Rockingham: Pre-event notes

Nitro Jam point races heat up at Rockingham From a first time event to the longest running race on the IHRA calendar, it is safe to say the 2009 racing season is about to heat up. Drivers and crews are set to head to the heart of motorsports ...

Nitro Jam point races heat up at Rockingham

From a first time event to the longest running race on the IHRA calendar, it is safe to say the 2009 racing season is about to heat up. Drivers and crews are set to head to the heart of motorsports country April 24-26 as Rockingham Dragway hosts the 38th annual IHRA Spring Nationals presented by Advance Auto Parts and Castrol, the oldest and most prestigious event on the Nitro Jam circuit.

"The Spring Nationals are always one of the highlights of the year here at Rockingham Dragway. Every year we see records broken and plenty of great racing and I expect even more of the same this year," said Rockingham Dragway owner Steve Earwood. "We have many of the world's best drivers coming to North Carolina for this event and I can't wait to go racing."

Headlining the 38th Spring Nationals will be three professional classes of racing including Top Fuel, Pro Modified and Elite Motorsports Pro Stock, along with the always popular sportsman racing featuring the annual Summit Racing Equipment Allstars race.

TOP FUEL

Bruce Litton comes into Rockingham with a ton of momentum after smoking the field at Baton Rouge en route to a victory at the Summit Racing Equipment Mardi Gras Nationals. Litton had by far the most consistent weekend of any driver, helping him take second on the qualifying charts and easily eliminate Mitch King, Paul Lee and Bobby Lagana Jr. to claim his 14th Ironman.

His weekend best run was 4.723 at 306.88 miles per hour. "I am pleased that we got the win, but we are back to square one as we head to the next race," Litton said. "We have plenty of data and we have run well at this track so we are going to go back to the books and see what the track will take and what the weather will bring us."

Litton, a two-time Spring Nationals victor, is a big fan of the track known the world over as "The Rock" with five race wins coming at the southern North Carolina track. Last season, Litton came close to adding a sixth Rockingham victory after taking the No. 1 qualifying spot, but was eliminated in the finals by Spencer Massey.

"I love going to The Rock. Rockingham was the site of my first ever Top Fuel win 10 years ago and also the place where I clinched my championship back in 2007," Litton said. "I like Steve Earwood. He is a great guy and I really enjoy going to his race track.

"I have wins there, but I also have losses. Our goal is to go out and do the best we can and see what the weekend brings you. It will be a great race; it always brings out a lot of cars in all of the classes."

Bobby Lagana, who lost to Litton in the finals at Baton Rouge, will prove one of the toughest challengers in the Top Fuel field. Lagana knocked off one heavyweight after another en route to making the finals and has hopes of doing much of the same at the Spring Nationals.

Two of the drivers Lagana knocked off at the season opener, Del Cox and Terry McMillen, will be looking to rebound after early exits in Baton Rouge.

Cox came out of nowhere to take the No. 1 qualifying spot at the Mardi Gras Nationals with a weekend best pass of 4.712 at 314.83 mph driving the same car that Spencer Massey drove to four wins and the Top Fuel world championship last season.

Cox, along with McMillen, Nitro Funny Car convert Paul Lee and Canadian star Tim Boychuk, should all be top contenders at The Rock.

The rest of the Top Fuel field scheduled to be on hand in Rockingham includes Mitch King, Fred Farndon, Chris Karamesines, Smax Smith and Terry Haddock.

PRO MOD

When it comes to tradition, there is nothing more prestigious than Pro Modified racing and the Spring Nationals.

As the one "true home" to Pro Mod racing, the IHRA has always had competitive battles and exciting firsts among its most volatile class and, as always, the class hasn't disappointed so far this year.

At the season opener in Baton Rouge Ray Commisso set the bar high for the rest of the class and at Rockingham the stakes are going to be even higher.

Commisso put down a 5.970 E.T. at 246.08 mph during the weekends qualifying sessions to take the top qualifying spot and never fell below the 6 second barrier again in head-to-head competition in not only taking home the Ironman, but setting a new IHRA world speed record in the process.

"That was a great weekend and I really hope we can have another performance like we did in Baton Rouge, the only problem is I have been to two other races since then and messed up at both of them," Commisso said. "The car is very capable of going fast and being competitive, it is just if I am going to make any mistakes."

Commisso will head to Rockingham as the point leader and will look to add to the record books at the track many consider the fastest on the circuit.

"I love going to Rockingham. It is a racetrack we all grew up watching and seeing the heavy hitters run fast and now we get to be a part of that," Commisso said. "My first ever IHRA race was there back in 2002 and we have had some special memories there. Every race we pull into we have the attitude we can win and with Roger Burgess Pro Cars RX and R2 B2 Motors I know we can have a successful weekend."

But it won't be easy.

Mardi Gras Nationals runner-up Tommy Gray has shown that the legendary Undertaker Camaro is still a force to be reckoned with while defending Spring Nationals winner Kenny Lang looks to get over a disappointing first round loss at the season opener.

North Carolina fan favorite and seven-time IHRA champion Rickie Smith, a member of the highly-touted Al-Anabi stable, will also be on hand for the Spring Nationals.

Rockingham Dragway will also see some of the fastest machines in the country including the cars of Ed Hoover, Tim Tindle and Steve Vick who should all be right in the thick of things.

The rest of the Pro Mod competitors scheduled to be on hand includes Ralph Andreacchi, Joe Baker, Harold Martin, Tim O'Hare, John Russo and Chris Russo.

ELITE MOTORSPORTS PRO STOCK

By far the most competitive class in all of IHRA drag racing, the Elite Motorsports Pro Stock class will see its point battle really heat up when more than two dozen cars roll into the staging lanes for the Spring Nationals.

Home to the fastest and quickest Pro Stock cars on the planet, the IHRA saw its season opener dominated by two veterans of the sport who proved the class of the field all weekend long in Baton Rouge -- Jason Collins and John Montecalvo.

Collins began the weekend on top, taking the top qualifying spot with a weekend best pass of 6.294 at 222.03 mph and was never really challenged until the finals where he edged Montecalvo with a 6.354/221.16 to a 6.365/221.85 to claim his 4th Ironman.

"It was definitely a confidence booster. We ran pretty well, we had some troubles, but if we run as well as we did down there at Rockingham then we should be good," Collins said. "If we can qualify in the top half of the field, we have as good a chance as anyone to win."

Collins will take his point lead into Rockingham with Montecalvo right on his heels. Mark Martino, Cary Goforth and defending Elite Motorsports Pro Stock champion Pete Berner round out the top five heading into The Rock.

"The event at The Rock is the biggest race on the tour as far as spectators go and we always have a good time there. I also like it because it usually always falls when you can run fast and set records,"

Collins said. "First part of the year and at the end of the year when it is cool the Pro Stock cars seem to run really well.

"Me personally, I haven't ever done that well there. I don't know why, but I guess it is because we have not had the fastest car all of the time and at a track like that, if you don't have one of the fastest cars it plays against you. Maybe since our car is running better we will finally have some luck there."

Defending Spring Nationals champion Elijah Morton will make his season debut while the man he beat last year, Montecalvo, looks to add to his trophy collection.

Frank Gugliotta (6th), who shattered the IHRA world E.T. record the last time he was at Rockingham in October, will also look to make some noise, this time from the cockpit of an Elite Motorsports backed entry along with teammates J.R. Carr (8th) and Richard Freeman (9th).

Ford backed Pro Stocker Cale Aronson (7th) and Dean Goforth (10th) round out the top 10 in IHRA competition coming into the Spring Nationals. The rest of the Pro Stock field scheduled to be on hand includes Bob Bertsch, Steven Boone, Michael Bruno, Trevor Eman, Brian Gahm, Scott Hintz, Chris Holbrook, Ned Katuran, John Konigshofer, Robert Patrick, John Pluchino and Rocky Watford.

Only Montecalvo, Morton and Patrick have won a Spring Nationals event in Pro Stock competition.

-credit: ihra

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Series Drag
Drivers Bruce Litton , Robert Patrick , Chris Karamesines , Bobby Lagana Jr. , John Montecalvo , Ed Hoover , Tommy Gray , Mitch King , Paul Lee , Rickie Smith , J.R. Carr , Terry Haddock , Harold Martin , Roger Burgess , Joe Baker , Kenny Lang , Richard Freeman , Mark Martin , Spencer Massey , Frank Gugliotta , Terry McMillen