The NHRA series hit infamous Englishtown Raceway Park with a new series sponsor and high expectations for the Nitto Sport Compact Spring Nationals. Sony Electronics and its Xplod brand stepped up from its support role to become the series' title sponsor of the action going down on the track. Mother Nature rained on the parade on Saturday, canceling both scheduled qualifying rounds. This meant a one-shot, all-or-nothing qualifying round on Sunday. The rain, which was supposed to leave the area by midnight, lingered well into the morning. In fact the race was a scant 15 minutes away from being canceled when the rain stopped and the radar looked clear. So the track was prepped for action.
The E-Town fan base is the strongest in the sport compact dominion and there were a lot of people in the stands considering the uncertain weather situation. Victims of the one-run-or-you're-done qualifications included Vince Fourcade and the Titan Pro RWD Celica (broke after burnout), Jose Ramos Jr. in Modified (left before tree activation), Shawn Hillier in the Skunk2 All Motor Skunk2 (left before tree activation), Norris P. in All Motor (stalled in burnout box), Johnny Ortiz in Hot Rod, (did not accept starters orders), Kenny Tran in Hot Rod (leaking fluid after burnout).
Impressive qualifiers included Matt Hartford in the Summit Racing Pro RWD Cavalier (6.674 at 213.06 mph, a new track speed record), Ara Arslanian in his Bullish Racing Pro RWD Solara (6.90), Justin Humphries and his pristine Modified-class Lexus GS300 (7.33 at 189 mph), Ron Lummus in the Garrett Turbo Hot Rod Pontiac (7.94 at 184 mph) and Jesus Padilla in his All Motor RX-7 (9.945).
Eliminations got off to a shaky start as the first three pairs of cars in All Motor had a car break down after staging which left the highly amped crowd jonesing for some door-to-door war. Then Scott Mohler and Jeremy Lookofsky pulled to the beams, neither wanting to stage first. After the staging duel Lookofsky got the last word with the win, running a 10.209 to Mohler's 10.343. Lookofsky's Civic slowed in the semis as he ran an 11.43 to Joe Conde's 11.23 but a .172 to .419 holeshot got Lookofsky's Matix-sponsored Honda to the line first. As Lookofsky worked for every advantage, Padilla was dropping 9s every round. When the two met in the money race Padilla did not flinch running a 9.90 to Lookofsky's off-pace 12.89.
Hot Rod and Pro FWD were pretty much foregone conclusions after qualifying. Ron Lummus made the most of his 1.366-second qualifying advantage in the four-car Hot Rod field and breezed to the win and the Wally, blasting untouchable 7.957- and a 7.995-second e.t.s.
In Pro FWD there were only two competitors; Jason Hunt and Ed Bergenholtz. Hunt posted an 8.036 in qualifications while Team Bergenholtz struggled with a 10.39. In the first round/final round Bergenholtz nailed the tree, .103 to .151, but Hunt had him covered running an 8.474 with a smoking engine compared to Bergenholtz's 8.638.
In Modified, Humphries was on a collision course with class-dominator Paul Efantis and his Lucas Oil Solara. Efantis whiffed the qualifier but his 12.74 was still good enough for fifth in the eight-car field. A 7.317 in round one proved all was well with Efantis and the Toyota. Fortune soon turned on Humphries who had just ran a swift 7.377. At the big end, while Humphries was out of the car, the parachute of another car got caught in the Lexus' wheelie bars and pushed it nose-first into a pole.
Crew members from Titan Motorsports and a few other teams rallied to help Humphries and his RaceRedi Motorsports Team fix the car for the semifinals. The car pulled into the burnout box with a tape job that would make NASCAR crew chiefs proud. Looking like a survivor of the Big One at Talladega, the GS300 lined up with archrival Paul Efantis.
At the green it was a dead-heat off the line. At half-track Efantis was ahead by a few feet. About that time Humphries began to lose the handle on the Lexus and he hit the traps struggling for control. The car eventually went into Efantis' lane and clipped the wall. Humphries walked away unhurt but the Lexus is in need of repairs.
Efantis, with his 7.419 marched into the finals against Sean Glazar and the Extreme Motorsports Talon. Glazar's best run of the event was an 8.80 at 163 mph so his fate was sealed. Efantis dropped a 7.449 and collected the Wally.
Strangeness ensued in round one of eliminations for Pro RWD. First up was Matt Hartford against Stephan Papadakis. Steph rolled through the beams early and popped something in the driveline while Hartford got off the line but popped something in his driveline before passing the tree. The next pair was Carlos Montano and the Pepe Loco MX-6 against Brad Personett and the Titan Mail Order Celica. The Celica was a no-show so Pepe got the pass.
Adam Saruwatari was back in NHRA competition after an absence of more than a year. He made the most of his opportunity blasting a 7.040 at 197 mph which easily covered Manny Cruz's 7.94 in his "new for 2005" 1990 Nissan Sentra. Ara Arslanian got the crowd pumped by dropping a 6.805 at 202 mph on Matt Scranton. Arslanian followed that up with a 6.92 run to defeat Saruwatari and line up a money match-up against Hartford.
In the Wally race there was some staging lane shenanigans going down. Arslanian moved in first and Hartford took his time getting into position. The result was a .086 to .295 starting-line advantage for Hartford who never looked back in a close duel. The Summit Racing Cavalier broke the beams first with a 6.990 while Arslanian came home with a 7.066.
The action was rapid-fire and the E-Town crew earned their pay for the week as the last pair of cars went through the traps at 7:21 p.m. against a 7:30 curfew. The speed-freaked gypsy troupe that is the NHRA Xplod series is staying in the Garden State as the next stop on the pilgrimage is nearby Atco Raceway.