The 2013 World Fuel Altered Nationals
by Mike Sopko Jr.
Here in the Midwest, we drearily trudge through what seems like never ending months of winter and snow. For drag racers and fans alike we impatiently wait for the first warm weeks of spring so that the race cars can be unloaded and hit track. And for as long as it seems to take us to get through the winter the summer months and racing weekends seem to rapidly whisk away almost as fast as the cars that are sent down the track. It’s at this time of year we try to hold on to those few remaining summer weekends as long as possible and savor our last opportunities at the track before the temperatures drop and the cars have to be put away again.
One of our last ditch attempts to hold onto racing before our tools change to rakes and shovels comes to an eighth mile track just south of Oskaloosa, Iowa. Here every August drag racing fans and fuel altered teams gather at Eddyville Raceway Park for one of the country's premier fuel altered meets. The World Fuel Altered Nationals are a Midwesterner's chance to see some of the most wicked creations man could put on a dragstrip. These fuel altereds and their pilots take to the Eddyville 660 feet of asphalt every year in hopes of being crowned one of the two champions that leave that weekend.
This year there were over 16 altereds on the property. Fans came out, filling the grandstands and standing at the fences. They witnessed several sub-4-second passes, wheels up launches, header flames, and some super smoky, occasionally squirrelly burnouts. The race also wasn't without a few “hold your breath moments as well”. During Friday night's qualifying session Anthony Whitfield driving his “Mighty Mouse” altered experienced a chute failure after running a 4.07 at 175 miles per hour, the car started bouncing and wasn't going to slow down in time to make the turn off. Like many of the tracks here in the Midwest the end of the track is met with cornfields and that was inevitably where the “Mouse” was going to end up. After impressively keeping the car upright and even logging some airtime the 23T went plowing through an estimated 300ft. of corn before coming to a stop. This is probably not the preferred way to get ethanol. Fortunately, Anthony was able to make it back for the second session.
The hair raising action wasn't limited to qualifying as the first round of the B field had its share of excitement too. Tom Butherus driving his Rude Ratrod classic styled AA/FA experienced quite a ride, and I say ride because there wasn't much steering left to do, after launching into a power wheelstand at the hit and crashing down. As the car's front end returned to earth the front right wheel and portion of the axle gave way to the tremendous impact. As a photographer, along the wall I thought that was probably the end of the excitement, but unfortunately for Tom Butherus it was about to get even wilder. Though the right front and portion of the axle had broken it still remained on the car and caused significant handling issues. The wheel then collapsed and forced the right corner of the nose into the track sending the backend 3 plus feet in the air while leaning to the right and looking like it was going to start tumbling over. Incredibly it landed upright, but then the rear tires acting as a spring sent the car on two more precarious bounces before settling down near the centerline. The car then scraped, not coasted a little further down track and Butherus was able to get it stopped without any further incident.
As far as the racing, qualifying at the head of the field was Sean Belt at the wheel of the new “Nitro Madness” Fuel Altered with a 3.86. Both Howard Farris, a big hitter in the Outlaw Fuel Altered Association, and Anthony Bronge driving multi-time March Meet Top Fuel champion Frank Ousely's “Crop Duster Fuel Altered” qualified in the 3.80's as well.
Belt, whose Scott Gaulter owned team hosts the event every year, was looking to represent well for their home track. After qualifying number one Belt took out Aaron Leyda driving the Hemi Hunter 23 T in round one. The semi final match pitted Belt against the Booze Brothers 23 T of McDonald and Donnelly. Belt again took the stripe and was on the way to the final at the team's home track and event.
Waiting for the “Nitro Madness” Fiat would be Howard Farris in his nitro powered “War Wagon”. Farris who made the long trek from Texas had previously recorded a 3.67 earlier this year. In a battle of the Howards, Farris took out Knowles “Cheaper than Therapy” in the first round. His second round match up was an eagerly anticipated match between the “War Wagon” and the Anthony Bronge driven “Crop Duster”. The “Crop Duster”, which can normally be seen with a Barracuda body sitting atop and racing in nostalgia funny car competition, was sporting a new paint job on its Bantam body. Both of these nitro burners were hopped up and Bronge left on Farris. But Harris not to be out down chased down the yellow and blue Bantam and passed him in the lights with a stout 3.74 at 201 mph, low ET and top speed of the meet.
The stage was now set for the final, local team and crowd favorite Sean Belt in the “Nitro Madness” versus the visiting “War Wagon” with Howard Farris here to represent the Outlaw Fuel Altered Association and take the title back home with him. Farris' semi final round gave him a whole tenth on Belt's best run of the weekend. However, Belt and the Nitro Madness team have a completely new car and engine program this year and are still working on the tune up. With their success so far they looked to lean on the tune up to see if they could squeeze out a little more performance and keep the title with them.
After both cars completed their smoky burnouts, Farris moved into stage while Belt did a couple of dry hops for good measure. With both cars in the beams the ambers flashed and they were off. In less than four seconds the capacity crowd and teams would know who the champion of the 2013 A field would be. Belt appeared to be out first and was on his way to another 3 second pass, but again Farris caught up. Both cars tripped the lights with flames shooting from the headers. When the scoreboards flashed the winning arrow pointed to Farris and the lights shone with a 3.67 at 195 mph, out doing his previous low ET mark to beat Belt's valiant 3.97.
The final of the B field pitted Mike Allison in his “Hot Rod from Hell” Fiat against Bill Seals “Sudden Debt” Bantam. Seals had made it to the final after dispatching Adam Leigh's Final Call II in round 1 and the Samuelson and Elliot Fiat in round two. Allison was making his first final round appearance. Allison was in the other lane during the “Rude Rat's” mishap in round one and took the win. In the second round Allison had a bye as Jon Dunn couldn't make the call after aluminum confetti was found in the bottom of his motor. Seals and Allison lit the bulbs and were off with an advantage held by Seals. Seals and the yellow, “Sudden Debt” Bantam held onto that advantage through the 660feet of track and took the win as the B field champion.
Thus, another summer weekend in the Midwest had come to a close and another chapter of the World Fuel Altered Nationals has been written. The winners and runner ups will have their trophies to remember their weekend. I will have my pictures to stare at and I will remember the happenings of this weekend, while I again anticipate next year's conclusion of summer and the Fuel Altered tangle at Eddyville Raceway Park.
See event photos on following pages...
See you at the drags,
Mike Sopko Jr.
Nostalgia Drag World – by Mike Sopko Jr.; photos by Mike Sopko Sr., Martin Libhart and Mike Sopko Jr.