Author: McKenna, Kevin
Date published: April 6, 2012
Journal code: NDRG
He has been a world champion in Super Stock and has appeared in final rounds in Comp, Stock, and Super Comp, and now, Anthony Bertozzi can add the title of Top Dragster champ to his long list of achievements. Bertozzi won a Wally in a fourth class when he stopped Michelle LeBleu in the final.
"Now, I'm mad as hell that I haven't won in Comp because then I'd have wins in five classes," said Bertozzi. "I've been in two [Comp] finals and lost them both, but I might have to give it another shot. I'll never be one of those guys like [David] Rampy or [Dan] Fletcher who wins 60 or 70 national events, but I'd like to be one of those guys who wins in five different classes. I'd say that's a goal of mine."
While his driving was awesome, including a string of nearly perfect reaction times, Bertozzi's main concern was his race car, which began to smoke heavily after he burned a piston ring during his first qualifying run. Despite the damage, the car remained consistent.
"I knew that you'd have to run fast just to make this field, so I used the nitrous the whole way on my first run to make sure I got in. It must have burned up a ring because the No. 8 spark plug was covered in oil, and the car started trailing black smoke on every run. [Engine builder] Scott Duggins told me, 'Just run it because there's nothing you can hurt that I can't fix.' So we put new plugs in it every run, and it worked just fine. It was very consistent, too."
Bertozzi's mechanical issues could have been a distraction, but he was unfazed and cruised through rounds two through four with three straight .00 reaction times against PJ Vicari, Chip Rumis, and Robert Cool, who fouled by a thousandth of a second in the semifinals.
Bertozzi gained another solid starting-line advantage in the final round against LeBleu, leaving first by six-hundredths and maintaining the lead to the finish line, where he stopped the clocks with a 6.77 on his 6.73 dial, collecting his first victory since the 2010 Reading event.
"It's hard to bracket race these cars at 200 mph, and the final was really tough because we ran at night, and she's got a black dragster, and she was running a good bit quicker than I was," said Bertozzi. "Luckily, I had a little bit of an edge on the Tree, which helped. I actually made a big mistake, let her get by me, and if you look at the math, she got there first by twothousandths but broke out. It all worked out in my favor, but it could have been a disaster."
The key race: Bertozzi was almost perfect on the Tree in all five rounds; in the third round, he had a nearly perfect .001 light against Rumis. "I had a .008 light the round before that and just left it alone," said Bertozzi. "Overall, I was pretty happy with the way I drove the starting line."
The runner-up: After posting a respectable ninth-place finish in Division 4 competition last season, LeBleu raced to her first national event final round. LeBleu, of Lake Charles, La., qualified No. 10 and was consistent through eliminations with wins against Alan Jones, Robert LeJeune, Brandon Chauvin, and former Super Comp champion Steve Cohen.
Fast facts: The 32-car field was incredibly quick with a 6.715 bump spot. Eight alternates ran in the sixes and still didn't get in, and 33 drivers ran more than 200 mph. Dillon Bontrager, who won the Super Gas title, was the first alternate with a 6.718. Low qualifier Michael Kile was particularly impressive in round one with a 6.351 on his 6.35 dial.
Did you know: In addition to his prowess as a driver, Bertozzi is an extremely successful car owner. He owns the Super Gas Corvette that Peter Biondo drove to the national championship in 2011 and owned vehicles driven by national event champions Shane Carr, Joe Santangelo, and the late Jim Harrington.
Quotable: "This weekend would have been my dad's 73rd birthday, so I know he was probably looking down on me. I consider this my birthday present to him." - Bertozzi
Best packages: 1. Casey Spradlin (Ranburne, Ala.), .014/6.781 (6.78 dial) round one; 2. Steve Cohen (Trilby, Fla.), .018/6.788 (6.78 dial) round two; 3. Robert Cool (La Place, La.), .030/6.710 (6.71 dial) round three.