Team Chevy Atco, Englishtown preview

Team Chevy Sport Compact Drag Racing Contingent Heads to New Jersey for Two Key Events ATCO, N.J., April 23, 2008 - It will be a busy two weeks for Team Chevy's sport compact drag-racing contingent as it heads to the Garden State for a pair of...

Team Chevy Sport Compact Drag Racing Contingent Heads to New Jersey for Two Key Events

ATCO, N.J., April 23, 2008 - It will be a busy two weeks for Team Chevy's sport compact drag-racing contingent as it heads to the Garden State for a pair of races scheduled on back-to-back weekends. The first contest on the docket is the NOPI New Jersey Nationals at Atco Raceway in Atco, N.J., on April 26 - 27 followed a week later by the NOPI Spring Nationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park on May 3 - 4 in Englishtown, N.J. In addition, the rain-delayed eliminator originally scheduled for March 30 at Atlanta Dragway will be completed on Saturday, April 26, at Atco, N.J.

Many of the drivers carrying the Chevy red bowtie in competition this week have a lot of experience racing on the two tracks at Atco and Englishtown including 2007 NOPI Pro FWD champion Jason Hunt. Hunt is the defending event winner at Atco Raceway and who has scored three consecutive victories at the southern New Jersey venue (2005 - 07).

"These two races always bring in a lot of the great Northeast racing fans," Hunt said. "With the cool, spring weather, the terrific racing surfaces and the fact that we're so close to sea level, anything is possible from a performance standpoint. The next two races are going to be an e.t. shootout, and from a drag-racing fan's perspective, it's going to be a lot of fun."

Hunt is coming off the first NOPI event of the season in West Palm Beach where he lost in round one to eventual Pro FWD winner Marty Ladwig. Ladwig's Chevrolet barely edged out the Matco Tools Cobalt at the finish stripe by .0876 of a second, but Hunt and car-owner Charlie Schafer are confident it was a weekend the team can build upon as the series heads into the third and fourth race on the schedule.

"At West Palm we finally put together a string of good passes," Schafer said. "After the race is when we found a few things that will go a long way in helping us be competitive during the upcoming swing through New Jersey, and everyone on this team is pretty confident that we can come away with a bag full of points. Since racing in Florida, we've tested both Jason's car and Brian's (Ballard) car, learned some things where we can improve on both of them, and now it's just a matter of getting on track and seeing what we have for the rest of the competition."

For New Jersey native Gary Gardella, the quarter-mile asphalt strips at Atco and Englishtown are a drag-racing playground that the Red Bull Chevy Cobalt driver is very familiar with. At last year's April NOPI event, Gardella turned his season around with a runner-up performance to Jason Hunt that set him on his current string of 12 consecutive final-round appearances (NHRA and NOPI combined), and his runner-up at the NHRA contest at Atco in June helped propel him to the 2007 championship in that series.

"Both of these racetracks are such top-notch facilities and over the past three race seasons we've spent a lot of time testing at Atco Raceway," Gardella said. "The Sway family has reinvested a lot of time and money back into making Atco Raceway a premier facility and the improvements they've made will only make it better for the racers and the fans."

At the series' previous event in West Palm Beach, Gardella was No. 1 qualifier (which also makes him top qualifier for the rain-delayed NOPI Georgia Nationals) and lost in a close final-round match-up with Marty Ladwig. Gardella is currently in second place in the NOPI Pro FWD standings and trails first-place Ladwig by 39 points.

"At West Palm Beach we learned a lot about ourselves as a race team," Gardella said. "We made some personnel changes over the winter and it took us a few rounds to get into a routine. It's been non-stop, though, getting the Red Bull Chevrolet to 60-foot the way we'd like, but we did learn some things in West Palm that should help us in that area in Atco.

"We've tested and we've made some solid upgrades to our Chevy Cobalt since the last race and we'll be looking to dial it in a little bit more when qualifying starts on Saturday."

Marty Ladwig will enter the New Jersey swing of sport-compact events with the Lucas Oil Chevy Cobalt solidly parked in first place in the Pro FWD standings. Ladwig was one of the few drivers in the category who did not test during the off-season, and he completely left alone the red and white Ecotec-powered Chevrolet following its impressive victory last October in Pomona, Calif.

"After the win in Pomona we just walked away from it," Ladwig explained. "Our attitude was why mess with it and incur the additional costs of testing and maybe break some key parts that have worked so well for us? To then be able to go to West Palm Beach and run as fast and as consistent as we did really says a lot about the quality of the GM Racing hardware on my Ecotec-powered Chevrolet. Not only did we win the race, but we had top speed and low e.t. of the meet and we didn't miss a beat. Pretty amazing. Just a terrific job by everyone on this Lucas Oil race team."

Ladwig is a two-time winner at Atco Raceway, albeit in the NHRA Sport Compact series where he was a two-time champion in HOT ROD. Ladwig won at Atco in 2003 in the HOT ROD category and then in Pro FWD in 2005.

"These are two races we always look forward to because of the crowds, the past success we've had at both facilities and the potential to really lay down some good numbers on both tracks," Ladwig said. "These are the opportunities that drag racers look forward to - the chance to go fast, set records and push the performance envelope just a little bit more."

An uncharacteristic first-round loss at West Palm Beach for Pro Extreme competitor Don Nase Jr. has the driver of the Ecotec-powered dragster looking to rebound at the familiar surroundings of Atco Raceway, which is just a few miles from Nase's home office in Jackson, N.J.

"We've been working diligently to get the car to be more consistent and I'm confident that we're on the right track," Nase said. "I think this Ecotec-powered dragster is now capable of running 6.50s all day and at Englishtown we'll be taking a good shot at the class record. From the looks of the schedule, and taking into consideration the summer weather and the quality of the racing surface, this may be our best opportunity. We have the car and the tune-up to run as low as 6.38 and with a little help from Mother Nature, we'll get it done."

The first contest at West Palm Beach saw a pair of runner-up performances by Chevy Cobalt drivers in the HOT ROD and All Motor category. Bryan Jimenez advanced to his first final round in nearly two seasons, but he'll have to wait until round two of qualifying at Englishtown on May 3 to see if he's the winner. A heavy thunderstorm forced postponement of the championship heat until then.

Grace Howell shook off any first-race jitters she may have had and made a sterling debut in All Motor by scoring her first career final-round appearance in the category. The Lucas Oil/K&N Filters Chevy driver has also competed at both of the upcoming venues but as an NHRA Sportsman driver in Super Stock. Last summer at the NHRA SuperNationals at Englishtown, Howell advanced to the quarterfinals in a field of 112 cars.

"The race at West Palm was a great learning experience for me and our team," Howell said. "During the course of qualifying and eliminations we were able to find some big performance gains in our Chevy Cobalt that should hopefully give us an edge over our competition. This was also my first race in this series so I learned some things that will make me more comfortable in the driver's seat."

In the Turbo Street category, defending series champion Brian Ballard will be looking to get into the winner's circle for the first time this season. At West Palm Beach, Ballard qualified the Mobil 1/Borg Warner Chevrolet No. 2 in a full field of 16 with a 9.81 e.t. He won at Atco in 2007.

"These are two of my favorite tracks, and Englishtown is by far the best drag-racing facility in the country" Ballard said. "I expect to see many records reset at this event and I wouldn't be surprised if there are 20-plus cars that are trying to qualify for Turbo Street. There is a large group of local cars that are expected to come out and that should make the both events great for the fans.

"We expect the Mobil 1 Chevrolet to run much quicker. We qualified well in Florida, but we know this Ecotec-powered combinations has a lot more in it and each pass is giving us more data to tweak on the new setup. We learned that the new setup can take more power on the first half of the track than we previously expected and we'll be looking to capitalize on what we've learned. I don't plan on repeating my disappointing finish at Moroso any time soon."

-credit: gm racing

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