The NMRA & NMCA’s Racers Arrange Assault on Atlanta

Thanks to a track surface which is consistently high-performing, and a facility which can easily accommodate the full contingent of the NMRA and NMCA crowds, Atlanta Dragway has quickly become one of the most anticipated stops on the NMRA & NMCA tours. The 2017 example was no different, as the racing action was exciting and unpredictable all weekend long. The weekend was not without its hiccups, though, as the weather during the days preceding the event ran the gamut from an earthquake to a tornado.

Last year it was extremely windy on the day I arrived; this year, the wind was out of town before I got off the plane. But a week or so prior, a nationally-televised fire under the highway managed to bring down a section of I-85 heading toward the track from the airport, which added a fair amount of time to the commute on the day I arrived since myself and my traveling partners weren’t smart enough to look up an alternate route. Final determination: Atlanta traffic is not for the weak of heart. It took us slightly more than two-and-a-half hours to traverse the 70 miles to the track.

Even with these challenges, the racers showed up ready to do their thing and get down the track.

With so many classes on tap scheduled to race, the track staff – along with the NMRA/NMCA staff – had their work cut out for them. The NMRA’s Official Starter, TJ Bailey, looks downtrack as he awaits word that a down-and-out racer has cleared the top end. Bailey typically grinds through a brand-new pair of running shoes at every single event. Between the corrosive effects of the traction compound coupled with 14-hour days standing in the sun and preparing the track, his footwear just doesn’t hold up., Regardless, the consistency of the track surface and high-quality race experience is not lost on the racers, who speak highly about how they’re treated.

Speaking of a sticky track surface.. here’s a bit of evidence.

Just a few short weeks after taking home a Coyote Modified class win at the NMRA’s opening event in Florida, John Kauderer did it again with his UDMC-backed, JPC-tuned Cobra Jet. Tuner Eric Holliday seemed to know which buttons to push and when to push them during eliminations, but the weekend wasn’t without its struggles.

“I couldn’t get down the track during qualifying. As soon as I let go of the transbrake, the car went up in smoke each time. We were looking all over trying to figure it out, then Eric and Ronnie (Reynolds, of JPC) wanted to try replacing the shocks. I was fighting them, but they won and we put two inexpensive Viking double adjustable shocks on it and set them where we wanted them. Went up for E1 and the car went straight down Broadway with a 7.77. The shocks were the problem,” says Kauderer.

On the other side of the track during the Coyote Modified final round was Tommy Annunziata in his own Cobra Jet Mustang. Annunziata has been working extremely hard with the help of legendary Ford tuner Jimmy LaRocca. Despite getting out on Kauderer on the starting line, Annunziata just couldn’t hold him off on the big end. This is shaping up to be an epic year-long battle between two great teams.

LS power, a honkin’ turbo, and the tried-and-true Fox Mustang chassis have served Jacky McCarty well over the years. Here in Atlanta, McCarty was most consistent on elimination day in the Street Outlaw class. He took out Jarod Wenrick, who claimed the class win here last year.

Street Outlaw was not without its own record-setting performance, as Manny Buginga lowered the class’ quickest ET on the brand-new Atlanta Dragway surface with an outstanding 4.330 at nearly 170 mph in the eighth-mile. With the limited power-adders permitted in this class, and the requirement to run on the 275-wide tire, his performance is simply breathtaking. The help he has received from Rich and Nick Bruder – and the work ethic of his crew – has pushed this former class champion right to the front of the pack in Street Outlaw. It’s only a matter of time before he is consistently in the winner’s circle on Sunday.

Mark my words – Coyote Stock racer Tyler Eichhorn is going to be a player for decades to come. This second-generation racer has studied tirelessly under the patient hand of his father, Tim Eichhorn, as the pair (along with the rest of the staff at MPR Engines) live and breathe performance and racing. Tyler has steadily improved over the last year, and it all seemed to come together for him in Atlanta. He drove through a field of extremely tough racers to meet up with Jacob Lamb in the final round, and although he didn’t win in Atlanta, it won’t be long before he does. This kid is a driver!

Where do I start when it comes to Jacob Lamb? Although he began his career in the NMRA in the Modular Muscle class, since he’s outfitted his beautiful ’86 notchback with Coyote Stock running gear, he’s settled right into the top tier of the class and is always a player come elimination day. In Atlanta he qualified at the top of the ladder with a 10.24 and then cut through the field like a hot knife through butter on Sunday to take the class win.

“We had a great weekend with no problems at all,” says Lamb. “I didn’t touch the car – it was the exact same setup as we ran in Florida.”

It’s a long plane ride from Sweden to Atlanta, but it was well worth the expense and effort for Swedish racer Adam Flamholc. The NMCA Xtreme Pro Mod racer not only took the class win with a 3.80 blast to eliminate Steve Summers, he also put a 3.72-second, 201.73 mph blast up onto the scoreboard during the qualifying sessions. The elapsed time becomes the Xtreme Pro Mod record for the Corvette driver.

Coyote Stock racer Tim Matherly and Coyote Modified Crew Chief (and wife of Joe) Charlena Guertin discuss the finer points of chassis tuning. Or maybe burger grilling, I’m not sure. Knowing Tim, somehow the two are related.

Street Outlaws star Kye Kelley had a crowd standing around his pit all weekend long watching the Mississippi racer work on his Xtreme Pro Mod machine. Kelley went down to runner-up Steve Summers in the first round of competition.

This is without a doubt the coolest car on the property. Hardway Performance’s Ryan Milliken runs his Wagler-powered Cummins diesel in the Street Outlaw class. Not only is it the first diesel-powered vehicle in NMCA Street Outlaw competition, Milliken also carded his first four-second elapsed time with the car, originally built by Mickey Tessneer at Mickey’s Chassis in Oklahoma. Rumor has it that Milliken saw the car on display at PRI last December, asked how much to buy it, then showed up a month later with the stacks of cash required. You may just see more on this car right here on Front Street in the near future.

John Urist continues to work toward finding the sweet spot for his Turn 14 Distribution Mustang. Urist has been battling the new-car bugs since the debut of the car. As he is the first racer to run the MMR billet-block, GT350-headed turbocharged engine in Street Outlaw competition and is pushing the platform in ways it hasn’t been pushed before, finding the right engine tuneup to go with the right chassis tuneup has eluded his grasp to this point.

He was encouraged though, telling me that on one pass the car went 150-plus to the eighth-mile and he was on the throttle for just slightly longer than two seconds. I have no doubt that this car will be a rocketship, and soon.

Speaking of MMR, head honcho Mark Luton made the decision for 2017’s race season to base the company’s Pro Mod on the East Coast and take his shot against the competitors on this side of the world. Luton normally races out west as the company is based in California, but says the level of competition is vastly different here. With less than ten runs on the car, Luton qualified seventh with a strong 3.90 blast at 199 mph. Luton eventually fell to Summers but was very pleased with the car’s outing in Atlanta.

Your regularly-scheduled furface gallery. Dogs are the best.

Gregory Herbert is a drivin’ fool. I’ll just leave the on-car video below so you can see for yourself. Clicky-clicky!

When you’re the number-one qualifier in your class, you can relax on the morning of elimination day. NMCA NA 10.5 racer John Langer (left) cruised his well-known Pontiac to the top spot on the ladder to edge out Leonard Long in a battle of Pennsylvania residents. Once eliminations began, it was all Langer, all the time. He met up with Long in the final round and matched reaction times with Long at .062, then rolled to the top end – and the winner’s circle – in fine fashion when Long got out of shape just after the green light.

NMRA Renegade racer Aaron Bates, and the eye of the tiger. Bates and the Dez Racing team were on a mission all weekend long. He won here last year, and repeated the endeavor in 2017. He also re-set the Renegade record down to 7.39.

More evidence that the Atlanta Dragway surface was on point all weekend long thanks to the efforts of the Total Venue Concepts team of Kurt Johnson and Tyler Crossnoe, along with TJ Bailey and NMCA Official Starter Jake Green. Dwight Ausmus reached for the sky against Leonard Long in NA 10.5 competition. He’s nearly 300-feet downtrack at this point!

The Hellion Racing B Team, with tuner Dwayne James tickling the keys on the laptop, helped Renegade racer Frank Varela run a string of mid-7.40 passes on his way to a final round defeat at the hands of Bates.

When I walked the pits on Saturday, Renegade racer Dom DiDonato (left) was in Brian Mitchell’s pit searching for speed secrets. Despite taking home the win in Florida last month, DiDonato was out early in the first round against JPC-backed Tony Hobson.

No explanation needed – Justin Kurgan has it figured out. Plus it was his birthday, but I couldn’t get him to share any cake with me.

Josh Klugger was over-the-top busy all weekend as he campaigned not one but two top-level cars in NMCA action. The FKR entry in Xtreme Pro Mod gave him heartburn and was out in the first round against David Roemer despite his perfect .000 reaction time. But in the team’s Radial Wars entry, Klugger fared much better, going all the way to the final round where he came up short against DeWayne Mills and his Golden Gorilla juggernaut.

I took a quick stroll through the car show, and I’m glad I did. It isn’t often these days that you see a Monster Miata (a first-gen Miata upgraded with a tried-and-true old-school 5.0L Ford engine) but this gem was tucked away at the end of one of the rows, all by its lonesome. It was super clean, too.

Chris Parisi just wins wherever he goes. The former NMRA Super Stang champion made the move into a 2016 3.7-liter V6 Mustang – his wife’s car, or so he says – and continued his winning ways in Georgia, competing in True Street and taking home the 14-second average winner’s plaque with a 14.026 three-run average.

Despite qualifying fifth of 13 cars, Dan Ryntz ran roughshod over the Factory Stock competitors during eliminations. He got a gift in the first round when John Leslie, Jr. turned on the red bulb, then sent Michael Washington and Sondra Leslie home before eliminating Matt Amrine in the final round. Ryntz was so consistent his passes didn’t vary more than .028-second from quickest to slowest during eliminations.

Jeff Rudolf (far lane) took home his very first NMCA Nitrous Pro Street win in Atlanta, but it didn’t come easy. In the first round of competition (seen here) he had a tough battle against defending champion Joe Bucaro, coming out on top by only .011-second. Then, in the final round against John Trobiani, Rudolf was behind at the hit and had to make up ground – and then both racers lost traction and started a whopper of a pedalfest. Rudolf lost traction first, letting Trobiani get way out in front, but then Trobiani lost traction just as Rudolf regained it and drove around him on the big end to take the dramatic win back to Indiana.

It was a weekend filled with amazing racing action, a number of pairings won on holeshots – more than I can ever remember in one race weekend, in fact – and we were blessed with fantastic weather on both Saturday and Sunday. The NMRA and NMCA staff did their part to ensure a sticky racing surface and the racers responded with gutsy performances in all classes.

The NMRA’s next stop is in Maple Grove, Pennsylvania, where I will attempt to run my own car in the True Street class again; I’m still seeking my first 10-second pass in my street car (read about that saga here) so maybe it’ll happen in just a few short weeks. Be there or be square!