quartet-collage25th California Hot Rod Reunion, October 21-23, 2016, Famoso Raceway, Bakersfield, CAAs NHRA’s Heritage Series wraps up its season this weekend in Bakersfield, AA/Fuel Dragster drivers Tony Bartone, Jim Murphy, Adam Sorokin and Rick Williamson will finish the year at Famoso Raceway in a fierce and frantic four-way fight for  the 2016 Top Fuel Points Title.

Bartone, who is the two-time defending Series Champ in his family’s “Bartone Bros.” fueler, has less than one round of eliminations’ worth of points on both Murphy and Sorokin, and is 30 points ahead of fourth-place Williamson. With each round win worth 20 points, one could make the case that whichever member of this quartet of drag-strip demons lasts the longest in Bakersfield will take the Championship.

To that end, each team has its own tact.

“We’re gonna come out of the box aggressive,” Adam Sorokin, driver of the Chevy-powered “Champion Speed Shop” dragster said. “That track is never bad, so we’re gonna’ go after it from the first qualifier on.”

These are strong words coming from the driver of a fuel dragster that has been rumored to have run nitro percentages of 98% and above (!) this season. Continue reading

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(photo by Brian Losness)

45th Pepsi Nightfire Nationals, Firebird Raceway, Boise, IDIn the words of LL Cool J: “Don’t call it a comeback.” Yes, call it a catapult. After a season-long absence from anything resembling a Winner’s Circle, two-time defending champ Tony “T-Bone” Bartone returned to dominating form, blithely stabbing and steering his Steve Boggs-tuned “Bartone Bros.” AA/Fueler to Top Eliminator at Boise, while also setting both Low Elapsed Time and Top Speed of the Meet.

With his win here, Bartone, the defending 2014 and 2015 NHRA Heritage Series Top Fuel Titleist, took command of his quest for a “Three-Peat” Championship. While laying down his victorious 5.69 at a spectacular 261 mph to defeat Jim Murphy’s valiant 5.77 at 240 mph, Bartone catapulted from fourth to first in the 2016 NHRA Heritage Series Points Race.

“It was a very important day for the team to get back in the points hunt,” Bartone explained. “We ran well, and we’re on our game. We had no issues — hurt no parts, never took the heads off — and it was a picture perfect weekend.”

Bartone is on a roll. And with less than one round of racing separating his points total from that of 2nd place Murphy and 3rd place Adam Sorokin, he says his team can maintain their rousing resolve at the last event of the season, the California Hot Rod Reunion at Bakersfield in October. When asked what race fans and fueler freaks can expect from the Bartone Bros. at Bakersfield, he was very blunt.

“All out balls-to-the-wall,” he answered. “That race may be our last hurrah in the Nostalgia Top Fuel class.” Continue reading

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boise-headshots(photos by Ted Soqui)

45th Pepsi Nightfire Nationals, August 12-14, 2016, Firebird Raceway, Boise, ID. — There will be no time to put down your weapons as the second half of NHRA Heritage Series drag racing commences this weekend at Firebird Raceway in Idaho, and for the nitro-belching AA/Fuel Dragsters their Top Fuel Points Title is a multi-level firefight between four of the fiercest teams and machines to ever stare down a quarter-mile barrel.

Like gangsters in a Hong Kong crime movie, points leaders Adam Sorokin, Jim Murphy, Rick Williamson, and Tony Bartone all have their sights aimed at each other, well aware that the last man standing will most likely leave Boise as the 2016 season title favorite.

Bartone, who is 4th in points and needs to win here if he is to repeat as Series Champion, said he is keying up for the big Boise race this way: “(I am) shooting guns in Wyoming,” the New York-based racer said, then joked about the race itself: “I am not sure I can make it!” When asked about his quarry, he replied: “Prairie dogs.” Continue reading

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14th Annual Holley National Hot Rod Reunion, June 18, 2016, Beech Bend Raceway, Bowling Green, Ky.Using a mixture of fluid mechanics, dicey determination, and sheer driving skill, Adam Sorokin muscled his Bob McLennan-tuned “Champion Speed Shop” AA/Fuel Dragster to the Winner’s Circle here and to the top of the NHRA Heritage Series’ Top Fuel Points Chart.

After qualifying in the #2 spot for the 8-Car eliminator with a 5.64 elapsed time at  246 mph — with about as big a nitro percentage as is mathematically possible — Sorokin handily dispatched Tyler Hilton’s “Great Expectations III”  in the opening round  with a 5.83 to trailer Hilton’s 8.01. It was never that easy for the rest of the day: In the semi-final round, Sorokin strangled the starting-line Xmas tree with an extraordinary .026-second reaction time to seize the lead against fellow California Rick White, who cut a very reasonable light and began a ferocious pursuit that culminated in the “Neal & White” dragster catching the Champion car at 1000′, whereupon White’s mill began nosing over while Sorokin — who was out of the groove  at half-track and nearly hit the wall at 1000′ — stabbed it back out of the marbles and finished just ahead of  his opponent.  Sorokin’s ET: 5.79 seconds. White’s:  5.80 at a piston-puffing 235 mph. The margin of victory was 9/100ths of second.

“That was full opposite lock,” Sorokin explained as to how he manhandled his ill-handling mount under full throttle when his race looked lost.

That win advanced Sorokin into the final round against another Californian, Santa Rosa’s Jim Murphy and his Roland Leong-tuned “WW2” railjob, who had spent the afternoon dispatching the creme de la creme of modern front-engine Top Fuel racing. Murphy’s first victim was recent March Meet winner Rick Williamson. As Williamson laid down a 5.87 at 247 mph, victory was within his grasp until half-track when Murphy’s mount suddenly gained another burst of steam and the WW2 machine tripped the timers in 5.74 seconds and at an indomitable 260 mph. Unfortunately for Williamson, he lost not only the round but also the points lead, which was now up for the taking, specifically among Sorokin, Murphy and Murphy’s next victim, Long Island City’s Tony Bartone.

Yes, in the ww2/Bartone semi-final heat, Murphy once again made massive amounts of horsepower and stopped the clocks first in 5.68 seconds with a top-end speed of 245 mph. Bartone’s mount quit a couple of hundred feet into the run, after a barrel valve fitting broke, dousing the New Yorker with a faceful of nitro.

This left Bartone — the two-time defending Heritage Series Points Champ — in an unfamiliar, if not uncomfortable position, the 4th slot in the Points Race. This despite Bartone and his Steve Boggs-tuned rail setting Low ET here with a 5.60.

“It ain’t over yet,” Bartone vowed. True, but the reality is that his always stout dragster will probably have to run the table during the remaining two Heritage Series races (Boise and Bakersfield) if he is to claim a third-straight Top Fuel Points Title. Continue reading

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SatTF0514th Annual Holley National Hot Rod Reunion, June 16-18, 2016, Beech Bend Raceway, Bowling Green, Ky.With the 2016 Heritage Series Top Fuel points race wide open, over a dozen supercharged and nitro-powered competitors from across the United States are gathering their steeds in Bowling Green in anticipation of claiming this week’s 8-car AA/Fuel Dragster Eliminator at the 14th Annual Holley National Hot Rod Reunion.

Among those mounting up will be Stockton, California’s Rick Williamson, driver of the “Team Craig” dragster and current Heritage Series points leader as well as the recent March Meet victor. Following the Craig gang’s entry out of California on I-40 East is a nattering menagerie of their enemies, including Adam Sorokin with the Chevy-powered Champion Speed Shop fueler — March Meet runner-up and #2 in the points — and veteran nitro-man Jim Murphy with his fearsome “WW2railjob.

Murphy, who is making the scene with his Roland Leong-tuned digger, won here in 2013 on a holeshot, but has struggled to find a consistent combination after that decisive weekend. At the Bakersfield March Meet, he appeared to return to form before an unfortunate top-end collision during eliminations rattled his concentration and compromised his effort. Similarly, New York-based Tony Bartone, the 2014 Holley NHRR winner and two-time defending Heritage Series Points Champion, has also seen his once-dominant form contract recently.

Both Bartone and Murphy would love to repeat here, as a means of making the statement that their team has entirely too much knowledge, talent and gumption not to dominate. Moreover, a Top Fuel win by Bartone would serve as an emphatic punctuation mark to the deserved pomp and circumstance awarded to his crew chief, the legendary Steve Boggs who, in concert with his late brother Ron, will be anointed as an Honoree here this weekend.

There are other scores to settle here: Rick White, driver of the hard-charging “Neal & White” machine out of San Diego, wants to undo the damage from a first-round loss at the March Meet, which transpired, ironically, after Rick set Low ET at that prestigious event with a ferocious ¼-mile clocking of 5.54 seconds.

Additionally, Salem, Wisconsin’s Jim Young hopes to advance to the top of the points chart here and will light up the Kentucky concrete with his Chrysler-powered “Young Guns.” Fleshing out the field are Californian Brendan Murry, Paul Schultz’s “Spirit of Tulsa,” Tyler Hilton’s big-block Chevy-powered “Great Expectations III” from Virginia (by way of Ohio), Illinois-based Tim Cullinan, “Diamond” Dave Miller’s dragster from Atoka, Tennessee, Racine Wisconsin’s Jason Greenwood, Troy Ray’s new “Wildside II” digger out of Knoxville, Julius Hughes’ “Atlanta Speed Shop” special and 2011 NHRR Top Fuel winner Lincoln Hassell out of North Carolina.

California. New York. Wisconsin. Virginia. Ohio. Oklahoma. Illinois. Tennessee. Georgia. North Carolina. With such diversity and power, Top Fuel Eliminator at the 14th Holley National Hot Rod Reunion is anybody’s race — and merely qualifying for this fierce field could be a partial victory. Odds are, whoever wins this nitro-powered shootout will drive away as the Heritage Series Top Fuel Points Leader. -30-

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Good Vibrations March Meet, Auto Club Famoso Raceway, Bakersfield, CA, March 10, 2016—In what turned out to be a hybrid of a contest of wills and theater of the absurd, Terry Cox and his Terry Manzer-tuned “Cheetah IV” dragster claimed the Inaugural SCE AAFD Top Speed Qualifier Award at last weekend’s March Meet with a blistering speed of 256 mph.

“It’s an awesome feeling to be able to run the car that hard out the back door,” Cox said when he was graced with a $1000 check from SCE President Ryan Hunter while being interviewed by the Bakersfield Californian. “We’re really excited that SCE stepped up and provided an award for mile-per-hour.”

Prior to the meet, Hunter correctly predicted Top Fuel Qualifying for the March Meet would be absolutely off the hook and wanted to reward those charging hardest — thus the SCE AAFD Top Speed Qualifier Award was born.

And in a twist that was ironic as well as indicative of how fierce this shootout was, Terry Cox won the Award for Top Speed — but didn’t qualify for the actual 8-Car Eliminator, settling for 1st Alternate. Yes, qualifying for Top Fuel Eliminator at the 2016 March Meet was that intense and bizarre…

To wit: Going into the final session, Cox had a provisional spot on the ladder with his previous-best ¼-mile elapsed time of 5.89 seconds, coupled with his speed of 256. But that final session was a barrage of bumping and re-bumping as former March Meet winners Adam Sorokin, Jim Murphy, Bill Dunlap and a handful of others all jostled for a spot in the show. After Sorokin stuck a 5.86 for the #8 spot and bumped out Cox, Terry fired his final salvo, a 5.88 at an outrageous 254 mph. Cox was the final driver to attempt to qualify at the 2016 March Meet and he missed making the show by 2/100ths of a second.

“Our car was a little lazy getting off the starting line, but it runs really well out the back door,” Cox explained, in what was a bittersweet moment.

But with the kinds of speeds Cox was posting, there is little doubt about the “Cheetah IV’s” chances to march to the front of the field at future AA/Fuel Dragster contests.



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Good Vibrations March Meet, Auto Club Famoso Raceway, Bakersfield, CA, March 6, 2016—In an emotional final round, Rick Williamson guided the “Team Craig” dragster into the Winner’s Circle at the expense of sentimental favorite Adam Sorokin. Williamson expertly laid down a sweet but ferocious 1/4-mile elapsed time of 5.57 seconds at 242 mph to defeat Sorokin’s off-and-on the throttle 6.71.

But just qualifying for the March Meet, much less winning it, was a struggle for Team Craig.

“The first round was our first full pass of the weekend and it still wasn’t right,” Williamson explained, about his team’s incremental improvements in performance that culminated into his first March Meet victory. “In the final, I legged it as far as the car would take me and it started laying down around 1000′. I am going ‘Oh crap, he is going to go around me,’ not realizing we ran a .57.”

Indeed, Williamson’s path towards conquest was an exercise in the snowball effect. After qualifying 6th with a 5.79 at a mere 203 mph, Williamson stepped up in the first round of eliminations and dispatched #3 qualifier Jim Young with a 5.61 at 244 mph to Young’s 5.74. After Young, “Team Craig” encountered 2014 and 2015 March Meet winner Tony Bartone. In that heat, Bartone got out of shape almost off the line and despite fighting his ill-handling nitro-burning beast of a dragster, couldn’t keep his Steve Boggs-tuned machine from crossing into Williamson’s lane. Rick clocked a 5.63 ET at a speed of 234 mph, with a disqualified Bartone right behind the “Team Craig” entry.

This set up Williamson’s final round showdown with Sorokin and his “Champion Speed Shop” entry, who also had a treacherous path to the March Meet’s closing heat. In the first round of eliminations, #8 Qualifier Sorokin strapped a holeshot on #1 Qualifier Rick White and Adam’s 5.63 at 242 mph held off White’s fearsome but futile 5.54 at 243. (Ironically, in defeat Rick White set Low ET of the Meet.)

In Sorokin’s semi-final heat, due to a towering wheelstand, he was oblivious to opponent Jim Murphy’s red-light foul start. Once the wheels sat down, a stunned but determined Sorokin whomped on the loud pedal five times in hopes of making the final. And for good reason…

This event had a family connection for Adam. This was the 50th Anniversary of Adam’s father, Mike Sorokin, winning the 1966 March Meet with his team, “the Surfers” —a contest that many consider the purest drag race in the history of the sport. To honor that occasion, “Surfers Nation,” an online Surfer’s Appreciation Society, created the Mike Sorokin Award for the Top Fuel winner of this year’s March Meet. Adam was one round win from claiming the trophy named after his late father.

Rick Williamson also had designs on this coveted trophy, however. At the green-light in the final round, both drivers left together but Sorokin’s dragster climbed into a wheelstand again and although he hammered the throttle another four times trying to catch traction, Williamson was gone, not to be caught.

“We just earned it,” Williamson concluded, while exhaling in exhaustion. Not even “the Surfers” would argue that point. In point of fact, as they presented their award to “Team Craig,” “Surfers Nation” acknowledged that their plaque had found a worthy beneficiary.

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