The third round in the 2002 NHRA Sport Compact Drag Racing Series brought racers and fans alike to Atco, N.J. on May 18th and 19th for what may have been the most competitive and entertaining day in the history of the sport.
The 2002 season has had a lot of close races, but never before has every class served up door handle-to-door handle racing like this. The level of competition at the Lucas Oil Products NHRA Sport Compact Nationals presented by Smirnoff Ice is truly a testament to the growth of the sport; not only are racers building more reliable and more powerful cars in the upper classes, driving skills are improving.
This class could possibly be the hardest in which to do well. Going fast is not a matter of turning up the wick and watching the boost gauge run higher. There is much more finesse involved; every little bit of horsepower gained could be the difference between advancing and loading up on the trailer.
First round action pitted Ken Scheepers and his old-school '79 RX-7 against Larry Kelley and his '69 VW Fastback. Kelley was having engine problems in qualifying, but limped his car to the line and even managed to get a head start on Scheepers. But it was Scheepers that would move to the semi-final as Kelley was forced to shut his car down when the engine let go.
Jesus Padilla and his tubbed-out '85 RX-7 was matched against Charles Lore and his '92 Honda Civic. This turned out to be a no-brainer for Padilla, not only did he smoke Lore off the line, he was also over two seconds faster at the finish. Padilla finished in 10.558 sec at 127 mph to Lore's 12.651 at 82 mph.
The Skunk2 Integra has been dusted off and brought out of retirement for 2002 and in the first two events proved the Integra and driver Tony Shagday were still a force. In the first round, Angel Valentin and his '85 RX-7 were able to get a small lead off the line over Shagday, but engine problems ensued and Valentin dropped off and Shagday motored into the semis.
The final run in the first round was a little comical, but easily understood. Tom Fujita driving his '87 Civic went against Jeremy Allen and his '92 Civic. Inexperience and adrenaline seemed to get the best of Fujita though. As Fujita was lining up to stage, Allen had already rolled into the first beam. Apparently, Fujita wanted to win really badly; he rolled through the lights without staging and took off, forgeting the staging rules. Allen's adrenaline must have been surging as well, he decided to give chase. Allen at least waited to see the first yellow light though, and a red light beats a "no stage."
It seems Shagday would have it easy for most of the day, but that doesn't mean he didn't go out and run some great numbers. What could have been a close match for both Shagday and Scheepers became a walk in the park for the Skunk2 Acura. Scheepers entered the first staging beam setting his car up for a hard launch, but problems ensued and Scheepers rolled through the lights. Rules dictate you cannot back the car up to try again. The light turned green for Shagday, who ran a 10.761 at 123 mph moving him into the finals.