Over 750 cars were entered across all categories in the 63rd annual NHRA U.S. Nationals, each with drivers dreaming of hoisting a Wally trophy during “The World’s Biggest Drag Race.”
Incredibly, the two finalists and three of the four semifinal participants in Stock Eliminator featured Mopar® power, a noteworthy accomplishment as the field was pared down from 128 qualifiers and 162 entrants who made qualifying runs. Larry Gilley and Darrell Steiger matched up in the final, with Hilmar, California’s Gilley taking the win on a holeshot. Gilley and his E/SA 1969 Dodge Dart Swinger powered by a 340 cubic-inch, four-barrel engine, defeated the E/SA 1970 Dodge Challenger T/A 340 Six-Pack driven by Steiger from Clayton, Indiana. In the heads-up race, Gilley turned in a pass of 10.622 seconds at 123.07 mph, while Steiger made a lap of 10.619 at 123.54. However, Gilley left the starting line with a .022-second reaction time, while Steiger’s reaction time was .032.
In Super Stock, legendary Mopar Sportsman racer Kevin Helms of Plant City, Florida, took yet another win, driving his FSS/E 2010 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak to the Lucas Oil Raceway winner’s circle. Helms won with an E.T. of 9.122 on a 9.10 dial-in, reaching a speed of 137.86. His reaction time was .028. His opponent, Marion Stephenson, turned in a 9.737 on a 9.71 dial-in, with a speed of 129.98 after a .051 reaction time. The win, which Helms called “a dream come true,” was his 27th national event win, his third in the U.S. Nationals, and first in Super Stock at the event.
For their efforts, Gilley and Helms were each named the Dodge Top Finisher. The award provides $500 to the Stock Eliminator and Super Stock competitors who advance the farthest driving a Dodge or Plymouth vehicle. The program is in place at all 24 national events in 2017 and is part of the Mopar deep contingency program for Sportsman racers.
Class eliminations also took place during the event, with more than a dozen Mopar-powered drivers walking away with wins at the legendary track.
In Stock Eliminator, three Dodge and five Plymouth drivers took home class victories. On the Dodge side, Steiger took the E/SA victory driving his ’70 Challenger; Marcus Widuch from Mount Juliet, Tennessee, won M/SA in a ’79 Aspen; and Bristow, Indiana’s Luke Ubelhor won FS/G in an ’09 Challenger.
As for the Plymouth contingent, Steve Wann of Modesto, California, took A/SA in a ’62 Fury; Chuck Beach from Delaware, Ohio, drove his ’68 Barracuda to the F/SA win; Rougemount, North Carolina’s Mitch Kight won G/SA in a ’67 Barracuda; Van Buren, Arkansas’ Jim Hale took down the K/SA victory behind the wheel of his ’66 Belvedere; and Mark Madison of Seaside, California, claimed the Combo-Auto victory with a ’65 Belvedere.
The Super Stock category also saw a number of Mopar-powered class winners. Helms won FSS/E in his ’10 Dodge Challenger Drag Pak; Houma, Louisiana’s James Caro took the FSS/K trophy in a ’10 Challenger; Carl Weisinger from Orlando turned on the FSS/L win light in an ’09 Challenger; Flushing, Ohio’s Al Ross took FGT/L in a classic ’72 Challenger; and Mark Nowicki from Gaylord, Michigan, claimed Combo-FS in an FGT/I ’96 Dodge Avenger.
College student Jimmy Daniels from Yardley, Pennsylvania, also won the Mopar HEMI® Challenge in an SS/AH ’68 Dodge Dart on Friday evening for the second straight year.