There were surprise winners, breath-taking finishes and more than the usual bit of controversy at the NHRA Mazda World Import Finals held at Pomona Raceway in Pomona, Calif. The season-ending extravaganza would also determine the national champions in the inaugural season of the NHRA/Summit Import Drag Racing Series.
The scene-stealer by far at Pomona was the Escort Drag Racing Service 300ZX. The Pro Class monster, a Japanese import driven by Hiroshi Shiobara, came from nowhere to put the whammy on the NHRA regulars with consistent and impressive e.t.s. The car was held up in customs and was released only two days before the race. In fact, the car missed the first round of qualifying. In the second round, it laid down a 7.93, which put it fourth on the ladder behind Jose Torres' RX-7 (7.58 at 176 mph), Abel Ibarra (7.602 at 177 mph), R.J. Simrock (7.604 at 175 mph) and ahead of Adam Saruwatari (8.80 at 156 mph). The Z had the fastest top speed in the field at 180 mph, a sign of things to come.
In its first round showdown, the 300ZX and Shiobara faced off against Saruwatari and his potent NSX. The Acura ran its best pass to date with an 8.20 at 164 mph but he could only watch the Z pull away as Shiobara posted a 7.53 at 181 mph. A car this quick picking up .40 seconds between rounds was an eye-opener. In round two, Shiobara lined up with top qualifier Jose Torres. Torres was wounded from round one, so Shiobara had what amounted to a bye run but he dropped the hammer, blasting a 7.49 at 182 mph. In the final Shiobara faced the class champion in R.J. Simrock. The skillful Japanese driver did not miss a beat. In one of the tightest races in recent memory, Simrock got the jump with a .474 to .599 and the two cars were door handle to door handle with Simrock enjoying a slight edge in the early stages. On the top end, the Z had too much and lit the win lights with a wicked 7.45 at 184 mph. Simrock had his A-game on and went 7.64. The competition is serious when a 7.6 doesn't put you in victory lane.
Mazda, the title sponsor of the race, had a pleasant surprise as Ari Yallon took the Street Tire Class victory and became the first champion in any kind of NHRA division to run the table and win every event in a season. Is Yallon tired of looking at that six-pack of Wallys? Yallon stepped up in the finals where his 10.40 was the best e.t. in the class. He needed every tenth, as runner-up Joel Tazman laid down a 10.63.
In Modified Class, the surprises hit well before the final. In the second round of eliminations, Craig Paisley was squared off against front-wheel king Stephan Papadakis. This scenario has unfolded dozens of times in the past; it was the results that were surprising. At the flash of the green, the two racers reacted pretty much in tandem (Craig .459; Steph .476) and they embarked on another nerve-wracking race with Papadakis running an 8.77 to Paisley's 8.85; Papdakis took the win light for the first time ever against Paisley. The race cost Papadakis, however, as the engine got hurt just after the finish. Since he was not a points contender and didn't want to see a Bye round in the finals, Papadakis bypassed the scales, which advanced Paisley to the finals. In the finals, Ray Lochhead had his RX-7 at fever pitch. Lochhead got the jump at the light and posted an 8.63 to take the Wally.
In the Hot Rod Class it was do-or-die, as this was a double-points race that would decide the national championship. The qualifying ladder put the two main combatants Lisa Kubo and Jojo Callos in the top spots and a star-filled field in the remaining slots. Kubo ran a wild 9.16 at 157 mph to clinch number one. Callos was right there at 9.25, Kenny Tran was third at 9.30, Bruce Mortensen, who was at the controls of the Venom Civic for injured Jimmy O'Connor, posted a 9.86 and Myles Bautista rounded out the top five.
In the first round, Callos tore off a 9.18 and Kubo had a single because the Neon was a no-show a cruised down the track. Mortensen, competing in his first race ever, proved the big surprise in the class running a 9.54 and Kenny Tran advanced with a 9.48. In the second round, Kubo got back on the gas, running a 9.35 while Callos continued the march with a 9.61. In round three the Upset Special kept rolling as Mortensen posted a 9.92 to Kubo's slowing 10.73. Callos faced Tran in the third round and Tran clicked off a 9.42 but Callos had him covered running 9.23. The finals was the ultimate showdown. This race would decide the national championship; if Mortensen plays spoiler and wins, the title goes to Kubo, if Jojo takes the win, he is the champion. AT the flash of the green Jojo's Civic jumped out of its skin while the Venom Civic broke on the line. Jojo left no question as the scoreboard lit up a 9.12 at 156.93 mph.
The NHRA has the tracks and the racers; NIRA has the market angles for the import scene honed to a fine edge. If the alliance, announced at the SEMA Show, between these two sanctioning bodies is done right, 2002 should be a stellar year.
|PRO CLASS |
|Winner ||Hiroshi Shiobara ||Nissan 300ZX |
|R-Up ||R.J. Simrock ||Ford Focus |
|MODIFIED CLASS |
|Winner ||Ray Lochhead ||Mazda RX-7 |
|R-UP ||Craig Paisley ||Toyota Supra |
|STREET TIRE CLASS |
|Winner ||Ari Yallon ||Mazda RX-7 |
|R-Up ||Joel Tazman ||Toyota Supra |
|ALL-MOTOR CLASS |
|Winner ||Tony Shagday ||Acura Integra |
|R-Up ||Tsuneaki Mankumo ||Honda CRX |
|HOT ROD CLASS |
|Winner ||Jojo Callos ||Honda Civic |
|R-Up ||Bruce Mortensen ||Honda Civic |
|2001 NHRA NATIONAL CHAMPIONS |
|Pro ||R.J. Simrock ||Ford Focus |
|Modified ||Craig Paisley ||Toyota Supra |
|Street Tire ||Ari Yallon ||Mazda RX-7 |
|Hot Rod ||Jojo Callos ||Honda Civic |
|All Motor ||Joel Mandl ||Honda Civic |