So you’re a drag racing fan and the weekend of August 10th and 11th rolls around. The NHRA Big Show circus has just completed the famed Western Swing, so there must not be anything going on….right? Wrong! In fact, you could argue it was one of the busiest weekends of the year with not one, but count them….at least FOUR major events occurring throughout the country. You had the Nightfire Nationals in Boise, Idaho (a huge nostalgia event), the World Series of Pro Mod in Denver, Colorado (if you like the world’s quickest and fastest doorslammers), the legendary Night Under Fire race in Norwalk, Ohio, and just a little ways from that the Northern Nationals at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan.
What was my race of choice? Dad and I headed up to the “Fastest Track in Michigan” where there were 9 nostalgia alcohol funny cars, better known as BB/FC’s, 5 ground pounding nitro burnin’ funnies, jet dragsters, a jet truck, and 6 big show Top Fuelers. Friday kicked off with jet cars, a pass from John Lawson’s, Joe Haas’, and Mark and Buzzy McElwee’s nitro nostalgia coupes, a top fuel pass, and the first round of the BB/FC qualifying that was running a Chicago-Style format. They had one shot Friday night, one more Saturday afternoon, and then the final for the low two Saturday evening.
A great example of nostalgia in the staging lanes as the event's billboard is visible in the background
After Friday night, Bobby Toth in the “Time Bomb” Vega (6.57) and Rocky Pirrone in the “Super Camaro” (6.50) lead the field of vintage funnies. Other floppers on methanol included Steve Timoszyk in the "Detroit Tiger" Monza (6.64), George Reidnauer in the "Excalibur" Corvette (6.68), Monty Stotz in the "Blue Thunder" Camaro (6.99), Nick Tilley in the "Shyster" Corvette (7.01), Bill Anderson in the "Roadshow" Camaro (7.06), Steve Crook in the "Feelin Groovy" Vega (7.20), and Joe Morrison in the "Frantic Ford" Mustang (7.20).
Rocky Pirrone has the front wheels dancing. Rocky initially lead the BB-FC qualifiers with a 6.50 on his first pass.
Mark McElwee took to the wheel of the “Buzzy’s Bomber” nitro fueled Chevy II funny car, and as I was perched on the wall past the finish line, I can tell you the car was hauling as waves blurred the air on the side of the Chevy as it paced the 1320 in 5.84 seconds. Haas in the “Quickdraw” Firebird paired against Lawson in the “Runaway” Camaro. Running a different combo then many nostalgia funnies Lawson and Haas had big show style candles lit during their pass. Lawson got to the stripe first despite lifting early and still ran a 5.50 to Haas’ 5.61.
Mark McElwee at the wheel of his Buzzy's Bomber Chevy II. Mark ran a best of a 5.84 on Friday evening.
In the interest of fair reporting it should be mentioned that Spencer Massey was at the wheel of Pat Dakin’s fueler and attempted to make a full quarter-mile pass instead of a more common 1000’ pass. The belt ended up giving way at 1100’ but Massey still recorded a 4.48 at only 305 mph. It should be noted that Dom Lagana ran only slightly quicker at 338 mph last September and if the belt would have held, Massey could have had a new quarter-mile record. Unfortunately, no one topped that performance and the quest for 340 will continue in September at the Funny Car Nationals.
Friday was just an appetizer for the main course that was coming Saturday evening. Last year this event carried one of its largest spectator crowds in the history of the track. Despite the Night Under Fire event only a few hours away in Norwalk, it is very possible that the crowd at this year’s Northern Nationals topped last year’s attendance. As we prepared from our posts on the starting line at the start of the National Anthem and the show was about to begin we received word that there was a two mile back up getting into the track and that was on top of the already packed grandstands.
Joe Haas creates heat wash while also dropping a cylinder on a warm August evening
Haas and Lawson again came out and thundered the racing surface. Lawson again got to the stripe first this time running the quickest ET of the weekend with a 5.44 at only 250mph. Haas was still there with a 5.87 at over 264 mph. Funny Car Chaos winner Mike McIntire brought out his “MacAttack” Camaro to play and his car was an animal. Running a heritage legal setup McIntire left the starting line hard and then about 60’-100’ the torque of the engine brought the left front wheel up in the air leaving the right front just dancing across the racing surface. Both wheels came down and McIntire trucked through the finish line at a stellar 5.61 at 254 mph. Marc Bedrosian also brought his beautiful “Nitrohero” Mustang out to make some shakedown passes.
Marc Bedrosian warms the tires prior to a test pass in his Nitro Hero Mustang
We also had the second round of the BB/FC showdown. The cars were a mix of Midwest and East Coast flavor and bragging rights were just part of what was on the line. In all honesty as a photojournalist I am not supposed to be biased, but heck I was never traditionally trained so I’ll be honest. I have my favorites and that is often times based on the appearance of the car. I mean I’m a photographer so trying to capture the best-looking cars is always at the top of my list. Which brings me to the challenge of trying to photograph the BB/FC field. Dad and I always try to not take pics of the same car so that we get a shot of each car on any given pass. Well trying to decide between which cars we were going to shoot was the toughest decision we had to make all weekend. The quality and appearance of the cars running in the BB/FC were impeccable. And though I was always happy with the cars I shot, I almost felt guilty about missing the car in the other lane.
And now to get to their performance. When we last left you a 6.50 was low ET and the next in line was a 6.57. Well that was about to change. The sun had not set yet and it was that glorious time just before dusk where the sun is shining directly on the side of the car lighting up the driver in the cockpit and the lettering on the side. In just the third pair Pirrone, current low qualifier, squared off with the laid-back styled “Excalibur” Corvette of George Reidnauer. Pirrone was unable to lower his time and ran a 6.51, but Reidnauer in the far lane from where I was shooting reeled off a 6.28 at 219 mph, to take the current low ET. Would it stay and would Pirrone’s 6.50 still be quick enough to keep him in the final? Next up was Bobby Toth, the previous number 2 qualifier now sitting 3rd, against Funny Car Chaos runner-up Steve Timoszyk in his “Detroit Tiger” tribute Monza. Toth improved on his previous run, but could not run quicker than 6.50 (6.52 at 213mph). However, in the other lane Timoszyk laid down the pass of the weekend with a 6.23 at 218mph. The final would be a match up between Timoszyk and Reidnauer.
George Reidnauer burns out for the BB-FC final. Unfortunately an oil leak was discovered and kept him from competing in the final.
Steve Timoszyk solos to the BB-FC victory with a 6.25
With the sun completely down and the track lights illuminating the packed grandstands and strip of asphalt the final session was set. Unfortunately, the winner of the BB/FC class was determined after the burnout when it was discovered that Reidnauer had experienced an oil leak handing the solo and win to Timoszyk. Timoszyk didn’t just idle the car down the track. Instead he put a show on for the crowd with another wheels up launch and strong pass of 6.25 at 217.
Mike McIntire and Mark McElwee back up alongside one another
The next run paired Mark McElwee against Mike McIntire. McElwee had to lift near half track as the car made a move to the centerline. Meanwhile McIntire thundered to an even better pass improving to a 5.51 at 261. Sadly, this was the last nostalgia pass of the evening though as hard as it may be to believe was not the most exciting moment of the evening. Next Haas and Lawson returned to do battle again. Haas began his burnout first with Lawson not far behind. As Haas lifted Lawson went blazing by him doing a classic long burnout. I raised and pumped my fist in the air at the awesome burnout and then had a suspicious feeling overcome me. Though both cars always put on a great show, even this burnout seemed to go further than I would expect and just as I had that thought, the beautiful orange Camaro made a hard-right turn into the wall. Lawson hit the wall straight on causing the car to spin several times. It also punctured the fuel tank creating a river of fire that eventually engulfed the nose of the car before it was able to be put out. Thankfully, Lawson safely exited the car. The damage was pretty extensive as the chassis was bent and the body did not seem salvageable. The culprit of the incident… a stuck throttle. According to Facebook reports thought, a new car is nearing completion and Lawson will be at the wheel of Haas’ “Quickdraw” Firebird just a week later at the Route 66 Classic.
John Lawson's funny car comes to a stop as ignited fuel surrounds the car
This event was just another example of the continued health of drag racing! It cannot be understated that the facility had a capacity crowd, the variety of cars entertained the paying spectators, and gave them more than their money’s worth. If you are in the area make sure to check out the Funny Car Nationals coming to US 131 Motorsports Park on September 7th and 8th.
Hope to see you there-and if so say “Hi!”
Mike Sopko Jr.