As the co-host of the Sportsman Drag Racing Podcast with my buddy Jared Pennington, I have the pleasure of talking racing every single week(our latest episode drops every Wednesday atThisIsBracketRacing.com/podcast). We touch on the NHRA sportsman categories, as well as the big dollar bracket scene, and occasionally share stories from the grass roots ranks as well. Over the course of 2018, Jed and I had plenty to talk about! Some of my favorite storylines from the season:
Kenny Underwood put together, arguably, the best season in bracket racing history in 2018. The Ohio-based, Florida transplant became the second racer in Million Dollar Race history to win the Million twice… And that was just icing on the cake! Back in the summer, Underwood scored a pair of $50,000 triumphs along the big dollar bracket tour. Those wins highlighted a6-week early summer stretch in which Kenny staged in 5 final rounds: two for$50,000-to-win, two for $20,000-to-win, and one for $10,000-to-win.
2018 was the Year of the Shy Vette: While the GM assembly line workers of that era had to be proud of the Chevette, I can’t imagine they ever envisioned that one would win hundreds of thousands of dollars on the drag strip. Nick Hastings (whose car is a Pontiac T1000,for the record), claimed a $100,000 victory at the SFG Summer Nationals inMichigan to highlight another banner season for the Ohio runner. Nick Duty, Marty McKinney, and a handful of others carried the Chevette flag with big wins throughout the year as well.
What Kevin Pollard accomplished this season was nothing short of incredible. How he accomplished it is the stuff of legend. The Virginia runner Footbraked aLuv Truck (a low 5-second Luv truck, by the way) through talented fields of delay box-equipped entries to stage in two separate $50,000-to-win final rounds. As if that weren’t enough, he also held two of the final 4 entries (same Luv Truck, still swapping feet) in the $125,000-to-win main event at the SFG Midwest Bracket Nationals, where he ran himself in the semi-final round before dropping the final. Pollard didn’t just beat up the box crowd: he also scored gold at the most prestigious Footbrake-only event of the season:the World Footbrake Challenge in Bristol.
It’s a Young Man’s Game: Devin Isenhower (21) won the Super Gas World Championship. Cory Gulitti (17) was bracket racing’s Mr.Everything throughout the season. TheEllison brothers: Edmond (22) and Caleb (19) were arguably the two hottest bottom bulb racers of 2018 not named Kevin Pollard. Gage Burch (17) won 73 events in 2018 (OK,that’s an exaggeration, but not by much)!
Gulitti’s wreck & go: Speaking of Cory Gulitti, everyone is still talking about his MillionDollar experience. The youngster crashed his dragster just past the finish line shortly after defeating Slate Cummings in the 6th round of the Million Dollar Race. Thanks to a unique “break rule” at theMillion (that I don’t think was ever meant to be used in the event of an accident), Gulitti, who checked out OK with paramedics, was allowed to return for round 7 behind the wheel of an alternate car that he had not driven previously in the weekend. He did just that. Less than an hour after the crash,he beat (arguably) the best racer in bracket racing history, Scotty Richardson,and went on to take runner-up honors in the richest and most prestigious bracket race of the season.
When Darrick Ellam won Stock Eliminator at the Division 6 LODRS event in Boise behind the wheel of a W/SA Pinto Station Wagon, we made light of it on the podcast (I mean, who wins Stock Eliminator in a 16-second Pinto Station wagon?). When Ellam drove that same Pinto wagon to two more final rounds – runner-up finishes at both Woodburn and the season-endingLas Vegas event – we weren’t cracking jokes. We were in awe. I’ve already called it: 2018 was the year of the Chevette. 2019 is the year of the Pinto. Darrick Ellam is the favorite for the 2019 Stock Eliminator WorldChampionship (you heard it here first).
The guy who defeated Darrick Ellam in the final round of theDivision 6 event in Woodburn? Justin Lamb. A year ago, Lamb became just the third driver in NHRA history (joining Scotty Richardson and Jeff Strickland) to secure two world championships in the same season. This year, Lamb came within 1 single point of duplicating the feat. He won his second Super Stock title in as many seasons after a dramatic head-to-head battle with Brad Zaskowski at the final divisional event of the season that essentially decided the championship. In addition, Lamb put up a massive 689 point score in Stock Eliminator. That was the second highest points total posted in any of the sportsman categories. It just so happened that the highest points total in any sportsman category belonged to fellow Stock Eliminator campaignerBrian McClanahan: 690.
Randell Reid doesn’t bracket race very often. That’s probably good news for the rest of us! Reid, who was best known prior to 2018 for his prowess behind the wheel of an outlaw ProModified machine, won the Spring Fling Million back in April. He nearly pulled a “Verdi” when he advanced to the semi-finals of the Million Dollar Race in October before falling to Cory Gulitti. In between, all he managed to win was the NHRA Division 4 E.T. Finals. Yea, that’s a pretty good year.
2018 was the year of the Top End Throttle Stop: Chris Garretson made a serious run at the NHRASuper Comp world championship. His dragster commonly hit the 8.90 index at speeds of under 130 mph. The class average is roughly 170. Meanwhile, Tim Nicholson drove what is unequivocally the coolest car in the Super Gas category to a top ten finish fora second consecutive season. Tim’s machine doesn’t just run 9.90 at speeds right around 100 mph (in a class where the average speed is probably around 155); he goes through twice as many gears to get there in his Lenco-equipped Camaro.
Speaking of Chris Garretson, how fun was that NHRA Super Comp title chase? Defending champ Austin Williams led the standings most of the summer, before relinquishing the lead to Garretson in mid-September. Four other drivers posted epic performances to hold at least a share of the lead in the closing five weeks of the season. Mike Robilotto went to the top when he won his last divisional event of the season at Rockingham. Thatlead lasted less than a day before Don Nichols eclipsed Robilotto’s total with a late finish in St. Louis. The following weekend, Koy Collier won his last divisional event of the season inNoble, OK to tie Nichols atop the standings. The very next week, Steve Williams vaulted himself to the top, and ultimately the title; but it wasn’t quite that simple. Mark Grame came to Pomona with a tall task:He had to make the final round to steal the championship. He came one win light away; falling in the quarterfinals with a semi-final bye run hanging in the balance.