MEMPHIS, Tenn. – From the northern corner of British Columbia to the southern tip of Florida, the International Hot Rod Ass’n saw its most diverse lineup of world champions ever as the IHRA wrapped up its 2013 season Sunday at the Summit Racing Equipment World Finals at Memphis International Raceway.
After a weather-filled Saturday, Sunday’s championship finale went off without a hitch as beautiful weather greeted the 10 world champions left standing in the Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions and Summit SuperSeries races held over three days in Memphis.
And from the nearly 200 cars that qualified for this year’s championship tournaments, those champions were Graham Foster (Top Sportsman), Austin Cowan (Top Dragster), Jimmy Hidalgo Jr. (Super Stock), Wes Neely (Stock), John Dustin (Quick Rod), Dave Marcus Jr. (Super Rod), Daryl Griffin (Hot Rod), Tim Lucas (Top ET), Kevin Pollard (Mod ET) and Justin Poindexter (Junior Dragster).
All six of IHRA’s Summit Racing Equipment Pro-Am Tour divisions were represented in Sunday’s Tournament of Champions finale, with Division 4 taking home bragging rights to Texas and Louisiana.
“It took us a while to get here, but boy was it worth it. We got here last Friday and have just been waiting for our opportunity to shine,” said Top Sportsman World Champion Graham Foster. “We came down here for the incredible competition and to try our hand against the best and to come away from this thing with a win is just awesome. I can guarantee you it will make the trip back home a little less stressful.”
All the way from Fort St. John, British Columbia, Foster traveled more than 2,000 miles to try his hand in IHRA’s premier doorslammer class. With one win under his belt in 2013 and a runner-up finish in Division 6, Foster eliminated Kamron Wright, defending world champion Mike Thompson, Jim Cairnes and finally Mike Koontz to take the championship home with him to Canada.
In the final Foster nailed the tree with a .005 light and ran a 7.618 on a 7.58 dial at 176.42 miles per hour in his ’68 Camaro to take home the win. Koontz ran a 7.619 on a 7.61 with a .092 reaction time in the runner-up effort.
IHRA’s fastest class was won by one of its fastest drivers as Bulverde, Texas’ Austin Cowan took one of three world championships out of IHRA’s Division 4. Cowan went four rounds on Sunday culminating with a final against another driver making the long haul from northern Canada, Sherwood Park’s Trevor Ritchie. Unfortunately for Ritchie, his car ran into trouble while staging and Cowan was able to take a leisurely Sunday drive to his first IHRA championship.
Cowan, who squeaked into the field with a third place finish in Division 4, also had wins over Michael White, Steve Dweck and David Johns.
IHRA’s only former champion to take home a championship Ironman on Sunday was Pittsboro, North Carolina’s Daryl Griffin. Griffin went 23 years between championships, but the 1990 Hot Rod winner found himself back in the winner’s circle on Sunday after besting Robert Robertson in the final of IHRA’s 10.90 index class. Griffin had a .014 light and ran a 10.926, 144.40 in his 1969 Chevrolet Camaro while Robertson broke out with a 10.896.
The 2013 Division 9 Hot Rod champ, who had yet to win a race this season after four trips to the finals, also had wins over Keith Mayers, Mike Frederick Sr. and Mark Mullen.
“It is hard to believe it has been that long since I have won one of these things, but it really does mean a lot to me,” Griffin said. “This was such an exciting weekend with a lot of heavy hitters and we are proud to be standing here today with this trophy. When we got to the finals we felt pretty good, we just didn’t feel like we were going to be unlucky enough to finish runner-up for a fifth time this season.”
The Division 4 domination continued in Super Stock and Stock as Jimmy Hidalgo Jr. and Wes Neely – both Renegades division champions – took home Ironman trophies.
Hidalgo, from Donaldsonville, La., had his hands full in Super Stock going up against top qualifier Mark Nowicki in the final. But with the race on the line, Hidalgo got him on the tree – a .017 to a .024 – and followed it up with a tremendous 9.820 lap on a 9.81 dial at 130.59 mph in his 2002 Firebird to turn on the win light. Nowicki was just behind with a 9.609 on a 9.60.
Hidalgo defeated Tony Cowell, Jim Reynolds and Marvin Dunahoo to reach the finals.
In Stock, Wes Neely drove his ‘88 Trans Am to a win over Jeff Longhany in a narrow double breakout victory to hand him his first IHRA title. Neely had a 12.369 on a 12.37 to Longhany’s 10.549 on a 10.56 in the championship tilt.
Neely also had wins over Stephen McGrath, Terry Taylor and Brent Darroch – perhaps three of the toughest competitors any one driver faced on Sunday – to reach the final.
“A lot of close races, a lot of good racers out here this weekend,” Neely said. “It means so much to me. To be a champion, not just in my area, but in the whole country, it is a big honor.”
John Dustin was the Quick Rod World Champion representing Division 1, besting Vernon Rowland in a shootout in the final. Dustin, from Rockville, Maryland, took his powder blue dragster to a .012 reaction time and had an 8.912 lap at 141.31 mph in the 8.90 class to Rowland’s 8.930. Dustin reached the finals with wins over Otis Henry, Jake Levatino and Jeremy Mason.
Wrapping up the Summit Tournament of Champions winners was Dave Marcus Jr. out of Sarasota, Florida, who defeated the winningest driver in IHRA competition over the past two seasons Jacob Elrod. The two competitors had remarkable lights – a .001 to a .004 – and Marcus used that narrow advantage to run a 9.930 at 163.00 in the 9.90 class to Elrod’s 9.929. Marcus also drove his colorful ’92 Camaro to wins over Ernie Knight, Donald Webb and Mark Miles.
“I had a lot of trouble earlier in the weekend with a lot of red lights, but we kept tinkering with the car and finally we found where we wanted it today,” Marcus said. “It is unbelievable to walk away from here with the championship. I was happy when I got down to four and really calmed down and then to keep going and win it all, man what an amazing feeling.”
All of the World Champions receive $10,000 courtesy of Summit Racing Equipment and AMSOIL and a special championship Ironman trophy as the IHRA closes the books on the 2013 racing season.