There was a strange vibe surrounding the NHRA BFGoodrich Sport Compact Nationals held August 9-10 at Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas.
A good deal of the funk had to do with our hotel being blocks away from "the grassy knoll" where JFK was assassinated and the fact that the event was being contested at night and on Friday and Saturday.
The gates opened at 3 p.m. and the action pumped until well past midnight-which meant the local Dennys had a surge of late-night cash. Night racing was implemented as an escape from the unrelenting Texas heat-a combination of near triple digit temperatures and near triple digit humidity. Weather set the tone for the event again when the Dallas area was body slammed with a wicked thunderstorm Saturday morning, which didn't nail the track some 40 miles away too badly, but still hurt attendance.
As with most of the NHRA events this season, Dallas delivered the goods-controversy, drama and action. Before a single car had made a timed run, a controversy surfaced about the Lingenfelter-backed Cavalier driven by Matt Hartford. Slated for the Modified Class, many objected to the car's tube framing that ran from the firewall forward and alterations made to the firewall. When the car was approved for competition in Modified, not Pro, many looked to the side of the car for answers because the car's sponsor, Summit, is also the title sponsor of the series.
Jojo Callos provided some theatrics as he spun his Castrol Integra at about the 1,200-foot mark during the second round of qualifying. He hit the wall with the rear of the car but his wheelie bar saved the day and the body was not damaged. The crew used a tie-down to pull the bar into alignment and Turbo/Import Tuner technical editor Gary Castillo sparked the welder, helping send Jojo to eliminations.
Cesar Fibus cranked out an 8.02 at 153 mph in qualifying, then put a rod through the block of his old school 300ZX in the final qualifying round. The crew had most of the essentials but the crankshaft was a goner and they had to scrounge for a replacement. They miraculously found a crankshaft, but by the time they got the engine running, it was the second round of eliminations.
In Hot Rod, Kenny Tran used his home court advantage to grab the number one qualifying spot with a 9.25, Bruce Mortensen was second with a 9.30 and Gary Gardella came out from Jersey and survived a broken final drive in the first round of qualifying to run a 9.36 after repairs to secure third on the grid. Gearbox gremlins got the better of Gardella and points leader Jojo Callos couldn't advance his wounded Integra past the second round.
With a miscue concerning Bye runs, it came down to Kenny and Bruce in the semis. Yet again both racers brought out their A-game and the crowd was treated to one of the quickest and closest races in the history of unibody Honda racing. Kenny won the race on the tree (see accompanying chart) but neither racer was sure who won until they collected their identical 9.08-second timeslips-that's how close it was.
While the controversy surrounding the Lingenfelter Cavalier focused the spotlight on Modified, the racing kept it there. Ron and Ed Bergenholtz finally got their CRX down the strip. Ron went nuts after the run but we are not sure if it was because the car ran 9.19 or because they beat the Lingenfelter Cavalier, which broke after qualifying number two with an 8.23. It was a popular win all through the pits.
Third qualifier Jimmy O'Connor (8.27) had asthma complications and couldn't answer the bell for eliminations. With all the drama running rampant through the class Stephan Papadakis was the beacon of consistency. His 8.51 effort in qualifying was followed up with an 8.50 and an 8.42 in eliminations.