Monday, May 13, 2013

Atlanta Dragway - Southern Nationals story


Race date:  May 10-11, 2012

by Tim Glover – photos by Wanda Glover

After a one week rain delay, fans enjoyed experiencing the completion of the 2013 edition of the NHRA Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals.  The event was held at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, GA on May 10 - 11, 2013.  The weather forecast for Friday was good, but Saturday's forecast promised even more rain, and delivered, delaying the show by a little more than an hour after round one Saturday afternoon.  Rains returned again later in the day during the winner's circle ceremonies, but the event was already in the books.

The overcast conditions definitely helped with the records department.  By the end of the weekend, track records were reset several times.  Doug Kalitta raised the new Top Fuel high mph mark to 325.61mph in round two, and Antron Brown lowered the quickest Top Fuel elapsed time mark to 3.788 in the semi-finals.  Chad Head set the new Funny Car mph mark to 314.98mph, and Matt Hagan lowered the elapsed time bar to 4.067 seconds.

The Gray family almost made NHRA history, becoming the first father / son team to make it to an NHRA Professional category final round.  Although father and child teams have previously scored double victories at an NHRA National event, to date it has been one of them in Pro and the other in the Sportsman category.  Father Johnny Gray was in the Funny Car final and son Shane was in the Pro Stock final round.  Johnny went on to take the victory in Funny Car class, but Shane missed the mark by 0.023 seconds in Pro Stock, losing to Mike Edwards.

Antron Brown celebrated his 3rd Southern Nationals Top Fuel Dragster victory after defeating Brandon Bernstein, who was throwing down the gauntlet each pass (until the final).  In the final, Bernstein's car tried to apply too much power to the track, resulting in a tire-smoking 7.105 at 90.64mph pass.  In the meantime, Brown's Matco Tools dragster ran like a bracket car during competition and posted the race winning 3.801 at 321.35mph.  The semi-final finishers were Doug Kalitta and Shawn Langdon.  "The Commerce race fans know their drag racing.  When they ask about your fuel percentage you start to think they are a spy!  I see a reflection of me in them, remembering when I was on their side of the ropes," said Brown.  He then added, "Happy Mother's Day to my wife, mom and grandma."  Brown also has two other Southern Nationals wins, in Pro Stock Motorcycle. 

Johnny Gray met number one qualifier and track record ET holder Matt Hagan in the Funny Car final, and earned his fifth NHRA "Wally" trophy with a 4.077 second at 314.17mph pass.  Hagan's pass was just a little off, with a 4.16 at 309.49mph.  The semi-final finishers were Cruz Pedregon and Tim Wilkerson.  Gray, who has been married for 42 years, announced this is his final season, stating "It would be great to be on the stage with my son Shane, as this is my last year racing for points."  Gray mentioned that his crew backed the tune-up on his car way down, and then slowly picked their way back up during the event.  "They picked pretty good," he added.

"All praise and glory to my God, my Saviour," was one of the first things Pro Stock winner Mike Edwards said after his narrow defeat of Shane Gray in the final.  The Pro Stock final featured Mike Edwards' 2013 Camaro versus Shane Gray's '13 Camaro.  Gray did everything he could do at the starting line, reacting with a stellar 0.001 second time.  However, his car fell off the pace, posting a 6.643 second time at 208.17 mph.  Mike Edwards also had a great reaction time (0.027 seconds) and secured his 30th NHRA Pro Stock victory with a 6.595 second at 209.14mph pass.  Last year's winner Greg Anderson and Jeg Coughlin ended their day in the semi-final round.  Edwards has qualified #1 at every event this season except Houston, and this was his second win in 2012.  "I'm glad I don't have to cut a double-oh light.  I don't have it in me.  I would love to give that driver hat to someone else one day," added Edwards. 

Due to the circumstances, NHRA elected to allow Sportsman racers to complete their eliminations on Friday, allowing them to return home in time for Mother's day.  Pro qualifying was shortened to two rounds on Friday, and final eliminations were held Saturday.

While fans were waiting for the Pro categories to return for competition on Saturday, participants in the Atlanta Dragway Junior Dragster program made exhibition passes in front of the fans with their high tech single cylinder cars that ran speeds approaching 82 mph on the 1/8 mile race course.  The Junior Dragster program is open to participants from 8 – 17 years old.

Several racers that call Atlanta Dragway their home track also entered the Southern Nationals.  Jeremy Hancock, James Noel and Jerry Sosebee bowed out early in Super Comp.  Jacob Rutledge went out early in Super Street, followed by James Noel in Top Sportsman and Danny Vancica in Top Dragster.  Ronnie Wilkerson had the best day of the crew, making it down to six cars in Super Gas.  Alpharetta, GA racer Bob Vandergriff's Rob Flynn tuned C&J Top Fuel dragster made a great pass in round one, posting a 3.89 at 318.47mph, but it was eclipsed by Tony Schumacher's 3.79 at 323.74mph.  Schumacher lost in round two.

Two Sportsman category contestants returned to the Southern Nationals winner's circle for the second year in a row, Billy Upton in Super Gas, and Jeffrey Barker in Top Sportsman.  Sportsman racer Jeff Strickland from Red Bay, AL narrowly missed a double win, ending his day with a Stock Eliminator victory and a runner up in Top Dragster.

Jeffrey Barker and his wife Lindsey Barker from Kathleen, GA were both doing well in competition, and were both still in competition by the semi-final round.  Jeffrey went on to take the win in Top Sportsman for the second year in a row, and Lindsey lost to eventual runner-up Michael Rastall (who lost against another girl, Lauren Freer of Mooresville, NC) in the Super Comp final.  Jeffrey had a big scare after breaking his transmission during round one (his opponent fouled, giving him the win).  He barely made it to round two, able only to break the staging beams for that round, but then he came back strong.

Jeff Strickland from Red Bay, AL has been around the racing scene quite a while and had already scored an impressive Stock Eliminator win driving a manual transmission equipped '70 Nova (he had a perfect 0.000 second reaction time in the final).  His Top Dragster had been running in the low 7.20 second range all day.  Strickland missed a double victory by the narrowest of margins, 0.006 seconds (ran 7.204 on a 7.21 dial), when he went lost to Ray Miller (Spring Hill, FL) in the final.

Like Strickland, top notch racer Troy Williams Jr from Bradenton, FL has also been around for a long time, and knows how to win.  He purchased his Jegs / Laser Grader of Atlanta '96 Chevy S10 a few weeks ago, and had it dialed in by the event, scoring the Super Street victory.  "When I let go in the final, I knew I could win it.  I told myself to just don't mess up," added Williams.

The rest of the class winners and runner up are as follows:
Super Stock                           Time   MPH               Index
Win:    David Latino              9.699  127.10            heads-up
R/U:     Ryan Richardson       10.19  112.59            heads-up

Win:    Jeff Strickland            10.68  120.35            (10.64)
R/U:     Jeff Adkinson 10.67  114.44            (10.64)
Super Comp                         
            Win:    Lauren Freer              8.904  173.87            (8.90)
            R/U:     Michael Rastall          8.884  169.34            (8.90)
Super Gas
Win:    Billy Upton                  9.915  153.79            (9.90)
R/U:     Scott Lawton              9.925  146.89            (9.90) foul
Super Street                         
Win:    Troy Williams Jr         10.94  130.83            (10.90)
R/U:     Mike DeSio               10.87  138.74            (10.90)

            Top Sportsman
            Win:    Jeffrey Barker            6.690  206.61            (6.68)
            R/U:     Tommy Turner           6.711  208.14            (6.70) foul

            Top Dragster
            Win:    Ray Miller                   6.843  191.87            (6.83)
            R/U:     Jeff Strickland            7.204  174.08            (7.21)

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