LONG HAUL From the Nitro Nationals at Rocky Mountain Raceways to the Rocky Mountain Nationals at Castrol Raceway, IHRA's west coast swing continues this weekend as drivers from all over the globe converge on Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for the ...
From the Nitro Nationals at Rocky Mountain Raceways to the Rocky Mountain Nationals at Castrol Raceway, IHRA's west coast swing continues this weekend as drivers from all over the globe converge on Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for the seventh annual River Cree Resort and Casino Rocky Mountain Nationals presented by Paradise RV.
While the IHRA it typically considered more of an east coast racing organization, the past two weeks have proven the sanctioning bodies' continued commitment to expanding its borders and growing its presence across North America.
For drag racing fans that means more racing at a track near you, but for the drivers that expansion means more miles logged on the trucks and trailers hauling the rigs from one stop to the next across the U.S. and Canada.
Two drivers in particular, Pro Modified veteran Ed Hoover and Top Fuel ace Bobby Lagana Jr, have learned the hard way what growing the IHRA brand is all about.
Lagana, a New York native who has traveled with the IHRA for both of their west coast stops and Gilbert, S.C. native Ed Hoover both made the long haul to Edmonton this weekend and both are hoping to make the long trips pay off with wins at one of the largest drag races in North America.
"The best part about this event is the fans. They don't have a lot going on up here so they really appreciate the IHRA coming up here," Hoover said. "I remember a few years ago we got here on Friday and it was pouring outside. Despite the rain, I had more fans come by that day and thank me for coming than I do during most sunny days.
"They are all nice people and they take the time to thank you for being here. You don't see much of that anymore."
Hoover's crew began their journey one week and 3,000 miles ago, making it to the Edmonton track early this week. Hoover, however, decided to meet his team a few days later in an effort to avoid fatigue behind the wheel.
While the trip is long enough in a plane, behind the wheel the miles -- and the wear and tear on both the equipment and the body -- can really add up.
"We spent a week and roughly $4,000 on maintenance alone just to make the journey," Hoover said. "It beats them to death during the four day drive and that is why I fly because the driver doesn't need to be tired on Sunday.
"But once we get up here, the fans make it all worth while."
Top Fuel veteran Lagana reiterated that thought.
Lagana, who rarely passes on a chance to race, made the trip to Salt Lake City last weekend for the IHRA Nitro Nationals and wasted little time packing up and heading across the border for the race in Edmonton this weekend.
"We were in Salt Lake City when I made the comment that maybe we should have our heads examined as far away from home as we are, but it was beautiful out there," Lagana said. "Already being in Utah the trip wasn't bad coming up here. I have been here every single year except for one and I really think it is a pleasure racing here."
And Lagana isn't done yet. Immediately following the race this weekend Lagana and his crew will pack up and head back across the border for an event in New Hampshire next week. He will then return to Canada a week later for the MOPAR Canadian Nationals in Grand Bend.
"We are definitely going to see the country. From the Midwest, east, central and west, we are going to see it all," Lagana said. "These are dedicated racers. Every car that is up here and even some of the guys who wanted to come but couldn't make it, they are all hardcore racers. That is what the IHRA is all about -- dedicated racers."
Racing one nitro car in a weekend is tough enough, but wrestling two cars down the track is just downright impossible.
Well, almost impossible.
IHRA veteran Terry Haddock will show why he is one of the best drivers on the tour this weekend when he wheels both a Top Fuel dragster and a Nitro Funny Car this weekend at River Cree Resort and Casino Rocky Mountain Nationals at Castrol Raceway.
"It makes for a tremendously hectic weekend. And we are going to have a new challenge this weekend because a few crew members were unable to make the trip," Haddock said. "We will figure out how to do a good job, but it won't be easy."
Haddock, the 2008 IHRA Nitro Funny Car world champion, will debut his flopper this weekend in a match race against three other NFC wheelmen. One of his competitors, two-time world champion Dale Creasy Jr., will be looking to get back at the Washington native after he stole a potential third straight title from him late last year.
Creasy, who was seemingly well on his way to a third title midway through the 2008 season, was involved in an accident at Castrol Raceway last year that put him out for the rest of the season, opening the door for Haddock to steal his very first championship.
Now Creasy returns to the track that bit him one year ago to take on Haddock in a battle of the best in nitro burning floppers.
But proving who is king of the Nitro Funny Cars is only a small portion of Haddock's schedule.
Along with driving his flopper in a handful of match races, Haddock will also be looking for a victory in the Top Fuel ranks this weekend as he tries to move back into the top five in points after missing the last few events.
"Driving these cars is what we love to do so getting to drive them both will be a lot of fun," Haddock said. "The economy hasn't been nice to us so far this year, but we are hoping people will see how much dedication and heart this team has.
"We really don't have much in the way of money or support, we are just out here doing what we love each weekend and hoping in the end it all pays off."
While the decision to cut Alcohol Funny Cars from the 2009 Nitro Jam schedule was not an easy one, the IHRA welcomes its alcohol burning floppers back to the fold this weekend at the Rocky Mountain Nationals at Castrol Raceway.
Well over a dozen Alcohol Funny Cars are on hand for this weekend's event including one of the greatest in the history of the sport -- Rob Atchison.
The Canadian born wheelman is second all-time on the IHRA charts in wins (20) and has three championships to his credit all gained back-to-back-to-back during the 2003, 2004 and 2005 seasons.
While Atchison has been able to keep the tires spinning on his Ace sponsored car, the 35-time final round participant is thrilled to be able to return to IHRA competition this weekend.
"It is a great opportunity to be able to come back and run at the Edmonton track. For me I was fortunate to have Ace Manufacturing step up and sponsor my west coast car and I have been able to run a few more races in Canada giving me an opportunity to see a little more of my Canadian fans," Atchison said. "This is a beautiful facility. They work hard at accommodating the racers and making it the best they can. This is usually the best weekend of the year for drag racing."
While Grand Bend is considered Atchison's home track, Castrol Raceway has a special place in his heart. Along with a win in 2005, Atchison has seen plenty of success and has one of his biggest followings right here in Edmonton.
"Other than Grand Bend our biggest following is here. Alberta fans really support this event and that is why we are here," Atchison said. "We are here to put on a show and entertain a full crowd. It is nice to be able to do this in front of 30,000 screaming fans. It is a place where you can here them cheering on you even from the other end of the track."
WELCOME BACK PART 2
After taking a couple of years off competing in the Pro Modified class, Rick Distefano is back.
Distefano has competed in a number of WCPM events in the west, getting a win and a runner-up in the process. This weekend will be his biggest test, however, as he takes on the competitors in the IHRA for the Rocky Mountain Nationals.
This year is really a season long test session as he dials in his engine program in anticipation of taking delivery of his new 70 ½ Camaro. This is the newest body style to debut in the Pro Mod ranks and he will be one of only a handful to compete with this very unique frame.
The engine program has also netted the team some success including a few rounds in the low 6s at non-national event tracks leaving the team very optimistic that they can net a few rounds in the five second range at close to 240 miles per hour.
"The engine program is all in-house this year and it gives us complete control of all aspects of its development," said Distefano.