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Exclusive: Factory Stock is Fast Blast at 2017 Gatornationals

Uncategorized March 24, 2017

The year was 1972. NHRA’s Pro Stock class was rapidly changing, thanks in no small part to William Tyler Jenkins and his SRD car-building crew in Malvern, Pennsylvania. During the past season and for most of 1970, the Chryslers had been dominant – Ronnie Sox, Dick Landy, Herb McCandless, and Mike Fons had won all but three titles since the class’ debut at the 1970 Winternationals. With Hemi power proving dominant, Jenkins had talked with NHRA about using a Vega for 1972, one with a very well-developed small-block Chevrolet. Jenkins had actually won 66 percent of the non-Chrysler victories (the 1970 Winternationals and inaugural Gatornationals) before being shut out for almost two seasons, so the mouse that roared was sweet revenge indeed, if only for a season. After dominating most of that season, by the end of 1972, NHRA refactored the small-block Chevrolet, and so began the epochal era of Pro Stock four-door Mavericks, AMC World Champions, and other unique combinations until the sanctioning body returned to the flat cubic-inch/minimum, weight/approved body class still used today.

Beyond all the hoopla, something died in Pro Stock when Grumpy’s Toy showed up in Pomona in 1972. This had been a class for Detroit’s hot rods, and muscle cars themselves were fading fast from the factory scene as well. The 1974 gas crunch simply sealed the deal that had begun with emissions controls, mandatory safety equipment, and insurance premiums. Camaros, Mustangs, and Mopar’s E-body Challengers and ‘cudas all either morphed into shadows of the big-block era or left the production environment entirely.

Nearly five decades after Jenkins’ two 1970 wins, we are at the 48th edition of the NHRA Amalie Gatornationals. Pro Stock is still a professional category, featuring wildly configured Camaros and a handful of Dodge Darts with 500-ci approved engines. Attention to that class remains part of the Mello Yello Series, but the narrative above lays the groundwork for what may be one of the most exciting developments for NHRA doorslammers in recent memory: the School of Automotive Machinists & Technology (SAM Tech)-sponsored Factory Stock Showdown.

The Factory Stock Showdown will encompass five events total. The 2017 Gatornationals was the class opener, followed by the Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway, April 28-30, Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, June 22-25, Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Aug. 30-Sept. 4, and AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at Gateway Motorsports Park, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, with a 16-car field scheduled for the Big Go at Indy.

The most important factor that makes the category exciting is that the cars are Stock Eliminator legal. In other words, this is a combination of advanced factory development, individual engine building and blueprinting of that equipment, and a nine-inch-wide tire that makes this as much of a driver’s race as a horsepower race. No matter how good the combination is, everyone is on a fine line between smoking the tires (too much power) or wheelstanding (too much launch). Therefore, the driver needs to carefully consider their style and conditions on each pass, which are run off using a .5 pro yellow/green tree. For the fans, it is the idea seeing all the brands are involved and ‘runnin’ all you brung’ wheels-up action that differentiates this from Pro Stock.

Seventeen cars eventually showed up to qualify for eight spots in the FS/XX supercharged class. According to the rules for the blower cars, Chevrolet’s COPO Camaro is limited to the 350 ci engine, the Drag Pak Challenger is allowed 354-inches, and The Cobra Jet Mustangs can run the Coyote 5.0L with either a 2.3L Eaton supercharger, or a 2.9L supercharger, with differing weight breaks for each: 3,350 or 3,550-pounds, respectively.

In the normally-apsirated class, the 427ci COPO Camaro, 426 aluminum Gen III Hemi, and 429-inch Ninja late-gen Ford must weigh 3,350 pounds. Mopar’s V10 drag engine bumps the weight up to 3,425 and, seemingly in a nod to the Grump’s legacy, “all other entries [must weigh] 3,200.”
The cars also qualify with Stock Eliminator, which at Gainesville were three time shots on Thursday; two qualifying runs, and the first round of class runoffs. This gave the quickest eight cars spots in the eliminator, with the rest of the cars classified in XX being allowed to drop back into the overall Stock Eliminator program ladder. The eight qualified cars then got their first round in between Saturday’s two professional qualifying sessions, and final two rounds on Sunday afternoon.

With that introduction, leading the pack with near identical times of 8.10 was the 2015 COPO Camaro of Gary Wolkwitz driven by David Barton (8.101) and the 2016 Cobra Jet Mustang of Chris Holbrook, a tick behind at 8.109. Both men are from engine building families. Holbrook is from Michigan, the son of Ford racing expert Carl Holbrook, while Barton hails from Pennsylvania, the son of noted engine builder Ray Barton. Also in common is that both are seasoned drivers. Holbrook has piloted cars as fast as 800-ci IHRA Pro Stocks, and Barton has run the baddest-of-the-bad SS/AH Hemi A-bodies. Both have the work ethic that makes modern champions – long hours on the dyno and assembly rooms, talent in everything from laptop tuning to suspension blueprinting, and the willingness to go all out to win. Shreveport, Louisiana’s Stephen Bell was third in a 2015 COPO at 8.148, followed by young Peter Gasko Jr in a 2015 Camaro at 8.167. Bell also won the FS/XX class title Thursday evening. Next up was NHRA Pro Stock World Champ Erica Enders in a Patterson Racing 2017 Camaro. Sixth was Geoff Turk, a former Caterpilar engine designer who trained at the GM Tech Center and has drag raced Mopars most of his life. He had the only Drag Pak in the field, likely the most competitive one in the nation. Turk and his wife Sandi ran the car called Blackbird (of supersonic jet plane fame) in Super Stock trim last year, and popped off an 8.204 in Factory Stock trim on his second pass here. Multi-time winning Comp driver Todd Patterson from Kansas was seventh at 8.22 in his 2017 COPO, and veteran blue oval racer Chuck Watson put a second Ford in the program, with an 8.238 in his 2015 model to take the bump spot. That meant five Camaros, two Mustangs and one Dodge, separated by just 0.14 seconds.

Qualifying had been in amazing weather, with mineshaft-level air and sub-50 degree temperatures. Saturday was something altogether different, now at 75 degrees, bright sunshine, and air measuring over 1,400 feet above sea level. The first pair out was statesman Watson versus the young man Gasko, and even though Watson’s nose went up, he gathered it in and won in an upset, 8.53 to 8.76. Next, Turk’s Blackbird lifted up of the ground and then smoked the tires, getting to see Holbrook thunder to a fast 8.15 for low time of the round. The third pair was the Camaros of Bell and Patterson, and Bell used all his class-winning practice to score the win, going 8.30 over 8.41. The last pair was Barton and Enders, and the distaff Pro Stock pilot succumbed to traction issues while Barton ran a fat 8.18 to finish off the round.

The second round occurred on Sunday with two Chevrolets and just one Ford, as Holbrook had cracked a block in his winning effort but was out of parts and already on his way home. Watson got the chance to check the track on an 8.22 single. Then Barton and Bell left the line heads-up, with Bell wheelstanding high on both the launch and second gear change; a move towards the wall meant he had to lift, and Barton, who dominated the 2016 season in this same car, was again on his way to the money round after another 8.18 to Bell’s slowing 9.10.

The final would match the Number 1 and Number 8 qualifiers, Ford-versus-Chevy, and times of 8.18 and 8.22. Coupled with Turk’s 8.20 in the Dodge, it appears to be a pretty even program for all involved. The fans watched as the two lined up. Watson had already cranked through the water and was ready to go as Barton came forward from staging. At the green, the Camaro grabbed a wheels-up lead and held on through the lights, an 8.131 to Watson’s second 8.22 in a row.

With four more events on the schedule, it is expected that even more drivers will be involved in this as times continues. Fuel car pilot Leah Pritchett made a couple of runs in a Drag Pak and may also be a future participant from Dodge, while both Ford and Chevrolet racers are eager to get another shot at the program’s fame later in 2017. Be forewarned, as part of Stock, come early if you want to see them run qualifying; it’s well worth the cost of an early-morning wake-up call and a Thursday ticket. Be there.

2017 Gatornationals Factory Stock Showdown

Final Field
1 10 David Barton, Robesonia PA, ’15 Camaro 8.101 169.91 169.91
2 3334 Chris Holbrook, Livonia MI, ’16 Mustang 8.109 167.97 168.32
3 439 Stephen Bell, Shreveport LA, ’15 Camaro 8.148 167.86 167.86
4 1991 Peter Gasko Jr, Monroe Twp NJ, ’15 Camaro 8.167 166.83 166.83
5 430E Erica Enders, New Orleans LA, ’17 Camaro 8.170 163.49 163.49
6 360 Geoffrey Turk, Yorkville IL, ’15 Challenger 8.204 168.01 168.01
7 5250 Todd Patterson, Augusta KS, ’17 Camaro 8.220 167.01 167.01
8 3469 Chuck Watson, Grosse Ile MI, ’16 Mustang 8.238 169.06 169.06

———— Not Qualified ————

9 1587 Don Fezell, DuBois PA, ’08 Mustang 8.252 165.05 165.05
10 R210 Richard Bierie, Atworth GA, ’17 Camaro 8.396 162.04 162.04
11 3805 Kevin Skinner, Grove City OH, ’14 Mustang 8.476 163.04 163.04
12 243 Roy Hill, Sophia NC, ’14 Mustang 8.601 157.17 157.17
13 2749 Matthew Bell, Piedmont SC, ’16 Mustang 8.619 157.71 157.71
14 4731 Austin Ford, Spring TX, ’16 Mustang 8.719 156.73 156.73
15 1141 Gardner Stone, Addison VT, ’16 Mustang 8.735 162.63 162.63
16 222 Waldemar Rodriguez, Cidra PR, ’15 Camaro 9.485 146.89 157.71
17 473 Arthur Kohn, Richmond TX, ’16 Camaro 13.700 60.37 60.37

 

David Barton’s ‘shop car’ COPO Camaro came to Gainesville and left with top qualifier and winner honor; he also won multiple times in competition last season. Owned by the Wolkwitz team, this COPO is the most feared in the series, and Barton is basically one of Factory Stock’s pro-level pilots.David Barton’s ‘shop car’ COPO Camaro came to Gainesville and left with top qualifier and winner honor; he also won multiple times in competition last season. Owned by the Wolkwitz team, this COPO is the most feared in the series, and Barton is basically one of Factory Stock’s pro-level pilots.
David Barton’s ‘shop car’ COPO Camaro came to Gainesville and left with top qualifier and winner honor; he also won multiple times in competition last season. Owned by the Wolkwitz team, this COPO is the most feared in the series, and Barton is basically one of Factory Stock’s pro-level pilots.
This is what they got up early to see; late-model factory supercharged muscle, running heads up. This is the Mustang of Don Fezell, the first Stock driver to ever go in the eight second zone, and Arthur Kohn’s SAM Tech backed 2016 Camaro. Neither made the final program at Gainesville.This is what they got up early to see; late-model factory supercharged muscle, running heads up. This is the Mustang of Don Fezell, the first Stock driver to ever go in the eight second zone, and Arthur Kohn’s SAM Tech backed 2016 Camaro. Neither made the final program at Gainesville.
This is what they got up early to see; late-model factory supercharged muscle, running heads up. This is the Mustang of Don Fezell, the first Stock driver to ever go in the eight second zone, and Arthur Kohn’s SAM Tech backed 2016 Camaro. Neither made the final program at Gainesville.
Chuck Watson’s WR Racing Mustang will be familiar to NMRA and NHRA sportsman fans. The seasoned pilot parlayed his Number 8 qualifying time into a final round berth against Barton, running consistent 8.20s.Chuck Watson’s WR Racing Mustang will be familiar to NMRA and NHRA sportsman fans. The seasoned pilot parlayed his Number 8 qualifying time into a final round berth against Barton, running consistent 8.20s.
Chuck Watson’s WR Racing Mustang will be familiar to NMRA and NHRA sportsman fans. The seasoned pilot parlayed his Number 8 qualifying time into a final round berth against Barton, running consistent 8.20s.
Geoff Turk and his Drag Pack were the only Mopar in the field, and he ran times of 8.26 and 8.20 before traction woes ended his weekend during eliminations. The Blackbird is a reference to the sonic-era military plane.Geoff Turk and his Drag Pack were the only Mopar in the field, and he ran times of 8.26 and 8.20 before traction woes ended his weekend during eliminations. The Blackbird is a reference to the sonic-era military plane.
Geoff Turk and his Drag Pack were the only Mopar in the field, and he ran times of 8.26 and 8.20 before traction woes ended his weekend during eliminations. The Blackbird is a reference to the sonic-era military plane.
Chris Holbrook spent the winter making multiple repairs. His colorful Holbrook Racing Mustang qualified second with an 8.10, but his first-round race win resulted in a cracked block. Chris Holbrook spent the winter making multiple repairs. His colorful Holbrook Racing Mustang qualified second with an 8.10, but his first-round race win resulted in a cracked block.
Chris Holbrook spent the winter making multiple repairs. His colorful Holbrook Racing Mustang qualified second with an 8.10, but his first-round race win resulted in a cracked block.
This semi-final match was the most dramatic round of the event. Stephen Bell pulled a high wheelstand again Barton, and held on as the car lifted again at 200 feet out. With a choice of either lifting or hitting the wall, Bell chose discretion and likely saved himself some body and paint work.This semi-final match was the most dramatic round of the event. Stephen Bell pulled a high wheelstand again Barton, and held on as the car lifted again at 200 feet out. With a choice of either lifting or hitting the wall, Bell chose discretion and likely saved himself some body and paint work.
This semi-final match was the most dramatic round of the event. Stephen Bell pulled a high wheelstand again Barton, and held on as the car lifted again at 200 feet out. With a choice of either lifting or hitting the wall, Bell chose discretion and likely saved himself some body and paint work.
Erica Enders-Stevens was in a new Camaro fielded by the Patterson Racing team. She qualified for this show as well as the Pro Stock field, but lost traction here in round one. Even with finesse, it is a driver’s challenge when launching on nine-inch-wide tires.Erica Enders-Stevens was in a new Camaro fielded by the Patterson Racing team. She qualified for this show as well as the Pro Stock field, but lost traction here in round one. Even with finesse, it is a driver’s challenge when launching on nine-inch-wide tires.
Erica Enders-Stevens was in a new Camaro fielded by the Patterson Racing team. She qualified for this show as well as the Pro Stock field, but lost traction here in round one. Even with finesse, it is a driver’s challenge when launching on nine-inch-wide tires.
Yes, Peter Gasko, Jr had this run disqualified when he came down from a high wheelstand and crossed the centerline. This is why Factory Stock is attracting so much interest; there is no sure way the high-horsepower combinations will get down 1320 feet – up, across, or otherwise. With the combinations so close, there are no freebies in this deal, either.Yes, Peter Gasko, Jr had this run disqualified when he came down from a high wheelstand and crossed the centerline. This is why Factory Stock is attracting so much interest; there is no sure way the high-horsepower combinations will get down 1320 feet – up, across, or otherwise. With the combinations so close, there are no freebies in this deal, either.
Yes, Peter Gasko, Jr had this run disqualified when he came down from a high wheelstand and crossed the centerline. This is why Factory Stock is attracting so much interest; there is no sure way the high-horsepower combinations will get down 1320 feet – up, across, or otherwise. With the combinations so close, there are no freebies in this deal, either.
Gainesville is one of the most modern tracks on the NHRA tour, and the tower design fits the Florida motif well. These are the entries lined up for round one action, which happened in front of a great crowd. Gainesville is one of the most modern tracks on the NHRA tour, and the tower design fits the Florida motif well. These are the entries lined up for round one action, which happened in front of a great crowd.
Gainesville is one of the most modern tracks on the NHRA tour, and the tower design fits the Florida motif well. These are the entries lined up for round one action, which happened in front of a great crowd.
Barton was on time and enroute to his first 2017 title in the final. Watson ran close to his qualifying effort but was late getting off the lane; this was on Sunday and was broadcast live on Fox.Barton was on time and enroute to his first 2017 title in the final. Watson ran close to his qualifying effort but was late getting off the lane; this was on Sunday and was broadcast live on Fox.
Barton was on time and enroute to his first 2017 title in the final. Watson ran close to his qualifying effort but was late getting off the lane; this was on Sunday and was broadcast live on Fox.
Barton was on time and enroute to his first 2017 title in the final. Watson ran close to his qualifying effort but was late getting off the lane; this was on Sunday and was broadcast live on Fox.Barton was on time and enroute to his first 2017 title in the final. Watson ran close to his qualifying effort but was late getting off the lane; this was on Sunday and was broadcast live on Fox.
Barton was on time and enroute to his first 2017 title in the final. Watson ran close to his qualifying effort but was late getting off the lane; this was on Sunday and was broadcast live on Fox.
David Barton talks shop inside the transporter. The engine is stock, the car is covered for scratch protection, and the blower is on the counter. He notes this has been a great experience for him, and as a result, Ray Barton Racing Engines has become known for much more than the 426 Hemi packages they previously made famous.David Barton talks shop inside the transporter. The engine is stock, the car is covered for scratch protection, and the blower is on the counter. He notes this has been a great experience for him, and as a result, Ray Barton Racing Engines has become known for much more than the 426 Hemi packages they previously made famous.
David Barton talks shop inside the transporter. The engine is stock, the car is covered for scratch protection, and the blower is on the counter. He notes this has been a great experience for him, and as a result, Ray Barton Racing Engines has become known for much more than the 426 Hemi packages they previously made famous.
Here is Chris Holbrook, checking on data following another run. Holbrook has driven many cars but is a very strong contender in Factory Stock. He is running the latest iteration of the Coyote Ford 5.0L engine in his Mustang.Here is Chris Holbrook, checking on data following another run. Holbrook has driven many cars but is a very strong contender in Factory Stock. He is running the latest iteration of the Coyote Ford 5.0L engine in his Mustang.
Here is Chris Holbrook, checking on data following another run. Holbrook has driven many cars but is a very strong contender in Factory Stock. He is running the latest iteration of the Coyote Ford 5.0L engine in his Mustang.
Looking like just another racer, Geoff Turk is actually a career powertrain engineer who’s training at GM has allowed him to see the LS engine package before it was ever released. Now retired from Caterpilar, he had Tony Bischoff (BES Racing) blueprint the engine for Factory Stock racing.Looking like just another racer, Geoff Turk is actually a career powertrain engineer who’s training at GM has allowed him to see the LS engine package before it was ever released. Now retired from Caterpilar, he had Tony Bischoff (BES Racing) blueprint the engine for Factory Stock racing.
Looking like just another racer, Geoff Turk is actually a career powertrain engineer who’s training at GM has allowed him to see the LS engine package before it was ever released. Now retired from Caterpilar, he had Tony Bischoff (BES Racing) blueprint the engine for Factory Stock racing.
Watson hooked hard in round one but made the numbers work to send Gasko home; these were the Number 4 and 8 qualifers and the first pair out for Saturday’s battle.Watson hooked hard in round one but made the numbers work to send Gasko home; these were the Number 4 and 8 qualifers and the first pair out for Saturday’s battle.
Watson hooked hard in round one but made the numbers work to send Gasko home; these were the Number 4 and 8 qualifers and the first pair out for Saturday’s battle.
SAM Tech, based in Houston, has an entry for both Ford and Chevrolet fans on hand; this is an excellent vehicle to promote both their involvement in drag racing and hands-on experience with these special OEM combinations.SAM Tech, based in Houston, has an entry for both Ford and Chevrolet fans on hand; this is an excellent vehicle to promote both their involvement in drag racing and hands-on experience with these special OEM combinations.
SAM Tech, based in Houston, has an entry for both Ford and Chevrolet fans on hand; this is an excellent vehicle to promote both their involvement in drag racing and hands-on experience with these special OEM combinations.
Even the great Roy Hill, whose racing school uses Mustangs regularly, got bitten by traction woes in round one, though he did leave Gainesville with a (get this) 7.78 in Super Stock to be the fastest-ever entry in that division.Even the great Roy Hill, whose racing school uses Mustangs regularly, got bitten by traction woes in round one, though he did leave Gainesville with a (get this) 7.78 in Super Stock to be the fastest-ever entry in that division.
Even the great Roy Hill, whose racing school uses Mustangs regularly, got bitten by traction woes in round one, though he did leave Gainesville with a (get this) 7.78 in Super Stock to be the fastest-ever entry in that division.

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