Looking back at March 2020 almost feels like dreaming about an alternate universe. It has been nearly four months—back in early March—since the last organized races took place under the flags of the NMRA and NMCA. Over that period, we’ve learned to appreciate some of the things we previously took for granted due to the coronavirus, and topping that list for some of us was the ability to attend a motorsports event thanks to widespread shutdowns and strict guidelines for all large gatherings across the country. We were facing a decidedly bleak outlook for the remainder of the 2020 race season, and the fact that the NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals were held in Commerce, Georgia, over the weekend of June 26–28 is a miracle in and of itself. With the fans in the grandstands practicing social distancing all the way down the track, and a packed field of fast cars, we welcomed the sights, sounds, and smells of drag racing once again. What a glorious weekend it was!
First of all, how does an event like this even get to take place in Bizarroworld of June 2020? It took a lot of work from National Event Director, Rollie Miller, who was on the phone with tracks every single day as the guidelines and restrictions for each state were changing by the hour. Some venues such as Route 66 Raceway—home of the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street Legal Drag Racing—and Summit Motorsports Park have simply decided to keep their gates closed for the remainder of the year. These challenges left Miller scrambling to find new homes for events; some concessions he had to make to salvage the season involved combining an NMRA race, as well as adding Martin, Michigan’s US 131 Motorsports Park into the fold as a replacement for the infamous Norwalk event. Sadly, Norwalk’s famous $2 ice cream was not included in that deal.
With the ink still drying for the new dates of Georgia’s race, we were told that presale tickets were out of control, and when all was said and done, fans flocked from over 30 states across this great nation to be in attendance at the All-Star Nationals. A gaze into the grandstands during the opening ceremony on Saturday rewarded your eyes with socially-distant pockets of jovial fans excited to be at a live event. Still, admittedly, some fans maintained business as usual. That was certainly the case on the track, as racers couldn’t wait to get things back to normal and start racing.
Ten teams made it to Atlanta Dragway to compete in VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod at the All-Star Nationals. Points leader Eric Gustafson made a robust set of runs in qualifying, but succumbed to an early exit in the first round of eliminations against David Monday. With the top dog out of the way, all eyes were on the Swede, Adam Flamholc, whose 526 cubic-inch Hemi-powered Corvette Pro Mod tripped the lights as the top qualifier. He ultimately survived a first-round gaffe and took down Craig Sullivan’s incredible, patina’d ‘69 Daytona Plymouth Superbird in the final round.
Coming into Atlanta, Dom DiDonato was eager to face a Street Outlaw field that did not contain his friendly local nemesis and 2019 class champion, Vinny Palazzolo. Vin is off constructing a new lightsaber to bring to battle, and we can’t wait to see what he’s cookin’ up. His absence left DiDonato in an advantageous position to gain some points, but it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park as the likes of Tony Hobson, Alan Felts, Phil Hines, and many other potent machines were on deck. The wild card of the group was Tony Hobson, piloting his brand new pearl white notchback tuned by Eric Holliday of JPC Racing. The gorgeous machine is powered by the same AEM Performance Electronics-controlled, DiSomma Racing Engines-built pushrod bullet engine combination from his previous car. It was a toss-up to see if his team could figure out the new chassis before the close of the event. He took full advantage of Friday’s remaining test hits before Q1 and began collecting valuable information they needed on the new car. Tony laid down a blistering 4.443 in Q2, only to be surpassed by Alan Felts in Q3 with a 4.424. That fastest qualifier hit would give Felts a bye through the first round. Hobson, Hines, and DiDonato all joined Alan in the second round. Despite his top-qualifier status, Felts met up with the red GT500 of DiDonato and found the fate of an early exit. By round three, Hobson’s HPJ Performance team had consistently put the car down the track with each hit; he was able to cruise past Dom into the final against Phil Hines. Sadly, Tony’s luck ended against the venerable Hines, as he was slower on the tree and couldn’t make up for it by the finish line. Hines, a longtime Street Outlaw competitor, hasn’t seen the winner’s circle in some time, and it was nice to see him score the victory by .034-second—just over eight feet of distance at 160-plus mph.
Frank Paultanis and John Leslie, Jr. went wire-to-wire in Coyote Stock and Factory Stock, respectively, while Bob Zelenak won the Renegade/Xtreme Street combo class. Bill Putnam took home the win in NMRA’s Limited Street class over Jason Davis, and other winners included Randy Dolensek in NMCA Nitrous Pro Street, Leonard Long in his high-winding Mustang in NMCA N/A 10.5’s all-motor ranks. With 23 racing classes on the grounds, there was something for everyone, and the fans in Atlanta appreciated the great show put on by these racers at the All-Star Nationals.
Away from the racing surface, the NMRA and NMCA team was documenting staff temperatures and monitoring the situation on the ground daily. Masks were nearly absent at this outdoor event, but fans remained courteous to each other’s personal space while hand sanitizer stations were strategically placed in the suggested locations from the health department. Up in the media tower, individuals were instructed to keep at least four feet between seating positions, and spare chairs were taken out of commission. The event team also provided pocket-sized hand sanitizer and masks to the media crews. Overall, a health inspector would probably find holes to poke at, but the assumed risk of leaving your house was greeted by consideration and an effort to maintain safety.
With the fuss about the global pandemic, we’ve forgotten that events like this are here to take us away from the troubles of the real world. Leaving your home is an assumed risk in a time like this, and judging from the attendance, that was a risk many were eager to take, including me. Just when I was beginning to forget the smells of the track and the sounds of a screw-blown Pro Mod, the NMRA and NMCA were ready to deliver my fix at the All-Star Nationals. The event went off without a hitch, and it was proof that America is prepared to get back to normal. If you build it, they will come.