Rockingham preview

Montecalvo Returns To The Rock ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Sunoco Pro Stock points leader John Montecalvo lives in Center Moriches, N.Y., but his home, his competitive home, at least, is Rockingham Dragway, site of this week's 34th annual IHRA ...

Montecalvo Returns To The Rock

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Sunoco Pro Stock points leader John Montecalvo lives in Center Moriches, N.Y., but his home, his competitive home, at least, is Rockingham Dragway, site of this week's 34th annual IHRA Spring Nationals presented by Advance Auto Parts and Castrol GTX.

In fact, Montecalvo credited his lengthy pre-season test at The Rock for his impressive performance in the season-opening Texas Nationals at San Antonio, an event in which he qualified his Chevy Cavalier on the pole (6.533 seconds), posted top speed of the event (213.57 miles per hour) and won for just the fourth time in his Pro Stock career.

Nevertheless, an affinity for the racetrack is not Montecalvo's only Carolina connection.

"(San Antonio) was the first race we had Jeff and Cindy Dobbins on board," Montecalvo said, "and, with my guys who have been with me for awhile, we've just gelled together like you couldn't believe."

The Dobbinses are Wilmington residents who, before teaming up with Montecalvo, won two times with their own Pro Stock car, most recently at the AC Delco Canadian Nationals last July at Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

"It was a tremendous way to start the year," Montecalvo said of his Texas victory. "It really builds momentum and morale for the team. I think you'll see this Chevy in the winners' circle quite a few times this season."

Ironically, despite his newfound affection for Rockingham Dragway, the 44-year-old Montecalvo never has won a major race at the Carolina track. Twice he reached the final round at the fall race and twice he was disappointed (1999 and 2001). Likewise Dobbins, who was runner-up at the World Finals in 2002.

Despite their quick start Montecalvo and Dobbins know they face an uphill battle in their bid to unseat two-time reigning Hooters Series champion Brian Gahm of Lucasville, Ohio.

That's because Gahm's car and six of the other cars in the current Top 10 are Ford products. In fact, Montecalvo, fellow New Yorker John Bartunek and veteran Steve Spiess of Manhattan, Ill., are the only competitive drivers of bowtie products in a sea of blue ovals.

In addition to Gahm, the Ford contingent includes 1995 series champion Mike Bell of McLeansville, N.C., San Antonio runner-up John Nobile of Melville, N.Y., eight-time IHRA tour winner Robert Patrick of Fredericksburg, Va., two-time winner Tony Gillig of Lake Bluff, Ill., and three-time tour runner-up Elijah Morton of Jacksonville, N.C., who also tested well at The Rock.

The fact is, Ford has maintained a stranglehold on the Pro Stock division for the last nine seasons.

The last time a Ford product DIDN'T win the championship was 1994. Since then, seven different drivers have delivered championships for Dearborn.

Although he lost to Gahm in the first round at San Antonio, Bell might be Montecalvo's biggest obstacle at the Spring Nationals.

A former chassis builder for NHRA Funny Car Champion Raymond Beadle, Bell has made as many laps at Rockingham as anybody on the planet, most of them as a one-time as instructor at a drag racing school. Although he is an accomplished driver, Bell's set-up skills are what set him apart from his rivals.

In addition to Pro Stock, Spring Nationals champions will be crowned in Top Fuel, Pro Modified, Funny Car and seven sportsman categories.

Racing begins with Friday's "Castrol Night of Fire" featuring pro qualifying plus an exhibition performance by Bob Motz and the Original Jet Truck and a fireworks show. Pro qualifying continues at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Saturday with final eliminations beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Tickets are $35 Friday, $40 Saturday and $35 Sunday. Juniors, kids 6-12, are $5 daily. A super ticket good for all three days is available in advance for $85. Reserved seating is $5 additional Friday and Sunday; $10 additional on Saturday. Although parking in the main lot is free with each ticket purchased, VIP parking, which provides vehicle access into the track proper, is available for $20 per day.

-ihra-

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Series Drag
Drivers Bob Motz , Tony Gillig , John Nobile , Robert Patrick , John Montecalvo , Mike Bell , Steve Spiess