Series notes - Tournament of Champions, part 3

Top Sportsman and Top Dragster classes take center stage This is the third in a three-part series looking at the current Tournament of Champions qualifiers from the seven IHRA sportsman categories. Throughout the week we will be detailing the ...

Top Sportsman and Top Dragster classes take center stage

This is the third in a three-part series looking at the current Tournament of Champions qualifiers from the seven IHRA sportsman categories. Throughout the week we will be detailing the drivers making up the Rod categories, Stock categories and Top Dragster and Top Sportsman categories.

So far, the 2009 IHRA season has been filled with new and exciting changes.

From a completely revamped sportsman championship system to the redesign of other thrilling sportsman programs, it is clear that sportsman racing within the confines of the International Hot Rod Association is booming like never before.

Of all the changes, however, the one that has produced the most immediate results is the decision to include the two quickest and fastest sportsman categories as a part of the professional rounds at all IHRA Nitro Jam national events.

So before you get a chance to see 320 mile per hour dragsters and 240 mph doorslammers, you get to see some of the quickest and fastest sportsman drivers on the planet running in Top Sportsman and Top Dragster.

Not only has the inclusion of these talented drivers given fans a chance to see a bevy of new faces, but it has also given the competitors themselves a chance to race on the biggest stage in the sport.

Combine that fact with the advent of the 32-car fields and the Top Sportsman and Top Dragster classes have once again reclaimed their premier status in the IHRA.

"Our goal with these classes has been to put the 'Top' back into them by having the best of the best make up the fields. With the 32-car fields, the classes have become quick again and it takes good runs just to qualify," said Skooter Peaco, Vice President of Racing Operations. "The fans have been very positive towards these classes as they have been the featured sportsman categories within our professional rounds this year. It has been a great year for these classes so far."

With an increase in exposure and tougher fields, the results have spoken for themselves. Simply put, the racing has been great and the fans have really responded to the new format.

In all four former champions have already qualified for the new Tournament of Champions out of the Top Dragster and Top Sportsman ranks and two drivers have won multiple times.

Also of note, three drivers -- all from the Top Dragster class -- have qualified in multiple classes.

Beginning with the premier sportsman door car class in all of racing, the Top Sportsman class has simply been dominated by Chris Gulitti.

While a driver can only qualify once in their respective class, they can eliminate the competition and shrink the field with multiple wins and that is exactly what Gulitti has managed to do.

Gulitti has won three national events in '09, winning a Nitro Jam event at Dallas Raceway, a Champion Systems Sportsman Nationals race at Pine Valley Raceway and the Summit All-Stars race at Rockingham Dragway.

He is joined by another multi-time winner, two-time world champion Ricky Adkins. Adkins won the second race of the season at Rockingham Dragway and also claimed a win at the most recent race at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park.

Three-time Top Sportsman world champion Gary Bingham has also qualified for the tournament, winning the season opener at State Capitol Raceway in Baton Rouge.

In Top Dragster the competition has been a bit stiffer, but former world champions Brett Nesbitt and Luke Bogacki have managed to squeak their way into the field. Nesbitt, the '08 Quick Rod champ, won at Rockingham Dragway in April and Bogacki secured himself a spot by winning the Summit All-Star race at the same event.

Nesbitt and Bogacki also joined TD competitor Donny Urban as the only drivers to qualify in multiple fields. All three will also be taking up spots on the Quick Rod ladder as well.

"Looking at the drivers that have qualified for the tournament, there is no doubt that most of the best racers in these classes will be in Rockingham in October," Peaco said.

The full list of drivers already in the Tournament of Champions from the top two sportsman categories include Top Sportsman drivers Bingham, Adkins, Gulitti, Allen Firestone, Scott Blake, Gary Wojnowski Sr., Wayne King, Mike Knotz, Mike Sowards, Jeff Pittman and Scott Wasko and Top Dragster drivers Nesbitt, Bogacki, Urban, Chris Bermond, Russell Marr, Jacky King, Tom Koenen, Jim Rubino, Rick Schneider, Steve Witherow, Dylan Stott, David Johns, Jim Huggett and Steve Schmidt.

Current Summit Pro-Am division leaders looking to secure a spot in the invitation only field or knock out others include Top Sportsman leaders Bob Phillips, Gilmer Hinshaw, Steven Pym, Kamron Wright, Michael Sowards and Mark Payne and Top Dragster leaders Wesley Washington Jr., Troy Williams, Randy Scheuer, J.R. Baxter, Brian Folk and Dylan Stott.

In all 13 events are already in the books including Nitro Jam events in Baton Rouge, Rockingham, Dallas, Tulsa, Edmonton, Grand Bend and Martin and Champion Systems Sportsman National events at Immokalee Regional Raceway, Richmond Dragway, Pine Valley Raceway, Byron Dragway, Carolina Dragway and Pittsburgh Raceway Park.

There are only a handful of events left to qualify including a pair of Nitro Jam events at New England Dragway and Maryland International Raceway and one final opportunity prior to the World Finals at the Rockingham Champion Systems Sportsman Nationals.

Drivers can also earn a spot in the field by finishing in the top three in their respective Summit Racing Equipment Pro-Am Divisions. Divisional winners will earn a first round bye in the tournament.

Along with competing for a world championship, drivers will also be battling it out for their share of the $125,000 purse up for grabs at the World Finals.

With only a few more chances remaining to qualify for the tournament, you can be sure that the competition will only continue to heat up with only two months remaining in the season.

-credit: ihra

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Series Drag
Drivers Steve Schmidt , David John
Teams Williams