Due to freak wet-weather conditions, the opening event of the 2003 NHRA sport compact season in Las Vegas was cancelled and rescheduled for July 25 and 26. Mother Nature continued to mess with the racers when they turned up in Sin City for the rerun. On Friday morning, high winds and unheard-of rain pelted the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the weather cleared in time for the action to commence that night.
The qualifying sessions on Friday night involved a few upsets and plenty of action. In the All-Motor Class, championship leader Ken Scheepers looked to have the pole sewn up with the RX7.com Mazda until Scott Mohler in his Dodge Neon beat him in the final session with a 10.657 against a 10.676. Jesus Padilla claimed third place, followed by Leslie Durst in her Honda and Scott Kelley in this VW.
The Hot Rod Class was a packed field. Not surprisingly, Marty Ladwig claimed pole position with an 8.736 at 164.49 in the Pontiac Sunfire, followed by Mike Crawford in the Neon with an 8.964. Gary Gardella posted a 9.017 to claim the third spot and behind him was Lance Ho Lung and J.J. Olsen in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Team Quaker State driver Kenny Tran was looking for the tune-up and ended up in sixth but was confident his performance would improve. "Norwood is confident he has got a handle on the conditions now," Tran said. "The altitude, along with the weird humidity has played havoc with everyone, that's why the times are a little off. I guess we will find out when we go into eliminations if we are on target."
The 2003 season has seen a great battle in the Modified Class between Team Venom's Jimmy O'Connor and Cesar Febus in his old-school 300ZX. So far, Febus seems to have the upper hand, but in Las Vegas, Jimmy O'Connor clinched the number one position with a flying 8.194 at 164.75 mph in the Venom Supra. Febus was close behind with an 8.223 at 165.99, setting up another two-way battle for the "Wally."
The Pro FWD class has been an interesting class to watch this year, as several new cars have been debuted with great results. At the end of the day Chris Rado was the top qualifier. He proved to the doubters that his radical Toyota Celica has what it takes to win, he just needs to fix the transmission problems that have plagued the World Racing team this year. After posting an 8.462 at 176.21 mph Rado was a happy camper. "I know we've got what it takes to be winners in this class," he said. "We're making more than enough horsepower, but we're having trouble with the shifting mechanism on our Fortin transaxle. Some of the other teams seem to have a handle on it and we just need to find out what they are doing right. Shaun Carlson is helping us out and I am confident he'll figure out where we are going wrong. All the same, it's great to be on pole and I couldn't be happier."
Dr. Charles Madrid claimed the second spot with teammate Ed Bergenholtz in third. Championship leader Nelson Hoyos qualified fourth, but the GM team is hard at work so he will still be a threat in the eliminations.
Meanwhile, the rear-wheel-drive ground-pounders were putting on a show for the Vegas crowd. 2003 has been a great year for Ara Arslanian and his Streetglow-backed Bullish racing squad so far. Ara had a few problems in Vegas but managed to squeeze into the field in the final session with an 8.074 at 157.96 mph.
George Ioannou took the other Solara to the top spot with a 6.954 at 202.73 mph. In second place was veteran Abel Ibarra behind the wheel of his K&N RX7. Ibarra ran a 7.129 at 193.96 mph and Stephan Papadakis clinched the third spot with a 7.196 at 195.08 mph.
Despite wacky weather conditions, eliminations turned up a few shocking results. The first upset in the All-Motor Class came when championship leader Ken Scheepers was beaten in the second round by Jeremy Lookofsky. Scheepers was slow to react with a .743 light and Lookofsky capitalized on that to win with a 10.978 at 123.19 mph.
Lookofsky was beaten in a semifinal race against Jesus Padilla, while on the other side of the ladder, Scott Mohler dispatched Leslie Durst in a great race where Durst post a 10.526 against Mohler's winning 10.506.
The final round was not a good one for the current champion, Jesus Padilla. He lit the red, leaving Scott Mohler to win with a 10.708 at 129.97 mph. Mohler gained valuable ground in the points chase against Ken Scheepers and was happy to claim a Wally for the Mopar squad.
"I really needed a win and luckily, Ken was out early in the event. Now I need to continue this into the next couple of events. Then we will have a real battle for the championship," said Mohler.