After 14 grueling races, the IDRC headed into its final stanza at full boost as the last event of 2001 offered some of the best action of the season. Championship points were close in the Quick, Outlaw and All Motor classes, which made competition extremely tight.
As the weekend approached, the weather looked ominous for Sunday, which set Saturday up for all three qualifying passes. As Sunday dawned, dark clouds were poised for an attempt to extinguish the race, but the storm front hugged the mountains, sparing LACR.
This is one of the most expensive classes to compete in. But the level of competition and sheer speed of the cars makes it the most exhilarating. Japan stepped up by shipping out some of its fastest Pro cars and we expect to see more for 2002. The Escort Drag Racing Service 300ZX came to the States late in the season, but it built a sterling reputation, going undefeated in the Pro classes of NIRA, NHRA and IDRA. A newcomer from the Land of the Rising Sun made its debut. The Blast Racing Lexus SC400 was unloaded at the docks and cleared customs two days prior to the race. The car was lucky to be able to stretch its legs.
The Blast Racing SC400 has been shredding pavement in Japan for nine years, so the car and crew are very experienced. However, at this particular event, the clutch and suspension set-up wasn't in tune with the track. The crew scrambled to get the bite they needed. After a few shakedown passes, the appropriate tweaks were made and the twin-turbo V8 Lexus set a new IDRC Pro import record of 7.38 at 184 mph.
The class was comprised of six tube-chassis cars and became a battle of the chassis builders. Hansen Racecars was represented by Abel Ibarra's RX-7 and his R-100 driven by Efren Vaquez, as well as Adam Saruwatari's NSX. Ben Ma's Focus piloted by chassis builder R.J. Simrock and the Escort 300ZX and Blast Racing SC400, which were built in San Diego by Willie Rells senior of Willie Rells Racecars.
In the first round, R.J. Simrock faced off against Adam Saruwatari. As in previous meetings, the staging game was in full effect. After a 30-second stare down, the lights flashed green the moment Saruwatari staged and both vehicles launch at full power out of the hole. Saruwatari was left with a broken driveshaft at the 330-ft mark and Simrock plowed into the wall after a 140-mph spin at the 660-ft mark.
With a new driveshaft, Saruwatari faced the hard-charging Blast SC. The NSX managed an upset, thanks to a late reaction by Tatatoshi Wakita. Saruwatari set a personal best with a 7.95, while Wakita was quicker at 7.79-still, it didn't overcome the reaction deficit.
The finals lined Hiroshi Shiobhara's Escort Racing 300ZX up against Saruwatari. The Escort team dealt with traction problems as well as trying to keep the car going straight. A new set of slicks were mounted, shocks were adjusted, nitrous was turned off and boost was dropped in a last-ditch effort to cure the 300XZX. While the team took a chance by dropping power against the formidable Nitto Tires-sponsored NSX, the Escort team won with an 8.0-second e.t against Saruwatari's red light.
Before the race, Pepe Loco pilot Carlos Montano was just one first place victory away from stealing the points championship from Stephan Papadakis. In the semis, the AEM Civic was blessed with a bye run, while a light confusion game between Ray Lochhead and Montano handed the SR Motorsports RX-7 the win.
It turns out Lochhead went to full stage before Montano went to pre-stage. Since Montano didn't trip the lights, this allowed Lochhead to reverse out of the full stage position. As a result, the Pepe Loco Datsun went to full stage and red lit, giving the win to Lochhead and the SR Motorsports RX-7.
Once again, Lochhead battled for a first place victory against Papadakis. These two have crossed paths numerous times in the Outlaw finals. In this battle, Papadakis' e.t. didn't have an effect on the outcome, as Lochhead red lit at the line.
Like hungry lions fighting over a zebra carcass on the Serengeti plains, three competitors in the season points race would claw, bite and scratch for the championship trophy in Palmdale. Brent Rau's GReddy/Thermal Research & Development Mitsubishi, Mike Crawford's Forward Motion Neon and Gary Gardella's Echo-sponsored Civic were less than 50 points away from each other for the $15,000 purse.
In qualifying, Gardella qualified in the number three position, but a hurt engine slowed his drive to the big payoff. A last-minute scramble to get the engine ready for eliminations fell short. With Gardella out of the picture, it was a race to see who could advance furthest.
While a transmission swap was needed on the Phatridz Neon, the GReddy/Thermal Eclipse sat untouched. In the quarterfinals, Rau knocked off the Brent Leivestad, while Crawford lost to Andrew Tran, thanks to a busted axle.
Jojo Callos advanced to the finals with a 9.18 against the XTR Motorsports Civic and Rau beat out Tri Do's 11.29 e.t. to gain entrance into the finals. Just by making it to the finals, Rau locked in the $25,000 payday, but a first place win would make him $2,500 richer. As the tree fell, a red light flashed and unfortunately, it was on Rau's side, handing the easy win to Callos in the JG/Edelbrock Civic.