Kyle Cultrera: Two championships in one season

Kyle Cultrera: Two championships in one season

NHRA's Northeast Division is plump with a group of what could arguably be called some of the toughest Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series competitors in the nation, and division titles in the region are therefore coveted and held in very high regard. For young Kyle Cultrera, the 2013 season ended like a dream as he accomplished a feat almost unthinkable for a driver so youthful in his career: he won Division 1 championships in both Competition Eliminator and Super Comp.

(Kubicke Photography)

"This was an unbelievable and exciting year," said Cultrera, who accumulated a total of four wins in five final rounds across the two categories. "My goal at the beginning of the season was that I wanted to win one championship, but I just had one of those years where everything seemed to fall in the right place. Winning two championships in one year is something that is rarely done, and luckily we were able to accomplish that."

Although Cultrera gives much of the credit for his success to the level of support that he receives, his skill behind the wheel in both categories most certainly came into play in regard to the final outcome. The driver who shares his time between Charlotte, N.C., and his hometown of Eliot, Maine, was a finalist in each of the final five Division 1 races in 2013.

"We just kept going rounds, and to put it in simple terms, that's just what you have to do to win a championship," said Cultrera. "It can be challenging sometimes to run two cars, but my dad is a great help. We've got a good system. This is my third year in Comp, and this year we really pulled it together."

Thanksgiving weekend Las Vegas Bracket Nationals

Thanksgiving weekend Las Vegas Bracket Nationals

The Thanksgiving weekend Las Vegas Bracket Nationals at The Strip at LVMS concluded Sunday afternoon, Dec. 1, ending the 2013 season.

Kris Whitfield of Littleton, Colo., was declared the overall points winner in the Super Pro category.

Jeff LaSalle of Cloverdale, Calif., scored enough points to clinch the Pro title.

Each day of the four-day meet featured a complete set of eliminations and winners.

Dead-On – Planning for the 2014 season is underway

Planning for the 2014 season is underway

With the holiday season upon us and most racing events concluded, it is a pretty good guess that a lot of racers are already thinking about how they can improve their performance in 2014. It could be they want the car to be faster and more consistent (probably a little of both). This will be my 42nd time of going into the Iowa winter thinking about the next racing season. I know -- I am OLD! That's OK, you still have to lay down a pretty good package to turn on the win light against me, and I have enjoyed that for most of my adult life.

 

This is the Olds in action this summer at the No Box Nations at Lyons Dragway. Taking timing out with the MSD Grid calmed it down. It used to bend the wheelie bar once in a while!

In saying that I am in the process of making a change in my racing plans. I bought the Olds Cutlass from Nick and Sandy Jeffrey, great friends who have allowed me to get that "spark going again” in my racing. The Olds is fun, fast and overall a damn good bracket car.

One downside: like so many drag cars these days, it has a very expensive engine full of the best parts you can get. When a pure Oldsmobile small-block gets 725 HP on the dyno, it has very good parts in it.

Our other drag car is the "Project 4-Link" rear engine dragster. Over the years it has evolved several times. Currently it has a fairly low-budget 632" Chevy in it. Again, a fairly expensive engine to be out there running bracket races every week. We are pretty much planning to run the Olds and the Dragster at Regional races in Super Street and Super Comp. We haven't done that for several years and we will see if "change" is a good thing.

The local tracks around here (3 of the 4 anyway) just changed to IHRA. I don't think it will make a huge difference in the race programs but since "I like change" I am looking forward to it.

Our "plan" for 2014. We have resurrected the "Project 10-The Hard Way" Firebird. Our goal is to have it run at the slowest end of the S/Pro and Pro bracket (around here it is Box and No Box) and have a combination of parts that will let us hit every test and tune and race day to get the car as consistent as our competitor's cars. To do that we need to make hundreds of runs a year and probably 30 to 40 before the season gets into full swing. To do that with expensive engines and components would cost a lot of money in maintenance and a lot of time to make sure everything has been checked over and over.

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NHRA Sportsman Finals at Pomona

Jim Whiteley rides off into the sunset in TAD. 

NHRA Sportsman Finals at Pomona

Manzo Wins Final Race, Ahten Stops Whiteley

Frank Manzo went out on top, winning his final race in Top Alcohol Funny Car, the AAA Finals at Pomona, with low ET and top speed, and Jim Whiteley narrowly missed doing the same in Top Alcohol Dragster, uncharacteristically faltering in the final against first-time winner Johnny Ahten after dominating all weekend.

Manzo, who has said all year that he would retire after the season, ran the only 5.4 all weekend and parlayed consistent low .50s, including a 5.53 in the final against Clint Thompson, into his 105th and last national event victory.

Frank Manzo

"You don't know you're going to win 220-some races – however many it is – when you start racing," said Manzo, 61, who also has 125 divisional/regional wins in his unparalleled career. "You just start, you keep going, and this is where you end up."

The only thing Manzo didn't do in his final race as a driver was qualify No. 1 for the record field (5.63 bump). He was third, behind championship runner-up John Lombardo and Annie Whiteley, but quickly established control in eliminations with low ET of all four rounds. His 5.50 in a first-round win over Kris Hool took low ET from Lombardo, and he dropped it to 5.49 in round two against Von Smith.

NHRA Division 7 at Las Vegas

NHRA Division 7 at Las Vegas

More Champs Crowned

Alan Ellis, Justin Lamb and Rick Beckstrom each locked up their 2013 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series World Championships Nov. 3 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The three join Jim Whiteley, Frank Manzo and Luke Bogacki who had already clinched their championships.

At the final Lucas Oil Series event anywhere in the country this year, Annie Whiteley, who's undefeated in four career regional starts at Las Vegas, and husband Jim Whiteley swept the alcohol classes for the third time since last year, Annie in Top Alcohol Funny Car and Jim in Top Alcohol Dragster. Both won photo-finish finals, Annie by three-thousandths of a second over Jay Payne, who clinched the West Region championship, and Jim by just one-thousandth over Garrett Bateman.

Jim, who locked up the national championship with his victory at last week's Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas, clinched the regional title with his fifth final and fourth win of the season.

He set top speed last week with three 271-mph runs, topped 271 in all three rounds of this race, too, including a 272.34-mph blast (top speed of the meet) in a 5.27 (low ET.) first-round win over two-time 2013 winner Shawn Cowie's otherwise excellent 5.35 at 266.

Holcomb Civil Wars at Rockingham, NC

Josh Nesbitt

Holcomb Civil Wars at Rockingham, NC

North Carolina racers dominate the war

Outlasting weather interruptions and final round rival Jason Tyson, Sanford’s Josh Gross drove his 2000 Chevy Camaro to victory in the featured Outlaw 275 class at the annual Holcomb Motorsports Fall Civil Wars event at Rockingham Dragway.

Although he qualified only fifth behind the 1968 Chevy Nova of Robby Keziah of Charlotte, Gross took out No. 2 qualifier Eric Autry in round 3 before getting a bye into the final round.

Tracy Cockman was the number-one qualifier in Comp.

While Gross took home the biggest paycheck of the weekend, Mooresville’s Jerry Cline and Elm City’s Michael Crumpler were the only multiple race winners. Cline drove to victory in both 6.0 Index races and then beat Bennett’s Howard Brewer to win Combo Eliminator.

Crumpler matched Cline’s performance in the 7.0 Index class but Brewer ended the potential of a showdown between the two when he beat Crumpler in the Combo Eliminator semifinals.

Other Sunday winners included Brian Tuten of Lexington, S.C., in X275; John Keesey of Coatesville, Pa., in King of the Street; and Dale Sanders of Eagle Springs in Open Comp.

Former IHRA champion and Rockingham Dragway track champion Chip Johnson’s bid for a Pro Tree Doorslammer victory was halted with the Fayetteville veteran splitting the winner and runner-up money with John Hodson of Graniteville, S.C., due to a massive oil-down in front of the final run.

Jonathan Wiggins was the Saturday Footbrake winner, his Dunn neighbor, Justen West, claimed the Open Comp money and Brandon Williams of Eagle Springs won the Pro Tree Doorslammer title.

Project 10 the Hard Way Rides Again!

We’re back in the shop until it is back on the track

The DRO/ETDragRacing.com project car "Project 10 The Hard Way" 1985 Firebird is back in the shop after about a year sitting outside waiting for me to "jump start the project again". Well, that time has arrived. We will be doing a bunch of "budget oriented tech articles" that I hope you will enjoy and possibly use the information to save yourself money on your drag car.

I have set a new goal for ‘10 the Hard Way’ and I am pretty darn excited about seeing how it works out in the end. Here are the plans for future articles:

Double adjustable shocks shouldn’t be double trouble

Double adjustable shocks shouldn't be double trouble

How do you get the most out of the double adjustable shocks you have just purchased or have already installed on your drag car? In this article we introduce veteran racer, Marty Rinehart Jr., who is doing one of the first tech stories. His insight and experiences should help you become a little better on the track.

Double Adjustable (DA) coil over shocks or strut are not a fix-all and will not cure all other chassis problems, although they may give you enough adjustments to cover up some problems a car may have. They are just a tuning aid to make a good racecar adaptable for the changing race conditions.

Assuming that the rest of the chassis is set up correctly, with the four-link intersect settings at about 46-50 inches out and between 4-8 inches high, you have to ask yourself a few questions. Are the wheelie bar heights set up properly for your application? Is the front end wheel caster, camber and toe set up correctly for high speed racing? Has your car/chassis been scaled on four corners using individual wheel scales? Was it driving straight before you installed your new shocks or struts?

All of these items must be done and done correctly or you will be dealing with too many unknowns to start making shock adjustments. Without the rest of the car being correct, the DA shocks can end up being just another variable in your racecar’s suspension.

Double adjustable shocks cannot make a bad car good. But they can make a good car great!

READING THE RACETRACK

Another variable that needs to be addressed is the racetrack itself. Reading the track is a skill that you must develop to maintain the proper shock settings. One of the hardest things to determine is knowing whether the track is "going away" or staying consistent. For instance, when the sun beats down on the track surface, it begins to heat up, causing the oils to rise to the surface. That will give you a sticky but greasy feeling when you twist your foot on it. You will actually feel your shoe twist on top of the track surface as if it were "rubber cement" that was still tacky.

Another track issue to look for is “bald spots” on the track. As cars launch on the starting line in the heat of the day, the rubber will peel up, causing the track to get bald spots. Some crewmembers on the starting line will place the driver away from the bald spots and keep the car out of the groove. They will do this strategically thinking they got around the problem. However, this may cause the car to drive to the right or left as it leaves the line.

NHRA Sportsman at Las Vegas

NHRA sportsman results from Las Vegas

Champs Whiteley and Manzo go out in style

Reigning NHRA Lucas Oil Series national champions Jim Whiteley and Frank Manzo, who have said for months that this will be their last season, clinched championships with victories at the NHRA Toyota Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. For YNot Racing’s Whiteley it was his second straight in Top Alcohol Dragster and Manzo’s eighth in a row and 17th overall in Top Alcohol Funny Car.

Jim Whiteley got his last trophy for Top Alcohol Dragster. His son, Steve, will drive the car next season and dad will move into a Pro Mod.

Whiteley and archrival Chris Demke (lead photo) finished 1-2 in last year's final standings, again in this year's standings, at Indy, at this race, and even in qualifying for this race, which was the only time Whiteley didn't come out on top. He was second to Demke, 5.29 to 5.30, but quicker in all four rounds, starting with a 5.28 (low ET.) against Las Vegas' Duane Shields in round one. Demke beat Jeff Ashwell in that round with a 5.32 and kept his deteriorating championship prospects alive with a 5.40 second-round win over Dan Mercier, who -- unbeknownst to Demke, who thought he got left on -- had red-lighted.

"There was only a remote chance anyway," Demke said. "I knew it was a slim-to-none-deal coming in." Whiteley's 5.32 win over Don St. Arnaud one pair later made official what to many was already a foregone conclusion.

With another championship secured and only a few runs left in his Alcohol Dragster career, Whiteley maintained his focus in the semifinals against Mark Taliaferro, 5.34 to 5.41, and especially in his latest final-round showdown with Demke. "Races like that are what it's all about," said Whiteley, who prevailed, 5.33 to 5.34. "Demke and those guys pushed us all year."

Demke's Operation Solutions/Peen Rite dragster ran a 5.36, 268 in a semifinal win over Ray Martin and picked up a couple of hundredths to a 5.34 at 269 in the final, matching Whiteley's semifinal numbers. Unfortunately for him, Whiteley picked up a hundredth from the semi's for an eight-foot margin in the lights. "I couldn't see him the whole way down and thought there was a chance, but we're going home with our tails between our legs again," said Demke, who has two wins in seven career finals against Whiteley. "But it's still been a great rivalry."

Wheels Up – Even if you are winning, change!

Even if you are winning, change!

 I am a dyed-in-the-wool drag racer and, at least for me, it means constantly changing my race combination. I enjoy learning and I have not found a better way to learn than experimentation. In a future column I may review the combinations I have built and successfully raced, but for now understand that it is many.

 A cool thing about drag racing: when you tow up to the pit gate for today’s race, months, even years of work preceded today’s race attendance. 

For the 2014 season I remain true to form. For the last four seasons my trusty “Wheels Up” Firebird has been great. It is one of the most consistent packages I have built. Once during this season I won a seven round race and did not change the dial-in one time. Yes, it is certainly a fine package.

So what does a true hot-rodder do with a package like that? CHANGE!

Yep, how else can we learn?

How else can we know if there is even a better combination?

The desire to be faster in Super Pro had been perking inside me for a while and I knew I would step up at the correct time. Lately, I learned of a nicely built Vega that was in storage. It only took a quick look to realize this was the step up package (change) for me. The Vega I found is a least 350 pounds lighter and much smaller than my Firebird. Quicker ET, here I come!

Overall the Vega looks good and is equipped with the expected equipment. But hold the phone, I gotta change it. We unloaded it at my shop in the morning, and within 3 hours we had unbolted most everything thing that could be unbolted. All the wiring, into the dumpster with it. Bolt on electronics, fuel system, shifter, steering, seat, etc sorted by what will be re-installed, sold, or traded.

The Vega had been stored for several years and only raced infrequently before that. The original Harwood fuel cell had crumbled into a thousand pieces. Tires, of course, were badly dry rotted. None the less, a diamond in the rough through my "eyes of change".

It was originally built by Todd and Thad Bevis when they had a shop in Tyler Texas. (Yes, the same Todd Bevis that now works at Cagnazzi Racing and builds the Pro-Stock cars for Erica Enders-Stevens.)

It can be considered a back half style build up with four link rear and big tubs allowing a 32 x 14 with room to spare. The front end lifts off, doors lift off, deck lid lifts off, and it is a real drag race car.

It retains the factory front suspension and that part of the car needs work. Never fear, I will change it.

The power train from my 6.10s ET Firebird should provide an ET range of 5.80s in a package 350 pounds lighter. In addition, this package is much easier to work on. Overall I expect it be just as good and maybe better than my Firebird.

What will I do if it is not better you ask? Easy answer. I will change it until it meets my expectations. Stand by for 2014 season performance news.

Never fear change, embrace it. It is a fact of life.

Be watching for my next column. There will be even more changes coming.... My Son, Jeff Woodfin, changes from our short wheelbase Land Shark dragster to an M & M Race Cars built '32 Bantam Roadster.
That is it for today. Thanks for reading ET Drag Racing and keep those “Wheels up”

(Editor's note: Sounds like Larry has a bad case of "drag racer" going on! :-) With two cars in the works, I bet we see a lot of great tech articles on these two cars in the upcoming months. Stay tuned to ETDragRacing.com as we will be updating tech articles continually from Larry, myself and our other tech editors. - Jok)