Career Highlight Numero Uno!
It was an emotional time for London’s Paul Noakes and his very talented racing team who made Canada proud and notched their first ever NHRA national event title last weekend….
Driving his very proven and familiar Meritor-sponsored Ford Mustang – Noakes earned his highest echelon career win late on Sunday afternoon at fabled Maple Grove Raceway during the TAFC final of NHRA’s Uni-Select Auto Plus Nationals.
Paul combined a terrific .035 RT with a run of 5.612 secs at 258.12 mph to hold off opponent Mickey Ferro whose quicker and faster 5.599 secs at 258.52 mph fell short.
For Paul, that final round result capped a tremendous event for his team and avenged a disappointing final round loss which had happened some 365 days earlier. At this very same race in 2012, Paul’s only other career NHRA national event final appearance occured and that time he was beaten by TAFC class superstar Frank Manzo.
In a rather strange turn of fate — Paul’s winning ET this year (5.612 secs) was identical to his losing final round run last year.
For “Noaksie” who has been around the TAFC class for close to 25 years now — to finally collect at one of NHRA’s “big shows” was thus very rewarding.
“After last year — I and all our team wanted a rematch with Manzo,” Paul admitted. “But when he went out early we still knew Ferro was going to be tough because he was running a bunch of five fifties. Prior to the final Les (Mellows) told me the car was fully ready — but that I had to drive it like I stole it! I may have revved it up a bit higher then I would have normally — and that pumped me up. I shifted it right on time and drove it through. I saw my win light come on — and then the tears started coming.”
While this was Paul’s first win on the NHRA national stage he is anything but unfamiliar with winning big races. In addition to numerous independent event wins, Paul collected a total of six wins in the IHRA’s Alcohol Funny Car class during his career which included victory at both Canadian races held in Grand Bend and Toronto Motorsports Park.
“I’ll never forget my first win at Grand Bend because all my family was there with me so that made it pretty special,” Paul added. “But this win is at a much higher level of competition against some of the best racers in the world. My crew did an outstanding job and I came into race day fresh and confident. We even had Mark Morris from Barry Paton’s crew helping us. It’s because of all them that I had no distractions — and was a better driver.”
Paul’s win at Maple Grove Raceway came after he qualified #2 with a 5.624 secs. He then disposed of John Fiorini, Fred Tigges and Todd Veney while making the final round. During all that competition it was clockwork business as usual for his team under the guidance of his skilled crew chief Les Mellows. For Mellows, who is also for London, the win was also his first taste of victory at the NHRA national level.
“I think we have been destined to be here for quite some time,” Les said. “But it seemed that for whatever reason nobody really believed that. Being from little London Ontario and not big names some people thought maybe we didn’t belong — but we proved them all wrong here.”
“This is a fantastic hard working team who are very good at what they do,” Les continued. “We pulled the car down after every lap and we were still first to the staging lanes for each round. In the final round we got exactly what we were looking for from the car and it was Paul that won it for us. I am convinced he is absolutely one of the best drivers out there and finally he got something to show for it.”
Paul also confirmed that the winning effort driving this Ford Mustang will be the “final hurrah” for that popular car as it will now be retired from racing. Plans are being put in place for an all new machine (likely another Ford Mustang) scheduled to debut in 2014.
The NHRA win also helped to provide some important emotional rescue for the team. Les Mellows ( Sr.) passed away last summer — and to a man everyone on this team dedicated this huge victory immediately to his memory.
Posting and photos by: Bruce Biegler