SCSDA Hammer Down Nats '17 Race Recap

The 2017 SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals was once again a huge success at the Soboba Casino in San Jacinto, CA. Sunny skies and warm temps during the day with nice cool evening air made for some incredible racing action across all three days. The Saturday Night Thunder show once put on a phenomenal show with Heads-Up Qualifying under the lights in front of a huge Southern California crowd. Big money was on the line for Sunday Race Day with added purse money on the line. Continue on to read about the Winners as well as check out our Event Photo Gallery.

Top Fuel

Nitromethane was thick in the air when the Top Fuel crews came to the starting line over the course of the weekend. The only REAL TF cars in sand drag racing shook the ground in Southern California with some great wheel-to-wheel battles. Friday night’s qualifying session kicked off with the Litchfield Park, AZ-based Coldwater Kid team making a statement recording a Personal Best ET of 2.23 for driver Matthew Ludlow. Ludlow’s time would hold up for the #1 Qualifying position. Under the lights Saturday night, Marcus Norris put the Pat Norris Racing/Worldwide Insurance Services Dragster in the #2 spot with a 2.34 lap while Dennis Rieck ran a 2.37/148MPH alongside for the third spot.

The big matchup of Round One would see Norris line up against Hammer Down Racing’s Rieck. Both teams rolled into the beams and after a long tree it would be Rieck turning on the win light on a hole shot. Marcus Norris put up an incredible 2.26 blast on that pass, which would be Low ET of Eliminations. Norris would come back later in the day Sunday on an exhibition pass and record a strong 2.29 lap in the heat of the day.

It was finals time on Sunday afternoon at Soboba with #1 Qualifier Ludlow’s Coldwater Kid/Arizona Air Compressor/FS-Curtis entry up against Rieck’s dominant Hammer Down Dragster. Rieck earned lane choice with his round one 2.40 lap to Ludlow’s 2.53 solo pass. Dennis would take the favored left lane, putting Ludlow in the right lane. Both cars rumbled down the 300’ with the Hammer Down team turning on the win light. Dennis recorded a 2.29 ET to edge Ludlow’s 2.46/151MPH lap at the stripe. The Hammer Down team never gave up; working late Friday night & most of Saturday on an engine swap and it paid off big time as they earned the Big Trophy at the end of the day Sunday. Congrats to Dennis & the team on their big win to end to end the Top Fuel season.


Dennis Rieck - Top Fuel Winner


Matthew Ludlow - Top Fuel Runner-Up


Top Alcohol

The screw blowers of Top Alcohol were ready for battle at the SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals going for $2000 to win. These guys are always serious but with the additional purse money on the light the intensity was ratcheted up to another level. Jake Morton led the pack in Qualifying with a 2.61/134MPH blast in Friday night’s qualifying session. Jim Hammond’s April’s Dream entry went 2.65 also in Q2 for the second spot in the order. Pedro Villa debuted his brand new “Villa’s Express” Top Alcohol Dragster at this event. Villa’s team did a superb job retrofitting his Blown Alcohol combination into the ex-Scott Whipple CANIDAE Top Fuel chassis and ran a 2.97 Best on early shutoff passes in Qualifying. Derek Balcunas only made two qualifying hits with Top Alcohol in his Larry Minor Motorsports Jeep with a 3.05 Best.

Jake Morton and Derek Balcunas started off Sunday Race Day in Top Alcohol with Morton bettering his top qualifying pass by two-thousandths of a second with a 2.614 lap to defeat Derek’s solid 2.90 in the Jeep. Next up would be Hammond versus Villa with two good friends and fierce competitors putting their Blown Alcohol Dragsters in the beams. Jim would get the job done in this pair taking a starting line edge and running his Best Run of the weekend with a 2.57 to advance to the final round.

This set up the third straight Jim Hammond vs. Jake Morton SCSDA Top Alcohol final round this season. Jim and Jake had traded wins in the previous matchups, so this would be the tie breaker. Hammond jumped out to the hole shot lead .096 to .161, but at the stripe the Chevy power of Morton would be enough for the win with Low ET of the weekend 2.55/133MPH to Jim’s strong 2.62 lap. The margin of victory at the stripe ended up being just seven-thousandths of a second (.007). Congrats to the Morton Racing Team for their win at the SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals.


Jake Morton - Top Alcohol Winner


Jim Hammond - Top Alcohol Runner-Up


Top Eliminator

Nobody made a bigger splash at the SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals then Paul Graham and his trademark “Excavator” Blown Alcohol Buggy. In perhaps sand drag racing’s toughest category, Paul put down a Top Eliminator (2.95 Index) performance for the ages. Paul missed Friday’s qualifying sessions, and heading into his first pass of the weekend at the end of Q3 the top spot with a 2.958 by Billy Morris early in the session. Graham’s Buggy went straight down the track to a 2.957 lap on this run. This set up a dramatic final qualifying session where nobody could overtake that 2.957 lap. But for good measure, on the last run of the round Paul threw down a 2.955 to add an exclamation point to his qualifying effort. However, this would only be the beginning of Graham’s amazing weekend. Morris held on to the #2 spot with Paul Taylor (2.986), Ron D’Artenay (2.987) and Marc Whitmore (3.01) rounding out the Top 5.

Top Qualifier Graham took it easy on his Round One Bye in the 13-car field. Paul’s son Tristan in his TE debut laid down a Personal Best ET of 3.22 coming up just short against D’Artenay’s strong 3.01 lap. In other Round One action, Paul Taylor recorded the Best Run of the round with a 2.966 to get by Dave Huffman. Another racer making his first start in TE on this weekend was Craig Brewster in his beautiful Blown Alcohol Dragster. Craig recorded his first ever 2 second pass with a 2.99 to narrowly edge Mark Punos’ 3.12.

The Graham show continued in Round Two with Paul using a 2.969 to get around Vegas racer Terry Crawford’s 3.10 in the “Yabba Dabba Doo” Dragster. Even though this was Paul’s slowest full pass of the weekend, it was still the Best Run of the round as the other winners were Ron D’Artenay (2.975), Paul Taylor (2.972) and Billy Morris (3.03).

Magic was in the air as Graham pulled to the starting line against Ron D’Artenay’s “Red Warrior” in the semi-final round. Paul left first .080 to .114, but it was at the stripe announcer Dan The Man went wild as he recorded a perfect 2.950 ET to dispatch of Ron’s solid 3.00. At this point, everyone knew we were watching something special with The Excavator’s incredible performance. But that wasn’t all for the round as a class primetime battle pulled to the line with Billy Morris in the Morris Family Racing entry lined up against Paul Taylor’s “Outta Control” Dragster. These guys are fierce competitors and always have great battles decided by mere inches. This one would go to Morris on a hole shot 3.00 to 2.96 with Billy doing a nice pedal job to close it up to a .048 Margin of Victory.

It was finals time on Sunday afternoon as the Morris & Graham teams readied for battle at the hallowed grounds of the Soboba Casino 300’. These guys have squared off in several great final rounds over the years. This one did not disappoint as Graham left first .067 to .100 and took five-thousandths at the stripe (.005) for the win with yet ANOTHER perfect 2.950 ET for The Excavator. Everyone stood in disbelief as Dan The Man announced Paul’s second consecutive perfect lap. This is an unprecedented feat in all the years of TE action and I’m certain it is something that won’t be replicated any time soon. Paul’s win capped off an incredible weekend for the Graham Family with his daughter Sunny taking the Junior Dragster win while son Tristan had a strong debut in the TE class with his Blown Alcohol Buggy. Congrats to Paul, Chris and the whole Graham team on their huge feat at the SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals.


Paul Graham - Top Eliminator Winner


Billy Morris - Top Eliminator Runner-Up


Fast Fours

A strong contingent of turbocharged Fast Fours competitors turned out for the SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals. With $2000 on the line for the Winner, the level of intensity was even higher than normal for these guys and gals. Kris Lauffer for Team Paradise Motorsports showed the way in Qualifying with a 2.84 ET in Friday night’s Qualifying session. Class dominator Robert Skidmore was close behind with a 2.87 lap while Daniel King’s “Animal Control” was third with a 2.91 and Hawaii’s Lance Kaaina rounded out the top half with a 3.03 ET.

Top Qualifier Lauffer experienced engine damage on that #1 Qualifying pass from Friday night. He made the trip home to fix the damage, then came back Sunday for Eliminations where he started off with yet another 2.84 lap in Round One to defeat Don Minkel. Robert Skidmore (2.87), Daniel King (3.31) and Lance Kaaina (3.99) also advanced on to Round Two with victories.

Perhaps the upset of the season kicked off Round Two as Hawaii’s Kaaina in the “Crazy Coconut” Dragster used a hole shot to defeat Top Qualifier Lauffer in a 3.00 to 2.93 decision at the stripe. The other pair was less dramatic as Skidmore would single to the win with a 2.87/120 MPH lap as the Animal Control team was unable to make the call.

This set up a final round between multi-time class champion and event winner Skidmore with his all-conquering Phoenix-based Dragster up against the Hawaiian team of Kaaina in his first even final round appearance. In this battle, the final round pressure got to Lance and he left way early turning on the red bulb handing the win to Skidmore. Robert, however would have been hard to beat as he recorded Low ET of the weekend in the final with a 2.833/121MPH blast to put an exclamation point on his big weekend. Congrats to the Skidmore Racing team on the SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals victory.


Robert Skidmore - Fast Fours Winner


Lance Kaaina - Fast Fours Runner-Up


Pro Mod Unlimited

Two top competitors made it out to the SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals to square off in Pro Mod Unlimited competition. Derek Balcunas laid down a stellar 2.78/127MPH blast to earn the #1 Qualifying spot with the Larry Minor Motorsports/Lucas Oil Jeep. Derek would line up with Dave Huffman’s Jim Depasse-tuned Jeep for their final round on Sunday afternoon. This one would go to the Larry Minor Motorsports team as Derek recorded a 2.96 ET to put the BAE Hemi-Powered Jeep in the Winner’s Circle.


Derek Balcunas - Pro Mod Unlimited Winner


Dave Huffman - Pro Mod Unlimited Runner-Up


Pro Bracket Classes

The SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals once again featured increased payouts for the Pro Bracket categories. Pro 1, Pro 2 and Pro 3 all paid $2000 to win with Motorcycle Pro 1 & Motorcycle Pro 2 paying $1500 to win. This brought out all the best on the west coast and as far away as Washington and New Mexico to wage war on the 300’ in Southern California.

The Pro 1 (3.10-3.74 Dial) category came down to an all-Arizona final as Phoenix area racer Kenny Hayes turned on the win light with his Jeep over Yuma’s Tommy Zavala, who lit red bulb by .009 with his Zavala & Sons Racing/Southwest Sanitation Dragster. Zavala came back around for the Pro 2 final round to face off with So Cal’s Jim Larr in his “Final Verdict” Jeep. This one would go to the Jeep of Larr as Zavala broke out by one-thousandth of a second 3.849 (3.85). It was still an incredible accomplishment for Tommy Zavala to reach two Pro Bracket finals in the same day at the west coast’s biggest race. The Pro 3 final was an all-Jeep affair with veteran So Cal racers Joe Simeone and Dennis Rieck squaring off. Dennis had the potential for one of the most unusual double-ups in sand drag history as he had won the Top Fuel title earlier in the day. But in this match, Rieck’s Bracket Jeep was a touch too quick with a 4.258 (4.26) handing the win to Joe’s 4.447 (4.38).


Kenny Hayes - Pro 1 Winner


Jim Larr - Pro 2 Winner


Joe Simeone - Pro 3 Winner


Joey Weaver on the “J Dub Special” made it to the Motorcycle Pro 1 final where he lined up with Bakersfield’s Robert Garnas. J Dub took the starting line edge by a tenth and ran 4.41 (4.32) to break through for the huge MP1 win at the Hammer Down Nationals. The Motorcycle Pro 2 final would be a family affair as Randy Mings would put his trademark three-wheeler in the beams against son Caleb Mings to determine top honors. Bragging rights would go to Dad on this one as Randy used a .061 RT and 5.77 (5.65) to turn on the win light in his lane.


Joey Weaver - Motorcycle Pro 1 Winner


Randy Mings - Motorcycle Pro 2 Winner


Gambler Classes

Tommy Zavala kicked off his big weekend with a win in the Friday Pro Gambler. Tommy’s Dragster took the win when Charlie Johnson turned on the red bulb by .026 in his Mopar-powered Jeep. The Saturday Pro Gambler saw Washington racer Chris Wells pilot his Chevy-powered Buggy to the win with a 3.77 (3.66) over local racer Joe Simmons in his Goin’ Postal Jeep. California would be shut out in the Gambler classes on the weekend as Phoenix racer Grant Hutchinson picked up the win in Saturday’s Motorcycle Gambler defeating the always tough Mark Ratliff.


Tommy Zavala - Friday Pro Gambler Winner


Chris Wells - Saturday Pro Gambler Winner


Grant Huthcinson - Motorcycle Gambler Winner


Sportsman Bracket / Junior Classes

Saturday’s Sportsman Bracket classes often see some of the closest racing of any race weekend and this event was no different with big time action across the board. Kenny Hayes picked up his second class win of the weekend as he scored the Sportsman 1 title defeating George Amos in the final with a Margin of Victory totaling .025 at the finish line. Sportsman 2 saw the V8-powered Buggy of Luz Malan score the final round victory over Chris PIntor’s Jeep after Chris left early by just .010. Taylor Holmes used a solid .068 RT to get the job done in Motorcycle Sportsman 1 defeating Joey Weaver in the final round. Marcus Riedel went 5.33 on a 5.21 dial-in to emerge victorious in the Motorcycle Sportsman 2 class over Mark Ratliff. The Junior classes once again did not disappoint with the future stars of sand drag racing sharpening up their skills on Sunday morning. Standout racers Ryan Rodriguez (Juniors) and Sunny Graham (Junior Dragster) scored wins in the advanced classes while Jax Gazzeny (Junior Dragster Mini’s) and Joshua Snowden (Peewees) in the younger Junior categories.


Kenny Hayes - Sportsman 1 Winner


Luz Malan - Sportsman 2 Winner


Taylor Holmes - Motorcycle Sportsman 1 Winner


Marcus Riedel - Motorcycle Sportsman 2 Winner


Sunny Graham - Junior Dragster Winner


Ryan Rodriguez - Juniors Winner


Jax Gazzeny - Junior Dragster Minis Winner


Joshua Snowden - Peewees Winner


Photos Courtesy NSDN

Event Photo Gallery - Courtesy NSDN
 

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