The Soboba Casino in San Jacinto, CA played host to the 2018 SCSDA March Madness event. The late March weather was unseasonably cool for Southern California with high temps around 60 creating excellent horsepower weather and leading to some incredibly quick ET’s and high MPH’s. This also served as Race 2 of 5 in the 2018 California Sand Drag Challenge series. The points race is starting to take shape as the series heads to Avenal for Race 3 in April. Let’s go through the rundown of top performers from this event.

Top Fuel

The SCSDA Season Opener saw some huge performances, including a new TF World Record with Dennis Rieck and the Hammer Down team lowering the record to a 2.201 ET. Both the Hammer Down & Pat Norris Racing teams were ready to hit the track one month later for the SCSDA March Madness event to try to push the performance numbers even further. Marcus Norris set the pace during their first qualifying hit as he put down a 2.254/163MPH. Norris backed this up with a 2.29 during the second qualifier, while the Hammer Down team struggled in both sessions with a 2.44 best. This set up the final qualifying session Saturday afternoon with both teams looking to throw down that huge number. The Norris team was more than ready with a personal best .899 60’ and looked to be on their way to an incredible number before a broken rear end caused Marcus to lift at 2 seconds into the run. Norris coasted across the finish line to a 2.29ET at only 123MPH. Incredible numbers all around. In the other lane, Dennis Rieck made an ‘A to B’ hit with a 2.32/156MPH. A strong pass, but definitely not what the Hammer Down team was looking for in their quest to get back to the 2.1x second range.

The anticipation was high as the Pat Norris Racing/Worldwide Insurance Services team took the left lane to face off with the Hammer Down Racing team at Noon on Sunday for the Top Fuel final round. The racers were locked together at the hit with nearly identical RT’s, but it would be Marcus Norris finally getting the best of Rieck in a 2.26 to 2.44 decision. Congrats to the Pat Norris Racing Team on an incredible weekend at the SCSDA March Madness event with the win, #1 qualifier and all four passes in the 2.2-second zone.

Marcus Norris - Top Fuel Winner

Dennis Rieck - Top Fuel Runner-Up

Top Alcohol

After a rough start to the season for the Top Alcohol class, five teams made the trip to the SCSDA March Madness event looking to take home the hardware. Season Opener winner Jim Hammond made his presence known leading the pack in qualifying with a 2.46 ET in the final qualifying session in the April’s Dream Dragster. But the big story in qualifying was the return of Gary Mink and the Bad to the Bone team. Many time class champion Mink made his first appearance since April of last year, and only made one qualifying attempt which carded a 2.47 to earn the #2 qualifying position. Jake Morton ran a nice 2.49 for the third spot with Derek Balcunas and Pedro Villa both recording 2.695 ET’s for the fourth and fifth spots on the ladder respectively.

With the five-car ladder in Round One, only one pair faced off and it saw Pedro Villa go 2.64 to defeat the 2.76 of Derek Balcunas in the Larry Minor Motorsports/Lucas Oil TA Jeep. Jake Morton (2.53) and Jim Hammond (2.54) both recorded nice passes on their solo laps, but the big story of the round would be Gary Mink. Mink let everyone know he hasn’t lost a step over the past year as he ran a 2.445/138MPH to advance on with Low ET of Round One by nearly a tenth of a second.

Round two started with the “April’s Dream” team of Hammond squaring off with the Pedro Villa in the “Villa Express”/VRT entry. Hammond stepped back up to a strong 2.48 lap to get around Villa’s 2.67 in the other lane. This set up a big match up between last season’s champ Morton and multi-time champ Mink. Morton with the converter car was ready on the tree with a .085 to .140 RT edge, but the big Hemi power of Mink was too much as he dropped jaws with a 2.43 lap to get around Morton’s 2.55.

It was final round time Sunday afternoon in Southern California with the top 2 qualifiers facing off for the title. Mink held lane choice going into this match, but it didn’t seem to matter as Gary had run the left lane all weekend while Hammond had favored the right lane. They rolled into the beams and Mink threw down his best light of the weekend with a .100 to Jim’s .129. Mink set off into the sunset with a great 2.44 lap for the win over Hammond’s 2.54. Congrats to the Bad to the Bone team on an incredible return with ET’s of 2.445, 2.435 and 2.440 on the way to the Winner’s Circle.

Gary Mink - Top Alcohol Winner

Jim Hammond - Top Alcohol Runner-Up

Top Eliminator

The Top Eliminator Wars continued with Race 2 of the California Sand Drag Challenge series during the SCSDA March Madness event. At the Season Opener, Vickie Hall ran the table as #1 Qualifier & Race Winner defeating Jim Rossi in the final round. Those two topped the first points sheet of the season. Qualifying at this event was quite intriguing with 15 racers shooting for the top qualifying spot closest to the 2.95 class index. Paul Graham in his “Excavator” Blown Alcohol Buggy set the bar with a 2.970 ET in the Q1. This number would top the sheet all the way up until the final session, Q4 on Saturday afternoon. Paul Taylor in the “Outta Control” Dragster started off Q4 with a very nice 2.961 to swipe the #1 spot for the time being. Several pairs later it would be Craig Brewster stealing the top spot away for good running a 2.959 ET with his Brewster Motorsports Dragster. The final bullet to dodge in the session would be points leader Vickie Hall in the “Farmer’s Twisted Daughter” Dragster. Vickie and her small block power recorded a stellar 2.963 lap, which would be good for the #3 qualifying spot. This would be significant in that the #3 qualifying position earned her one extra bonus point towards the championship.

Round One was filled with great action. Top qualifier Brewster solidified his spot as a top contender on race day with a great 2.954 on his Round One bye. That would be the best lap of Round One. The biggest upset would be #4 qualifier Graham running a 2.92 to breakout against #13 Dave Stidham, who ran a 3.17 for the win in his first TE appearance with the “Grinch” Funny Jeep. The closest race of the round was in the 7-10 pair with lower qualified Jeff Liston in the SBC-powered “Sand Bomber” taking a hole shot win 3.00 to 2.99 over Bill Peterson’s “Villain” Dragster.

The second round would not be a good round for the points leaders. Race 1 Runner-Up Jim Rossi put his “Bad Toy” Dragster in the beams against top qualifier Brewster in the first pair of the round. It would be a double whammy for Rossi as he red lighted, then a broken rear-end cut his run short before 60’. Brewster would have been tough to beat with a very nice 2.979 lap to advance on. But the big news in Round Two was points leader Hall falling to Ron D’Artenay’s “Red Warrior” as Ron took the hole shot win 2.99 to 2.96. The other pairs saw Terry Crawford record a 3.00 to defeat Dave Stidham’s red lighting 3.23 and Liston scoring a hole shot win over Taylor 3.03 to 2.98 with a Margin of Victory totaling just .022.

Heading into the semi-finals, the path to the Winner’s Circle was wide open with four tough customers going head-to-head for the win. First up would be top qualifier Brewster against Vegas racer Terry Crawford in his “Yabba Dabba Doo” Dragster. Craig had a big hole shot edge but would run 2.944 for a six-thousandths of a second break out handing the win over to Crawford, who ran 2.99. The question of who would face Crawford came down to the pair between Liston’s #SmallBlockMafia-powered “Sand Bomber” against D’Artenay’s Hemi-powered “Red Warrior”. Liston left first .169 to .196 and would take the win with a strong 2.99 forcing Ron into a 2.906 breakout.

This set up an all-Las Vegas final round Sunday afternoon as Jeff Liston put the “Sand Bomber” into the beams against Terry Crawford’s “Yabba Dabba Doo” Dragster. Jeff left first and was wheels up big time as he lifted early to a 3.13 to 3.04 hole shot victory in the TE Final. A huge congrats goes out to Jeff and the entire Sand Bomber team on the huge win at the SCSDA March Madness event.

Jeff Liston - Top Eliminator Winner

Terry Crawford - Top Eliminator Runner-Up

Fast Fours

The highly competitive Fast Fours class headed into Race Two with Robert Skidmore leading the points sheet after his win at the Season Opener. After four qualifying sessions, Mario Tavares topped the list in his Pauter Dragster with a sizzling 2.69/128MPH blast during Q2 Friday evening. Points leader Skidmore ended up #2 qualifier with a very nice 2.71 lap while Daniel King rounded out the top half of the 6-car field with a 2.78 ET.

Round One saw some incredible performances from the Fast Fours class. Skidmore uncorked an incredible 2.67/116MPH pass on his bye run. This was the third quickest pass ever in the history of the class. The next pair down the track would be Daniel King in the “Animal Control” Dragster against Sally Rasmussen “Poison Ivy”. King’s car was on a mission as he recorded a Personal Best 2.732 ET to advance on.

The first pair of round two was highly anticipated as Skidmore and King faced off after both turned incredible ET’s in the prior round. Skidmore had the starting line edge but broke shortly after handing King the trip to the final round. King’s run also had issues in the other lane as he shut off early after an incredible 1.005 60’ time. In the other semi-final round matchup, top qualifier Tavares squared off with John Cronin in the Cronin Racing Dragster. This was a great battle with Cronin leaving first .151 to .243, but it would be the Pauter power driving by for a close 2.81 to 2.92 victory.

The final round was an incredible battle with the drivers leaving just a few-thousandths apart and at the stripe it would be Tavares turning on the win light in a 2.75 to 2.80 battle. Congratulations to Mario and the entire Pauter team on their win and great performance at the SCSDA March Madness event.

Mario Tavares - Fast Fours Winner

Daniel King - Fast Fours Runner-Up

Pro Mod Unlimited

The Pro Mod class had a rough weekend at the SCSDA March Madness event. Two entries signed up for the class, but unfortunately Jimmy Depasse broke during Friday qualifying and was unable to continue. This left Derek Balcunas to solo to the class win. Derek ran a strong 2.70/130MPH blast to take the Sunday victory in the Larry Minor Motorsports/Lucas Oil Jeep.

Derek Balcunas - Pro Mod Unlimited Winner

Pro Bracket Classes

The Pro 1 class featured a repeat of the Season Opener final round as Craig Durning in “Eugene the Jeep” faced off with Chris Wells in the Washington-based Buggy. This time would have a different ending as Durning used a .006RT and 3.641 (3.56) to turn on the win light and move into a tie atop the points standings. Another Washington racer was on his game as Jack Bone turned on the win light in the Pro 2 final round over Tommy Zavala. Jack laid down a stellar .013 RT and 4.176 (4.16) to defeat points leader Zavala, who was in his second final of the season. The Pro 3 final saw Rob Plumb pilot his “Complete Idiot” Buggy to the class victory in his first ever try in the class. Plumb defeated Jim Larr in the final round, who fouled away his shot at the win. Brad Olson continued his early season dominance in MP1 as he scored his second win of the early season defeating Taylor Marchant in the final. The MP2 winner was a great story as Marcus Riedel scored the class victory defeating Caleb Mings in the final. Marcus hurt the motor in his bike on Saturday and rode a borrowed ride from Bo Crossland to victory on Sunday.

Craig Durning - Pro 1 Winner

Jack Bone - Pro 2 Winner

Rob Plumb - Pro 3 Winner

Brad Olson - Motorcycle Pro 1 Winner

Marcus Riedel - Motorcycle Pro 2 Winner

Pro Gambler & Specialty Classes

The Friday Pro Gambler final round saw Kenny Hayes in Phoenix-based Larry Minor Motorsports-built Jeep face off with Charlie Johnson in the Mopar-powered Jeep. Two of the toughest competitors on the west coast put em in the beams for all the marbles and it was Hayes taking the win after Johnson turned on the red bulb by .033. Johnson, however would not be denied on Saturday as he turned on the win light in that day’s Pro Gambler final round. Charlie used a .024 RT and 4.514 (4.44) to defeat his brother Wes to take home the big money. Wes Johnson was coming off a big win on Friday night as he put the Black Jeep in the 3.95 Index Winners Circle. Wes took the win over Chris Wells in the final, who red lighted by .063 in his Chevy-powered Buggy. The Saturday Motorcycle Gambler class saw Garrett Ratliff return to the track in a big way after a few seasons away as he took the final round victory over Dylan Holmes, who turned it red by .087.

Kenny Hayes - Friday Pro Gambler Winner

Charlie Johnson - Saturday Pro Gambler Winner

Wes Johnson - 3.95 Index Winner

Garrett Ratliff - Motorcycle Gambler Winner

Sportsman Bracket & Junior Classes

The Sportsman 1 final round was like one you would see on a normal Saturday at Albany Sand Drags in Albany, Oregon as Northwest racers Jack Bone and Chris Wells squared off to decide top honors. Jack was .044 on the tree and ran 4.216 (4.17) to take his second class win, while Wells dropped his third final round of the weekend. The Sportsman 2 final was an all-Buggy affair with Luz Malan running a nearly dead-on 4.901 (4.90) with her Chevy-powered ride defeating Tom Crail’s VW power, who broke out with at 5.086 (5.10). The Saturday Motorcycle Sportsman classes were dominated by Mark Ratliff. Mark took the MS1 victory edging out Mike Brock by just .040 at the stripe. The MS2 final was even tighter as Mark took just .014 at the finish light to get by Tyler Hanrahan. Sunday’s Junior classes featured some great action as the future of sand drags took to the track. Christian Myers scored one for Hammond Racing as he turned on the final round win light in Junior Dragster over Cole Liston. Blaine Denunzio showed off his skills from the NHRA Junior Dragster ranks and scored the Junior Dragster Mini’s victory over Nixon Acevedo. James Villa cruised to the Peewees class win on his mini ATV defeating Colette Schlater in the final.

Jack Bone - Sportsman 1 Winner

Luz Malan - Sportsman 2 Winner

Mark Ratliff - Motorcycle Sportsman 1 & Motorcycle Sportsman 2 Winner

Christian Myers - Junior Dragster Winner

Blaine Denunzio - Junior Dragster Mini's Winner

James Villa - Peewees Winner

Photos Courtesy NSDN

Event Photo Gallery - Photos Courtesy NSDN

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