(Photos by Dyan Lover, Jeff Burghardt, Bob Snyder, Darr Hawthorne) In what is shaping up as an outstanding assembly of nitro racecars, the 46th Pepsi Nightfire Nationals will be a shootout for most of the quickest and fastest nitro funny car in NHRA Heritage Series competition this at Firebird Raceway in Boise, ID on August 11 – 13.
It’ll be hot track with a narrow groove, but Canadian Ryan Hodgson’s “Pacemaker” Camaro showed how good this track now is when he set a new track record earlier this year at the Ignitor Heritage race and Jason Rupert’s “Rolling Thunder” Camaro won the event. It’s hard to bet against Rupert since the team has found their groove again. With all these players, this could be a dream nitro funny car race for the record books, if there were one!
Earlier in the week, Blake Bowser and Mark Dawson from Auto Club Famoso Raceway arrived on site with some of their track prep tools that’ll help make the Firebird track surface even better for all the horsepower over the weekend.
Another favorite is newcomer Bobby Cottrell (above) who is making his presence felt driving the “Northwest Hitter” Camaro, last year’s Heritage Series Champion nitro funny car enters this race with a three-pete, winning the United Nitro Funny Cars Seattle Invitational, the Mission Raceway Heritage event and the Goodguys Shootout a couple of weeks ago.
With all of the racing there’s been this year, seven of the nineteen nitro funny cars entering the Nightfire’s have actually been on the road, leaving their rigs in the northwest and flying driver and crew in to race. Long shots are tough to pick as well, since some of these funny cars have not raced here in a few years and only an 8-car qualified field Saturday’s final session may set more track records.
There’s still one slot left in the Elite 8 of the Stith Printing Legends of Nitro 260 MPH Club for Nitro Funny Cars with Bobby Cottrell grabbing jacket #7 running a 261.24-mile per hour charge at Mission Raceway. Going into the Nightfire’s, three drivers have voiced their assurance that they’ll be wearing that final LON 260 Jacket.
There are still a couple of us nitro fanatics who follow the funny car class closely and with this column predict the Vegas-style odds for an often tricky group of nitro funny cars, so we’ve enlisted the old Funny Car Gypsy as our spokesperson to lay out the “educated guesses” as to who’ll end up in the historic Firebird Raceway Winners Circle.
(1-1 even money) Jason Rupert – Littlefield & Rupert “Rolling Thunder” ’69 Camaro – is tough to bet against these touring “pros”, but they have the combination to run a 5.563 elapsed time in their runner-up form at Mission. Won the 2016 IHRA Championship, ’16 California Hot Rod Reunion, three-time NHRA and now a three-time IHRA Champ. A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(1-1 even money) Bobby Cottrell “Northwest Hitter” Victory ’69 Camaro – Still the Heritage Series ET record holder with former driver Kris Krabill. Co-owners Bucky Austin and Mike O’Brien & Cottrell make for a formidable team running 5.539 and nearly 210 mph at half track defeating Rupert at Mission. A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(2-1) Ryan Hodgson – “Pacemaker” Victory ’69 Camaro – holds the NHRA Heritage Series mile per hour record with tuning by Bob Papirnick, this Canadian Hall of Fame crew chief and crew could make it to the final round against either Cottrell or Rupert. A Legends of Nitro 260 Club Member.
(3-1) Mike Peck – “California Hustler” ’78 Pontiac Firebird – New in the seat of a nitro funny car this year, Peck’s confidence-building runner-up at the Seattle UNFC Invitational showed consistency. Pro tuner Ronnie Swearingen and solid crew found the 5.60’s at 259+ at the ’16 California Hot Rod Reunion. The Hustler has runner-upped at Firebird three times, could be this time for a win!
(4-1) Shawn Bowen – “Bartone & Lebor” ’69 Camaro – This combination could sweep the Firebird facility. Bowen, a multi-event winner is an awesome racecar builder on this being the car’s maiden voyage into competition. The Bartone is Tony’s brother Michael and in secret testing the car looks strong, although nobody leaked the elapsed times, yet. Solid bet for at least the Semi’s.
(5-1) Matt Bynum – “Nitro Nick” ’70 Camaro – owner Cecil Matthews and the team had their share of hard luck, but always come together for the big races. Matt works on the DHL Toyota funny car and has a direct line to Kalitta Racing and clutch guru Nicky Boninfante. Bynum says he’s going to wear the last Legends of Nitro 260 MPH jacket after the Nightfires.
(5-1) Mark Sanders – “Mr. Explosive” ’71 Mustang – A surprise entry… has been working hard laying concrete instead of racing this year, but hasn’t lost his touch or voice! Son/Tuner Jake the Snake has been tuning anything that runs with nitro. This team is win waiting to happen.
(6-1) Danny Gerber “Wasn’t Easy” ’78 Firebird – after not winning a round of competition, Danny proved that a new Kenny Youngblood paint makeover and Jon Wurtz tune-up, they could score some big cash for Crystal Gerber to pocket, as they did in the Spokane UNFC Invitational winner’s circle.
(6-1) Tim Boychuk – “Happy Hour” ’69 Camaro – Talk about veterans! With Crew Chief Twig Ziegler turning the wrenches, this will be a tough field to crack even with Dan “one finger salute” Brochu in the On Deck Circle. Ran well at Seattle Invitational, needs to find consistency.
(6-1) Marc Meadors – “Good Times” ’70 Camaro – Seems like the GoodGuys have been busy with the car show circuit, but this gorgeous, freshly painted racecar has a seasoned driver and dedicated crew – should qualify after recent Sonoma testing was positive. This is the only photo that our spy could get from Goodguys Racing, we’ll be shooting it at Firebird Raceway this weekend.
(7-1) Wally Giavia “G-men” ’79 Challenger – Wally took some time off for a little surgery and with the ubiquitous Pete Jensen taking some time off from his Cheap Chard tour, both should be rested and ready for a solid qualifying position.
(8-1) Steve Easton – “Burn-N-Money” ’70 Barracuda – Owner/driver Bob Godfrey is a smart dude, crafty match racer and smart tuner who don’t waste parts. Easton has recently been driving Pro Mods, but his heart is in nitro.
(9-1) Rick O’Rogers – “Fighting Irish” ’76 Camaro – still one of the best looking funny cars out there, with the dedicated crew onboard the Irish could brawl a way into this tough fuel field.
(10-1) John Weaver “Cascade Automotive” ’78 Arrow– Parts of this funny car used to be raced by Del Worsham, and recent passes in competition are showing promise, this one should qualify.
(11-1) Rob Markworth “War Horse” ’73 Mustang – New owner of the late Roger Garten’s famed ride has done some testing with the old crew, but would be awesome to see this funny car make the final round as it has in the past, no pressure!
(12-1) Brad Thompson “Jailbreak” ’76 Camaro – crew changes with a very talented driver who can wheel a funny car or a dragster, needs to find their old 5.60’s form and not hurt parts.
(12-1) Bill Windham “Shakedown” ’69 Camaro – should be running stronger, not for a lack of trying. If the team has found all the gremlins this will still be a stout field to crack into, Windham hopes tire shake is solved with repairs to a bent wheel or two and a new set of Hoosiers.
(13-1) Jon Rice “Nitro Spud” ’78 Corvette – Won the “Tater Baker” field at the 2016 Nightfire’s. This local Idaho team pours their hearts into this car, seems like they improve every year.
(13-1) Scott Stanger “Bad Manners” ’70 Barracuda – in Match Race trim has been going rounds. A long shot, but could be munching taters on Sunday, with the cash or it’s French fries for everyone.
That’s it, let the wagering begin, although we make no guarantees for a Vegas-like payout. The weather will be warm this weekend for a huge assembly of front-motored top fuel, fuel altereds, nitro funny cars and twenty Outlaw Pro Mods at Firebird Raceway for the 46th Pepsi Nightfire Nationals!