Another trip to Englishtown; another attack on the record book. The Summit/NHRA Sport Compact series made the last of its two visits to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in New Jersey. The K&N Filters Fall Nationals saw records fall in three classes. In Pro FWD, the 8-second barrier was in jeopardy as the race for the first 7-second e.t. intensified.
In the Turbo Magazine Hot Rod Class, the scene was a boxing match with two heavyweights standing toe-to-toe and tee-ing off on each other. On Saturday, Gary Gardella blasted an 8.53 in qualifying to set up a run for the record. Rain subsequently cancelled all of Saturday's qualifying efforts. Undaunted, Gardella laid down a sub-record 8.459 in Sunday's one-and-only, all-or-nothing qualifying round. Marty Ladwig kept the pressure on with an 8.563 and a newcomer on the scene, Paul Bhawan, jumped right into the 8s with an 8.87; no one else managed an 8 in qualifying.
In the first round, Ladwig ran an 8.835, Gardella putt-putted with a Bye run and most of the big names in the class got their act together. Kenny Tran (8.772), Mike Crawford (8.671) and Bhawan (8.668) all served notice with Sav Leone (9.164) and Joe Demaree (9.291) threatening to join them in the 8-second zone.
Round two saw Ladwig make a case for the e.t. record by edging Gardella's time by a scant .002 with a wild 8.457-it was now a race to back it up. Gardella laid down an 8.60 to dispatch Tran, while Bhawan kept the 8s rolling in his JRP/Splitfire/Turbosmart Civic with an 8.703.
In the semis, Ladwig closed the deal with a stout 8.497 against Bhawan, who posted his fourth consecutive 8 with an 8.743, but he didn't make the finals-in the big leagues even consistent 8s are no guarantee of victory. Ladwig had the record with a backed-up 8.457 and Gardella advanced to the finals with a strong 8.57.
The clash of the titans final pitted the heavyweights: Ladwig vs. Gardella. Gardella, of nearby Jackson, N.J., shocked the crowd by dropping an 8.454 on Ladwig, which reclaimed the e.t. record, set the mph at 180.31 and won the Wally. It also kept Ladwig from clinching the class championship.
In Honda Tuning All-Motor there was another struggle for a spot in the record book and an attack on the 9s. The current record holder going into E-Town was Leslie Durst with a 10.13. She figured to be in the chase again. But her competitor was a bit of a surprise. Scott Mohler had not challenged the 9s at all this season and his 11.19-second qualifying effort did not hint at what was to come. In the first round, Durst went 10.22 unopposed and Mohler put up a 10.77.
In round two Ken Scheepers posted a 10.38 and Durst posted a 10.30. Then Mohler dropped the bomb, a 10.056 at 135.10 mph. In the semis Durst counterattacked with a quicker 10.031 and Mohler broke less than a foot off the line on a single. The Mopar crew got the Neon together and lined up against Durst in the final. This time Durst had problems and Mohler completed the double, running a wicked 10.071 at 135.89. This class championship will also be decided at the season-ending Pomona event.
The fireworks kept coming in Modified, where Vinny Ten came out swinging with a 7.770 at 175.84 mph in his qualifying round. Class favorite Cesar Febus managed a flailing 18.92 and Paul Efantis struggled to complete his qualifying run, hitting the traps at 39 mph. The number two qualifier was the seemingly outmatched John Shepherd and his all-wheel-drive Talon at 9.02. Shepherd had the Cinderella story going as he managed to advance to the final against Vinny. The dream ended there, however, as Vinny popped a 7.714 against Shepherd's 8.827. To Shepherd's credit the 8.82 was one of the quickest, if not the quickest, pass his impressive DSM has ever made. He can also say it took a record run to beat him as Vinny's 7.71 set the NHRA Modified record.