Author: Schaefer, Rich
Date published: April 13, 2012
It was a pretty good finish for the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals presented by NAPAFilters.com even though it finished up on a Monday afternoon instead of Sunday. The NHRA Summit Racing Series Race of Champions were finally crowned, and the winners were Larry Meacham, Manny Sousa, Robert Ward, and Tim Sutton. The Lucas Oil Series Sportsman classes were full of great action, including a winning run by David Rampy in the Super Stock final that earned him an NHRA Perfectly Strange Performance Award bonus.
But it was quite a journey from opening day to the finals. Thursday was normal, losing about 90 minutes of track time from cleanups and pairing cars in the lanes for class. That's unfortunately a normal day! Friday saw more than three hours of nonracing delays, so we we're crossing our fingers for an ideal day on Saturday to get caught back up, and while it was far from ideal, we did go to the hotel Saturday night on schedule and ready for Sunday's final eliminations.
It was a little cloudy Sunday morning, and I was actually dumb enough to tell NHRA Media Relations Manager Alex Baca, "This is just a typical Florida morning. It will burn off." Thanks to my weather wisdom, we got to dry the track three times on Sunday, and fans didn't get to watch a complete television program on ESPN that night. However, fans that were there in person got to experience a really cool announcement from Kenny Bernstein regarding the Darrell Gwynn Foundation. Go to www.darrellgwynnfoundation.org for the inside scoop.
The third Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event of the season was completed at South Georgia Motorsports Park just a few days before the Gators. Yeah, it was Monday when we finished that one, too. Friday's chapter at South Georgia was fine with our Ultimate Sportsman Shootout event getting under way. Saturday was the beginning of the Lucas Oil race, and that's when the skies opened up with heavy rain. We lost almost the entire day, so there was a lot of work still to do before our racers could head south for parking at the Gators.
Instead of rain on Sunday, Mother Nature gave us heavy winds, prompting us to switch to an eighth-mile format, a rarity on the Lucas Oil tour. That evening, we got a double whammy with cold weather and called it quits for the night, only giving out Wallys to John McClain, Bob George, and Shane Williams in our 10.00, 11.00, and 12.00 index classes, respectively. If you haven't seen or entered one of the index classes on the Southeast Division NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, you're missing out. Go to NHRADiv2.com, and click on "Tech Info" on the left, especially if you're already racing in Super Street or Super Gas or if you're a Summit E.T. racer who wants to get started on the points series.
Earlier in the month, we held race No. 2 of the season at the newly named Auto-Plus Raceway at Gainesville. Thursday's test session was cut short due to rain. Friday also saw rain, but we gave it the ol' college try with the jet dryer. Saturday, the racers kept the lanes full, and we got quite a bit done. Sunday was a real piece of work: rain in the morning followed up by heavy crosswinds. Remember how I said that going to an eighth-mile is a rarity in the Lucas Oil Series? Well, we've done it twice this season. Twice! The final day of racing at Gainesville's regional event was all eighth-mile. It was just a real peach of a day.
At least our season opener in Orlando, Fla., was a cakewalk, huh? Other than having to bump a few rounds of Top Sportsman and Top Dragster to the Gainesville event and monsoon-quality rains on Saturday night, winter-coat temperatures on Sunday morning, highway debris marking up my Ford Flex, a wind gust driving a tent into our Look trailer from Jerry Barker Motorsports, and a few other little surprises, it was a great way to kick off the Lucas Oil Series in Division 2.
You might be wondering why I started this article on the Gatornationals, the most recent Southeast Division event, and worked backward to the beginning of the season in Orlando? Well, recently a racer (jokingly, I hope) told me that as a division director I'm only as good as my last event. Based on that input, I figured you would only read the first sentence and everything after would just be ink on a page. Because you're still reading this, here's a few reflections on the season thus far. The best-laid plans will usually not work out, but you still make the plans. NHRA has some pretty resilient and dedicated people on the event staff. Much like the people I watch on the news, I cannot accurately predict the weather, so don't ask me when it's going to stop raining.
Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. This job is a million decisions every week, and each one affects something five steps down the road. Every decision that gets made ends up with somebody happy and somebody unhappy, but the decisions are going to be made with the best interest of the sport and the safety of racers in mind. Decisions have to be consistent, in line with the NHRA Rulebook and the precedents that have been set over the last 60-plus years. Sometimes I'm not going to like the decision even though it's the correct one for the situation. I let that last part get to me once this year.
Oh, sure, we've colored in a lot of boxes this spring on the official "What Else Can Go Wrong" checklist. That's not the point of the article. The point is that we kept pushing and got things done. That's what NHRA and its racers do. We brush off the rough spots until we get to the shiny stuff. That's part of motorsports; you can't let it beat you down. The races you remember the most vividly are the ones where you faced the most challenges. All that said, I'm certainly hoping for perfect weather weekends at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals, Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals, and the Ford NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals, but either way, I'm ready. Let's go!
One last thing. When you're at the next Full Throttle or Lucas Oil event in the Southeast Division, look for Super Comp racer Joe Bilancio. When he's not racing, he spends time at children's hospitals and schools for deaf or blind children. His charity, the American Youth Motorsports Team, is one of the great organizations that NHRA is proud to support. Please ask what you can do to help them continue their mission of bringing a little happiness via drag racing to some very deserving kids.
with Rich Schaefer, Southeast Division director