BRADENTON, Fla. – Only two races have passed so far this season, but the questions were already starting to pop up – would anyone ever beat Jason Rupert.
On Saturday, the answer to that question was finally revealed as Mike McIntire Jr., a rookie from Mentor, Ohio, took advantage of a wounded Rupert in the final of Nitro Funny Car to take his first career IHRA Nitro Jam victory and end a dominating start to the season for the Bays and Rupert “Black Plague” Funny Car team at the IHRA Nitro Jam Southern Nationals at Bradenton Motorsports Park.
McIntire was blessed with a golden path to his first career final with first and second round opponents Mark Sanders and Ronnie Young running into trouble. In the final, Rupert brought his injured ride to the line and completed the burnout, but was unable to take the tree as McIntire made a victory lap of 5.899 seconds at 234.55 miles per hour, his best pass of the weekend.
Two additional first-time IHRA winners joined McIntire in victory lane as Don Blackshear drove “Bullet Bob” to the win in Nitro Altered and Mike Cox took his first Ironman in Nitro Harley. Cary Goforth won for the second time this season in Pro Stock and Marisha Falk took the win in Jet Dragster on a busy night that saw the grandstands full for the second year in a row at Bradenton Motorsports Park.
Sportsman winners during day one of the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment Pro-Am Tour presented by AMSOIL doubleheader were Tom VanBeek (Top Sportsman), Jeremy West (Top Dragster), Allen Wade (Super Stock), Merrill Schrimscher (Stock), Todd Osting (Quick Rod), Michael Ruff (Super Rod), Brittany Snowball (Junior Masters), T.J. Butler (Junior Advanced) and Katie Craft (Junior Beginner). The final round of Hot Rod between Tim Anderson and Jacob Rutledge will be run on Sunday.
McIntire’s win was surprising on a number of levels. While the young driver has shown promise, his experience was considered no match for the talented field of veterans that make up the IHRA Nitro Funny Car field.
But on Saturday, McIntire put those doubts to rest with three strong runs ending with a win against the man everyone was gunning for.
Rupert qualified first for the third weekend in a row in the all-black ’69 Camaro, while McIntire took third on the ladder in qualifying in the bright orange “McAttack” machine. Rupert had wins over Mike Halstead and Tim Boychuk on his way to the final, including a very fast 5.703, 252.38 in the first round, but his semifinal run left him scrambling to get the “Black Plague” ride ready for the final.
McIntire, meanwhile, had passes of 5.950 and 6.119 in warm-up auditions for the final after opponents Sanders and Young ran into problems. In the Ironman round, Rupert just made the call, but was unable to take the tree as McIntire cruised to his first-ever IHRA victory.
McIntire took over the “McAttack” Nitro Funny Car for the first time at the IHRA season opener in Tucson earlier this year. His father, Mike McIntire Sr., paved the way for his son in the popular ride and officially handed the keys over for the 2014 season.
Mark Cox joined McIntire on the list of first-time winners Saturday, riding Bojangles sponsored ride to the win in Nitro Harley over top qualifier Joey Sternotti. Cox, from Wilkesboro, N.C., had three bracket-like passes of 6.363, 6.291 and 6.296 on his way to the Ironman, ending with a very fast 6.296, 220.42 in the final to take the win. Sternotti ran a 6.330, 211.16 in the runner-up effort.
Cox recorded wins over Mike Pelrine and most recent winner on the tour Randal Andras on his way to the win.
Don Blackshear was Saturday’s final first-time winner, driving the “Bullet Bob” machine to the win in Nitro Altered. Blackshear, from Brookfield, Ohio, met up with Brian Hope in the final, running a 6.168, 227.79 to take the win. Hope, in the “Pure Hell” entry, had a 7.657, 203.29.
Nitro Altered featured a number of other exciting firsts on Saturday, as Ron Hope provided a glimpse of drag racing history with a fire burnout to the delight of the full grandstands at Bradenton Motorsports Park and also matched up against his son, Brian, in the opening round.
IHRA’s most intense rivalry continued to brew in Mountain Motor Pro Stock as Cary Goforth and John DeFlorian Jr., winners of the first two races this season, once again met in the final of the popular doorslammer division with Goforth picking up his second win of the year.
Goforth, from Holdenville, Okla., led the way throughout the weekend as the top qualifier and made easy work of John Konigshofer and DeFlorian, ending with a leisurely stroll down the quarter-mile when DeFlorian went -.005 red in the money round. With the win, Goforth also retains his early points lead over DeFlorian and the Black Diamond Motorsports team.
Finally in Jet Dragster, Marisha Falk defeated team captain Elaine Larsen in the jet final when Larsen went red. With the win in hand, Falk made a fantastic pass to close the evening, crossing the finish line with a 5.720, 278.03 to take her second win of the year. Falk was the fastest jet all weekend for the Larsen Motorsports quartet.