Belle Rose, La. - One of the best kept secrets in North American drag racing has to be the pristine racing facility known interestingly enough as No Problem Raceway Park. This excellent venue, which features one of the smoothest concrete and asphalt quarter-mile strips in the country, as well as a top-rated road course, is situated an hour west of New Orleans in Belle Rose, Louisiana.
On May 7 and 8, the traveling road show known officially as the Hot Rod Power Festival featuring the NMCA Super Series rolled into the picturesque bayou country of Assumption Parish for the Cajun Nationals, a weekend of hard-hitting street legal competition in 13 heads-up and index classes.
In spite of weather forecasts to the contrary, hot, humid and precipitation-free conditions greeted fans and racers, many of the latter traveling from the Northeastern U.S. and Canada to attend the third of 10 premier street legal events sanctioned by the National Muscle Car Association this season. When the smoke cleared, two local drivers were among those posing for winner's circle photos, much to the delight of the large crowd of appreciative, sun-baked race fans.
Here, class-by-class, are the results of the weekend's competition:
Comp Cams/TCI Engineering Pro Street
In Comp Cams/TCI Engineering Pro Street, defending champion Pat Musi, of Cataret, New Jersey, looked to be working up to another dominating weekend in Louisiana, leading qualifying with a best pass of 6.722, 210.57 behind the wheel of Don Reem's '99 Firebird.
As the elimination rounds got under way on Sunday morning, Jefferson, Louisiana's Paul Daicrepont drove his '94 Firebird into the semifinals by eliminating Chris Shortridge of Temple, Texas, 6.929, 203.74 to a troubled 14.743, 56.23. Up next were the new 2002 Chevy Cavalier of Englishtown, New Jersey's Tony Gentile and the '98 Chevy Monte Carlo of Evansville, Indiana's Ryan Hargett. In a close race, Gentile took the win on the strength of a .027-second starting line advantage, 7.196, 204.30 to 7.178, 180.57.
Two more Louisiana "hot shoes" comprised the third pair, with Mike Steele of Shreveport placing his '96 Firebird in the win column by taking out the '66 Chevy El Camino of New Iberia's Stan Allen, 6.911, 204.63 to 7.123, 193.85. Last out of the gate were Musi's Firebird and the '57 Ford of Live Oak, Florida's Kenny Voss. With Voss lighting the red bulb in the other lane, Musi cranked out a stout 6.685, 211.06 to advance.
Waiting for Musi in the next stanza was fellow New Jersey competitor Gentile, however, and he showed no respect at all as he sent the champ to the sidelines by cutting a wicked .017 light to Musi's .082 effort, and riding it through to post a 7.763, 153.72 to 8.954, 104.69 win. In the other match-up, Steele got a free pass to the final when Daicrepont left -.008 too early and was disqualified.
In the final-round showdown between Steele and Gentile, Steele got away first and never looked back. To the delight of the Louisiana fans, he tripped the beams to the tune of 6.935, 205.44 as Gentile, who got crossed up and lifted, coasted through at 13.132, 66.51.
Accel DFI Pro Outlaw
In Accel DFI Pro Outlaw, it was Staten Island, New York - based Marc Dantoni's time to shine in Belle Rose. Wheeling his Wally Stroupe-built '68 Camaro to the No. 2 spot in the field with a mark of 6.840, 209.10, the three-time champion stepped it up in eliminations and rode a string of consistent 6.70 passes all the way to the winner's circle.
James Clark, of Laurel, Mississippi, led the way in qualifying, pacing his colorful '97 Monte Carlo to a solid best-of-three mark of 6.712, 209.06. His weekend continued to head in the right direction as he rode a single pass of 6.733, 208.14 into the second round of eliminations while everyone else had to battle for a shot at moving on. Dantoni took out the blown '67 Camaro of John Stanley to advance, 6.734, 210.05 to 9.070, 117.07 while Tony "Sandman" Williams, of Millington, Tennessee, placed his blown '69 Camaro into the semifinals when local hero Al Suggs, Jr. of Denham Springs, Louisiana, broke his turbocharged 2003 Chevy S-10 at the line. In the third pairing, Dan Saitz of St. Louis moved on when his '97 Ford Probe out-dueled the twin turbo-powered '94 Camaro of Humble, Texas native Lawrence Conley, 7.310, 188.78 to 7.561, 200.98.
In semifinal action, Dantoni got a free trip to the final when Williams fouled at the line, and Saitz was likewise gifted when Clark went red by .002 of a second, ending his assault on victory lane two rounds too early. In the final between Dantoni's Chevy and Saitz's Ford, Dantoni took a slight advantage off the line, .063 to .072, and stretched it out to cross the stripe first, 6.766, 204.66 over Saitz's slowing 7.528, 144.80.
Edelbrock Pro Nostalgia
John Gifford, of Naples, Florida, had the rare opportunity of being a one man show in Edelbrock Pro Nostalgia competition at No Problem Raceway Park. The only racer to make the long haul to Louisiana, Gifford did the class proud as he ran his pristine "Elias & Gifford" SS/AA '68 Barracuda hard and put on a great show for the fans jamming the stands, complete with photogenic wheels-up launches. He laid down a pass of 9.216 to officially qualify the car, and then later staged a one-car final, running out the back door at 9.256, 144.57 to earn his trophy.
Nitrous Express Nostalgia Pro Street
In Louisiana, the popularity of Nitrous Express Nostalgia Pro Street was boosted even more as fans were treated to the sight of some serious race machinery making a surprise eight-mile cruise over the road course at No problem Raceway Park. In keeping with the original Pro Street concept, class rules allow for random cruises to be staged in order to prove the "streetability" of the cars. Other than a few minor problems, all cars completed the run, and got down to the business of slugging it out for the title.
Among several new and updated cars in the Nostalgia Pro Street pits was the sleek orange 2002 Camaro of White Lake, Michigan's Rob Golobo, which had one of the most successful competitive debuts in NMCA history. The recently completed car showed no signs of the "new car blues" that so often plague others of its type. After a couple of cautious shakedown passes down the quarter-mile, Golobo proceeded to dominate qualifying, finishing at the top of the list by virtue of a pass of 7.563, 166.10.
In the first round of eliminations on Sunday, it was Golobo facing off against the '79 Camaro of Louisiana's own Mike Hill, of Prairieville. In spite of being left at the line, .113 to .017, Golobo took the win light with a mark of 7.793, 151.78 to Hill's off-pace 11.268, 101.46. Another of the regulars back on the tour for the first time in 2003 was Canadian Ellen Pavao, who made the long trip from Toronto with her distinctive pink trimmed '67 Camaro. After a marathon rewiring session in the pits on Saturday night, Pavao, who qualified No. 5 with an 8.305, 170.45, lined up against the '69 Ford Torino of No. 2 qualifier Mike Foulk, of Plainfield, Illinois. Foulk grabbed a .033 to .147 advantage off the line, and went on to win, 7.774, 173.07 to 7.972, 176.93. The third pair featured the mean green '66 Chevelle of Bruce Polous, of Palatine, Illinois and another Louisiana car, this one the '78 Camaro of Baton Rouge racer David Beeson. Polous got a free pass to the semifinals when Beeson lit the dreaded red bulb.
In the next round, Golobo got the bye into the final while Polous did his best to survive the round despite an obviously ailing powerplant. Foulk didn't cut him a bit of slack, however, and nailed a brilliant .008 light to take the victory, 7.751,173.32 to 8.738, 126.44.
Unfortunately, Foulk's magic touch at the tree abandoned him in the final, as his -.002 foul made Golobo's big weekend complete. He put an exclamation point on the experience by running through at 7.586, 193.84.
Ramchargers Super Street
In the highly competitive and entertaining Ramchargers Super Street class, five top drivers put on a great show for the southern fans. In the preliminary sessions, Brooksville, Indiana's Doug Smith paced his '96 Olds Achieva to the top qualifying spot on the strength of a 7.568, 188.54 blast. Just behind him was street legal legend Nick Scavo, of Elk Grove, Illinois, who ran his immaculate turbocharged '69 Camaro to a mark of 7.627, 187.68.
During Sunday's elimination rounds, Scavo faced off against the '97 Dodge Avenger of Indianapolis-based Bill May in one of the best matches of the day. Leaving the line together, Scavo prevailed at the end of the track, 8.505, 182.33 to 8.808, 175.50 to move on. With Doug Smith earning the bye, thanks to his top qualifier status, Jimmy Blackmon, of Rockmart, Georgia, rolled his '92 Trans Am to the line to duel with the '93 Pontiac piloted by Ed Grisez of Oberlin, Ohio. Blackmon overcame a slight holeshot applied by Grisez and motored past for the win, 7.840, 183.94 to 8.585, 149.31.
In the semifinals, it was Scavo with the single while Blackmon took out a red-lighting Smith to set up an exciting final round shootout. At the green, Blackmon was .030 quicker off the line, and he held off a rapidly closing Scavo to cross the stripe first and claim the title, 7.907, 182.90 to 8.000, 175.98.
Drive Train Specialist Super Modified
The Drive Train Specialist Super Modified trophy was another hard-won piece of hardware at No Problem Raceway Park, with an international group of drivers contending for top honors.
Leading the qualifying sessions on Saturday was well-traveled Canadian competitor Emidio Catalano and his dedicated crew. Catalano's high-powered '68 Camaro was the quickest in the preliminaries, posting a best of 7.785, 178.73 to lead the rest of the pack into Sunday's money rounds. Thanks to his qualifying performance, he earned the bye into the second round.
Among those having to fight their way into the semifinals, defending champion Jim Huber, of St. Leon, Indiana, put his 2000 Chevy S-10 pickup up against the '79 Trans Am of Washington, Illinois-based Keith McCoy. McCoy cut an unearthly .001 light, but Huber had more than enough power under the hood, and his 7.851, 174.98 easily handled McCoy's 8.442, 156.61. In an all-Illinois, all-Camaro match-up, Johnny Baio staged his '69 model up against the '68 of Jim Roggling, and moved on when Roggling left too early.
In the second round, it was Baio with the complimentary ticket to the final, leaving Huber and Catalano to go toe-to-toe for the chance to meet him at the big dance. Both obviously wanted to be there in the worst way, based on the great side-by-side battle they waged. At the stripe, Huber's 7.808, 176.12 just outpaced Catalano's game 7.967, 178.00 effort. In the final, Baio redlit his chances away with a -.335 foul, only to have Huber get out of shape and lift for a coasting 16.698, 71.50 victory.
Corteco Limited Street
Lebanon, Ohio's Phil Hines was on his game in Belle Rose, qualifying for Corteco Limited Street in the No. 1 spot again, just as he did at every NMCA race held in the U.S. in 2002. Hines' '86 Mustang accomplished the feat this time around on the strength of a solid 8.249, 166.54 pass.
On Sunday, Hines, who gained a bye into the semifinals, watched as a tough group of competitors went into the first round of what would turn out to be a "foul-fest" before the day was over. Bartlett, Illinois-based Bob Curran slashed the tree to the tune of .009 behind the wheel of his '96 Corvette, taking out the '84 Camaro of Melbourne, Florida's Frank Mewshaw, 8.983, 151.12 to 9.171, 166.03, in what would be the only clean race of the round. Tony Orts, of Oswego, Illinois, advanced when Mandeville, Louisiana's Gary Turner's '72 Olds tripped the beam too early. In the third pairing, Todd Mayer, of Pasadena, Texas, got the freebie when opponent Cuy Richardson edged his '86 Mustang too close to the ragged edge and also fouled out.
In the semis, Mayer returned his gift from the previous round when his '92 Camaro went red, followed by Curran's "Vette which did the same. In the final, it was Orts in his '68 Firebird against the Mustang of Hines, and with no red lights in sight, Hines strapped a stiff .047 to .096 holeshot on Orts, and run it through for the victory, 8.315, 166.01 to 10.468, 97.42.
Competition Engineering Hot Street
Yet another competitive category in "Cajun country" was Competition Engineering Hot Street, with the five top teams in the pits prepared to let it all hang out for the honor of posing for coveted winner's circle photos. Top qualifier on Saturday was Tim Davis, of Zionsville, Indiana, who earned the No. 1 spot with a run of 8.902, 151.94 behind the wheel of his '93 Dodge.
With Davis on ice until the second round, thanks to a bye, four other hopefuls ran off for the opportunity to join him in the semifinals. Up first were the 2000 Corvette of Guilford, Connecticut's Rick Moroso and the '88 Camaro piloted by Franklin, Wisconsin's Ken Schertz. In a great race, Moroso prevailed for the win, 8.859, 152.31 to 9.046, 150.33. The second pair featured the '65 Corvette of "Rocking Al" Miller out of Elk Grove, Illinois and the Memphis, Tennessee-based '67 Nova wheeled by Darrell Martin. "Rocking Al" rolled on to victory in this one, 8.906, 150.93 to 10.114, 143.61, earning a pass to the finals in the bargain.
The semifinal tilt between Davis and Moroso was one of the closest and most exciting races of the entire weekend. Moroso snatched a .015-second advantage off the line, but Davis was up to the challenge, and at the big end, he edged out Moroso for the win, 8.830, 152.95 to 8.881, 152.47 to head to the last stanza. Unfortunately for "Rocking Al," a negative .018 at the tree sealed his fate on this weekend, relegating him to the runner-up spot.
Canastota, New York's Jamie Stanton made the most of his long pull to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana by qualifying his 2000 Camaro in the top spot on the Real Street qualifying sheet, running low E.T and Top Speed of the meet, and taking home the winner's share of the purse.
Stanton earned top seed status, and a bye run into the second round, with a best pass of 8.821, 154.00 on Saturday. The next day, he waited and watched during the first round of eliminations as Bill Vogt, of Souix City, Iowa, and Joe Trowbridge of Daphne, Alabama, were the first to square off. Vogt's '68 Barracuda proved to be the stronger of the two cars as he took out Trowbridge's '70 Nova, 9.712, 147.34 to 10.263, 132.97. The second pair featured the tough '79 Pontiac campaigned by Wilmington, Delaware's Bruce Maichle and the '67 Camaro of Frank Russo from nearby Luling, Louisiana. Maichle moved directly to the final when the local favorite broke at the line.
In round two, Stanton and Voght both left the line with identical .041 reaction times, and fought door handle-to-door handle all the way through the top end, with Stanton coming out on top, 9.023, 154.37 to 9.156, 148.22. Saving the best for last, Stanton uncorked an impressive 8.935, 154.42 in the final to overshadow Maichle's 9.111, 151.92 effort.
BFGoodrich Drag Radial Eliminator
One of the wildest classes in the NMCA today is BFGoodrich Drag radial Eliminator, and despite of the fact that there were only two cars in the field in Belle Rose, they more than made up for their numbers with some noteworthy performances.
Marengo, Illinois competitor Chris Singleton laid down a straight and strong 8.610, 156.89 during qualifying, and the following day he drove his '72 Nova into the winner's circle by virtue of another good pass of 8.699, 161.54 against the '89 Camaro of Indialantic, Florida's Michael Fratena.
Specialty Motorwerkes Nostalgia Super Stock
There were 10 classic Super Stock cars on hand at No Problem Raceway Park, and they put on a great wheels-up drag racing show for the assembled fans. On Saturday, Doug Sloan led qualifying by piloting his colorful Fairborn, Ohio-based C/NSS '64 Plymouth to a perfect elapsed time of 11.00 on his 11.00 index.
In the first round of eliminations on Sunday, Clay Kossuth, of Catawissa, Missouri, powered his A/NSS '63 Dodge past the AA/NSS `63 Ford Galaxie of Frisco, Texas competitor Mark Artis. Clay's wife Rosie Kossuth took her B/NSS '64 Dodge to the next round as well when opponent Tom Ferguson of Aubrey, Texas went -.006 red in his D/NSS '63 Plymouth Fury wagon. Macomb, Michigan's Scotty Jiles, who stood his B/NSS '64 Plymouth on the back bumper during qualifying, defeated the E/NSS '66 Chevy Impala campaigned by Jim Pidgeon of mechi, Ohio. Jim Wittenburg, of Venice, Florida, advanced his C/NSS '63 Ford Galaxie to the second round at the expense of Union City, Tennessee's David Coleman, who's E/NSS '64 Plymouth left before the tree was activated. In the last pairing, top qualifier Sloan also moved on as Butch Pritchett's Finley, Tennessee-based E/NSS '64 Plymouth left too soon.
In round 2, Clay Kossuth defeated Wittenburg, Rosy Kossuth took out Jiles, and Sloan moved on thanks to a single pass. In the semifinals, Sloan sent Clay Kossuth to the sidelines while Rosie Kossuth earned a bye run into the final round. In the climactic showdown, Sloan ran a too-quick 10.992 on his 11.00 index, and Rosie Kossuth had the first win of her Nostalgia Pro Stock career.
BFGoodrich American Muscle
Another exciting new class in NMCA competition is BFGoodrich American Muscle, and a number of Louisiana racers took advantage of the sanction's visit to Belle Rose to take on the touring regulars. Among these was Jerry Ferguson, of West Lake, Louisiana, who qualified his J/AM '65 Coronet in the No. 1 spot with a mark of 12.261 on his 12.00 index.
In the first round of eliminations, Richard Mariano, of Saginaw, Texas, ran his K/AM '79 Aspen to victory over John Cox, Jr. of Loganville, Georgia, when his I/AM '67 Tempest fouled at the line. Mike Davis, of Conyers, Georgia, also benefited from his opponent's too-quick reaction time, taking his G/AM '66 GTO to a win over Ferguson. Making it three in a row, another red light situation sent the J/AM '71 Corvette of Pordoche, Louisiana racer Marco Macchra to his trailer early as well, sending Mark Walter, of Warner Robbins, Georgia, and his L/AM '83 Camaro to the semifinals.
Davis took the single to the last round as Walter and Mariano faced off in round 2. Mariano ran closest to his 12.50 index with a pass of 12.514, 106.06 for the win, but Walter gave it a great shot, posting a mark of 12.795, 99.83 on his 12.75 in a losing effort. In the final, Mariano left -.132-seconds too early, handing the big victory to Davis.
Mr. Gasket EFI Eliminator
The third of the NMCA index classes is Mr. Gasket EFI Eliminator, and like the others, it was also the scene of a number of hard fought quarter-mile encounters. The '86 Ford Mustang of Cleveland, Mississippi's John Lovett led the three qualifying sessions on Saturday, finishing up with an 11.516 on his 11.50 index to earn top honors.
On Sunday, as the racing got under way in earnest, Keven Winstead of Falkner, Mississippi, driving a G/EFI '85 Olds Cutlass, won over the F/EFI '95 Firebird wheeled by Baton Rouge native Tim Herrington. Another Louisiana runner, Paul Freeman, of Prairieville, driving an F/EFI '99 Camaro, eliminated Cody Samm of Huffman, Texas and his AA/EFI '93 Camaro. Defending class champion Todd Merkel was also on his game, taking his C/EFI '86 Firebird out of St. James, New York to the next round at the expense of Robert Miller of St. Augustine, Florida, and his I/EFI 2001 Silverado pickup. Frank Benoit, of Houma, Louisiana took his G/EFI '95 Camaro to the quarterfinals unopposed when Floyd Russo broke at the line, and Lovett had a bye run.
In round 2, Merkel took out Winstead, Lovett won over Benoit and Freeman went on to the semifinals with the bye. In the third round, Merkel had the single as Freeman set up a final round encounter with the champ by dispatching Lovett.
The final was a great example of index racing at its best, with Merkel's 10.085 on a 10.00 only good enough for runner-up honors as Freeman cranked out a brilliant 11.509 on his 11.50 index.