Venom Goes 2-For-3, Records Fall, Cars FlySonoma is known for two things: Fine wines and Sears Point Raceway. In recent years, both have gotten bigger and better. The Sonoma area is challenging the Napa Valley for top dog status among California's grape crushers. The raceway formerly known as Sears Point has also exploded with an awe-inspiring renovation and new name: Infineon Raceway.

Home to numerous open-wheel racing events, American Le Mans and NASCAR, the picturesque facility played host to the NHRA Summit Sport Compact Drag Racing Series September 7-8, 2002.

As the 2003 season enters its stretch run, the Tuned By Matrix Sport Compact Nationals presented by Wall took the sport into still more uncharted territory.

Infineon Raceway impressed with its scenery, weather and a sticky surface primed to make history. We have been shaking our heads in wonder since the Gainesville season opener as the NHRA racers have kept pushing the envelope at each event. There has been no plateau, no "just another race" events; the NHRA has just kept the records, milestones and drama flowing.

It was difficult to keep pace with the rapid-fire action at Sonoma. In Hot Rod, things were on Full-Auto in qualifying. Bruce Mortensen and Kenny Tran ran 8s and Marty Ladwig laid down a 9.12 to fill the top three positions. Bruce blasted an 8.72 and was heading into eliminations with a chance to back-up a new class record. He busted a 9.008 in round one and all the favorites advanced. Kenny Tran ran a 9.02, but it was Ladwig in the Bothwell Motorsports Sunfire who raised eyebrows, pulling an 8.92 against Gary Gardella. Fourth qualifier Jojo Callos advanced with a 10.19.

In round two, Bruce got the back-up with an 8.84 to dispatch Jojo, and Marty backed his 8-second e.t. with a 9.02 to beat Tran. The import vs. domestic final lived up to the hype as nearly equal reaction times and e.t.s within .002 seconds of each other made for yet another dramatic, beyond-description race. (See the "Timeslip of the Day" sidebar.)

In Modified, Nelson Hoyos had an e-ticket ride in the Bothwell Motorsports Cavalier. The car got out of shape because of a snapped axle, then drifted from the right lane into the left lane, then the front brakes locked and the back of the Chevy spun around and slapped the wall. The impact folded the rear tire under and smashed the quarter panel.

Hammers were beating and metal was suffering as the wheel and tire were re-aligned, the wheel tub re-shaped and the quarter panel heavily taped. So Bothwell Motorsports got the Midnight Oil Award but worked its magic by the end of the day. The Cavalier came out and made an un-timed pass to see if the Chevy would go straight. It did, and in the third round of qualifying on Sunday, Hoyos made the show with a 9.16.

The big news was at the top of the Modified qualifying ladder, where Jimmy O'Connor had the top spot with an 8.05 at 169 mph. Stephan Papadakis was second with an 8.32 at 176 mph and Ray Lochhead checked in third with an 8.53 in his SR Motorsports RX-7.

In the first round of eliminations, O'Connor slingshot the Supra into the 7-second club with a 7.96 at 171 mph. Matt Hartford, who limped into the field with an 11.51 in qualifying, sparked to life and turned a 7.98 against Steph. In the second stanza, Jimmy laid a 7.99 on Ed Bergenholtz, and Hartford advanced easily when Ray Lochhead got out of the groove early.

The final was an epic showdown between the only two 7-second competitors in the class. Hartford pulled a .635 reaction time to O'Connor's .695 and took the .060-second edge all the way to victory lane as his 8.031 was three feet faster than O'Connor's 7.984; what a race it was.