I know gobs of you have been following multi-time Pro Street champ Rodney Williford and his teammate Ehren Litten’s mad thrash to make the Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) East Coast Spring Nationals at GALOT Motorsports Park—the opening round of the eighth mile series.
As you doubtless already know, neither Williford nor Litten had ever ridden wheelie bar bikes before this past week, but took to the so-called “sissy sticks” like fish to water.
Once the event was underway, Litten was PDRA’s first-ever turbo PXM qualifier at fourth with a 4.056 on his Pete Browne chassis, Suzuki Hayabusa-based bike.
Williford was fifth in the order with a 4.07 on the nitrous huffing GS formerly owned by Mark Rendeluk. Mark helped all week with training and tuning.
Litten was done early on raceday, his bike drifting to center and finally nailing a block and crossing the line against Tommy Saxon and his Billy Vose-tuned bike.
Williford laid down another .07 against Burke Forster, whose bike blew in a flash at half track.
Brunson Grothus was low ET of the round with a 4.04. Chris Garner-Jones and number one qualifier Terry Schweigert both had 4.06s.
Rob Garcia, Travis Davis, and Ronnie Smith were all also first round winners, and John Davis no-showed after qualifying 14th on his veteran turbo Funnybike.
All winners improved in round 2: Schweigert with a 4.01, Grothus .02, Smith .03, and Williford .06.
Three hundredths or more off the pace, it looked like newcomer Williford was about to get outmatched in the semi. But a 4.09 was good enough for Rodney to advance out of the semi when Schweigert spun at midtrack to a 4.10 in the left lane.
Grothus—whose family team was split up between GALOT and the Man Cup race in Valdosta—beat Smith’s 4.00 with a 4.02 and a holeshot.
So Grothus rolled in for the final with a pretty massive performance advantage, but like they say—“That’s why they run the race.” Williford was ahead .007 to .080 at the hit—even before Grothus was spun and done—and won with a 4.063 at 177.23.
“Outside temp was 47 degrees when we pushed up, track temp went down to 62, and it was the only round they didn’t drag the track before the bikes ran,” noted Grothus. “Don’t know if they were rushing to get the race done or what. Other than that, the track and PDRA staff was amazing and we had a blast. Just an unfortunate situation all things considering, but huge congrats to the Williford/Litten team on their PXM debut. It was fun mixing it up with those boys this weekend.”
“Ehren and I had discussed coming out and being a contender right out of the gate, but I never imagined it would turn out as it did,” said Williford. “It’s been a crazy week, but it all worked out in the end. The moon and the stars aligned and we came out with a win at the end of the night.
“Huge thank to Ehren for fielding the bikes. I told him he was crazy when he said we’re going to race a turbo bike and a nitrous bike. Thanks also to Chris Wedman and Mark for tuning, and my whole family for supporting this crazy adventure! It was an awesome weekend.”
Grothus left feeling pretty good about his weekend as well. “My laps were 4.061, 4.048, 4.047, 4.028 (.993 60 foot), 4.022 (.998 60 foot), then the massive tire spin in the finals.”
Jay Cox and his Buck-powered “Pumpkin” ’69 Camaro made a strong opening statement in the Flatout Gaskets Nitrous Wars when the local favorite uncorked three of the quickest passes in Pro Nitrous history to win the East Coast Spring Nationals. In the final round against Jason Harris and the “Party Time” ’69 Camaro, Cox left the starting line first and maintained his lead through the finish line, posting a 3.696 at 201.31 mph to beat Harris’s 3.74 at 201.07.
“We’ve got a really good motor right now,” Cox said. “Me and (engine builder) Charlie Buck worked really hard on this piece. He thrashed day and night last year to get it to me early so I could put a few passes on it. We made some changes over the winter, made some more changes after the Mad Mule race here in March, and today you see the results.”
Cox’s trip to the winner’s circle started from the No. 2 spot. Through eliminations, he posted an unopposed 3.702 at 201.58 and a 3.677 at 202.09 over Danny Sauro before using a holeshot advantage and 3.664 at 202.52 to take down Lizzy Musi’s 3.658 at 204.98 in the semifinals. Harris qualified in the No. 12 spot and defeated Jim Halsey, Matt Guenther and two-time and defending world champion Tommy Franklin before facing Cox in the final round.
Past Pro Extreme world champion Jason Scruggs’s celebrated return to competition was shut down in the final round by North Carolina logger Terry “Legbone” Leggett in his Leggett Logging & Trucking ’71 Mustang. Scruggs left first, but an aggressive wheelstand forced the veteran wheelman to back off the throttle, allowing Leggett to charge on to a 3.557 at 213.47.
Leggett qualified No. 2 and earned his spot in the final round with an opening-round 3.697 at 172.61 win over Swedish racer Adam Flamholc, who struggled to an 8-second pass. Scruggs qualified No. 1 Friday night, but faced a late-night thrash to repair the Roger Henson-owned ’69 Camaro after a high-speed run-in with the gravel pit at the end of the track. He returned Sunday morning with an unopposed 3.684 at 163.53 in the first round before facing Leggett.
After a string of strong performances at various preseason races around the Southeast, Jeremy Ray and his “Carolina Kingpin” ’63 Corvette were poised to secure their second PDRA Pro Boost win. Last year’s Indy winner did exactly that, firing off consistent 3.7-second passes capped off by a 3.72 at 200.77 in the final round. Ray’s opponent, Outlaw 10.5 legend Chuck Ulsch, broke shortly after leaving the starting line.
“This is just awesome,” said the soft-spoken Ray. “I don’t get too excited; I’m calm. I race the racetrack. Whatever it takes is what I’ll give it. I don’t run my mouth – the scoreboard does the talking for Jeremy.”
Ray raced from the No. 6 position before beating Larry Higginbotham in the opening round. Second-round opponent Eric Donovan was unable to make the call after suffering an engine explosion in the first round, while semifinal opponent Marc Caruso slowed to a 4-second pass alongside Ray’s 3.712 at 200.92. Ulsch qualified No. 4, moved past first round unopposed and beat Pro Mod veterans Ray Commisso and Tommy D’Aprile before the final round.
Saturday’s rainout was a letdown for everyone, but not for Elijah Morton, who suffered engine damage during Friday Extreme Pro Stock qualifying. The full day of downtime between qualifying and eliminations allowed Morton’s crew to drive to their engine builder’s shop in Tennessee, fetch a fresh batch of parts and return to GALOT Motorsports Park to make the repairs. Morton went on to beat No. 8 qualifier Chris Powers on a holeshot, running a 4.04 at 177.56 over Powers’s 4.033 at 177.56 in an unlikely final round.
“My daughter told me you couldn’t start No. 1 if you want a Cinderella story, so we had to start from the bottom and work our way up. I guess this is our little Cinderella story this weekend,” Morton said. “My guys here from Allen Competition Engines drove back to Tennessee to get parts. They’re just great guys. My crew just did a great job this weekend. Plus, this is my home track, so there’s nothing better than coming out and winning in front of your friends and family.”
Morton left his troubles behind in qualifying, as he drove his Morton Brothers Motorsports ’12 Mustang to a 4.056 at 177.09 over a red-lighting John Pluchino and a 4.055 at 177.44 to beat John DeFlorian’s 4.129 at 172.23. On the other side of the ladder, Powers and his Liberty’s Gears ’14 Camaro raced past No. 1 qualifier Jeff Dobbins and J.R. Carr.
Johnny Pluchino, the son of 2016 Extreme Pro Stock world champion John Pluchino, used everything he learned from his father about naturally aspirated, clutch-equipped race cars to score the Pro Outlaw 632 win over Matthew Buck. Pluchino’s ’06 Ford Escort left the line first alongside Buck in Ken Kershaw’s Chassis Engineering-built ’15 Camaro, then Pluchino’s scoreboard lit up first with a 4.265 at 167.68 over Buck’s 4.281 at 165.42.
“We really have to thank (engine builder) Jon Kaase,” Pluchino said. “We got this motor probably 2-3 weeks ago. My dad and I spent nights nonstop putting this thing together, but it’s a bad piece. We’re out here running with these nitrous guys and we’re showing ‘em how to do it.”
John Carinci’s striking blue ’04 Corvette quietly reached the Outlaw 10.5 semifinals after escaping the first two rounds without an opponent in the other lane, though he popped off a 4.05 and 4.06 in the process. The Canadian driver turned up the wick on his turbocharged entry for the semifinal as he recorded a 3.957 at 200.68 over Joe Newsham’s 4.347 at 136.52. Carinci was unopposed again in the final round when low qualifier Phil Sliskovic’s Camaro left early. Carinci streaked to a 3.965 at 200.38 to take the win.
In Elite Top Sportsman, Donny Urban parked his ’06 Chevy Cobalt in the winner’s circle after running a 4.208 on a 4.15 dial-in, while opponent Derrick Brown left the starting line before the tree activated. John Prime earned the Top Sportsman 32 victory over Huston Dial.
Sportsman racing hero Kevin Brannon drove his brand-new ProCharged ’18 Maddox dragster to a 3.785 on a 3.81 dial over Denver Maltba’s 3.808 on a 3.84 dial-in in a double breakout Elite Top Dragster final round. Josh Duggins was the winner in Top Dragster 32, scoring over Greg Slack in the final round.
The next stop on the 2018 PDRA Tour is the PDRA North-South Shootout at Maryland International Raceway, May 3-5.
Terry Schweigert, a perennial favorite in the PDRA’s two-wheeled class, qualified his Canadian Suzuki atop a strong 16-bike Pro Extreme Motorcycle field with a best of 4.029 at 173.67 at the Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) East Coast Spring Nationals at GALOT Motorsports Park. He faces Ricardo Knights in the opening round.
“This is a good way to start the year, especially with the two turbo bikes out here,” Schweigert said, referencing an offseason rule change to allow turbocharged entries in the class for the first time. “To run that pass at the end of the day feels good. It’s a nice way to end the day and go into eliminations from the top spot.”
Brunson Grothus rode his Indocil Art ’14 Suzuki to a 4.048 at 173.74 to take the No. 2 spot and take on George Whitaker on Sunday. Ronnie Smith is the No. 3 qualifier with his 4.049 at 171.25 and will face John Davis Jr.
Defending Pro Nitrous world champion Tommy Franklin started his second championship defense season with a No. 1 qualifying effort in his “Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro. Franklin and rival Jay Cox laid down consistently quicker side-by-side passes through Friday’s three Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous presented by MoTec qualifying sessions. The duo capped off the final session with Franklin’s 3.668 at 204.50 and Cox’s 3.671 at 201.64 in the “Pumpkin” ’69 Camaro. Franklin faces Andrew Handras in the first round.
“I like the excitement of going right into eliminations,” Franklin said. “Nobody gets a test hit at the track before first round. There might be some upsets – we might be one of them. But I like going out there not really knowing what to expect. The weather should be cool, so the numbers will be fast. This track is always good no matter what the weather looks like, so I’m sure we’ll see some big numbers in eliminations.”
Cox, the No. 2 qualifier, races John Hall. Lizzy Musi recorded a 3.681 at 204.60 in Frank Brandao’s “King Kong” ’15 Dodge Dart to qualify No. 3, setting her up with a first-round race against Brian Shrader.
Past Pro Extreme world champion Jason Scruggs made a memorable return to the PDRA’s quickest and fastest class when he fired off a 3.521-second blast at 219.83 mph in Roger Henson’s ’69 Camaro. The screw-blown entry suffered some damage when it went into the sand trap after the run, though the Saltillo, Mississippi-based driver and his team, led by his father, Mitchell, are making the necessary repairs to return for eliminations on Sunday.
Sweden’s Adam Flamholc took the No. 2 spot with a 3.648 at 211.03 in his screw-blown ’63 Corvette, followed by local favorite Terry Leggett and his Leggett Logging & Trucking ’71 Mustang with a 3.694 at 207.91.
Longtime Pro Extreme standout Tommy D’Aprile made the switch to Pro Boost over the winter, teaming up with tuner and car owner Al Billes to field a Roots-blown ’69 Camaro with a Noonan Race Engineering power plant and Billes supercharger. After solid performances at the Florida winter series races, D’Aprile kicked off his PDRA season with a 3.678 at 201.04 in the final session.
“We went to Florida for the first race and ran very well but we had to make some changes,” D’Aprile said. “We came out for the second race and ended up qualifying No. 1 and winning the race. To come here and qualify No. 1 again against a tough class like this, I’m just blown away.”
D’Aprile will race Kurt Steding in a first-round match-up. GALOT Motorsports driver John Strickland is second after running a 3.709 at 201.28 in his blown ’69 Camaro and will race Colby Barber’s turbocharged entry. Carolina doorslammer racing hero Todd “King Tut” Tutterow qualified third with a 3.717 at 201.07 and will face Eric Donovan.
Jeff Dobbins made it known that he was serious about becoming the first Extreme Pro Stock driver to break into the 3-second zone when he posted a 4.00 in pre-race testing on Wednesday. Dobbins and his Bear’s Performance ’14 Dodge Avenger were the closest to the historic mark in qualifying with a 4.058 at 178.54, though the Liberty’s Gears 3-Second Club is still awaiting its first member going into race day.
“I like to think we’re going into race mode,” Dobbins said, “but our team is going to race as fast as we can every run. We’re not going to go out and lay up. We’re going to do the best we can. If the track will hold it, I don’t see a 3-second run being a problem. You’ll see a 3-second run on Sunday because the weather will be cool and hopefully the rain will clean the track.”
Dobbins will go head-to-head against Chris Powers in the Liberty’s Gears ’14 Camaro in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Past world champion John Pluchino qualified second after a 4.06 at 178.80 in his Commack, New York-based ’13 Mustang and faces Elijah Morton, while North Carolinian Steven Boone ranked third with a 4.065 at 178.24 and races John DeFlorian Jr.
EARLIER: How will Pro Streeters Rodney Williford and Ehren Litten do this weekend in Pro Extreme Motorcycle at Galot vs. PXM veterans like Travis Davis, Terry Schweigert, Chris Garner-Jones and others? Watch it LIVE and scroll down for results and info.
story by Tim Hailey and PDRA with photos by Roger Richards and various sources