Some say import drag racing is dead or it has changed for the worse. They obviously haven't been to a BFGoodrich Tires Summer Sport Compact Slam event lately.
The annual Fourth of July weekend event at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park (better known as Englishtown) has consistently been one of the nation's biggest showcases of import drag racing and show cars. Call it a sport compact event if you want but the Slam still has all the flavor it had back in the late '90s when iconic Puerto Rican racecars like 'Rafaelito' (7.72, two-rotor FC RX-7) and 'Sakura' (7.97, 4G63 Mitsubishi Mirage) were two of the fastest imports in the world.
The ninth edition in 2005 was bigger, badder and better. In attendance were tens of thousands of fans, hundreds of drag racers (including a stout field of two dozen entries representing Team Puerto Rico), hundreds of the finest custom show cars this side of the Rockies, dozens of the nation's craziest low riders and one ultimate domestic vs. import drag race.
Walking through the car show field is like walking through a dreamscape made of a thousand tuners' wildest visions. From the classic, JDM-themed Honda Civics to widebodied Supras with Lambo doors to chrome and airbrushed (East Coast style) Integras to wire wheel-shod '67 Caddies, there were more than 50 categories to check out.
The Manufacturer's Midway is always a great place to get product info direct from the source or pick up a set of wheels at "event pricing" (in true E-town tradition, you can even land a JDM SR20 or B-series engine on the midway). Will Castro and his Unique Autosports crew brought out a borrowed collection of slammed and customized domestic sleds from their celebrity clients-cars seen by many on Castro's "Unique Whips" TV show (on SPEED network). The main off-track attraction, though, was the famed lifestyle stage, where the infamous bikini contest is held and musical acts like Sherni performed in '05.
More than $50,000 was put up by Raceway Park for the drag racing purse, making it one of the highest prize-winning standalone (non-sanctioned series) sport compact drag racing events on the planet. Classes were loosely based on NHRA Sport Compact competition classes with Sport FWD (limited four-cylinder unibody), All Motor (naturally aspirated four cylinder), Hot 8 (four-cylinder unibody) and Pro Mod Extreme (back-halved, RWD). In addition, a street tire category gave the area's fastest Supra and EVO racers a chance to compete for DOT tire supremacy.
In Street Tire, it was a good old-school DSM that took top honors; Keith Loforte drove through the field with his '92 Eagle Talon and came away the category winner. Runner-up Al Friedman's 2003 Lancer Evolution broke before the finals, but Loforte put on an 11.18 at 130 victory lap in appreciation of the big crowd packing the bleachers.
Street Stock winner Randy Owens didn't have the luxury of a single in the final. Owens worked his way to the money race, then outran Dennis Melendez 13.07 seconds at 112 mph to 13.22 seconds at 102 mph in his '93 Honda Civic to take the Street title.
Without Sport FWD heavy hitter Jason Hunt in the hunt and pal Brian Ballard suffering mechanical woes, the Sport FWD field was wide open. In the end Stephen Lockett's 1997 Dodge Neon ("Spotlight Performer," Turbo October 2004) upset the Honda-dominated field and earned a trip to the victory circle after defeating Joe Simpson's '95 Civic 10.08 at 144 to 11.11 at 109.
A batch of the fastest natural air lovers showed up to compete for the 2005 Slam All-Motor title and competition in the 11- and 12-second field was fierce. Before the sun set, only one competitor walked home with the $2,000 check: Alex Batista. Batista's '92 Civic ran a 12.67 in the final round, but didn't need to; Anthony Morel had started early and earned a red light foul to automatically give the race and cash to Batista.
The Summer Sport Compact Slam Hot 8 category was as exciting as it was diverse, featuring a field of cars that included the world's quickest Honda Accord, VW Rabbit and Honda Del Sol. Although all racers impressed with 10-second runs, it was Sean Ivey's '92 Eagle Talon that claimed top Hot 8 honors. Ivey's Talon ran a 9.74 at 148 to outdistance Harry Sohn's '94 del Sol, which clocked an off-pace 11.56 at 102. Johnny Ortiz and his '87 Honda Accord and Jan Roman Negron's '84 Rabbit were semifinalists.
With a slew of Puerto Rico's quickest nitrous-only rotaries in attendance, the Quick 16 (bracket) category action was fierce. Even NHRA Sport Compact All-Motor Champion Jesus Padilla made the drive up from Florida (with family in tow) to check on the field's progress (many of the cars were tuned by his brother's shop in Puerto Rico).