Rockingham: Sunday eliminations summary

Hagan Wins First Career Ironman; Knocks off Paul Lee in Nitro Funny Car Final at Rockingham Dragway Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Laurie Cannister (Alcohol Funny Car), Kenny Lang (Pro Modified) and Elijah Morton (Pro Stock) claim Ironmen at ...

Hagan Wins First Career Ironman; Knocks off Paul Lee in Nitro Funny Car Final at Rockingham Dragway

Spencer Massey (Top Fuel), Laurie Cannister (Alcohol Funny Car), Kenny Lang (Pro Modified) and Elijah Morton (Pro Stock) claim Ironmen at IHRA Spring Nationals in Rockingham

(Rockingham, N.C.; April 20, 2008) -- Matt Hagan spent two seasons trying, unsuccessfully, to find the Winner's Circle in IHRA's Pro Modified class. He moved into a Nitro Funny Car for the 2008 season...a move that has agreed with him so far.

Hagan secured his first career NFC round win on his way to his first career national event victory at the 37th Annual IHRA Spring Nationals in Rockingham. He defeated Paul Lee in the final round to claim his first national event title.

Hagan got a gift in the final when Lee's car, which had been flawless all weekend, finally stumbled. Lee was ahead by two-tenths of a second at half track and Hagan, making just his second Funny Car start, thought his own Cinderella story was over.

"I knew I had a bad light," Hagan said, "and I said, 'oh man, it's over now.' It went into (tire) shake. I pedaled it (feathered the throttle) real quick. When I went around him, I was shaking already. I've been after one of these for a long time. Two years in Pro Mod. My tuner, Jay Lewis, made it all happen for me today. I couldn't have a better tuner.

"I was cheering in the car but I didn't see the win light. When I got out and everybody was running over to the us with the cameras, that's when I knew. (Compared to a Pro Mod car) it's super, super fast. Your mind is playing catch up all the time, but now I'm beginning to feel really comfortable in the car."

Rookie sensation Spencer Massey kept his record perfect in the IHRA Nitro Jam Drag Racing series, upsetting No. 1 qualifier Bruce Litton for the second consecutive race.

Massey, 25, won the season-opening Amalie Texas Nationals at San Antonio just six days after qualifying for his Top Fuel license and hooking up with car owner Mitch King. He beat Litton in the first round of that race. He stopped the reigning series champion in the final at Rockingham.

A graduate of the Jr. Dragster program which provides a competitive foundation for prospective drivers under the age of 18, Massey began driving Top Alcohol dragsters on the NHRA circuit in 2006, winning two NHRA national events in a car owned and prepared by drag racing legend Gene Snow, who won IHRA Top Fuel titles in 1990 and 1991.

Massey never trailed in Sunday's final. He had a .038-.069 advantage at the starting line and never looked back., his 4.712 second, 313.51 mile per hour effort covering Litton's 4.764 at 310.13 mph.

"I'm having a ball," Massey said. "I've had my license for three weeks and I've won two national events. How can you beat that? I owe it all to (car owner) Mitch King and (tuner) Paul Smith. Paul's got one of the best tune-ups in the sport. The car goes down the track every time. All I have to worry about is cutting a light and keeping it in the groove.

"I've been trying to work on my lights in this car," Massey said. "I've been trying some different positioning but for the final round I went back to my normal deal like I did in the A/Fuel car (he drove previously). Bruce was on his game. He was ready for me. He had a .069 light, which was very respectable. We're just very honored to be in the position we're in (leading the Top Fuel standings by 56 points)."

Other winners included Carolina favorite son Elijah Morton, who upset defending champion John Montecalvo in the Pro Stock final and Laurie Cannister of Johnstown, Ohio, who kept her 2008 record perfect in the Alcohol Funny Car class by besting two-time former series champ Rob Atchison.

In Pro Modified, Canadian Kenny Lang proved that the third time indeed is a charm by driving his 1953 Chevy Corvette to an uncontested victory over defending champion Scotty Cannon, to whom he lost in last year's Spring Nationals. Lang has been to only three IHRA tour finals -- all three at Rockingham, where he was runner-up to Mike Janis at last October's World Finals.

"It was great that we got the win," Lang said. "I've always wanted to win an Ironman, but you want to put a show on for the fans and we weren't able to do that. We were hoping to drop the car down into the fives but we know we have a really fast car, a contending car."

Pro-Am winners included Brett Nesbitt of McLeansville, N.C., who doubled-up in Quick Rod, adding the Spring Nationals title to the Summit All-Stars championship he earned on Saturday. Malinda Bertozzi, wife of multiple world champion Anthony Bertozzi, claimed the Top Dragster title while Sandy Wilkins prevailed in Top Sportsman, Bernard Weaver in Super Rod, Marshall Smith in Hot Rod, Jeff Tripp in Super Stock and Dan Fletcher in Stock.

Morton used a starting line advantage to get to the finish line just ahead of Montecalvo and win for the first time since June 13, 2004 when he prevailed in Grand Bend, Ont., Canada.

"Monte took us out in the semifinals at San Antonio (at the IHRA season-opener)," Morton said. "I was bound and determined to pay him back. Monte's a good driver, a good guy, but this time we took the 'W.'"

"We've been developing our own engine program," Morton said, "and it takes time (so) we've had to be very patient. We had a very consistent car today and ended up with a national win. I could feel him coming up, but I knew the (finish line) stripe was coming up quick. This is what I call my home track, so it's great to do it right here in Rockingham, North Carolina."

Cannister, who was away from the sport for five years, put herself solidly ahead of Atchison in the race for the 2008 championship. Her car was quickest in every round. In fact, her Kalbone's Grillin' Sauce Chevy has been quickest in all qualifying and competitive rounds this season.

The Pro Outlaw winner at the 2000 Spring Nationals, Cannister gave a shout out to rival Dale Brand for loaning her team front tires and wheels for the final round after she returned from the semis with chunks out of the front tires.

Although she dominated, Cannister had one anxious moment in the very first round when she was late reacting to the starting signal.

"I absolutely beat myself up after that first round," she said, "but I just tried to get it out of my head and concentrate harder. Luckily my crew gave me a great car but in the final we went up there with No. 1 cylinder hurt pretty bad. Actually, I put the thing into third gear and, right in the lights, it just quit.

"It's great to be on top, but I know that once you get to the top, it's tough to stay there. The good thing is I know I have the crew and the car and the sponsor."

-credit: ihra

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Series Drag
Drivers Laurie Cannister , Mike Janis , Bruce Litton , Scotty Cannon , John Montecalvo , Mitch King , Paul Lee , Dale Brand , Matt Hagan , Kenny Lang , Spencer Massey , Paul Smith