Lagana wins first Top Fuel championship with Saturday Nitro Jam victory
Evans wins Pro Fuel title in final pass; Nichols seals Prostalgia championship
PETERSBURG, Va. (October 16, 2010) - It was an event 12 years in the making.
After a spectacular crash in 1999 that nearly took his life, millions of dollars spent pursing his dream and always being known as a great racer, just not championship caliber, Bobby Lagana Jr. finally broke through Saturday night with the win of a lifetime and in doing so came away with his first career Top Fuel World Championship in front of a packed house at the World Finals Nitro Jam Saturday at Virginia Motorsports Park.
"Unbelievable. I really believe that this trophy needs to be split in half because Bruce (Litton) did just an outstanding job this year and he really pushed us to the limit," Lagana said. "To think back on all those years we have put into the sport and everything we have given and the sport has given back, to be here right now is just an incredible feeling.
"I just have to thank my crew, my family, Jim and Carrie and all the fans that signed the car this year, they were a bit part of this win. I also have to say thank you to my dad and mom, this one is for them."
And after a season-long points battle with Litton, Lagana didn't have to wait long to get his turn on the big stage.. Trailing by three points entering Saturday's competition, Lagana, driving the Five Guys Burgers and Fries Top Fuel Dragster, watched as Litton went up in smoke in the first round leaving an opening for Lagana one pass later. And with a championship on the line, Lagana responded in a big way with the biggest pass of his career in a first round win over Spencer Massey, advancing him to the championship round and sealing his first Top Fuel title.
"This is going to bring a lot of joy to a lot of people all over the country," Lagana said. "Maybe there are some that say that this isn't a true championship, but I am holding this trophy and I haven't seen one person that wouldn't be happy being here right now. We earned it and will cherish it forever."
In addition to Lagana, two more drivers were also crowned in the professional categories Saturday night as Bill Evans and the "Black Pearl" crew won the Pro Fuel championship in a battle that came down to the final pass of the year and Nichols sealed his first Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car championship with another solid weekend behind the wheel of the "Mill Road Boys" Camaro.
In additions to the crowning of new champions, three winners were also decided Saturday night as Lagana won in Top Fuel to cap an incredible championship season, Peter Gallen won for the seventh time in Prostalgia NFC and Robin Samsel claimed his first career win in Pro Fuel.
Additionally, two Summit SuperSeries World Champions were also crowned Saturday as Chip Johnson, representing his home track of Rockingham Dragway, won the Box World Championship and Chris Hall, all the way from Rocky Mountain Raceways in Salt Lake City, won the No Box World Championship.
The remaining champions will be crowned during the conclusion of Sunday's action, which will include the final rounds of the Tournament of Champions, Summit All-Star race and the Nitro Jam national event.
On Saturday, however, it was all about Lagana.
From the bed of a ramp truck to the top of the world, Lagana's rise to Top Fuel World Champion was one of the most unlikely success stories in drag racing history. But as of Saturday night Lagana and his band of misfits, which includes his father Bobby Lagana Sr. and brother Dom Lagana, are now IHRA Nitro Jam champions.
"We are blessed to do this. Even all those years with no sponsor, no money, going from race to race on that ramp truck, we were always luck to be able to do this," Lagana said. "And now we are at a higher level than we ever thought possible. I look back at how hard we fought to get to four seconds and now we are running with the best of them. It just shows that good things can happen to those that put in the time and heart."
Lagana won the championship by sweeping the Top Fuel category Saturday night, taking down both cars from the Mitch King Motorsports stable to walk away with the Nitro Jam Ironman and claim the championship by 10 points over Litton. Litton struggled all weekend and never managed to put together a full pass in three tries.
To reach Saturday's Top Fuel championship Lagana simply owned the field in the first round with a crowd-pleasing 4.770-second lap at over 316 miles-per-hour to easily dispatch of Massey. In the other opening round contest Litton watched his championship hopes go up in smoke - figuratively and literally - in a loss to King.
In Pro Fuel, a championship battle between Evans and Mike Manners that featured only one point of separation entering the event was tightened even further following the first round as the pair entered the second session tied for the championship lead and paired together on the track.
With the championship on the line, Evans did what he has done all season long and blew by Manners with a near record pass of 5.282 seconds while Manners struggled off the line. The round win was just enough to seal the title by just four points over the "Shredder" crew of Manners.
"It was a hard fought battle. I know that Manners has two of the best guys out there that can tune a car and for us to be able to come out and beat those guys, and of course there were other good cars out there, but it just seemed like it was us and them and for us to get the edge over a great team like theirs is incredible," Evans said. "And for it all to come down to one final pass for it all was all you could really ask for. It was an incredible night and a great year."
After winning the first ever Pro Fuel race back in January, Evans can now add the first ever Pro Fuel championship to his list of accomplishments as he prepares for bigger and better things next season.
"You have to realize that we cam from nowhere this season. Last year we couldn't make our car run to save our life and we spent all winter working to get the car ready for this year," Evans said. "An old racer told me that if you fail to prepare you prepare to fail and we really took that to heart in the offseason. Now we get to enjoy this and get ready for an even bigger season next year."
While Evans and Manners were fighting it out for the championship, Samsel was busy winning the event. Samsel ran a solid first round to earn a spot in the final and edged Dave Hill in a great drag race to claim his first career Pro Fuel victory.
"This is actually the first weekend on this car. We just got it together last week and did some testing with it, put it in there and brought it down here," Samsel said. "We were a little sketchy on where the tune-up was so we hurt a few things, but the car did everything that it was supposed to do and here we are."
While the championships in Pro Fuel were decided in the final round, the first round set up the epic finals as both Manners and Hamelink lost in the first round and Evans fell short of making the finals despite a strong first round run.
In the opening round Manners lost to Hill, who filled one of the final round spots with the second lowest elapsed time of the first round, and Hamelink lost to Evans. Despite the win, Evans' pass was not good enough to overcome the two strong rounds by Hill and Samsel.
The Prostalgia Nitro Funny Car battle was much less climactic as Nichols entered the event needing to make rounds and, while Gallen did make it interesting by reseting the class record for elapsed time and winning the event, it was not enough to overcome a strong season by Nichols as the "Mill Road Boys" claimed their first championship.
"We have had some great runs this year and had a great battle with Peter. He got us tonight and had a really nice run to set the new mark, but we were able to use some consistency to do some great things this year," Nichols said. "It feels great and I really have to thank all of these guys that work on the car, the IHRA and everyone for helping make this happen. It was a great seaosn."
Despite a valiant effort by Gallen, Nichols still came away with the title by 48 points thanks to a tremendous season that saw the bright yellow Camaro make every single pass this year without missing a round.
"One of the most exciting things for us is the fact that we have made every round at every race and every track this year and didn't put any oil down," Nichols said. "For us that was a pretty big goal to make every round. Even though we had some problems, we were always able to overcome them and that is a big part of what this championship is about."
During the race itself Gallen pushed his car to the limit with a new world record pass of 5.786 seconds and came away with the win over Nichols, his seventh of the season.
"What a phenomenal season. Seven wins, we set the record twice and finished the year with a win, what more could you ask for," Gallen said. "What IHRA has done in providing us a place to play and be as successful as we have been, it is just wonderful. Words can't even describe what this year has been like for us. IHRA really went out on a limb to put this format together, but it is a great and I truly can't wait to see what IHRA and Feld do with it next year."
Gallen cruised to an easy win in the final when Nichols went up in smoke and managed to back up his previous time to reset the record. Nichols found himself in the final after Rick Krafft, who ran low elapsed time of the first round, failed to make the call.
The final championships of the evening came in the Summit SuperSeries as Johnson and Hall both walked away with the most lucrative sportsman prize package in the sport today.
Johnson claimed the Box title with a steady day capped by a win over Tom Scott. Both cars nearly hit their dial with Johnson being the closest by five thousandths of a second to bring home the title for Division 9. In the other matchup Hall, a wild card selection all the way from Utah, ran solid numbers to edge Steve Alford in the No Box final.
The remaining championships and event winners will all be decided on Sunday beginning at 10:30 a.m.