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The other guys

02 Feb 2016
Brad Littlefield, National Dragster Associate Editor
Tuesday Morning Crew Chief
With the full-time teams having announced their plans for the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season, we explore what’s new with some of the independent teams in the Top Fuel and Funny Car ranks.

We expect to see a few new faces in 2016, and some familiar faces may become more prominent. Though by no means is this a comprehensive list, the following are the highlights of what the teams with limited schedules that we were able to reach have been cooking this winter.

Dave Richards
and the Paul Richards Racing team called with some good news as they prepare for a 10-race season. Supporters Brian and Janie Mahoney had teamed up with them toward the end of their 2015 campaign, and they are increasing their involvement to ramp up Richards’ efforts in 2016. The Florida-based team has purchased new cars and equipment, and they look forward to racing aggressively.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s actually happening,” said Richards. “We bought one of Tim Wilkerson’s cars, two Mustang bodies, a new trailer, and we’re getting new heads from Alan Johnson. We’re stepping everything up, big time. It’s going to be 10 races. It’s going to be nice to go out there and really run hard instead of being conservative and skipping qualifying runs. We’re going to make all the runs to get better.”

Paul Smith is back on board as crew chief. The team plans to test in South Florida before beginning their season in Gainesville.

Smith is also involved with Blake Alexander, who last ran at the Dallas event with Pronto Auto Parts sponsorship. Alexander will announce his 2016 plans in the coming weeks.

One of the new faces at the season opener will be Jim Campbell. The retired first responder from Huntington Beach, Calif., will be making his Professional debut in Chuck and Del Worsham’s Funny Car. The Dodge Charger will carry the name of California Safety & Fire Specialists, Campbell’s safety consulting firm.

“I’m excited,” said Campbell. “We just got the car wrapped. The car looks really, really neat. It’s old-school style with the flames. We’re going to test in Phoenix and then go to Pomona and the CARQUEST Auto Parts NHRA Nationals. Hopefully, there will be more from there.

“One of my best friends is Jack Beckman. I drove a Super Comp car at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School many years ago, and Jack and I became good friends. I’ve been around the drags since I was 8 years old, and I always loved fuel cars. I made 12 runs in a nostalgia car at Hawley’s school. I got the A-OK through Jeff Arend to use Chuck and Del Worsham’s car in Bakersfield. I upgraded my license in three runs. So far, I’ve made it down the track every time.”

Legendary Chris “the Golden Greek” Karamesines is hard at work getting ready to take his Lucas Oil- and Strange Engineering-backed dragster out for another season. In the meantime, granddaughter Krista Baldwin will be making her Top Alcohol Dragster debut in Pomona in Anthony Dicero’s McLeod Clutches A/Fuel dragster, which Karamesines had watched her license in.

“I’m getting everything organized and trying to get a team together,” said Karamesines. “I’m pushing for Gainesville. If not, I’ll make the next one. I’ve got time to do it, so don’t give up on me. If I can get my help, I’ll do it. We tried a few things that didn’t work out for us at the end of the year, but we’re getting that sorted out.”

Jeff “the Surfer” Diehl commented on the quality of the waves near his Salinas, Calif., home this winter, most of which he has been missing out on while getting ready for an early start in 2016. The independent driver is receiving support from Sweco Products, Flatout Gaskets, and a couple yet-to-be-announced programs for the coming season.

“I’ve been missing a lot of good waves working on the race car,” said Diehl. “We’re entered for Pomona, but worst-case, we’ll start at Phoenix if we’re not ready. We updated our hot rod with Leahy stuff, the new headers, and new blowers. It’s the first time the car has been completely apart in a while. I found grease in places where you wouldn’t think there would be grease.”

Kyle Wurtzel
enters his third year of NHRA competition having steadily updated his operation with a methodical approach and having made good, clean runs under the guidance of Mike Wolfarth and Bobby Lagana Jr. The financial advisor is further upgrading his equipment and beginning the season earlier than he has in the past two years.

“Atlanta is our first stop,” said Wurtzel. “We’re going to do Bristol, Chicago, and St. Louis. We’re switching over to the Stage VII heads, and we want to test before we get started. We’re trying to keep up with the Joneses a little bit. Every year, if I don’t upgrade something, we’ll get farther behind. If we have some good outings, we might sneak another race in.”

TJ Zizzo is fired up about racing. The Lincolnshire, Ill., resident had a mixed bag of results in limited outings with the Rust-Oleum dragster last year with respectable qualifying results but ensuing carnage that led to oildowns. Zizzo’s focus in 2016 is eliminating oildowns and showing the worth of his team and the sport to current and potential sponsors.

“I was so busy getting my shop built and running last year that I didn’t spend enough time on the race car or allow my crew enough time to work on it,” said Zizzo. “I think it showed. Sure, we qualified at races where some full-time teams didn’t, but we didn’t look good out there oiling the track. We figured out some things we were doing wrong, and the No. 1 goal for this year is to not oil the track.

“As of right now, the plan is to start in Chicago and run in Sonoma, Seattle, and Indy. I have some good memories of going to the semi’s in Seattle. The main reason for running those last three races is because they are going to be live on the FOX network. Companies I’ve been talking to are interested in the new TV deal, and I want to show them that it has value.”

Scott Palmer
remained involved in racing last season even though he only competed at the Denver event. The Top Fuel driver and girlfriend Ashley Fye spent a lot of time helping teams at drag boat races and worked under Frank Manzo on the Pro Mod entry driven by Khalid alBalooshi. This year, his dragster will be more visible, particularly early in the season with sponsorship support from the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Series, Markco Industries, and Fisher Honda.

“All of the extracurricular stuff we do is for the benefit of the dragster,” said Palmer. “We’re running at Pomona, Phoenix, and Las Vegas and helping promote the first two LODBS races in Phoenix and Parker, Ariz.

“We performed an exorcism on the dragster this winter. We had a lot of help from the Laganas and Steve Torrence’s team. We basically updated the car and changed it over to the combination that they run in the Laganas’ dragster. My goal is to be able to run high-3.80s on Saturday afternoon with it. I’m tired of looking at entry lists to see if there is a short field somewhere. I want to be able to run good enough to qualify and run the races we want to go to.”

Dom Lagana will help the Capco Contractors team through the Gainesville event and field the Nitro Ninja dragster in Epping and Englishtown as well as a handful of match race events. He will continue to fly to Europe to assist teams in the FIA European Drag Racing Championship Series.

Retired schoolteacher Gary Densham will once again be present at the Circle K NHRA Winternationals at his home track in Pomona. The fan favorite and his Ed Boytim-led team will once again field their Lawson Rock & Oil-sponsored Dodge Charger with few changes since its last outing in November, though Densham does plan to modernize his systems during the course of the season.

“The offseason went by fast, and I’m just trying to get ready for Pomona,” said Densham. “I have a new Leahy controller and slide valve and things like that, but they won’t be on the car until Las Vegas at the earliest, Sonoma at the latest.”

Brandon Welch made his Professional debut in grandfather Chuck Beal’s Funny Car at the penultimate race of the 2015 season, and he has more in store as a candidate for the 2016 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award. An official announcement is going to be made in the coming weeks regarding sponsor AutoAnything and their involvement with Beal Racing this season.

“We’ll probably be at eight races this year starting in Las Vegas,” said Welch. “This gives us a chance to update our equipment.”

Bill Miller’s Top Fuel dragster driven by Troy Buff will be back on the track this season. The biggest change for the rod, piston, and blower manufacturer’s team this season will be a new chassis, the second rail to be built in-house at his Carson City, Nev., shop.

“We’re going testing in Phoenix to break in ‘BME-2’ before Pomona,” said Buff. “We qualified at all 11 races we went to last year. I’m really excited to drive again this weekend.”

The Hennen Motorsports team is hard at work to get ready for a 2016 campaign that will likely begin at the Houston event. Driver Kebin Kinsley will once again be representing Gas Monkey Garage.

“We’re freshening up everything and getting ready to rock,” said Kinsley. “We got some new cylinder heads. We got another car toward the end of last year from Keith Murt. I have that on the chassis jig to make sure everything’s good. We got some more new parts like an AJPE manifold from Kalittas. We’ll probably do the same amount of races this year, maybe a couple more. We’ll see. I want to go to all of them if I could.”

Dale Creasy Jr.
had a horrific start to 2015 that was something of a blessing in disguise. A crash during testing in Chicago forced him to update his race car, and with the help of others in the racing community, he was able to do so in acquiring a chassis from Don Schumacher Racing. His efforts with the new, lighter hot rod give him hope coming into the new year.

“We’re getting everything ready,” said Creasy. “I have a few new things to try, and we’re going to get started in Charlotte. The car we got from DSR has gotten down the track as many times this last year as the other one did in the previous year and a half. It’s not fast yet, but it’s getting there. I’m more optimistic this year than I have been in the last couple years.”

Top Fuel veteran Pat Dakin is ready for another 10-race schedule with his Commercial Metal Fabricators team. His 2015 season began on the most promising of notes with a career-best 3.715 elapsed time in Charlotte before the team chased clutch issues and various maladies at the events that followed.

“It’s basically the exact same thing as last year,” said crew chief Scott Graham. “We rolled out a new car last year and sorted out some clutch issues at the end of the year. This thing was really trying to run with a new clutch lever we have in there, and I’ll think we’ll be pretty much where we need to be with a few more runs. We’re trying some stuff in the ignition, but other than that, we have the same motor, blower, everything. There’s a good chance we’re going to start in Charlotte and run the same amount of races.”

John Bojec
and the Speed City team impressed with a semifinal finish at the Reading event in 2015, one of six appearances that the Mentor, Ohio, resident made last season. Much of his focus last year was in product development, primarily with the Star Racer blower belts that he is marketing to other nitro teams through Speed City. His Johnny West-tuned Funny Car ran a best of 4.13 last season.

“We’ll probably wait until everything moves to the Midwest and East Coast in April or May before we get started,” said Bojec. “Everything is pretty much ready. We’re kind of playing it by ear. We got our motors freshened and bought some new blowers. We met our first objective of getting our supercharger belt working in fuel last year. Now we’ll start looking at running a little harder to be competitive.”

Funny Car driver Bob Bode is going to start the season where he ended 2015: at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona. The Illinois driver is signed up for eight races, a number that could increase if things go well.

“Since we went to Pomona in November and finished 17th, I told my guys, ‘Those were our four practice runs. We’ll go back in February and try to be serious,’ ” said Bode. “We’ll fix the spot where it smoked the tires and try to go down the track. We’ll eventually get there. I got those new, fancy, swooped-back headers like everyone has now. At the end of the year, we were running Stage VI heads and some motors that we got from Tim Wilkerson.”