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).
As expected, it was two Puerto Rican racers in the final. Raul Acevedo and his rotary-powered '72 Datsun were up against Wilberto Anaya's rotary-powered '95 Miata in the Quick 16 final. When the tree dropped, Acevedo launched a 9.27 second pass at 141-mph (9.25 dial) while Wilberto Anaya had trouble getting off the line and stumbled to a 19.12 (8.55 dial) finish.
True to drag racing tradition, the quickest cars race last and the Pro Mod Extreme cars were plenty quick with more than a few 7-second rotaries in attendance.
The quickest time belonged to La Atrevida, a well-known '82 Starlet piloted by Jorge Juarbe (who was also NHRA Sport Compact Modified Champion Cesar Febus' crew chief during his championship run). Juarbe hot-shoe'd his way through the dozens of competitors, which were comprised mainly of old-school imports with race-proven, turbocharged Mazda rotaries or Toyota 3TC four-cylinder motivation. Juarbe's red Starlet matched up with Jose Rodriguez's Starlet for the final and drove to the finish line first with a 7.72 at 174 to an 8.16 at 161 victory. Juarbe walked away with a cool $4,000 payday for his efforts.
Maybe the showdown of the day wasn't for money or trophies, just bragging rights. Englishtown pulled a racing coup when it set up a match race between reigning NDRA Xbox Cup champ Ara Arslanian and NHRA POWERade competitor Bob Benza-the first import vs. NHRA Pro Stock battle of its kind.
Bullish Racing's Ara Arslanian and his Street Glow Solara agreed to take on BNB Racing's Bob Benza and his Chevy Cobalt in a best two-of-three showdown. It was 500 naturally aspirated cubic inches vs. 3.4 turbocharged liters (201 cubic inches). Chevy vs. Toyota. Carburetors vs. fuel injection. Jerry Haas chassis vs. C&F Racecars chassis. Most of all, it was import vs. domestic.
The result? Both teams had troubles in the first two matchups. The Bullish team fought through a weekend full of carnage before the 6-second/200-plus mph final pass. On the first pass, the Solara broke a transmission and coasted through the traps. In the second stanza, shock from tire shake broke intercooler piping and forced Arslanian to pull to a stop at the 1,000-foot mark. The crew also scrambled to repair a boost leak.
Benza's team also had their work cut out for the day. To its credit, the team operated on a single-day schedule, with the first match race pass right off the trailer. Benza hooked hard to the left right off the starting line and let off for the first race.
For the second pass, Benza again had troubles near half track and coasted across the timers. With no full passes from either racer, there were no clear winners for the first two passes. While both racers found it hard to get down the track this weekend for two of their passes, Arslanian and Benza provided a thrilling last race.
It began with a prolonged staging battle. Both racers refused to stage first and were finally asked by the starter to restage before the lights dropped green. Benza left first and had an advantage through the 60-foot mark. Arslanian then pedaled his car and drove through tire shake while dancing near the center line in his right lane to catch Benza, who had to lift just past half track. Arslanian came from behind with a 6.89 at 209 finish for the thrilling victory, while Benza coasted across the finish line.
It was a fitting, thrilling end to a weekend full of excitement.
Ninth Annual BFGoodrich Tires Summer Sport Compact Slam Winners
Old Bridge Township Raceway Park
Englishtown, N.J. (July 3)
Bracket 1 (15.00 and Slower)
W: Victoria Kent ('94 Duster) - 15.442, 81.22 (15.37 dial)
R/U: Frederick Simmons ('89 Cavalier) - 15.621, 82.05 (15.51 dial)
Semi's: Ronald San Andres ('98 Civic); Jack Cogliano ('95 Eagle)
Bracket 2 (13.00 - 14.99)
W: Peter Church ('94 Integra) - 14.400, 85.16 (14.30 dial)
R/U: Jeff Hartsell ('03 SRT 4) - 13.735, 105.35 (13.40 dial)
Semi's: Zhen Jin ('95 240SX)
Bracket 3 (12.99 and Quicker)
W: George Gonzalez ('91 Talon) - 12.922, 92.08 (12.50 dial)
R/U: Carl Buchbinder ('86 Charger) - 26.059, 65.23 (12.35 dial)
Semi's: Edwin Burgos ('82 Starlet)
W: Raul Acevedo ('72 1200) - 9.275, 141.86 (9.25 dial)
R/U: Wilberto Anaya ('95 Miata) - 19.123, 73.98 (8.55 dial)
Semi's: Ivan Padilla ('72 1200); Hommy DeAlba ('82 Starlet)
Pro Mod Extreme
W: Jorge Juarbe ('82 Starlet) - 7.726, 174.23
R/U: Jose Rodriguez ('82 Starlet) - 8.163, 161.59
Semi's: Jose Ramos ('81 Corolla); Marcelino Lopez ('69 Toyota)
W: Sean Ivey ('92 Talon) - 9.743, 148.36
R/U: Harry Sohn ('94 del Sol) - 11.560, 102.84
Semi's: Johnny Ortiz ('87 Accord); Jan Roman Negron ('84 Rabbit)
W: Alex Batista ('92 Civic) - 12.674, 96.53
R/U: Anthony Morel ('93 Civic) - foul
Semi's: Spiridon Doupis ('92 Civic)
W: Stephen Lockett ('97 Neon) - 10.089, 144.53
R/U: Joe Simpson ('95 Civic) - 11.111, 109.04
Semi's: Felix Medina ('92 Civic)
W: Randy Owens ('93 Civic) - 13.076, 112.39
R/U: Dennis Melendez ('92 Civic) - 13.222, 102.74
Semi's: Greg Samaroo ('94 Civic); Duffant's Inc ('95 Honda)
W: Keith Loforte ('92 Talon) - 11.188, 130.69
R/U: Al Friedman ('03 EVO) - broke
Semi's: Dan Back ('92 Civic)