When we last left off with our coverage of the NMRA’s 2016 season, the Maple Grove stop on the tour had to be postponed thanks to a visit from Mother Nature that canceled most of the elimination rounds of the event. The NMRA made the decision to pull the plug and complete the event at this past weekend’s stop in Hebron, Ohio, at National Trail Raceway. The choice to do so proved challenging for many of the series’ competitors, as the tricky track surface at National Trail was difficult to tame, costing a number of racers valuable points in their quest for competition points.
High surface temperatures during Saturday’s Ohio qualifying/Maple Grove elimination rounds made tuning calls challenging as the racers attempted to not only win the previous event but also secure optimal qualifying position for the Ohio portion of the event; it became a decision to try to achieve the lowest possible elapsed time while also ensuring a clean pass as the racers were paired with their competition from Maple Grove during the qualifying rounds. Track temperatures measuring in the 140-degree range were the harshest seen to date during the season, and as many competitors don’t typically race in these conditions, it took time for each to find their hot-weather tuneups again. Friday and Saturday were filled with passes where only one racer got down the track cleanly.
Up until this race, Street Outlaw racer Charles Hull hadn’t been in the winner’s circle yet in NMRA competition; the shutout streak came to an end in Ohio on Sunday as Hull eliminated fellow KBX Performance teammate Ronnie Diaz in the final round to take the big check back to his homebase in Georgia. The final round saw Hull earn the upper hand over Diaz in a pedalfest, as neither racer was able to show their true potential on the tricky track surface.
“We were certainly due for a win. I hated that my fiancé Heather Hornsby couldn’t attend this race. This win would not happened without the help from my son, Davey, Ben Thomas, Joel Greathouse, Justin McChesney. They are a huge part of my team,” says Hull.
Hull has been working with KBX Performance for some time now to iron out the kinks in his combination.
“We have been fighting our combo for some time now,” he says. “The engine is currently at Bennett Racing getting a freshen-up and a few changes. The chassis is at Pressurized Solutions to move the turbo location, fit a new front bumper and install a new four-core cooler. We are also swapping over to Fueltech at this time as well. I should be done, tested and ready for Joliet.”
Coyote Stock racer Drew Lyons had what most racers would consider an unforgettable weekend. Not only did he win the Maple Grove makeup race, he also managed to outlast the competition on Sunday and take home the win from the Ohio portion of the race. The best part? His parents were on-site to see him take both wins – the first time in his long NMRA career that’s happened.
Aaron Bates not only celebrated a birthday, he also took home the win in the Maple Grove final stanza of the Renegade class while qualifying at the top of the ladder for the Ohio event – the win marked his second in a row.
Bates, a relative newcomer to heads-up racing, has enlisted Mike Dezotell of Dez Racing as a crew chief, along with crew members Brian Machie, Franny McCarthy, Evan Dumas, and others to assist him in his quest to become the Renegade champion. You may remember Bates from our Georgia coverage, where he decimated the class record with his ProCharger-boosted machine.
It was a clean sweep for Dez Racing this weekend in Renegade, as Chuck Bartholme took home the prize in the Ohio portion of the event. The newly-revamped, Steve LaPointe-powered Vortech YSi-boosted Chuckwagon ran like a bracket car all weekend long. Bartholme qualified in the middle of the pack, but stepped up the program for Sunday as the weather conditions improved. After defeating Terry Reeves in the first round, the second round saw the Dez Racing camp split, with half the team helping Bates and the other half in Bartholme’s corner as Bartholme came out on top with a 7.77 to Bates’ 7.82. It was then time for Chuckie to dispatch both halves of the Clements family, as he won over Alton in the semifinal and Valerie in the final round to take his first win of the season. His elimination passes throughout the day? 7.752, 7.779, 7.773, and then 7.765 in the final. We’d say he’s got a handle on his program.
“Everything is possible for one who believes!” says Bartholme. “My team works hard, and the hard work will continue. I am blessed to have a team that believes in my ability.”
Speaking of Valerie Clements, she continues to improve her program at every event; all weekend long she was turning in personal-best passes on her way to the final round against Bartholme. There, her luck turned south, as a mechanical failure in the S197’s suspension cost her any chance at winning the race despite having the quickest car on the property on elimination day. Once she got the car home, the team determined that the anti-roll bar mounting bracket failed along with a wishbone-style device the car relies on to keep the rearend straight in the car going down the track. Her 7.65 pass on Sunday stands as the quickest run of the weekend by any competitor.
Although the 2016 season is Vinny Palazzolo’s first foray into NMRA competition, he’s worked tirelessly over the last few years to iron out his 400 cubic-inch turbocharged Mustang in the X275 class at his local tracks. The shop owner has a power package from Bennett Racing, Pressurized Solutions, and Pro Torque converters to go along with tuning assistance from KBX, who helps Palazzolo work out the details in his Haltech engine management system to make solid power.
“We had a great showing in Ohio,” says Palazzolo. “We won the Maple Grove event over Joel Greathouse and qualified number one for the Ohio race. We’re lucky to work with a lot of great companies who support our efforts, and with their help are currently leading the Street Outlaw points chase with two races left.”
Crew members John Keesey (an accomplished Ultra Street racer himself) and Bob Wineburg assisted in the win, thrashing on the car whenever necessary, while Palazzolo’s wife Bridget – usually in attendance and working just as hard as everyone else – was at home with the kids.
On the left is the face of discontent, as Bart Tobener spent most of Saturday looking for a new axle. On the right? The axle that twisted the splines off and cost him a long drive from Georgia. These are the challenges of building a brand-new car – Tobener didn’t have any issues with this axle in Maple Grove, but Ohio was another story. He realized the length was incorrect after the axle ate itself on the starting line, and the axle wasn’t engaging into the spool properly.
After losing an ignition box at the Maple Grove event, Louie Sylvester, Jr. made the switch to MSD’s Power Grid system, which offers the team many advantages when it comes to tuning. The flip side of the equation is that it offers many tuning challenges while trying to get all of the settings correct in a class like Factory Stock. He and his father struggled all weekend long to get the consistency back in the car, but feel confident once they iron out the bugs, it will be worth the switch.
Factory Stock racer Michael Washington had quite the rough weekend; he not only lost a driveshaft due to tire shake, it took out the driveshaft loop on the way out. Later, he realized that the brakes on his tow rig weren’t up to par, so he spent a few hours in the stifling heat Saturday afternoon to swap on new rotors and calipers. But it didn’t end there – during Saturday’s final qualifying round, his carbon-fiber hood decided to exit stage right at the 1200-foot mark (see it happen here) and he didn’t miss a beat. Washington later taped the hood back on with 200-mph racer’s tape and went all the way to the semifinals on Sunday, where he lost to James Meredith.
It was nice to see the familiar face of longtime Renegade racer Bob Cook this weekend. He endured some struggles when he had a supercharger failure during qualifying and was unable to secure the correct parts to get the car back together in time to make eliminations. He vowed to be back for the next race at Route 66 Raceway in his home state of Illinois.
The “Pure Street Perseverance Award” goes to Mike Gucciardo. Over the last couple of years, Goose has endured a number of setbacks in his program, but always comes back to it, trying to make it work and get the car back out to the track. Although he’s a bit off the pace currently, he vowed to head home and get back to work on the car. His never-say-die attitude is incredibly refreshing to witness, and we wish him all the luck in the world in his bid to compete against the tough racers in the 9,500 rpm-plus Pure Street class. The competition includes the likes of former champions Teddy Weaver and Jimmy Wilson; not to mention, it’s extremely expensive and challenging to keep a small-block alive at this level. Goose says he’s up to the task.
Sondra Leslie battled problems all weekend long in her Factory Stocker. The car fried the PCM, which needed to be rebuilt (a job handled expertly by Frank Hoffman of the NMRA’s Tech Department), had the fan go bad, and generally gave her and brother John fits between rounds. They finally sorted out the issue; Sondra won her first-round matchup with Louie Sylvester, but went down to Dan Ryntz in the quarterfinal round. Here she and brother John Leslie, Jr. work to diagnose the fan issue.
A setup like this is what it takes to be dead-on in the NMRA’s Open Comp class. In fact, it belongs to none other than Mr. Open Comp, Larry Geddes. The simple setup helps him to compile all of the information he needs to dial in his small-block Fox Mustang – a logbook, weather station, Kestrel mind meter, and radio. Geddes went all the way to the semifinals in Ohio before losing to fellow Open Comp stalwart Wes Dalrymple.
James Meredith has had a dominating season in 2016 in the Factory Stock class – the Texas racer has simply crushed the competition at every turn. Not only did he win the makeup Maple Grove event on Saturday, he doubled-up by taking out Dan Ryntz in the final round of the Ohio event on Sunday. With two events left, is it possible he pulls off an undefeated season? So far, nobody has been able to knock him off his perch.
“We’ve been very fortunate to get so many wins this year. We have qualified well, but haven’t always had the quickest pass of the weekend in eliminations or cut the best lights. However when it comes down to eliminations, we’ve found a way to win,” says Meredith.
Mike Murillo made the long tow from Texas with his team to participate in the NMRA’s Grudge Night, which took place on Saturday after qualifying was complete. The sometime TV star and longtime Ford ambassador spent time in the pits signing autographs, and on the track, he took the newly-rebuilt Lafawnduh 2.0 down the track to iron out some of the new car bugs. The chassis, recently on the rack at none other than DMC Racing in Massachusetts, took a few hits to figure out, but by the end of the weekend Murillo had the twin-turbos singing at max volume.
You may remember some of the drama we spoke about in our recent article on the NMRA’s Coyote Stock class with regards to transmission life in the hard-fought eliminator. In Ohio, three racers experienced a failure during one qualifying round, among them Carlos Sobrino. We had an animated discussion with Sobrino in the pits later that day, where he told us he managed to secure a spare transmission from Factory Stock racer Dan Ryntz to finish out the weekend – and was lucky to do so. The final tally over the course of the weekend was seven broken transmissions split up between the competitors.
Sobrino says he had a long talk with the NMRA’s Technical Department about allowing a real race-style transmission, something many of the racers have been asking for over the last few years. We’re hoping to see that happen, if only to help attract more racers to the class.
To add insult to injury, not only did Sobrino’s truck overheat on the way to the track, he lost in competition due to the failure of a 25-cent fuse. Not the way anyone wants to lose a race.
Tommy Annunziata (in shorts) is a Ford drag racer who was around during the birth of the Fox Mustang movement in the 90s – and so was Pro 5.0 legend Jimmy LaRocca (on left). Today, the pair have teamed up to play in the NMRA’s Coyote Modified class with Annunziata’s 2014 Cobra Jet Mustang. So far the team has had a steep learning curve, but with LaRocca pulling tuning duties, they made it all the way to the final round in Ohio, where they went down to Joe Guertin. After a timing system malfunction invalidated the first matchup between the pair, Annunziata felt his engine was hurt and didn’t show up for the re-run, sending Guertin to an uncontested win.
On Saturday, Jeff Polivka took out Guertin during the Maple Grove makeup event, earning himself a nice birthday present in the form of a hefty check from the NMRA. Polivka’s luck didn’t hold out on Sunday, though, as he struggled to get down the track in his semifinal matchup with Annunziata, going down when he had to pedal the car.
We’ll close out our coverage of the NMRA Super Nationals with this shot of little Manny Buginga working on Dad’s Street Outlaw machine. It seems they have another car sitting at home in the garage – the old Sorby Brothers nitrous machine – waiting for Manny to grow up and take his rightful place behind the wheel. Mom says he can’t get enough of this stuff, and from our short time hanging out in the Buginga pits on Sunday, we have to agree. Manny was all over the place, wanting to lend a hand wherever necessary. It’s good to to teach ’em young.