Canada's Drag Racing Events Produced Great Action and Drew Big Crowds
Canadian drag racing fans were offered a bounty of professionally organized, high profile events from the end of June until the middle of July, and they came out in large numbers to show their support.
Starting with the Rocky Mountain Nitro Jam Nationals at Castrol Raceway in Edmonton, Alberta, the schedule then shifted to historic Cayuga Dragway in Southern Ontario for the self-promoted Canadian Nitro Nationals. The final event in the three week blitz was the MOPAR Nitro Jam Nationals hosted at Grand Bend Motorplex, which resides just outside of the cozy beach town of Grand Bend in Southwestern Ontario.
The Rocky Mountain Nationals, stop number five on the ten race International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) tour, has ranked as the best attended event since it was introduced in the mid 2000s and the 2010 version didn’t disappoint. Despite big changes to the IHRA’s racing format for 2010, the crowds still came out in record numbers and were treated to a number of Canadian competitors taking centre stage.
The Top Fuel field was loaded with talent, including three former IHRA World Champions and standout Canadian driver Tim Boychuk, who throughout the course of the 2008 and 2009 seasons racked up a handful of wins behind the wheel of the Paton Racing Top Fueler, and became the first Canadian to win a national event in that class in more than 15 years. Boychuk’s competition came from perennial contender and 2007 series champion Bruce Litton. The other two past champions who made up the field included Del Cox Jr., the 2009 IHRA World Champion, and 2008 IHRA champ and 2009 NHRA Professional Rookie of the Year Spencer Massey. Also included in the field was the proclaimed “People’s Champion” Bobby Lagana Jr. from Scarsdale, New York piloting his Twilight Zone dragster. Throwing a kink into the Top Fuel field was the inclusion of Jason Duchene’s Castrol backed Nitro Funny Car. Duchene, who hails from Beaumont, Alberta, along with his father, has been running a nitro fuelled flopper for several years now mainly in IHRA and exhibition competition.
Although the fields were talent laden, very few of the drivers were able to get their 8000 horsepower machines to keep the candles lit for the full 1320 feet, which resulted in no runs in excess of 300 miles per hour during the course of the weekend. Bobby Lagana Jr. took the trophy for both Saturday and Sunday’s racing programs shutting out the Canadians’ attempts to keep the trophies on home turf.
In Pro Fuel Dragster competition, NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster regular Ashley Bart came close to claiming the top prize, taking runner up honours in the field of six cars.
The Prostalgia Funny Car class was stacked with Canadian talent including Boychuk, Todd Lesenko and Jay Mageau. Lesenko managed to capture runner up honours during the Saturday night program, while Boychuk doubled up in front of the hometown crowd, taking the championship on both Saturday and Sunday.
The Alcohol Funny Car field also read like a who’s who of Canadian competitors. Names like Roger Bateman and Rob Atchison headlined a seven car field laced with Canadian talent. This class participated in a more traditional racing program, qualifying on Saturday and running elimination rounds on Sunday. Roger Bateman took the top spot in qualifying while long time funny car campaigner John Evanchuk scored the trophy at the end of the event when the much stronger car of Bateman stumbled in the finals.
The second event in as many weeks was the Canadian Nitro Nationals at Cayuga Dragway. What started out as a stop on the “2010 Reunion Tour” for the newly revived American Hot Rod Association quickly turned into a self-booked and promoted event after the AHRA struggled out of the gate, facing low crowd counts as it battled Mother Nature to complete its events.
Although the Canadian Nitro Nationals was a self-booked and promoted show, it managed to impress, bringing in plenty of formidable talent, including past IHRA champions Spencer Massey and Dale Creasy, Jr.
Spencer Massey and Mitch King, who both hail from Texas, matched up against the Canadian teams of Todd Paton, a two-time IHRA Alcohol Funny Car champion, and Fred Farndon, in Top Fuel competition for match race supremacy.
Dale Creasy, Jr., the 2007 IHRA Nitro Funny Car Champion, and Jack Wyatt faced off in a Nitro Funny Car match race during the Saturday portion of the event.
The event was blessed with great weather and as enjoyed large crowds as a result, including a capacity crowd for the Saturday evening show, which also included on-track action from the Pro Modified Racing Association and NAPA Quick 32 Series. The program was capped off by a pair of Jet Dragsters.
The third and final of the “big three” events was the MOPAR Nitro Jam Nationals hosted at Grand Bend Motorplex. Despite bad weather and unfavourable forecasts throughout the weekend, this event again succeeded in showing just how dedicated Canadian drag racing fans are. After the event began under sunny skies on Saturday morning, a large thunderstorm moved in during the early afternoon and literally soaked everything to its core. Eventually the skies did part and due to the hard work of the IHRA and Motorplex track crews the Night of Fire on Saturday evening went off in front of a standing room only crowd.
The event featured five Top Fuel Dragsters, including Massey and King, as well as Litton and Lagana, with Paton being added to the lineup only days before the event in order to bring some Canadian flavour into the mix. That decision by track management would end up being one of the smartest they could make as Paton went on to win his first IHRA Iron Man trophy, taking the win over Bruce Litton on the final day of the event.
The spectators that attended this event were treated to some entertaining racing that included the other two IHRA professional classes, Pro Fuel Dragster and Prostalgia Funny Car, as well as an all-Canadian Alcohol Funny Car match race between Rob Atchison and Larry Dobbs, PMRA Pro Modifieds and side by side Jet Truck exhibitions to round out each round of professional racing.
The Sunday crowd was also treated to some extra special excitement, as they witnessed the only 300+ mile per hour runs that will take place on Canadian soil this year. First to crack the barrier was Massey when he posted a 300.73 mile per hour time during the final round, bringing the crowd to its feet. Next to step up was Lagana with a 311.56 mph shot during his solo run. In the final, Paton sealed the deal with a 304.39 mph blast in his final appearance on Canadian soil in 2010, en route to the win.
Overall the success of these three events, regardless of affiliation to a sanctioning body, proves that drag racing is indeed a healthy spectator sport in this country and the table has been set to see each of these events return even bigger and better in 2011.
In closing, a big thank you is due to the promoters and track owners who partner with Mother Nature and take the risks necessary to pull off such great events. Rob and Kim Reeves of Castrol Raceway, Neale Armstrong and Uli Bieri of Cayuga Dragway and the team of Paul Spriet and Ron Biekx at Grand Bend Motorplex.