A Look Back: 10 years at the IHRA Rocky Mountain Nationals
IHRA Nitro Jam returns to Castrol Raceway July 6-8
EDMONTON, Alberta (July 2, 2012) – No one knew quite what to expect.
That was the sentiment when the International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) first traveled to Edmonton, Alberta for the first time in the spring of 2003 with the very first Rocky Mountain Nationals.
The venue was right, that much was certain. Castrol Raceway had grown into one of the premier motorsports destinations in the country in preparation for the event. The time of year was also good. And the lineup was stellar with the stars of IHRA making the long trek north of the border right in the thick of the championship hunt. But questions still remained.
The Rocky Mountain Nationals has always contained a unique variety of racing classes
How would people react to the thunder of Top Fuel and the precision of Pro Stock at the maiden voyage for each class at the track? How much support would racers in the northwest show this unique event thousands of miles from IHRA's primary hotbed in the southeast. And most importantly, how would the fans react? Would there be 5,000 people or 500 in the stands when the lights flashed green for the very first time.
As it turns out, there was never any need to worry. This was the event racers, fans and the track had been waiting for.
On that beautiful weekend in June the experimental venture proved one of the most successful inaugural events in the history of the sanctioning body with thousands of diehard fans watching racers from five Provinces and 22 states take to the track in what would prove one of the most important race weekends in IHRA history. That was the day drag racing truly arrived in Canada.
"What I remember most are the rabid fans. In our first year I remember walking through an empty pit with Top Fuel Champion Clay Millican. I commented that no one was in the pits and we were going to get killed," said IHRA President Aaron Polburn. "Clay said he had something to show me. We wandered up to the starting line and I almost had a heart attack when I saw about 6,000 people in the stands watching Super Rod. It was an amazing site.
"For 10 years Edmonton fans have been the best in drag racing. Period."
IHRA President Aaron Polburn (with mic) talking with Castrol Raceway owner Rob Reeves in 2003
Today, the event now known as the MOPAR Rocky Mountain Nitro Jam Nationals has grown into the largest event on the IHRA calendar and the biggest drag race in all of Canada. It hosts a unique lineup of classes and cars not found anywhere else in the sport and provides an entertainment package completely unique to this event.
And in 2012 Castrol Raceway and the IHRA will celebrate the 10th running of the Rocky Mountain Nationals with a show unlike any before the weekend of July 6-8 at the famed Edmonton facility.
Over the past decade thousands of racers from across the United States and Canada have made the pilgrimage to the biggest, most over-the-top event in drag racing today and a select few have walked away with a special Ironman that proudly proclaims, "I won the Rocky Mountain Nationals." Many have come, but only a select few have outlasted the track, the tricky weather and the best racers in North America. Of those some of the winningest drivers in the events short history include Eddy Plaizier and Bobby Lagana Jr. with four wins apiece, Edmonton's own Tim Boychuk with a record three wins in three different classes, and other multi-time winners including Mark Faul, Clay Millican, Mike Shannon, Bruce Litton, Scott Taylor and more.
To celebrate the past 10 years, the 2012 running of the MOPAR Rocky Mountain Nitro Jam Nationals will feature nearly every class to ever grace the famed Edmonton facility in a tribute to a decade of excellence at Castrol Raceway. But before the event gets underway in just a few short days, you must first understand how an experimental race 10 years ago has grown into the crown jewel of drag racing in Canada.
And perhaps one of the most knowledgeable experts on that history is Edmonton's own Eddy Plaizier. A lifelong racer who grew up watching the greats of drag racing past and present on television and in the states, Plaizier longed for competition which led him to travel the country in search of that next big win.
But in the early 2000s when Plaizier learned that the IHRA would be coming to town and a national event would finally take place in his hometown, it changed the face of drag racing in the area forever.
"As a seasoned traveling racing family, having the IHRA national event come to Edmonton was the best news you could get for me and my family," Plaizier said. "To watch the names, the rigs and the IHRA roll into our own city on move-in day was worth the wait. It was truly amazing that first year. It was like being a kid in a candy store.
"Watching Pro Stock and Pro Mod all my racing life on television and down south and then have them come to our town and be able to show them our hospitality was an honor. Adding to that, to compete for an Ironman and being able to say that our home track was able to host a national event was amazing."
And that was only the beginning of the excitement for Plaizier and his family. At the inaugural event Plaizier piloted his dragster to a victory in Quick Rod and began a stretch unmatched in the history of this event with four wins in five finals over the past decade, adding three more wins behind the wheel of his nostalgia Funny Car. His son has since continued that tradition, becoming the youngest driver in IHRA history to win two classes at a national event when he took the Ironman in Super Stock and Hot Rod back in 2009.
This year, Plaizier and his family will be back for more with a total of four cars entered and four opportunities to continue the tradition of a Plaizier in victory lane.
"Winning Quick Rod that first year will always stand out. Just being able to hold that Ironman, see it on the trophy shelf and know that you are an IHRA national event winner speaks volumes," Plaizier said. "Backing that up the next year in Pro Nostalgia was even sweeter. Today, my son (Casey) is carrying on that tradition as he became the youngest in IHRA history to win two classes at a national event. This year we are entering four cars and we are very much looking forward to many more years competing at this great event."
Another driver that has enjoyed plenty of success on the Edmonton quarter-mile is Top Fuel racer Bobby Lagana Jr. Hailing from Scarsdale, NY, Lagana consistently has one of the longest hauls of any driver to make the trek to Edmonton, but does so every year simply because of the support and hospitality shown to him by the fans.
Eddy Plaizier (near lane) taking on Jay Mageau
"Out of all 10 years we have missed only one event. The trip really doesn't bother us because of how much we enjoy the fans and the atmosphere," Lagana said. "The fans are the number one reason that we go. They are so dedicated and they consistently come out every year to watch us perform and that makes you want to come back year after year."
And the wins don't hurt either. While Lagana won only once in his first six visits, he has turned that around with four wins the last two years thanks to the new Nitro Jam format, tying him with Plaizier for the most wins all-time at this event.
"We have had our struggles, hurt some parts, but we have never come back from a trip to Edmonton disappointed that we went," Lagana said. "People think that we are crazy making this trip every year, but we have developed a lot of friendships up there and the competition is always great. Once again we are looking forward to going back up there and giving our all to the fans."
Perhaps the most famous face centered on the festivities of Edmonton race weekend is local favorite Tim Boychuk. With his home base of operations not far from the track, Boychuk used to work at the track before he decided to try his hand at the straight-line game.
Since getting behind the wheel Boychuk has been to the finals of this race five times in three different classes, winning three times. Spending his whole life around the track and, most recently spending the past decade directly involved with this race, Boychuk has won in two of IHRA's premier classes, taking an Ironman behind the wheel of his record-setting "Troy Lee Designs" Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car and also showing success in Top Fuel and in a second nostalgia Funny Car class.
"Racing in Edmonton is huge for me as it is my hometown and I have a lot of friends and family there," Boychuk said. "Winning at home the last two years was definitely the highlight of my career and winning both nights was unbelievable. Setting records and collecting all those wins was incredible and made for one of the greatest races of my life.
"This year defending my title is going to be a bit nerve racking as I feel like we have a big target on our backs. Everyone will be gunning for us and trying to take our title away from us. It should be another great event. I can't wait to get on the track."
But the man who kicked off the IHRA's historical run in Edmonton is Spruce Grove, Alberta's Jay Mageau. Behind the wheel of his "Prospector" '57 Corvette Funny Car, Mageau was presented the very first Ironman at the Rocky Mountain Nationals back in 2003 and to this day holds that moment as the most important in his racing career.
"Back then I ran with a vibrant group of nostalgia funnies based out of western Canada called the International Blown Alcohol Association. We were so excited that Edmonton was getting an IHRA national event that our whole group entered," Mageau said. "The event was amazing. The crowd was huge, the weather was perfect and our car was running superb. We worked our way to the finals in front of a full house on Saturday and we faced off against Brent Harris in his blown Willys. We both did huge burnouts and I swear I could hear the crowd cheering over the roar of the engine. We staged and seven seconds later my win light came on.
"I don't remember the run, which is odd because I remember them all, but I do remember seeing that win light and becoming overwhelmed. My crew came flying down the return road and handed me a Canadian flag and I remember the electricity buzzing through the crowd when I popped out the top of the car with that flag in hand. It was amazing.
"I have won other big races, including the Rockies several times since, but nothing will ever replace that amazing first Ironman."
Bobby Lagana Jr.
Since that first win Mageau has switched from his old '57 Corvette body to a newer '78 Vette in the Rocky Mountain Nostalgia Funny Car category – a class that began as an "extra" but quickly became a regular at the event – but Mageau has kept the winning going. And at the 2012 Rocky Mountain Nationals Mageau has plans to run both bodies to commemorate the 10th anniversary of both the event and the very first Ironman awarded to Mageau and his family.
"This year, as a special nod to IHRA, Castrol Raceway and especially the fans, we are doing one pass with the 'Prospector' '57 Corvette on Saturday night," Mageau said. "This pass will be run to commemorate the 10th anniversary of IHRA in Edmonton, my team's first big win and to remember our friend Maynard Garrity who passed away a few months ago after a long fight with cancer."
After so many questions that very first year, now the only question that remains for Mageau and the rest of the Edmonton faithful is what is around the corner for Canada's biggest drag race?
"So in 10 years Rob Reeves, Ron Hodgson, Castrol Raceway and the IHRA have managed to take an already huge event and elevate it to the top level in Canada," Mageau said. "The biggest question now is where can we put more stands for the next 10 years?"
The 10th anniversary celebration of the IHRA MOPAR Rocky Mountain Nitro Jam Nationals will take place July 6-8 at Castrol Raceway.