GRAND BEND, Ontario -- Just one week ago at the IHRA Nitro Jam national event in Budds Creek, Maryland, Nitro Funny Car competitor Jason Rupert found himself packing his bags and heading home early, having just failed to qualify for the event.
On Sunday in Grand Bend, Rupert put that poor performance behind him and returned to form in a major way, dominating the class he has led all season long in claiming his fourth Ironman of 2014 at the IHRA Mopar Nitro Jam Nationals at the Grand Bend Motorplex.
"Racing is all about peaks and valleys and you can go from hero to zero in less than a second. Last week we had something happen. We couldn't get ahold of the track and we tried some other things and nothing seemed to work," Rupert said. "We got here this weekend and we decided to start over. Everything seemed to work and respond how it should and it resulted in us getting back on track with the win."
Joining Rupert in the finals of Nitro Jam on Sunday were Nate Gagnon (Nitro Harley), Rob Atchison (Pro Mod), Ron Maroney (Nitro Altered), Ike Maier (Top Fuel), Elaine Larsen (Jet Dragster) and Anthony Paone (Pro Stock).
In the finals of the Summit Racing Equipment Pro-Am Tour presented by AMSOIL, Sunday's winners were Dan Aitken (Top Sportsman), Jeremy McCormick (Top Dragster), Gianni Cantusci (Super Stock), Doug Box (Stock), Leo Zynda (Quick Rod), Andrew Stirk (Super Rod) and James Unum (Hot Rod).
Rupert, piloting the Bays and Rupert "Black Plague" '69 Camaro, paced the field by a solid margin on Saturday to claim his sixth pole position of the season, with only his DNQ in Maryland standing in the way of a perfect year. From the top spot, Rupert eliminated Mike Halstead, Tim Boychuk and Sanders, with all three of his opponents running into trouble during their runs. Rupert had laps of 6.147, 5.771 and 5.895 on his way to the Ironman in Grand Bend.
"We really weren't all that consistent this weekend. There were two runs I had to abort, we stripped a spark plug at the last minute and we had a new set of wheels and tires that we had trouble with, so we know that the gremlin is still there, we were just able to conquer it today," Rupert said.
Atchison, a longtime racer in IHRA's Alcohol Funny Car ranks with three world championships and more than two dozen national event victories, claimed his first career win in a Pro Modified with the PMRA series, besting Jeff Roth in an all-Ontario final. Jumping into the Pro Mod ranks three years ago, Atchison claimed his first career win at the same facility where he won his first Alcohol Funny Car race, making the win all the more exciting for the London, Ontario native.
"I love PMRA, but to win back at the Bend at an IHRA race and get an Ironman, it is super special. It is very reminiscent of my first win in Funny Car. It took four or five years to win that first race and we did it at home in Grand Bend. What an opportunity to do that again," Atchison said. "Everything is so nostalgic. I am rolling through the staging lanes and I give Mike Baker a high five, I roll around the corner and I get to see Howie and the boys at the scales, it was just like old times."
With his first Ironman since 2007 on the line, Atchison drove his beautiful '63 Corvette to a 6.070, 236.28 lap right down the center of the track while Roth ran into trouble and had to click it off early. Atchison added wins over Paolo Giust and Mike Yedgarian on his way to the win.
"The difference between a Funny Car and a Pro Mod is night and day. The Funny Car has no suspension, it has a clutch and the car is an automatic with a full suspension. The car is also heavier and doesn't react as quickly and I really had to learn to finesse it," Atchison said. "Plus, I have never owned a car this pretty. A Funny Car is amazing to look at, but you take the body off and it is just a bunch of pipes. This car has floor mats, a nice carbon fiber dash, this is like a real car. When we finally got it all together, I didn't know if I wanted to race it or just look at it. But we have enjoyed running this car and we are super glad to finally get a win with it."
Sunday's win was Gagnon's second with the IHRA Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series, winning IHRA's other Canadian stop at Castrol Raceway one year ago.
"What a wild weekend. We had a hard time getting a handle on the bike and that put us off our regular pace," Gagnon said. "In the second round today we popped a motor and we thrashed to get back for the final. We had some luck with us and then a pedal fest for the win, what a way to make it happen.
"I went out, smoked the tires hard and thought, 'well, it's all over' and then I saw him drop a hole and I was like 'wait a minute' and I hammered it again and it stayed lit all the way through and got me to the stripe first. What an amazing win for us, we couldn't be happier."
Four other professional categories filled the lanes at the Grand Bend Motorplex over the weekend, playing to a packed house on Saturday before wrapping up eliminations on Sunday.
Elaine Larsen led the way in Jet Dragster for the third time this season, besting Dawn Perdue in the Miller Welding jet-powered ride with a 5.808, 272.56 to a 5.901, 267.14. Canadian Anthony Paone closed out the weekend with a win in Pro Stock as Paone earned a win in the four-car match race over John Konigshofer Saturday night.
The IHRA Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series will remain in Canada for its next stop as the nitro-powered drag racing series returns to Castrol Raceway July 4-6 for the IHRA Mopar Rocky Mountain Nitro Jam Nationals presented by Good Vibrations Motorsports and Parts Canada.
SUNDAY FINAL ELIMINATIONS
Grand Bend, Ontario - Final results from the 2014 IHRA Mopar Nitro Jam Nationals at the Grand Bend Motorplex
AMSOIL Nitro Funny Car - Jason Rupert, Yorba Linda, Calif., '69 Camaro, 5.895, 242.06 def. Mark Sanders, Maple Valley, Wash., '70 Mustang, 6.441, 184.01
Nitro Harley - Nate Gagnon, Qualicum Beach, B.C., '11 Weekend, 8.265, 210.77 def. Mike Pelrine, Broderheim, Alb., '10 Harley, 8.690, 133.23
PMRA Pro Modified - Rob Atchison, London, Ont., '63 Corvette, 6.070, 236.28 def. Jeff Roth, New Hambyre, Ont., '41 Willys, 10.544, 90.00
Nitro Altered - Ron Maroney, Chandler, Ariz., '32 Bantam, 6.215, 222.33 def. Troy Martin, '34 Ford 6.398, 224.88
Top Fuel - Ike Maier, Tottenham, Ont., dragster, 5.286, 237.96 def. Kyle Wurtzel, Warsaw, Ind., dragster, 7.814, 100.28
Jet Dragster - Elaine Larsen, Port Orange, Florida, dragster, 5.808, 272.56 def. Dawn Perdue, Oxford, Pa., dragster, 5.901, 267.14
Pro Stock - Anthony Paone, Woodbridge, Ont., '14 Camaro, 6.632, 200.89 def. John Konigshofer, Otterville, Ont., '13 Mustang, 8.350, 109.91
Top Sportsman - Dan Aitken, Grande Pointe, Ont., '95 Mustang, 7.198, 189.71 def. Mark Sanders, Harrison, Ohio, '05 Cavalier, 7.817, 171.55
Top Dragster - Jeremy McCormick, Fountain, Mich., dragster, 7.600, 170.45 def. Kevin Knight, Corinna, Ont., dragster, 7.407, 178.50
Super Stock - Gianni Cantusci, Stittsville, Ont., '00 Firebird, 10.258, 127.94 def. Pete D'Agnolo, Rochester, N.Y., '67 Camaro, 9.462, 138.97
Stock - Doug Box, London, Ont., '69 Camaro, 10.287, 126.63 def. Tony Valerio, Welland, Ont., '68 Camaro, 10.953, 118.17
Quick Rod - Leo Zynda, Clinton Township, dragster, 8.947, 168.66 def. Bill Rudy, Lima, Ohio, dragster, 8.872, 159.40
Super Rod - Andrew Stirk, Caledon, Ont., '63 Corvette, 9.941, 138.67 def. Jacob Elrod, Harrod, Ohio, '92 Corvette, foul
Hot Rod - James Unum, Anna, Ohio, '92 Camaro, 10.927, 144.09 def. Richard Preiser, Jackson, N.J., '68 Mustang, 10.915, 117.70
Top ET - Ken Langlois, Milan, Mich., dragster, 7.864, 170.10 def. Patrick Forster, Pittsburgh, Pa., dragster, foul
Mod ET - Jim Moore, Petrolia, Ont., '69 Camaro, 9.651, 130.90 def. Fred Ellis, Sebringville, Ont., '68 Dart, 10.193, 131.17
Junior Dragster - Chad Szram, Mt. Albert, Ont., dragster, 7.991, 79.92 def. Luke Schwemler, Amherstburg, Ont., dragster, 8.001, 80.86
SUNDAY ROUND-BY-ROUND RESULTS
Grand Bend, Ontario - Final round-by-round results from the 2014 IHRA Mopar Nitro Jam Nationals at the Grand Bend Motorplex
AMSOIL Nitro Funny Car
Semis - Rupert, 5.771, 248.61 def. Boychuk, 6.445, 171.23; Sanders, 5.891, 244.69 def. McIntire 5.891, 237.21
Final - Rupert, 5.895, 242.06 def. Sanders, 6.441, 184.01
Nitro Harley Round 1 - Mike Scott, 6.436, 214.69 def. Jay Turner, 7.050, 151.87; Mike Pelrine, 6.804, 162.42 def. Devin Pelrine, 8.892, 108.51; Mark Cox, 6.392, 216.45 def. Rob Brown, 21.090, 41.49; Nate Gagnon, 6.651, 212.21 def. Alvin Kobernusz, 8.375, 119.12
Semis - Pelrine, 6.738, 167.28 def. Scott, 10.477, 87.89; Gagnon, 6.782, 219.83 def. Cox, foul
Final - Gagnon, 8.265, 210.77 def. Pelrine, 8.690, 133.23
Consolation - Blackshear, 6.266, 221.89 def. Hilsabeck, 6.391, 205.24
Final - Maroney, 6.215, 222.33 def. Martin, 6.398, 224.88
PMRA Pro Modified
Semis - Atchison, 6.284, 183.15 def. Yedgarian, 6.674, 162.98; Roth, 6.144, 233.94 def. Kalso, 7.628, 106.19
Final - Atchison, 6.070, 236.28 def. Roth, 10.544, 90.00
Final - Anthony Paone, 6.632, 200.89 def. John Konigshofer, 8.350, 109.91
Final - Elaine Larsen, 5.808, 272.56 def. Dawn Perdue, 5.901, 267.14