The annals of straight-line acceleration contests known as organized drag racing can no doubt be divided into a number of distantly different eras, each with its own charm, its own figures and the tales that made them legend, and the awe-inspiring feats of performance and the technological advancement that made them possible.
Sure, the good old days — a time you could well say we’re presently experiencing — were incredible, but man, what a time this is to be alive!
It sounds like a scratched record stuck on the needle by now, but the 2019 season really, truly, was the most incredible season of scoreboard heroics we’ve seen since we first launched this annual list, and it was, consequently, the most challenging we’ve had to compile and rank to date. To drive that point home, our scratch-it pad of candidate runs was considerably longer than any year previously, and the final tally didn’t even include the myriad of runs we simply keyed back and removed after they were decidedly trumped weeks, days, hours, and even minutes later. The caliber of runs that were omitted from this year’s list are staggering — sure-fire top 10 licks any other year.
The benefactor, of course, was us — all of us, who are fortunate enough to bear witness to the amazing decline in numerals at the top of the scoreboard and ever-bigger digits underneath.
Make no mistake, this was a season for the history books — one we’ll be telling our children and grandchildren about years into the future. And if 2020 has any plan of delivering an encore, then we’re really in for a treat. But for now, let’s re-live the 2019 season and the brilliant performances it delivered. Beginning, of course, at the top….
10. An Incredible Indy Debut
Never before has an entire eliminator been named in our top 10 rankings, but then, rarely does an entire eliminator put on the kind of show that Top Dragster did in its U.S. Nationals coming-out party.
The debut of the Top Dragster and Top Sportsman categories at the sport’s most prestigious race in Indianapolis was expected to be fast and frenzied as the nation’s best competitors vied for their class’ coveted, first-ever Indy Wally’s, but the field in Top Dragster well exceeded all expectations after the dust settled at the Lucas Oil Raceway.
Following three sessions of torrid qualifying over two days, 36 racers from California to New York and all points in between jockeyed position in what was undoubtedly the most talked-about field in sportsman drag racing in recent memory. In the end, Louisiana’s Ross Laris locked down the pole with a perfect 6.100-second elapsed time against the class’ minimum index — behind him were 31 other dragsters all crammed within .134-seconds, as Alan Kenny anchored the show with a last-ditch 6.234. Perhaps most impressively, the entire top half of the field was separated by a mere .032-seconds, and all but two competitors secured runs in the 6-teens.
It was the quickest Top Dragster field in history, and excluding non-performance-oriented eliminators like Super Comp, Super Gas, and Super Street, was the tightest 32-car qualified field in NHRA history.
9. The Run That Never Happened
Chassis builder and no-time racing standout David Reese comes in at number nine with the only run to ever grace our top 10 list that didn’t happen.
In the world of no-time racing, publicly revealing elapsed times is not only frowned upon, but expressly forbidden — so much so that turning on the clocks, even once, generally results in a year-long ban for that particular vehicle at any no-time event.
This unique genre of drag racing thrives on the unknown, on competition much like that on the streets where only the win-light, not the numbers, matter most. And as an outsider, you’re lucky to get a racer, a promoter, or an announcer to even give you a ballpark figure, much less the real-deal elapsed times. But for Reese, a ban was no longer a matter of consequence when he made the decision to place his world-beating “El Diablo” Camaro, one of the most accomplished and feared cars in all of 28/275 no-time racing, for sale this fall.
His mind made up and the bridge prepped for burning, Reese released a single time-slip from from No Mercy 10 at South Georgia Motorsports Park, displaying the quickest elapsed time known to have ever been recorded on 275 drag radials: 3.691-seconds at 208.42 mph, from his supercharged wonder. That Steve Jackson set low elapsed time in Radial vs The World at that same event with a 3.60 on the larger 315 radial puts Reese’s accomplishment into perspective. And while the no-time community was and certainly remains unamused by Reese’s trangression, the time-slip made him the talk of the town.
8. At Long Last, Rotary Record Falls
Of all the world records on this list to be broken during the 2019 season, it was the outright rotary-powered mark that had stood the longest. You have to go all the way back to January of 2015 to find the last entry in the rotary record book, when Jesus Melendez reset the mark in Orlando, Florida with a 6.149. Since then, none of the handful of cars in the world capable of re-establishing the mark have been able to topple it. But armed with a potent single-turbo, three-rotor Mazda 20B powerplant, Puerto Rico’s twin Edwin Burgos drove his Mech Tech-backed “Loquito Killer” Mazda RX-8 into the record books at the annual World Cup Finals in Maryland in November with an impressive 6.083 at 229.70 mph — from a mere 119 inches of displacement.
7. Brittany Force Topples Top Fuel National Record
In February of 2010, Clay Millican clocked the quickest Top Fuel run of all-time at 3.628-seconds at the NHRA Winternationals at Pomona, California. A the time, the 3.50s were clearly imminent. But in the months that followed, the NHRA, in a concerted effort to slow the increasing speeds of Top Fuel dragsters and Funny Cars, and to promote closer competition, modified its traction compound mixture to slow terminal speeds and elapsed times. That change initially set the Top Fuel field back nearly a tenth of a second and made runs in the 3.60s the exception rather than the norm. The likelihood of Millican’s national record falling seemed not impossible — history has proven that nothing ever is in this sport — but it was certainly distant.
A year and a half later, Brittany Force and her David Grubnic-led team overcame the track-prep handicap at Pennsylvania’s Maple Grove Raceway, clocking an eye-opening 3.623 at 331.61 mph, compliments of an .816 short time and a 2.902 at 299.26 mph to the 1/8-mile.
We’ll never know what Force and the rest of the Top Fuel contingent may have accomplished by now if not for the setback delivered by the NHRA, but given the of nearly a tenth of a second and the gaining back of all of that and then some, and you wouldn’t be out of line suggesting high 3.50s.
6. The Small-Block That Could
Kentucky native Marty Stinnett has been doing more with less than anyone in Radial versus The World racing for years, and that effort has earned him a spot on our list for the second time.
The second iteration of Duck X Productions’ Sweet 16 at the South Georgia Motorsports Park this March was a career-best-fest for any racer that even kinda’ had their stuff together, highlighted by a number of truly remarkable runs that stood out from the rest. While Stinnett was by no means the quickest competitor in the category, the 3.65 he rocketed to was unequivocally one of the runs that weekend that everyone stood up to take notice of.
Consider that Stinnett utilized a 470 cubic-inch small-block Chevrolet with cast heads and a factory wheelbase car, and you quickly get a sense of how impressive his machine amongst a sea of purpose-built Pro Mods on radials with all-billet Hemi and 481X engines.
Not only was Stinnett’s run the quickest ever to the 1/8-mile by a full-bodied, small-block-powered vehicle, but based on best estimates, is right in neighborhood of the quickest small-block run ever through 660-feet by any type of vehicle, including Top Alcohol Dragsters and Nostalgia Top Fuelers.
5. From Out of Nowhere
Before October the 9th, few in the drag racing world had ever heard of Dr. Arnaldo Rodriguez. But in one fell swoop, the Puerto Rico native changed that.
An orthopedic surgeon by day in his home land, Rodriguez had been gradually creeping up on the performance potential of his Venenum Racing Scion FR-S, built by PMS Race Cars in Puerto Rico. With a potent turbocharged Toyota 2JZ assembled by Jorge Lazcano under the hood, Rodriguez had cracked off a best of 5.76 at 252 mph — less than a tenth of a second from the then-record of 5.66 — when he arrived at the Superchargers Showdown at Maryland International Raceway in early October.
After struggling initially with the combination of supreme track prep and brisk boost-producing atmospheric conditions, Rodriguez and his team backed the power down on the sleek Scion and charged into the history books with a single home-run derby lap, supplanting the existing record by more than a full tenth of a second — and clocking the first run in the 5.50s by an import — with an otherworldly 5.557 at only 254.38 mph.
What do we mean when we say only?
“On the record pass it ran a .97 to the 60-foot mark — usually it goes a low .950,” Rodriguez told Dragzine. According to the data, I lifted at 5.31-seconds into the run because I missed the timing of the finish line. It went 3.69 to the 1/8-mile and the speed data tells us the car could have run close to 260-265 mph if I would have stayed in it, and the ET would have been a 5.49 or 5.50.”
4. Severance Flirts With History
Unlike their nitromethane-injected counterparts that rocketed from relative obscurity to the forefront of the class in a matter of years, the supercharged dragsters that make up the NHRA’s Top Alcohol Dragster division have been plying their trade with much the same highly-refined combinations for decades. As such, performance advancements are made in very minute increments rather than in big leaps like in other genres of the sport, sometimes going several seasons without anyone so much as sniffing the record. So when they do, it’s worth standing up to applaud, because their accomplishments are perhaps harder-earned than any other place in drag racing.
Case in point: in November 2012, Jim Whiteley clocked the quickest blown alcohol run in history — and the first in the teens — with a shocking 5.178. It took nearly five years before that wall came down, when Shawn Cowie went 5.165 in the summer of 2017. Then, this February, Cowie pushed the mark to beat down to a 5.151.
But Cowie’s standard stood for just nine months — the shortest reign of the decade — as Joey Severance made the biggest leap by a blown alcohol dragster since Whiteley’s gargantuan performance all the way back in 2012.
Severance opened qualifying at the Dodge NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last month with a career-best 5.162 at 277.37 mph, then added a bracket car-like 5.165 for an encore. Then, with the adjusted altitude hovering at more than 2,600-feet, he blasted to an unreal 5.121 at 278.29 — compliments of a staggering .864 short time and a 3.37 at 224 mph to the 1/8-mile.
3. Four Cylinders, Five Seconds…Almost
On what planet could a four-cylinder engine knock on the 5-second zone, in any car, much less a full-bodied one? Well, it turns out, it’s this planet.
Quebec, Canada native Carl Brunet has been pushing the envelope with small displacement engines as long as anyone, utilizing a turbocharged GM Ecotec powerplant in a former Pro Stock Pontiac GXP to steadily march his way through the 6-second zone. And now, nearly into the fives.
At the Orlando Speed World Dragway’s Sport Compact Finals in early December, Brunet supplanted the 6.16-second record set by Carlos Daud just a month prior at the World Cup Finals with an incredible 6.095 at 228.38 mph. That run was more than a tenth ahead of the 6.20 set by Australia’s Collin Willshire a year ago. But Brunet wasn’t done yet. Taking advantage of a mere 205-feet of adjusted altitude, he clocked an even quicker 6.078 at 229.94 mph, compliments of a .944-second short time and a 3.943 at 183.57 mph — out of a four-banger!
2. The “Spiderman” Climbs To New Heights
For the second time in the last three years, motorcycle racing legend Larry “The Spiderman” McBride graces the top half of our list of the biggest, baddest runs of the 2019 season. And his performance would, in any other year, take the top spot without any consideration.
While calling it the 11th hour might be a big erroneous, our list was already compiled, pored over, ranked, adjusted and adjusted yet again before that starry night in South Georgia, November 21st. McBride was already on the list, having already earned a rightful place in the top 10 with the 5.607-second, 263.10 mph lick at Rockingham, North Carolina in October. But he wasn’t near the top.
It would be foolish to suggest McBride couldn’t or wouldn’t improve on his 5.60, what with the combination of world-class track prep and enchanting atmospheric conditions at the season finale in Georgia, but no one — except perhaps for McBride and his team — expected what was to come.
One drag racing historian coined it the run of the millennium. Others on social media followed suit, heralding McBride’s shocking performance at the South Georgia Motorsports Park as not just the run of the year, but one of the single greatest performances all-time.
It was a giant leap — pun intended — and it came in the most unsuspecting, surprising of fashions.
A nonchalant Thursday evening, pre-race testing for the Manufacturers Cup World Finals. Few cameras, little in the way of video documentation. Larry McBride stages his Spiderman-themed motorcycle, already the quickest wheel-driven bike on the planet, and makes a lap as straight as a handyman’s straight-edge or basketballer Wilt Chamberlin.
On the right lane boards: 5.507 at 264.96 mph. No way. Yes way.
Check out the half track view of the @larryspidermanmcbride world record pass! #dragbike #motorcycle #dragracing #topfuel #nhra #motorcycles courtesy of @clifford_lovendahl #CLProductions
Posted by CycleDrag.com on Wednesday, December 11, 2019
In one fell swoop, McBride jumped from one already-staggeringly-quick lap to one a full tenth of a second ahead of the previous; by .007-seconds — literally less than the average length of the blink of an eye — he missed leapfrogging the 5.50s entirely. With that, all that really remains is a trip into the 5.40s, and yet another appearance on our list.
1. Marcus Birt, Stevie Jackson Put On Radial-Tire Clinic
If McBride’s “run of the millennium” was only good for number two, then there must be something truly special to claim the top spot, right?
At this time a season ago, a radial-tire car in the mid-3.50’s was certainly within the realm of possibility, given the literal overnight performance gains and seemingly unlimited potential of the top-tier cars competing in the Radial versus The World class. But few would have ever guessed that a nitrous car, of all things, would singlehandedly steal the 2019 campaign.
Throughout the winter months, the nitrous oxide combination became the focal point of many a conversation as its continuing competitiveness was publicly debated. Many simply wrote them off, believing they could no longer compete with their boosted counterparts without rewriting the rulebooks and stunting the growth of the classes in which they compete. But there were three talented and highly-driven men in the state of Georgia listening in who felt otherwise.
NHRA Top Sportsman kingpin Jeffrey Barker, a mutual friend to past ADRL Pro Nitrous champ Steve Jackson and another Pro Mod veteran in Birt, united the two gritty, smack-talking former grudge racers with the sole intent of proving a point.
Utilizing a trick Jerry Bickel Corvette and a 959-inch Pat Musi powerplant, the duo of Jackson Birt wasted little time making an impression, clicking off a 3.69 in pre-season testing — just .01-seconds off the then-radial-tire record of 3.68. At the Sweet 16 2.0 in South Georgia in March, Birt stunned the doorslammer racing world with a 3.60 out of absolute nowhere, becoming not only the quickest nitrous radial car in the world, but the quickest nitrous car of any kind, on any tire. And it happened so quickly and with such visible ease that it was evident the Houston Auto Auction-backed Corvette wasn’t tapped out yet.
As summer turned to fall, Birt and Jackson returned to their record-setting ways, uncorking an historic 3.579 at 206.29 mph at the Shakedown Nationals at Virginia Motorsports Park to reset the absolute drag radial world record and become the first nitrous car into the 3.50s. Two hours later he went even quicker with a 3.575 at 206.10 mph, and the following day added a 3.588 at 205.19 for good measure in an epic final round showdown with Jackson.
With that, Birt had already earned himself a place in doorslammer racing lore, but there was a curtain call to be had.
At the Orlando World Street Nationals in early November, Birt stopped the clocks with a stunning 3.553 at 207.18 mph and carded a subsequent 3.572 (the second-quickest run in history) to put an exclamation point on a season that won’t soon be forgotten. And with early numbers already to his credit indicating elapsed times consistent with a 3.53, Birt assures us we still haven’t seen the limit of his machine.
As a shocking side-note to Birt’s historic display in 2019, he indicated to Dragzine that nary a single piston was burned up during the entire campaign. Five years ago, the drag racing world would have laughed at both that fact and the notion that a nitrous car on radials would clock a 3.55. Like I said, what a time to be alive.
And there you have it — our list of the top ten biggest, baddest, most impressive runs of the 2019 season. Did we get it right? Sound off in the comments and tell us if you agree with our rankings!
We would, of course, be remiss without recognizing the many amazing performances that came up just short of this year’s list but were nevertheless incredible and noteworthy in their own right (in no particular order).
- Rich Bruders’ X275 record-setting 4.235 at 165.78 mph at the Sweet 16 2.0
- Factory Super Cars’ Drew Skillman and his record 7.70 at the NMCA season opener in Bradenton
- Dean Marinis’ 1/4-mile nitrous record of 5.57 at NEOPMA’s Superchargers Showdown
- Steve Jackson’s Pro Modified record 5.64 at the NHRA’s Gatornationals
- Tom Bailey’s history-making 5.99 at Drag Week
- Pro Street Motorcycle rider Jeremy Teasley’s world record 6.42 at the World Cup Finals
- Matt Bell resetting the Limited Drag Radial record at No Mercy 10 with a 4.04
- Terry Parks with a 4.04 of his own to claim the Leaf Spring record at the Sweet 16
- Jerry Morgano’s slick-tire Outlaw 10.5 record lap of 3.86-seconds at the Orlando World Street Nationals
- Joel Grannas’ H-pattern record 7.17 in his turbocharged Supra at the World Cup Finals