Let's Go Racing
Volkswagens Invade the World of Sport Compact Drag Racing
From the March, 2009 issue of VW Trends
By Stephan Szantai
The article you are about to read may lead to some controversy. We will possibly receive some "fan" mail from people stating that Sport Compact drag racing has no room in a Volkswagen magazine. Sorry crabby guys, we feel that it does for a variety of reasons. First of all, VW racers aren't reluctant to battle the small domestic and Asian-mobiles anymore, and our duty is to relay their effort to you. Furthermore, the VW competitors have demonstrated their talent, by winning various events and setting numerous records. And let's finally keep in mind that the Beetle remains the original Sport Compact racer... The EMPI Inch Pincher was one of these pioneers--it ran a 13.84-quartermile time as per an article published in Hot Rod magazine in August 1965--and a bunch of other teams have followed since then.
The truth is that some of these Sport Compacts are now turning in some impressive numbers at the track. About half a dozen years ago, a Honda running 10s on the quarter was seen as a miracle. Not any longer. Racers like Stephan Papadakis, who competes with a 2001 Honda Civic, recently recorded an 8.12 at 184mph. That's with a four-cylinder engine making about 800 horsepower... and yes, the car is still a front wheel drive! Sure, a bunch of these vehicles look pretty goofy with their five-inch-wide rear tires; but the numbers they run are not to laugh at. American automakers, who looked suspiciously at the pack of noisy Asian rides during the '90s, finally jumped on the bandwagon as well [thus explaining why the scene isn't called "Import Racing" but "Sport Compact Racing" today]. They certainly did their homework. The rear-wheel-drive Chevy Cavalier, sponsored by Summit Racing and powered by a turbocharged 2.2-liter four-cylinder, recently passed the quartermile mark in 6.99 seconds in the hand of John Lingenfelter! Nothing short of spectacular...
Set in front of crowds of up to 35,000 spectators, these races have drag-ged in large sponsors along the way, and even some TV coverage. A few competitors can usually be seen signing autographs in front of their color coordinated 18-wheel big rigs, which may haul up to three team cars. The level of professionalism has improved at every event we have visited since the '90s. But don't be misled; as impressive as Sport Compact racing might be, VW Trends will continue to support, promote and cover the busy Bug-O-Ramas, Bug-Ins, as well as other Volkswagen-only happenings! Groups committed to uphold our aircooled hobby, like the Pro Racing Association (PRA), need your and our help in order to stay active.
The fast expansion of Sport Compact racing has had its drawbacks nonetheless. Since everybody wanted a piece of the pie, the United States now counts a total of four sanctioning bodies. They are, respectively, the trend-setting Battle of the Imports, the East Coast popular NDRA, the dynamic IDRC, and the respected NHRA. To make matters even more difficult, classes aren't always named the same between each group! On the West Coast, the IDRC (Import Drag Racing Circuit) seems to be the most inclined to welcome VWs, which explains why we decided to visit two of their events: the International Finals in Palmdale, Calif. (the main race featured in these pages), and the Long Horn Nationals in San Antonio, Texas (it showcased a Volkswagen-only Pro Stock category). We also spent some time at the NHRA Sport Compact World Finals set in Pomona, Calif., as seen further in this article. That's right, Volkswagens are back on the NHRA circuit, after being booed out around 1984--some of you may indeed remember the exciting Modified Compact classes from two decades ago.
The monetary aspect of Sport Compact racing partly explains the success of these happenings. There is mucho dinero to be made, thanks to large crowds and generous sponsors... By the end of the 2002 IDRC season, Ron Lummus and his New Beetle received a check for $17,500 in payouts, by finishing second in the National Championship, first in the Central Division and first in the West Coast Division. In another class, Shawn Geers (Bug Sedan sponsored by VWParts.net) brought home $5000, following his second place in the National Championship and his first place (tie) in the Central Division. And these figures don't event take into account each event payout... Not too shabby, huh?
Let's have a look at the categories that welcome our favorite German toys. Ron Lummus chose to run the IDRC Outlaw Class, open to full-tube-framed, front-wheel drives (Honda Civic...), back-halved, rear-wheel drives (old Mazda R-100...), or full-tube-framed, rear-engined cars (Ron's New Beetle). The Lummus Racing team is now facing a new challenge: putting the power to the ground, as the turbocharged and fuel injected 2.7-liter makes 800hp at the wheels! This translates into a mind-blowing quartermile performance of 8.42 seconds at a speed of over 173mph. Plans for the 2003 season aren't too clear at this point; but in any case the crew expects to race with the IDRC, as the later always has been very friendly and accommodating in the past--the IDRC amended the Outlaw Class last year in order to accept Ron's beast.
Aircooled VWs have also competed in a second class called All Motor. It targets the vehicles utilizing a stock chassis but no "power adders" (nitrous, turbos and superchargers). This category sees a bunch of Hondas fighting against Volkswagens. Some readers will likely recognize a few of them, since most battle in PRA's Super Street VW championship as well. But they could only be welcomed once the IDRC and NHRA changed a few rules... Their weight with the IDRC, for example, would be set at a minimum of 1750lbs. (200 extra pounds compared to Super Street), while front-wheel drives would be allowed to keep a featherlight 1550lbs. minimum, due to their poor traction ability. This certainly made for some exciting heads-up competition!
How well did these "All Motor" VW racers do? We featured Scott Kelley's Fastback on the cover of our February 2003 issue, so you already know about this enthusiast's list of achievements. His father Larry recently joined the fun, and finished fifth of the 2002 NHRA season with a '57 Oval. As far as the IDRC is concerned, spectators witnessed some great performances from the aircooled gang also. In fact, we visited the first IDRC race of the 2002 season--Palmdale in February--and knew right away that Hondas would face some tough competition that year, since four Bugs secured the first spots during the qualifying sessions! The FWD vs. RWD rivalry reached its climax by the end of the season, as the champion could either be Erick Aguilar ('95 Civic) or Shawn Geers ('67 Bug powered by a 300hp 2.5-liter flat four). The last event, held once again in Palmdale, would decide between both competitors. Unfortunately, all hopes for a Volkswagen victory disappeared when Shawn broke the transmission of the Dedan during the first round... Our ambassador and his teammate Jack Sacchette, who co-owns the car, will be back with a vengeance in 2003. Plans include a tough Bus transmission instead of the Bug unit and a choice of five engines. We will feature the '67 in an upcoming issue of VW Trends.
More German tin has enjoyed some great success in the bracket classes. After all, some Vee-Dub racers have been racing for years, which gives them a certain edge against the younger crowd driving front-wheel drives. While the Volkswagens were outnumbered about 10-to-one during Palmdale's IDRC International Finals, two of them ended up in the semi-finals of the Super Comp class (7.50-14.99 dial) after four rounds of elimination. Allen Wiess of DKP, who participated in close to half a dozen Sport Compact races last year, unfortunately red-lit; but Richard Laitinen and his '69 Bug won the finals against a '90 Civic. He was rewarded with a check of $500 in the process.
Overall, VWs have been very well received by promoters and spectators alike. The later, which aren't always used to witness old Bugs racing, usually rave after seeing them leave the line like a bullet with the front tires one foot off the asphalt! Considering the number of Sport Compact races in the U.S. these days, you may consider joining the action, as a visitor or even as a competitor. Have fun!
Ron Lummus makes a qualifying...
Ron Lummus makes a qualifying pass with his New Beetle, powered by an aircooled flat-four, making 800hp at the rear wheels. He ended up second in the Outlaw class, at the end of the 2002 IDRC National Championship.
Congratulations to Richard...
Congratulations to Richard Laitinen! He won the Super Comp finals, during the last race of the 2002 IDRC season in Palmdale.
Danny Cerny and his All Motor...
Danny Cerny and his All Motor '69 Bug patiently wait their turn. Next to them sit two six-cylinder Toyotas--the Supra runs 7.80 and the Tundra pick-up 6.95!
Scott Kelley (see February...
Scott Kelley (see February 2003 VWT) pairs against Aaron Schley and his '94 Civic. Interestingly enough, Aaron's father used to be one of the pioneers of VW drag racing in the '60s--remember the Lightning Bug?
Don Brown now owns this All...
Don Brown now owns this All Motor '66 Sedan, which used to belong to Shawn Geers a couple of years ago!
Runner-up of the All Motor...
Runner-up of the All Motor class in Palmdale was Doug Gonzalez. He ran an 11.01 at 121mph against Erick Aguilar's winning 10.69 at 122mph (Honda Civic).
The Kelley team includes the...
The Kelley team includes the Toyo sponsored '57 Oval of father Larry, who has been racing Volkswagens since the '60s!
This turbocharged beast, property...
This turbocharged beast, property of Craig Gibbs, runs in the 10s and competes regularly in one of the bracket classes.
If you hang out at Palmdale's...
If you hang out at Palmdale's racetrack on a regular basis, you might be familiar with this '73 Ghia. It belongs to Jim Gillum, who has been burning some rubber since the early '60s, and this convertible in particular since 1984.
Muffler Mike might very well...
Muffler Mike might very well be crowned King of the Wheelies, with his Aircooled.net sponsored ragtop! We have seen him at a few NHRA and IDRC events in 2002.
Remember the 2332cc-powered...
Remember the 2332cc-powered buggy featured in our June 2002 issue? Here it is, ready to beat some Japanese iron, in the hands of owner Mike Cruz...
Sue Cerny, another member...
Sue Cerny, another member of the Cerny's Racing team, enjoys playing with "the boys" behind the wheel of this bracket car.
Shawn Geers, with thumb up,...
Shawn Geers, with thumb up, managed to finish second of the All Motor IDRC category in 2002 and set the class record: 10.49 at 126mph.
The IDRC races benefit from...
The IDRC races benefit from some TV coverage by ESPN2.
Good looking Ghia, huh? It...
Good looking Ghia, huh? It belongs to long-time racer and Texas resident David Crow.
The River City Raceway located near San Antonio, Texas, welcomed one of the IDRC races last November. This event had a twist however. For the first time in Sport Compact racing history, a class was solely reserved for Volkswagens. It can be considered the brainchild of VW-guru Jack Sacchette. After finding a main sponsor (SCAT) and securing a list of about 10 committed VW racers, he approached IDRC's National Director, Michael Ferrara. The later gave Jack his OK, following the organization's philosophy: "By the Racers, For the Racers."
In the end, eight cars joined the festivities. From the pictures, you may recognize most of them, as they usually run in (and conform to) the PRA and the local TXPRA Pro Stock Class. The race proved frantic with some broken parts involved; but what a great show overall! The Sport Compact crowd loved every minute of it. Shawn Geers (flamed Bug) qualified first with a 9.82 at 138mph, followed by Damon Harmon (9.86 in his "Quarter Toy II" Bug) and Steve Shook (9.93 in the red Bug #3). Then came Ollie Frey, David Crow (with the only Ghia), Les Fryar, Dale Dumas and Udo Johnson. The finals saw Geers win over Harmon (9.83/137mph vs. 9.94/135mph). Let's not forget to mention that Geers also won the "All Motor" finals the same day with his other ride.
The new IDRC VW class will be back again in 2003, with two races in San Antonio, one in Palmdale, and another one in Phoenix, Ariz. Payouts for each race will be as follow... Winner: $3500; Runner-up: $1500; semi-finalists: $500 each. Sounds like a good deal to us, and you'll see it as soon as it happens.
Despite trying three different...
Despite trying three different ignition systems, Dale Dumas was never able to run his ride near its potential.
The bright red Bug of Steve...
The bright red Bug of Steve Shook lost in the semi-finals against Harmon.
Runner-up of SCAT's class...
Runner-up of SCAT's class was Damon Harmon and his 1950 Split Window.
Engine problems can be frustrating......
Engine problems can be frustrating... Udo Johnson made a "quick" 750-mile trip on Saturday night to get some parts, but was eliminated during the first round on Sunday.
Car number 4914, driven by...
Car number 4914, driven by Ollie Frey, qualified fourth with a 10.08 at 132mph.
Shawn Geers (right) and Damon...
Shawn Geers (right) and Damon Harmon in the Pro Stock final race. Geers caught the light and was first to the end for the win with a 9.831sec. at 137.82mph to Harmon's email@example.com. 24
Les Fryar couldn't go pass...
Les Fryar couldn't go pass the first round of eliminations.
Above: Scrape that muffler!...
Above: Scrape that muffler! DKP club member Scott Bakken shows a Honda owner how VWs do it...
The RLR New Beetle, sponsored...
The RLR New Beetle, sponsored by the Recycler Classifieds, managed to run an 8.45, a hair short of the ride's best performance--8.42 at 173mph.
NHRA SPORT COMPACT WORLD FINALS
While the main event featured in these pages remains the IDRC International Finals (Palmdale, Calif.), we also managed to check out another Southern California mega-event a few month ago: the NHRA Sport Compact Finals. Jim Gillum, whose orange Ghia can be seen elsewhere in this article, won the finals of one of the bracket classes, as well as a "Wally" in the process--a trophy many racers can only dream about receiving!
Chopped, turbocharged, and...
Chopped, turbocharged, and running 10s or 11s... These Vee Dubs impressed the crowd.
Above: After more than two...
Above: After more than two decades, Lloyd Mosher continues being active with the Volkswagen and import scenes, thanks to this 10-second dune buggy.
The Unique Imports Bug, piloted...
The Unique Imports Bug, piloted by Paul Sarnecki, is another beast that shares its time between the PRA Volkswagen-only events and the Sport Compact races.
Pro Racing Association (PRA):
(714) 839-3851; www.pra2000.com
Import Drag Racing Circuit (IDRC):
(714) 593-0280; www.importdrag.com
National Hot Rod Association (NHRA):
(626) 250-2294; www.nhra.com
Nopi Drag Racing Association (NDRA):
(800) 277-6674; www.nopi.com
Battle of the Imports (IDRA):
(562) 464-9540; www.battleoftheimports.com
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