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 Street.com 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.
In Pro, Grant Downing was clinging to a 20-point advantage coming into Sonoma. He nabbed the top spot on the grid with a class record 7.12 at 193 mph, giving Venom Racing the number one qualifier in each category it competes in. John Lingenfelter was right there with a 7.28 to take the second spot. Adam Saruwatari opened some eyes when he scorched the track with a 7.399 at 179 mph to grab the third spot on the Pro grid. The 7.39 is the Nitto/Enkei NSX's best effort to date.
The first round was dominated by John Lingenfelter's crash (see sidebar). With the Summit Racing Cavalier on its roof after round one, the big question was: "Could Downing dominate and take full advantage of the situation?" This question was answered when Downing and the Venom Tundra duplicated their qualifying effort with a 7.12, too much for Saruwatari's 7.69. Cruz had a single to the finals.
In the money race, Cruz could not tame his big cat as the Cougar left early and Downing powered into the winner's circle with a 7.24 at 191 mph. This gave the Venom Racing team two wins and a runner-up at the Tuned By Matrix Sport Compact Nationals; that's pretty awesome. The team's achievement is further enhanced when you look at the book. Bruce Mortensen set the Hot Rod e.t. record while Downing set Pro marks for e.t. 7.12 and speed 195.25 mph.
In the other pro classes a field of 15 entrants tested their patience as Jesus Padilla retained his stranglehold on the class. The 20B-powered RX-7 lowered the class e.t. record to 10.25.
In Street Tire, there were only two competitors. Locals seemed intimidated by the likes of Mark Mazurowski and Ari Yallon, but since Mark and the Titan Motorsports Supra have already won the title, neither of the big hitters were in attendance. Robert Dito seemed to have a lock on things in his 1st-gen Diamond Star but Paul Coggeshall had something for him and unleashed a 12 in the finals to take the money, the Wally, and secure Honda's bragging rights over the Diamond Stars.
We can't rave enough about the facilities at Infineon Raceway, the weather and most of all the action down the 1320. We can't wait for next year's race but one has to wonder, "can more records fall in 2002."
The Lingenfelter LoopThe biggest drama at Sonoma was John Lingenfelter's crash in the first round of Pro eliminations. The Summit Racing Cavalier got out of the groove just past the 60-foot and Lingenfelter muscled it back in line and got back in the throttle trying to salvage his .535 to .704 reaction advantage. At the top end, tire shake sent the car on its way again and Lingenfelter tried to drive through it. The Chevy drifted right, into Manny Cruz's lane and barely missed taking the Duttweiller/DRT Cougar out. Lingenfelter overcorrected and although he missed the right-side wall the car did a pirouette and soft- landed on its lid. It then skated back into its own lane, tripping the lights in 9.37, coming to a rest after grazing the left-side wall. There was no trap speed indicated because the lights were crushed in the commotion.
Manny Cruz related to us that it was too close to call. "I remember seeing a purple fender coming at me," said Cruz. "I grabbed fourth and crossed my fingers. My car accelerated and the Cavalier just missed."
|TUNED BY MATRIX SPORT COMPACT NATIONALS |
|AL MOTOR |
|Winner ||Jesus Padilla ||'85 Mazda RX-7 (20B) ||10.28 @ 128 |
|Runner-up ||Scott Kelley ||Toyo Tires VW ||10.81 @ 122 |
|STREET TIRE |
|Winner ||Paul Coggeshall ||Honda Civic ||12.84 @ 94 |
|Runner-up ||Robert Dito ||Mitsubishi Eclipse ||13.28 @ 105 |
|HOT ROD |
|Winner ||Bruce Mortensen ||Venom Racing Civic ||9.116 @ 154 |
|Runner-up ||Marty Ladwig ||Bothwell Motorsports ||9.118 @ 155 |
|Winner || Matt Hartford ||Lingenfelter/Summit Cavalier ||8.03 @ 165 |
|Runner-up ||Jimmy O'Connor ||Venom Racing Supra ||7.98 @ 170 |
|Winner ||Grant Downing ||Venom Racing Tundra ||7.24 @ 191 |
|Runner-up ||Manny Cruz ||Duttweiler/DRT ||foul |
|PRO V8 |
|Winner ||Matt Scranton ||Turbonetics Celica ||7.22 @ 197 |
|Runner-up ||John Mihovetz ||AccuFab Cougar ||7.48 @ 190 |
Turbo Magazine Timeslip Of The DayThe Hot Rod final was a classic import vs. domestic battle. Marty Ladwig and the Bothwell Motorsports Pontiac Sunfire had made great strides at Woodburn (9.24) and had blasted into the 8-second club, the elite of unibody FWD drag racing, early in the card at Sonoma.
Across the lane, Bruce Mortensen and the Venom Racing Civic were also making great strides, bullying their way into the NHRA record book with a wicked 8.72 earlier in the day. The buzz around this race was big and the action on the track was bigger. Bruce got a scant .016 advantage at the flash of the green and parlayed that into a .018-second victory by running .002 seconds quicker-9.116 vs. 9.118. The margin of victory at the traps was less than three feet.
|Reaction ||Bruce ||vs. ||Marty |
|.563 ||.579 |
|60 foot ||1.432 ||1.472 |
|330 ||3.884 ||3.968 |
|1/8 e.t ||5.829 ||5.951 |
|1/8 mph ||117.41 ||123.72 |
|1000 ||7.650 ||7.669 |
|1/4 e.t. ||9.116 ||<-----Win-- ||9.118 |
|1/4 mph ||153.74 ||155.47 |