Meet the 2014 IHRA Sportsman Champions, Part 2
SCOTTY STILLINGS – SUPER STOCK
He won his first championships as a kid in the late 90s. His third and fourth titles came in the mid-2000s as he grew into a regular in the ranks of Super Stock. But it is his fifth title, won earlier this year at the IHRA Summit Racing Equipment World Finals at Memphis International Raceway, that stands as the most unique of his championship collection.
While every championship has its own unique set of circumstances, some won in the final passes of a season, others dominated from start to finish, it was Stillings' championship in Memphis that served as his first taste of victory in the Summit Racing Equipment Tournament of Champions, which has been deciding IHRA's sportsman champions since 2009.
"It is completely different, that is for sure," Stillings said. "I won my first championship when I was 18. It went down to the final rounds; if somebody won they won, if they lost, I won. In 2005 and 2006, I won Super Stock, but one of the years went down to the end and the other, I had a big lead.
"Every championship has its anxious moments, but the IHRA World Finals runoff is a really unique experience."
In that race, comprised of the best racers from the current season competing together to crown a true champion, Stillings found a groove, eliminating two divisional champions - including the defending IHRA world champion in the class - on his way to his fifth title and first in the Summit Tournament of Champions.
In the championship round, Stillings' matched up against veteran Pete D'Agnolo, but the race finished in anticlimactic fashion with D'Agnolo's car breaking during his run, allowing Stillings to take the victory. Stillings ran a 9.039-second elapsed time on an 8.89 dial at 129.24 mph in the final to D'Agnolo's 9.986 on a 9.48 at 114.65 mph.
"I hated for Pete to tear something up in the finals. That is never good," Stillings said. "I really think I was on the path of going dead-on again because the car was just on rails for sure all day."
In the winner's circle, Stillings reflected on his fifth title, a championship made all the more special with his family by his side.
"I had stepped away from racing a little bit with a family now and came back," Stillings said. "I have a three-year-old girl who is everything to me. Having my wife and daughter in this world championship winner's circle was way different in personal ways that make this championship win very special."
In addition to his big win over D'Agnolo, Stillings also recorded a monumental win over defending Super Stock World Champion Jimmy Hidalgo Jr. in the opening round. As a Division 4 double champion in Super Stock and Stock with a season-high five wins, Hidalgo looked like the man to beat in the class. But Stillings answered the call, putting together a .021 package in that first round tilt with a .013 light and an 8.898 on an 8.89 at 148.85 mph to take the win. Hidalgo had a 9.761 on a 9.75 at 137.72 mph.
"That was a great race. I had a .013 reaction time and ran dead-on while Jimmy had a .019 reaction and ran .01 above his dial-in. I got by him and then we battled the rain all over again," Stillings said.
Rain did prove an issue all weekend, with persistent rain showers pushing the two-day event into a third day. But on championship Sunday, Stillings found what he needed and put together five rounds of work with wins over Hidalgo, Gil Carty and Jake Sealey. Stillings had a bye run in the semifinals.
Championship runner-up D'Agnolo, who recorded three wins in 2014 on his way to the Division 2 championship, had wins over A.H. Adkins, Jeff Longhany, Aaron Allison and Tony Cowell on his way to the finals in Memphis.
"I have to commend IHRA for sticking it out. I have nothing but respect for the IHRA staff for working so hard to keep the event going," Stillings said. "The on and off weather drained it out of you. Once Sunday came, with clear weather, we got to focus and finish the race. The car was phenomenal and helped us get to the winner's circle."
As a whole, Stillings had a quiet season, with one win and a runner-up finish helping propel him to third in Division 3, the cutoff for making the tournament. But Stillings was able to overcome that slow start and put it all together in the final race of the season.
"We had some problems that just prevented us from getting any momentum going early in the year," Stillings said. "We considered going to the Darlington event there at the end to try and win our division championship, but I made a business decision to compete locally and just focus on tuning the car for the World Finals."
That decision proved the right one as Stillings had a tremendous outing in Memphis, ending with a fifth championship and putting Stillings among the most decorated racers in IHRA history.
"I want to thank my parents, Joe and Linda Stillings, my wife, Cynthia and daughter, Audrey," Stillings said. "Thank you to Approved Auto of America and all of its employees and my business partners, Jim Hutchens and John Hibbard. Thank you to sponsors Mickey Thompson, Autometer, APD Fuel Systems, ARP, Fel Pro, Clevite, Bruce Litton Trailer Sales, MSD, JEGS, Jeff Taylor Performance, Milodon, Moser, Coan Engineering, Afco Shocks, Smith Brothers Push Rods, Lucas Oil, Nitroplate, Manley, Leroy Marburger, Summit Racing Equipment and all the IHRA staff and officials. And most important, thanks to God."