Pro Mod History Made
NHRA's recent traditional East Coast season-opening Mac Tools Gatornationals included the first race of the year for the highly popular AMS Staff Leasing/TLR Pro Modified class. History was made in that category when California's Jay Payne earned his first victory driving his new Hemi-powered and Valvoline-sponsored '05 Dodge Stratus. Payne's win marked the first time a Dodge-bodied car had won within NHRA's fledging Pro Mod division.
Payne won a thrilling final round when he edged out defending 2004 AMS Series Champion Mike Ashley with a winning 6.111 at 236.03 mph. Payne's final round speed was the fastest ever recorded in Pro Mod class racing . . . so far.
"For us to win our very first time out with a Dodge is just incredible," said Payne, whose claim to fame previously was some 27 wins while racing within NHRA's Top Alcohol categories. "All of the credit for this win goes to Brad Anderson. This is his race car, his Hemi-engine program, and his tune-up. Last year, we went to every race and only won one round, so this switch to Dodge has been a very positive one for us."
The team's event at Gainesville also marked the debut of a second and identically prepared Valvoline-sponsored Dodge Stratus driven by Jay's wife, Shelly Anderson. The twin cars both feature racing chassis by Jerry Haas, and are powered by supercharged, alcohol-burning, 522-inch BAE Hemi engines.
Whit is a Winner
March's Mac Tools Gatornationals also included an emotional victory in the ferocious Nitro Funny Car category for Whit Bazemore, driving his Hemi-powered Matco Tools/Mopar-sponsored Dodge Stratus. Whit powered his machine to a final round 4.897 at 315.67 mph to easily handle surprise class finalist Bob Gilbertson, who left before the green.
Bazemore's win came only eight days after he and his wife Michelle had celebrated the birth of their first child (son Dashiell).
"I told people this was the greatest week of my life. even if we had not qualified for this race, it would still have been the greatest week of my life," he reflected. "Being a father far exceeds anything else you can do. It's just an awesome feeling.
"This place has a lot of personal feelings for me," Bazemore continued. "It's incredible to win the Gatornationals. It's like a Pomona, and Englishtown, or even Indy. It's right up there; it's one of the classics. The credit goes to our team: Matco Tools, Mopar, and Don Schumacher (team owner) for putting everybody together. It's a huge effort."
The win also marked the 51st career national-event title for Bazemore's highly skilled crew chief, Lee Beard. The team victory moved Bazemore into an overall first place standing in NHRA fuel Funny Car points following the third of 23 POWERade events this season.
June 19-Columbia, MO: 18th annual Show-Me Mopar Festival, 6 miles south of Columbia on Highway 63, I-70 exit 128A Day. Info: (573) 636-9777; (573) 474-2397.
June 19-24-Madison, WI to Boerne, TX: Tracks Across America Dodge Charger tour from Wisconsin to Texas, sponsored by the Dodge Charger Registry. No entry fee. Info: Wayne Wooten, The Dodge Charger Registry, P.O. Box 79, Meherrin, VA 23954; (434) 233-1305; www.dodgechargerregistry.com.
June 25-26-Hamilton, OH: 5th Tri-State Chrysler Classic at Tri-State Dragway, Chrysler product car show, swap meet, Hemi Super Stockers the Original Max Wedge Shootout, and Slant 6 Showdowns. Open to all Chrysler related vehicles. Info: (614) 268-1181; www.classicevents.com.
June 25-26-Boerne, TX: 17th annual National Dodge Charger Meet sponsored by The Dodge Charger Registry. No entry fee. Info: Wes Pieper, 830-981-5383 (Texas); Wayne Wooten, The Dodge Charger Registry, P.O. Box 79, Meherrin, VA 23954; (434) 223-1305; www.dodgechargerregistry.com.
June 26-Chicago, IL: Mopars at the Park brought to you by the Chicagoland Mopar Connection. Info: www.chicagolandmopar.com.