Saskatoon’s Mike Gondziola earned a pretty impressive Pro Mod victory during last weekend’s marque annual “Doorwarz” event at Mission Raceway Park….
Mike Gondziola doesn’t get to race his Camaro as often as he’d like, but when he brings out Canada’s quickest nitrous Pro Mod, he is usually amongst the favourites, and the quickest runners.
Such was the case at this past weekend’s Doorwarz III race at Mission Raceway Park, as the invading Saskatchewan-based racer got more than his share of good breaks, and combined that with consistently quick runs on the hot Mission concrete track. How hot? The air temp was 36C (95F), so the track was upwards of 130F all three days. It was gruelling for tuners and drivers alike.
With five rounds of qualifying over two days, it figured that there would be some shuffling at the top, but Joe Delehay established the benchmark, and Low ET of the Meet, with a 5.96/245 in the first session Friday in the heat of the day, in his familiar roots-blown Camaro. It cost him a couple of pistons, and damage to the body when the right-side window popped out and flapped around. Nobody got close to that time in the evening session.
In the hot Saturday afternoon session, Delehay came out with a 6.00 at only 222, the reduced speed due to torching the right-side head gasket. He wasn’t seen again that day, being busy installing a new engine, and there were still two sessions to go. In the first one, American Garrett Richards led off with a 5.98/245 in his screw-blown Mustang with the unique Ford-based Austin engine. That was the only competitive run of the session, but there was one more to come – under the lights, with the temps and corrected altitude way down from earlier.
Everyone took advantage, running event and even personal bests, in a great session. Albertans Glen Kerunsky (blown ’53 Corvette) at 6.11 and Paul Glandon (turbo ’69 Camaro) at 6.14 got into the No. 4 and 5 slots, with Glandon’s car showing the effects of a wall-banger at Edmonton the week before, and the big thrash at RH Racecars to get it fixed in time for Mission. Dale Pedersen (6.17) and Kerry Stone (6.26) in their turbo small-block Chevys ran well for No. 6 and 7, and there lurking in No. 8 was the NHRA Pro Mod regular, Shane Molinari, in the five-second RH ‘factory’ turbo Camaro, at a mere 6.36.
But it was Gondziola, after not having run on Friday, and two aborted runs earlier Saturday, who fired the big shot with a 5.97/242, to slot in No. 2 after Delehay. That would be three cars in the fives, plus a few others who could step up and run close to that quick, so Sunday figured to be good.
With 17 cars having made qualifying runs, it would be a five-round race with byes each round. When the car of Tom Meheden couldn’t make it past Friday, there were sixteen cars left, a normal four-round race, but organizers stuck with the original plan, making for a long, hot day that spanned eight hours.
The bye in the first round went to Delehay, naturally, and with five-second strength on both previous afternoons, nobody expected to see him shake and shut off. But he did. The top eight all advanced, plus the No. 10 RH Racecars turbo Firebird of Jeff Doyle from Fort St. John, impressing in its debut with solid 6.40s at over 240 mph. Richards went 6.00 and Gonzi 6.01, so they assumed the roles of favourites, depending on what Delehay did in Round 2.
What the Calgary veteran did was not only red light beside Doyle, but then shake and pedal to add to the misery. Seems like the magic from Friday and Saturday disappeared with the broken engine. Kerunsky couldn’t get his car to fire up, advancing Stone with a 6.27, while Gonzi soloed to a 6.04, Pedersen beat Glandon with a 6.25, and Richards went low for the round again, 6.02, to beat Molinari’s 6.43. The red Camaro was in test mode all weekend, trying to solve the first half of the track, but the best he could do was a 6.36 in qualifying.
Between rounds, the Richards crew installed a new differential, kindly loaned to them by Delehay, and the car ran fine in a 1,000-foot bye run. Stone left way late (.399) against Gonzi, who ran a consistent 6.10 to win, while Doyle’s impressive debut ended with spinning tires, despite the best light of the day, .012, beside Pedersen’s winning 6.36.
Gondziola and Richards hooked up in Round 4, in what could have been the race of the day had both cars run what they had been all afternoon. Gonzi was put in the unfamiliar left lane by Richards, and that may have played a part in his getting very loose and heading for the centre line, and shutting it off. Meanwhile, Richards was romping to a 6.09, and his crew went nuts – until they noticed the red light (by .014) that was hard to see with the angle of the sun. In the final, Gonzi would face Pedersen, who staged with the bye, and shut off, saving the parts.
Gonzi, with about twice the engine size of Pedersen’s small-block turbo, knew he had at least a couple of tenths in hand, and didn’t push things, running a steady 6.14/240 to beat the game 6.31/231 by the Dawson Creek, BC resident. The $10,000 winner’s cheque went back to Saskatoon with maybe the luckiest racer on the day, who enjoyed, in order, a shut-off run, an empty lane next to him on the bye, a very late opponent, his biggest threat red lighting beside his own shut-off run, and a 3/10ths of a second performance advantage on his final round opponent. When it’s your day, it’s your day.
Score for Sihota in Outlaw 10.5!
With nine cars entered in Outlaw 10.5, it would take six-second runs to win, and five of them were capable of that number. The contenders were reduced by one when Alberta’s Dean Branham decided to withdraw with damage.
Eliminations went totally to form with no upsets, as the quicker-qualified car in each match-up took the wins, led by Ken Sihota of Langley, who qualified at 6.44. In the semis, Sihota and his Firebird took on Roy Moznik, also of Langley, in his El Camino, and the truck smoked the tires till past half-track, while Sihota cruised to the shut-off 7.60 victory. On the bye, Oregon’s Paja Agatonivic ran a good 6.91 single.
So, the final saw the expected combatants line up, the two cars that have emerged as the region’s top two 10.5 runners. The American got a slight jump at the green, but spun a bit, and Sihota surged ahead with a clean run of 6.62/217. Agatonivic saw that the race was over, and shut off to a 7.19.
With the advent of the new Western Drag Racing League, there will be 16-car Pro Mod fields at the next two major events at Mission, starting with the Lucas Oil NHRA National Open in a few weeks which already promises a couple of dozen nostalgia Funny Cars. That should be an extravaganza not to be missed.
Post and photos by: Gerry Frechette