ET Dragracing

JEGS SPORTSnationals at Columbus, Ohio

And a Copper Wally!

Words and photos by Pat Donahue

Danny Nelson (near lane_ took the Top Dragster win over Dave Maggard).


The JEGS NHRA SPORTSnationals returned to National Trail Raceway near Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 20-22, 2019, where it had run from 2005 to 2015. The event has a history of drawing the best in sportsman racing from across the country and this year would be no different. The national NHRA event gave racers in nine sportsman classes the chance to compete for points, money, a special copper Wally, and a chance at JEGS Crown. The three-day event featured free pizza and a movie on a big screen on Friday. Saturday’s action featured special shootout races in a number of classes and Sunday got down to racers fighting their way through the fields of eager racers trying to add points to their division and national chases as well as take home the prizes unique to the JEGS SPORTSnationals.

In Super Street, Jim Unum was the #1 qualifier in the 10.90 class and Jim drove his '69 Firebird right on that 10.90 in four of his six rounds including the finals against Gary Horstmann in his '61 Falcon who ran a little too quick. It was the first national event win for Unum.

Scott Daffenbaugh drove his '66 Nova to the final round of Super Gas, with the help of a perfect light in round 2 against local favorite Steve Eckard, and a perfect 9.900 in the quarter finals against Jeremy Mason. He was paired up with former World Champion Jacob Elrod (far lane) in the finals. Elrod had an .020 reaction time which Scott met with an .019. Daffenbaugh ran an 9.91 @ 144.33 while Elrod broke out with a 9.894@ 144.60 to claim his third Wally of the year but his first national event -- and this one’s copper!

The Super Comp final saw Rick Pistole of Columbus face off against Ed Jirousek of Elyria, OH. Both racers had posted 8.90s in the previous two rounds but in the race for the title Pistole quickened to an 8.897 to Jirousek's 8.905 giving Ed the win and his first national title.

Having worked their way through a 94 car Stock Eliminator field, In the final round, Bill Sempsrott (near lane) had a 2-second head start, leaving Jeff Taylor to run him down in his 2015 COPO Camaro. The four-time World Champ did just that running 9.709 on his 9.64 dial in, while Sempsrott ran 11.761 on his 11.75, to take his 3rd JEGS SPORTSnationals title at National Trail Raceway.


The Super Stock final round pitted Matt Morris in his '02 Cavalier against Dan Steed in his '66 Nova. Dan has been racing the Nova since 1973 when he acquired it from his friend John Mayberry who ordered the car new with one purpose in mind and it has been a race car ever since. The car has about 15 street miles on it, but quite a few laps a quarter mile at a time. Steed used a third-round red light by his opponent to help see what his car was capable of and said he learned a little that helped him go on to knock off Ricky Decker and Jeff Dona on the way to the final.

In the final round Morris had to give the head start to Steed where he ran a 10.52 on a 10.52, and while trying to run him down Matt ran 9.899 on his 9.92 dial giving Steed his first national event win. After the race Steed confessed that he didn't think he would be 71 when he got his first national title but has been enjoying a successful year and is ready for some more of them.

The Sportsman Bike class came down to an '03 Suzuki ridden by Dave Gautreaux of River Ridge, LA (far lane) against #1 qualifier Michael Nash from Texarkana, TX, on his 2012 Hayabusa. Gautreaux would get the head start and run 9.09 on the 9.00 dial-in but Nash would run him down and take the win running 8.07 on his 8.03 dial.

Brian Browell was the Competition Eliminator #1 qualifier and got the head start in the finals against Terry Smith in the Horserpower Sales dragster but he wouldn't keep it. Smith, who had been the runner-up in the JEGS SPORTSnationals twice, ran him down to take the win and the copper Wally in the 2019 Comp class. Browell ran 7.211 on his 7.77 dial @ 174 mph while Smith dialed in at 7.07 and ran 6.461 @ 197.59.

What better way to show off your race car building talent than putting yours in the winner’s circle. That’s exactly what Danny Nelson did at the JEGS SPORTSnationals after driving his way through the Top Dragster field to face Dave Maggard in the finals. Nelson used a .001 light to get the jump and followed with a 6.13 on a 6.10 dial at 215 mph. Maggard ran 6.715 on a 6.70 dial but his .028 light wouldn't be good enough in this round as Nelson took the win. At 63 Danny looks at the possibility of capturing his first Top Dragster National Championship if he can keep on his winning ways.

Sandy Wilkins and Scott Wasko (near lane) met up in the final round of Top Sportsman to close out the JEGS SPORTSnationals. Wilkins qualified his '69 Camaro in the top half of the field in 13th spot, while two days of qualifying gremlins left Wasko outside the 32-car field. However, two of those 32 cars couldn't make the call on Sunday after they ran out of track during qualifying and gave Scott his shot from the bottom of the field. Wasko fought his way through the field with good lights and consistent runs and in the final round against Wilkins it would be the .010 light that made the difference, running 6.631 on a 6.60 dial @ 203.19 to Sandy’s .037 on the tree dialed in at 6.66 and ran 6.668 at 206.20 but the win went to Wasko.

Like two other Top Sportsman competitors earlier in the weekend, he ran out of track, but the National Trail Raceway beach did minor damage and all were smiles at the other end of the track in the winner’s circle event with the nose off the car. Scott had a similar weekend earlier in the year winning the Division 3 race at NTR.

A few others recognized for their efforts just getting on the track with The John Holt Race Cars team taking home the honors of Best Engineered Car with their Comp Eliminator entry powered by a Turbo 4 cylinder Honda. Jeff Kovalik prepared well for his first national event with his Stock Eliminator '70 Challenger RT taking home the Best Appearing Car honors. And the Best Appearing Crew award went to Top Dragsters Bryan Kellar Crew.

The trophy everyone wanted to get their hands on this weekend was the JEGS Crown. But that’s hard to do and even harder to take home. These drivers got Their hands on it but the only way to claim it is to double up. Only the winners from last year’s race at Bowling Green had a shot this year. These guys will be on the short list with a shot at next year’s race. In the past only one driver has won one of these and that is Mike Ashley who claimed it in 2005 by winning two legs of the event. This year’s champions and next year’s crown hopefuls are: (L to R kneeling) Jim Unum, Super Street; Ed Jirousek, Super Comp; (standing) Danny Nelson, Top Dragster; Scott Wasko, Top Sportsman; Turbo Terry Smith, Comp Eliminator; Dan Steed, Super Stock; Jeff Taylor, Stock; Scott Deffenbaugh, Super Gas; and Michael Nash, Sportsman Bike. 



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