Photography by Matt Stephens
After calling for rain all weekend, the weather forecast looked grim for the tenth year of NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals drag racing action in Commerce, GA. Hosted by the accommodating Atlanta Dragway, the track crew, race teams, and fans collectively wished the bad weather away, and welcomed an entire weekend of racing.
Having quickly become one of the most anticipated stops on the NMRA/NMCA calendar, the Atlanta Dragway facility has consecutively brought heated competition and falling records to the combined event battle. Last year the weather was just as unpredictable as the racing, with an earthquake and tornado being thrown into the mix. While attendees were fearful of similar shaky conditions this year, the cool, damp weather of the weekend held out long enough to complete the entire event.
As a photographer, sometimes there are only so many angles you are permitted to photograph at a drag racing event, but there are others that most just don’t think of. Matt Stephens is not a regular photographer in the drag racing world, so when we sent (yet another) fish out of water to a drag race, we were intrigued to see the imagery he would take. The refreshing new take he had on this event showed new angles to the action we had yet to experience.
While the inclement weather threat made the atmosphere around the track more somber than usual, setup and testing were still as important as ever. But let’s get into the racing…
Home to the fastest street cars in the nation, the VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod class contained 22 entries vying for the coveted qualifying positions. In a league of his own at the start, Jason Hamstra was able to set the unofficial class record with a 3.67 pass in qualifying. Eventually losing out to the class winner, Eric Gustafson, who ran a quick 3.77 against a charging Craig Sullivan in the finals.
In the Mickey Thompson Radial Wars class, the 2016 champion DeWayne Mills took the top qualifying spot with a 3.88 at 206 mph. Mills ran consistent times all weekend into the finals against Marty Stinnett, where the pair ran identical 3.88s with Mills edging over the line first for the class win.
As he continues to iron out the details with the new car, John Urist had his best race in the Turn 14 Distribution-sponsored S550 to date. He ran a solid pass of 4.36 at 169 mph in Street Outlaw, which qualified him fifth. Eventually making it all the way to the semifinals, where a deteriorating left lane surface plagued his run. With yet another great showing under his belt, Urist is now sitting second in overall points.
Ultimately, as the two series clashed head-to-head with the NMRA’s VP Racing Street Outlaw battling directly against its NMCA Vortech Street Outlaw counterpart, it would be Shawn Ayers and Andy Manson in the final. Ayers, driving Super Bowl Champion Fletcher Cox’s “Gold Dust” Mustang, was able to stay on throttle the entire length of the strip for a 4.24 and the class win, while Manson lifted half way into the run.
In ARP Nitrous Pro Jet, John Trobiani ran his Camaro to the top of the qualifying sheet with a 4.69. Unfortunately he couldn’t keep the good fortune going into the final round against James Noel, who ran a quicker 4.79 for the class win.
For all of the combined truck and drag racing lovers, the Detroit Locker Truck and Lightning class is home. At this year’s All-Star Nationals, Fred Wade piloted his ’04 Lightning into the finals, where he clocked a 10.45 at 131.29 mph on his 10.40 index, beating a very fast Wade Trammell in the process.
The Race Pages and Fastest Street Car Bracket racing classes saw various entries from classics to dragsters including Susan Spikes in her Super Pro car.
In all, this event packed constant racing into an uncertain weekend courtesy of previously-filled doubts from last year’s unfortunate forecast. However, every time these two rival drag racing series combine together, it’s always good for the racing community and it’s even better for the fans. The next time they meet will be the famed NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl in Joliet, IL in late July. Until then, we’ll have more NMRA coverage from Maple Grove in a couple weeks time.