Overflow crowd watches records fall, upset champions crowned on thrilling
night at New England Dragway
King, Krafft and Hamelink all winners on opening night
EPPING, N.H. (September 11, 2010) - In front of a standing room only crowd and with near perfect conditions records fell by the wayside in nearly half a dozen categories and champions were crowned in all of Nitro Jam's professional classes all on opening night at the North American Nitro Jam Saturday at New England Dragway.
Three new world records and dozens of track records were set or nearly set Saturday and Mitch King (Top Fuel), Jeff Hamelink (Pro Fuel) and Rick Kraft (Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car) all pulled huge upsets during the opening night of the all-new Nitro Jam in New Hampshire.
"IHRA has one incredible program here and they have quality cars and to come out here and whoop their butts in front of an incredible crowd like this is just any drivers dream come true. What a fantastic night," said Prostalgia NFC winner Rick Krafft.
In addition to Saturday's big winners, Bill Evans blew away both ends of the Pro Fuel world record and Steve Nichols came just shy of backing up the Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car elapsed time record on a night where nearly every pass produced a record numbers. Evans ran a series best 5.240 at 283.85 miles per hour to take the mark in both Pro Fuel categories, while Nichols will get two more shots on Sunday at backing up a potential world elapsed time record in Prostalgia NFC.
Additional records were also set in the Top Sportsman and Pro Sled categories in front of the sold out "Night of Fire" crowd.
In Top Sportsman Joe Dunne fired off an incredible 6.181 elapsed time to smash the E.T. record previously held by Steve Drummond, while Kristin Stanley broke the track speed record in Pro Sleds with a blistering 157.47 mile-per-hour pass in the opening round of eliminations.
Despite a number of new records, the biggest news of the night came in the form of a trio of upset victories in Nitro Jam's professional categories. In Top Fuel Mitch King picked up his first career victory over legend Bruce Litton, while Jeff Hamelink earned his second career Ironman trophy over Pro Fuel point leader Michael Manners and Rick Krafft won for the first time in Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car over point leader Steve Nichols.
And at the end of the night no one was happier than Krafft.
Driving the legendary "Chicago Fire" Corvette, Krafft has had his share of woes this season with a number of engine problems and car malfunctions, but on Saturday night it all came together for the Mike Fraser owned team as Krafft placed one of drag racing's most recognizable names in victory lane for the first time.
Coming into the weekend with just four round wins all season and a career best pass just over six seconds, Krafft produced back-to-back runs in the 5.80s and took down the hottest driver in Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car in the final to earn his first career Ironman trophy.
"We have really struggled this year. We have had goofy engine problems and handling problems that have kept us down," Krafft said. "We struggled through this crazy stuff and this crew worked their butts off and this was the result."
Krafft (Chesterton, Indiana) ran a career best 5.857, 241.45 in the final, besting Steve Nichols' 6.200, 237.67 in a race that wasn't decided until the final few feet.
"We had some friendly words with Steve before the run. He is a great guy and a great racer, but when you challenge his territory he doesn't back down," Krafft said. "I knew he was going to try to kick our butts because he is pretty much king around here so to get it done against that team is amazing."
Coming off of his worst outing of the year two weeks ago in Maryland, the win was a much needed boost for the "Chicago Fire" team as Krafft tries to put the classic squad back on the map as one of the top contenders in Nitro Jam's newest hit class.
"The 'Chicago Fire' has been around almost 30 years, but through the past few years it ran as a Fuel Altered," Krafft said. "When we got the invite by IHRA we turned it into a funny car and have had nothing but problems. Honestly we figured we would go out there and run just as well as we had been, but nothing like that happened.
"Hopefully after tonight we have finally figured this thing out. The 'Chicago Fire' is back."
In other Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car action a number of great runs were produced in the consolation rounds as Peter Gallen drove around John Dunn, Aaron Armstrong defeated Greg Jacobsmeyer and Mike McIntire beat Paul Noakes. After years as an Alcohol Funny Car star on the Nitro Jam tour, Noakes made his return to Nitro Jam behind the wheel of the "Bullet Bob" Trans Am.
While Krafft certainly asserted himself as a force to be reckoned with, it didn't look like he had much of a chance after an incredible opening round shot by Nichols.
Nichols opened the night with the lap heard round the world, shattering the elapsed time record with a 5.728 at over 247 miles-per-hour to advance past rival Gallen. Krafft filled the other final spot with an equally impressive 5.895 E.T. in a win over Dunn.
Despite the loss, Nichols will have an opportunity to back up his run on Sunday.
Another first-time winner was also produced in Top Fuel with a huge upset by Mitch King.
King (Galveston, Texas), in only his third career final, didn't have his best pass of the night, but it was still good enough to drive around Litton who went up in smoke roughly 60 feet into the run.
A collector of all things nitro, King has won in nearly every nitro category on the planet and even helped develop two of the brightest young talents in drag racing today, but until Saturday a win in Top Fuel had eluded the longtime racer and owner.
That is, until Saturday.
"It feels good. It reminds me of my days driving the funny car," King said. "We have won them in the funny car and all the other cars, I just needed a Top Fuel trophy on the shelf."
King ran a 5.408, 210.50 in the winning pass.
"It was a tire smoking deal. Bruce smoked them, I smoked them, but I just got down there quicker then he did," King said. "We had to steal a few parts off of our old car and it appears that brought up some good luck."
In the consolation round Bobby Lagana Jr. drove around Spencer Massey.
Litton reached his 11th final of the season with an easy first round win over Massey, running a round best 4.753, 313.22 in the opening lap of the night. King filled the other spot with a victory over Lagana, running just above the five second mark.
In Pro Fuel Hamelink kept the upset train rolling with a win over point leader Michael Manners. Manners had the advantage off the line and looked strong early, but midway down the track the "Shreddar" dragster began to loose traction and he was forced to shut it off, leaving Hamelink to glide down the quarter-mile for the win.
Hamelink (Savage, Minn.) ran a 5.868, 253.66 in the win.
"It wasn't a fast run, but I guess we outmaneuvered the track. The air was unbelievable, but the cold temperature and late night made it a hard combination to tune around," Hamelink said. "We are making power, but we just can't get it applied to the track. We seem to fight this thing weekend after weekend. Oh well, we will see where this goes. Maybe it was luck, maybe it wasn't."
While Hamelink and Manners were busy battling for the win, Evans roared to life in the consolation round with the best pass ever in a Pro Fuel machine and a new world record. Evans set the record earlier in the night, but ran even quicker in the consolation pass to place himself on the summit in Pro Fuel once again.
While Evans launched his way into the record books with a record breaking opening round pass, the red light he left behind propelled Hamelink into the final. Hamelink ran a steady 5.717, 235.23 in the best pass of the round, while Manners advanced via a bye run.
Nitro Jam wrapped up with two additional professional categories to go along with a huge fireworks display and an incredible showing by two of drag racing's biggest stars - the Shockwave and Super Shockwave jet semis.
In Pro Sleds Kristin Stanley, Paul Austin, Jay Pearl and Daniel Meyer all advanced to the semifinals on Sunday, while in Pro Comp the ladder of eight was set with Warren Heaps of Ashland, Mass. leading the field into Sunday.
Racing will continue on Sunday with two more rounds of Nitro Jam beginning at 1:30 p.m. Kicking off the Nitro Jam party will be FanFest at noon. Gates open at 8 a.m.