Sunday, July 15, 2012
Lawrence Surprises in TAD, Payne Sweeps TAFC at Woodburn
by Todd Veney
WOODBURN, Ore. -- At the Les Schwab Challenge Western Regional event at Woodburn Dragstrip, Gregg Lawrence came from the last spot in the field to take down championship contenders Joey Severance and Chris Demke for Top Alcohol Dragster honors, and all-time great Jay Payne outlasted a top-flight field of Top Alcohol Funny Cars for his second victory of the season and passed idle Frank Manzo for second place in the national standings.
Lawrence upset Severance, the two-time defending event champion and pre-race favorite, in the opening round with a steady 5.55. Severance, a co-owner of the track, shook the tires off the starting line and slowed to an 8.57 after the chutes deployed. Lawrence soloed in the semifinals and met Demke, who set the track record (5.32) in qualifying, in the final.
Demke, who ran a 5.33 in the first round and a 5.35 in a semifinal win over Megan McKernan, coasted to a 17.96 after a wire to the six-shooter became disconnected when the car rattled the tires in low gear. Lawrence, who got quicker and quicker in every round, scooped up the win with his best run of the weekend, 5.53.
"I saw his nose out there for a split second, and then he was gone," Lawrence said. "Like Bob Frey always says, that's why they don't run these things on paper. I expected to run a 5.40-something – that's what we were running last year, and we probably could have done it again.
But it wasn't going to run a 5.30, so why go up in smoke trying? If Chris ran what he'd been running, there's nothing we could have done. But if he stumbled, a 6.0 would have been enough anyway. We had a long time to sit there and think about it, but we left things pretty much alone, and it all worked out."
It was Lawrence's third divisional/regional victory and his first in nine years. All three have come at Woodburn, his home track. Lawrence, who lives just 15 minutes from Woodburn in Salem, Ore., defeated Darren Nicholson in the 2002 final and Severance in 2003.
"This meant so much more to me and my team than it probably would have to Demke or Severance," Lawrence said. "Those guys are so good and have won so many times, it would have been just another win for them. Who knows how many more races they'll both will win before this year is over, but to us, this weekend meant everything."
Alcohol Funny Car distilled to a fitting final between the drivers who tied for No. 1 in qualifying with matching 5.661s: Steve Gasparrelli, who got the top spot on the basis of his faster speed, 259.59 mph to 255.31, and Payne.
Low e.t. was reestablished three times in eliminations, first by Brian Hough, who ran a 5.63 to beat Jason Rupert's 5.79 in the opening round. Payne followed two pair later with a track-record 5.61 in a come-from-behind win over Sean Bellemeur, who was out first with a .004 reaction time.
Payne outdid himself in the semifinals with Woodburn's first 5.50, a 5.599 opposite Hough's game 5.65. Gasparrelli, who won the Mission event in his most recent regional appearance, defeated Shane Westerfield in the other semi, 5.67 to 5.73, and anything close to that would have been enough to win the final, where both drivers made their worst runs all weekend.
After leaving almost simultaneously with .060 lights, Payne got the best of a wild race, 5.76 to 5.80, leading by a full tenth at the 330-foot mark but by just four-hundredths at the stripe.
Payne, who had raced just once since he edged Gasparrelli in the Houston final, has reached at least the semifinals in every outing this year and now trails leader Tony Bartone by just 20 points in the national standings.