The sport of drag racing, a side-by-side acceleration contest at its very core, is fundamentally based on performance; in order to win, to have a competitive advantage, you must continually discover ways to cover two points quicker and faster than before. This basic principle has spawned decades of innovation and an entire industry focused solely on elapsed time and speed.
If we look back through history, world records and broken barriers remain prominent earmarks, often seared into our memories long after race victories and even championships fade.
Not only winning, but the numbers on the scoreboard are what have brought drag racing to where it is today.
One of the favorite annual traditions among the Dragzine staff, our Top 10 list of the biggest, baddest, most impressive runs of the year is back to break down this year’s memorable performances, some of which figure centrally into history and are sure to remembered decades from now. This year’s list, unsurprisingly, was as challenging as any in the past, as records and barriers were obliterated in a fashion unseen in recent years. Nevertheless, we’ve broken them down from ten to one as best we can call them, covering race teams and venues the world over. But enough talking, let’s do this thing!
10. Trickie Rickie Lets It All Hang Out
Rickie Smith has insisted for years that his nitrous oxide combination — consistently the quickest in the world on the quarter-mile, is truly tapped-out; whether that’s the case or not is continually a topic of debate, but there’s no doubting he got after it in 2018 in pursuit of another NHRA Pro Modified title.
Five seasons ago, Smith stunned the Pro Mod contingent with a then-nitrous record of 5.77, begrudgingly earning himself a 50-pound lead trophy for his efforts. Since that time and in the name of parity, the NHRA has rescinded the minimum weight for nitrous oxide-assisted cars — a reversal that has resulted in only minute improvements in performance.
But this season, Bob Rahaim’s 5.74-second standard set a year ago got knocked around on multiple occasions, headlined by Smith’s 5.711-second, 251.77 mph shot at the NHRA Carolina Nationals in Charlotte. Smith’s effort, the quickest run in competition by an NHRA legal nitrous car, leapfrogged the 5.72 standard set one day earlier by Chad Green. At the time, the .71 was the 10th quickest run in NHRA Pro Mod history, regardless of power adder.
But that wasn’t even Smith’s best run of the season, if we step outside the confines of official competition.
In pre-season testing at Orlando, Florida, utilizing a newly-allowed lockup transmission and torque converter, Smith stormed to a 5.690 at just 247.47 mph — by our unofficial count, the quickest 1/4-mile run by any vehicle, ever, with nitrous oxide as the primary power adder.
9. It Has How Many Cylinders?
If Australian racer Collin Willshire isn’t a household name in the United States yet, his efforts both here and abroad have put him on a path to become one.
A prominent and highly successful racer and promoter in his native land, Willshire has been picking away at the four-cylinder record books over the last decade while competing in Australia’s Factory Xtreme eliminator with his Mitsubishi-powered Eclipse. This season, Willshire went to battle with the Teknotoyz team out of Trinidad, trading the record late in the season. Willshire held the mark over the summer month at 6.261, before the Teknotoyz team reset the mark at 6.228 in late October, leaving Willshire and hit JETT Racing team with a couple of opportunities yet to reclaim it.
At Orlando’s Sport Compact Finals in late November, Willshire made headlines with a new world record for four-cylinder vehicles with a scintillating 6.200 at 225.30 mph, compliments of a .984 short time and a 4.03 to half track. All of that from a mere 122 cubic-inches and a pair of compounded turbochargers.
8. The Serial Killer Murders The 1/4-Mile
A product of one part wear-and-tear expense and one part safety, radial tire racers aren’t exactly lining up to race 1,320-feet these days, and when one does, it’s worth paying attention.
Former Outlaw 632 standout Ken Quartuccio, who didn’t even make his debut i (in) the radial tire realm until summer with the completion of his stunning twin-turbo C7 Corvette, quickly earned himself the nickname “Serial Killer” after — on radials — he ran roughshod over the traditional slick-tire competitors in Outlaw 10.5 at Cecil County and other venues. For his final act of what was arguably one of the impressive debut seasons in doorslammer racing history, Quartuccio boldly announced his intention to claim the 1/4-mile radial-tire record at the Import versus Domestic World Cup Finals in Maryland in November.
Kevin Fiscus’ 5.92, also set at the World Cup, had stood virtually uncontested for two years, and the time was ripe to erase it, in Quartuccio’s eyes. Doing so with precision, Quartuccio arrived in Maryland and dipped his toes in the water, running the car further on each subsequent run before finally unleashing a 5.887 at 250.88 mph: the quickest radial pass in history.
But he wasn’t done: in round one of eliminations Ken uncorked a 3.94 at 201 mph to 660-feet on his way to a 5.864 at 253.75 mph to set both ends of the world record.
While a 5.86 isn’t considered by many to be the limit of what radial-tire cars are capable of, whomever chooses to take aim at it in the future certainly has their work cut out for them.
7. Matt Smith’s Double-Century And Then Some
The 200 mph mark in Pro Stock Motorcycle was a seemingly impenetrable force for more than half a decade as a host of racers, from Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines to Angelle Sampey and Hector Arana, Sr. came painfully close on numerous occasions to eclipsing the double-century mark.
All told, it took seven years and five days after the first 199 mph speed before 200 was eclipsed, when Hectory Arana, Jr. brought down the house in Gainesville in March with an historic 6.937-second, 200.23 mph pass.
Given the length of time it took to achieve 200, no one in their right mind would have gambled on 201 in the same season the 200 mph barrier was broken. But it turns out, Matt Smith likes to gamble.
At the season-ending Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona (a race at which he was crowned an NHRA world champion for a third time) Smith topped 200 mph an impressive five times, and exceeded 201 mph twice, with a top speed of 201.22 in a winner-take-all final round with Krawiec for the title.
Smith’s runs were certainly no result of mechanical trickery in the gearing department to achieve a higher terminal speed, but rather pure muscle, as he qualified number one at 6.754 and ran 6.70s in three of the four rounds on raceday. This was a clinic if there ever was one, and it leaves you wondering what took so long to reach 200.
6. EKanoo Racing’s Shot Heard ‘Round The World
Historically, our list doesn’t dive into improbable and borderline ridiculous territory until we reach the top three, maybe top four. But this time around, the racers really outdid themselves, providing us with a collection of runs that could have easily been number one in any previous year, making this arguably our most challenging top ten list ever.
Driver Khalid Mohammed and the EKanoo Racing team’s shot heard ’round the world lap that reclaimed the outright Pro Modified record came with considerable hesitation. And for good reason, as they came to find.
Dominican racer Jose Gonzalez landed at number two on our list a year ago with his 5.40-second pass, leaving little doubt — if there were any to begin with — that a ‘thirty’ was out there. The EKanoo team, with its twin-turbo, Pro Line Hemi-powered Lexus RCF, had held the standard for a time with a 5.44 and wanted it back. However, with the speeds necessary to achieve a 5.3.-second run approaching 280 mph, safety was of the utmost concern for Mohammed, Ebrahim Kanoo, and the rest of the team.
While testing over the 1/8-mile at the Bahrain International Circuit ahead of one of its scheduled meets (the Bahrain Pro Mod class is contested on the 1/8-mile), Mohammed and company made the decision to run the Lexus through the 1320 if the half-track numbers were there to accomplish its goal. With that, Mohammed blasted into the darkness, and upon seeing the 3.615-second, 218.51 mph numbers register on the scoreboard, kept the throttle planted another 660-feet, clocking a stunning 5.379 at 278.79 mph — the quickest an fastest run in history by a full-bodied vehicle.
Tecklenburg noted before the history-making run, “….to be honest we’re afraid to press our luck in the 1/4-mile too many times. So we made a decision if we run better than 3.64 today to the eighth, we would go quarter-mile on the next pass just once to see if we get it. We decided to do it today because it is testing and Khalid can read the scoreboard from the eighth so we told him if was better than 3.64, to leg it out.”
The team’s fears, it turns out, unfolded before their very eyes, as the parachutes failed to deploy at the close of the run at some 280 mph, sending the Lexus off the end of the racing surface.
“We’re done with the quarter,” Tecklenburg added once the dust settled (literally). “We’ll let someone else take the risk. I’d love to do it [the 280 mph mark], but realistically I think we should consider the safety aspect of it. If something really bad happens it’s not going to end well.”
5. The Cowboy Rides….Err, Drives Away
Former Pro Stock standout and national event winner Mark Pawuk made headlines earlier this season when he announced his long-awaited return to racing behind the wheel of a Don Schumacher Racing-prepared Dodge Challenger in the NHRA’s Factory Stock Showdown. With a full year of development of Dodge’s aluminum blocks and cylinder heads behind them, the Gen-III Hemi had quickly supplanted the Chevrolet and Ford programs as the performance leader in the class, and thus Pawuk stepped right into a highly-capable ride. By the season’s mid-point, Pawuk and teammate Leah Pritchett were firing on all cylinders, regularly outpacing the rest of the category with ease. By fall, it was virtual domination by the Dodge entries.
At the NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis, Pritchett and Pawuk demolished the rest of the category with a pair of out-of-this-world runs: Pritchett, for her part, clocked the first 7-second run in NHRA competition with a run deep into the sevens — a 7.936 — but was outmuscles by Pawuk with an incredible 7.929 at 171.77 mph to set the class standard.
Only Chevrolet racer Arthur Kohn, at a pedestrian — relatively speaking — 7.993 has joined Pawuk and Pritchett in the sevens in NHRA competition. Geoff Turk, the first racer in the class into the sevens (in NMCA competition) has been as quick as 7.97, showing just how Strong Pawuk’s run was.
4. Zoain Stuns The Import World
Settling in at number four is Puerto Rico’s Zoain Racing — a team that went toe-to-toe with Bahrain’s EKanoo Racing throughout 2017 for import racing supremacy. With driver Victor Flores at the controls, the Zoian camp closed their campaign in 2016 with a 5.757-second best to their credit, just a couple of ticks behind the 5.732 posted by EKanoo’s Toyota GT86. While the record remained intact throughout 2017, it was by no means safe.
As the calendar turned to 2018, the Zoian camp wasted little time supplanting the record. In late January the team clocked a 5.70-second lap in Orlando, Florida, which was superseded later in the weekend by a stunning 5.660 at 255.34 mph. That pass, amazingly, was just two and a half tenths off of what was the then all-time-quick Pro Modified run and inside of the top 10 quickest turbocharged doorslammer runs in history — and it did so with only six, inline cylinders.
3. A Bruder Bruising
If there were ever a safe bet for the first team into the 4.20s in X275 trim, brothers Rich and Nick Bruder would be your guys. The New Jersey duo have been the standard-bearers in the category for as long as they’ve been a part of it, wreaking havoc on the 275 radial-tire eliminator with a range of engine and power adder combinations with virtually reckless abandon …. such to the dismay of class founder and rulebook-ruler John Sears.
Perhaps their most controversial combination yet, the Bruder’s debuted their roots-blown small-block in 2017 and wasted little time causing an outcry when they uncorked a then-record 4.36. After earning a stay of execution of their combination, the Bruder’s flew under the radar until this spring’s Outlaw Street Car Reunion.
After posting a 4.37 in testing and only a best of 4.43 during qualifying, Rich stunned —literally stunned — the class and lit social media ablaze during a quick quarterfinal elimination round that saw a host of career-best runs, lighting the boards to the tune of a 4.297 at 171.77 mph.
The monstrous lap remains the only run in the class in the 4.20s, and other than perhaps the Bruder’s themselves, the sub-4.30 club may lie dormant for a while yet.
2. ‘Lil’ Country’s ‘Lil Secret
Like a thief in the night, grudge racing superstar Justin Swanstrom swooped in and stole Jeff Miller’s thunder in the waning weeks of the season with an are-you-freaking-kidding-me number….a number that no one learned of for nearly two weeks.
Swanstrom, who procured a lightweight, former Pro Modified car over the summer, hinted at the time that he had entertained the thought of turning the clocks on to go class racing if he couldn’t secure any appreciable grudge contests. By late fall, he was already testing with the mindset of contesting Radial versus The World in 2019 while still competing on the no-time and grudge scene, with Orlando’s No Guts No Glory in early December penciled in as his final hurrah.
With 275 radials bolted onto his big-inch nitrous Camaro, he uncorked a 3.85 off the trailer on his first test pass with the small radials, equaling Miller’s previous3.85-second standard that was already mind-boggling — and then proceeded to lay down a 3.77 while testing at the Orlando World Street Nationals. Then, at No Guts No Glory, he dropped an absolutely incredible 3.738 at 197.25 mph, unbeknownst to anyone but he and his inner circle. Over the course of the weekend, he tells, he clocked a series of low-3.80 and high-3.70 runs.
Drawing the angst of his no-time peers, Swanstrom decided to show the time tickets to the world a couple of weeks later, dropping jaws in the process.
While Swanstrom’s car wasn’t in legal trim for Pro 275 competition, the sheer magnitude of the 3.73-second run on a 9.8-inch wide radial tire — and how much quicker it was than any of us could have imagined — no matter its legality, provides all the merit we need to park ‘Lil Country’s effort at number two on the list.
1. Big D*ck Micke Goes Swinging
There are historic moments, truly magical moments, in our sport that come around once in a generation — performances that remain transfixed in our memories for the remainder of our lives. They’re part of the stories we tell years, even decades, later. If you were there, you know you were part of something special. And while the numbers produced on these rare days are ultimately surpassed at some point in time, nothing can take away or erase that magical moment.
Radial-tire promoter Donald Long’s inaugural Sweet 16 was precisely that.
With nine — count ’em, nine — qualifying sessions scheduled on a perfectly-manicured racing surface in prime atmospheric conditions, the $101,000-to-win contest at South Georgia Motorsports Park had all the makings of something historic. Prior to the Sweet 16, the quickest radial-tire run ever recorded belonged to Steve Jackson at 3.717, and while this was likely the best opportunity yet to witness the breaking of the 3.60 barrier, no one could have predicted or even imagined what was to transpire.
Right out of the gate in qualifying, DeWayne Mills made history with a 3.696-second blast, and many were convinced that was as good as it was going to get. Then a few, brief moments later, Jackson stunned everyone with a 3.68. But both runs took a backseat later in the evening to Mark Micke’s jaw-dropping 3.677 at a still-unbelievable 221.20 mph.
By this point, nothing seemed impossible, only adding to the magnitude of the moment.
It turns out, nothing was impossible. Backing up his words from the prior evening, Micke and car owner Jason Carter unloaded on the field late in qualifying with a 3.641-second, 220 mph moonshot. And the silliness wasn’t over yet.
In the final session of the nine-round homerun derby, under the lights and opposite of a riled-up Steve Jackson in OG grudge race mode, Micke dropped an unreal, out-of-this-world 3.623, breaking the internet and momentarily shutting down the power-grid across the state of Georgia. The run was and remains one of the quickest turbocharged doorslammer runs in history, regardless of category or tire type, and it was all done with an aero-as-a-brick ’78 Chevrolet Malibu with a 4.84 bore spacing, 548-inch big-block Chevrolet.
After their historic statement in qualifying, Micke and Carter parlayed their consistently-fast performance into a record $101,000 payday in a final round defeat of Mills, cementing this as one of the single most impressive performance in drag racing history by one of its most impressive machines.
The “Still Killed It” List
Clay Millican One-Ups Himself
Millican and tuner David Grubnic, who has quickly become one of nitro racing’s home-run hitters, set out immediately to remind the class of his muscle — muscle that set the national record in the fall of 2017 at 3.631 — with a stunning 3.628 at the season-opening Winternationals at Pomona.
Not Your Average Junkyard LS
Our list isn’t purely about numbers, but also takes into account the nuts and bolts used to get there, and when you can push 427 cubic-inches on drag radials into the fives, you have our attention. At the Shakedown at the Summit in Norwalk in September, David Adkins stunned the drag racing world with an incredible 5.97 at 243 mph in his twin-turbo, LS-powered Camaro. The run was the first in the fives with an LS engine and, at the time, only the second radial car period into the fives.
Castellana And Manzo Tighten Their Grip
Mike Castellana made our list at number eight last year with his 5.68-second lap in Houston — the first 5.60 run in the history of the class — and in 2018 he and tuner Frank Manzo went one better with an impressive 5.676 at the NHRA Midwest Nationals in St. Louis to reset the national record.
The Man on 10.5s
As tracks were strategically tightened up and radial tires deployed, the Outlaw 10.5 class was turned on its head in 2018 with a sharp uptick in performance, but a faithful few soldiered on with the tried-and-true 10.5W slick tires, including returning veteran Tim Essick. In his debut season with his stunningly-gorgeous supercharged Mustang, Essick clicked off the quickest Outlaw 10.5 pass on slicks at the PDRA World Finals, going 3.896 at 195.73 mph.
First To The 4.0s
Justin Martin, one of Limited Drag Radial’s most successful competitors, set the class standard at the Outlaw Street Car Reunion in April with a stout 4.11, and then one-upped himself to close the season at No Mercy in September, cranking out a 4.097 at 189.20 mph.