NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


The Sports Report: Don’t get mad, get even

At the NHRA Arizona Nationals, Kyle Rizzoli was able to turn quickly the disappointment of last year’s lost championship in Super Stock into a convincing victory against Justin Lamb.
26 Feb 2020
Kevin McKenna, NHRA National Dragster Senior Editor
The Sports Report

One could hardly blame Kyle Rizzoli if he had told you his off-season was miserable. After all, how many racers wouldn’t harbor some unpleasant feelings if they’d had a chance to win a world championship and came up just a few points short. Rizzoli did just that last year when he went into the final weekend of the season with a chance to win the Super Stock title but ultimately finished second to Vic Penrod by just 22 points. Adding insult to injury, Rizzoli also went to the Stock final in Pomona, and lost that battle as well. Turing on a few win lights can cure a lot of ills, and Rizzoli found that out first hand when he drove to his ninth-career win at the NHRA Arizona Nationals.

Given his resumé, Rizzoli would figure to be a favorite in just about any final round match-up, but the Las Vegas oddsmakers would likely have tabbed him as the underdog against his Phoenix opponent, Justin Lamb. In addition to his five world championships, Lamb is almost unstoppable in national event finals, where he’s won 25 times in 37 attempts heading into the Arizona Nationals. Lamb was also riding a hot streak of his own following a win two weeks ago in Pomona. None of that mattered to Rizzoli who got the job done with an almost perfect run, combining a .001 light and a 9.479 on his 9.47 dial for the win I his vintage SS/CA ’69 Camaro, which is owned by former Top Alcohol Dragster champ and current Pro Mod racer Jim Whiteley. Not surprisingly, Lamb was also solid, matching his dial with an 8.872 on his 8.87 prediction.

“Justin is one of the best obviously just look at his record,” Rizzoli told the Phoenix crowd moments after the win. I was .005 in the semifinals and just left it alone. I said we’re going for it. I also want to give a shout out to all these great fans. I love racing here in Phoenix. It is fun pulling up every time in staging lanes. I get so many compliments on this car, I’m lucky to drive it for Mr. Whiteley and J&A Services. I also want to mention my good, buddy Ryan Herem. He had a pretty nasty crash [Saturday] night. He’s a little banged up but he’s going to be good. This one is for him.”

Rizzoli wasn’t just sharp in Sunday’s late rounds; he also had his act together earlier in the weekend including the first round where he produced another great .005 light in his win against Tom Nolan. Rizzoli appeared to be in trouble in the quarterfinals when he trailed Lindy Lindholm off the starting line, .002 to a .048, but his consistent car saved the day with a 9.456 on his 9.45 dial after Lindholm broke out by a thousandth. A semifinal win over Phoenix Stock champ Brad Burton set the stage for Rizzoli’s final round bout against Lamb.

The best of the rest: There was a time when Dean Carter was nearly unbeatable in Comp Eliminator. Driving his front-engine B/Nostalgia Dragster, Carter won seven national events between 2003 and 2007 and earned back to back world championships in 2003-04. Carter spent some time racing in the NHRA Heritage Series but he’s back in Comp this season and backed up his quarterfinal finish in Pomona with career win No. 8 in Phoenix. Carter was able to get to the final with his index intact after some good fortune early in eliminations, but Pomona winner Doug Lambeck made him earn the victory in the final. Carter drove to a (-.646) 6.904 for the win against Lambeck’s (-.575) 8.335.  Lambeck had previously won nine-straight rounds to start the season and has the early lead in the Comp battle with his D/SMA Pontiac.

Carter wasn’t the only two-time world champ to leave Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park with a Wally trophy as 2010 and 2012 NHRA Stock champ Brad Burton also outlasted a deep and talented field to claim his ninth-career win and first since the 2017 Chicago race. Burton, in his D/SA ’72 Firebird, won the final with a 10.75 on his 10.74 dial after opponent Jon Irving broke out in his I/SA ’73 Satellite. The deeper into eliminations he ventured, the more difficult Burton’s task became. He stopped Jody Lang in a tight quarterfinal race that was decided by a hundredth of a second at the finish line and then battled Comp finalist Lambeck in the semifinals in another tight battle. In that round, Burton turned in his best performance of the weekend with a .007 light and a 10.745 on his 10.73 dial.

Two weeks after opening the season by winning Super Gas in Pomona, Val Torres Sr. scored again by claiming the Super Comp title in Phoenix. Torres, who now has eight national event wins in his career, turned on the win light in the final after Cal Belden fouled by five-thousandths of a second. Torres was able to coast to the win but was more than ready with a perfect .000 light at the start. Torres was also extremely competitive in the semifinals with a .010 light and an 8.907 in his win over perennial top ten finisher Trevor Larson, who broke out with an 8.875. Belden had a perfect light of his own in round three and followed with an 8.901 in his quarterfinal win over Thomas Bayer and another great .002 light in his semifinal win against Bill Dennis.

Ed Olpin Jr. won the Super Comp title in Phoenix in 2002 and has since watched his father, Ed Sr., score six wins in Super Gas and Top Sportsman. Ed Jr. got back on the board when he stopped Matthew Larson in the Super Gas final at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Olpin drove his Corvette to a 9.94 for the win after a nearly-perfect .001 light while Larson trailed despite a quicker 9.932. Olpin had a bye run in the quarterfinals and came back in Sunday’s semifinal with a strong .011 and a 9.905 to beat Bernie Polvadore in the semifinals. Larson had his own string of impressive performances including a 9.905 to beat Evan Kowalski in the quarterfinals and a perfect .000 light in his semifinal win against Rick Cates. Following his round three finish in Pomona, Olpin Jr. is the early leader in the Super Comp points battle.

Two years after bagging his first national event title in Pomona, Paul Mitsos scored again in Top Sportsman presented by Vortech Superchargers by driving to a final round win over Ed Olpin Sr., who was looking to join his son, Super Gas champ Ed Jr., in the winner’s circle. Mitsos, in his Mountain View Tire Dodge Stratus, was rock-solid in the final with a .003 start and a 6.68 on his 6.66 dial to seal the win over Olpin’s competitive .03-over 6.93 effort. Mitsos also matched his dial in his round three bye run and defeated low qualifier Jeff Connelly in the semifinals. Olpin made his way to the final by driving his ’68 Camaro to late-round wins against Brian LaFlam and Jeff Taylor.

Art Hoover, who previously won the 2012 JEGS Pacific SPORTSnationals, claimed a second win in Top Dragster presented by Vortech Superchargers when he defeated Phil Unruh in the final round. Hoover left almost no room with a .012 light and a 6.603 on his 6.60 dial while Unruh broke out by four-thousandths. Hoover, who kicked off his season with a round two finish in Pomona, locked-up with Moe Trujillo in a tough battle in the quarterfinals where both drivers had .003 reaction times. Hoover won the bout thanks to a 6.577 on his 6.56 dial. A round later, Hoover got a free pass to the final after Steve Will fouled in his quick 6.1-second supercharged dragster. Unruh made it to career final No. 13 after posting wins against Bobby Ray McMahan and Mike MacBrair.