2020 NMRA/NMCA All-American Nationals: COPOs, Cobras, and Wheelies

In the bizarro world that we call the year 2020, it has been a constant battle to get things back to normal as quickly and safely as possible. If you’ve been following our coverage (rounds one, two, and three) of the salvaged NMRA and NMCA racing season, you know that many schedule changes have provided its racers and fans with a great experience and outlet. Our latest installment of the ProMedia drag racing series comes from US 131 Motorsports Park for the All-American Nationals. The event smashed all previous car count records for the series, which brought along its own set of problems and, of course, Mother Nature had its way, again. However, when the tire smoke and the skies cleared, we witnessed one of the most spectacular drag racing events we’ll see this year.

In years past, the home for the All-American Nationals has been the venerable Summit Motorsports Park. Known for its clean and friendly-staffed facility — as well as $1 pounds of ice cream — the COVID lockdowns have dissolved any hopes of the Norwalk facility opening its doors this season. Once again, we find an addendum being made to the schedule as US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan, stepped up to the plate to host this private event. Yes, you read that correctly, private event. There were strict spectator rules enforced by the Michigan State Governor, preventing the event from being open to the public, which significantly reduced the number of people attending. This meant that only crew members and family made the cut — outside of drivers and car show participants. Without getting into detail here, let’s move on to the product we saw on the racing surface because that’s why we’re here.

With over 672 cars on the property, the Accutime computer system’s data entry was taxing enough to drive the staff into temporary insanity. The tower’s issues impacted racing all weekend with much of the data requiring manual entry. At times there were even problems with the Christmas tree that forced the ProMedia tower team to make the difficult decision to run a couple of classes over again. This obviously didn’t go over well with some racers. It resembled the scene from Airplane, where everyone stood in line, ready to beat some sense into a crazed passenger. Much praise to Gavin and Kelly for diplomatically diffusing those altercations as they came up.

To make matters worse, the weather severely influenced the schedule of the weekend. On Friday, the enormous car count and early rain delays meant racing continued past midnight as a massive storm containing 30 mph wind gusts steamrolled its way from Lake Michigan. Fabian Brown announced over the track PA to alert everyone to tie everything down and seek shelter. When the track crew returned in the morning, they were met with a genuinely unexpected problem. The power was out in the three surrounding counties. Hurriedly, the team at ProMedia was able to procure 12 generators to hook up power to the timing system, scales, PA system, and tower itself.

“Ten minutes after we got these departments up and running, the power company was able to pull a miracle and get us power,” said General Manager and National Events Director for the NMRA and NMCA, Rollie Miller.

That kind of effort just to get an event going was impressive to watch. However, it was extremely challenging to hear with that many generators near the Media suite.

Fresh off its eleventh Super Bowl victory last month, the NMRA classes stole the show when it came to pleasing fans. The Coyote Stock class has long been a favorite of photographers and drivers because of their propensity to hang the wheels out for some crazy wheel stands. This weekend was quite possibly the most wheelies I’ve ever seen at an NMRA event. It seemed like every single car in the class was trying to show up the last one in back-to-back days and nights of spectacular wheelies. During the final qualifier on Saturday night, the air was just right. The track had a serious bite for G-Force Racing Transmission Coyote Stock. Things started off pretty tame until Vinny Dastra took the line in his red Fox body hatch and put it on the bumper. As everyone caught their breath and made sure he didn’t break or leak anything on the track, Jimmie Vogel took a solo pass down the opposite lane in his silver ’03 Cobra. The Terminator was on the back tires from the drop of the tree and showed no sign of coming down until well past the 330 marker. It slammed back to earth, dazzling us with sparks as he crossed the centerline, unfortunately, disqualifying his run. That evening I’m told that K-members and control arms gathered in the pits with lit torches in protest of their working conditions. While that scenario does sound a touch unlikely, the drivers ultimately tamed things down for eliminations.

Sunday saw a return to normalcy, but we weren’t out of the woods just yet. Those massive car counts meant some massive elimination brackets would take several additional rounds to conclude. The All-American Nationals also hosts a couple of marquee classes. These include the COPO Parts Direct COPO Shootout, which had 32 entries of supercharged and naturally aspirated factory racing Camaros competing on index, and the Watson Racing Cobra Jet Showdown. The mixture of old and new heritage racing cars being used on the track in Holley EFI Factory Super Cars is such an incredible sight. Battling each other in modern competition instead of locked away being preserved in a bubble. It’s been the Blue Oval’s year as several Mustangs posted 7.70s in qualifying for this class. Scott Libersher boasting the best COPO pass of the weekend at 7.83.

Chris Holbrook shocked everyone on Friday night with a 7.64 pass, which would have set a new record for the class, but he could not back it up. It would come down to Bill Skillman facing his son, Drew, in the final. Bill entered this race trailing Tripp Carter in the championship by just 370 points. It’s believed that the teammates conceded victory to assist in his points chase against The Chicken Man. With this victory following a loss to Tripp in the final round at St. Louis, another strong performance from Bill at the NMCA World Street Finals in Indy could see him capture the title. It was a fitting conclusion to the event, which went on well past midnight before anyone could leave the track. But this time, we could look back and see what was accomplished. 672 cars entered, and the event was completed in its entirety.

After months of being forced to sit at home and watch Seinfeld reruns and last year’s NHL Playoffs — speaking from experience here — we’re inching closer to normalcy. Atlanta was the first event back in action since the nationwide lockdowns began. That was certainly a breath of fresh air for everyone, and fans attended from over 31 states. A month later, the series traveled to St. Louis and enjoyed substantial participation from racers and fans. It’s hard to quantify what it’s like to be stopped in the pits to talk about racing and not masks and restaurant closures — I consider it therapy for the soul.

The NMRA and NMCA descended upon Michigan for the last double-header of 2020 before each series split apart for independent finals. After the thrills, weather-related ambiguity, and late nights, we were served up another slice of life. When the dust settles, this may end up being one of the largest drag races of the year. There’s no telling what’s in store for the rest of 2020. Still, you can bet that the NMCA and NMRA will put on an incredible show during the last weekend of September and the first weekend of October.