Lawson, McElwee Among Favorites at US 131; Jets, Pro Mods Also Featured

John Lawson, whose resume includes a first-round win over Hall of Famer John Force at the 2003 NHRA Route 66 Nationals in Chicago, and Vandalia’s Mark McElwee, who has driven his “Buzz’s Nitro Bomber” 1962 Chevy II to victory in three of his last four appearances at US 131 Motorsports Park, will be among the crowd and competitive favorites Sept. 8-9 when Honor Credit Union presents the 19th annual Funny Car Nationals at Michigan’s fastest track.

Nitro Funny Cars, alcohol Funny Cars and jet-powered Funny Cars will share the straight-line stage with a pair of Larsen Motorsports jet dragsters, a jet truck, a one-of-a-kind bullet-nosed Studebaker wheelstander and a bevy of wild and unpredictable fuel altereds including the 1948 Fiat Topolino in which driver Kurt Duckworth won this year’s 6.0 Pro title at the Wally Parks’ Nostalgia Nationals in Bowling Green, Ky.

As if that wasn’t firepower enough, the event also features the Pro Modified, Alcohol Funny Car, Top Sportsman and Top Dragster stars of the Mid-West Drag Racing Series along with more than 75 pre-1980 hot rods and muscle cars competing for prize money, prestige and Nostalgia Drag Racing League points.

An action-packed first day will feature MWDRS and NDRL qualifying at 6 and 8 p.m.  Saturday eliminations in those two series will be contested around the Nitro Show sessions at 6 and 9 p.m.  Adult tickets are $30 Friday and $35 Saturday although deep discounts are available at Honor Credit Union outlets and tickets purchased in advance at $5 off.  Kids ages 6-10 are $10 daily and, as always, each ticket includes full pit access plus free parking.

McElwee, who earlier this year won the Funny Car portion of the US 131 Northern Nationals, is the two-time defending champion in this week’s event.  However, he will face a particularly formidable lineup of adversaries beginning with Lawson and his Joliet, Ill.-based “Runaway”.

Also in the Funny Car field will be the Findlay, Ohio-based “American Way” 1957 Chevy Bel Air of Joe Hass, the “All-Star Hotshots” 1970 Dodge Challenger of St. Louis veteran Greg Jacobsmeyer, the “Illinois Thunder” 1978 Plymouth Arrow of Levin Keenen of Paris, Ill., and the “Irish Car Bomb” 1970 Camaro of “Turbo Tim” Cullinan of Des Planes, Ill.

In addition to Duckworth and his “Complete Chaos” Fiat, the lineup of altereds, 1960s’ precursors of the modern Funny Cars, includes Tom Motry of Lockport, Ill. and his “Drastic Plastic” 1948 Anglia; Pete Dove of Shelbyville, Ill., and his “Back from the Ashes” 1932 Austin Bantam; Dan Pettinato of Woodruff, S.C., and his “Rat Poison” 1927 Ford T-Model; the “Nitro Madness” ’23 Ford T driven for Scott and Peggy Gaulter by Roger Lechtenberg of Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and the “Heatseeker” 1934 Chevy driven by Dan Hix of Central Point, Ore.

“Basically, altereds are just Funny Cars without bodies,” said US 131 General Manager Jason Peterson, himself a successful former Pro Modified racer.  “Same short wheelbase, which makes them just as unpredictable, maybe more so.”

Factor in the five jets and the wheelstander and it’s hard to imagine a more adrenaline inducing program.

The jet Funny Cars are both out of David Douthit’s Colorado Springs, Colo., shop.  Douthit himself drives the jet-powered “Quartermaster” 1965 Ford Mustang while teammate George Whiteman III handles the wheelwork in the “Black Pearl” 1969 Chevy Nova.

The jet dragster match will provide Zach Costello of Palm Bay, Fla., an opportunity to atone for a foul start at the Northern Nationals that wasted quick time and top speed of the event (5.968 seconds, 265.64 mph) and granted Larsen Motorsports bragging rights to teammate Josette Roach.

Two vehicles will have the track to themselves.  One, the “Bone Shaker” 1981 International Transtar 4300 jet truck owned and driven by former nostalgia Funny Car driver Rick Kopp, is propelled to 250 mph speeds by a J79 engine like those used in the F4 Phantom fighter jet.  The other, a Studebaker firetruck created by retired firefighter Rick Ream of Mansfield, Ohio, gives new meaning to the phrase “riding a two-wheeler.”


Gates Open 9 a.m.

Pro Testing 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

No Racing 3 p.m.- 5 p.m.

Qualifying at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Pro Modified, Funny Car, Top Dragster, Top Sportsman, Jr. Dragster (5 p.m. & 6p.m.), NDRL


Gates open 8 a.m.

Jr. Dragster 10 a.m.

Pro Modified, Funny Car, Top Dragster, Top Sportsman, NDRL

These classes will be running until the Nitro Show.

NITRO SHOWS 6 p.m. and 9 p.m.