DEMKE BACK ON TOP IN TA/D, WHITELEY RULES TA/FC WITH 5.50
SONOMA, Calif. – At the Western Region Lucas Oil Drag Racing event in Sonoma, Calif., Winternationals and Gatornationals champion Chris Demke earned his first regional victory of the season in Top Alcohol Dragster and rookie Annie Whiteley her third in Top Alcohol Funny Car, both from the No. 1 qualifying spot.
Demke, shut out since his Gatornationals victory in March except for a Jegs Allstars win last month (which doesn't count for points), paced the field in qualifying with a 5.30 and in eliminations overcame the electrical gremlins that have plagued the team for weeks for his first win ever at Sonoma. "This team had won at every track in California – Pomona, Bakersfield, Sacramento, Palmdale, Fontana – except this one," he said.
Demke nearly remained winless at the picturesque facility in the wine country north of San Francisco but had just enough to take out Ray Martin in the final, 5.44 to 5.45. "The engine shut off and came back on twice on that run," said Demke, who survived a close one in which both drivers made their first runs out of the 5.30s all day.
Demke's engine shut off completely at the 5.2-second mark in round one, but he still coasted to a 5.39, 252 win over Bill Dunlap's one-of-a-kind, driver-forward car. A 5.33 in the semis took care of past Winternationals runner-up Don St. Arnaud and set up a final-round match with Martin, who had qualified with a 5.40 and had run consistent times of 5.38 against Johnny Ahten and 5.39 against Joey Severance. Another run in that range would have been enough in the final, but Martin slipped to a 5.45. Demke was away first with a .068 light and won by half a car length with a 5.44.
"It seemed to shut off for a long time both times," Demke said. "I was saying, 'No, this can't be happening,' but it came back on both times. Now, that's disturbing – it feels like your head's going to hit the dashboard. It would have run another 5.30-something, no problem, if that hadn't happened, but it still ran just good enough to win."
Whiteley had no such problems, laying down the best runs of her young Top Alcohol Funny Car career in the semifinals and final. After qualifying No. 1 for a very fast field with a 5.62 and winning a tight first-round race with Clint Thompson, 5.62 to 5.63, Whiteley unloaded one of the great runs of all time in the semifinals, a track-record 5.508, against Steve Gasparrelli, who bowed out with an otherwise fine 5.65 at nearly 261 mph.
"They run a lot better when you hit your shifts," joked Whiteley, who considers Sonoma her favorite track. "Until that run, the car kept feeling like it was going to wash out on me, and I kept short-shifting. I told [crew chief Roger Bateman] that I didn't know why I couldn't get past that spot, and he said he didn't know either and suggested that we switch lanes. I had no idea that run was a 5.50. All I knew was that it was the smoothest run I made all weekend."
Whiteley stayed in the left lane for the final against Phoenix Regional winner John Lombardo Jr., who had been running low 5.60s all day. Lombardo, who had eliminated Keeter Ray in the first round and Shane Westerfield in the semi's with almost identical runs of 5.602 and 5.601, lost traction immediately and slowed to an 11.10 while Whiteley disappeared into the distance with a 5.53 – more than a half-tenth quicker than anyone else had run all weekend.
It was the third win of Whiteley's first full season behind the wheel of an Alcohol Funny Car and the first at which her husband, Top Alcohol Dragster points leader Jim Whiteley, didn't also score. "Las Vegas was special because it was my first win, and Tulsa was special because the final was my first full run at night and because Jim won right in front of me," Whiteley said. "This one was awesome because of that 5.50. Roger and the Strasburgs gave me a phenomenal car."
California racers took home six of the nine remaining trophies with Guerneville, Calif., resident Dean Hall leading the charge. Hall drove his Super Comp dragster to the win in 8.916 seconds over James Glenn, Vancouver, Wash. Hall also competes in the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series where he won earlier this month in the A/Gas class.
Joining Hall was Jeff Gillette, Benicia, Calif., picking up his second win of the season in Top Sportsman beating Brad Wagner in the final round with a lap of 191 mph in 7.052 seconds. Andy Spiegal, Action, Calif., won over Val Torres Jr. in the Hughes Performance Top Dragster class running 6.909, 178.42. Torres advanced to the final in the Super Comp class at last year’s event.
Kyle Rizzoli, Joe Schweigert, Mike Maggio and Pete Miclette also won from the home state. Rizzoli ran down Leo Glasbrenner in Stock Eliminator; Schweigert ousted Ken Etter in Super Stock; Maggio defeated Rod Burbage in the Outlaw Pro Mods running 239 mph; and Miclette, Garberville, Calif., won in the Sportsman Motorcycle Series presented by Harley Davidson.
Former division champion Mike DePalma, Glendale, Ariz., denied Ed Sigmon of the win in Comp Eliminator while Steve Apted and Larry Miner also took wins this weekend in Sonoma. Apted, Medford, Ore., beat Rick Beckstrom, Novato, Calif., in Super Gas with a near perfect 9.903 second pass on the 9.90 index, and Miner, Sedro-Wolley, Wash., squeaked out the win against Dave Gotts in Super Street.
Pacific Division racers are back here in Sonoma this coming weekend for the NHRA Sonoma National where they will be joined by the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
The following are the final results from the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event in Sonoma Valley:
TOP ALCOHOL DRAGSTER:
2) Joey Severance, Woodburn, Ore., 5.406, 266.27 def. 7) Randy Eakins, Carson City, Nev., 5.596, 236.17;
3) Ray Martin, Anchorage, Alaska, 5.384, 266.90 def. 6) Johnny Ahten, Santa Clarita, Calif., 5.418, 248.25;
1) Chris Demke, Sunland, Calif., 5.394, 252.47 def. 8) Bill Dunlap, Capitola, Calif., 7.754, 143.46;
4) Don St. Arnaud, Edmonton, Alb., 5.467, 240.81 def. 5) Megan McKernan, Sierra Madre, Calif., 5.412, 260.06;
Martin, 5.396, 266.95 def. Severance, 5.415, 267.43
Demke, 5.335, 269.83 def. St. Arnaud, foul;
Demke, 5.444, 263.10 def. Martin, 5.459, 263.92.
TOP ALCOHOL FUNNY CAR:
3) John Lombardo Jr., Brea, Calif., '06 Monte Carlo, 5.602, 259.76 def. 6) Keeter Ray, Newport Beach, Calif., '11 Mustang, foul;
1) Annie Whiteley, Grand Junction, Colo., '10 Mustang, 5.627, 258.57 def. 8) Clint Thompson, Klamath Falls, Ore., '06 Monte Carlo, 5.632, 262.33;
2) Shane Westerfield, Lake Forest, Calif., '06 Monte Carlo, 5.748, 255.73 def. 7) Jay Payne, Claremont, Calif., '10 Mustang, foul;
4) Steve Gasparrelli, W. Covina, Calif., '06 Monte Carlo, 5.655, 260.71 def. 5) Jason Rupert, Yorba Linda, Calif., '06 Monte Carlo, 5.661, 257.78;
Whiteley, 5.508, 263.62 def. Gasparrelli, 5.668, 260.97
Lombardo Jr., 5.601, 259.66 def. Westerfield, 5.800, 253.71;
Whiteley, 5.532, 262.54 def. Lombardo Jr., 11.104, 76.55.
Mike DePalma, Glendale, Ariz., '89 Trans Am, I/SM, 9.995, 102.52 def. Ed Sigmon, Chatsworth, Calif., '34 Chevy, C/SR, foul.
Joe Schweigert, Ontario, Calif., '85 Camaro, SS/KA, 10.412, 124.51 def. Ken Etter, Riverside, Calif., '93 Shadow, GT/GA, 10.173, 130.24.
Kyle Rizzoli, San Luis Obispo, Calif., '69 Camaro, A/SA, 10.278, 123.96 def. Leo Glasbrenner, Chino, Calif., '68 Firebird, C/SA, 10.515, 123.95.
Dean Hall, Guerneville, Calif., dragster, 8.916, 174.41 def. James Glenn, Vancouver, Wash., dragster, 8.934, 169.89.
Steve Apted, Medford, Ore., '67 Corvette, 9.903, 166.52 def. Rick Beckstrom, Novato, Calif., '03 Grand Am, 9.912, 168.66.
Larry Miner, Sedro-Wolley, Wash., '69 Camaro, 10.888, 143.09 def. Dave Gotts, Riverside, Calif., '67 Camaro, 10.887, 142.55.
Jeff Gillette, Benicia, Calif., '96 Firebird, 7.052, 191.51 def. Brad Wagner, Henderson, Nev., '97 Cutlass, 7.084, 198.38.
Andy Spiegel, Acton, Calif., dragster, 6.909, 178.42 def. Val Torres Jr., Glendora, Calif., dragster, broke.
SPORTSMAN MOTORCYCLE PRESENTED BY HARLEY DAVIDSON
Pete Miclette, Garberville, Calif., '97 GSXR, 9.356, 138.73 def. Denny Alves, El Cerrito, Calif., '78 Kawasaki, foul.
WEST COAST OUTLAW PRO MODS
Mike Maggio, San Dimas, Calif., '70 Camaro, 6.480, 239.02 def. Rod Burbage, Anderson, Calif., '58 Corvette, 6.578, 155.47.