Team Chevy's Sport-Compact Drag Racers Kick Off Season at Atlanta Dragway COMMERCE, Ga., March 25, 2008 - An exciting season looks to be in store for Team Chevy's contingent of sport-compact drag racing competitors in 2008, and the one question...
Team Chevy's Sport-Compact Drag Racers Kick Off Season at Atlanta Dragway
COMMERCE, Ga., March 25, 2008 - An exciting season looks to be in store for Team Chevy's contingent of sport-compact drag racing competitors in 2008, and the one question everyone is waiting to see answered is if Pro FWD will produce the kind of record-setting performances this year that it did in 2007. The same familiar cast of red bowtie champions will be representing Chevrolet in this tightly contested category including last year's NHRA Pro FWD title winner Gary Gardella, defending NOPI Pro Outlaw FWD champion Jason Hunt and two-time NHRA champion Marty Ladwig. They'll hit the track for the first of two events held on consecutive weekends beginning with the NOPI Georgia Nationals at Atlanta Dragway on March 29 - 30, followed by the NOPI Florida Nationals at Moroso Motorsports Park in West Palm Beach, Fla., on April 5 - 6.
Charging like a runaway freight train, Team Chevy's Gary Gardella overcame a pair of early-season losses in 2007 and advanced to seven consecutive final-round appearances to earn his first NHRA Pro FWD sport compact championship. It was a dream season to remember for the 29-year-old driver of the Red Bull Chevy Cobalt and his on-track successes included six national-event victories (including NDRA victories at Milan, Mich., and Epping, N.H.) and 11 final-round appearances.
In addition to his first NHRA title, Gardella set both ends of the NHRA national record in October at Englishtown (N.J.) establishing the e.t. mark at 7.159 seconds and the top-speed record at 202.79 mph. Because of long-established rules on how national records are set, Gardella's Red Bull Chevy Cobalt actually went quicker and faster than his record-setting marks posting a 7.156 elapsed time at Indianapolis and a 209.59 mph top speed at Dallas.
"Last year was such a great season for us," Gardella said. "We struggled early on, lost a couple of close races in April and May, and then pulled ourselves together and made a strong run. Finishing with out first NHRA title was something we'd been working toward since we first started in this sport.
"We were fortunate that when we needed it to, our Ecotec-powered Chevy Cobalt was able to put up some incredible numbers, but I think you're going to see more of the same in 2008. With the way the performance continues to improve in these cars, I think a 7-flat e.t. or better is certainly possible by any of these Pro FWD cars, and it would be quite an accomplishment if our Red Bull Chevrolet was the first to hit that mark."
Gardella is also no stranger to the NDRA championship podium. In 2005, he won just about everything he entered in that series including the NDRA Pro 4 Cylinder title. His 2005 racing campaign included nine wins on the circuit to go along with 10 final-round appearances and eight No. 1 qualifying awards. He was equally as punishing on the NHRA tour that year where in his limited appearances, the Chevy Cobalt driver captured three national-event victories, advanced to five final rounds and finished fifth in the standings.
"Winning the 2008 NDRA championship is going to be one tough battle," Gardella said. "There are so many outstanding competitors in Pro FWD including Jason (Hunt) and Marty (Ladwig), and I know what excellent equipment they have. We're going to have to stay focused and try to eliminate the little things that can sometimes put you on the trailer early."
After his 2006 season was cut short due to a non-racing related car accident, Jason Hunt returned rested and ready at the beginning of 2007, and then went on to win more combined races (NDRA and NHRA) and rounds than any competitor in Pro FWD. The result was a third straight NDRA Pro Outlaw FWD championship for the driver of the Matco Tools Chevy Cobalt and the construction of a strong platform for the CSI Racing team as they head into 2008.
"We've had a terrific off season at CSI Racing." Hunt said. "Busy, but very productive. We've continued to make improvements to my Pro FWD Chevy Cobalt, and Brian's (Ballard) Turbo Street Cobalt, but we've taken on a new project - a Pontiac Solstice drift car. It's been hectic, to say the least, but this is what we enjoy, and we can't wait to make some laps at Atlanta and West Palm Beach.
"Testing went very well and we tried some things with the car that we wouldn't have in the past. It's helped us with the learning curve on this Chevy Cobalt. In the long run, as the season progresses, the testing we do now may be what gives us the kind of consistency it will take to win the 2008 NDRA championship."
Last year the 33-year-old Hunt captured NDRA victories at Dallas, Phoenix, Atco (N.J.), and twice at Budds Creek (Md.), and scored NHRA wins at West Palm Beach (Fla.), Atco and Las Vegas. In addition, Hunt drove his Ecotec-powered Chevrolet to a national-record elapsed time at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis and a top-speed record at the spring contest in Englishtown, N.J. The CSI Racing/Matco Tools Chevy Cobalt was a force to reckoned with all season long and it stayed in contention for the NHRA Pro FWD title all the way to the very final contest at Pomona, Calif.
"Pro FWD is going to be an absolute dogfight," Hunt said. "If you're a fan of quarter-mile drag racing, I think you're going to enjoy this year as much as you did 2007. Marty (Ladiwg) and Gary (Gardella) are going to be tough competition, and you're going to have to be quick on the tree if you want to beat either one of them. We'll all be gunning to run in the sixes, and I don't think I'm being overly optimistic to say we'll be aiming to put our Matco Tools Chevrolet into the 6.90-second neighborhood."
Team Chevy's Marty Ladwig took a sledge hammer to the Pro FWD national record book in 2007. In doing so, the San Antonio, Tex., resident accomplished just about everything he set out to do during his second race season as a car owner/driver, but he fell a few points short of winning his third NHRA Sport Compact championship, and ended the year second in the Pro FWD standings.
Although Ladwig didn't close out the year with the national elapsed-time record, the Lucas Oil Chevy Cobalt driver reset the mark at four different events, first at Richmond (Va.) in April, then at Englishtown (N.J.) in May, Indianapolis in August, and finally, at Dallas in Sept. Ladwig also collected three national-event victories and advanced to six final rounds.
"I really feel like we let one get away from us last year," Ladwig said. "It certainly felt great to set the records like we did, but a couple of mistakes is all it takes. When the cars are as close as they are, with three or four drivers capable of winning the championship, you don't have the luxury of stumbling even once. Gary (Gardella) did a great job, though, and he won the rounds when he needed it most. You should see the same close race again in 2008."
After three years of competing in the NDRA Pro Compact category, Don Nase Jr. made the move to the Pro Extreme class in 2006 and drove his GM Ecotec-powered dragster to the NDRA championship. In nine contests that year, Nase captured nine wins, earned nine No. 1 qualifying awards, and set the elapsed-time national record at 6.44 seconds, and the top-speed national record at 211.17 mph. In 2007, Nase dominated the Pro Extreme class for a second time in his Ecotec-powered dragster capturing seven victories, earning eight No. 1 qualifying awards and claiming his second straight Pro Extreme crown.
At St. Louis, Nase once again reset the national e.t. record with a run of 6.417 seconds, and St. Louis was the venue where he posted his best speed of the season at 209.75 mph. Nase and team recorded a No. 6 qualifying spot (out of 39 cars) and went to the second round of eliminations in their first race in the IHRA Top Dragster class, and since 2006, the New Jersey native has recorded 21 runs above the 205 mph barrier.
"We knew when we started with this Ecotec combination that it would be fast," Nase said. "To come into 2008 as two-time defending champions is something we're really proud of, but to win it a third time is going to require us to run in the 6.50 to 6.45-second range on almost ever run. There is a lot of new talent coming out this year to knock us off our perch, but we openly accept the challenges and can't wait for the new competition.
"Testing went well for us - we made a ton of changes to the car, switched over to the F.A.S.T. engine management system, tried some new tire combinations, moved weight around, and worked with bigger turbos. We chased a few problems that we didn't expect but that's why you test. One of our goals is to get our dragster to 60-foot like a top fuel car. Right now we average about .95 of a second and we want to lower that to .85. I think you'll see things this year that no one ever thought a four or six-cylinder car could do. If the record isn't lowered to 6.20 seconds by midseason, I'll be surprised, and I think that our GM Racing/ECOtec/Mobil 1 backed car has the best shot at doing that."
Two years ago, Bryan Jimenez had his best season ever as a sport-compact competitor after switching over to an Ecotec-powered Chevy Cobalt. He posted final-round appearances in both the NDRA (Pro Outlaw FWD) and NHRA (Pro FWD) series, and posted his first career national-event victory at Atco (N.J.). This season, the driver of the Everyone's Mortgage Chevy Cobalt is excited about competing in NOPI HOT ROD, a move that will give Team Chevy a formidable player in another closely contested category.
Team Chevy's Grace Howell has teamed up this year with perennial favorite Marty Ladwig to race her Ecotec-powered Chevy Cobalt in the NOPI Sport Compact All Motor category. Although this will be Howell's first year competing in the NOPI category, she is certainly no rookie when it comes to the sport of drag racing. A native of South Carolina, Howell comes from a family of well-respected drag racers (her mom and dad both raced), and her dad Bill Howell is a highly regarded competitor in NHRA Division 2.
At the age of 10, Howell became a national champion in the NHRA Jr. Dragster ranks, and in 1999 she was the ANDRA 8.50 Jr. Dragster champion. Last season, Howell had her best finish in NHRA Division 2 Super Stock ending the season in seventh place. In 2006, Howell finished 20th in Division 2 after coming off a 10th-place performance in 2005. She is currently a student at the University of South Carolina and owns a women's clothing boutique.
"Our main goal during the off-season has been to put together a competitive All Motor car for Grace," said team-owner Marty Ladwig. "With GM Racing and Chevrolet joining our All Motor program with technical support and engine development, we have pretty high expectations for 2008."
If you're at the racetrack this year looking for Brian Ballard, he'll be the one with the big bull's-eye on his fire suit, courtesy of the extraordinary success the Mobil 1/Borg Warner Chevy Cobalt driver has experienced over the last four race seasons. In 2007, the Sloatsburg, N.Y., resident captured his fourth straight NDRA Series championship (2004-05 in Turbo 4, and 2006-07 in Turbo Street) and his first and only NHRA Quick 16 East crown (2007).
In 2007, Ballard picked up NDRA Turbo Street victories at Dallas, Phoenix, Atco (N.J.), and Budd's Creek (Md.), and scored NHRA Quick-16 wins at West Palm Beach (Fla.), and Englishtown (N.J.). Over the last two race seasons, the Chevy Cobalt driver has won a combined (NDRA and NHRA) 10 national events and advanced to 16 final rounds. You can be assured that the Mobil 1/CSI/Ecotec-powered Chevy Cobalt will once again be an on-track monster in 2008 as Ballard looks for a fifth consecutive NOPI crown.
"We had two major changes in the off-season with Mobil 1 coming in as our new primary sponsor," Ballard said. "But we also had some rules changes mandating smaller tires and turbo for our Turbo Street Cobalt. Hydra-Matic worked hard to get us a transmission that would improve our performance with the smaller tires, and Borg Warner stepped up with a new turbocharger for the car that looks very promising in initial testing. We're going to be right there. The team did a great job, the car looks awesome, and testing gave us a good baseline on what to expect with the new tires and turbo.
"We'd love to win another Turbo Street championship for Chevrolet and GM Racing. Last season we ran a best e.t. of 9.31 seconds. If we could run 9.40s and possibly dip into the high 9.30s, considering the changes that were mandated, that would be a great accomplishment for this team. To win the championship, though, it's going to take a the most consistent and reliable racecar in the field, and I think we've proven we have that in the Mobil 1/Ecotec-powered Chevrolet."
-credit: gm racing