Race Weekend Central

Nitro Shots: This and That, Gator Edition

The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series made its 2018 season debut during last weekend’s Gatornationals. Since we didn’t include it in the Pace Laps recap, it should be noted that Rickie Smith collected the first Wally of the year in the class, besting Mike Janis in the finals with a 5.794 second, 249.76 mph run to Janis’s 6.597 second, 159.91 mph effort.

Smith also beat Bob Rahaim, Jim Whiteley and Mike Castellana in earlier rounds.

Pro Mod continues to be one of the most exciting and fastest growing classes in NHRA competition. An astonishing 35 cars made qualifying attempts in Gainesville. This growth and interest are great, but also means it will be harder to make the 16-car field this season if car counts remain this high. Some of the regular series drivers who came up short in Florida include Sidnei Frigo, Pete Farber, Michael Biehle, Danny Rowe, Eric Latino, and Steve Matusek.

Melanie Salemi, making the move from PDRA Pro Boost competition this season, also came up short, though her team is planning on running the full season. Another PDRA standout, Lizzy Musi, plans to run a few events late in the season to test the waters. Pro Stock veteran Erica Enders might also make some runs in the class later this season.

One very notable improvement for Pro Mod is the addition of an extra qualifying session, giving drivers four chances to make the field, instead of just three as before. The addition of the extra qualifying session also means that all Pro Mod eliminations run on Sunday, instead of the first round running on Saturday afternoon as it did in previous years.

Three exploded bodies in three races shows that John Forceʻs Funny Car team is having an issue with their tuning. Thus far, the problem seemed to be limited to just Force, until Gainesville, when teammate Robert Hight suffered an explosion of his own, coincidentally while running alongside Don Schumacher Racing’s Matt Hagan who almost simultaneously grenaded his engine and launched the body off his machine on Sunday too.

We’re two weeks out from the DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Las Vegas, the next event on the schedule, which means we’re also two weeks out from the K&N Horsepower Challenge, the annual all-star event for the Pro Stock class. That means that one Pro Stock driver is relying on your vote to make the field.

Already in are Bo Butner, Greg Anderson, Jason Line, Drew Skillman, Tanner Gray, Jeg Coughlin, Jr., and Erica Enders. Hoping to join them via fan vote are Chris McGaha, Vincent Nobile, Alan Prusiensky, Alex Laughlin, Deric Kramer, Matt Hartford, Kenny Delco, Shane Gray, Val Smeland, Shane Tucker, John Gaydosh, Jr., Brian Self, Mark Hogan, Larry Morgan, Steve Graham, David River, Richie Stevens, Tom Huggins, Wally Stroupe, Johnny Gran, and Joey Grose.

Vote for your choice at https://www.nhra.com/knfanvote by Sunday, April 1st at noon. The event will be contested during Saturday’s qualifying action in Las Vegas and the winner will collect at cool $50,000 grand prize. If the same driver wins the event on Sunday, a $25,000 bonus will be added to the prize.

In addition to Pro Mod, the Pro Stock Motorcycle class also made its 2018 debut. On Friday, it was announced that DENSO Auto Parts was sponsoring the new DENSO Spark Plugs 200 MPH Club to honor the first four racers to break the 200-mph barrier in the class. The first racer to accomplish the feat would also earn a $10,000 bonus. The next three riders to break the barrier would split an additional $10,000 bonus three ways.

The 199-mph record was first surpassed in 2011, and the current national record stood at 199.88 mph posted by Hector Arana, Jr. in 2015. The money didn’t sit on the table long. Arana, Jr. broke his own record and became the first rider across the 200-mph barrier in Friday qualifying with a run at 200.23. He went on to break that record on Saturday with a 201.01 mph run.

Last week we had some fun with the racers from DSR and posted their March Madness picks. Thanks to stunning upsets for Arizona and Virginia, only Jack Beckman still has a chance to see a team make the finals on the left side of the bracket with Gonzaga. Everyone else had either Virginia or Arizona.

Things are brighter on the other side of the bracket for everyone with Villanova, Duke and Purdue all still in the running. We’ll update you with the overall winner of the DSR March Madness competition once it concludes.

Next week we’ll return to our look at NHRA history. Don’t forget, if there is someone or something you’d like to see featured in our history series, leave a message in the comments below. We’re happy to take requests.

About the author

A writer for Frontstretch since 2002, and editor since 2006, Toni heads up the NHRA coverage for the site. She’s responsible for post-race coverage in the weekly Pace Laps multi-series round-up along with the weekly Nitro Shots column featuring news and features from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. An award-winning former writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni works in web design and freelances with writing in North Carolina.

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