Small-tire drag racing brings the promise of on-the-edge passes, wild action, intense competition, and ultimately one racer per class standing in the winner’s circle. More importantly, it blasts the senses with an auditory and visual assault to overlay the overwhelming scent of melted rubber and pungent race fuel. It’s these stimuli which entice me to pack up my camera gear and make the short trip down I-95 to Cecil County Dragway every Labor Day weekend to check out the Yellowbullet.com Nationals drag race. The event brings together several of the small-tire racing world’s premier classes to one facility and gives the racers—some of whom travel far across the country to compete—a chance to see how they stack up against the competition. The five classes I was really watching this weekend were all running in the eighth-mile, and even though I’m a quarter-mile purist at heart, I’m beginning to see the advantages of running the shorter distance.
There’s one caveat to the whole small-tire thing at this event: the Yellowbullet.com Nationals also includes big-tire Pro Mods. Who can really say they don’t love Pro Mods? My suspicion is that the only people who don’t love Pro Mods are the people who have never seen them live… because the sights and sounds of these beasts clawing at the track is sure to force you to re-evaluate whether ProModLife is a real thing. I have several friends who simply can’t get enough of the blown, turbocharged, and nitrous-injected machines in that class. After being up-close-and-personal with them all weekend long, I’m inclined to agree. Pro Mods rule, plain and simple.
In total, five classes found the other end of my camera lens most often at Yellowbullet: Pro Mod, Outlaw 10.5, X275, Ultra Street, and Warriors Outlaw. Each of these competition segments offers a different reason to watch, whether it’s a particular ruleset, style of tire, or other limitation to force the racers to think outside the box in their attempt to become the best of the best.
Ultimately, the 2018 edition of the YBNats, as it’s better known, returned a first-time winner, several set and re-set records, and wild action to keep the fans entertained all weekend long.
But first, the rain. We had to get the rain out of the way on Friday morning. Of course, because I had a plan to arrive early to get in a feature photo shoot on one of the most beautiful racecars I’ve ever laid eyes on: Brown Sugar, the ProCharger-boosted 2018 Outlaw 10.5 Mustang owned by my longtime friend, Tim Essick.
As I rolled down the pit road on Tim’s golf cart to scout out an acceptable location, the sprinkles started. By the time I got turned around and back to his pit area, a torrential downpour wrecked the idea of our photo shoot, and the morning’s test session for the racers to boot. Don’t worry about me missing out on the feature shoot, because I have an appointment with Tim later on this month to make that happen. Wait until you read his story, because it’s kind of amazing. I may be a bit biased because he’s my friend, but when I think of a hot rodder, Tim is the first person who comes to mind for me.
It took a while for the rain to subside, and the instant it did, the Cecil County track staff was hard at work scraping and dragging and spraying the track to get it into shape for the racers. Later that afternoon, the track came around quickly, as once the index classes got out onto the fresh surface and started laying down the rubber, a serious hook session ensued. Sadly, the qualifying session didn’t last too long, as by early evening—and before any of the heads-up classes began qualifying—the weather settled back on top of us and it became a game of “watch the radar” before the YBNats staff finally pulled the plug for the day and sent everyone home, to return bright and early Saturday morning.
When I arrived at the track the next morning, the staff was scraping up the rubber yet again to give the racers a fresh surface. If you’ve never been to the dragstrip before, you might not realize the work that goes into preparing the surface, especially after it rains. Rain will tend to bubble up out of the cracks in the concrete as the sun starts to beat down on the track, so the surface needs to be heated with a torch and scraped down as close to clean as possible, then new rubber laid down by the tractor, and finally, the surface needs to be sprayed with what I like to call “Sticky-Icky”, the traction compound designed to help the tires adhere to the surface and propel the vehicles forward as quickly as possible.
With that handled, it was time to get down to business, and the racers of the YBNats certainly did in more than one way. One of my favorite photos of the weekend is the one above of Jimmy Dolan’s YeTTi Ford Lightning, mid-wheelstand. It’s not easy to get a big beast like that up off the ground, and Dolan managed to snap all four wheels off the ground at one point during the run. By the time qualifying was complete in the Warriors Outlaw class where Dolan was running, he was in the top qualifier spot with a 4.43 at 165.40 mph. Sadly for Jimmy, on elimination day he was on the losing end of a quarterfinal matchup against eventual class winner Bobby DeMilt.
Another car I love is Tommy Romeo’s ’70 Nova, which was also in the Warriors class. This big-tire, big-block, nitrous injected machine just screams bad-to-the-bone to me. It reminds me of the cars I used to watch in the Quick 8 events at Atco Raceway back in the day… big-bodied, hardly-aerodynamic, big hood scoop, big purge… big… big… big. And awesome. What a sinister machine.
The Warriors Outlaw class is unique in that it merges small-block, big-block, four- and six-cylinder engines in cars equipped with any of the three power-adder types into one class, with a two-tenth breakout rule, which means no car can run more than two-tenths of a second quicker in eliminations than it did in qualifying. The series runs a seven-race schedule in the mid-Atlantic region throughout the year, one of which is right here at the YBNats. By way of their participation in the class, the racers also support the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, which provides financial assistance to the children of fallen service members. It’s an interesting concept for a semi-budget race class, which allows racers that have been outpaced by the budget in other classes to step right in here and find a home. I really enjoyed watching these guys race all weekend.
The Ultra 275 class is like X275 in that the racers are competing on a 275-wide radial tire, but the engine restrictions are far more apparent, with elapsed times in the high-4-second range for most of the class. This weekend, only Mike Thompson (top) and Joel Greathouse (bottom) snuck into the 4.60s. the pair battled through eliminations to meet up in the final round. Thompson’s Camaro runs a Uratchko Racing Engines small-block with Induction Solutions nitrous, while the Mustang of Greathouse features a Bennett Racing Engines bullet pumped up by a turbocharger.
The nitroused Camaro was on a tear all weekend long, but 2017 event runner-up Greathouse is a seasoned—and highly accomplished—racer who is no stranger to high-pressure racing situations. Thompson’s 4.667 was not enough to get around Greathouse’s 4.688 elapsed time, when the .033-to-.077 reaction time advantage was flipped in Greathouse’s direction. The .023-second advantage at the finish line equates to a third of a car length. Five feet and .48-inch, to be exact. Such tight racing in this class, and in all the classes, really.
Promoter Monty Mikho says that this event is for the kids and then he backs it up with his actions. All year long, I see him posting photos to Facebook of the massive assortment of toys he’s assembling just for this race, which he puts on along with his wife, Maria, and brother, David. Come Sunday morning, every kid on the property is invited to take part in the beanbag toss and earn one of the toys. To see the joy on Monty’s face as these kids step up to the line is quite refreshing, and in my opinion, a rarity in the world of event promoters today.
A 23-degree-headed small-block from Bischoff Engine Service and a talented tuner and driver in one Ron Rhodes means a 4.37 best pass of the weekend in X275, which is now the class record for a nitrous-injected car. Rhodes qualified number-one and rode that wave all the way to the final round, where he took out Joe Albrecht’s Camaro. I never would have believed that this engine combo could run in the 4.30s before Ron Rhodes did it. Don’t forget that this car runs on leaf-spring rear suspension too, and 160 mph in the eighth-mile. Those are mind-boggling numbers for a nitrous car.
Jim “The Sheriff” Halsey: Cecil County Dragway owner, do-it-all, and oh, by the way, Pro Mod racer too. All of these things are just hobbies for Halsey, as he also has a day job. Despite difficult conditions, Halsey and his team put on an excellent event, with records falling in every heads-up class and a racing surface which was difficult to top. Not only did he spend all weekend behind the walkie-talkie, he also managed to spend enough time in his Pro Mod to take home the class win over a host of killer competitors like track Pro Mod record-holder Andy Jensen, Melanie Salemi, Chuck Ulsch, Jonas Aleshire, and Paolo Giust among others. Halsey’s .910 60-foot time in the final round win over Andy Jensen is the stuff of legend.
Yes. That’s a Prius. With a Hellcat engine. Need I say more?
For years, the Outlaw 10.5 class record elapsed time sat in the low-4-second range; only recently has technology advanced far enough to allow racers to break the 4-second barrier… and now we’re into the 3.80s, as young Mike Decker III, or Hollywood, as he’s better known, drove the Decker’s Salvage supercharged C7 Corvette to a 3.89 during the weekend. Now, one of the storylines heading into the YBNats was whether the inclusion of the 315-wide radial tire would kill the performance of the class, but throughout eliminations, there was a good mix of cars on both the traditional 10.5 slick along with the radial. Decker ran a 3.89 on the radial tire, but from what I understand, the team feels they can run the same numbers on the slick. Either way, he’s the first to the 3.80s under current Outlaw 10.5 rules, which is no easy feat.
With my limited addition skills, I found 384 tech cards across all 11 classes competing at the YBNats.
But perhaps the most impressive showing of the weekend came from another young driver, Blake Copson, in the Copson family’s 2018 Corvette. Blake’s father, Joe, has been a fixture in the northeast Outlaw 10.5 wars for years, and recently ceded the seat to Blake.
“This is the first race car he’s ever driven,” says Joe. “I sent him to Frank Hawley’s [Drag Racing School] and told him if he got the thumbs up that we’d put him into the car. He did outstanding, and here we are. He’s the new kid on the block with very little driving experience.”
The twin-turbocharged car, built by Gary Naughton Race Cars and featuring a 521 cubic-inch Pro Line Racing powerplant, had never run quicker than 4.11 entering the weekend. With the guiding talents of tuner Josh “Squatch” Ledford’s talents were on full display as he worked to maximize the car’s performance with the racing surface, by the end of qualifying Blake had powered to the family’s first 3-second pass and qualified fifth in Outlaw 10.5 with a 3.997 at 195.11 mph.
Another 3.99 followed in his round one win over Joel Wensley. Then he turned on the steamroller, with a 4.000 blast eliminating 2017 Mickey Thompson Championship Series winner Mo Hall in the second round. Next up was 2014 Outlaw 10.5 champ Steve Gorman and a huge holeshot win for Blake on his way to the finals. In the other lane sat Mike Decker, Jr. (Hollywood’s dad and 2015/2016 Outlaw 10.5 champion), who had run a 4.034, 3.968 and 3.99 in the first three rounds of competition, presenting a gigantic barrier to the win for Blake.
“Not many people gave us a chance. Going into the final the fastest pass was a 3.99, so we had to make some huge changes to the car,” says Joe.
The rookie didn’t take his challenge lightly, going .050 on the tree, and a monstrous 3.925 elapsed time sent Decker back to the pits on the losing side of the equation. In the process, Blake earned his first-ever win, in his first-ever season of racing, in one of the most difficult classes around, against some of the stiffest competition in the world. This is the third competition he’s ever entered.
“When you believe you can do it, and surround yourself with good people, anything is possible. This is a lifelong dream that’s come true,” Joe says.
Check out the solid video below documenting the Copson Family’s weekend from our friends over at E3Xtreme. It’s well worth your time to watch it.
I had an awesome time with awesome people at this event, and if you have the opportunity to attend, you should definitely add it to your calendar. There are many reasons to love the Yellowbullet.com Nationals, but these are some of what make me block out my Labor Day Weekend every year.