8/6/16 + 8/7/16
WOW - WONDERFUL, OUTSTANDING WEEKEND
The celebration of 56 years of drag racing at Island Dragway turned out to be a stellar program that made a marvelous three day weekend. Beginning with a large turnout for the Friday night test and tune and gamblers race that ran up to the curfew, Saturday’s National Dragster Challenge Summit Series race also pushed the time limits to squeak in just under the wire. Sunday, well, what can be said for a show that included show cars, nostalgia Super Stock racers, NETO and MANDRA nostalgia circuit competition and a crowd pleasing field of fiberglass that had alcohol injected and blown Funny Cars, and a match race between Bruce Larson’s USA 1 Camaro and the Mustang of Chuck Exton. A standing room only crowd was witness to the largest and most competitive showcase in decades.
Saturday’s Wally chase was delayed for several hours when just as time trials were about to begin a thunder storm blew through the area and doused the track with significant rain. Following a long drying out, the action began with an eye to trying to get it all done before a mandatory halt. As it turned out, the only race that had to be postponed was the runoff between the NETO class racers for the overall award of the trophy.
Jason Wilson grabbed the honors in Super Pro when he finished off Dave Hebig for the title. Wilson came out of the quarters on a bye run while Hebig took out James Arata and Steve Sperone got by John Zulla. Hebig was automatically moved to the final with a solo in the semis and Wilson handily took out Sperone with a 6.47, 141 pass as the loser had big problems right on the starting line. Identical reaction times in the final made for a great contest but when all the timers were done, Wilson had the trophy with his 6.36 at 159.80 ticket while Hebig hit a too quick 6.23 at 165.
It has been some time since a Long has ruled Pro, but that streak came to an end this night. Brent Long and his Mopar entry was the best of the breed and finished off the deal with a besting of last year’s Wally winner Jim Young in the race for the title. Long punched out Sean Conway and Don Algieri (who won S/P one ago) to make it to the final. Young beat the Dodge of John Reed and then ran unopposed to provide the competition, seeking his second straight specialty award. Long showed he wanted the win more as his .004 RT gave him the advantage and while both racers broke out,. Long was less under the dial at 11.91, 109.24 and took the win. Young recorded a 10.37 and 125.85 that determined the difference between a win and a loss of just .006 seconds.
Several weeks back the King of the Track was taken by Street bracket leader Bill Hakucsa. This week he nabbed another such trophy by winning in the bracket. Keith Burnham, Russ Picone and Bill Wackermann all beat their QF opponents and Hakucsa ran solo in the round. Hakucsa dispatched Burnham in the semis while Picone did likewise to Wackermann. Picone looked to have the trophy race under control with a starting line advantage of .025 seconds in the bank, but Hakucsa was able to get close enough with his Camaro to make it impossible for the Mustang driver to lift at the top end, and Picone went under the dial at 11.67, 114.30 that gave the light to Hakucsa, who also broke out with his 11.48, 123.41 ticket to put on the win light.
Bike eliminator belonged to Vinny Cianci as he was better than Dave Ferguson in the last race. Cianci gunned down George Bailey and Ferguson got around points leader Barry Stephens in an earlier round, and Scott McGrath dropped his semifinal race to Ferguson that set the pairings. Cianci combined a little green light advantage and a close to the number 9.38 at 150.98 to seal the deal. Ferguson tried too hard to catch up and ran under his dial for the loss at 9.82, 122.64 with his sled.
Junior Dragster went to Madison Meredith over Gianna Musco. Meredith posted a nice 9.21 and 71.63 for the win as Musco came up just short with a 10.58, 60.83. And Junior Street found Vincent Yonnone taking the nod over Dillon Renz. Yonnone drove his 2013 Ford to a 9.50, 78.30 ticket against the Sonic’s 9.61 and 71.73 of Renz.
Brian English took NETO Comp eliminator over John Giambertone. The 69 Camaro used an 8.63, 157.50 pass to catch and pass the Comet’s 9.61 at 137.48. In the race for NETO Nostalgia Jody Kenly was the big noise with a defeat of Wayne Farquhar. Kenly’s Challenger took the victory on a pass of 10.18 at 129.01 as Farquher’s Chevelle was closer to the dial but later on the start and dropped the race with an 11.30, 115.49. English won the runoff for the Wally on Sunday by beating Kenly in the one race winner take all matchup.
SOME OLD TIME SUNDAY FUELING AROUND
The NHRA is in the midst of celebrating 50 years of Funny Car eliminator and there are lots of stories of famous names who have competed in the class over the last half century. Island was home to many fuel funny car match races years back when the class was dominated by showmen that made their living in those match races rather than at national events. This anniversary weekend brought out a large number of Funny Car competitors mostly powered by alcohol. A part of the pit area looked like a fiberglass forest for the day, and one pair of these nostalgic cars were a little bit special. Long time speed shop operator and racer Chuck Exton had his Mustang bodied racer on hand using a Chevrolet engine of all things. And his opponent was none other than the legendary former world champ in the famous USA 1 Camaro, Bruce Larson. Larson was kind enough to spend some time in the tower talking about his long career in the sport and some of his memories of racing at Island, including a match race against the dragster of Don Garlits when his intended opponent was unable to appear, and the night Larson made an unscheduled visit to the railroad tracks that used to pass by the top end of the shutdown area. With the touch of the starter motor, the smell of nitro in the air took everyone back to the early 1970s at the beginning of the heyday of the most exciting class in drag racing.
A couple rounds of pairings were preceded by an old-fashioned burnout contest by the alcohol burners. George Reidnauer and his Excalibur Corvette was voted as the best of the floppers for the burnout, but unfortunately an oil leak prevented him from making a full track pass. The alcohol funnies ran the full quarter mile distance and set new records for the class at that distance. The Super Camaro of Brian Gawlih ran a record best of 6.561 at 208.01 mph to nail down the ET record for the blown cars. But the Time Bomb of Bob Toth was the fastest of the day when his 6.629 pass missed the time record, but his top end speed became the mark to manage at 212.83 mph. In the injected category both ends of the ¼ mile record went to the Poison Arrow of Frank Barnardo when he legged out a time slip of 7.910 seconds at a speed of 168.49 mph. That may turn out to be a soft mark as his 1000 foot effort of a year ago reflected a best ticket of 7.867, 168.20. There were also some altered and FED entries that made passes with the Fiat of Mike Geroni hitting a best of 7.099 at 184.07 and the slingshot dragster of Charley Benson posting a slip of 9.449, 196.24.
As for the nitro burners, after jumping the tree early on the first pass, Larson was loaded for bear in round two. Running to the 1000 foot mark, Larson and Chuck Exton squared off and it was forty-five years ago, with smoke boiling off the rear tires on the burnouts, white puffs of nitro spewing from the headers and the sweat smell of the exotic fuel hanging heavy in the air. A flash of green and the cars were gone quicker than a donut at a dieter’s convention, and Larson put the USA 1 entry in the traps first with a record setting ticket of 5.527 seconds at a speed of 197.74. Exton was close behind with his time slip reflecting a 5.80 pass at 185.82 with a mid-track wobble that slowed him just a bit. These two guys are just too good not to invite back for the next anniversary program.
In other Sunday action, MANDRA nostalgia circuit was taken by Chris Righetti and his 66 Chevelle over Anthony Picone’s 47 Mercury. The Chevy ended the day on a 10.41, 128.63 effort that lead the way to the finish line over the runner-up’s 11.74, 112.89.
The 422 All Stars, a nostalgia Super Stock group, put on a nice show that brought back memories of the many SS wars of decades ago, before Pro Stock became the match race draw. The final round was taken by the 67 Dodge Coronet of Baltimore, MD’s John Reed when he took the measure of Bill Murphy and his big 62 Mercury out of Glenside Pa. Murphy, who had the full-size Merc hauling at 10.62 in the semis was too early on the tree in the final and went red to lose on a 13.26. Reed, on a free ride, let it all hang out and ticketed a 10.67 at 124.10 for the victory.
The quickest of the bracket cars, N1, was won by Josh Solimine and his Camaro when he defeated the Biscayne of Bryan Mirsky. Mirsky cut the better light but ran too quick at 9.99, 132 to go second place as Solimine nailed down the win on a 9.59 at 141.80. N2 came down to a race between Barry Van Scoten’s Nova and the record holding Mustang of Carl Milano. After a number of close races for the SS/LA pilot, the final was easy when Van Scoten went red on the tree to waste his 10.64, 123.26. Milano added to his trophy case with a lap of 10.63 and 123.05. The slowest bracket, N3 was taken by Ron Sternosky when he was better than Mark Santee. Driving a 79 Malibu, Sternosky finished the race with a 13.49, 99.66 that held off the Fairlane of Santee that ran a 13.29, 101.16.
The NETO Nostalgia class belonged to Frank Paradiso and his 68 Chevy when he outlasted the 74 Cuda driven by Roger Wright. Taking advantage of a much better light, Paradiso handily took the bracket with his 11.93 and 108.11 while Wright was second best with an 11.43 at 120.40. NETO Comp went four rounds with the final being decided between the 55 Chevy of Chris Kraft and the 63 Corvette of Jim Mullen. Using a four-tenths Pro tree start system with handicaps broken down to .10 second increments, this class is a hoot to watch. But as in all classes, reaction time is critical, and here Kraft won that part of the race and the title as his double nickel entry ran an 8.73 second, 156.64 mph to get the stripe. Mullen and his gorgeous plastic Chevy made it a race as he hit an 8.23 time at a speed of 162.94.
The best of the Back Seat Drivers, a group of racers that use the old style front-engined dragsters, was Galloway NJ’s Stephen Hand. His final win came on a time of 8.64 seconds at 154.76 mph.
So the curtain has been drawn on another anniversary remembrance race at Island Dragway. There have been many good times and some tough situations over the course of 56 years. But one thing remains unchanged. The management and staff of Island Dragway appreciates your patronage and hope that you enjoy the show as much as we enjoy bringing it to you. And we hope you continue to come out and enjoy family entertainment for many years to come, right here at the Cabbage Patch. Thanks to all who have made Island their race track. We look forward to many more years of racing here in Great Meadows.