race reports

Nitro Summer Nationals at Spokane, Washington


Giving It All They Had...


Words and photos by Brian Losness

Mendy Fry (far lane) got the Top Fuel win over Bret Williamson.


There is a great deal of speculation and conjecture on the fate of Spokane County Raceway. Rumors are abundant about its demise. Even the track announcer made the comment, “We don’t know what’s going to happen with Spokane County Raceway, so tonight we are going to have a damn good time.”


This was vibe of the entire event on Aug. 16-18, with both the fans and the racers. As one fan said, “They ain’t gonna close this b!*ch tonight, so let’s watch some nitro cars and drink some beer!”


The joint was full, as were the pits. The professional racers loved the fact it was a two-day race, as many of them prefer, however they had wished that management would have scheduled two qualifying sessions on Friday, and then one qualifying on Saturday afternoon with eliminations on Saturday evening. With only one session on Friday evening, this meant that nitro teams that would make it to the finals would have to make five hits on one day. For a fuel car team, running that many hits is a great deal of work and takes a great number of resources. The human toll is the fact that many of the crew members on these teams are north of AARP age, and the racing can be very taxing on them as well. There was a great deal of “mind over matter” going on in the late rounds.


Putting even more pressure on the parts and crews, many of the teams had run just a week before at the Nightfire National in Boise, Idaho. Nevertheless, the fans were treated to some excellent and exciting racing.


Top Fuel Qualifying

On Friday evening six cars made the only session. Leading the pack was the Nitro Cougar Mendy Fry in Tom Shelar’s High Speed Motorsports dragster. Once again Fry drove the car to about 1,000 feet shut it off and recorded a track record 5.68 at 216.50 mph.

In the second slot was a pleasant surprise: Pete Wittenburg with a 5.81 at 213.87.


Number three was the boy in the ketchup bottle, Adam Sorokin, with a half-track 6.11/187.03. Rounding out the top six was Jim Murphy whose troubles continued with a disappointing 15.34/57.71


Saturday’s first session Q2 overall saw the High Speed team sit this session out, however, Wittenburg put up a very strong 5.70/245.90 which had to get the High Speed team’s attention. Tyler Hilton’s car finally threw him a bone with a 6.05/237.13. That moved Sorokin to fourth and left Murphy in the final position.


The final session saw Bret Williamson in Mike Fuller’s “Forever Young” step up to a 5.91/206.05 and claim the number three spot. Jim Murphy’s Q3 lap finally got him off the snide with a shake and a pedal 6.14/212.91.

Pete Ruskowski was the final qualifier at 7.14/176.60.



Fry would get the first-round bye and would only put up a 7.21/117.66 to move to round two. The next pair was Sorokin and Hilton. This was going to be a pick’em deal.

Sorokin (near lane) was his usual clairvoyant self and was .033 on the tree, and he needed every bit of it as the Champion Speed Shop digger could only manage a 6.00 at 196.80. In the other lane, for some reason Hilton took a serious nap on the starting line being .257 on the tree, however the yellow big block had some serious Allison Lee influence and got the run they were looking for, 5.93 at 244.96 booming miles per hour. This was almost another replay of Bowling Green.


Wittenburg and Ruskowski would do battle of the blue cars, with Ruskowski taking with ugly win 7.19/122.41 to 7.26/191.73 as Wittenburg took out the 660 blocks and crossed the center line.

The final match up of the round pitted Williamson and Murphy. Murphy needed to find a four-leaf clover or kiss a leprechaun or something as his luck the last two weeks has been just awful. Murphy got out first and never saw Williamson, then at about 1,000 feet the engine started to smoke and spew stuff out of the number-six cylinder. Williamson was about one or two car lengths behind Murphy, and Murphy made the decision to shut the car off and not encounter more engine issues. This was the opening Williamson need and he capitalized on it and went booming around the “WWII” dragster in the lights to take the win, 5.94/241.02 to cover Murphy’s 6.00/203.35.


“I’m disappointed in myself,” said Murphy. “That was ours and I gave it back. I feel bad for my guys.”


The semifinals were both won on the starting line. The first pair was Fry and Sorokin. Sorokin took two chunks of the starting line and at the hit it was one too many, as he was .067 red and Fry sailed unopposed to the win. However, Fry was very vulnerable as she had to really drive the car in the big end and nearly collected the wall twice -- but did not and took the win.

The other semifinal was once again won on the starting line, but in reverse of the first semi. Williamson was a consistent .123 on the tree while in the other lane Ruskowski was straight up late -- .419 on the tree is not going to win too many drag races. Williamson was also vulnerable with a 6.36/158.36 to cover Rushowski’s 7.23/167.34.


As the clock stuck midnight, it was time for the finals. This was going to be a David vs. Goliath match up. The “Forever Young” team was scratching and clawing to get victories. And Fry, outside of the semi’s, was not even really matched. The intangible was the fact that both drivers were in finals the weekend before in Boise, Mendy in Top Fuel and Williamson in Pro Mod. There was some sentiment wishing for Williamson to score the win. If they raced washing machines Bret Williamson could drive the hell out of it.


At the green it was close and it was close to about 100 feet, then the Tom Shelar tune-up came in in spades and Fry simply drove away from Williamson, 5.79/241.87 to cover Williamson’s shut off 6.37/172.14.

Tom Shelar with driver Mendy Fry celebrate the win that gives Fry a five-round lead with six rounds of racing left for the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Championship.


Funny Cars

With ten floppers on the grounds it meant that two team were going to be disappointed after Saturday afternoon.

Ryan Hodgson


After the first session it was evident that the Spokane race was going to be a war. In the number-one spot was Nightfire Nationals runner up Dan Horan at 5.75/232.55. Right behind him was Nightfire winner Jeff Arend at 5.77/251.74. Bobby Cottrell in Uncle Bucky Austin’s ride was third at 5.78/237.46 and Ryan Hodgson was fourth at 5.81/251.46. Rounding out the field was Billy Morris in “Problem Child” at 6.44/202.11.


In Q2, session one on Saturday, crew chief Ron Swearingen tuned up Arend’s mount and got him three thousandths inside of Horan at 5.755/252.52 for the lead in the club house. Horan was second while Cottrell stepped up to a 5.77/252.66 but was still third.

Tim Boychuk moved into fourth at 5.79/249.79.


Nathan Sitko in the “Arctic Traveller” rounded out the field at 6.00/236.77.


Q3 session two on Saturday is where it got really interesting. The first pair of cars out were the two cars that were on the outside looking in: Bill Windham and Billy Morris. At the green both cars did not sound sharp and at just past half track Windham’s car started to pitch some parts out of it, followed by an oil smoke cloud. Then the weird part happened.

Not long after, Morris suffered a catastrophic blower explosion that sent the one-time Jason Rupert car body into the approach pattern for Fairchild Air Force base, which is right next to the race track. The black and white Camaro went as high as the scoreboard, and then took a nosedive and crashed back to earth.


Meanwhile parts from Windham’s car started a small grass fire on the hill next to the spectator seating. That was quickly managed, with no real damage.

After that it was a tame session and nobody really stepped up. So, the first round match ups would be Arend and Sitko; Horan and “Hollywood” Kris Krabill who ran a nice 5.97; Krabill’s father-in-law, Mike Peck in his new “The Instigator” ride facing Hollywood’s old ride in Bobby Cottrell; and a duel of Canadians and former business partners in Tim Boychuk and Ryan Hodgson driving dad Ron’s car.


In the first pair Krabill (far lane) took an early lead with a .052 light with Horan nearly a tenth behind at .147. However, by half track that advantage was gone and Horan streaked to a 5.73/257.06 to 6.21/178.02 win.

Next would be Cottrell and Peck. Cottrell (near lane) moved first and was never headed as he took care of the Washington business owner, 5.81/246.98 to a close 5.84/242.32.

Then it would be Arend and Sitko. On paper Arend (near lane) had two tenths on the Canadian, but we don’t race on paper. Sitko moved first on his Canadian countryman, and Arend was in trouble for a second, but the Swearingen tune-up came to bear, and Arend took the win 5.78/246.60 to Sitko’s massively improved 5.84/243.83.


The final pair drew another pair of Canadians: Boychuk and Hodgson. Hodgson was first out of the gate and that was gonna be all she wrote as he parlayed that advantage to take a 5.81/246.17 to 6.02/200.66 upset victory.


In the semi, the starting line would once again be Horan’s Achille’s heel. His .194 reaction time was covered up by Cottrell’s .029. Horan ran 5.71/258.17 and would not be close to Cottrell’s 5.78/248.48 winning effort.


In the other semi Arend was .026 and Hodgson .067 at the tree. Arend would go on to run a 5.73/251.67 to cover the Pacemaker’s 5.75/254.52.

The final would be a barn-burner. Cottrell was up on the wheel and took a slight starting line advantage and would hang on to that for the holeshot victory of 5.81 at 252.95 to cover a quicker 5.78/250.28 for Arend.


Arend still holds the points lead going into the Nostalgia Nitro Nationals scheduled for Sept. 20-21 at Tulsa. 



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