A final look back at 2016

07 Dec 2016
Kevin McKenna, National Dragster Senior Editor

If you had to pick one Sportsman run as the most impressive of the 2016 season, which would you choose? I posed that question to my panel of experts that includes NHRA announcers Alan Reinhart and Brian Lohnes and NHRA Director of Statistics & Research/Historian Lewis Bloom, and after a minimal amount of debate, we all agreed that David Barton’s 8.258 run during qualifying for the School of Automotive Machinists & Technology NHRA Factory Stock Showdown in Englishtown was the most awe-inspiring run of the season. Though it’s true that Barton (pictured) and rival Chris Holbrook both ran quicker than that later in the season in Factory Stock trim, the wow factor of the sport’s first 8.2-second run, after only a handful of racers had ever been in the 8.3s, was also a contributing factor.

Barton’s run wasn’t just impressive because of the numbers on the scoreboard; it was amazing to watch because his Wolkwitz Racing COPO Camaro picked up the front wheels about 3 feet off the ground and carried them close to 200 feet downtrack. For that reason, Barton’s performance stands out above the tens of thousandths of runs made this season by NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series drivers.

During independent conversations with the aforementioned experts, we dredged up a few other noteworthy moments from the season, so in no particular order, here goes.

Newly crowned Comp champ Doug Doll Jr. has been covered extensively in this space all season, but we all agreed that his drive to the title was a thing of beauty. New to his ride in Charlie Greco’s dragster, Doll took no time adapting and scored 730 of a possible 760 points. The only reason for the 30-point shortfall were wins against several short (fewer than 16-car) fields, which is difficult to avoid in this day and age.

Somewhat overlooked in all the excitement of Dan Fletcher’s pursuit of his 100th victory was the milestone performance achieved by his buddy Peter Biondo, who scored win No. 50 when he won the Reading Stock title. Biondo doesn’t race nearly as often as he used to, and with a growing family and business obligations, it’s hard to imagine that he’ll ever approach the numbers posted by Fletcher and 92-time winner David Rampy, but the talent for that sort of a run has always been there.

Speaking of Rampy, the four-time national champion enjoyed a solid season in Comp eliminator with national event wins in Charlotte, Houston, and Las Vegas to finish fourth; he also placed No. 3 in Super Stock after a successful season that included four final rounds and three victories at Lucas Oil Series events. Sitting on 92 wins, it’s hard to imagine that Rampy won’t challenge to become the next driver to 100 victories, but in recent interviews, the veteran has suggested that his days as a touring pro are numbered, so he may have to work quickly to get to the century mark.

While veterans such as Fletcher, Rampy, and Biondo won their fair share this season, there was a host of deserving first-time winners. For my money, one of the most impressive drives was turned in by Englishtown Stock winner Carl Massafra, whose perseverance was rewarded with his first win after years of trying. Other notable first-time winners included teenagers Daniel Young, Houston Raikes, and Koy Collier.

Families have long been a part of NHRA, and this season, the Meziere family stole the show. Chandler Meziere opened the season by winning the Super Comp title in Phoenix, and his uncle, Don, collected the Top Sportsman title in Sonoma a few months later. At the end of the season, Chandler’s brother, Zach, collected his first national event title when he won the Super Comp class at the Auto Club NHRA Finals in Pomona.

For all the great successes, the 2016 season wasn’t without its share of slipups as well. Bucky Hess, who drives perhaps the finest SS/AH ’68 Hemi ‘Cuda in the nation, suffered a mishap during the Mopar Hemi Challenge in Indy when he broke an engine and slipped in his own oil. Hess hit the guardwall just hard enough to cause significant body damage to his show-quality Kandy Kuda entry.

Another great story that may have been overlooked came late in the season when Darrell Goheen (pictured) claimed the Stock title at the NHRA Toyota Nationals in Las Vegas. Goheen took delivery of his C/SA ’94 Camaro just days before the event and admittedly had little knowledge in regard to tuning a fuel-injected Stocker. Goheen was so concerned that he even took to the popular website to solicit tuning advice. Somehow, Goheen not only figured out how to drive his new racer but also how to tune it and predict a dial-in because he won the event in convincing fashion.

Finally, on a more somber note, we lost many great racers this season, in fact too many to mention individually. Among them were former Division 4 champ Ellard Lambert, longtime Mopar racer and team owner Joe Teuton Sr., Steven Smith, Danny Durham, Alex Denysenko, Richard Feldman, Jerry Arnold, Ronnie “the King” Davis, Jere Stahl, Ricky Klarr, and, more recently, popular Division 4 racer and cheerleader Jerry “Thriller” Vergadamo. We will miss them all.