Author: Waldron, Steve
Date published: June 24, 2011
Journal code: NDRG
Driving late partner John Gunn's Olds Cutlass for likely the last time, Eric Reiff scored a bittersweet victory at the NHRA SuperNationals. It was Reiff's first national event win, and it came just two months after Gunn, a longtime engine builder and Super Stock racer, died of cancer at age 63.
"It was a pretty emotional win," said Reiff. "About 10 years ago, I was looking to go Super Stock racing. I had met John at the races, and I knew he had three cars at the time, so I called him. He already had his primary car promised out, but he offered me the Olds Cutlass as a rolling chassis if I wanted to put something together. I'd been running Super Street previously, so I put one of my motors and transmissions together with his chassis, and that's basically how we got started."
Together, they won two divisional races, in Reading in 2005 and 2008, finishing second in Division 1 both years. They also won the prestigious JEGS Allstars competition in 2005, topped only by Reiff's valedictory performance in Englishtown.
"The whole thing played out like a Hollywood movie," said the 47-year-old machinist from Boyertown, Pa. "His family wasn't sure what they were going to do, and my financial obligations kept me from buying the car, so I was basically without a ride. But we made a deal for two races, the Reading divisional and the Englishtown national event.
"In Reading, I lost in the second round on a double breakout, but when we got to Englishtown, it was like we unloaded a completely different car. On our time runs, we ran identical e.t.s in both lanes. The only thing the car didn't like was the rollout, so we adjusted the delay box, and that was it. After that, the car was on a roll."
Reiff cut a .015 light in a 10.95 to 10.93 first-round victory over Frank Grillo, then won the next two rounds on red-lights by Guy Hansen and John Natale. After a quarterfinal bye and a third red-light by Tim Peotter, Reiff advanced to the final.
"When you look at how the race unfolded, we got three red-lights and a bye run, but if you look at all the numbers and what the car was doing, it was really there," said Reiff. "The worst light I had was a .023, and the only time we went under our number was in the final."
In the final, Reiff was 13-thousandths better on the Tree and ran a 10.89 in a doublebreakout win over first-time finalist Ryan Roberts, who ran a 10.86 with his uncle's Select Performance-backed Nova.
"Those Select Performance guys are about as tough as they come," said Reiff. "They know how to dial a car, and when you see that decal on the car in the other lane, you know you've got to be on your game. My car is normally one of the slower mile-an-hour cars, so the decision is pretty much made for me at the top end. When he went around me, I only had one choice and that was to dump him. But it was close. Fortunately, we were able to use our reactiontime advantage to get him."
In addition to Gunn, Reiff dedicated his victory to the memory of his daughter, Kristina, and to his friends Ken Montgomery, who won this race 40 years ago in Super Stock, and Ron "Uncle Buck" Harple, both of whom are dealing with serious health issues.
The key race: "Believe it or not, the key was the earned bye on the final day of eliminations," said Reiff. "When you get a time run on the final day, it's huge because you get to see exactly where you are."
The runner-up: A former Jr. drag racer, Roberts drove his uncle Drew Nicholson's Nova to victories against Mike Quartarone, Frank Abad, John Maggiulli, and reigning Division 1 champion Frank Duplissis Jr. en route to the final. It was the second final-round appearance for the 25-yearold racer from East Meadow, N.Y., who drove his Monte Carlo to a runner-up at Division 1's Pennsylvania Dutch Classic National Open in Reading in 2009.
Fast facts: For the second time this season, Richard Knarich won the NHRA Perfectly Strange Performance Award. Knarich ran a perfect 10.900 on his second-round bye en route to a quarterfinal finish. Reiff became the 10th different driver in as many years to win this event since Super Street was first contested in Englishtown in 2001.
Did you know: Reiff makes his living as a CNC machinist and programmer at Watson McDaniel, which manufactures industrial steam and fluid specialty products. ... Before teaming with Gunn, Reiff won the divisional race in Delmar, Del., in 1997, finishing second in Division 1 that year.
Quotable: "The way everything just fell into place was unbelievable. It was like a Hollywood script; my last race in the car and we end up winning our first national event." - Reiff
Best packages: 1. Peotter (New Providence, N.J.), .011/10.903 (round three); 2. Pat Doherty (Westerly, R.I.), .018/10.908 (round two); 3. Steve Sisko (Iselin, N.J.), .012/10.915 (round two).