Championships To Be Decided At World Finals Nitro Jam; Less than three points to decide championships in Nitro Jam pro dragster classes
Close battles highlight Nitro Jam's return to Virginia Motorsports Park
PETERSBURG, Va. (September 27, 2010) -- In two of the tightest points races in Nitro Jam history, the championships in both the Top Fuel and Pro Fuel Dragster classes will go down to the wire entering the season finale at the World Finals Nitro Jam October 15-16 at Virginia Motorsports Park in Petersburg.
Only three points separate Top Fuel veterans Bruce Litton and Bobby Lagana Jr., while only one point separates Nitro Jam newcomers Bill Evans and Mike Manners in the brand new Pro Fuel Dragster class. A third driver is also a part of the Pro Fuel title chase as Jeff Hamelink sits just seven points back of the leaders.
"It is a testament to the kind of competition we have had this year on the Nitro Jam tour," said IHRA President Aaron Polburn. "People automatically assumed that, with the new format, championships and point races wouldn't mean anything anymore in the professional categories. Obviously, with two of the closest races we have ever seen in Nitro Jam competition being decided in Virginia next month, that just isn't the case."
By far the closest battle this season has taken place in the brand new Pro Fuel category. Conceived last season as an exciting addition to the already established Top Fuel class, Pro Fuel has become a fan favorite with incredible side-by-side racing and runs quickly approaching the four second zone.
And out of that class has come an incredible championship battle between two of the most impressive showman in the sport today. Mike Manners, driver of the "Shredder" Pro Fuel Dragster, and Bill Evans, piloting the "Black Pearl," have put on an incredible show this season with wild designs, race props and record runs nearly every weekend, but their battle in the standings will certainly go down as one of the best ever seen in Nitro Jam competition.
The third driver in the mix, Jeff Hamelink in the "Stealth" dragster, is also a part of the showdown as he sits just seven points behind the leaders. Seemingly a midseason lock to win the championship with a huge point lead following the western swing, Hamelink has seen his lead slowly disappear over the last four races before finally vanishing altogether earlier this month in Maryland.
Part of that comeback has been because Manners and Evans have combined to win five of the last eight races, while the other factor is the bonus points earned for setting records in the class. Over the last three races the duo at the top of the standings have traded the national record for elapsed time and speed at every event, with Evans getting the last shot in at New England Dragway earlier this month.
Now, thanks to a number of record-setting performances, Evans, Manners and Hamelink are just a single weekend away from claiming the inaugural Pro Fuel championship.
"We have the record for now, but who knows how long that will hold up. We were talking with Mike at New Hampshire and he said they have a better shot at setting the record in Virginia. That is actually scary when you think about it," Evans said. "Who knows? It might come down to another record or one of us sweeping both races. All I know is it is about to get interesting."
While Manners enters the final race of the season with the lead, it is actually Evans who holds the most wins in the class. After kicking off the season with a weekend sweep and establishing the record for the class, Evans has since lowered the Pro Fuel national record by two tenths and nearly 20 mph while racking up six wins in six final round appearances. Manners has four wins in seven finals. Hamelink, after a slow start, has come on strong as of late with two wins in five finals including appearances in the finals of both rounds at the most recent Nitro Jam event.
"This has been a wonderful season and we have enjoyed competing with all of these guys out here," Manners said. "Now, after a long season, it looks like it is all going to come down to a win here or a record there. It is going to be exciting and we are certainly going to give it everything we have."
The other points race to watch at the World Finals Nitro Jam is Top Fuel.
After trading the points lead five times this season and combining to win 13 of 18 races, the championship in Nitro Jam's quickest and fastest class will come down to who has the hot hand in Virginia as only three points separate Lagana and Litton.
Thanks to a pair of final round appearances in New Hampshire, Litton has once again reclaimed the championship lead as he looks for his second career Top Fuel title. Litton, who is in the top five in every Nitro Jam statistical category, won his only championship in 2007.
"We have had a great year in the Lucas Oil Slick Mist dragster and we are very excited to be in the hunt entering the final race of the season," Litton said. "Bobby and that group have had an incredible year and I couldn't think of a better team to be up against to decide the first championship under the new format."
Behind Litton is the man many people consider the "Peoples Champion." In his decade long Top Fuel career Lagana has been close to winning it twice, but he has never been able to seal the deal. Still, his fan interaction and go or go home racing style has made him a fan favorite on the tour and has garnered him a huge following. If Lagana can finally seal his first championship in Virginia it would be a very popular win amongst Nitro Jam fans.
"It would mean the world," Lagana said. "We have put in as much blood, sweat and tears as all of these other teams with half of the budget to work with. We love racing and we love putting on a show and if we can cap our tremendous year with a championship Ironman it would be validation for all the time and money we have invested in this sport."
Lagana has had a career year with seven wins in 11 finals after going to only 12 finals in the previous 11 seasons. Litton has also had a tremendous year, winning six times and finishing runner-up six times. Thanks to that success Litton has now tied seven-time champion Clay Millican with 60 career final round appearances. Litton is also third in career wins with 22 Ironman trophies.
With only one race remaining, fans will be in for one of the most exciting Nitro Jam events of the season as two of the three professional classes will come down this one race October 15-16 at the World Finals Nitro Jam at Virginia Motorsports Park.