The Hot Rod Class was again the scene for some great racing. The first shock of the day came when championship leader Marty Ladwig took a hard left turn into the wall at the 60-foot mark in his first round appearance. A ball-joint had snapped and Ladwig was a passenger as the Pontiac Sunfire ground to a halt against the concrete. Ladwig was un-hurt, but this loss opened the door for his championship rivals, Mike Crawford and Kenny Tran, to gain some points on the GM team.
Tran responded by taking out veteran Myles Bautista in the first round and raised his performance level to beat Gary Gardella in round two with an 8.823 at 164.43 mph against a 9.166 at 123.38 mph.
Meanwhile, Crawford had a solo pass in the first round and lined up against the Arospeed Civic of "The Bear" Bermea in the second round. Unfortunately, Bermea trashed his transmission after the burnout and Crawford ran a gentle 10.654 to cruise into a semifinal match-up against Tran. Lance Ho Lung was flying as well. His second round race saw him run an awesome 8.576 at 167.82 mph to take out J. J. Olson. In his semifinal race, Ho Lung ran another 8.5-second pass to beat Venom's Bruce Mortensen and claim his final round spot against the winner of the other semi.
The Tran vs. Crawford semi was a thriller. Tran got the early advantage with a .508 light against Crawford's .535 and from that point Crawfords's Neon was chasing down the Quaker State Honda Civic. At the line, both cars stopped the clocks with an 8.906, so Tran took the victory thanks to the holeshot. "That was a little too close for comfort," Tran said. "I could see Mike creeping up out of the corner of my eye and I didn't have any idea who had won until I picked up the timeslip.
The final was another reason for the Quaker State crew to celebrate Tran's razor sharp reactions. Tran left with a .428 against Ho Lung's .611. From that point it was all Tran as the Quaker State car pulled away from Ho Lung's ailing Civic to take the win with an 8.650 at 166.29 mph.
The Modified Class was basically a two-horse race with Venom's top qualifier Jimmy O'Connor and Cesar Febus the only real contenders at Las Vegas' strip. The final round was anticlimactic. O'Connor couldn't race due to mechanical problems, leaving Febus to make a solo pass to take the win. Febus did not disappoint the fans. His 8.608 pass at 172.17 mph had the crowd on its feet and cheering as Febus claimed yet another 2003 win.
The Pro FWD Class was another mechanical breakage-fest. First to go was top qualifier Chris Rado in the first round. After completing his burnout, Rado's transmission refused to engage a gear and he was pushed back. His opponent Jerold Rhodes also had a glitch after the burnout so both cars eliminated themselves in a weird double loss.
Next to fall was Shaun Carlson. He failed to show for his second round race against Charles Madrid. Madrid ran a gentle 12.421 to claim a final round place.
Nelson Hoyos Finally found an answer to clutch problems that had kept him off the pace and ran a good solo pass in the semi. His 8.480 at 180.43 mph was the best e.t. of the weekend for the GM team.
Breakages played a role in the final as well. Madrid was unable to stage his CRX, so Hoyos ran another solo pass. Hoyos didn't take it easy and posted an awesome 8.404 at 181.69 mph on his way to claim yet another victory and consolidate his championship leading position.
The first round of Pro RWD action was the scene of some great performances. In a veterans match-up, Adam Saruwatari took out Abel Ibarra when Ibarra's RX-7 slowed at the big end. Saruwatari posted a 7.700 at 184.02 against Ibarra's 8.613 at 147.75 mph.
Steph Papadakis crept closer to the landmark 6-second, 200-mph club when he busted off a 7.009 at 197.31 mph against Grant Downing in the first round.
The Streetglow double-act of Ara Arslanian and George Ioannou put on an awesome side-by-side show as both Solaras ran in the two hundreds. Arslanian took the win with a 7.017 at 200.20 mph against Ioannou's 7.135 at 201.13 mph. In the semis, Steph Papadakis lined his AEM Civic up against the NSX of Adam Saruwatari. Papadakis had too much for Saruwatari as he blasted to the win with a 7.680 against an 8.143.
In the other semi, Ara Arslanian lined up against Matt Scranton in his Turbonetics Celica. As the tree dropped Scranton's motor broke and he just managed to roll through the lights. What should have been an easy win for Arslanian was ruined when Ara lit the red light and threw away an easy victory.
Matt Scranton was unable to make it to the line for the final but Stephan Papadakis had plenty of excitement in store for the fans. When the tree dropped, Papadakis launched hard and straight. His time came up on the scoreboard and the fans went nuts-Stephan Papadakis had finally joined the exclusive ranks of the 6-second, 200-mph club, with an amazing 6.900 at 200.56 mph.
Papadakis was smiling from ear-to-ear as he picked up his well-deserved Wally. "Wow, I can't believe that we have finally done it," he said. "That was an awesome pass and now we know we can compete with anyone in our class. I am ready to celebrate tonight."
The Las Vegas event was a great one, despite iffy weather conditions. The fans came out in force and the stars of the NHRA Sport Compact Series gave them a large helping of top-flight racing action.