us high hopes for next year.”


Powers was consistent through eliminations, recording a 4.018 over JR Carr, then a .004 holeshot advantage to move past low qualifier and ET record holder Jeff Dobbins in the 4.012 match. Another slight holeshot helped him defeat 2018 world champion Steven Boone in a 4.039-to-4.038 semifinal race. Morton ran 4.054 to beat rookie Dillon Voss before taking two single passes to the final round.

Steven Boone, Extreme Pro Stock champion.


Longtime mountain motor Pro Stock wheelman Steven Boone was officially declared the 2018 Extreme Pro Stock world champion. While 2016 world champion John Pluchino won first round and was mathematically eligible, the New York native was unable to stay for the completion of the event. Boone’s first-round winning pass of 4.063 at 179.14 in his Boone Motorsports ’07 Cobalt gave the North Carolina business owner all he needed to secure the title.


“It’s surreal,” Boone said. “We’ve never been in this position, we’re proud to be in this position, and we hope that we represent mountain motor Pro Stock to its highest level. That is our goal. This is one big family here and we’re proud to be the No. 1 representative.”


Boone’s thoughts of a championship chase started in May when he won his first PDRA 660 Man trophy at the North-South Shootout in Maryland. A second victory followed two weeks ago at Darlington, where Pluchino’s first-round exit boosted Boone’s title hopes going into the World Finals.


“We were very concentrated on this championship,” Boone said. “Instead of swinging for the fence and trying for the 3-second barrier, we were concentrated on being conservative but fast. We knew we had to go a round or two. Pluchino is a very tough customer. I have great respect for those guys.”



Ronnie Smith is the 2018 Pro Extreme Motorcycle champion.


Pro Extreme Motorcycle veteran Paul Gast made the most of his second PDRA appearance of the season, as he defeated a string of the class’s toughest riders en route to a final-round win over first-time finalist Ricardo Knights. Gast left the starting line second, but quickly made up the difference and posted a 4.011 at 170.43 on his Fast By Gast entry next to Ricardo’s 4.109 at 169.83.


“I was fortunate to have a really good bike this weekend, and I felt like I rode well and raced well,” Gast said. “Everything lined up. My crew did a great job. We had a couple silly gremlins bite us on the first two qualifiers, then we just detuned everything to make a clean run on the final qualifier. We stepped on it from there. The bike was flawless in eliminations – didn’t even have to do anything to it. Now we just might have to come out to more of these PDRA races next year.”


Gast previously raced past outgoing world champion Travis Davis with a 4.009, No. 2 qualifier Terry Schweigert with a 3.979, and championship runner-up Brunson Grothus with a 3.994. Knights had a first-round bye, then defeated Rickey Gadson and 2018 world champion Ronnie “Pro Mod” Smith.



Johnny Pluchino


Second-generation PDRA world champion Johnny Pluchino clinched the Pro Outlaw 632 title in style Sunday afternoon as he charged to a 4.204 at 169.94 on a single in the opening round of eliminations. To the thousandth of a second, the pass was exactly what Pluchino needed to back up his record run of 4.163 seconds and consequently clinch the title over defending world champion Dillon Voss.


“This championship couldn’t have come together in a better way,” Pluchino said. “What makes it special is doing this with the people I did it with: my dad and my guys. We all work so hard. We weren’t able to win a championship with the Pro Stock car, but we did it with this car. We were there all year long, and at the end of the day we’re underfunded guys who just work really hard at this and love it.”


The world championship trophy is Johnny’s latest addition to the Pluchino family trophy case, which includes John Pluchino’s 2016 Extreme Pro Stock world championship trophy. Driving Dominic Addeo’s Kaase-powered ’06 Ford Escort, Johnny qualified No. 1 at four races this season and won both GALOT events. In Extreme Pro Stock, John won the Firecracker Nationals at Virginia and was in the championship hunt until Sunday.


“To race together, win this championship and cement our name in PDRA history like this is pretty special,” Johnny said. “Now we both have one of those trophies, jackets and rings. My dad is my best friend and my idol, so it’s pretty special.”


The Pro Outlaw 632 racers decided to split the purse after Sunday eliminations were postponed to Monday.

OUTLAW 10.5: Just 16 thousandths of a second separated Outlaw 10.5 finalists Ken Quartuccio Jr. (near lane) and Tim Essick when they crossed the eighth-mile mark. Quartuccio’s Jamie Miller-tuned, turbocharged ’17 Corvette reached the finish line first with a 3.902 at 203.43, while Essick’s ProCharger-boosted ’18 Mustang followed with a 3.932 at 187.99. Quartuccio also won at Virginia Motorsports Park this summer when he debuted the car at the PDRA Firecracker Nationals.

TOP SPORTSMAN: In one of the best sportsman races of the event, season opener winner John Prime (near lane) finished off a strong weekend performance with a book-ending victory over Tim Lawrence in the final round. Prime drove his Buck-powered ’68 Camaro to a 4.065 on a 4.06 dial-in, while Lawrence’s Albert-motored ’13 Camaro broke out with a 4.037 on a 4.04 dial. To reach the final round, Prime took down Henry Underwood, No. 1 qualifier and ET record holder John Benoit and Randy Perkinson.


In Top Sportsman 32, Chesapeake’s William Brown III scored the win in an all-Virginia final round with his 4.178 on a 4.17 dial-in over Fredericksburg’s Gary Pitts and his 4.618 on a 4.60 dial-in.

TOP DRAGSTER: Chaz Silance (far lane) had already locked up the 2018 Elite Top Dragster world championship when he rolled through the water box for his final-round match with Canadian Kyle Harris, but the North Carolina hog farmer wanted to cap off his season with a win. Silance did just that, running 3.811 on a 3.81 dial-in in his supercharged Worthy dragster to Harris’s 3.774 on a 3.77 dial-in in his blown ’32 Bantam altered. Silance previously defeated Jeremy Creasman, Junior Houston and Tim Antinora on his way to his third victory on the season.


The Top Dragster 32 final came down to David Batchelor and newly crowned world champion Tom Martino, with Batchelor grabbing a slight starting line advantage and running 4.381 on a 4.37 dial-in to defeat Martino’s 4.123 on a 4.11 dial-in.


The 2019 PDRA season will kick off April 5-6 at GALOT Motorsports Park in Benson, North Carolina. 



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