Photos: E3Xtreme Motorsports Media
The late-winter pilgrimage by racers to the Lights Out event held at South Georgia Motorsports Park has become an annual ritual for drag radial racers from all over the globe. What started as a gathering of racers who felt slighted by the big-tire Outlaw 10.5 machines and other slick-tire drag racers nearly a decade ago has become a can’t-miss spectacle, with hundreds of racers from all over the world pulling out all the stops to get their cars complete in time to race for the big-money purses put together by Donald Long and his Duck X Productions team.
Tony Alm took most of last year off after experiencing a number of transmission issues that he fought through, which were finally corrected by Jason Gatlin of ATF Speed. But a decision to have Tim Eichhorn of MPR Engines build him a 400 cubic-inch engine has paid off in spades. He switched to a setup to use alcohol fueling and immediately launched the car into the 4.80s in Ultra Street trim, which put him into the winner’s circle at the recent US Nationals. Lights Out 8, in comparison to the last year, was something of a cakewalk for the Florida resident.
“We got the car straightened out, it just took some time. I ran on the new Mickey Thompson tire; we changed the oil once, changed the spark plugs once, and waxed it in between rounds. The car ran money all weekend – within three numbers. We couldn’t have had a better weekend, the car was just dialed in,” says Alm.
Although he was on the bump spot in RvW and didn’t make it past the first round, simply making the field is an incredible accomplishment for Carl Brunet and the Napierville Dragway team. The four-cylinder EcoTec-powered Pontiac GXP runs in the low 4-second zone on big tires, and this was Brunet’s first time on the 315 radial tire. He acquitted himself well, qualifying with a 4.22 at 175 mph before falling to Steve Jackson in round one. The 132 cubic-inch engine gives up 828 cubic inches – or the equivalent of six-and-a-quarter complete EcoTec engines – to the largest engine in the RvW class.
If you’re at all active on social media, you may have seen posts regarding the cars of the Street Outlaws TV series and their racing skills, or lack thereof, according to one subset of the racing community. There is a vocal minority that thinks all of the TV races are scripted and the racers only do well because of that – but as they showed at Lights Out 8, that’s not the case at all.
“Daddy” Dave Comstock paced the Outlaw Drag Radial field during the qualifying sessions, qualifying at the top of the list against strong competition like Nick Yarber, Jason Rueckert and Justin Swanstrom. He had one of the cars to beat, but a tough -.004 redlight in the second round cost him any chance at winning out.
Meanwhile, Kye Kelley drove The Shocker to the 29th qualified spot in RvW with a strong 4.14 ET. Unfortunately Keith Haney was his first round opponent, which ended The Shocker’s weekend quickly as Haney powered to a strong 3.92 against Kelley’s shutdown 5.17 blast.
Back in January, Ziff Hudson came oh-so-close to becoming the first racer to dip into the 3-second zone on a 275-wide radial; just .007-second separated him from his goal – and then the car pushed out a head gasket just before the speed clocks in testing at Orlando Speed World Dragway. In the process, the car caught fire, leaving Hudson and his crew to drag the car all the way to Racecraft, Inc. in Minnesota to be repaired. They thrashed for a month solid to get it ready for Lights Out 8, where he was able to qualify in the fourth spot in Pro 275 with a 4.17 blast. He won over Robert Tighe in round one with a 4.26, but once round two rolled around his luck had run out.
Another racer checking out the 315s for the first time is longtime Drag Week competitor Tom Bailey. Tapped by chassis builder Keith “Skinny Kid” Engling to drive the legendary SKRC-built blown Olds, Bailey had his hands full right from the start. They never did get the car lined out enough to run anywhere near its capabilities, finishing just outside the bump in the number 35 spot with a 4.32 best elapsed time.
“The weekend should have been better, but we spent two days trying to make a converter that was too tight work. Once we changed that it came around but with the final qualifier cancelled it put an early close to our weekend,” says Bailey.
Chris Matters has been in the process of building this beautiful Saleen for years, and it finally made its competition debut this weekend with none other than Kevin Fiscus behind the wheel in the X275 class. Not only did Fiscus qualify the car with a 4.51 at over 161 mph, the car also became the quickest-ever Modular-powered car in X275 in the process. In the first round, Fiscus faced off against Ryan Hecox, and came out on the losing end of a pedalfest. With only six passes total on this car, it’s only a matter of time before the Matters machine really matters in the X275 wars.
Drama surrounded Steve Jackson all weekend. After rolling out this brand-new car, titled Shadow 2.0, Jackson proceeded to run the quickest-ever pass on the 315 radial, a 3.737 at 199.82 mph. During eliminations, the car got out of shape when the parachutes didn’t deploy; Jackson tagged the wall and damaged the front end of the car. Jackson has stated on his Facebook page that someone bent the chute cable end, which prevented the chutes from releasing when he pulled the lever. The body was subsequently repaired with 200 mph racers tape so Jackson could get back into the action, where he met up with Woodruff in the semifinals. There, the car got out of shape, forcing Jackson to pull the plug on the weekend.
During eliminations, X275 became the Dean Marinis show. Marinis, who is always within striking distance in this class, qualified third with a 4.39 – just .001 out of the top spot – and then proceeded to run through the class like a hot knife through butter. Scott Carter, Eddie Krawiec (more on him later), Jimmy White, Sean Lyon, and Kenny Hubbard all fell to the Mean Dean Machine, as the New York resident took home all the marbles at Lights Out 8.
It has been one hell of a year for longtime racer Bill Lutz; at one time the doctors gave him a very slim chance of living, let alone ever racing again. A botched surgery led to an internal infection, which led to a lengthy hospital stay. The story is long and convoluted; it’s amazing to see him not only alive but back behind the wheel of a racecar. Lutz was entrusted by Rob Sphar to wheel his new turbo Mustang in RvW competition. Lutz’s best pass of the week was a 4.77 before they ran into an issue which showed itself in the form of a torched engine block and cylinder head. Regardless, it was great to see Lutz behind the wheel of a racecar again.
“When I finally got back behind the wheel on Tuesday I took a minute to reflect on where I had been, as close to death as you could get, then six surgeries to fix the first surgery that went all wrong. I wasn’t sure if I would ever be back but I knew I had the need and the want to make it back and I did it in typical drag racer record time. I need to thank everyone that’s made it possible and believed in me,” says Lutz.
One of the biggest stories of the weekend – and possibly of the year – is that of racer Lyle Barnett, who made his triumphant return to South Georgia Motorsports Park behind the wheel of Jason Digby’s “Tooth Jerker” ’69 Dodge Dart. Barnett, who was severely burned in a fire at this very track at the No Mercy VI event in 2015, spent months in the hospital and countless hours in physical therapy. He spent Lights Out 8 demolishing the competition in the Leaf Spring class, taking home the class title in an incredibly-emotional win.
NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Eddie Krawiec also likes to compete on four wheels; on his off weekends from professional competition, Krawiec rolls out his immaculate DMC Racing-built Camaro to take on the X275 class. Krawiec drove the LS-powered Chevrolet to the 19th qualified spot with a 4.548 elapsed time, then won over Keith Hoover in round one before running into the Marinis machine in round two.
Rich and Nick Bruder are known for doing whatever it takes to stay at the forefront of the X275 class – and this time they’ve switched to an all-new roots-blown combination in their familiar blue Mustang. The electronic-fuel-injected engine is built up from a billet engine block and a set of Edelbrock SC1 cylinder heads. The team continued to shake the bugs out of the new combo during qualifying and didn’t make the show, but when eliminations started, they were called upon as the second alternate when other racers couldn’t compete. Bruder turned in a 4.53 in the first round over Brian Books, but fell to Eric Moore’s strong 4.48 in the second round. It will be interesting to see where this combination lands in the months ahead.
The quickest legal run in Pro 275 history became the property of Scott Guadagno, who qualified at the top of the field with an insane 4.06, before he took his nitrous-powered big-block Camaro all the way to the final round to meet up with Don Lamana, who had also been quite successful during the weekend. Lamana gained a 27-thou advantage at the tree – and then Guadagno took it right back by the finish line. Lamana’s 4.167 just couldn’t hold off Guadagno’s 4.118, making for a difference at the finish line of .022-seconds. Guadagno has been in five finals at SGMP and this is his first win.
There were a pair of first-time finalists in the big-dog Radial Vs. The World class – one of whom was Missouri’s own Mark Woodruff, whom you might remember from our feature on his car. Woody entered the weekend with huge hopes for his Corvette, especially after qualifying was complete and he had recorded the highest-ever trap speed for a radial tire-equipped car of any type, covering the distance at a speed of 212.69 mph. During eliminations, drama ensued for Woody, as he knocked a piston out in the semifinal matchup against Steve Jackson. The entire RvW field was in his pit area helping the team to change out the offended parts, and opponent Joe Albrecht waited for Woody’s team to get the car back into shape. With a 10PM Sunday night curfew fast approaching, Woody made the lane call with about ten minutes to spare. When the tree dropped, Albrecht took the starting line advantage and never looked back, crossing the stripe in 3.837 seconds to Woodruff’s 4.005 – earning the $50,000 payday from the Duck.
A satisfying end to the weekend!