CHANDLER, Arizona (April 2, 2017) - Bryan Sanders saved his best pass for last, setting a world record top speed of 268.40 mph during a 3.451-second victory over Daryl Ehrlich in the Top Fuel Hydro final of the Valley of the Sun Spring Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.
Bob Pizza, Tony Scarlata, Shawn Reed and Cole Allen share winner's circle
With the crowd on its feet anticipating the big pass after Sanders went 267.96 mph during his semifinal bye run, the Houstonian delivered with a picture-perfect run that lit up the scoreboards.
"That was just awesome," Sanders said of his record run. "We tried to get it last year and came up a little bit short so we came out in the first race this year and got it done. That was a great deal.
"We knew the boat was going to do it. We had a feeling it was going to get there so we went after it and we did put a leg on it in the semis so we had the backup. We had that one last shot at it in the final and we got it."
Sanders was joined in the winner's circle by Top Alcohol Hydro's Bob Pizza, Top Alcohol Flat's Tony Scarlata, Pro Mod's Shawn Reed and Pro Outlaw's Cole Allen.
The day got progressively better each round for Sanders and the General Tires "Nitrochondriac" boat as the top qualifier's elapsed times continued to improve each session. He opened with a 3.531 at 262.29 mph in a romp over Scott Compton, posted a 3.464 at 267.96 mph during the semifinal bye run, and then stepped up to a 3.451 at the record 268.40-mph top speed for the trophy.
"I got the boys to make the noise," Sanders said. "I'm telling you, this boat is just incredible. It never skipped a beat from last year to now. Sometimes you bring something back from the year before and it all goes wrong but this thing's just picked up right where it left off. I couldn't be prouder of these guys for keeping it that way."
Pizza was a picture of consistency in winning Top Alcohol Hydro class in his "What A Tomato" vessel, surviving a tough eight-boat field to earn the victory. Starting the day as the No. 3 qualifier, Pizza beat Dale Riggs with a 4.392 at 203.30 mph ahead of Riggs' 5.034 at 175.42 mph. He then posted an almost identical 4.395 at 204.07 mph to trailer semifinal foe Andy Reynolds, who topped out at 4.472 at 200.62 mph.
In the money round, Pizza stepped up to 4.338 at 204.85 mph to outrun Steve Streeter's 4.552 at 198.14 mph. Earlier in the day in the opening round, Streeter beat top qualifier Mike De Clark, so Pizza wasn't taking any chances.
"It wasn't easy," Pizza said. "We started out Friday struggling with electrical problems, and had more of the same Saturday. It actually wasn't until first round this morning that it finally worked and that's when it started running the numbers.
"I'll tell you one thing about the 'What A Tomato' boat, when it's working, when everything is running 100 percent and it does the same thing every time, it makes it very easy to drive."
Like Sanders in Top Fuel Hydro, Scarlata rode the No. 1 qualifying position to victory lane, handily beating Bill Diez with a 5.356 at 154.16 mph in Tommy Thompson's Lucas Oil-sponsored "Shazam" to Diez's 5.899 at 141.33 mph to earn the Top Alcohol Flat hardware.
"Today's success was largely due to what we did last week," Scarlata said. "We were out testing on the delta and found some things that would have bitten us here. We arrived in town four passes ahead of the game and that's why it looked easy today. We still had our struggles, changing engines after the first round, in an hour's time, and a bunch of other stuff to match that engine. I'm just so lucky to have Tommy Thompson and the whole Lucas Oil crew behind me.
"It's big to win the first race, because if you look statistically over the years, the person who wins the first race usually wins the championship. If you get behind and somebody else gets on a roll early, it's hard to reel them in. Bill Miller went out first round but then Bill Diez steps in and gets on a roll. That's what needs to happen in this sport: People stepping up their game every race."
Scarlata benefitted from being the top qualifier as he received a bye in Round 1, where he nevertheless posted a 5.552 at 152.43 mph. He then turned up the horsepower to beat Doug Durnall with a 5.507 at 140.49 mph to Durnall's 5.854 at 148.52 mph. That run earned him a final-round date with Diez.
Part-time Top Fuel dragster driver Reed showed his love for the water with a nice win in Pro Mod that required four steady passes down Wild Horse Pass lake to earn the win for supporters Floyd and Barbara Hughes and Jason and Miranda Sutton. In a class where participants cannot dip below the 7-second mark, Reed escaped a Round 1 mistake when his 6.997 at 171.79 mph in the "Top Secret" boat was negated by a 6.982 at 173.04 mph from Robert Leas.
"We don't get a chance to practice in the morning so that round was kind of a crap shoot and most of the boats ran under the index," Reed said of his Round 1 pass. "I got lucky because he went further under than me. We both red-lit actually. The air was good, and that just hopped the boats up and we were too quick."
Reed kept it safe in the quarterfinals, running a 7.029 at 169.90 mph in defeating No. 1 qualifier Keith Funk, who couldn't make the call. He then posted a very safe 7.061 at 169.32 mph during a semifinal bye run.
In the finale, Reed ramped it up a bit and posted a 7.043 at 169.73 mph in beating Casey Beal, who tried a little too hard to make up for a starting line deficit and legged it to a 6.968 at 171.23 mph
"The boat's good," Reed said. "It's pretty consistent. I didn't do that good of a job driving as far as the tree and stuff goes but stepping in and out of a Top Fuel dragster to the boat, just getting used to it again, is just different, but we did all right."
Closing out the pro classes was 22-year-old Allen, who was racing Mike Murray's Cat Spot Litter "Desperado" for the first time. He certainly did a good job of impressing his new employer, winning the Pro Outlaw trophy in just his third-ever start in the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series.
Allen's final-round test against top qualifier Vic Esposito was the best race of the entire weekend with both men posting identical 5.505s down the 1,000-foot course. The difference was a double-foul start that favored Allen by .0246 seconds.
"What a great way to start with a new team," Allen said. "But now what do I do to top this? I raced motocross for 10 years but the intensity of this kind of racing is very different. Your heart rate's pumping out there. Either way it's adrenaline, that's what we're all out here for.
"It's crazy because this is my first weekend in this boat so I had to adapt really quick. Fortunately, the team is really easy to work with. They've won back-to-back championships in this boat so they brought me right along. They're all pros over here. I'm very lucky to get this chance."
Allen looked like a veteran in beating his sponsor Tommy Thompson and Jason Mullican to reach the final. He also benefitted from a first-round bye run.
Sportsman winners included Tom Roberts in Pro Eliminator, Dave Lipinski in Quick Eliminator, Bill McGuinn in Top Eliminator, Mike Munoz in Modified Eliminator, Armand Labarre in Stock Eliminator, Glendon Boehme in River Racer and Brian Marble in Personal Watercraft 1.
Bryan Sanders' General Tires "Nitrochondriac"
(Marty Reger photo)