“Chaplains Blog Book … Firebird Raceway’s Napa Auto Parts IHBA World Finals…Part I”
And Final IHBA Comments By Chaplain Jim Jack
The Napa Auto Parts IHBA World Finals at Firebird International Raceway ended an era in the style of a true champion. We had perfect weather, there were perfect runs…but there were also less than perfect passes that ended in mishap…and there was “the run” in the final of Top Fuel Hydro that made the weekend nothing short of spectacular.
My hat is off to Eddie Knox and his entire crew that made top fuel racing seem easy with consistent runs (4.63 and 4.62) when they needed it and making the run of the year in the final round against the world champion “Speed Sports” boat. Madd Maxx literally drove away from John Haas like he was sitting still with the quickest run ever at 4.524 at 264.82 mph (to back up the 260.98 mph from the previous round for the top speed record).
The weekend was great from many points of view. Plenty of drag boats to whet the appetite, plenty of nitro to fill the nostrils with its wonderful fumes that aren’t found in any sport but drag racing, and enough noise (and excitement) to satisfy the ears and heart until the opening race of the next decade.
I honestly think the Richter scale was jarred (for the first time ever by a nitro engine explosion) on Saturday morning when Dennis Gibson’s “Hot Licks” TFH driven by Jarrett Silvey had one of the most hair-raising explosions ever witnessed in nitro racing. Parts, pieces, and panels were blown into pulp (along with plenty of fire, flames and a black cloud of smoke) which were seen and heard by the large crowd that was on hand to take in all the action that only the IHBA World Finals can deliver.
Carnage was the name of the game during the weekend, as all the heavy hitters gave it their best home run shot for four days of championship drag boat racing. Even in the sportsman ranks, Jeff Vail in his “Shock Therapy” started off the weekend with a bang on Thursday’s test & tune by kicking out the rods on his nine second boat and ending his chance for a TE title.
Joel Weber was very impressive…but ended up very depressive with a wild late Saturday afternoon crash after a hard right turn (from the left lane) that ended up with a trip to the hospital late Saturday night after the impact of the crash took its toll on his physical body. Joel driving the new “What A Tomato Too” boat of Bob Pizza sizzled in qualifying with a great 5.43 at 221 mph, but the new boat only survived for three days (after a six week thrash to put it together and have it race ready for the IHBA Finals). Joel left the hospital on Monday morning and headed home to heal and get some hugs from his twin boys.
Bob Pizza in the “What A Tomato” number one boat impressed us with a 5.48 second run and 217 mph in qualifying, but unfortunately for Bob, he went outside the lane and was disqualified after Tom Wright went red in round one of TAH. The “first or worst” rule put Bob on the sidelines for the rest of the Sunday show.
Kent Price showed up with his brand new “Black Draggin” and ran an out of the box 5.42 at 220 mph on Thursday, and then qualified number one with a 5.39. But the TAH winner was Andy Reynolds in the “Déjà vu” running a best of 5.50 and 219 in the first round and winning both IHBA races at Firebird in 2009. I asked Joe Reynolds on Friday if he would take five runs in the fifties and he said “Yes I would.” He got his prayers answered with another splendid win for a great team.
Bob Genther (who heads up the “Déjà vu” TAH team) called me a couple of weeks before the IHBA Finals and asked if I could conduct a memorial service on Friday night for TFH driver Ron McClellan who had passed away from a heart attack on October 21st (as many of Ron’s friends, and racers, couldn’t make it to Canada for the funeral). With over one hundred people on hand including Ron’s fiancé Dawn, her two sons Brandon and Gatlin along with Ron’s daughter Nicole, and Dawn’s parents…the drag boat family came together again for the umpteenth time this year with a chance to honor Ron and his accomplishments on and off the track.
Thank you Lord for this wonderful family that stays close to one another in this great sport of drag boat racing. Also thanks to Firebird Raceway for lending us the use of the pavilion for Friday night’s service for Ron. Also heart-felt thanks to Bob Genther, as Bob and I had the neat opportunity to sit in his trailer on Friday afternoon for over an hour and get to know one another a lot better.
Oregon’s Tom Wright showed up with his “Cuckoo’s Nest” TAH after a two and a half year absence and ended up as the runner up. Tom and Tom Jr. didn’t run as fast as they would have liked, but making it to the final round was very satisfying for the team.
Back to perfection…Mike Finnegan and his “Wrong Way” PE tuned it the right way as he ran a perfect 8.000 to lead the always tough eight second class. Greg Carr in his jet boat “Ain’t Scared” cranked out a perfect 10.000 to lead the ME class. Greg ended up winning on Sunday to take home the trophy. During Sunday’s eliminations, Steve Prewit (El Vato Loco himself) also ran a perfect run in TE with a 9.000 as the driver of the pretty hydro “Hold My Beer and Watch This” gave the competition something to watch, but “Du it again (Walter) Dulin” ended Steve’s day in the quarter’s.
Greg Jones after a two year lay-off was back at it in his TAF “Back In Black” and claimed his first round win ever with a 7.34 at 149 mph. Eric Lyon was tuning the B in B and Greg was getting some much needed seat time. Thanks to Julie Jones and Tom Loftis and the B in B team for dinner on Friday night. It was great as usual.
The RESP auction and Bar-B-Que held on Saturday night was a success again. Many thanks to all of the RESP gals who work hard, on and off the track, for your benefit. It takes a lot of work to do what they do for “all” of the racers. If you are not a member of RESP, please join up today, it is an important part of drag boat racing, as they are there to help with all injured drivers and their families. May the Lord bless the work of RESP. A tip of the cap to Karen Boyce, Margret Connelly, Nancy Davis, Phyllis Ermshar, Susan Herman, Debi Julius, Beverly Stokes, Sue Heidemann, and Tracy Velky for taking care of business while the racers are out playing.
Ray Flores in the “Head Over Heels” PGJ showed why the Paul Prange owned and tuned boat is always the class of the PCE field whenever they compete. They never appear to be rusty, even when they only hit it a couple times a year. That boat leaves like a rocket and recorded a 7.78 in the final (with a .038 light) to take the trophy back to New Mexico…again!
Bryan Sanders in his “Hydochondriac” won the close Pro Mod title over the 2009 IHBA World Champion Vic Esposito and his “Freak Show.” Bryan and Vic battled it out over a tough field to make the final. Bryan ran 7.02, 7.04, 7.01 and 7.03 for the win. Vic ran a 7.007, a single, 7.03 and 7.04. During the year these two squared off in three finals with Vic taking the best two out of three. A job well done for two great teams that made lots of seven-0 runs during the weekend.
Tony Scarlata was once again driving for Steve Westerfield’s “All Lit Up” TAF who is still nursing an ailing back, and when you give Tony the keys, he will deliver the merchandise for you. Tony was number one qualifier with a 6.76 (low ET) and top speed at 158 mph and ran in the sixes all through eliminations beating Don Bausher’s brand new “Habit Forming III” in the final. Don ran a 6.94 and Jerry Davis ran a 6.97 to round out the top three qualifiers.
The ultra competitive TE class had the biggest field with twenty one boats and Reagan Everett from San Angelo, TX emerged as the winner and took home the bacon with a 9.07 in his “Nut n Up” over Andy Haavisto.
Paul Fontenot gave the PE competition something to be “Hot and Bothered” about as he mowed down the seventeen boat field showing Bill Diez his best hand as Paul was all in with an 8.05 to take the pot over the “Ace of Spades.”
It was “Play Tyme” and trophy time for Mr. Mark Creel who survived a “Shark Attack” to win the final round in SE in the fifteen boat field. Ms. Jayne Bradley came from the last qualifying spot to make it all the way to the semi’s. Nice going girl.
Chris Osbourn was the judge and jury as he sentenced the twelve boat field in RR to receive the “Capital Punishment” for trying to beat him (and they couldn’t) at the World Finals.
Elizabeth Sayles (the 2009 IHBA PWC champion) squared off against Curtis Byler (the 2009 SDBA PWC champion) for the title run and Elizabeth, with an eight second head start, held off Curtis to win the finals. Congratulations to Elizabeth on a great victory over a large field of PWC entries.
As you all well know, we like to pray with every racer who wants us to pray for them just before going into the water. Well, the best prayer of the weekend was said by “Alter Ego” PM driver Tim Kelly’s son Braden. As we gathered around the boat with wife Devon to pray for Tim, I asked Braden if he wanted to pray for his dad, he said yes, and then prayed, “Dear God, thank you for my awesome dad, keep him safe, and we all love and respect him. Amen” Wow, was that cool or what?
The IHBA Finals in 2009 were a great way to close out the era of the International Hot Boat Association, as President Charlie Fegan announced on Thursday night at the driver’s meeting it would be the last IHBA race ever held, as Lucas Oil will be starting their own drag boat association in 2010.
It was a bitter sweet event as it at times felt like a “last rites” during the race, and then as the race went on it was, “Wow, this is the last IHBA race, so we better buckle down and try to win one for the history books.” By Saturday the competition became fierce and the will to win was quite evident with all of the drivers and teams.
As for yours truly, it was my final IHBA event after being the official chaplain for eighteen years since I came on board in 1991. For me, it was also bitter sweet, as I thought back (during the course of the weekend) on being at the IHBA finals for eighteen consecutive years and witnessing some incredible thrills, spills, and chills, but realizing that there are seasons in our lives, and one very special season has come to a close for me.
For us, the IHBA has been a time of building thousands of friendships for Linda and me across the country. It has been a learning experience of God’s ministry trying to bring balance to a sport with its many ups and downs. The “on-the-job” education that comes in dealing with love and death at the same time isn’t always easy; but filled with untold opportunities for personal growth far beyond my wildest dreams; and serving the Lord in a sport that has so many wonderful people that are just enjoying the abundant life that the Lord has given them to live, play, and race in an adrenalin habit forming sport with some of God’s finest individuals.
The IHBA also started my writing career. They asked me to first write for the Liquid Quarter Mile magazine in April 1994 when I had never written anything before. I had left a job of hands-on work as a warehouse manager, and left (the plant closed down) after twenty seven years with only an ink pen in my hand from my old job, and started my new full-time career with Team RFC on January 1, 1994 (thank you Ken Owen).
I didn’t or couldn’t imagine what God had in store for me during the next eighteen years. It was His call…and I was answering that call on my life…just like I did back in February 1988 when God said to me “Follow Me” and I did. That was the day I asked Christ to come into my life…a journey that I’ll never regret. I hope and pray that you’ve answered that call too?
It has been a call of an extraordinary season of ministering to fantastic people, traveling around the nation, moving to Gilbert, Arizona in 1996, and having the chance to minister at many race remarkable tracks, and especially our home track, Firebird Raceway, where we have been to so many events during the past thirteen years since we moved here: Firebird has been as good as gold to us.
The drag boat community has been a platinum experience for me, and the Lord has taken me to the far reaches of His grace and has attempted to make a diamond out a rough stone…thanks to the sharpening of the many people involved in ministry and racing, the encouragement of so many drivers, crews and families, and the patience of Holy Spirit in leading me to receive what God and God’s people had in store for me. Yes, learning to receive from others is just a part of the process of real ministry (besides giving). Remember, you are never too old to learn.
I hope and pray that I have made the Lord pleased with my service to the IHBA and the drag boat community during the last two decades (and I still look forward to more in the next season of life). I have enjoyed the ride more than anyone really knows. How thankful I am to have been a part of this great community that God has brought into my life. God brought all of you to me…and I am so very grateful for every second, every day, every run, every race, every person, every conversation, every story, every article written, every travel trip, and every experience that has made me a better person and a better Christian…for God’s glory.
Many thanks to Charlie and Nancy Fegan, and Charlie Allen, and all of the IHBA staff (past and present) over the years that have made my job the best ever. If people really knew how awesome my job as the IHBA chaplain has been, they would willingly offer me more money than I could ever make in a lifetime.
Thank you all for your patience, prayers, love, grace, faithfulness, kindness, (yes the food and drinks too), and most of all for your honest lives that have blessed me for all these years. May the Creator of all blessings bless you with His love and mercy…forever and ever!
A Top Fuel Hydro running a picture perfect 4.524 ET and 264.82 MPH is the best retirement present a man could ever get. I’m not kidding and it was definitely “no problem!”
God bless you and God keep you!