Sunday, July 01, 2012

Tim Glover: Atlanta Dragway Night of Fire


(Commerce, GA -- June 30) Thousands of fans enjoyed attending the 2012 edition of the Night of Fire at Atlanta Dragway, which included the largest fireworks show in North Georgia, along with three jet cars, a wheelstander, a Pro Mod, and six different classes of Summit ET racing along with a manufacturer's midway capped off with a play area for the younger fans. For the second event in a row, Mel Abney (Sportsman), Tim Sutton (Motorcycle) and Peter Mansolillo (Pro) found themselves in the final round. Abney and Sutton went on for the win, and Mansolillo had to settle for the second place spot after his car slowed in the final. Two Gwinnett County police officers, Frank Woods and Mark Welch, brought their Beat the Heat entries (no taxpayer dollars here, this was done on their nickle) and Woods enjoyed making it to the semi-final round in Sportsman on his first try with his modified '96 Impala SS.

"Hotlanta" truly lived up to its name today, with 108 degree air temperatures giving Atlanta Dragway's Night of Fire new meaning. However, everyone prepared for it, and the racers overwhelmingly stated the track worked great in spite of being hotter than it has ever been.

A very popular attraction on the manufacturer's midway was Bobby Brantley, one of the stars on Tru TV's Lizard Lick Towing show. Hundreds of fans stood in line to buy tee shirts, talk with him and get autographs. Also signing autographs on the midway were Jet Dragster pilots Marisha Falk and Elaine Larsen in the GE J-85 jet engine powered Embry Riddle and Miller welding dragsters. The two women drivers were by far the fastest ones on the grounds, running in the 270 mph range in the 5.8 second range. They were joined by Sam Ives in the Heat Wave Jet Funny Car, which posted seven second, high 190mph passes. Longtime wheelstander Danny O'Day put on a great show with his Superwinch '34 Chevy, tripping the finish line timers with his rear wheels in nine seconds at over 140mph. Matt Davis showed off his Tin Man Pro Mod car with low four second, 169mph plus passes. Although he did not take his creation down the track, Robert Killian brought his custom wrecker with a Towmater tag to the event for people to enjoy viewing.

Congratulations to Atlanta Dragway regulars Chad Brewer and John Norris. Brewer took the 11.00 Index win during last week's NHRA Lucas Oil Division Two event , and Norris won the 12.00 Index class against another regular, Dickey Forrester during the same event. Brewer mentioned this was his fourth time in the 11.00 Index class, and it was the first time he made it past the first round.

The exhibition portion of the program was kicked off with a presentation by Captain Shilo Crane of the Army National Guard 121st Infantry Regiment. After they presented the colors and the national anthem, track manager Ray Wilkings thanked them, saying, "We are able to do what we do here because of your service to our country."

Michael Morris from Woodstock, GA has been racing at Atlanta Dragway for three decades, and rose to the top in Super Pro with his '01 Undercover dragster. He faced off against former Jr. Dragster racer Hank Wilhelm of Commerce, GA in the final. Both drivers were gunning for the win, and Morris had it even before he left the starting line after Wilhelm's '96 Ed Quay dragster tripped the dreaded cherry colored bulb with a -0.008 second red light. However, Morris did not leave any room to work with, reacting with a telepathic 0.007 reaction time, and backing it up with a dead-on 5.084 at 134.64mph (5.08 dial in time). Ricky Rogers ('00 Spitzer roadster -- Hiawassee, GA) and James Wilson ('00 Undercover dragster -- Taylors, SC) earned the semi-finalist purse. Both Wilhelm's and Wilson's family also had a good day, with Wilhelm's sister Katie finishing runner up in 8-12 Jr Dragster, and Wilson's son Wallace winning the qualifier shootout round earlier in the day. Morris mentioned he had overcome trans brake problems earlier in competition (ground wire had broken), and then thanked the guys who did the track preparation for a very good job.

Pro winner Jeff Voyles from Hoschton, GA said he has been trying to win the Night of Fire event for years, and finally accomplished his goal (he came close in 2010 when he finished runner up to Larry Chance). Voyles' '69 Camaro has already been to the winner's circle in 2012, when Tim Polnaszek won with it, and Voyles took the victory this time against Peter Mansolillo ('80 Monza -- Suwanee, GA) with a good 6.62 at 104.24mph (6.60 dial). Mansolillo reacted with a great 0.003 second time, but then his car fell off after spinning the tires, running 7.60 at 92.23mph (7.50 dial). Dickey Forrester ('68 Firebird -- Hickory Flat, GA) and Travis Bryant ('68 Camaro -- Bowman, GA) ended their day in the semi-final round. "I waited a long time to win the Night of Fire," said Voyles. He then added, "Whew. It's been miserable today".

Cumming, GA racer Mel Abney won his second event in a row with his '67 Camaro, this time against Rickey Morris, who recently won his class at the Chevy High Performance Nationals. Morris had a good reaction time advantage in the final, but broke out in his Ellenwood, GA based '06 Trailblazer with a 14.75 at 80.83mph (14.77 dial). Abney crossed the win stripe with a 12.47 at 108.12mph (12.39 dial). Frank Woods (Beat the Heat '96 Impala SS -- Lawrenceville, GA) was the lone semi-finalist. "It was a good day, and I had a couple of lucky breaks," Abney said. He then added, "I think the toughest opponent today was the weather."

Tim Sutton also took home a win for the second week in a row, in Motorcycle class. This time his opponent was Scott Saemisch ('00 Kawasaki -- Lawrenceville, GA). Sutton dialed his Clermont, GA based '89 Suzuki on an 8.97, had a good reaction time, and then posted an 8.99 time at 143.11mph at the big end stripe. Saemisch broke out by 0.008 seconds with an 8.592 at 149.58mph, but his run was already negated with a red light start. Jimmy "Cha Cha" Heisler ('00 Kawasaki -- Woodstock, GA) and David Fletcher ('84 Kawasaki -- Lawrenceville, GA) took home the semi-finalist portion of the purse. "I want to thank my wife Jennifer, she didn't complain (about the heat) all day," said Sutton. He then thanked Eli for pulling him around, and also thanked the track guys for a great job of preparation.

Although most of the Jr Dragster eliminations were finished by early afternoon, the finals took place later in the day, shortly before the second session of exhibition cars. In addition to the two final rounds, all the other Jr Dragster racers were able to do crowd pleasing exhibition passes for the Night of Fire spectators.

Eleven year old Atlanta Dragway newcomer Daetyn Bates from Locust Grove, GA took the win in 8-12 Jr Dragster class with his new car against Katie Wilhelm (12 -- Commerce, GA). Bates' reaction time advantage made the difference after his car ran a 0.02 over 8.98 at 71.67mph. Wilhelm's car also ran 0.02 over, with an 8.92 at 69.58mph. Charlie Smith (13 -- McDonough, GA) and Jessie Daniel (11 -- Loganville, GA) took home a semi-finalist trophy for their efforts. Bates, who is a spokesman for RAD (racers against drugs), said this was only his car's third race, and it now has two wins and a semi-final finish. He then thanked Direct Metals for their help.

Mackenzie Butler (14 -- Jackson, GA) earned the 13-17 Jr Dragster win against Wesley Mayfield (15 -- Gainesville, GA). Butler's win was sealed before her car even left the starting line after Mayfield's car left too soon, leaving the red-light glowing in his lane. Butler went on to a 7.873 at 82.14mph (7.90 dial) and Mayfield's car ran closer to its 7.90 dial with a 7.891 at 82.45mph. Chris Bowden (16 -- Homer, GA) thanked the Miller Welding people for re-welding his broken header earlier in the day, enabling him to make it to the semi-final round. He was joined by semi-final finisher Austin Solesbee (14 -- Sautee Nacoochee, GA). "I want to thank God first, for letting us be able to come. I then want to thank Mom and Dad, by brother Trey, PawPaw and Jeff Brown for their help. I also want to thank Ronnie Hellemn for loaning us an engine, as mine is still not repaired yet," added Butler.