A lot has happened in Michael Mans’ life since 2011 and most of it has been good. Mans has gotten married and started a family, but until this weekend’s Menards NHRA Heartland Nationals presented by Minties, the one thing that hadn’t happened was an NHRA national event win. Mans took care of that on a single run in the final round after his scheduled opponent, four-time Super Comp national champion Gary Stinnett, was a no show. Clutching his third-career Wally, Mans wasn’t about to sugarcoat his latest victory.
“That’s probably the luckiest set of rounds I have seen in a long time but I’ll take it after the drought,” said Mans. “The last time I won in 2011, I hadn’t even met my wife so she probably was wondering if I was ever going to win again.”
According to Mans, the struggles began when he decided to make a major performance upgrade to his Pontiac Trans Am. He learned that sometimes, it’s necessary to take a step backwards in order to take two steps forward.
“We changed engine combinations about seven years ago and it really changed the way we run the car,” Mans said. “We went from a mid-nine second car to a mid-eight second car and the adjustment has been a lot longer and a lot more painful than we imagined. The set-up was completely different and among other things, we also installed a funny car cage and that hurt my visibility.”
Like everyone else in Topeka, Mans had to deal with the rain that delayed final eliminations until Monday morning. When reigning Super Stock national champion Justin Lamb decided not to stick around for Monday, Mans went from racing one of the toughest competitors in the country to having a single run. He also got a bye run in the semifinals.
“That’s why I said I felt so lucky,” said Mans. “I got a single run when I should have been racing the world champ. It doesn’t get any better than that. I was also struggling with my lights. If you notice, I was either .00 or .050 on the Tree; nothing in between. I use one of the Just-N-Time transbrake buttons with the adjustable shims and I couldn’t find a happy medium. I’d try one thing and go .00 and then make a change and go .050 and then go back. I was actually pretty consistent, but we didn’t have a great handle on the button.”
Mans’ final bit of good fortune came when he was sitting in the burnout box waiting for his semfinal bye run. He watched Justin Jenkins foul by eight-thousandths and then saw final round opponent Stinnett coast off the track with smoke trailing from behind his GT/NA Camaro.
“I saw what looked like a bunch of debris and I wondered if there was a chance that Gary had just hurt something,” said Mans. “Then, when I got to the turn-off, he was just parked on the corner and he’s not a guy who would normally be sitting there.
“It was an odd feeling to win that way; obviously I want the gratification of knowing that you did a good job and beat the best competition out there, but it just didn’t work out that way,” Mans said. I should have had to race Justin Lamb and Gary Stinnet but I didn’t. That’s not how I wanted to win but you also can’t help but think that makes up for all the times when you lose by a thousandth or two. After the struggle’s I’ve had the last few years, I’ll take it. I owe a lot of credit for this to my parents, Randy and Dawn, and my wife, Kelli, and daughter, Henley, and Mickey Thompson tires.”
The best of the rest: After winning the St. Louis event in 2014 and 2017, Tyler Wudarczyk banked his third career win in Stock when he drove past Marion Stephenson, who red-lighted. Wudarczyk, in his A/SA Firebird, benefitted from three foul starts by his opponents but he also was sharp when he needed to be, particularly in his round three win against Brent Voges, where he ran a 10.320 on his 10.31 dial. Although he didn’t need it, Wudarczyk was also sharp in the final with a .008 reaction time after Stephenson fouled. For his part, Stephenson was also solid including a key quarterfinal win over past Stock national champ Austin Williams.
Topeka resident Danielle Jaramillo-Miller became the 83rd female to win an NHRA national event title, and the 21st to win in Super Comp when she defeated Don Nichols in the final round. Jaramillo-Miller left first and turned on the win light with an 8.920 after Nichols broke out by a narrow margin with an 8.897. It was her first NHRA event of the season. Following a single run in Monday’s second round of eliminations, Jaramillo-Miller worked her way to the final with wins against Jordan Pratt, Tim Ekart, and two-time national event winner and four-time finalist Larry Bernshausen. Against Pratt, Jaramillo-Miller turned in her best driving performance of the weekend by coupling a .009 light with an 8.914 on the 8.90 index.
A new champion was also crowned in Super Gas after Kevin Theobald overcame a nearly perfect .001 reaction time by Bob Fuller to earn his first national event Wally. Theobald, in his unique Dodge Viper, ran closer to the index with a 9.927 to Fuller’s 9.956, with the difference at the finish line just .011-second. Theobald used back-to-back 9.901 runs in the second and third rounds to defeat Shane Herrman and Steve Collier and also got the best of a double-breakout battle against Scott Udenberg’s Dodge Challenger in the semifinals. Former Division 5 champ Fuller, who’s five national event wins include the 2006 Topeka race, battled his way past Alan Savage to make it to his sixth-career national event final round.
The event’s other first-time champion was Dusty Meyer, who prevailed in the Top Sportsman presented by Racing RV’s.com class. Meyer, in his Chevy S-10, got a free pass in the final after Phil Dion, who was also a semifinal finisher in Top Dragster, broke and couldn’t make the round. Meyer also had a bye-run in the semifinals but earlier he stopped Jeff Staub, Todd Stallbaumer, and Monte Green. Meyer was able to adjust to the changing conditions in Topeka by lowering his dial from 7.04 in the first round to 6.91 in the second and matching that number with a 6.912 in his win against Stallbaumer.
Versatile Phil Unruh won in Top Dragster presented by Racing RVs.com over Steve Will, the father of former Top Fuel racer, Hillary Will. Unruh won for the sixth time in his career when Will fouled by four-thousandths in the final. Unruh would have been tough to beat regardless with a .015 light in his Special Metals dragster. Unruh, who has won in Top Dragster, Super Stock, and Super Street, survived a tough battle against former national champ Matt Driskell and also logged wins against Mario Boesch and Rusty Baxter on his way to the final. Unruh also competed in the Top Sportsman class in Topeka with his turbocharged Corvette, but lost in round two after a -.003 red-light start. Will, who was a runner-up earlier this season in Phoenix, was nearly perfect with a .001 light in his semifinal win against Phil Dion.