Transplanted Canadian female racer Melanie Salemi and veteran “Tricky Rickie” Smith both made history during last weekend’s infamous PDRA DragStock event….
Melanie (Simmons) Salemi recorded a breakthrough victory for the PDRA becoming the first female racer to win within the PDRA’s Pro Boost class – one of the PDRA’s three prominant Pro Mod class categories. Home-state North Carolina racer “Tricky Rickie” Smith won a PDRA Pro Nitrous race for the second time this year at Rockingham Dragway, repeating his victory last spring at the facility. Also scoring pro class wins at the eighth of nine scheduled events for the all-eighth-mile series, were points leader Jason Scruggs in Pro Extreme, Chuck Wilburn with his first Pro Extreme Motorcycle victory and Jody Stroud for the second time in Pro Open Outlaw.
In just her second outing with a new, supercharged MSR ’68 Firebird, Melanie Salemi, who is a native of Orillia Ontario and a former Top Dragster circuit racer, started from the third position in Precision Turbo Pro Boost with a 3.86 pass at 192.11 mph. After that she ran the consistency of a bracket racer throughout eliminations, with runs of 3.86, 3.92, 3.86 and 3.86 respectively through Joe Baker, Larry Higgenbotham, Ric Fleck and finally Anthony Disomma to earn her first professional win.
“I’m completely overwhelmed. We’ve had this great vision of everything coming together and this is even better than what I imagined,” the now wife to Jon Salemi and resident of Buffalo, NY, declared. “First and foremost I have to thank my husband Jon, my brother-in-law Jim Salemi and Mike Stawicki, as well as my father, Roger Simmons. He couldn’t be here this week but we won it for him.”
In the final round, Salemi left first with a .047 light while Disomma was dead late at .158 in his twin-turbocharged ’67 Shelby Mustang. Regardless, Salemi also outran her opponent with a 3.86 at 192.63 as he put together a 3.87 at a slowing 123.84 mph.
“I knew I got out on him and I took a quick look over a couple of hundred feet out or so and still didn’t see him, but I was so worried he was going to come flying by me at the finish line,” Salemi described of her final run. “When I got there it just got quiet, but when I looked up and saw the ‘W’ on in my lane I just started celebrating in the car. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t hear from Jon for what seemed like an eternity, but he finally came on the radio and said he got mobbed on the starting line. It was pretty exciting.”
Smith, the back-to-back reigning NHRA Pro Mod champion and current PDRA Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous points leader, placed 14th with a 3.90 pass in the opening round of qualifying and was 17th after round two despite improving to 3.83 seconds. That left Friday night’s third session when he vaulted up to ninth with a 3.79 at 198.67 mph before ultimately qualifying his IDG-backed ’69 Camaro eighth with a 3.78 at 198.67 mph.
“I came here with just one motor because I didn’t want to bring my NHRA stuff, but I didn’t mean to be as soft on the tune-up as I was the first two runs when it was hot,” Smith admitted. “Luckily it cooled down, the track stayed tight, and we were able to step it up.”
After opening eliminations with a 3.78 win over Steve Jackson, Smith faced one of his biggest rounds of the year in the quarter finals against number-one qualifier Tommy Franklin, who trailed him by less than one round’s worth of points heading into Dragstock XII. Whoever won the round was guaranteed to leave with the points lead and an opportunity to extend it substantially. Smith took full advantage, leaving first with a .031 reaction time, then posting another 3.78 pass at 199.17 mph while Franklin slowed to 3.83 at 175.64 when his own ’69 Camaro coughed fire from its scoop for the second-straight run as it crossed the finish line.
“That was a huge round,” Smith agreed. “We got a little lucky since he was running so fast but it looked like he hurt the motor a run or two before we raced. But sometimes you have to be lucky to win.”
In the semi-finals, Smith got it done on the starting line, leaving with a .040 light against the .068 by Jay Cox, which allowed his 3.79 at 198.73 to beat a quicker 3.77 at 198.61 by four-thousandths of a second. Waiting for him was Chris Rini, who started his ATI Performance Products ’69 Camaro third after running a career-best 3.75 at 198.23 mph in qualifying. Rini beat Tim Savell, John Hall and John Camp to reach Smith in the final round.
Once there, it looked like Smith was living up to his “Tricky Rickie” reputation as he turned on both the pre-staged and staged bulbs before Rini had even pre-staged.
“I really didn’t intend for that to happen,” Smith insisted. “I noticed the last two runs the brakes were feeling different and I was just waiting for him to go in when I saw my staged light come on. I didn’t even realize the car was creeping forward but when it did I just pressed the transbrake button and got ready to go.”
After Rini staged he took a .011 lead off the start, but Smith quickly recovered and made his best run of the weekend with a 3.77 at 198.96 against a 3.82 at 191.46 mph.
“It was that Musi motor and the Bickel chassis, always Bickel, that got it done,” Smith said. “That, and Rickie Smith don’t ever give up. I’ve been doing this a long time and that’s one thing you can be sure of, I don’t ever give up.”
With just 11 entries, the NAS Racing Pro Extreme class did not meet the threshold (13) for a 16-car field, so Randell Reid led an eight-car field into eliminations with a 3.54 at 213.00-mph qualifying pass.
Points leader Jason Scruggs ran 3.56 at 216.27 to start his ScruggsFarm.com ’69 Camaro from the number-five position, then beat Mustafa Buhamaid with a 3.55 at 216.93 in round one of racing before making a 3.54 solo run at 217.84 mph in the semis when Reid’s car broke on the starting line.
That set up a final-round match against Todd Tutterow, who won the PDRA Spring Nationals in April. Tutterow, from Lewisville, NC, steered his GALOT Racing ’69 Camaro to a 3.59 at 213-mph win over Dubai’s Badir Ahli in round one and won with a holeshot against Brandon Snider in the semi-finals.
In the final, Scruggs left with a .015 advantage, then posted another 3.54-seconds pass at 218.19 mph while Tutterow faced traction issues and slowed to 4.39 at just 120.52 mph. It was Scruggs’ fifth win of the year and almost clinched his position at the top of the points list with just the PDRA World Finals left to run in October at Richmond, VA.
“We went out looking to run a high-.53 or low-.54 and that’s exactly what we run so that makes us pretty happy. I felt like we got lucky to win our last race (last month in Memphis) when we didn’t make a good run in the final, so it feels good to win one this way,” Scruggs said. “I also want to thank everyone that helps us, everyone at ScruggsFarm.com, Hoosier Tires, the guys at MVM wheelie bars, Flatout Gaskets, Snyder Lencodrive, just everybody that helps us.”
In the PDRA sportsman ranks, Dane Wood prevailed for the first time in Top Sportsman, Matt Cooke won his first Top Dragster final, Carson Brown won from the top qualifying position in Pro Jr. Dragster and Alexis Tanner picked up the win in Top Jr. Dragster.
Posted with files by Ian Tocher & Bruce Biegler
Photos by Ian Tocher, Bruce Biegler & Roger Richards
BELL/FISCUS RACING – ROCKINGHAM POST-RACE
BELL / FISCUS RACING (BFR) raced at the PDRA Dragstock XII event at Rockingham Dragway in Rockingham, North Carolina, on September 10-12 2015 where Kevin Fiscus set the top speed for the class.
Qualifying for Precision Turbo & Engine Pro Boost began on Friday afternoon, and both Jim Bell and Kevin Fiscus were eager to see if the fixes they had made after their previous race at had made the impact they had hoped for. Bell made a respectable 3.970 at 196.47 mph pass with his twin turbocharged, Pro Line Racing 481X-powered 1969 Chevrolet Camaro, but did so with a turbo that got damaged before the eighth-mile mark. Teammate Fiscus smoked the tires of his twin turbo, PLR 481X-powered 2012 Ford Mustang about four-hundred feet out. With one qualifying run done for each, Bell ranked eleventh while Fiscus was nineteenth.
For the second qualifier, Bell and Fiscus were paired to run side-by-side. Bell’s car was on its way to a strong pass with a 1.00-second 60-foot time and 2.690-second 330-foot time. Unfortunately, Bell’s transmission broke after the 1-2 shift and ended his run early, dropping him down into eighteenth. Fiscus improved significantly with a nice 3.890 pass at a booming 205.66 mph to take the number six spot and set the class top speed number.
The team scrambled to get Bell’s trans changed in one hour flat. As the replacement had a different gear set and dump valve set up, the car would not come up on boost when bumped in for Q3. This was a big disappointment to the team after their hard work. Fiscus also had problems, and shut down after his engine started smoking. Once back in the pits, the team fixed the issue with Bell’s car. Chad McGregor discovered an out of round sleeve in Fiscus’ engine, and pulled an all-nighter to resolve the blow-by issue thanks to help from Keith Haney’s team.
Saturday afternoon’s fourth and final qualifying session was not much kinder to the team. Bell staged the car and was building boost as his competitor John Strickland left early on the yellow. Bell was just about to let go of the trans brake button but was signaled by the starter to kill the engine. The BFR team, other people on the line, and fans watching the live feed were upset about the starter’s decision. “I spoke to the Technical Director and was told they felt one car leave the line after the other was a safety issue, so I was not allowed to make a Q4 run. None of the other drivers I polled had ever heard of this rule and it was never discussed,” said an upset Bell.
Fiscus was on his way to another impressive pass when right after the 200-foot mark there was a loud boom and the top of his intake manifold was launched into the grandstands. Final qualifying results had Bell in twenty-first, and Fiscus in tenth. This was Bell’s first ever DNQ at a PDRA race, and due to engine damage, Fiscus was not able to make the first round of eliminations. It was disappointing, but Bell and Fiscus will be back with a vengeance!
Fiscus is currently second in PDRA Pro Boost championship points while Bell slipped from fourth to sixth. Both men will be competing in the Pro Mod class at the Shakedown at the Summit on September 18-20, 2015 at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio and Bell is pumped to defend his 2014 Shakedown Pro Mod win.
Posted by Ainsley Jacobs