Morgan Ends Drought-One of NHRA drag racing's most popular fan entities, Larry Morgan, broke through for Mopar and for himself in early August when he won Pro Stock eliminator during the NHRA Fram-Autolite Nationals held at California's Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Point International Raceway). The victory was Morgan's ninth career event win, but his first on the NHRA trail since 1994. Most importantly, it was his first victory driving his Hemi-powered Dodge Neon. The hard-working racer is one of a number of former GM brand racers who converted to Dodge cars over the past couple of seasons. Morgan's event victory was anything but tame-it came over the second-quickest assembly of Pro Stock cars in NHRA drag racing history. The Fram-Autolite Nationals featured an astounding 16-car bump spot of 6.836 seconds, which was just short of the 6.831 bump spot set at Reading, Pennsylvania, in October of 2001. Morgan's team delivered an impressive run through eliminations, which included four consecutive low 6.8-second elapsed times, plus a career best 6.812 e.t. in round two.
"It's been a while, for sure," Morgan said about the win. "We've worked really hard and made some major changes to the setup of the car, and it was exciting to see the hard work pay off."
Morgan was sharp behind the wheel, too-he won the final round over Greg Anderson on a holeshot, posting a 6.845 e.t. to Anderson's quicker 6.799 e.t.
Mopars March at Martin-IHRA's first-ever national event stop at recently revamped U.S. 131 Motorsports Park featured two significant wins by Mopar racers. Joe Aluise Jr., who is the current NHRA national record holder in A/SA with his '64 Plymouth Belvedere, etched himself a little bit of Mopar drag racing history by becoming the first brand racer to win within IHRA's fledging new Top Stock category. Aluise Jr powered his 426 Max Wedge car to the title after running a string of 10.30-second elapsed times throughout the event.
"I think it's impressive for the class," said Aluise Jr. "At this point it's been 100 percent Chevy-dominated. I think that other Mopar racers will quickly see what can be done."
Aluise was quick to credit his long-time racing partner Dave Fortney and his engine builder Jimmy Bowen for the win.
Also taking top honors at the event was second generation driver Craig Marshall, who wheeled his revolutionary 460 cid '65 Coronet SS/AM to a win in Super Stock eliminator-his first IHRA national event title in Super Stock. Marshall's machine, which was campaigned within IHRA's Modified eliminator as an A/EM last season, features a Bruce Mills-assembled quarter-stroke Hemi engine which displaces 460 cubic inches.
Dodge City-NHRA's Fram-Autolite Nationals in August was yet another indication that the pendulum may be swinging within the Pro Stock. The category, which over the last decade has been a Pontiac "cookie cutter" class, saw no less then six Hemi-powered Dodge Neons qualify at the Sonoma, California, event-a single event record for the brand.
"At last count from the chassis builders there are 14 Dodge Neons out there in competition," said Brett Fischer, Motorsports Program Manager for Mopar Parts. "That's a record for our brand, and reminiscent of the late '70s when we dominated the sport. We know we are still in a minority compared to other manufacturers in the class, but I think the evolution we are all seeing speaks for itself."
Runner-up at New York-Defending '02 IHRA Super Rod World Champion Bernard Weaver just missed winning his first national event title of the season when he placed runner-up in the 9.90 category at IHRA's Carquest Empire Nationals. Weaver, driving his Virginia-based 493 cid '84 Daytona, won six rounds of competition at the New York Raceway event held in July before losing by a narrow margin to Greg Slack. Weaver had qualified in the middle of the pack of 62 cars entered at the event.