Big Win at the Big Go!

Calgary Alberta has a new hometown hero!   During last weekend’s NHRA Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis, Jirka Kaplan captured the sport of drag racing’s ultimate prize.…

Driving his marvelous and very innovative AA/AM ’23T, Kaplan’s team which includes legendary tuner Les Davenport were true slayers as they tamed Indy’s mega tough Competition eliminator field. 

While the win might have been unexpected by some, the reality is it was both overdue and convincing.  Kaplan had pre-ceded his first ever appearance at Indianapolis with some impressive performances earlier this season.  That included a numbing national record setting and barrier breaking 5.97 secs ET (at Mission) and a pole qualifying and runner-up effort at Denver’s very high altitude Mopar Mile-High Nationals event. 

Jirka Kaplan went to NHRA Indy for the first time -- and came away victorious!

It was that proven ability to run very quick under vastly different conditions that proved to be a key at Indy last weekend. 

Jirka’s win came over the largest and most competitive eliminator for the category of the season.  It also came under rapidly changing atmospheric and track conditions which (rather incredibly) varied from over 100F to 65F between qualifying rounds and final eliminations.

Jirka with his new best friend - Wally!

Kaplan’s event win came after he paced the field from the pole position.  He was the quickest of all in the very index conscious 64-car field with a run of 6.346 secs at 212.76 mph which was -.704 under his index.   

“I had never been but had always wanted to race this event,” said Jirka.  “We knew we had a fast car so we decided to come to Indy and have some fun.  The air was really bad during qualifying but we made the necessary compensations and got the car to run quick.  We were actually shooting for the #2 qualifying position — but the car went a bit too fast and I got number one.  When the weather got cool however our job got tougher and we lost our advantage.  We knew that everyone else would be running faster and that it would also be easier for us to hit our index.  The race had become more of a crap shoot.”

Jirka’s victory was truly impressive.  It included round wins over some of the most feared cars in all of Competition eliminator including names like Bob Bailey, David Rampy and Bo Butner.  In the championship final round Kaplan ran down Brian Browell’s 6-cylinder D/Dragster nipping him right at the finish line.  It did appear that Browell had miscalculated how fast Kaplan was coming on behind him.

“I think Brian did not gauge it and we got lucky,” Jirka continued.  “I didn’t think I could catch him but he let off – and I did.”

That final round pairing was in fact an all Canada affair.  Browell, who has three NHRA national event wins to his career credit, is originally from the London Ontario area but now resides in Lafayette Indiana.

The Comp final at Indy was all Canada -- with Kaplan running down Brian Browell barely at the stripe

For Kaplan’s crew chief and tuner Les Davenport (Acceleration Enterprises), the win was also very gratifying for the storied Canadian talent.  Les has now been involved with 21 NHRA national event wins with 13 different drivers.

“When the weather was 100F I thought things were in our favor,” Les confided. “But when the weather got cool that was a real equalizer.  The team responded well however and when you have a fast car like this some good things can happen.  The fact that both David Rampy and Bo Butner had red light starts against us tells you something about how fear can work in this sport.”

Canadian tuning guru - Les Davenport

For Jirka the win at Indy was his second career NHRA national event level victory coming in his 5th career final round.  His only other win came at Seattle in 2006 – driving the same car but with a different engine program.

Following the huge win Jirka was somewhat speechless – understandable given the nature of what he had just accomplished. 

“I’m feeling a bit shell shocked – it’s a feeling that is hard to describe,” he added.  “We’ve had an incredible journey with this car and program.  My thanks go to Les, Dennis, Wade, Brian, Brad and Patty who were all instrumental in making this happen.  I also want to thank my partner Paul back at my business (Bearspaw Petroleum) for helping to allow me the time off to go racing.”

The reality of what Jirka has achieved – winning the absolute biggest prize in the sport of drag racing — is probably starting to sink in right about now during his team’s 36 hour drive back home to Calgary with their new “best friend” Wally riding along beside them.

Dragon Slayers at Indy -- Direct from Canada!

Posted by:  Bruce Biegler

(Bruce Biegler Photos)