Rockingham II: Series eliminations summary

Three winners, three champions crowned at IHRA World Finals ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - Three different winners and three different champions were crowned in the professional categories during final eliminations at the IHRA World Finals Sunday at ...

Three winners, three champions crowned at IHRA World Finals

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - Three different winners and three different champions were crowned in the professional categories during final eliminations at the IHRA World Finals Sunday at Rockingham Dragway.

Del Cox Jr. (Top Fuel), a rookie, and John Montecalvo (Elite Motorsports Pro Stock), a seasoned vet, each clinched their first career championships while Kenny Lang (Pro Mod) claimed his second consecutive title during the wild weekend.

And while all three were busy winning championships, Bruce Litton (Top Fuel), Chris Russo (Pro Modified) and Bob Bertsch (Elite Motorsports Pro Stock) took care of winning the race during the championship finals Sunday in Rockingham, N.C.

Less than favorable conditions on the track also created a unique situation as all of the classes were forced to switch to eighth mile racing to finish Sunday's eliminations.

In other on-track action Davey Boyd picked up the win in the Summit SuperSeries No Box championship by defeating Todd Hohn and Scotty Phillips won the Summit SuperSeries Box championship with a win over Joey Anderson.

On top of picking up a championship, Lang also won the Mickey Thompson Ten Grand Slam over Tony Pontieri.

Despite three champions being crowned and five victories awarded, the finals of the Champion System Sportsman Nationals presented by VP still needs to be finished on Monday, along with the crowning of champions in all of IHRA's seven sportsman categories, the Elite 8 Pro Stock Shootout and the Summit All-Star race.

Racing will get underway at 9 a.m. on Monday and will end with the crowning of sportsman champions Monday night.

***

TOP FUEL

Bruce Litton may not have had a shot at winning the championship on Sunday, but he did the next best thing.

With Del Cox Jr. locking up the 2009 IHRA Top Fuel World Championship on Saturday, Litton went out and made the best of his situation and took something into the offseason to build upon by winning the IHRA World Finals at Rockingham Dragway on Sunday.

Litton eliminated Cox in the semifinals and then took down top qualifier Todd Paton in the final to pick up his third win of the season and the 16th victory of his career.

"We didn't win the war, but we won the battle here today," Litton said. "We came here with the idea of doing the best we could, winning the race and maybe having a chance at the championship. That didn't work out the way we had hoped, but we are pleased to be able to get the win here tonight."

Litton ran a 3.327 elapsed time at 259.66 miles per hour to get around Paton who ran a 5.739 E.T. at 85.87 mph in the eighth mile final.

"I have won an eighth mile race before so that is a positive, but I also remember that the car that Del Cox drives had won an eighth mile event as well so that weighed on me a little bit," Litton said. "But we were able to get it done and this gives us a lot of momentum going into next year."

Litton defeated Paton, Cox and Dom Lagana to reach his sixth final of the season.

"Your last race is always one that sticks with you. Ending a season with a win will stick with you for a while," Litton said. "You always want to end on a positive note and being such a short offseason we look forward to coming back and doing this again next year.

"I am just so grateful for Lucas Oil, Riley Children's Hospital, United Trailers and all of the people who help make this operation what it is."

While Litton took home the win, Cox picked up the championship in his first year on tour by winning four consecutive races starting at midseason. Thanks to that streak Cox was able to overcome a nearly triple digit deficit in early July and will now walk away from The Rock with a convincing championship victory.

"It is unreal. This has been a dream of mine since I was eight years old and now to be here now is just incredible," Cox said. "I have to give it up for all these guys who have been working their butts off and for all of our sponsors. RG Industries, Bexar Waste, Lucas Oil, Setco -- everyone has helped make this possible.

"And for Spencer and my entire family to be here and be a part of this is just incredible."

All Cox needed to do to lock up the championship was get in the show and he did just that on Saturday with the No. 2 qualifying spot. He then dispatched of teammate Rhonda Hartman-Smith in the first round to officially secure the title.

"It is just like anything, you put your boxing gloves on and you put your faith in your team and that is how we were able to overcome where we were earlier this year," Cox said.

Cox went into the weekend hoping to make it five wins a row on top of picking up the championship, but he went red against Bruce Litton in the semis.

"It is kind of hard for me because we are here to win and I hard the car to win the day, but I messed it up," Cox said. "But if you don't go red every once in a while you aren't trying."

While Cox picked up his first title, team owner Mitch King wrapped up his second consecutive team championship after winning the title last year with another rookie -- Spencer Massey. Between Cox and Massey the Bexar Waste dragster has visited victory lane nine times in the past two years including five times this season.

"We were talking that my car alone has been to 11 finals in 20 races over the past two years. That shows how good this crew really is," Cox said. "You have to give it up for Paul Smith, he is the brains behind the whole operation. And Mitch King owning the deal, I can't say enough good things about him. Everyone here does an incredible job."

Litton moved to the final with a victory over Del Cox Jr. as Cox left early and lit the red bulb. Despite the distraction Litton had a tremendous run in the semis with a 3.210 at 265.01 miles per hour. Paton moved to the final with a victory over Bobby Lagana Jr.

In the opening round of Top Fuel wins by Cox and Litton set up a semifinal matchup between the two best dragsters in IHRA.

After going head-to-head all season long it was only fitting the top two drivers in points meet on Sunday. Cox reached the semis with a win over Rhonda Hartman-Smith while Litton drove around Dom Lagana.

In the other semifinal matchup Lagana advanced when Mitch King failed to show and Todd Paton survived a scare against Smax Smith. While Paton made a very solid run, Smith ran into trouble at the eighth mile mark and darted across the centerline into Paton's lane.

Neither car made contact, but Smith went up in flames moments after passing Paton.

***

PRO MOD

When it comes to consistency, no one is better than Chris Russo.

Not always the quickest or fastest during the race weekend, Russo makes a living by making consistent passes down the race track and so far that approach has worked wonders for him.

Already with one win this season using his conservative approach, Russo showed why is one of the best in Pro Mod racing today on Sunday with his second victory of the season at the IHRA World Finals at Rockingham Dragway.

"We know we might not always be the fastest, but we really try to put down consistent laps," Russo said. "A lot of times consistency is just the way to go and today was one of those days. We caught it at just the right time and just built on it from there."

Russo knocked off IHRA newcomer Adam Flamholc in the final with a consistent 4.142 elapsed time at 179.25 miles per hour while Flamholc ran a 6.005 after getting into trouble early.

"I never thought I would get one win in a season so getting two is just incredible," Russo said. "When I was fortunate enough to get the win in Dallas I knew I needed to savor it because these things are so hard to get I knew I might never see it again.

"I know that sounds a little dramatic, but it is true. There are a lot of people who have raced for a lot of years who have never won one and to get two in our first year is amazing."

Russo defeated Flamholc, Kenny Lang, Benny Alfonso and Andrew Parise to take home his second career victory.

"We spent most of the year struggling. We would qualify well and then lose in the first round. We just couldn't put it together until tonight," Russo said. "I didn't think we had much of a chance coming into this weekend, but sometimes it is just your day."

Missing from the final was IHRA World Champion Kenny Lang who wrapped up his second consecutive championship on Saturday. Lang was looking for his ninth consecutive final and fourth consecutive victory, but fell short when his car wiggled against Russo in the semifinals.

Despite not going to the final Lang still accomplished what he set out to do and that was win a second IHRA championship.

"It is great to be able to get back-to-back championships. Winning a championship is something that is so rare and we were able to accomplish twice," Lang said.

All Lang needed to do to seal the title was show up and he did just that and more, taking the No. 1 qualifying spot on Friday and advancing to the semifinals on Sunday to run away from a once tight points battle with veteran Ed Hoover.

Hoover, who held a slim chance at the title entering this weekend, failed to qualify on Friday.

"It has been great racing him all season long. It was a shame he didn't make the field this weekend," Lang said. "We enjoyed racing him this year and he made it incredibly tough on us, but our team came together and put together a great finish to the season.

"Last year was great, but this seems so much sweeter. To go to eight final rounds and win as much as we did is incredible."

In the quarterfinals Lang continued to march through the field with a win over Harold Martin, while his opponent Russo advanced over Benny Alfonso. In the other semifinal match it was a pair of newcomers battling to advance to their first final in IHRA competition.

Flamholc advanced to the final with a win over Fred Scriba while Farber defeated the turbocharged machine of Andy Jensen.

***

ELITE MOTORSPORTS PRO STOCK

No class in all of IHRA drag racing produced more drama this season than the Elite Motorsports Pro Stock class.

And that certainly didn't change on Sunday.

With three drivers in contention for the championship at the start of the day it was only fitting that it would all come down to one race to decide the 2009 IHRA World Championship as John Montecalvo held on for his first career championship and Bob Bertsch took home the victory Sunday at the IHRA World Finals at Rockingham Dragway.

Even more ironic is the fact that it was Bertsch's final round appearance that clinched Montecalvo's championship.

Needing to keep even with Frank Gugliotta or advance farther to clinch, Montecalvo was upset in the quarterfinals when he shook the tires and Ned Katuran moved on.

Moments later Gugliotta won his quarterfinal matchup, leaving him one round away from overtaking the points lead and claiming the '09 championship.

"I couldn't leave the trailer. What was I going to do? Frank is a friend of mine so if he lost I am not going to jump up and down and if he won I couldn't just go to the tower and jump off -- even though that is what I felt like doing -- I just stayed in the trailer and waited," Montecalvo said.

But in the semifinals Bertsch was able to drive around Gugliotta in a tremendous drag race, advancing to the finals and giving Montecalvo his first championship after nearly two decades behind the wheel.

"I really didn't believe it had happened. All I heard was 'we won' and everyone came back to the trailer screaming and I thought this couldn't be," Montecalvo said. "When I finally realized it was true I really didn't know how to react. This is something I have been after for so long and to be able to finally get it done is just overwhelming."

Bertsch then advanced to the final where he met and defeated Pete Berner after Berner went red. Bertsch ran a convincing 4.124 elapsed time at 176.10 miles per hour in the final.

"It is just hard work by my crew and me working on myself. It is a good way to go out at the end of the year," Bertsch said. "We have been working all year little by little, we haven't made any drastic changes, it has just come together really well over the last three races."

Bertsch defeated Berner and Gugliotta -- both championship contenders -- Rocky Watford and Carl Baker to pick up his second win in the last three races.

And all eyes were on Bertsch's semifinal matchup with Gugliotta.

"I knew whatever I did one group of people was going to be happy and another group was going to be a little sad, but I try not to focus on that and simply race the track. That is what I did tonight," Bersch said.

When all was said and done, however, it was Montecalvo's championship that stole the show.

After nearly two decades trying to be a world champion Montecalvo was finally able to see his dream realized thanks to a little help from his friends.

"So many people came up to me and said it is not over and that was just very hard to believe. When I finally found out, I really didn't believe them at first," Montecalvo said. "I have got a lot of racing friends up in the sky and every time I race I pray to them to keep me safe and successful and I truly believe they were looking over me today."

Montecalvo spent most of the season trailing the field, but was able to take the points lead for the first time last month when Gugliotta suffered his third first round loss in four races. He then did just enough to assure that his name would go down in history as the 2009 IHRA Pro Stock champion.

"It hasn't sunk in yet. Over the years it has been one thing or another that has prevented us from winning it, but this is finally our time," Montecalvo said.

Bertsch put an end to Gugliotta's championship hopes in the semifinals with a solid run as Gugliotta left the line late and wiggled down the track to give Bertsch the win and Montecalvo the championship.

Bertsch ran a 4.101 to Gugliotta's 4.205.

In the other semifinal matchup Berner easily dispatched of Ned Katuran with a blistering 4105 second pass in the eighth mile.

While two of the three professional categories had their champions locked up entering Sunday, the Elite Motorsports Pro Stock bunch still had unfinished business and it all started in the semis.

Needing just one round win to seal his first ever championship, Montecalvo smoked the tires in his semifinal matchup with Ned Katuran and Katuran easily picked up the victory and in turn opened the door for Gugliotta.

Gugliotta kept himself alive with a win over Trevor Eman. In the other two semifinal matchups Berner won a close one against Richard Freeman and Bob Bertsch easy got around Rocky Watford.

-credit: ihra

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Series Drag
Drivers Bruce Litton , Rhonda Hartman-Smith , Bobby Lagana Jr. , John Montecalvo , Ed Hoover , Todd Paton , Mitch King , Harold Martin , Adam Flamholc , Kenny Lang , Richard Freeman , Spencer Massey , Frank Gugliotta , Dom Lagana , Paul Smith