Avenal Apr '16 Race Recap

The 2016 Avenal Sand Drags Spring Nationals lived up to its billing as a great show from start to finish for the Central California crowd. Each race at Avenal seems to get a bigger racer turnout and this race was no exception with over 200 entries competing over the three days of competition. Race Director Chachy Zavala along with his crew did an exceptional job putting cars down the track and getting the show done in a timely manner, making it extremely enjoyable for racers & spectators alike. Before we take a look at the action, NSDN wants to give a huge thank you to all of the Avenal Sand Drags crew for the A1 top notch hospitality all weekend for us. It makes it so much easier to bring the coverage to the masses right here on National Sand Drag News. Now let’s take a look at the top performers from this event.

Top Alcohol

The Top Alcohol class was a battle of the heavyweights on this weekend as three of the top cars in the category nationwide showed up to do battle on Avenal’s 300’ track. Qualifying started off with a bang, literally, on Saturday as Jake Morton put down a strong 2.48/133MPH pass. Unfortunately, the bang was the burst panel being kicked out in the lights as the Morton Racing Dragster suffered engine damage on this pass that would take them out of competition for the weekend. Morton’s 2.48 would stand up for the top spot, up until the final qualifying session Saturday evening. Gary Mink’s “Bad to the Bone” locally-based World Record holding TA Dragster would line up with Washington’s Craig Mark in the Washington-based “Eruption” ride on this Q3 pass. When the tree dropped, it would be two ultra strong passes with Mink leading the way recording a 2.44/139MPH blast to take the top spot over Mark’s great 2.47/137MPH run alongside. Race day would see Mink and Mark line up to see who could get to the stripe first for the Top Alcohol victory. These cars were only separated by .03 in that last qualifying pass, so it would definitely be a driver’s race. When the dust settled, it would be Mark turning on the win light on a hole shot running a 2.48/142MPH to Mink’s 2.47/139MPH. The difference was in reaction time, where Craig had the edge .037 to .069, which equated to a .026 Margin of Victory at the stripe. A huge congrats goes out to Craig, tuner Joe Bettencourt, and the whole Eruption team on the big win in Avenal.


Top Alcohol Final: Craig Mark (Far Lane) takes the win over Gary Mink


Craig Mark & Crew - Top Alcohol Winner


Top Eliminator

Top Eliminator had a full field of eight entries ready to do battle in this ultra competitive class at Avenal Sand Drags. The drama to see who would be the #1 Qualifier at this event was pretty much put to rest on the first pass of qualifying as Paul Taylor went a perfect 2.950 on the 2.95 class Index off the trailer that would hold up for the top spot. With Paul’s “Outta Control” Blown Alcohol Dragster leading the pack, the scramble was from #2 on down in the qualifying order. Jim Rossi and his “Bad Toy” Dragster would struggle in the first two sessions, but get it together with a strong 2.957 to nail down the #2 position heading into eliminations. Rounding out the top half of the qualifying list would be Ron D’Artenay (3.002) and Paul Graham (3.022).

The prime time match up of Round One would be the 4-5 pair as #4 qualifier Paul Graham in the “Excavator” Blown Alcohol Buggy squared off Marc Whitmore in the Whitmore Speed & Custom Blown Alcohol Altered. These two were only separated by .01 in Qualifying so this set up to be an extremely close race. This race would go to Whitmore, who ran a 3.07 while Graham turned on the red bulb as his transbrake didn’t hold on the line. Next pair would be #2 qualifier Rossi doing battle with the Blown Alcohol Jeep of Wes Gilmore. Rossi would keep up his momentum from qualifying running a strong 2.97 to GImore’s 3.56 as he got out of shape down track & had to lift early. A couple of single passes would end out round one as Paul Taylor ran a 3.03 when Tracy Malan could not make the call and Larry Snow recorded a 3.06 to advance on as Ron D’Artenay suffered a tough break in qualifying with the engine showing signs of damage & playing it safe Ron wisely sat out eliminations.

First out in round two would be top qualifier Taylor against the beautiful short wheelbased ride of Whitmore. This one was over at the tree as Whitmore left a touch too early throwing away a 3.08 while Taylor threw down yet another 2.95, this time just .001 off the class Index. The next pair would be Rossi’s Dragster against Snow’s wild short wheelbase supercharged Buggy. Rossi would get the job done in a great race with a 2.96 to Larry’s solid 3.00.

All of this set the stage for a big time final round battle between top two qualifiers and good friends Taylor & Rossi. Both racers are incredibly tough to beat when they are on their game, and they certainly were just that in eliminations with both running within .01 of the Index in the semi-finals. This time around it would be Rossi with the starting line edge .073 to .096 and holding on for an incredible victory 2.972 to 2.952 for a Margin of Victory totaling just .003. This was an amazing side-by-side race to finish off the event Sunday afternoon at the Avenal Sand Drags Spring Nationals. A huge congratulations goes out to the Rossi & Taylor teams along with the rest of the TE class for putting on a stellar show all weekend long.


Top Eliminator Final: Jim Rossi (Far Lane) takes the win over Paul Taylor


Jim Rossi & Crew - TE Winner


Sunday Pro Bracket Classes

The ultra competitive Pro 1 class featured a familiar face returning to the winner’s circle. The Pro 1 final came down to a Jeep vs. Buggy battle as Steve Foster’s “Impatient Too” Jeep lined up against Chris Wells in the Washington-based all conquering Chevy-powered Buggy. Both racers were deadly on the tree with Foster taking the slight edge .024 to .027, and he would carry the lead through the stripe for the win with a 3.680 (3.66). This was an incredible performance for Foster in his first race back after taking a few years off as he cruised through Sunday’s eliminations with a worst RT .044. Incredibly enough, Steve informed us in the Winner’s Circle that this was his first ever Pro 1 class victory. Steve didn’t want us to publish that, but hey it’s a big accomplishment to add to his sand drag resume with numerous victories and final rounds in other categories over the years.


Steve Foster - Pro 1 Winner


Chris Wells - Pro 1 Runner-Up


Steve Foster - Pro 1 Winner in the Winner's Circle


The Pro 2 final round was filled with great stories as Kevin Williams and Chris Adamson faced off in an all-Jeep battle. Kevin’s weekend started off great with some nice laps in his trademark Orange Larry Minor Motorsports-built Jeep, including one pass with the front end way up in the air. Unfortunately for Kevin, the motor in the Orange Jeep developed some issue and he decided to park it before it was hurt any worse. That led to Bill Meaney offering Kevin to drive his Jeep in Pro 2 action, as Bill was only entered in Pro 1 with that ride. Kevin took to it great as he was deadly on the tree in the first three rounds with RT’s between .019-.025 to advance to the final. Chris Adamson struggled mightily on Saturday in Pro Gambler action with his “Bounty Hunter” Jeep and just wasn’t on his game driving wise. But after sleeping in Sunday morning and going into eliminations with no time runs, Chris found his rhythm and found himself deep in eliminations in both Pro 2 & Pro 3. After a problem with the shifter took him out of contention in the Pro 3 semi-final, Chris was ready for the final round. But this battle would be over at the tree as Chris turned it .012 red handing the win to Williams, who had his worst light of eliminations a not so bad .061 and ran it all out to a 3.700 (3.76) for the Pro 2 class victory.


Kevin Williams - Pro 2 Winner


Chris Adamson - Pro 2 Runner-Up



Kevin Williams - Pro 2 Winner in the Winner's Circle

As you will read about further into this recap, Charlie Johnson had a tough loss in the Pro Gambler Saturday final round. To no one’s surprise, Charlie came back on Sunday more motivated than ever to put his Mopar-powered Jeep in the Winner’s Circle. The 25-entry strong field was filled with heavy hitters, which came down to the final between Johnson and Al McKinney. Al, driving his wife Fern’s Jeep, earned a runner-up finish in the Friday night Early Bird Gambler and was making it look easy as he cut through eliminations in Sunday’s Pro 3 class. This would set up a great battle, that was won on the starting line as Al cut it just a pinch too close with a .001 red light handing the win to Charlie who was a little late with a .074 but ran a 4.582 (4.55) for the win.


Charlie Johnson - Pro 3 Winner


Al McKinney - Pro 3 Runner-Up


Charlie Johnson - Pro 3 Winner in the Winner's Circle


The Motorcycle Pro 1 class ended up being a repeat of Saturday’s Motorcycle Sportsman 1 final round as fellow Bakersfield riders Taylor Holmes and Michael Johnson staged up for the top prize. Not to spoil the outcome later in the article, but the Saturday final was won by Taylor. But this one would have a different end result as Johnson ran dead-on with a 5, 4.305 (4.30) to get around Holmes’ stellar .006 RT when he bogged just off the line taking away his chance at a weekend double up.


Michael Johnson - Motorcycle Pro 1 Winner


Taylor Holmes - Motorcycle Pro 1 Runner-Up


Austin Thomas has worked his way up the ranks over the past few seasons from the Junior classes up through the Motorcycle Sportsman & Pro categories and later into his Grandmother Fern’s Jeep. At this event, Austin jumped back on his trusty ATV for competition in Sunday’s Motorcycle Pro 2 category. This ended up being a great move as he raced his way to the final round against the always tough Nikki Bailey. Austin would get the starting line jump .122 to .262, but it would be close at the stripe as Austin ran off his dial with a 5.370 (5.14) to take the win by just .032 at the stripe. This capped off a great weekend for the McKinney team with Austin scoring the MP2 win to go along with Grandpa Al’s Runner-Up’s in Pro 3 & Friday Pro Gambler.


Austin Thomas - Motorcycle Pro 2 Winner


Motorcycle Pro 2 Final: Winner Austin Thomas (Near Lane) vs. Nikki Bailey Runner-Up


Gambler Classes

Saturday’s Pro Gambler class was worth the price of admission with a great field of 40 entries tackling the Central California dirt shooting for the top prize. The field is split into ‘A’ and ‘B’ fields by ET with the winners of each half racing off for first and second place. In the ‘A’ half of the ladder, the final round came down to April Soares in her Central California-based Jeep up against Oregon’s Brady Menzenberg in his family’s screaming SBC-powered Dragster. Unfortunately, the high Horsepower Chevy that propelled Menzenberg to 3.2-second passes all weekend long found a weak link as he broke the rear end on the starting line during his round three victory. In an unusual twist, Brady actually had a bye run into the final but was unable to fix the damage & gave April the solo pass into the overall class final round. On the single pass, April ran a 4.266 (4.20) to advance on. In the ‘B’ class final round, it would be two tough competitors as many time event winner and class champion Charlie Johnson squared off against a guy that’s so close to being a consistent winner with many late round finishes of late, Steve Winn. Unfortunately for Winn, he left way early with a LB3A handing the win light to Johnson with a consistent 4.557 (4.53) & solid .057RT. This set up an all-Jeep battle for the Gambler cash between April Soares and Charlie Johnson. This one looked like it would be a classic battle with two veterans and class winners of the Pro Bracket classes facing off, but it was over early as Johnson flinched anticipating yellow turning on the red light and handing the win to April who ran a 4.324 (4.20) to take home the top prize in Saturday’s Pro Gambler.


April Soares - Pro Gambler Winner

The track was race ready early for the Avenal Sand Drags Spring Nationals, so event organizers decided to put out the word late week about an Early Bird Friday Gambler. A solid field of racers showed up early to wage battle on the 300’ track. In the early rounds, Al McKinney piloted his wife’s Jeep to round wins while being locked in on the tree with great RT’s. Al advanced on to the final round to face off with Richard Ross in the Ross Racing Step Side Chevy Truck with Procharger power. Ross had earned a couple double breakout victories, including a personal best ET of 4.03 in his round three victory over Justin Irby. Setting the precedent for many finals throughout the weekend, this one was decided at the tree as Al staged just a pinch too deep turning on the LB3A red light and giving the win to Ross who recorded a 4.148 (4.10).


Richard Ross - Early Bird Pro Gambler Winner

Saturday Sportsman Classes / Junior Classes

Sportsman 1 had an incredibly competitive field with two of the best bracket racers on the west coast facing off to decide the event winner. In this all-Jeep battle, Brian Chapman would turn on the win light running a 3.950 (3.94) as Kenny Hayes turned on the red bulb by just .020. Sportsman 2 had a huge field, second biggest on the weekend just behind the Pro Gambler with 28 entries. The final round would see Stacy Bolton turning on the winner picker in the final over Jarrod Cass with a .089RT and 4.731 (4.60). Avenal runs a unique Sportsman 3 category for mostly streetable vehicles running ET’s of 6.00-seconds and slower. Once again, Barbara Ervin showed she can get the job done with a string of great Reaction Times ending with a .038 RT and 6.107 (6.00) to defeat Charles McDonald in the final round. We kind of ruined the surprise of who won the Motorcycle Sportsman 1 final round earlier in this column, but it was Taylor Holmes taking the win over Michael Johnson who turned it red by .095. The Motorcycle Sportsman 2 final round would be a double breakout affair with Jeff Burian’s wheelstanding three-wheeler turning on the win light with a 6.335 (6.35) over Matt Lindsey’s 5.295 (5.35). Washington’s Destiny Burris got the job done running a 6.061 (6.00) in the Juniors final round to defeat Jesse Wallis. Jayden Pena continues to dominate at each event as he scored the Intermediate class victory with a 5.993 (5.75) getting around Ian Ortiz who broke out with a 5.742 (5.79). Rounding out the Junior class winners was Karsyn Cress taking home the Peewees hardware with a 17MPH pass to reach the finish line first over Eric Young.


Brian Chapman - Sportsman 1 Winner


Stacy Bolton - Sportsman 2 Winner


Sportsman 3 Final: Barbara Ervin (Far Lane) chased down Charles McDonald for the win


Taylor Holmes - Motorcycle Sportsman 1 Winner


Jeff Burian - Motorcycle Sportsman 2 Winner


Destiny Burris - Juniors Winner


Jayden Pena - Intermediate Winner


Karsyn Cress - Peewees Winner


Photos Courtesy NSDN

Event Photo Gallery - Photos Courtesy NSDN

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