The SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals was an incredible weekend of 300’ sand drag racing in Southern California. A great turnout of racers converged on the Soboba Casino in San Jacinto, CA for three days of sand drag action. The highlight of the weekend was the Saturday Night Thunder show with qualifying under the lights in front of a capacity crowd. They massive crowd witnessed some huge numbers, including several World Records being broken. Let’s run through all of the action from the 2016 SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals.

Top Fuel

The Nitro-burning kings of the sport were back in action at the SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals. Three top teams made the trip to Southern California to do battle. Marcus Norris in the Pat Norris Racing Dragster started off the weekend with Low ET of Q1 with a spectacular 2.31/166MPH blast under the lights. All three teams would be ready for battle during the Saturday Night Thunder show. Dennis Rieck and the Hammer Down team put on a show for the history books during both passes. Dennis recorded a 2.202 ET in the first session backed up by a 2.215 ET for a new Top Fuel World Record. The ultra quick passes were an incredible sight to be seen by all in attendance. Next up was Sunday action where Rieck and Matt Ludlow in the Coldwater Kid Dragster would be ready to burn some nitro. The Ludlow team had experienced some issues with a brand new supercharger on Friday and Saturday, but went back to a proven combination and went straight down the track to the quickest Sunday pass of 2.32/160MPH. It was excellent to see the Top Fuel teams back on track, and we are looking forward to seeing these guys battle it out again in the near future.

Dennis Rieck - Top Fuel Low ET of the Weekend 2.202

Matt Ludlow - Top Fuel

Marcus Norris - Top Fuel

Top Alcohol

The Top Alcohol class has become ultra competitive over the course of the 2016 season with seven strong entries showing up for battle at Soboba. To show how close the competition has become, in qualifying the top five qualifiers were separated by just over a tenth of a second (2.45 to 2.56). Leading the pack in qualifying was Gary Mink in “Bad to the Bone” with a great 2.45/141MPH pass in the final session. Jim Hammond’s “April’s Dream” team was #2 with a 2.50 followed by David Morton’s 2.52 and Chris Barlow at 2.53.

First out in round one was top qualifier Mink on his bye run where he backed up his qualifying pace with a 2.47/140MPH pass. Next up would be the two closest qualifiers in the 4-5 pair as Barlow lined up against Pedro Villa in “The Express”. They would leave together on the tree, but it would be Villa putting down his best pass of the weekend in a 2.53 to 2.65 decision. Jim Hammond would move on to round two with a 2.57 to defeat Derek Balcunas in the Larry Minor Motorsports Jeep. Finishing the round off, David Morton recorded a strong 2.51 to defeat Jimmy Depasse.  

The semi-final round started off with a match up between Mink and Villa. This would be the scariest moment of the weekend. Villa would leave early turning on the red light, then would lose control in the shutdown area. Thankfully Pedro would walk away uninjured. We are looking forward to seeing the Villa Racing Team back on track. In the other lane on that pass, Gary Mink would keep up his fast pace with a 2.46 ET. Next up after all the excitement would be David Morton against Jim Hammond. Hammond would have a slight starting line edge, but it would be the converter-equipped entry of Morton putting the power down to a 2.49 to 2.57 victory.

This would set up a big time final round between top qualifier Mink and Morton. These two teams have battled it out over the past few years and always have close races. Both would record their best passes of the weekend with the win light coming on in Mink’s lane in a 2.44 to 2.47 decision. Gary’s 2.449 would be Low ET of the weekend on that final round pass. Congrats to the “Bad to the Bone” team on the big win at Soboba.

Gary Mink - Top Alcohol Winner

David Morton - Top Alcohol Runner-Up

Top Eliminator

The Top Eliminator racers were out in full force with the biggest field in recent memory taking to the Soboba Casino surface to see who the best in the 2.95 Index category is. Qualifying saw 15 entries battling it out for the top spot. When the dust settled, it was Marc Whitmore earning the top spot with a perfect 2.950 in his Blown Alcohol Altered. Washington’s Carey Mahoney was right behind him with a 2.951while Terry Crawford & Tommy Zavala rounded out the Top 4 with 2.96’s.

Round one was contested Sunday morning and the action was cut throat as always in this ultra competitive category. Billy Morris came into this event with back-to-back wins in SCSDA action looking to sweep the season in his Morris Family Racing Dragster. Morris would put together the best run of Round One with a 2.971 to get around Jim Rossi’s too quick 2.93. The closest run of the round was the 6-11 match up where Ron D’Artenay edged out Mark Punos in a great 3.05 to 3.06 decision by just .023 at the stripe.

When round two rolled into the lanes for TE action, there was nothing but heavy hitters still left to battle it out. The first pair would be a titanic battle between top qualifier Whitmore in his beautiful Altered against defending champ Morris looking for a clean sweep of 2016 in SCSDA action. This one was the upset of the race as Morris turned it red by .004 handing the win to Whitmore’s 3.07 with a .112 RT. You wouldn’t think the action couldn’t get any more intense but the hits kept coming. Next up would be Yuma area neighbors Tommy Zavala in his nitrous-assisted Dragster against David Straub’s Blown Alcohol entry. Straub would leave early and hand the win to Zavala, who carded a 3.088 to advance on. Next out would be Carey Mahoney in from the Northwest up against Paul Taylor in the “Outta Control” Dragster. These guys are always deadly at hitting the 2.95 Index in their similarly setup Blown Alcohol BBC-powered Dragsters. Mahoney would get a little too antsy and go .035 red handing the win to Taylor’s 2.988. The final pair would see an incredible pair or runs laid down as Ron D’Artenay’s “Red Warrior” would face off with Terry Crawford’s “Yabba Dabba Doo” Dragster. Ron would record the best run of eliminations with a 2.956 for the win to Terry’s strong 2.976.

This set up a prime time semi-final round starting off with #1 qualifier Whitmore up against Tommy Zavala. Zavala recorded his Personal Best ET in qualifying with an incredible 2.968 in his nitrous-equipped BBC-powered Dragster. These two were ready on the tree with Whitmore taking a .055 to .075 and holding on for a 3.08 to 3.11 victory. This ensured we would see a front engine versus rear engine final round in Top Eliminator for the first time in a while. The Dragsters would roll up to the line next with Taylor squaring off against D’Artenay. This one was over on the starting line as Ron rolled through the beams too soon turning on the red bulb and giving the win to Taylor who was a little on the quick side with a 2.945.

The final round was now set with two of the toughest in the category squaring off to take this ultra prestigious event win. Marc Whitmore in the Altered versus Paul Taylor in the Dragster would roll into the beams Sunday evening to decide the event champion. This would be a classic battle with Whitmore taking a .107 to .171 starting line edge and taking the win with a 3.03. Taylor would run quicker but took a little too much stripe in a 2.945 break out. Congratulations to Marc, Ralph, Anne Marie, Joe Bettencourt (JB Motorsports), and the whole team on the huge win at the SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals.

Marc Whitmore - Top Eliminator Winner

Paul Taylor - Top Eliminator Runner-Up

Fast Fours

A strong seven car field made the trek to the SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals to compete in the Fast Fours class. The story in qualifying once again centered around Robert Skidmore, who came into this race on a six race winning streak. Skidmore threw down a great 2.717/121MPH blast off the trailer to earn the top qualifying spot. Right behind him would be Mario Tavares in the Pauter entry with a strong 2.80 at an incredible 125.10MPH. That speed would set the new Fast Fours MPH World Record backed up by his earlier 124.87MPH blast. The new combination for the Tavares/Pauter team certainly has started showing dividends with these huge numbers. Rounding out the top half would be Kris Lauffer in his new “Sand Hater” Dragster with a great 2.81 followed by Art Cronin’s 2.88.

Round one kicked off with the bye run for Skidmore. Robert put his ride in the beams and proceeded to click off an awesome 2.709/122MPH blast. The 2.709 ET backed up by his earlier 2.717 would be good enough to lower his Fast Fours World Record. The question at that point was could he lower the record even more as eliminations continued. Art Cronin would get single pass into round two as his opponent Daniel King could not make the call. Tavares was up next against #7 qualifier Don Minkel. Don laid down a solid 3.11 ET, but came up just short of Mario’s 2.95/123MPH to advance on to round two. The final pair of the round would see Lauffer and the VW Paradise team square off with John Cronin. Both cars had a bit of a bog at the hit, but Lauffer would charge hard down track for a 3.03 to 3.34 victory.

First out in round two was the 1-4 pair with Skidmore lining up alongside Art Cronin. This would result in a huge upset as Skidmore lost power about 60’ out and Cronin recovered from his own early troubles to power around in a 3.48 to 3.85 decision. Skidmore’s winning streak would end at an incredible six races in SCSDA competition. The final pair of the round would see a Pauter vs. VW Paradise battle to see who would advance to the final. When the tree dropped, Mario got the early lead but headed for the center and had to lift. In the other lane, Lauffer again had a small stumble at the hit but the car charged hard in the back half of the run to drive around Tavares for a 3.02 to 3.50 victory.

The stage was now set for the Fast Fours final round with Art Cronin and Kris Lauffer. Lauffer, the Four-Cylinder World Record Holder on asphalt, in his first weekend with his “Sand Hater” Dragster had run a best of 2.81 in qualifying but had struggled to put a clean pass together in eliminations. Former class champ Cronin had a similar weekend to this point making three clean runs in qualifying but struggling some in his early round elimination passes. The final round saw a stunning pass as Lauffer recorded the second quickest Fast Fours ET in history with a 2.679 at 122MPH. However, the bad news for Lauffer is that he left .025 too soon turning on the red bulb and handing the win to Cronin. Art would have problems at the hit and record a 4.17 ET to take season finale event win. Congrats to Art and the whole Meltdown team on the win as well as the rest of the Fast Fours teams on the incredible performances all weekend.

Art Cronin - Fast Fours Winner

Kris Lauffer - Fast Fours Runner-Up

Pro Mod Unlimited

The Pro Mod Unlimited class certainly wasn’t left out on this record setting weekend. In Qualifying, Jimmy Depasse in the Otis Express Jeep threw down an amazing 2.668 ET to earn the top qualifying spot and a leg on a potential new A/Pro Jeep World Record. Derek Balcunas was right behind with a great 2.754 at 134MPH followed by Tracy Malan and Dave Huffman. In round one, Depasse once again set the sand drag world on fire with the quickest front engine short car run of all-time with a 2.644 ET. Balcunas wouldn’t be far behind recording a 2.717 to advance on. When the final round came around, Depasse would be the only one to make the call and solo to the event win. Jimmy had problems at the hit and had to lift early. Congrats to the Oits Express team on the tremendous weekend at the SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals.

Pro Mod Unlimited FInalists: Jimmy Depasse (Near Lane) over Derek Balcunas

Pro Bracket Classes

The SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals featured some great added purse money to the Pro Bracket categories. This certainly brought in a strong field of competitors chasing the money; many we haven’t seen in quite a while. Racers were on their game throughout eliminations on Sunday afternoon going for these prestigious class wins.

Pro 1 (3.10-3.74) is the quickest bracket class on the west coast, and the competition is always at an incredibly high level. The final round would be a classic Jeep versus Dragster battle. Phoenix racer Keith Ahart in his “Second Urge” Dragster earned his way into the final against Southern California racer Bill Meaney in his Larry Minor Motorsports-built Jeep. This would be an anti-climatic final as Ahart unfortunately could not get his engine started for the final. Bill ran it out in the final to a strong 3.63/90MPH on the 3.69 dial-in on what would ultimately be his last ride in the #17 Jeep as he sold the car shortly after this event.

Bill Meaney - Pro 1 Winner

A full field of Pro 2 (3.75-4.25) entries showed up to wage war at Soboba during the Hammer Down Nationals. As eliminations wore on, it was an all-Jeep affair starting at the quarter-finals (7 entries left). The last Jeeps standing would be Jim Larr’s “Final Verdict” against Justin Adamson’s “Raped Ape” to decide the class victory. Both racers would be glued together on the tree with .13x RT’s, but it would be Larr turning on the win light with a 4.205 (4.14) to take big win.

Pro 2 Final: Jim Larr (Near Lane) takes the win over Justin Adamson

27 entries took to the track for Pro 3 (4.26-Slower) class eliminations on Sunday afternoon at the Soboba Casino. This class would also eliminate down to an all-Jeep final round. Mike Record’s Orange Larry Minor Motorsports-built Jeep would line up against Joe Simeone’s “I Love It” Funny Jeep to see who would take home the $2000 winner’s check. This was a crazy race with both racers dialed 4.26; Record left first with a .067 to .080 starting line edge in this race, and would escape with the win running a 4.39 to Joe’s quicker but breaking out 4.230. This would be Mike’s second win of the weekend as he also won the Friday Pro Gambler.

Mike Record - Pro 3 Winner

The Motorcycle Pro classes were also racing for big bucks to win at this event making the racing action even more intense than normal. The Motorcycle Pro 1 (4.49-Faster) class ended up with Bakersfield area neighbors Heather Taylor and Ron Garnas squaring off in the final round. Garnas earned the starting line edge .076 to .121, but it would be Taylor running dead-on 4.006 (4.00) to take the victory by .048 at the stripe.

Heather Taylor - MP1 Winner

Motorcycle Pro 2 (4.50-Slower) was filled with tough ATV’s going for the big bucks. In the final, Craig Wright squared off with Caleb Mings for top honors. Mings would leave first .043 to .144, but at the stripe he would take too much stripe with a 5.724 (5.75) giving the win to Wright’s 4.801 (4.70). This would be Craig’s second class win of the weekend as he also took the Friday Motorcycle Gambler.

Craig Wright - MP2 Winner

Gambler Classes

The SCSDA Hammer Down Nationals weekend kicked off with Friday Car & ATV Gambler classes. Mike Record would get the job done in the Friday Pro Car Gambler getting around Chris Adamson’s “Bounty Hunter” in the final round. The Friday Motorcycle Gambler was an all Bakersfield final with Craig Wright turning on the win light over Nikki Bailey. Saturday’s Pro Car Gambler shaped up to be quite a battle with Charlie Johnson in yet another Gambler final round against Steve Winn in the Black #24 Jeep. These two put on a great show with Charlie Johnson going .046 on the tree and running a 4.664 (4.60) to take the win by just .032. The Saturday Motorcycle Gambler final round saw Jared Azevedo run a great dead-on 3.825 (3.82) to take the victory over the always tough Mike Brock.

Charlie Johnson - Saturday Pro Gambler Winner

Jared Azevedo - Saturday Motorcycle Gambler Winner

Mike Record - Friday Pro Car Gambler Winner

Craig Wright - Friday Motorcycle Gambler Winner

Sportsman & Junior Classes

The Sportsman classes were full of great competition at this event with full fields across the board. Chris Calafiore got the job done in Sportsman 1 piloting his Larry Minor Motorsports-built Jeep to the victory over Mike Ghan. Tom Crail put his Buggy in the Winner’s Circle by taking the Sportsman 2 win over Keith Tront. Ron Garnas stopped Joey Weaver’s bid to sweep the 2016 SCSDA season in the Motorcycle Sportsman 1 class final round. Marcus Riedel did a great job riding to earn the Motorcycle Sportsman 2 class win over Craig Wright. Junior class winners on the weekend were: Cole Liston (Junior Dragster), Blake Adamson (Junior Dragster Mini’s), Maddox Pena (Peewees), and Delaney Browning (Juniors).

Chris Calafiore - Sportsman 1 Winner

Tom Crail (Near Lane) takes the Sportsman 2 win over Keith Tront

Ron Garnas - Motorcycle Sportsman 1 Winner

Marcus Riedel - Motorcycle Sportsman 2 Winner

Cole Liston - Junior Dragster Winner

Blake Adamson - Junior Dragster Mini's Winner

Event Photo Gallery - Courtesy NSDN

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