Author: McKenna, Kevin
Date published: March 4, 2011
The season-long battle for championships in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series officially kicked off with the Southeast Division event at Bradenton Motorsports Park, the first of six Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series events on the 2011 schedule. Striking the first blow in the race for divisional championships were Al Moeser and Kris Hool, who claimed the wins in Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Alcohol Funny Car, respectively.
Moeser, driving the Cote entry previously wheeled by Canadian Dan Mercier, qualified in the top spot with a 5.31, more than a tenth ahead of No. 2 qualifier Todd Odom. Moeser then cruised through eliminations, running as quick as 5.27 in his semifinal win against Dan Page.
In the final round, Moeser again turned in a solid effort with a 5.30 that was well ahead of Artie Allen's 5.60. Allen had earlier stopped John Finke and Odom to reach the final.
In Top Alcohol Funny Car, the field was light, only two other drivers, reigning Division 2 champ Mickey Ferro and Wayne Morris, joined Hool. Ferro qualified in the top spot, earning the single run into the final, and Hool joined him after a 5.76 win against Morris. Hool posted a 5.60 in the final, and it was enough for the win because Ferro's Ryco entry got out of shape and made contact with the retaining wall.
Moeser and Hool shared the winner's circle with Arnie Martel (Comp), Rick Twitchell (Super Stock), Merrill Schrimscher (Stock), Ed Richardson (Super Comp), Peter Biondo (Super Gas), Rudy Matthews (Super Street), Dwayne Roberts (Top Dragster), Kenny Burgess (Top Sportsman), and three champions in the new heads-up classes, Matt Powell (10.00), Bob George (11.00), and Shane Williams (12.00).
The quick Comp field featured several Competition Index Control violations, including one by eventual champ Martel, who shaved .05-second off the F/AA index en route to the win. The final was predictable, if not spectacular, when Martel, the defending Division 2 champ, beat his Speedco teammate, Fred Allen, to claim his first win of the season. The final ended quickly when Allen fouled at the start. A round earlier, Martel downed Allen Stanfield to reach the final, and Allen drove the Speedco-backed C/SR '34 Chevy to a win against Van Puckett to earn a spot in the final.
Twitchell ran the table in Super Stock, qualifying his GT/TC Chevy S-10 in the top spot and then reaching the winner's circle following a final-round victory against reigning Division 2 champ Jeff Strickland, who fouled. Twitchell also scored a key win in the quarterfinals when he defeated former national champion Anthony Bertozzi. Strickland prevented a possible double by Biondo when he defeated the Super Gas champion in the semifinal with his SS/JA '95 Camaro.
Schrimscher did not have an easy time reaching the final of Stock when he had to first wheel his H/SA '85 Camaro against former Division 2 champ Brenda Grubbs. Paired with former three-time national champ Kevin Helms in the final, Schrimscher got the win with a coasting 13.11 after Helms fouled in his A/S Camaro. Helms' path to the final included wins against Jeff Adkinson and Mickey Whaley.
Former national champion and Bradenton native Richardson began the 2011 season with a win at his home track. Richardson got a free pass in the final round after Tyler Caheely left before the Tree was activated. Earlier, Richardson posted an 8.902 in his win over multitime Division 1 champ Tom Stalba and later won an 8.92 to 8.90 contest against James Noel. Caheely got a free pass into the final after Kristen Moeser was a noshow in the quarterfinals.
Biondo, who won the Super Gas title at the Charlotte national event last fall, drove to another victory when he defeated Vince Costa Jr. in the final round, 9.910 to a 9.888 breakout. Biondo, a former national champion in Super Stock and Stock, also got the best of Joe Puleo and Bruce Duncan en route to the final round. Costa posted a 9.903 run in the quarterfinals against former Indy winner Marlin Snyder and earned a spot in the final after a 9.95 to 10.09 victory against Tom Joesph in the semi's.
Two of the sport's most successful Super Street racers tangled in the Bradenton final; Division 3 ace Matthews, a fivetime winner of the JEGS Allstars, got the best of former Division 2 champ Mike Griggs, 10.911 to 10.920. Matthews, in his '69 Camaro, moved into the final after a pair of double-breakout wins over Matt Caheely and Vinny Laudicina, and Griggs beat Dean Mirra to claim a bye run into the final.
A year after opening the season with a win in the Hickory Enclosed Trailers Top Dragster class last year, Division 2 champ Ray Miller began his title defense with another final-round finish, but his bid for a second straight victory was stopped by Roberts, who turned on the win light in a double-breakout contest with a 7.059 on his 7.06 dial. In addition to Miller, Roberts had to take on an all-star cast in Gainesville, and he also defeated Britt Cummings, Troy Williams, and Pro Stock racer Dave Connolly en route to the win.
Burgess wheeled his '63 Corvette to the season-opening title in the Davis Golf Carts Top Sportsman series after his opponent, Calvin Hornes Sr., red-lighted at the start. Burgess had earlier scored a big win over John Glenn and reached the final by stopping Jeff Pittman's '69 Chevelle with a perfect 6.99 on his 6.99 dial. Hornes, in his '90 S-10, upset former series champion Jerry Barker in the quarterfinals to earn a bye into the final.
New for 2011 is the addition of three heads-up classes for drivers racing on 10.00, 11.00, and 12.00 fixed indexes. Similar to the categories contested in the NHRA Unleashed Series, drivers in these three classes will compete for divisional titles this season.
Powell drove his '85 Chevy to the 10.00 win, following a close 10.051 to 10.053 final-round decision against Franky Bishop. George claimed the victory in the 11.00 class after a 10.98 to 10.96 double-breakout final against Trent Thomas, and Williams nailed the index in the 12.00 final with a 12.003 that was enough to stop Craig Gingerich's 12.054. The 10.00, 11.00, and 12.00 heads-up classes feature full-bodied cars exclusively and have strict limitations on the use of electronics.