Author: Waldron, Steve
Date published: June 24, 2011
As he typically does, Duane Shields will take most of the summer off, preferring to race in the spring and fall when conditions are more favorable for his A/Fuel combination. But given his recent performance, he might want to reconsider.
Making just his second appearance in Englishtown and first since 2002, Shields scored his third win in as many weeks and fifth of the season at the NHRA SuperNationals, where he set both ends of the track record in a resounding final-round victory over Mike Kosky.
"I don't think I've ever won three in a row," said the national points leader and two-time defending Division 2 champion, who was coming off back-to-back divisional wins in Atlanta and Reading. "Part of me says, 'What are you doing taking a break right now?' Another part says, 'Don't change your strategy.' "
Shields, who left Englishtown with a 222- point lead over second-place Jim Whiteley, will take a month off before returning to competition at the O'Reilly Auto Parts Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago, where he will represent Division 2 in the JEGS Allstars competition, and won't race again until the Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd Aug. 18-21.
"I feel very good about where we are right now," said Shields, who earlier this year scored back-to-back wins at the Kragen O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals presented by Valvoline and the divisional race in Cecil, Ga. "I've got a good mix of national and divisional [wins], and I've got some early round [losses] that hopefully I'll be able to improve on. Things are looking pretty good right now, but I've been around long enough to know that anyone can get hot, so we'll see how it plays out."
Things played out pretty well in Englishtown, where Shields ran a couple of mid-5.3s in qualifying, including a fourth-best 5.34, and got progressively quicker in eliminations, culminating with a track record 5.20 at 277.20 mph in the final.
"We ran good right off the bat, but we were trying to run better," said Shields. "With the conditions we had, I kept thinking that we should be running better. It wasn't until Sunday that we finally got the numbers we were looking for. We just weren't being aggressive enough. As good as the track was, you've got to have the right fuel curve and the right clutch curve, and we didn't have it."
After running a 5.33 in an easy opening-round win over Ken Winward Saturday, Shields' nitro burner came to life Sunday, running back-to-back 5.27s, the first on a single when Monroe Guest, who crashed in round one, was a no-show, and the second against five-time defending national champion Bill Reichert.
"I was a little disappointed with the .33, and that [second-round single] gave us the opportunity to hop it up and see if it was going to work, and it did," said Shields. "That gave us the confidence that we could run the same number against Bill."
As for Kosky, runner-up the last two years at this event and a two-time winner, he qualified his blown dragster in the No. 3 spot with a 5.31, then ran 5.35 and 5.27 in victories over Tom Pickett and Richard Bourke, respectively, and won his semifinal race when Mike Comella left before the Tree was activated.
In the final, Kosky was nearly sevenhundredths quicker off the line, but Shields made up the difference before half-track and pulled away for his 17th national event win in 30 career finals. Kosky, whose final-round appearance was the 27th of his long career, trailed with an off-pace 5.47.
"[Kosky] was running good," said Shields, who thanked his crew, crew chief Dana Hopewell, Ralph Freeman, Bill Jones, and Chris Zedaker, and sponsors Hussey Copper and NGK Spark Plugs. "He ran a .27 in the same round I ran a .27, so I knew he had a .27 or more in the car. We had it hopped up, and it ran that big number and big speed. I couldn't have asked for a better run."
The key race: "It had to be the race against Bill [Reichert]," said Shields. "When you're racing the champ you have to be ready. He can step up and lay down a number, and he usually does against me."
The runner-up: Kosky's final-round appearance was the 27th of his long career and third straight in Englishtown, where he has won twice, in 1987 and 1988, and been runner-up seven times. Since his runner-up to Frank Manzo in Pro Comp at the 1980 Sportsnationals, Kosky has won eight national events but only one since 1990, when he finished second in national points and first in Division 3. He appeared in seven national event finals that year and won three. Kosky also won Division 3 titles in 1989 and 1991.
Fast facts: Guest and Brando Greco were involved in a first-round collision when both rear tires on Guest's A/Fuel Dragster failed when he crossed the finish line. Guest's dragster crossed into Greco's lane and was headed toward the right guardwall when Greco's blown dragster impacted it just behind the driver's compartment. Both cars then hit the wall before coming to rest right side up. Neither driver was injured. Guest won the round but was unable to make the call for round two. Driving Joe Cantrell's J.C. Auto Glass entry, the same car Darren Nicholson drove to the Division 1 championship last year, former IHRA Funny Car racer Mike Comella reached the semifinals in his NHRA national event debut. Reichert has yet to win a race in six starts this season and has been to only one final.
Did you know: In 2002, Shields won two national events, including this one, and finished a career-best second in national points. He has since finished in the top 10 five times and in the top five three times. In addition to his two Division 2 championships, Shields won Division 7 titles in 2002 and 2007.
Quotable: "My wife was there, which was nice. She was born in New Jersey, and we got to see a lot of her relatives during the week between Reading and Englishtown, so it was like a little vacation." - Shields