Following up on his No Mercy 10 victory last fall, “Stevie Fast” Jackson recorded his 10th straight round win at South Georgia Motorsports Park with a final-round triumph over David Reese for the Radials vs. The World title at Lights Out 11. It also represented his fifth Duck X Productions win at the all-concrete track near Valdosta.
“I love this place. This is Georgia,” declared Jackson, who hails from tiny Evans, GA, about 260 miles northeast of the track, near Augusta. “This is Bulldog country! Nobody’s going to come around here and stomp around South Georgia Motor Sports Park. My territory!”
After qualifying number one with a dominating 3.55-seconds pass at a similarly distant 215.31 mph, Jackson made it to the final round by going through Tim Slavens, Brad Edwards, a redlighting Tom Blincoe and class newcomer Shawn Ayers in the semis.
Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the ladder, fellow Georgian David Reese started from the number-two slot with a 3.61 at 204.45 before handily beating B.C. Cantor, Canada’s Louie Ouimette and Bryan Markiewicz, who both lit the dreaded red bulb.
Number-three qualifier Melanie Salemi was waiting for Reese in the semis after tying Jackson’s 3.546 RVW class E.T record in a first-round solo pass. However, her screw-blown ’19 Camaro shut off at the end of its burnout, forcing her crew, led by husband and crew chief Jon Salemi, to rush out, push the car back to the starting line and allow Reese a free pass to the final.
Salemi later explained after repairs were made to the car’s transmission following her third-round win over a redlighting Kevin Rivenbark, an errant leftover nut had fallen on the engine coil during the burnout, shorting out the coil and overall electrical system to prevent the engine from restarting.
“What a freak thing to happen,” she marveled. “You would think the nut would’ve just fallen out with all the vibrations and stuff, but there it was, perfectly balanced on the coil just enough to short everything out.”
With Salemi out, Jackson immediately realized a major threat to a potential second-straight SGMP win had been eliminated.
“She was gunning for me,” he said. “They’ve got a badass hot rod over there and I hated to see it have a mechanical problem because it’s really fun racing that team. They’re a no-excuses type of team, and they run good.
“But yeah, she was coming out swinging for me for sure. You’ll see me and her race more often than not. Every race they’ve brought that car to, it’s been deep in the show, a car that can take everybody or anybody out.”
With a unique screw-blown, small-block powerplant under the hood, Reese made his presence felt by going rounds and officially lowering the RVW small-block E.T. record to 3.580 in his semi-final solo pass.
“Then I just kind of laid back for the final,” Reese said after leaving on Jackson with a sizable .043 holeshot. He fell short of the win an eighth mile later, however, by just 3-thousandths of a second after posting 3.594 at 205.88 to Jackson’s 3.548 at 213.81-mph winning pass.
“I figured the air would come to me and going out first on a freshly prepped track most of the time that’s the best thing to do. But with a small block, if it ever pulled the motor down, it takes a little bit to recover,” Reese continued.
“So they did a real good job prepping the track and it just snuffed it down when I left. What I lost at the 60 foot, you know, my front splits every time, it was just like on a .58 pass, but it just slowed a little bit early.”
With so many cars and classes competing at Lights Out 11, Jackson said the toughest part of the day for him and crew chief Billy Stocklin was managing long waits between rounds and maintaining focus until the final for RVW went off well after midnight.
“At one point Billy had been staring at numbers on the computer so long he said he just had to go outside and see some real life again,” Jackson quipped.
“And it really was hard for me to stay up and ready to go. Over in NHRA we usually run every couple of hours or so, but I think it was four hours just between round one and round two. By the time I was strapped in and waiting in the lanes for the final I was almost falling asleep in the car! Maybe that’s why I was so late on the tree.
“I’m normally the tree assassin; my team bailed me out on that one,” he continued. “I seen that red car get out on me from the start. When I let go I thought, ‘Oh no, come on Billy Stocklin, bail me out here!’ At 330, he’s still out there. At 600 feet, we’re starting to make a move that ended with three thou in our favor. It was a close one.”
Despite the oh-so-tight finish, Reese said he wasn’t aware of Jackson as they raced downtrack.
“I try not to get too caught up in looking over; it makes a car drive naturally one way or the other. I did see him when I pulled the chutes, but I actually thought I got him. It was that close.”
Jackson stressed the quality of the competition at Lights Out 11, pointing out that not so long ago 3.50s were a rarity, but starting late last year and as this race proved running .50s is no longer optional for any teams with aspirations to win.
“Used to be you’d qualify good, make a couple of runs, and then have to turn it up in the final. It’s not like that anymore. Everybody can take you out because there’s a heap of cars that are capable of running .50s.
“I think we blew the motor, the drivetrain, and my driveshaft out on that final run,” he added. “But you know what? I don’t care. Phil (Shuler) told me before the run, ‘You have full authorization to burn this bitch up.’ So I told Billy. Next thing I know he’s taking the front end back off, and putting bigger jets in.”
Jackson then wrapped up his day with a prediction for Duck X’s Sweet 16 event next month when the radial racing world will again focus its attention on the SGMP eighth mile.
“Sweet Sixteen, we are going to set the overall door car record, and I’m going to do it on a street tire. How about that?”
Other champions crowned at Lights Out 11 included Rob Goss (X275), Russell McManious (Pro 275), Shane Stack (Limited Drag Radial), Louis Fillippides (Ultra Street), Martin Connelly (DXP Street), Craig Miller (6.0),
Even before Alexis De Joria blew past higher-qualified Paul Lee and Robert Hight into the Funny Car semifinals at the Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals, co-crew chief Nicky Boninfante saw it. #DragRacingNews #nhra – https://t.co/VoDs3MJRcT pic.twitter.com/gXXLw3PYfO
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) February 17, 2020