BENSON, N.C. – A two-month delay was worth the wait for two-time world champion Tommy Franklin, as he opened the PDRA season with a Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous victory in his “Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro on Sunday.
Racing at the East Coast Nationals presented by FuelTech at GALOT Motorsports Park, Franklin defeated Jim Widener in the final round.
Franklin was joined in the winner’s circle by Melanie Salemi in Penske Racing Shocks/Precision Racing Suspension Pro Boost presented by WS Construction, Johnny Pluchino in Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock, Travis Davis in Drag 965 Pro Nitrous Motorcycle, Walter Lannigan Jr. in $hameless Racing Pro Outlaw 632, and Mark Micke in Drag 965 Pro Street.
Two-time world champion Franklin had a big weekend at the East Coast Nationals. His daughter Amber was celebrating her high school graduation while making her Top Dragster debut, the series Franklin co-founded in 2014 was finally starting its seventh season after being put on hold by the COVID-19 crisis, and he ended the weekend with a decisive Pro Nitrous victory.
Franklin wheeled his Musi-powered “Jungle Rat” ’69 Camaro to a 3.687-second pass at 205.51 mph to get the final-round win over Jim Widener, who led out of the gate with a .002 reaction time but trailed at the finish line with a 3.754-second run in his BES-powered Corvette.
“From the PDRA standpoint, we were really just trying to get the season started so we could put on a championship season,” said Franklin, who owns and operates the PDRA with his wife, Judy. “Our race team is awesome. They don’t stop working. The same thing with the PDRA team – they rocked all weekend long just to get this race in. They definitely had some challenges. Hat’s off to everybody. Coronavirus is not stopping us this weekend.”
Salemi and her family-based team, led by her husband, Jon, and brother-in-law Jim, arrived at GALOT Motorsports Park a few weeks before the event to start testing for the 2020 season. Their efforts paid off Sunday afternoon, as Salemi took out hometown favorite John Strickland in the Pro Boost final round.
Strickland went red on a 3.70-second pass at 203.61 mph in his ProCharger-boosted GALOT Motorsports ’69 Camaro, while Salemi sailed to the win with a 3.804-second run at 187.96 mph in her roots-blown “Purple Reign” ’68 Firebird.
Pluchino kicked off his first full season in Extreme Pro Stock competition with his first victory in the class. Driving his father John’s 2016 championship-winning Strutmasters.com ’13 Mustang, Pluchino recorded a weekend-best 4.059-second pass at 179.23 mph in the final round, while opponent Elijah Morton lost traction and slowed to a 5.208-second pass in his Morton Brothers Motorsports ’18 Mustang.
The Pro Nitrous Motorcycle class had an unusually small field, with just four entries on the grounds, but the final round made up for it. Two-time and defending world champion Davis aboard his Timblin-built Hayabusa took on drag bike veteran Paul Gast on his Fast By Gast Hayabusa. Davis’ .026 reaction time and 4.03-second run at 176.14 mph pass helped him hold off Gast’s quicker 4.013-second pass at 175.78 mph to start the season with another win.
Pro Outlaw 632 veteran Lannigan planted the Black Flag Motorsports flag in the winner’s circle Sunday afternoon, as he defeated Wes Distefano in the final round. The two drivers left the starting line with nearly identical reaction times, then Lannigan pulled ahead with a 4.275-second pass at 165.78 mph in his Nelson-powered ’53 Corvette over Distefano’s 4.298-second run at 169.21 mph in his Musi-powered $hameless Racing ’68 Camaro.
Radial vs. the World heavy hitter Mark Micke, now competing in Pro 275 on the drag radial scene, was one of six racers trying out Pro Street, the PDRA’s new small-tire class. He qualified No. 6 after two qualifying sessions, but it turns out he was on the cusp of breakthrough performance.
Mickem in his Jason Carter-owned, turbocharged ’78 Malibu, knocked out No. 1 qualifier Russell McManious in the first round of eliminations, running 4.049-second pass at 190.78 mph to McManious’ 4.088-second run. He lowered the boom with a 4.028-second run at 195.08 mph on a second-round bye run, establishing the class records in the process. The racing transmission guru laid down a smooth 4.051-second pass at 194.13 mph to dispatch New York’s Joseph Rivera in the final round.
In the PDRA’s sportsman classes, Cheyenne Stanley (MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman presented by Tejas Borja), Steve Furr (Lucas Oil Elite Top Dragster), Jeff Talracchio (MagnaFuel Top Sportsman 48), Barry Brown (Lucas Oil Top Dragster 48) and Michael Combs (Edelbrock Bracket Bash) earned victories.
Chase Carter picked up the win in Coolshirt Pro Jr. Dragster, as did Alyssa Rabon in Gilbert Motorsports Top Jr. Dragster.