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Full Nelson

Driving one of his own dragsters, Danny Nelson conquered the quickest field in the history of the Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs.com class in St. Louis.
04 Oct 2017
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
The Sports Report
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nelson2.jpgThe recently completed AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals featured a host of 3.6-second Top Fuel runs and the sport’s quickest Pro Mod field. The event also hosted the quickest 32-car field in Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs.com and when the smoke cleared, Danny Nelson was holding the much sought-after Wally trophy. A chassis builder who specializes in cars for Top Dragster, Super Comp, and E.T. Bracket racing, Nelson made sure that he was properly armed for the battle, so he brought out his latest creation; a ProCharger-equipped entry that  can easily eclipse the 6.00-second threshold for the class.

As a three-day event, the St. Louis race featured just two qualifying sessions for all NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Sportsman racers, including the 34 drivers entered in Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs.com. That didn’t prevent the field from producing a record bump spot of 6.38 seconds for 32 cars. As his two runs, Nelson was the third-quickest qualifier with a 6.044. He looked at the ladder and saw that he was paired with Kathy Fisher in round one. Fisher was the No. 19 qualifier with a 6.251, but earlier in qualifying, she had run in the five-second zone, a run that did not count because the class is limited to a 6.00 maximum.

“I’m the number three qualifier; I plan to dial a 6.02, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to leave first,” Nelson joked at the time.

Sure enough, Fisher dialed a 6.00 but slowed to a 6.694, giving Nelson an easy win. Nelson returned with wins over Tom Fisher and J.R. Baxter before facing Topeka winner Afton Swanson in the semifinals. Both competitors arrived sporting 6.03 dials, and Nelson won the heads-up bout, 6.044 to 6.051. In the final, Nelson was paired with Mike Coughlin’s JEGS dragster, and with respective dials of 6.03 and 6.01, Nelson left first again. At the finish line, Nelson matched his 6.03 dial while Coughlin trailed with a 6.031 on his 6.01. 

“In five rounds, the slowest car that I ran was dialed 6.09,” said Nelson. “That’s crazy, but that’s what this class has become. It’s almost to the point of being a 6.00 index class. Last week when I saw the entry list, I knew it would be a really fast field. The 6.0 cars are harder to get down the track, but they’re getting a lot better. That’s why we see more of them. When I first started racing in Top Dragster, I used to try and qualify in the bottom half of the field to run the fast cars. Now, it’s not so easy. It’s easier to judge the fast guys when you’re one of them. Now, my car goes 230, and I prefer racing someone who runs 220 or faster. This [Top Dragster] is totally different. You can still drive the stripe but have to be really careful. You don’t jam on the brakes on like you do bracket racing.” 

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When Nelson first decided to try the Top Dragster class, he put together an engine combination using a conventional roots-style supercharger. He eventually decided to convert to a ProCharger centrifugal supercharger setup. Today, he has not only got one of the quickest and fastest cars in the field, but he can also drive it to and from the staging lanes and the between rounds; maintenance is minimal.

“The roots blower was too hard on parts,” he said. “With this ProCharger, I’ve run two seasons, and I’ve barely touched it. Now a lot of that is my engine builder, but the ProCharger is just a better way to go for what I’m doing. I race alone most times. I don’t have three or four people to work on the car. Last weekend, I was on a 5.97 run every round on Saturday. I never had to touch the car other than fuel and the battery charger; normal stuff between rounds.”

Nelson is a relative newcomer to NHRA national events, but his reputation in high stakes bracket racing (and professional tournament poker) reaches near-legend status. Nelson was winning big bracket races in the 1980s and eventually starting building race cars for customers. Today, his business, Race Craft Chassis, has an impressive roster of customers from coast to coast. 

nelson4.jpg“I’ve bracket raced for 45 years, mostly as professional,” Nelson said. “That’s all I’ve did before I started building race cars. Now, I build a lot of dragsters, and I’d say 15 percent of my business is Top Dragsters. I’ve sent a few cars to the west coast. I got into this class thinking it would be a good avenue for sales, and it has been. If I can stay in the top ten this year, I think that will also help.”

Nelson says that there isn’t much difference between his Super Comp dragsters and his Top Dragster designs, but his own car is 11-inches longer than normal to accommodate the front-mounted ProCharger.

“We change some stuff in the chassis, mostly for percentage of weight front to back,” Nelson said. “I’ve been .095 to the sixty-foot mark in my car, and I’ve never touched the wheelie bar. It hasn’t shaken or spun the tires all year. I don’t know where that point is but don’t want to find it either. Honestly, I think I can run 5.8s with this car pretty easily. In the final, I ran 232.31 [mph], and I was scrubbing the brake pedal for a little bit. Like I said, It’s a fun class. I really enjoy it.”

The best of the rest: The St. Louis event featured the deepest and most competitive Comp field this side of Indy, which had to make Shaun Vincent’s win even more gratifying than usual. Vincent added a third tile to his previous wins in 2013 after opponent David Billingsley red-lighted by four-thousandths in the final. Vincent was the No. 17 qualifier in his C/TA Chevy S-10 but caught a huge break when low qualifier Doug Engels fouled in round one. Vincent Managed to remain clean throughout eliminations with wins against Matt Harris, Chad Voges, and former world champ Craig Bourgeois. Unlike Vincent, Billingsley had been hit hard with Competition Index Control penalties, dropping his index from 8.82 to 8.64 before the final round. 

Slate Cummings celebrated his birthday with a win in Super Stock, and he did it in style with a perfect .000 reaction time in the final round. Cummings left on Tyler Wudarczyk, who was appearing in the first of his two final rounds. At the finish line, Cummings was also nearly perfect with a 9.339 on his 9.33 dial. Wudarczyk broke out by .001-second and still didn’t get to the finish line first. Cummings, who finished eighth last year in Super Stock but has admittedly struggled this season, reached the final by beating Korey Mawhee in the semi’s. He also tallied wins against Fred Allen, Brina Splingaire, and Jeff Gillman on race day. Cummings now has eight national event wins in 13 final rounds.

nelson5.jpgTyler Wudarczyk missed out on the win in Super Stock, but he quickly composed himself and returned to earn the Stock title. Driving Gary Stinnett’s clean B/SA ’69 Camaro, Wudarczyk overcame opponent Matt Lund’s .003 start with a competitive .027 light of his own. At the finish line, Wudarczyk made the wise move to cut Lund loose and that resulted in a 10.209 breakout on his 10.30 dial. Wudarczyk, who won 12 of the possible 13 rounds in St. Louis, cut a .001 light in the quarterfinals against Brett Candies and also defeated Mike McGinley in a heads-up B/SA race in the first round. Wudarczyk has now appeared in six final rounds and has two wins, both of them coming at Gateway Motorsports Park.

For the 39th time in his career, Tommy Phillips claimed a national event Wally after driving his CBS Arc Safe dragster to a final-round win against Division 7 ace Ryan Herem. In a typically close Super Comp race, both drivers had .003 reaction times and Phillips turned on the win light with an 8.915 after Herem broke out with an 8.890. Phillips retired as a touring Pro last season but has vowed to maintain a reduced schedule, primarily racing at the events closest to his home in Forney, Texas. Phillips managed to overcome a .001 by Austin Richardson in the second round and also defeated Ross Laris, Madison Ellison, and George Caheely.

nelson6.jpgFor more than two decades, Dwight Nuest and his Dodge Rampage Super Gasser have been familiar sights at NHRA events in the North Central Division and after many attempts, Nuest finally got his first national event victory. Racing against fellow first-time finalist Randy Shipp in the final, Nuest left first and grabbed the win, 9.921 to 9.924. Nuest did not have an easy path to the final round since he had to take out former national champion Jacob Elrod and national event winners Roger Warren and Steve Collier. Shipp also had his work cut out for himself with races against national champ Edmond Richardson and Super Comp winner Phillips.

The Top Sportsman presented by Racing RVs.com class also produced a first-time winner in Rich Smith, who wheeled his six-second ’68 Camaro to a final-round win over defending St. Louis winner Tom Schmidt. Both drivers were competitive off the starting line, but Schmidt’s car slowed allowing Smith to take the win with a slowing 6.725 on his 6.67 dial. Smith’s side of the ladder was like a who’s who of Top Sportsman racing, including Keith Raftery, Bob Gulitti, and last year’s third-ranked driver, Sandy Wilkins.