Text and Photos by Kevin DiOssi
A lot can happen in one race weekend. What looks like a clean and clear victory can slip away, and what looks like insurmountable odds can be overcome with hard work. There were many story lines that played out at the 2018 NMCA World Finals, held at the infamous Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis – just adding to the legendary track’s history. There were multiple records broken, incredible weather all weekend long, and a track surface worth traveling cross-country for. If you didn’t see it in person or missed the live feed, here’s a look into some of the killer racing action.
The VP Racing Fuels Pro Mod Championship was a hotly contested class this year. The two favored drivers were points leader Jason Hamstra in his ruby red supercharged Camaro and Don Walsh Jr. in his Garrett-turbocharged orange Stingray Corvette. In our last installment from Summit Motorsports Park, both drivers made their way to the final elimination round, but Walsh had to forfeit the race due to a transmission issue on his previous pass, losing crucial points in the process. Not one to give up, the multi-time former NMRA Pro 5.0 champion and his team spent more time at the track between races to work out any gremlins the ‘Vette may have had in store for them at Indy. He explained to us that once again his transmission failed late in the weekend while making runs at Summit Shakedown, held the weekend prior to the NMCA Finals.
“If we hadn’t broken it there, it would have broken here,” he said.
With that pesky issue sorted out, the Walsh Motorsports car rolled off the trailer and ran a 3.78 on its first pass during test and tune, giving the team an optimistic outlook. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough—Hamstra’s Camaro was the car to beat.
Jason ran the quickest elapsed time on the property, earning his place in the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle and the class title. Ultimately he ran a 3.704 pass with an .049 reaction time in the final round of eliminations against Mike Recchia to claim the race and the 2018 Xtreme Pro Mod title. It cannot be understated how consistent and successful the Hamstra Racing team was from the season opener at Bradenton Motorsports Park all the way through Indy. Congratulations to a deserving champion.
Mike Recchia hadn’t run in the NMCA before, but earned his spot in the final elimination against Hamstra’s formidable Camaro.
James Lawrence was close to untouchable this season, in Mickey Thompson Radial Wars, as he had the championship ring locked up going into the race.
Lawrence’s closest competitor, Marty Stinnett, didn’t have the championship on his mind and only cared about winning at Indy—and he did. Marty’s season wasn’t without its ups and downs. At the second race of the year in Atlanta, the formerly matte black Fox Body hit the wall hard. This was followed by a downright heroic effort to get the car back together for Bowling Green the following month. What’s really disappointing for him is that if Marty hadn’t wrecked his car at the All-Star Nationals, he may have picked up more points to close the gap. Ultimately, he was just 260 points short of James and the Corvette. He was the best Radial Wars car this weekend, and found himself standing with a comically large check.
Heading into the final race of the year there wasn’t much contention to Shawn Ayers in Vortech Superchargers Street Outlaw other than Daniel Pharris. Both teams were the only drivers to make all six NMCA races to contend each other in points. Daniel was knocked out in the second round which ended his hopes, and this allowed the Fletcher Cox Racing team to secure the class championship. Philadelphia Eagles star defensive lineman Fletcher Cox may be the car owner, but the team behind the Goldust Mustang helped Shawn Ayers take home this year’s title—especially when Fletcher is off at his day job as a Super Bowl-winning football player.
This may be the last time we see Daniel Pharris racing in the red Mustang. Rumor has it that the car is sold and he’ll be competing in a different vehicle next season.
Rob Goss met Shawn Ayers in the final elimination round and defeated him with a 4.379 to a 4.484 – this was Rob’s first win in the NMCA after five years of trying, and numerous setbacks and other issues which may have felled a lesser racer. As the true pioneer in the heads-up small-tire drag racing arena with the GenIII Hemi engine, Goss could have quit long ago—the guy has wrecked more engines than anyone might believe while trying to figure out how to make one go fast. The car would run the number in qualifying, but then be injured by the time eliminations rolled around and he’d be forced out shy of the target. He recently hired Wade Hopkins of Southern Speed to assist with the team’s program, and it’s been coming around quickly since. He’s finally on the right path with this victory, and we fully expect to see him in the winner’s circle more often.
The weather in Indy was prime for supercharged power and all eyes were on the Holley EFI Factory Super Car class to dip back into the 7-second range we saw them flirt with back in Atlanta, earlier this season. The number one qualifier was Geoff Turk in the Blackbird Drag Pak Challenger. His NMCA-best 7.984 pass came in Q2 and would later be backed up with a 7.99 to confirm the record. Even with added penalty weight, the Blackbird Drag Pak Challenger was the lone Mopar and the quickest Factory Super Car once again.
By round three, Chuck Watson and Gardner Stone had pushed a few Camaros out of the way to move up in qualifying, knocking Lenny Libersher (8.120) and Glenn Pushis (8.186) out of the top four spots. Chuck came in at number 2 with an 8.085, knocking down Scott Libersher who formerly held the second spot with an oh-so-close 8.087 in the COPO Camaro. These cars were moving out all weekend and the field was tight. Chuck bowed out in the second round and we saw Scott go through the field, sacrificing his teammates along the way to meet Geoff in the final round. Libersher cut a lethal .001-second light, but he wasn’t able to reproduce another one of those quick ETs we saw from him in qualifying, as his 8.203 lost to the Blackbird’s 8.065.
Qualifying and testing is there for a reason. Chuck and his Cobra Jet brethren had a hard time keeping their noses on the ground. It wasn’t until the final session that they all seemed to dial the cars in.
Scott Libersher won Stock/Super Stock, but he was determined to try and defend his Factory Super Car title. He met with Geoff Turk in the finals but failed to match his quickness from the earlier rounds.
Lenny had one helluva season and it will be exciting to see where he lands next year. He consistently piloted one of the quickest COPOs.
Anytime Glen pulls up to the starting line, you’re in for a show. Doug Thompson has his chassis tuned to hang ‘em high and carry them out when he launches.
We saw another healthy field of cars in Edelbrock Xtreme Street, with a total of 18 racers rounding out the qualifying field. Coming into the race, points leaders Jessie Coulter and Tim Knieriem qualified at two and one, respectively, but they wouldn’t trade places on the leaderboard after all the tire smoke settled. Knieriem’s nitrous-powered Mustang couldn’t outlast Jessie’s turbocharged ‘91 Camaro who also fell in the round following Tim’s departure. This left Bill Trovato’s 2013 Camaro to duke it out with Lou Iacopetti’s Fox Body hatch (seen above) in the final round. Lou would ultimately raise to the top with a 7.757 to Trovato’s 4.792.
Jessie was a dominant driver in Xtreme Street this season. He found himself in the winner’s circle twice in four races, but was only there this weekend to receive his bottle of champagne for taking home the class championship.
The track was hookin’ good for Knieriem on this nitrous-assisted pass.
Bill Trovato made it to the finals with an incredibly consistent weekend at Indy.
The odds against Jordan Ensslin to win the ARP Nitrous Pro Street championship this year were absolutely ridiculous, yet that’s exactly what he did in a weekend that was legendary. After breaking his throttle linkage at Joliet he lost potential points, then came back to win NPS at Norwalk, defeating Jennifer Rice in the process. When the Ensslin family rolled onto the property at Lucas Oil Raceway, they had to hope for a lot of things to go right. First, they had to cross their fingers Jennifer—the points leader headed into the race—didn’t make it very deep into eliminations. She ended up going down in the first round. Secondly, they had to make sure Tricia Musi and Matt Salminen didn’t get too far and rock the boat either. Enter Jordan’s dad, Jeff, in his red Camaro, which was strategically introduced to hopefully block a car. Jeff knocked out Tricia in the second round, leaving a clear path for Jordan to the finals. The hardest part of this trifecta was up to Jordan, who needed to set a class record to give him that extra points boost to capture the title. With a 4.315 pass in the final elimination round, Ensslin hit his mark, setting the record and taking home the emotional win for the Lakeland, Florida family team.
Hope Jennifer Brooke Rice gets knocked out early: check. Make sure Tricia and Matt don’t make it far: check. Set a class record: check. Jordan put in the work and had a little luck on his side this weekend.
Jennifer didn’t take advantage of all the test sessions in an effort to keep wear off the big-power nitrous engine in her Mustang. However, she still ran into trouble early on in eliminations. This shouldn’t take away from her performance this season. She was the driver to beat all year.
The curveball of the season was when Tricia and the Bankston Boys fielded the famed Popeye Firebird. She was immediately a force to be reckoned with and one of the most consistent drivers in the class. Look out for her next season.
Matt joined the NMCA tour this year after the race at his home track in Bradenton. He was in contention for the title after his victory at Bowling Green where he took out Musi.
After six races spanning the course of seven months, we’ve finally reached the conclusion of the 2018 NMCA race season. Every year the race at Indy proves to be one of the most thrilling of the tour. The Ensslin victory was a truly incredibly story line that was the icing on the cake. There have been rumors boasting about an even larger car count in Nitrous Pro Street in addition to the growing number of Pro Mods and Factory Super Cars that choose to race with the NMCA. My 2019 calendar is already filled with red ink for the next races. Hope to see you then!