Contributed by Bobby Bennett,

Chip Ellis

Thousands of race fans jammed intoSouth Georgia Motorsports Park Saturday afternoon for the special “Chicago Style” Shootout portion of the Eastern Spring Test Nationals presented by Torco’s in
Valdosta, Ga. The fans were treated to an excellent of day of racing that concluded with NHRA stalwarts Allen Johnson and Chip Ellis joining other class winners in post-race celebration.

“I have so much fun out here testing with these fans,” said Johnson after he defeated teammate Richie Stevens in the final round. “The race fans get to see us in a relaxed atmosphere and I think that is very important. It is great that we are off to a good start in testing with these Mopar cars.”

Prior to the final round, Johnson and Stevens poked fun at one another via the PA system while sitting in the staging lanes.

Stevens fired the first shot by pointing out that Johnson was strapped in the car early. “He’s one of those older guys who has to get in the early; it takes him a lot longer to get into the car,” Stevens said jokingly.

Johnson responded with, “Yeah, we ought to do well. We have a weak opponent.”

The Mopar-sponsored veteran was the low qualifier with a 6.667 but needed only 10.744 seconds to gain the special “Golden Eagle” trophy when Stevens fouled away a 6.674 effort. NHRA POWERade Pro Stock rookie Roger Brogdon had top speed of the day with a 207.02 blast.

Ellis, of Plains, Ga., found favor with the hometown crowd as he retained his championship on a holeshot against Andrew Hines in the final pair.

Hines entered the final round as the rider to beat on the strength of a 6.983, 189.76 during the second session. That didn’t deter Ellis, who snagged .05 on the starting line and led Hines to the stripe with the low elapsed time of the day – a mark of 6.971 seconds.

Hines managed to earn at least a share of the bragging rights on the day, however, recording top speed of the event with a 191.29 mph posting in the final.

Rodger Brogdon

Pro Mod racer John Russo made the long trek from
Middleton, Mass., a worthwhile endeavor by recording his best package of the day to defeat Troy Critchley, who had earlier knocked on the five-second zone when he carded a 6.014 elapsed time during qualifying. Russo was the quicker of the two leaving the starting line and that made all the difference in Critchley’s decision to abort his run at half-track. His winning elapsed time of 6.055 seconds was just .003 quicker than his qualifying effort.

Critchley had the best overall effort of the day as evidenced by his record-setting pass of 6.014 seconds at 241.20 mph. It was the first 240 mph pass in North American Pro Mod history.

Scott Cannon, Jr., was right on Critchley’s heels, however, pacing his IHRA-legal Pontiac Firebird to a speed of 240.25 mph later in the day.

Cannon was just following in the footsteps of his dad as Scotty Cannon made a full pull behind the wheel of Evan Knoll’s Top Fuel dragster in just his second run ever. The former six-time Pro Modified champion and nitro Funny Car pilot brought the crowd to their feet with a 4.752 elapsed time and 309 mile per hour effort.

“The hardest thing is when we warm the car, I’m [used to seeing] the motor in front of me. I could see everything going on. It’s like you can’t see anything with this thing. Everything’s behind you. That’s why you’ve got good crew guys, so they can handle all that stuff.”

When it comes to crew, few could top the coalition that Top Alcohol Dragster champion Dave Heitzman brought to Valdosta. The Evan Knoll-owned, A/Fuel Dragster featured a combination of Brian Corradi, Mark Oswald, Steve Boggs and Morgan Lucas as crew chiefs.

Heitzman entered the final as the second quickest behind Darryl Hitchman (5.467) but ended up running alternate Randy Meyer in the big showdown. Heitzman rode out a wheelstand and pedaled it once en route to a winning 5.510 at 256.60. Meyer made a race of it but fell short with a 5.777, 213.70.

Mick Snyder topped Terry Munroe to win the Top Alcohol Funny Car portion of the event. Snyder dominated the day from start to finish and in-between with a winning 5.848, 250.37 to eclipse Munroe’s respectable 5.905, 236.51.

The mountain motor Pro Stock division was a hard-fought affair that was won by first-time titlist Cary Goforth. Goforth used a 6.403, 220.66 package to pull away from Mike Corvo, Jr., who drifted out of the groove and lifted. Goforth was the top qualifier with a 6.356 elapsed time and a top speed of 220.66