ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- New world records, stunning upset winners and a showdown for the ages, the International Hot Rod Association's return to Rockingham Dragway provided enough drama for an entire season.
With nostalgia flowing through the pits in IHRA's return to its traditional stomping grounds, the ghosts of drag racing's all-time greats witnessed a classic as IHRA's most dominant driver, Jason Rupert, and a brand new face, Brad Waddle, headlined a weekend full of great racing in the heart of drag racing country at Rockingham Dragway.
Sportsman winners during day two of the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment Pro-Am Tour presented by AMSOIL were Mike Koontz (Top Sportsman), Jeffrey Dobbins II (Top Dragster), Jim Reynolds (Super Stock), A.J. Currie (Stock), Dale Harrison (Quick Rod), Gerald Pierce (Super Rod), Michelle Pelo (Hot Rod), Zach Pennington (Junior Master), Wallace Wilson (Junior Advanced) and Mallory Logan (Junior Beginner).
But there was no bigger winner than Rupert.
Destined to meet in the finals from the very start, Rupert and Gallen, two longtime, dominant figures in their class representing each side of the country, both proved significantly ahead of their peers. The pair qualified first and second on Saturday and made easy work of their competitors on Sunday, ending in one of the closest races of the entire 2014 racing season.
"I saw him out of the window and then he started to disappear on me. At that point, all I could do was look up at the scoreboard and hope I have enough room," Rupert said. "I am used to driving modern Funny Cars and you sit so far back in those that if you see someone out your side window, then they are way ahead. With these cars, it is a bit different. I only saw his front quarter panel so I thought I better rev this thing up and hope the track is long enough.
"When I crossed the finish line I had no idea who had just won. Luckily we had the full 1,320 feet!"
Not only was the pass good enough for the win, but it also handed Rupert a brand new IHRA Nitro Funny Car elapsed time world record.
Rupert's 5.698-second pass during qualifying on Saturday was good enough to back up Sunday's record run and place him first on the ladder, .01 better than Gallen. From there it was only a matter of time until the pair met in the finals.
Rupert bested Mike Halstead and Mark Sanders on his way to the championship round, posting laps of 5.843 and 5.736 as his bracket-like weekend paved the way for his third win in four races.
"We are on top right now, but you never know how long that is going to last."
Sunday's other big winner in Rockingham was Salina, Kan. native Brad Waddle. The driver of the Innovator's West 2013 Ford Mustang Mountain Motor Pro Stock overcame a weekend full of challenges on his way to his first career Pro Stock victory over Kevin Bealko. With a much smaller operation encompassed in a three-person crew, Waddle worked his way from last on the ladder to the championship round where he ran the quickest and fastest quarter-mile pass of his career to take home his first career Pro Stock win.
Waddle bested Bealko, driver of the AMSOIL-backed 2014 Chevrolet Camaro for Black Diamond Motorsports, with a 6.412 pass at 220.66 mph to claim the win. Bealko had a 6.440, 212.93 in the runner-up effort.
"About 20 years ago we got into drag racing and about four years ago I got my first taste of Pro Stock. We loved it, but we never thought we would ever be able to run with the big boys, especially over here in IHRA," Waddle said. "But holy cow. When I went out there with a chance to win, it was unreal. I left and saw Kevin up beside me, so I pulled fifth and I could feel the car start pulling right on by and I thought, hey, we just won this deal!"
Waddle overcame a smoking John DeFlorian in the first round and earned the bye into the finals by taking out the weekend's top qualifier. From there, it was just one pass that stood between himself and IHRA glory.
"I have always wanted one of these big trophies. I have never even held one until today."
Nitro Harley kept the excitement alive as Mike Scott, representing the small town of Blind Bay in British Columbia, defeated teammate Randal Andras in the finals of the nitro-powered Harley Davidson class. From the second spot on the ladder, Scott overcame a slight holeshot to take the win with a 6.449 pass at 207.72 mph, just ahead of Andras' slowing 6.767, 211.46 run.
Scott had wins over Alvin Kobernusz and local favorite Mark Cox on his way to the final.
Ron Maroney and Marisha Falk wrapped up the professional competition with wins in Nitro Altered and Jet Dragster respectively, bringing the thrilling return of the IHRA Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series to Rockingham Dragway to a close.
Maroney, behind the wheel of the "Blind Faith" nostalgia machine, bested Shane Harter in "Nasty Benjamin" in the Chicago-style elimination with a 6.319, 215.44 as Harter broke on the line.
Falk, on the other hand, won her third Ironman of the season in a thriller in the finals of Jet Dragster, besting teammate and birthday girl Dawn Perdue. The top qualifier out of Port Orange, Florida drove the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University jet-powered dragster to a 5.703, 275.28 pass to edge Perdue's 5.765, 271.08.
IHRA NITRO JAM SPRING NATIONALS FINAL RESULTS
Rockingham, N.C. - Final results from the 2014 IHRA Nitro Jam Spring Nationals at Rockingham Dragway
Nitro Funny Car - Jason Rupert, Yorba Linda, Calif., '69 Camaro, 5.684, 253.18 def. Peter Gallen, Broomall, Pa., '77 Nova, 5.737, 242.50
Pro Stock - Brad Waddle, Salina, Kan., '13 Mustang, 6.412, 220.66 def. Kevin Bealko, Bridgeport, W.Va., '14 Camaro, 6.440, 212.93
Nitro Harley - Mike Scott, Blind Bay, B.C., '14 American, 6.449, 207.72 def. Randal Andras, Amelia, La., '12 Harley, 6.767, 211.46
Nitro Altered - Ron Maroney, Chandler, Ariz., '32 Bantam, 6.319, 215.44 def. Shane Harter, Wenatchee, Wash., '27 Ford T, broke
Jet Dragster - Marisha Falk, Port Orange, Fla., dragster, 5.703, 275.28 def. Dawn Perdue, Oxford, Pa., dragster, 5.765, 271.08
Top Sportsman - Mike Koontz, Warrenton, Va., '00 S10, 5.014, 134.00 def. Rick Whaley, Reidsville, N.C., '90 Camaro, 4.862, 142.19
Top Dragster - Jeffrey Dobbins II, Wilmington, N.C., dragster, 4.800, 143.06 def. Jack Trussell, Sumerduck, Va., dragster, foul
Super Stock - Jim Reynolds, Raleigh, N.C., '60 Corvette, 5.422, 127.75 def. Corey Taylor, Lumberton, N.C., '87 Camaro, foul
Stock - A.J. Currie, Godwin, N.C., '85 Camaro, 10.498, 40.79 def. Anthony Walton, Jacksonville, N.C., '68 Camaro, foul
Quick Rod - Dale Harrison, Sanford, N.C., dragster, 5.728, 124.11 def. Darrell Collins, Clemmons, N.C., dragster, 5.714, 142.55
Super Rod - Gerald Pierce, Albany, N.Y., '97 Cutlass, 6.394, 126.97 def. Chris Lewis, Bloomingdale, Ga., '34 Chevy Roadster, 6.388, 115.48
Hot Rod - Michelle Pelo, Jacksonville, N.C., '67 Camaro, 7.001, 103.24 def. Casey Sims, Pelzer, S.C., '77 Vega, 6.978, 114.63
Junior Dragster Masters - Zach Pennington, Lexington, S.C., dragster, 7.892, 80.89 def. Tucker Creech, Clayton, N.C., dragster, foul
Junior Dragster Advanced - Wallace Wilson, Taylors, S.C., dragster, 8.936, 73.62 def. Hayden Lambert, Albemarle, N.C., dragster, 8.967, 69.40
Junior Dragster Beginner - Mallory Logan, North Chesterfield, Va., dragster, 11.973, 52.79 def. Katie Hall, Nokesville, Va., dragster, 11.941, 54.60
IHRA NITRO JAM SPRING NATIONALS ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS
Rockingham, N.C. - Final round-by-round results from the 2014 IHRA Nitro Jam Spring Nationals at Rockingham Dragway
Nitro Funny Car
Semis - Rupert, 5.736, 249.07 def. Sanders, 6.200, 219.90; Gallen, 5.740, 235.60 def. Smith, 6.117, 181.64
Final - Rupert, 5.684, 253.18 def. Gallen, 5.737, 242.50
Semis - Waddle, 6.365, 222.33 def. bye; Bealko, 6.383, 218.19 def. Goforth, 6.558, 220.80
Final - Waddle, 6.412, 220.66 def. Bealko, 6.440, 212.93
Semis - Andras, 6.345, 219.65 def. Turner, 6.910, 158.32; Scott, 6.407, 220.84 def. Cox, 6.515, 223.28
Final - Scott, 6.449, 207.72 def. Andras, 6.767, 211.46
Final - Maroney, 6.319, 215.44 def. Harter, broke
Final - Falk, 5.703, 275.28 def. Perdue, 5.765, 271.08