VOLUME XXI, NUMBER 3 - MARCH, 2019
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ET DRAG RACING
The Legend Continues as Records Fall
Words and photos by Tom McCarthy
Drag racing legend has it that in the year 2018 Donald “Duck” Long, as a racing promoter, offered up $101,000 of his cash to the best Radial vs The World cars to go drag racing and the winner would take it all. It was a guaranteed purse, so racers didn’t need to worry about reduced fields or a cut purse – not at a Donald Long race - plus to keep things crystal clear, Duck put all one hundred and one thousand dollars into a see-through briefcase. The presentation was stunning – stacks of Benjamins, enough to make even Walter White of “Breaking Bad” salivate.
If you believe in the axiom, “If you build it, they will come” then you are in league with Donald Long’s train of thought: build the event with the biggest cash payout in door-car racing, make it legendary status, and the racers will come. Never mind the $2,000 entry fee and the fact that the only racer to get paid will be the winner; if you use enough bait and a big sharp hook, don’t be surprised when Jaws shows up. This is how the legend of Sweet 16 began.
In the first year of the Sweet 16 Long attracted 34 of the world’s quickest and baddest Radial vs the World cars to duke it out for the CASH prize of $101,000. The event took place at South Georgia Motorsport Park, the weekend of March 23-24, 2018. One year later, it’s time for Sweet 16, in the 2.0 edition. As one year ago, everyone in door-car drag racing is buzzing about the event. The 2019 version was bigger and badder than last year’s as Duck tends to strive to out-do his bad self, year after year.
Mike Stavrinos got Justin Swanstrom’s car up on the tires.
Last year’s event was all about the Radial vs the World cars and the $101,000 of stacked Benjamins. The event was an unabashed knock-down, drag out brawl to make the 16-car qualified field of radial tire cars. The fastest and quickest on the planet turned out to be #1 qualifier Mark Micke, of Jefferson City, MO, with his, blue, 1978 Chevy Malibu. He posted a blistering 3.623 at 221 MPH in the eighth mile to lead the pack. Number two qualifier was radial tire heavyweight Daniel Pharris with a 3.642, right on his tail. The spread to the bump spot for the field last year was the 3.62 elapsed time of Micke to the 3.76 of Ty Tutterow of Louisville, KY. That low qualifier 3.62 of Micke’s last year would have been good for the number four spot on the ladder in 2019. And the 3.768 that made the bump spot in 2018, well in 2019, that number would have landed Mr. Tutterow in the #27 spot, well outside the Sweet 16 field.
The performance gains in one year for RvW had all the insiders guessing and predicting big things for 2019. Some of the predictions for this event prior to anyone sending a car down the 660 feet of SGMP were as follows: Mark Micke predicted a low qualifier to be 3.56 and the bump would be a 3.71. Kevin Rivenbark called for a LQ-3.58 and the bump to be a 3.71. Tim Slavens: LQ to be 3.572 and the bump a 3.698. Veteran journalist Damon Stineke, who has been to every Donald Long event since 2010: “I’m telling you it will be close to a 3.573 for the low qualifier with a 3.672 bump spot.”
It’s important to note here that while the RvW cars have had the power for some time, prior to Sweet 16, 2.0, no RvW car had run in the 3.50’s. Yet the pundits all agreed that the magic 3.50 Elapsed Time mark would be broken at this event. They were correct.
Daniel Pharris set the record for RvW cars at 3.578.
Cool dry air presented itself for the event, yielding the magic mine-shaft conditions with the track being rated at times close to 700 feet below sea level. Now add to this a Wade Rich-prepared race track surface and conditions were right for big performance gains. The results were the low qualifier for the second edition of Sweet 16 was 3.578 @ 214 MPH by Daniel Pharris of Sikeston, MO, who now holds the new world record for RvW cars.
History was made on Thursday night during Q-4, when Kevin Rivenbark, of Clinton, NC, brought the RvW class faithful to their feet with a stunning 3.587 pass and in doing so brought the RvW world into the 3.50’s as many predicted would happen at this event. Pharris lowered the boom on this the next day, but first into the 50’s was Kevin Rivenbark and his team led by crew chief, Steve Petty.
The 16-slot qualified field developed with a 3.694 bump spot held by Tom Blincoe, of Bardstown, KY. With 47 RvW cars entered in the event making passes, this left 31 cars, which Duck formed into a 32-car ladder to create an impromptu “Second Chance” RvW class, so the racers outside the Sweet 16 ladder were not empty handed on race day.
New to the Sweet 16 for the 2019 edition was the addition of the competition class of X-275, arguably the most popular door-car drag racing class in radial tire drag racing realm. So popular in fact that with a $500 entry fee and $50,000 on the table, over 130 cars were pre-entered for the event. Eighty-two of them actually made passes in competition. Some of the racers were just honored to be a part of the action, some were a no-show, and others were rabid for a shot at 50 large.
Fun, pre-race predictions were made by Charles Hull, looking for a 4.28 LQ and a 4.421 bump. Eric Moore foresaw a 4.29 with a 4.40 bump. Jason Sabo of Andrew DeMarco Racing predicted a “high 20 for the LQ spot and a 4.48 bump.” And the bold Rich Bruder of Edison, NJ, said, “You’ll see a 4.24 low qualifier number and 4.37 bump. And I’m going to run that number.” Mr. Bruder was mighty close and he was not exaggerating.
The low qualifier was actually Rob Goss of Sheridan, WY, posting a 4.237 at 169 MPH for the X-275 cars and setting a new world record for the class in the process.
Bruder was right on that number with a 4.268/163.29, just a gnat’s hair off his prediction. The bump spot developed into a 4.30, run by Kenny Hubbard of Montgomery, TX. That bump spot of 4.30 was quicker than the low qualifier of the recently held “Lights Out-X” event, which had a 4.349 for low qualifier in X-275. The baddest of the bad in X-275 radial tire racing and showed up for this event and they were all in it to win it.
The format for the race was simple enough, the RvW cars were the big dogs and there were 47 entries ready to race. The X-275 cars held 82 racers ready to rock, so Duck divided the X-275 cars into two equally numbered Red and Blue qualifying sessions of 41 cars each. Red would start off the qualifying sessions, then run the RvW cars, followed by the Blue X-275 cars. Repeat as needed for two days of qualifying on Thursday, March 21, and Friday the 22nd. When the smoke cleared after close to nine qualifying sessions, the radial tire record in both classes lay in tatters and $151,000 in cash was lying in wait to be handed off to two very talented and lucky racers at the end of the race.
Marcus Birt supplied some mid-track fireworks on Friday evening.
While Jamie Hancock gives us a little nitrous glow.
The Sweet 16 2.0 racers who battled it out in Radial vs the World were led by Daniel Pharris (3.578), Kevin Rivenbark (3.582), Marcus Birt (3.604), Jeff Sitton (3.624), Steve Jackson (3.630), Mark Micke (3.633), Mike Decker III (3.637) Alex Laughlin (3.657), Paolo Giust (3.662), Ken Quartuccio (3.664), Mike Stavrinos (3.684), Jamie Hancock (3.685), Norman Bryson (3.688), Brad Edwards (3.691), Marty Stinnett (3.694) and Tom Blincoe with a 3.694 anchoring the qualified field.
For the X-275 racers who made the cut, the prestigious field of 16 racers was led by Rob Goss with his record setting 4.237 elapsed time. He was followed by Rich Bruder (4.268), Manny Buginga (4.270), Dean Marinis (4.270), Brian Brooks (4.286), Ryan Milliken (4.289), Greg Henschell (4.30), Gary White (4.307), Shawn Ayers (4.311), James Lawrence (4.317), Shane Fisher (4.321), Vinnie Palazzolo, (4.325), Craig Walls (4.331), Andrew DeMarco, (4.336), Clint Downs (4.339) and Kenny Hubbard (4.340).
Gary Kent, 46, of Panama City, FL, is a radial tire racing fan. He lost everything during Hurricane Michael, but nothing could stop his love of racing. The custom prosthetic addition is by Troy Ballsters Fabrication, who donated the connecting rod and piston from his race car to this creation.
Because there were so many X-275 cars entered to run with all of them trying to earn a slot in a 16-car elite field, no matter what, 67 cars would be out of the race after qualifying. So, Duck decreed that a Second Chance race would be run, based on a 64-car ladder. Parts breakage and attrition would round things out and such was the case.
A round of X-275 racing kicked things off on Saturday and then the RvW cars roared to life. The action was fast paced and moved like a swift river after a heavy rain storm. There was no rest for the wicked; it was make the lane calls or competition solos were handed out.
Norman Bryson (near lane) took a round win over Stevie “Fast” Jackson and ended up runner-up in the RvW final.
As the rounds whittled down in both classes, the basic math of 16 becomes eight, becomes four and then final round racing happening in the waning afternoon hours. Duck’s events are not for the faint of heart; they are fast paced and prompt. When Brian Lohnes or Lee Sebring get on the PA system and tell the racers to “Bring em up, bring em up, bring em up” that’s not a request. When Duck says X round of racing will happen at X-O’clock, that’s exactly what’s going to happen, either show up or pack up and go home.
In the final round, of RvW, Kevin Rivenbark matched up with Norman Bryson for the very big pay day. Rivenbark was first off the line with a .048 RT to Bryson’s .066 and while Bryson got out of the grove and had to lift to avoid the centerline, Kevin Rivenbark thundered on to win and collect $101,000 of Duck’s money.
In the RvW second chance race, Steven Fereday won over Mark Woodruff, with a 3.74 elapsed time to Woodruff’s 4.31 effort.
During the final round match-up, Bruder delivered a new X-275 world record performance of 4.235 seconds to defeat Craig Walls, who posted a very strong 4.358 elapsed time, good for the R/U spot. Bruder proudly wore the crown and accepted $50K.
In the final race of the day, which had to be decided by running through a full 64-car ladder, the final round match-up of Shane Heckel (shown) and Eric Moore was a great one! Moore left the line first with a .014 RT and Heckel responded with a .022 RT to give chase. Heckel caught and passed Moore at the last possible moment to win the drag race, 4.345 to 4.383 -- MOV was by .030 of a second for Heckel.
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