This year’s version of the Pepsi Nightfire Nationals was without a doubt one of the best held in this series that started in the 1960’s. Firebird Raceway, owned by the New Family, is a great place to race. Someone, somewhere, designed this place for the fans–and big time. Take the staging lanes; they run in front of the grandstands. At a “normal track,” they are usually at a 90-degree angle to the starting line. The fans do not get to see the cars until they are wheeled out from behind the bleach boxes. Then it is always a surprise as to who it is and who is running who. At Firebird, you get to see the whole show. If you love drag racing the way I do, you want to see it all.
Firebird is 51 years old. It is a great place to watch nitro racing, or any kind of drag racing. Truth be known, it is like Naples Italy; it is the one place you need to see before you die.
Like many of the legendary races held here in the past, the heat came as well. Friday, it was building hitting above the century mark for most of the day. Saturday? Forget about it! Air temp was hovering around 107 degrees. The track temperature was making its own statement about global warming checking in at 150 degrees. The track got so slick, racers thought a set of skis might get better grip than a set of Goodyear Drag Eagles. I heard a rumor some nitro racers were plotting to kidnap some jet ski racers just to get in the program. Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed.
As the heat went up, so did the nitro percentage. I asked one guy how high his team was running…he took off his shoes and started counting on his feet. I, for one, knew the percentage was getting up there when one crewman tossed the hydrometer on the floor of the transporter, and commented, “We don’t need no stinking Methanol–isn’t that what they give heroin patients?”
One guy told me he wouldn’t tell me how much nitro he was running. He instead asked me to not stand too close to the track when the cars were running. What, me scared? I decided shooting with my 500mm lens from the top of the grandstands might be a better idea. Do you know what happens to a black Nikon Camera at 107 degrees? IT GETS HOT!!! After a time, I gave up on the heat and headed to the media center to cool off. Had you looked up in the stands at that time about amidships, you would have seen me juggling two Nikons and a 500mm lens. I know, I could have got on the Gong Show!
AFTER THREE GREAT ROUNDS OF QUALFYING
All the rounds were in the heat of the day. The numbers did not drop like many of us thought they would. When the dust settled to the ground after the final round on Saturday, a lot of us knew the stage was set for one of the quickest and fastest races to ever be held at Firebird.
FIRST ROUND RESULTS AND QUALIFYING NOTES FROM THE PEPSI NIGHTFIRES
Saturday Tater Baker was run first of the two events. The Tater Bakers are the lower half of the 16-car field. They did not qualify for the full show. Seems Bill New Sr. came up with this idea to let cars that had traveled so far to race and were out after the three rounds of qualifying. The prize? A case of Idaho Spuds! This part of the event has taken on a great following. Last year’s winner, now current UNFC World Champion Bobby Cottrell, fell behind the butterflies of the Austin/O’Brian 1969 Flashback Camaro. The rarest of things happened when that great car did not make the upper field last year. So, Bobby stepped up, grabbed that case of taters, and tossed them on Bucky’s transporter! Those taters have not been heard from since.
The lucky 8 this year?
1. Tim Boychuk – 1969 Camaro Happy Hour – 5.916/240.94
2. Sean Bowden – 1969 Camaro – Bartone/LeBor – 5.958/244.47
3. Bill Windham – 1969 Camaro – Bill Windham – 5.963/223.85
4. Brad Thompson – 1969-F Camaro – Jailbreak – 5.965/228.85
5. Wally Giavia – 1973 Omni – G-Man – 5.937/232.03
6. Kris Krabill – 1970 Camaro – Fuel Curve – 5.96/222.22
7. Jon Rice – 1979 Corvette – Nitro Spud – 6.302/221.27
8. Justin Taylor – 1973 Mustang – Evil Mean Nasty – 6.364/223.47
The first round
Tim Boychuk out powers Justin Taylor 5.917/240.94 to Justin’s 6.364/223.47.
Brad Thompson was lucky enough to have his new bride, Jenna, backing him up got out on Wally G. It was a .120 to .187 reaction time (isn’t 187 a murder code on the LAPD Radio call signs?) Brad was hooked and gone with a 5.806/229.20 to Wally’s Game 5.93/229.59. I love Wally’s new car, it is purdy!
As a special note, Jenna won back up girl of the event. We at NHRM knew she could do it as our selection for BUG of the year last year; and she ain’t looking bad for this year…
Sean Bowen beats Garth Widdison 5.809/246.48 to Garth’s 6.748/177.11.
That MPH just does not look right, does it?
Bill Windham runs away from Kris Krabill (having handling problems once again. He fought it all the way until the three-quarter mark, then lifted) 6.155/230.06 to 7.479/135.96.
For the first round of Sunday’s eliminations, it was:
Tim Boychuk vs Brad Thompson
Sean Bowen vs Bill Windham
Qualifying for the top eight was the nature of following it and upping nitro content to chase the power lost by the high heat. The track temperature for Friday and Saturday’s sessions were hovering around 140 to 150 degrees. The guys who know how to tune were getting it. They were still slowed down by it somewhat, but by the time the first round of eliminations rolled around, the track had cooled off to a manageable 90 degrees.
Their qualifying numbers were as follows:
1. Dan Horan Jr – 1969F Camaro American Patriot – 5.734/247.16
2. Jason Rupert – 1969 Camaro – Rolling Thunder – 5.746/254.38
3. Jeff Arend – 1978 Trans-Am – California Hustler – 5.754/245.72
4. Mark Sanders – 1970 Mustang – Mr. Explosive – 5.797/238.55
5. Matt Byrum – 1970 Camaro – Nitro Nick – 5.782/253.42
6. John Weaver – 1978 Arrow – Dream Weaver – 5.799/243.94
7. Billy Morris – 1969 Camaro – Problem Child – 5.843/241.76
8. Bobby Cottrell – 1969F Camaro – Bardahl – 5.863/239.95
The first round of eliminations wrung it out pretty good. The cars performed better in the lower heat and all seemed right for a while.
Bobby Cottrell got out on Dan Horan; .136 to .363 reaction times respectively. Bobby got to the big end in a hurry before the Tough Horan could catch up. He was coming with a 251mph shot. Bobby played the ‘get out first, don’t look back and leg it as best you can like a badger stealing a bottle of milk from the milkman.’ Bobby lit the win light with a 5.843/238.76. Dan, right behind, turned a better 5.735/251. 25 in the losing effort.
The next pair up was Mark Sanders taking on Matt Bynum and the killer good Nitro Nick. They battled all the way to the first MPH trap and Matt got the job done. One of the best races of the night. Matt stopped the clocks at 5.751/254.71 to Mark’s 5.776/245.71. This was a big-time top end battle down where the stands end and the coyotes look for whistle pigs in the grass.
Next served up was Jason Rupert against Big Time Billy Morris. It was two Rupert bodies though. Billy’s body is the old Bays and Rupert Black Plague body. The body has gone from being a Plague to now just a Problem Child (Is that considered anywhere as progress?). Rupert and Littlefield are going with the tuning madness. As well, the great Frank Rupert sitting there on a golf cart with his years and years of advice. In the end, it was Rupert on the hole shot with a .057 reaction time to Billy’s .151. The Rolling Thunder car threw out so much torque that the car was walking to the right and getting closer and closer to the wall. Rupert lit the win light while Billy was trying to figure out where he went. Rupert, to that point, laid down low ET and top speed of the meet with a blistering 5.648/256.50 to Billy’s 7.125/132.33 shut off pass.
For the last pairing of the first round, the super experienced Jeff Arend faced John Weaver. Weaver got to see the other side of the moon on this one. Jeff pulled a gate job of some quality with a .094 reaction time to John’s .112. It was close on the top end; Jeff got there first by maybe the thickness of chrome on a bumper. Jeff turned a 5.706/249.86 to Johns Better 5.699/254.52…….it is one you can write home and tell the kids about.
At 1400 mountain time, they were called to the lanes once again.
The top set of the field was Bobby Cottrell Vs Matt Bynum; Bucky’s boys just put a little too much in it, and the smoke—boy, did it come. It looked like a hot shot fire team from Redding California was on the job. Bobby stopped the clocks at a very slow 9.503/117.42 (hey it was faster than Bill Jenkins ran to take the first ever Pro/Stock race at the Winternationals in 1970. The MPH…. not so much).
Jason Rupert Vs Jeff Arend; this was one of the best pairings of the night. Jeff Arend won the earlier trip to potato land beating up on Sean Bowden in the final round of the Igniter. They were here to do it again. Ronnie Swearington was on top of his game–even with all the heat, the magic man of nitro was working his magic. In the other lane? Jason Rupert was sitting there with a big smile. While he did not race at the Igniter earlier in the year, he knows the track, and he knows it is a place he has clocked. He won both races in 2017. He didn’t make it to the Igniter because of an injured foot.
The two best leavers in NFC were lined up and ready to go. Rupert moved first and owned the race from start to finish. While the reaction times were close .088 for Jason, .095 for Jeff, the cars stayed somewhat close for a time. From the middle to the top, Jason walked away. He turned the win light his favorite color (flashing).
For the final round, it was Rupert VS Matt Bynum. Both cars were hurt a little. The air was getting just a bit cooler still. They both adjusted for temp and rolled up to the line; an all Chevrolet final. Well, in Nostalgia funny cars, it seems most of the cars have Camaro bodies. I love how the Nitro Nick car is the seventy, and the Rolling Thunder is the 1969. Jason ripped on the tree like he had been doing all weekend. Matt was game all the way to the three-quarter mark. The win light lit in Rupert’s lane once again with a nitro pounding 5.60/264mph. This would stand as low ET and top speed off the meet. Matt kicked out a couple of rods wondering what had gone wrong, dropped the laundry a bit late, and went off in the field chasing Whistle pigs it seems. Most people hunt whistle pigs with a .22 rifle. But not Matt; he does with nitro and big time. Everything was alright, and everyone was okay! Matt turned a decent 5.73/226.66 in his second-place effort. The former Rupert-Littlefield team member came very close to ringing the bell.
The Rupert-Littlefield car has come all the way back after being sidelined with Jason’s foot injury earlier in the year. The thing is, just like last year’s wicked wild comeback by Bucky Austin and company, the human skills are something that never ever let Rupert and Littlefield down.
There is that resounding horsepower that they make all the time combined with the unreal reaction time off the starting line. Jason had reaction times during the race as low as .057! When all is said and done, the only thing you can say is great car, crew and driver…the whole nitro hot rod package.
On Sunday morning, I was honored to have breakfast with one of the most legendary top fuel crewchiefs ever, Alison Lee. You will never catch me saying how old a lady is…well not in earshot anyway. She sat down, and we talked about the history she has had in this sport.
Mendy Fry won her first at Firebird; there will be many more, I’m sure. This girl is an out and out Fe-nom! This is not to be confused or cornfuzzled with a Nitro Fembot. Mendy is the whole package. She is sharp on the tree and never gets left looking. Just ask the great Donny Boe. He knows, he has seen and helped the car make the events best performance running 5.66, 254.71. Dusty Green had to settle for a bag of Potatoes in a slower 6.04, 198.73.
It was a great race, it had a ton and a half of action. Firebird is a great track to go to. It is a track that loves the fans and the fans love it. Okay, the heat was bad for a couple of days. Firebird solves that problem, though…they sell ice cream!
They always have the rocket cars. Good call on the rocket cars? Do not try and go up the stairs to the tower while they are getting ready to take off from the starting line. It is not unlike being on the flight deck of the USS Enterprise off Yankee Station in the South China Sea with a couple of F14 Tomcats launching off the catapults. It’s warm, no?
I want to thank all the people involved with the Pepsi Night Fire nationals. Starting with the New Family and all they do. And the racers and crews who make the long pulls to get to Firebird. They make it happen. In Nostalgia Nitro, most of the crews work free. They work at all of this because they love it. It is a form of racing that has the love of doing it behind it. These cars shed and break parts every single run. Nothing on these cars is cheap.
They build them from the ground up where nothing existed before. They bring them out and try. There is no harder car to tune than a nitro car. Nothing on the face of the planet is close to it. When they leave the line, they are bulling more negative Gs that a jet fighter being launched off the Carrier Gerald Ford’s catapults. It is the real thing. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not easy to do—heck, it’s not even on the same planet as easy. As well, the fans of this sport are more than special. They come to see the greatness of racing and what it is all about. There are a lot of people who say they are race fans …but are they really? So many people say they are race fans because they watch things like NASCAR. NASCAR is the fast food of Auto Racing. If you want a big juicy steak of auto racing, you need to watch drag racing.
Until we meet again, remember as always….. Veteru Eamini Nitromethane
– Hot Rod Jimmy