A lot of friendly smack talk has been exchanged in the past between racers Stephan Papadakis and Carlos "Steph killer" Gonzalez, but the semi-final round would be the proof in the pudding as to who would reign for the day. When the tree dropped, it was all about Papadakis getting the jump. Gonzalez came charging hard and it looked like he might even be able to pass, but the top-end power of Papadakis' AEM Civic was enough to keep Gonzalez at bay. Papadakis finished with an 8.473 at 172 mph to Gonzalez' 8.265 at 162 mph. Steph's super quick.502 reaction time against Carlos' .850 was the difference.
The second pairing in the semis was Jose Mendez and Marcos Acosta. Once again it became a piston vs. rotary showdown. This really was a close race as both racers left at almost the same time; Mendez had a .526 to .583 reaction advantage. The cars were neck-and-neck the entire 1320 with Acosta seeming to gain just slightly toward the finish, but the slight lead Mendez took at the start was just enough to get his bumper to cross the finish first. Mendez finished with a 9.014 at 145 mph to Acosta's 9.209 at 149 mph.
This final followed the liberal track oiling of the Venom Civic. By the time workers finished cleaning the racing surface the sun was gone, the lights were on, and the track was cold. Both cars tried their best to warm their tires but with temps dipping into the high 50s, the cold track was quick to cool tires. Mendez cut a fantastic light (.449). The Corolla pulled away but slowed to run an 11 and change at the finish while Papadakis seemed to have engine problems and could not give chase.
It is obvious the Pro Class competitors are really stepping up their game as seven out of the eight qualifiers posted 7-second times. And it should only get better as the thirst for speed is drawing competitors from other classes to step into the realm of tube-frame, high-horsepower cars.
For example, Ara Arslanian of Bullish Motor Racing was competing in the unibody class last year with his streetable Toyota Supra. This season he has come out blazing with not just one, but two mirror-image Toyota Solaras with identically prepared Supra powerplants.
New to import drag racing, but a legend in his own right, John Lingenfelter has decided to join the ranks of Pro Import Class cars with his Summit Racing-sponsored Sonoma truck. He is running a turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder and has no problem keeping up with the pack. Orlando Torres, driving a Mazda RX-7, was first to try to shut Lingenfelter down, but when the light turned green, Torres' Mazda pulled left and out of the groove, forcing him to shut down early while Lingenfelter walked into the next round.
Piloting the Venom Racing Tundra, Grant Downing was up to the task of taking names and kicking ass. First up to the plate Rafael Rolda and his Toyota Corolla. Little did Rolda know that Downing is probably the only import driver that is licensed to drive a Top Fuel Funny Car. All that experience was seen as Downing cut a .473 light, launching him past Rolda, who was having problems of his own back at the line. Downing moved into the semis with an impressive 7.397 at 185 mph.
With less than 10 total passes on his Toyota Solara, Ara Arslanian was looking to knock the tube-frame Duttweiler-prepped twin-turbo V6 Cougar of Manny Cruz out of the way. Ara qualified with a 7.712 pass, which is good for a brand-new car. But it was obvious that bugs still need to be worked out when Ara was slow to launch. Cruz, who made it into the field when the 300ZX of Jorge Lazcano broke in qualifying, posted his best time of the event an 8.240 at 159 mph to Ara's ailing 7.980 at 162mph.
Driving the other Bullish Motor Racing Solara was George Ioannou, who was able to better Ara's time in qualifying. Ioannou would have his work cut out for him when he was set against Jose Torres and the Siguel Racing Mazda RX-7. As the light changed to green, Torres bogged off the line and Ioannou took full advantage of the mistake, blasting his way to the finish with a personal best of 7.227 at 186 mph to Torres' 8.211 at 175 mph.
Opening the semifinal round were George Ioannou against John Lingenfelter. This was definitely the upset of the day. All of Lingenfelter's experience was not enough to beat the 1.049 60-foot of Ioannou and the Bullish Solara, and even though Lingenfelter was able to hold even, he was not able to gain ground on Ioannou's 7.439 at 186 mph. Lingenfelter finished with a 7.546 at 187 mph.
Second in the semi were Grant Downing and Manny Cruz, but this was over before it started. During the burnout Cruz was leaking fluid; he was forced to shut it off and call it a day. Downing, however, did not take the easy way out and made a full pass, which gave him the win for the battle of the trucks with a 7.316 at 187 mph.
The final should have been close, but these two cars ran right after Papadakis and Mendez. Again, the temps were dropping and the track was cold. Ioannou was able to get away from Downing early on and Downing dropped out of the groove. Ioannou shut down early when he realized the finish was close and Downing was nowhere to be seen. Ioannou took home the win for the Bullish team, an achievement for such a new car.
At Atco, the Toyota Tundra of Craig Paisley and Toyota Celica of Matt Scranton and Turbonetics were the only Pro V8 racers on hand. Wanting to at least put on a good show, Paisley and Scranton ran each other in qualifying. But when it came down to the pass that counted, Paisley had problems. After both vehicles did long "pro style" burnouts, Paisley was shut off behind the line. The Celica made a single pass, got loose after the 60-foot mark and Scranton tried his best to get back in line. It was an easy way to collect a third consecutive NHRA win for Scranton and Turbonetics.