Lights Out 11, Magic Tires: The Battle For Radial Tire Supremacy

There is no doubt in my mind that Donald Long of Duck X Productions has a knack for aptly naming his events, but when I saw that he had dubbed the 2020 season-opening race as Lights Out 11, Magic Tires I thought it was kind of gimmicky. After five days in Georgia last week, it turned out that he was somewhat prescient because there was a time that I didn’t think we were even going to complete the race. From nearly an inch of recorded rain on Thursday afternoon that wrecked track prep guru Wade Rich’s perfect surface, to the steady, light rain that fell all day on Sunday, the difficulties that the track prep crew faced weren’t what I had in mind when I booked the trip back in January.

When I arrived at Lights Out 11 on Wednesday morning, there was already talk amongst the natives that rain was going to come and get us on Thursday, so I mentally prepared myself to lose a day of racing and hopped right into action, shooting detail photos for car features on two different cars—Brandon Dominy’s single-turbocharged ’93 Mustang, and Jason “Pooch” Rueckert’s ’82 Oldsmobile Cutlass, the Slowsmobile—that compete in Limited Drag Radial, which is my favorite class. Each was happy to oblige me, and we nailed down some cool stuff for you to see shortly. It was Pooch’s first time out with the car in two years after a complete drivetrain revamp. We won’t give away all of the details now, but he—and crew chief Kyle—were extremely encouraged by the Slowsmobile’s performance over the weekend. And Dominy rocked a big wheelstand that also made for cool photography.

Lights Out 11 marked my first trip to DXP’s season-opening extravaganza. Over the last several years, my photography colleagues have all made mention of the Duck Week Hangover, as they call it, and I’m here to tell you that it’s Wednesday afternoon as I write this, and I still haven’t recovered from the trip. The first day was a 21-hour doozy from 3:45 am, when I got up to make my plane to Valdosta, all the way through the after-midnight quitting time. That kind of set the tone for the weekend, and although Thursday was cut short by rain, Friday was a 16-hour day at the track also.

Then we have Saturday. Oh, Saturday. Leading into the day, we knew that rain was coming to wreck Sunday, so promoter Donald Long made the savvy decision to head into eliminations, with a plan to run the race until completion, as SGMP has no curfew. The event ran from its 9 am start time on Saturday morning to the 3:34 am finish time on Sunday morning, and was a true marathon for everyone involved.

The stands were jam-packed for the vast majority of the day, but as the clock spun toward the witching hour, they slowly trickled out, leaving carnage in their place. By the time the event was complete, there were only five fans left in the stands, and each one of them appeared shell-shocked. I know how they felt.

That said, Lights Out 11 was a super-exciting event that featured all sorts of the high drama that DXP races are known for, from flying cars (see below) to holeshot wins to record-setting passes. Flames, spills, thrills, missing shoes, and even a guy with a blower hat hat. Not to mention a crowd that was larger than any I’ve seen at a heads-up racing event in several years. It was an awesome time, and I’m already booked to hit DXP’s Sweet 16 3.0 event in less than a month.

Let’s get to the juicy meat, shall we?

Stevie “Fast” Jackson has been on an absolute tear over the last year. Not just in Radial Vs. The World competition, either. In 2019, he captured the NHRA Pro Modified championship with four wins and eight final-round appearances. Then, in his RvW car, he won at the Shakedown Nationals and No Mercy X along with making a final-round appearance at the World Street Nationals in Orlando.

In 2020, he started the season by picking up right where he left off in 2019, by opening the season with a win in RvW at the U.S. Street Nationals.

Then there’s his performance at Lights Out 11, where he just stomped on the competition from beginning to end. His number-one-qualifier effort stopped the clocks with a 3.552 at 215.31 mph—from a blower car no less—and then Jackson made a string of 3.5x passes through eliminations. He defeated some of the biggest names in radial racing in the first three rounds of competition on Saturday in Tim Slavens, Brad Edwards, and Shawn Ayers. The three passes in question were deadly consistent: 3.575, 3.569, and 3.566. In the final round, he faced off against David Reese, who was on a tear of his own all weekend long. So what did he do? How does a 3.548 sound—and let’s not forget the fact that the final round of RvW took place at 11:30 pm, when it was 53 degrees, with a track temperature around the same.

Will he run 3.40s at Sweet 16 3.0? In a previous conversation with me, he told me they were coming, and I will be there to see it in person if it happens there.

David Reese captured everyone’s attention in RvW at Lights Out 11, Driving his brand-new El Diablo 2.0 Camaro, Reese went all the way to the final round against Jackson before taking a loss. It was an impressive showing against the best radial-tire-equipped cars the world has to offer, and it’s more notable when you realize that he’s using a real 4.600-inch bore space screw-blown small-block engine to do it. Reese’s machine impressed as it seemingly got quicker on every single pass he made. I can’t wait to see what he does on the killer prep at Sweet 16.

I want to talk about Melanie Salemi for a moment. The longtime Pro Mod racer and her husband/crew chief Jon built this RvW car, which debuted last season, and in seemingly no time at all, she’s rocketed to the top of the field of seasoned racers. Although she did not win the event, she did crack off a 3.546 elapsed time to tie Jackson’s best, and in the process make it to the final four—including an engine swap during eliminations—before an electrical issue cropped up and she lost to Reese in the semifinal round. Melanie has demonstrated an attraction to winning and Jon knows how to get her there, so it would not surprise me one bit to see her and Stevie battle it out all season long at the big radial tire races. I look forward to it as she is a fearless competitor and a hell of a driver.

Over the last two years, perhaps no Radial Vs. The World entry has been more anticipated than the Shawn Ayers-driven, Fletcher Cox-owned Mustang built by Racecraft Inc. I first saw the car at its debut—with much fanfare—at the 2018 PRI show, but Cox’s crazy schedule has prevented it from hitting the track. In the days leading up to Lights Out 11, I saw several posts online about the car testing in Florida and had high hopes of seeing it at the event. I did, and it didn’t disappoint. Not only did they make the strong field in RvW, but they also qualified fourth in a field of 62 cars with a 3.654 at 208.49 mph. With the help of longtime tuners Nick and Rich Bruder, the Cox Racing team ran through the field into the final four competitors on Saturday night.

I could go on and on just talking about Radial vs. The World, but there were several other classes at the event, so let’s get to some killer highlights from those. Scroll through this next sequence and you’ll see what I mean.

SGMP is known as the Home Of The Flying Cars when DXP comes to town, and this event was no exception. Marcus Birt went for the ride of his life right past me, and I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to catch it.

When he went past me on the back tires, and I ran out of lens length, I just turned around, kept my finger on the shutter button, and hoped for the best; I got lucky with several in-focus shots, although Marcus wasn’t so lucky in the car. It was damaged and out for the weekend, Marcus was unscathed and at the track hanging out for the rest of the weekend. The car has already been dropped off to Reese Brothers Race Cars for repairs, the front end has been cut off, and Marcus says he’ll be ready for Sweet 16 3.0.

Flying cars are crazy, man.

So crazy that nobody was even talking about the 3.82 blast at more than 205 mph that Mark Micke put together in the opposite lane. That pass is significant because it represents the quickest doorslammer pass ever run on the 275-wide tire. And it was basically ignored because Marcus decided it was a good time to go pole-vaulting.

This mess is what I pulled into on Friday when I got to the track. I didn’t even make it to the back 40 at SGMP because it was a muddy mess like this.

It was great to see my friend Norman Chang make the trek from California to try his hand in Limited Drag Radial—with the help of Roger Holder, who put Norman’s car into his trailer. For his efforts, Chang was rewarded with the top qualifier spot—his 4.066 at 182.45 mph outclassed all comers—but by elimination day, it became the Shane Stack show.

Coming from the 17th qualified position, Stack outlasted everyone else—he ripped past Andy Manson in the final round when Manson’s Mustang overpowered the tire. Time of victory: somewhere around 3:27 am. Lights Out 11 was truly a battle for the ages.

At No Mercy X, Tommy Youmans put his beautiful Pontiac into the wall, and at Lights Out 11, he became the second Pontiac-powered doorslammer in the world to crack into the 3-second eighth-mile zone.

Manny Buginga set the X275 world on its collective ear, qualifying with a 4.22 at more than 173 mph, just ahead of Rob Goss’ 4.236 second-place effort (.007-second separated the two). Buginga then collected a string of low 4.2x blasts all weekend long. Despite that advantage, Goss captured the late-night win in a pedalfest with just .048-second at the stripe separating the two competitors. But watching the social media firestorm this week, you’d think it was a five-second gap.

Wheels up! Tons and tons—and tons—of wheelstands during the race. And these are just some of the captures I landed.

There’s nothing like the stick on the track at a DXP race. I nearly lost my shoes several times while walking on the track, and several crew members did.

It was super-cool to see Justin Palmer make the trek from New England and run a 4.30-flat in X275. Palmer’s team includes an old friend of mine—Mike Dezotell of Dez Racing—and given what I know about Dez’s tuning talents, it will only be a matter of time before Palmer shows up in the winner’s circle.

These photos depict just some of the carnage that RvW competitor Brad Edwards found inside his engine during the weekend. They had the engine apart several times, replaced a bearing and a rod or three, and had a cracked midplate. You can see where whatever went through the engine beat up the connecting rod and bearings by the dimples in each. Even with these setbacks, he qualified in the top half of the field and saw several positive improvements heading into the Sweet 16 race.

I was very sad to see this happen to one of Front Street’s former feature cars. Daniel Pierce was driving the Cummins-powered Nova in X275 when it got out of shape and into the wall. The car has already been delivered to its builder for repair.

Russell Mcmanious recently decided to switch from big-time No Time racing into the Pro 275 ranks, and it’s obvious by his win at Lights Out 11 that he made the right decision. With DiSomma Racing Engines power under the hood and a chassis from noted chassis builder Henry Fryfogle of HFR Fabrication, I expect to see Mcmanious in the winner’s circle often this season. He was on all weekend long and came from the number-11 qualified spot to take home the cash.

What an impressive showing for Martin Connelley! He doubled up at Lights Out 11, taking home the cash in both Limited 235—with a ProCharger—and the all-new DXP Street class, using nitrous oxide, which is the class-spec power adder. But that’s not it. In the process, he re-set the DXP Street record three times, the Limited 235 record once, while also qualifying at the top of the field in both classes. Entering the race nobody had much of an idea where the DXP Street class would be since the tire was going to be the equalizer. I was thinking maybe 5-teens or so, but Connelley made that notion look silly by cracking off a 4.924 in the final round against Jonathan Insley. I should mention that the final round took place around 3:30 am. So not only did he dominate the field in both classes, but he also managed to remain mentally sharp enough on a difficult day of eliminations to do so. My hat’s off to you, sir. Nice job!

Time of photo: 2:44 am. Time of Louie Filippides’ winning Ultra Street final round: an easy 5.51 seconds, when Walter Drakeford’s transmission gave up shortly after the launch. Time of Filippides’ number-one qualifying effort: 4.60 at 155.61 mph. I remember when those speeds and elapsed times were the sole property of the X275 class, and it wasn’t all that long ago. Frankly, it’s amazing to me what these guys are doing with these cars as they refine the combinations.

Other class winners included Flaco’s S-10 in Carolina Small-Block No Time Boost, John Bonner’s Raiden in Carolina Small-Block No Time, Craig Miller in 6.0 Index, and Joe Soucek in Open Comp.

I could go on and on about the experience I had at Lights Out 11, but in short, I’ll close this out by saying there was awesome racing, tons of people in attendance, and killer track prep. If you’ve been on the fence about going to one of DXP’s races, take it from me: it’s worth the price of admission. Check out the gallery for more!