Photos by Joe McHugh, Jason Sharp and Courtesy ADRL Communications
The 2010 American Drag Racing League (ADRL) season began with a rainout and ended with a “get out” as series’ president and cofounder Kenny Nowling was abruptly relieved of his duties late in the year, tossing the 6-year-old organization into uncharted waters.
A mid-November press release from the sanctioning body and its previously unconfirmed ownership group, Al-Anabi Companies, headed by Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar, announced Nowling’s departure, promising him “an expanded role in the company’s international development.” It also named chassis builder Tim McAmis, already responsible for overseeing Al-Anabi’s United States racing operations, to the ADRL’s chief executive role, while all other current officials remained in place.
Racers in all five of ADRL’s Pro classes continued to deliver thrilling performances with records set at nearly every stop on the 10-race 2010 tour. The downside: Rain impacted half of the events, including the season opener in March at Houston Raceway Park. Nowling immediately announced the creation of a brand-new, double-header weekend late in July at Houston, when the rained-out race would be completed in its entirety on Friday prior to an all-new national event scheduled for the next day.
That sent the tour on to South Georgia Motorsports Park the following month. Jason Scruggs nabbed Pro Extreme. Also scoring race titles that day were Mike Castellana in Pro Nitrous, first-time winners Todd Moyer and Steven Boone in Extreme 10.5 and Extreme Pro Stock, respectively.
In just his second Pro Extreme start, Sheikh Al-Thani prevailed for the first ADRL win of his career in May at Virginia Motorsports Park, but it was Pro Extreme rival Frankie “Mad Man” Taylor who left with most of the attention after a record-breaking 3.60 pass, while Al-Thani’s teammate Shannon Jenkins won in Pro Nitrous. Gary White won in Extreme 10.5, and Brian Gahm successfully defended his 2009 Pro Stock event title.
Owens and White repeated their winning ways a few weeks later at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan, where John Montecalvo broke through with his first Pro Stock win of the year, Lee Adkins earned his career-first in Pro Nitrous, and Joshua Hernandez won Pro Extreme, his seventh career victory.
In recent years the ADRL has maintained a two-day show, reserving Sunday for travel, so when an event can’t be completed as scheduled, any remaining qualifying or elimination rounds are postponed to the opening day of the next event. However, when the July 4th weekend race at Heartland Park Topeka was shortened by rain, its completion was pushed to August at Gateway International Raceway due to the two-in-one event already set for Houston later in July.
The Houston happening delivered three double-up winners as “Tricky Rickie” Smith won Pro Nitrous, past class champ Billy Glidden matched the effort in Extreme 10.5, and Montecalvo racked up win numbers two and three on the season. A pair of Texans split the Pro Extreme titles as Taylor took the first and Hernandez the second.
Another two-fer took place at St. Louis. In the delayed Topeka event, Montecalvo and Smith extended their winning streaks. White also made it back to victory lane, along with Al-Thani with his second race victory after only five starts in the series.
Alex Hossler from nearby Canton, Illinois, took the Pro Extreme crown, Jenkins got his class-leading ninth Pro Nitrous win, Chuck Ulsch stepped up with his first 10.5 title of the season, and Gahm nabbed Pro Stock.
Rockingham, North Carolina, home to ADRL’s Dragstock, is firmly established as the tour’s most prestigious individual event. Frankie Taylor laid down an unreal 3.59 to officially lower his own Pro Extreme E.T. mark, and Jenkins followed suit with a record 3.81 pass to lead the quickest Pro Nitrous field in history.
Once more, rain interrupted qualifying and all eliminations were rescheduled to late September at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. Making it that much more significant, points earned during the two-race weekend would also finalize the eight-car fields for the ADRL’s championship-deciding Battle for the Belts, a single elimination tournament for all five classes set for the first night of the season-ending event in Ennis, Texas.
Dragstock VII saw defending Pro Extreme champ Todd Tutterow again victorious. Doug Riesterer won Pro Nitrous, defending 10.5 champion Spiro Pappas finally got his first trophy of the year, and Cary Goforth earned Pro Stock honors.
That left only the Norwalk portion of the event to complete, with Goforth getting it done again on Saturday, Ulsch picking up his second 10.5 victory of the year, and first-time wins going to rookies Jim Laurita and Mick Snyder in Pro Nitrous and Pro Extreme, respectively.
Of the points chasers, Dan Millen made the most of the two-time opportunity, jumping from 11th heading into the weekend to the eighth and final position for the Extreme 10.5 Belts showdown. He also left with a new E.T. record of 3.78, which could have qualified him for the Pro Extreme field in Norwalk, the quickest in ADRL history, with a 3.79 bump spot.
The Texas Motorplex strip then hosted the 2010 ADRL Battle for the Belts, with memorable finishes for all classes. Millen peaked at the right time, making it all the way to the 10.5 Belts final against White and also earning an unlikely championship. “I never thought in the middle of the year we would be here. We were really skeptical, and we had so much trouble with the car,” Millen said of his supercharged ’10 Mustang. “We’ve changed a lot of things and just got lucky. We changed a ton of things. It’s just amazing.”
Montecalvo maintained the #1 numeral on his Cobalt by beating longtime rival Pete Berner in the Pro Stock Battle for the Belts final. “We dropped off the map [late in the season] and we were really concerned,” he said. “But the team got it together. It made it that much more rewarding.”
Also with his first ADRL win of the year, 2009 NHRA Pro Mod champ Burton Auxier took the Pro Nitrous Belts final over Al-Anabi Racing teammate Jenkins. “This is just unreal,” the West Virginian said after the battle of ’68 Camaros. “Everyone pitched in and made this happen. Shannon [Jenkins] has taught me a lot, and he really has helped me a lot. It was good that we ran in the finals because I know he’s the best guy.”
Finally, Taylor completed his Cinderella season as the little-guy independent racer going up against the big-buck teams with a championship-winning run over Hernandez in the Pro Extreme Belts final. “I can’t even describe what this feels like,” the Dickinson, Texas, auto repair shop owner said. “This is great and it’s just been a great, great year. I can’t believe I get to top it off with this.”
The championship weekend experienced rain, precluding completion of eliminations on Saturday as the first points-paying opportunity for the 2011 ADRL season. So, as of this writing, in March it will be back to Houston for another two-race weekend to open the first Nowling-free era in ADRL history, and the rest of the drag racing world will no doubt be watching with interest.