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“Tombstone” Tommy Gray — scored a major win at the inaugural Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod Challenge at Empire Dragway (Leicester NY) earning his first Pro Mod win since 2018. The Pro Mod veteran defeated New York’s own Melanie Salemi in a side-by-side 3.60-second final round. 

“I’ve had five other national event wins in my career, and that was close to a topper,” said Gray, who won his first Pro Mod national event in 1994. “After all the adversity I’ve been through in the last year and a half, between getting injured and my crash last year and struggling, it was definitely a morale booster for me and my two guys. It’s just us three: Wayne Waldmann, Lonnie Pass and myself. I’ve been at it a long time, but gosh, we needed that.”

After qualifying No. 5, Gray posted a 3.709 at 204.08 in his screw-blown “Undertaker” ‘18 Corvette to get a first-round win over Matt Guenther, who went red by .0005 seconds and ran a 3.807 in his nitrous-fed ’69 Camaro. Gray dipped into the 3.60s with a 3.688 at 204.27 to eliminate Steve King and his 3.721 in the second round. 

Veteran racer Tommy Gray won the Inaugural Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod Challenge at Empire Dragway in Western NY.

Gray recorded low elapsed time of the event, a 3.663 at 204.36, in his semifinal win over Ken Quartuccio, who ran a 3.685 in his ProCharger-boosted “Serial Killer” ’69 Camaro. The pass also gave Gray lane choice by just three thousandths of a second going into the final round against Salemi. 

“I felt very confident the whole race,” Gray said. “That was my third race back. The first one I was pretty nervous. Todd Tutterow helped coach me through it. He told me, ‘You need to start driving like you used to and quit worrying about tuning.’ It took me about two races. We’re not a big-budget team, but we take this stuff very seriously. I bought my first practice tree and I’ve been home practicing on the full-size tree, trying to get my routine down to where I don’t have to think, I just react. It’s definitely starting to pay off.”

In the final round, Gray recorded a 3.664 at 204.36 to defeat Salemi’s 3.674 at 199.38 in her supercharged “Purple Reign” ’68 Firebird.

“Melanie’s definitely a very good driver and Jon’s a very good tuner,” Gray said. “I knew it was going to be a race. I just tried to keep my head clear. As Todd taught us, run the racetrack one race at a time. That’s what we did the whole weekend. Fortunately, we had the best outcome on that run.”

Transplanted Canadian racer Melanie Salemi (from Orillia ON) was runner-up in the Purple Reign Firebird

The win was Gray’s first win in his new Jerry Bickel-built ’18 Corvette, which features a screw-blown engine assembled by Tutterow’s Wyo Motorsports, as well as a Ty-Drive converter drive unit. 

“I said I wouldn’t do this anymore if I couldn’t put the best pieces around me,” Gray said. “I have my Jerry Bickel car and I brought in Todd Tutterow to do the tuning. He was helping us remotely this weekend. He’s a friend of mine and we’ve raced for many years. It’s his engine combination, and the Ty-Drive is really working well and helping with my lights. I also get a lot of help from Carter Site Services, NGK Spark Plugs, and Connelly Funeral Homes.”

Salemi was a serious contender going into eliminations as the No. 2 qualifier. She started eliminations with a 3.766 at 200.80 over Jack Grainy’s 3.949. The Buffalo-based driver improved slightly to a 3.751 at 196.42 to move past a red-lighting Matt Deitsch. Tuned by husband Jon and brother-in-law Jim, Salemi made a big step up to a 3.666 at 202.43 in the semifinals, defeating Derek Ward and his 3.726. 

The Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod Challenge also included a consolation race for drivers who didn’t qualify for the 16-car field or who were eliminated in the first round. The consolation race win went to Matt Hutter. 

Hutter qualified No. 10 in his turbocharged, small-block-powered ’69 Camaro, then lost in the opening round of the main race with a 3.813 to Matt Deitsch’s 3.743. Hutter had a bye run in the first round of the consolation race before posting a 3.777 at 199.38 over David Texido’s 3.835. The former NASCAR driver ran his best pass of the weekend, a 3.774 at 198.68, to win in the final round over Dave Norris and his 3.862 at 176.40. 

The event was the Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod Association’s first appearance at Empire Dragway. The former IHRA national event track has undergone major renovations under the direction of track owner Jerry Scaccia. The NEOPMA teams raved about the facility, and the local fans packed the stands, making for a win-win situation. 

“I hadn’t been to Empire in probably 25 years since IHRA went there,” Gray said. “What [Scaccia] did with that racetrack was pretty astonishing. I haven’t seen that many fans in many years. They sure were nice. They made my heart grow stronger. After what I’ve been through with operations and all that stuff, coming up that return road every time made it feel worth it with the cheering and the little kids excited about the racing. Just a great bunch of people up there.”

Matt Hutter was the consolation race winner for the NEOPMA circuit event.

The 2021 Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod Association schedule will resume August 20-21 when the series joins the IHRA Sportsman Spectacular at Maryland International Raceway in Budds Creek, Maryland. 

ABOUT NEOPMA — The Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod Association was established by John Mazzorana in 1992 as the Northeast Pro Shootout Association. Since then, the club has grown and evolved into one of the premier Pro Modified drag racing organizations. The 2021 NEOPMA schedule features eight events, including three stops at Maryland International Raceway, two races at both Cecil County Dragway and Maple Grove Raceway, and one at Empire Dragway. For more info on the NEOPMA, visit

For more images from the NEOMPA Empire Dragway event visit the LMLCMedia gallery : HERE

PDRA Summit Racing Equipment ProStars

Defending Professional Drag Racers Association (PDRA) world champions Jim Halsey, Johnny Pluchino and Wes Distefano reigned supreme at the inaugural Summit Racing Equipment PDRA ProStars race at Virginia Motorsports Park’s Night of Fire. 

The specialty race featuring the top 8 drivers in ProStars points paid out over $50,000 to the winners in the professional and sportsman classes. All pairings were determined by a random chip draw. 

Halsey was the winner of a special 16-car shootout pitting the top Switzer Dynamics Pro Nitrous drivers against the top Penske/PRS Pro Boost presented by WS Construction drivers. Pluchino won in Liberty’s Gears Extreme Pro Stock presented by AED Competition and Distefano was victorious in $hameless Racing Pro Outlaw 632. 

Larry Roberts won in an all-dragster final in the MagnaFuel Elite Top Sportsman presented by Tejas Borja vs. Lucas Oil Elite Top Dragster shootout. Stacy Hall earned the win in the MagnaFuel Top Sportsman vs. Lucas Oil Top Dragster race.  


All but one pairing in the first two rounds of the $20,000-to-win Pro Nitrous vs. Pro Boost race featured bottles vs. boost matchups, but Jim Halsey’s “Daddy Shark” ’68 Camaro was the last nitrous car standing after the second round of eliminations in the 16-car shootout. With a brand-new Fulton 959ci engine between the framerails, Halsey kept the momentum rolling into the final round. He delivered his fourth consecutive PDRA victory, as Johnny Camp went red next to Halsey’s 3.657 at 207.02. Camp ran a 3.67 at 206.07. 

“Considering the circumstances, this is pretty cool,” Halsey said. “The test run this morning was the very first run on the new motor. To run a .65 five runs later, it’s kind of unbelievable to me. But with Brandon [Switzer] and Eric [Davis] and Michael [McMillan] and Cathy [Crouse] involved, nothing surprises me.”

Halsey, who’s won the last two Pro Nitrous world championships, had to race Pro Boost competitors in all four rounds. He used a 3.733 at 205.07 to beat Jason Lee’s 3.771. He dipped into the 3.60s with a 3.682 at 205.38 to eliminate Don Tolley and his 3.823. The nitrous Pro Modified veteran coupled a .006 reaction time with a 3.67 at 205.85 to win over Kevin Rivenbark’s 3.683 and earn lane choice for the final – by two thousandths of a second. 

“It was pretty nerve-racking, really,” Halsey said of racing all boosted entries. “Rivenbark is fast and he’s good on the tree. Camp, he’s the baddest guy in Pro Boost right now. It was pretty exciting.”

2X defending PDRA World Champ Jim Halsey was the big winner at the ProStars event.

Camp, who raced in Pro Nitrous until the 2020 season, lined up against two-time Pro Nitrous world champion Tommy Franklin in the opening round. Camp in his ProCharger-boosted “Hells Bells” ’69 Camaro won with a 3.688 at 206.67 to Franklin’s 3.715 at 204.70. He raced further into the 3.60s with a 3.662 at 206.07 to beat Billy Albert’s 3.772. The Pennsylvania concrete contractor beat Todd Tutterow’s 3.681 with a 3.672 at 205.01 in the semifinals, the only round he faced another Pro Boost driver. 


With runner-up finishes at the last two races, Johnny Pluchino was more than ready to bag the $10,000 Extreme Pro Stock win in his Kaase-powered Strutmasters ’13 Mustang. The second-generation world champion pulled it off with a 4.104 – which stood for low E.T. of eliminations – to defeat 2018 world champion Steven Boone and his 4.248 at 169.68 in the final round. 

“It’s cool to win the first ProStars race,” Pluchino said. “There will only be one first. I’m just happy about the momentum we’re starting to grab right now. We’ve had a good car, not a great car. I feel like I’ve been driving pretty good. I really want to defend this championship. I want to win every race I come to. If I’m coming to the racetrack, we’re coming to win. Just real proud of our group right now. Thanks to all of our partners like Strutmasters, Jon Kaase Racing Engines and Ram Clutches for sticking with us.”

Johnny Pluchino bagged $10,000 for his Extreme Pro Stock class win.

Pluchino managed a first-round win with his 4.201 at 176.93 over Dwayne Rice’s 7.016. The New York native stepped up for his semifinal pairing with JR Carr, ripping off a 4.108 at 176.12 to finish ahead of Carr and his 4.191. 

Boone started race day with a major holeshot win in his Allen-powered Boone Motorsports ’07 Cobalt, moving on with a 4.158 at 176.10 over Chris Powers’ 4.125. He won the next round on the starting line as well, as Justin Kirk went red. Boone won the semifinal round with a 4.299 at 172.85. 


After losing on a holeshot in the PDRA Summer Shootout final round at VMP a couple weeks ago, Wes Distefano was eager to redeem himself at the ProStars race. He accomplished that goal, setting low E.T. of the first two rounds before defeating two-time world champion Dillon Voss in the final round. Voss went .001 red and ran a 4.198 at 170.43, while Distefano recorded a 4.227 at 168.83 in his Musi-powered $hameless Racing ’68 Camaro. 

“It was a great event,” said Distefano, who won $7,500. “It was nice to have a little bit of a different format, not knowing who you were going to run. It just added another layer of excitement to the event. We struggled today. We didn’t win in the fashion we’d like to. Dillon outran us and was .001 red. You can’t get too much closer to being beat than that. It was a good win, but we’re fighting some problems.”

Wes Distefano prevailed for the top prize in Outlaw 632 class racing.

Distefano won the opening round of eliminations over Chris Holdorf when Holdorf went red by .008. Distefano ran a 4.201 at 170.99 to earn lane choice over Brian Clauss in the semifinals. Clauss grabbed a holeshot advantage and posted a 4.28, but it wasn’t enough to stay out in front of Distefano’s 4.223 at 168.26. 

Voss in his Voss-powered Vigilante Associates ’17 Corvette had to take on teammate Mike Murphy in the first round. Voss earned the win with a 4.256 at 169.69 to Murphy’s 4.437. He was consistent in his semifinal victory over Jordan Ensslin, running a 4.254 at 168.30 to defeat Ensslin’s 4.461. 

ELITE TOP SPORTSMAN VS. ELITE TOP DRAGSTER – The Elite Top Sportsman vs. Elite Top Dragster paired up door cars against dragsters, but only dragsters remained after the second round. Past world champion Kellan Farmer and Larry Roberts won their semifinal pairings to meet up in an all-RaceTech dragster final round. Farmer went red with a -.017 light and ran it out to a 3.907 on a 3.91 dial. Meanwhile, Roberts posted a 3.873 on a 3.87 dial-in to collect the $7,500 victory. 

TOP SPORTSMAN VS. TOP DRAGSTER – The 16-car Top Sportsman vs. Top Dragster race ended with two Top Sportsman standouts in the final round, though one of them was in a dragster. Defending Top Sportsman world champion Stacy Hall took his Top Dragster entry to the final round to meet up with Ronnie Proctor in his nitrous-fed ’09 Mustang. Hall and Proctor left with nearly identical reaction times, but it was Hall’s 4.371 on a 4.37 dial-in that gave him the win. Proctor posted a 4.291 on a 4.28 dial-in in the runner-up effort. 

The PDRA will return to its regular schedule August 15-17 for the P2 Contracting Northern Nationals presented by P2 Racing at Maple Grove Raceway near Reading, Pennsylvania. 

ABOUT THE PDRA – Based in Fredericksburg, Va., the Professional Drag Racers Association is the top sanctioning body in the United States for the sport of eighth-mile drag racing. The PDRA’s professional categories include Pro Boost, Pro Nitrous, Extreme Pro Stock, Pro Nitrous Motorcycle, Pro Outlaw 632 and Pro Street. The series also features sportsman racing in Top Sportsman, Top Dragster, Pro Jr. Dragster and Top Jr. Dragster. The 2021 PDRA schedule consists of eight national events. For more information on the PDRA, visit

Posted by Nate Van Wagnen

Photos by Steve Embling and Tara Bowker