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IHRA gearing up for record-setting weekend A quick look at the IHRA record book will give you a clue as to why racers and fans alike flock to Maryland International Raceway for the annual President's Cup Nationals. The combination of near ...

IHRA gearing up for record-setting weekend

A quick look at the IHRA record book will give you a clue as to why racers and fans alike flock to Maryland International Raceway for the annual President's Cup Nationals. The combination of near sea-level air, cool September temperatures and an outstanding racing surface just about guarantee record-setting runs all weekend long.

Throw in three incredibly tight point races, a five-figure shootout and the final chance for sportsman competitors to qualify for the new Tournament of Champions and you have an event that could top the charts as the Nitro Jam event of the year September 25-27 in Budds Creek, Md.

"All the ingredients are in place for a remarkable weekend of racing and entertainment," said IHRA President Aaron Polburn. "This is the final chance for all of our drivers to position themselves for a run at the championship and you can be certain that it is going to be a do-or-die affair."

In the professional ranks Top Fuel, Pro Modified and Elite Motorsports Pro Stock drivers will all be reaching for gold at the next-to-last race of the 2009 Nitro Jam season.

Bruce Litton and Del Cox continue to slug it out in the Top Fuel ranks as Cox's three consecutive victories have helped erase a one-time 84-point lead held by the former champ. Cox, in his first full season on the tour, now holds a slim 24-point margin entering Maryland.

And as the points race tightens, so does the pressure felt by the two competitors as they go toe-to-toe over the final two races for the IHRA Top Fuel crown.

"This is what we came here to do. Some people said a few things about my cocky comments after my last win, but you have to come in here with the mentality to win or else you are going to get beat," Cox said following his win last week in New Hampshire. "It is nice to lead the points and hopefully we can keep it going and win this championship."

But it won't be easy as a near record Top Fuel field is expected at the Maryland event including defending race winner Bobby Lagana.

"This has always been a special track for us and we can't wait to go back and defend our victory," Lagana said.

Almost identical to the Top Fuel showdown is the on-track battle between Pro Modified drivers Kenny Lang and Ed Hoover.

Lang, the defending world champion, and Hoover, a Pro Mod legend in his own time, have swapped the points lead several times throughout the season, but Lang's two straight victories have helped him pull out to a relatively comfortable margin.

Adding to the rivalry in eight races the two drivers have met six times -- including four final rounds -- with Lang holding a 4-2 record over his counterpart.

Thanks to his last win and his seventh consecutive final round, Lang now holds a 74-point lead over Hoover.

"It has been a great year so far. Obviously it has been seven in a row for us and of course having Ed is tough, but getting by him is great," Lang said following his win. "It puts us in a comfortable position with two races to go."

While Lang has never won a national event at Maryland, Hoover visited victory lane in 1999.

By far the closest battle of the season is featured in the Elite Motorsports Pro Stock ranks as six different drivers have visited victory lane in seven races.

The only driver to repeat -- points leader and Maryland resident Frank Gugliotta.

Gugliotta has shown flashes of brilliance this season, but two first round exits in the past three races has allowed John Montecalvo and defending world champion Pete Berner to close the gap.

With two races remaining Gugliotta holds a slim 19 point lead over Montecalvo, while two-time Maryland winner Berner is just 56 points back in third.

"We have a really good race car and if I can do my job as a driver I think we will be fine," Gugliotta said. "Still, there are a lot of good cars out there so I have to be on my toes."

At the last event, a strange day of qualifying paired Gugliotta and Montecalvo in the opening round and Monte was able to get the win, closing the gap considerably on the leader. Neither Gugliotta nor Montecalvo have won an IHRA championship.

"Just like Frank we have also narrowly missed the championship numerous times. In the past it has been minute mechanical issues that have bit us. My crew has been going over the car from one end to the other to eliminate these types of disasters," Montecalvo said. "Trust me, we are not going to let it slip away this time."

Adding to the excitement at the President's Cup is a special five-figure shootout that is sure to knock the competition level into high gear.

For some of the Pro Stock teams there's even more to race for at MIR this year.

Since the first race of the season, the Mardi Gras Nationals at Baton Rouge, racers have been accumulating points towards a berth in the exclusive Elite Motorsports Elite 8 Pro Stock Shootout.

Points were earned based on final qualifying positions at the first eight Nitro Jam events of the season, and at the President's Cup Nationals these top eight points earners will run off for their share of a $40,000 purse.

Drivers qualified for the eight-car shootout include Gugliotta, Montecalvo, Berner, Cary Goforth, J.R. Carr, Richard Freeman, Mark Martino and Bob Bertsch.

The shootout is sponsored by Elite Motorsports and head-man Freeman who fields the three car team of Gugliotta, Carr and himself.

"We've made this commitment to IHRA Pro Stock because we feel this class deserves this kind of excitement," Freeman said earlier this year. "When you look at the guys in this class you see a group of really good guys who love this sport. We wanted to make sure this class would be growing and would continue as strong as ever."

There's even more excitement on the sportsman front, as there are still plenty of chances left to qualify for the Tournament of Champions, the new world championship system for sportsman racers.

This season, Nitro Jam national events as well as select other events were considered individual tournaments, with the winner of each tournament getting a spot in a field of competitors who will race each other for the world championship at the end of the year. This race, which will take place during the World Finals at Rockingham in October, will crown national champions as well as the national top 10 in each class.

In addition to the hard-fought competition in both the pro and sportsman categories, there will be plenty of other action out on the MIR quarter-mile all weekend long.

As part of Saturday's afternoon qualifying session and the evening "Night of Fire" spectacular, Bob Motz will heat up, as well as light up, the cool fall day as he brings his fire-breathing, jet-powered sensory assault vehicle, cleverly disguised as a Kenworth W900, to life.

The J79 engine that powers this beast was the motivation for the B-58 Hustler bomber and the F-4 Phantom fighter. What it can do in a conventional Kenworth is phenomenal!

MIR's First Lady, the one and only Bunny Burkett, will also be on hand, putting her "Bunny and the Boys" Alcohol Funny Car up against the machine of fellow AFC competitor Billy Nades. Bunny's long, smoky burnouts are always an inspiring sight, and her fierce competitive spirit leaves no doubt as to why she is a true legend in the sport of drag racing.

So mark your calendars now and plan to be part of the action at Maryland International Raceway the weekend of September 25-27.

-credit: ihra

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Series Drag
Drivers Bunny Burkett , Bob Motz , Bruce Litton , John Montecalvo , Ed Hoover , J.R. Carr , Kenny Lang , Richard Freeman , Frank Gugliotta