Nitro Funny Car championship leader Jason Rupert entered the IHRA Nitro Jam Pittsburgh Nationals presented by Good Vibrations Motorsports this weekend with a number of scenarios that would clinch his very first IHRA world championship. However, of the half a dozen or so options that would clinch the title, it was the least likely of the bunch that actually took place.
Battling a tricky track, Rupert put the Bays and Rupert “Black Plague” 1969 Camaro in the fifth spot on the Funny Car ladder as he awaited the final run of the night from his closest competitor, “Mr. Explosive” Mark Sanders. However when Sanders struggled to find the right combination and qualified 11th, well outside the top eight, Rupert was left with the championship in hand even with additional races remaining.
“Wow, I never expected Jake (Sanders) and Mark not to qualify. Honestly, when we didn’t make it down the track after that first run, I thought it would be a fight to the finish. I was actually a little nervous to tell you the truth. This car goes down just about anything and we couldn’t find it last night,” Rupert said. “After it was all over and we found out we had won it, it was a bit of relief for me. We have had our peaks and valleys this year, but overall we have had a really good season. It feels good, but I don’t think it has really sunk in yet.”
Off the strength of four wins and six total finals in seven races entered, Rupert clinched his first career IHRA championship and fourth overall in the nitro-powered Funny Car class, winning a trio of championship in the NHRA Hot Rod Heritage Series. Rupert has now won four consecutive championships in the nostalgia class dating back to his first Hot Rod Heritage Series championship in 2011.
But he won’t get to enjoy it long. Rupert now has to get his car and team ready for a grueling battle to wrap up the IHRA Pittsburgh Nationals as he battles Jake Crimmins and tricky track conditions in round one tonight.
“Winning this thing feels good, but right now our focus is on making this car run better on this particular track,” Rupert said. “Some of these guys out here have it figured out. Bruce (Litton) ran really good last night and Peter (Gallen) knows this place like the back of his hand. If we are going to try and win this thing, we are going to have to figure this place out.”
MOLLER AND COX LOOK TO CONTINUE HOT STREAKS
Two of the hottest drivers in all of IHRA drag racing right now are Kat Moller and Mark Cox.
Cox won his second race of the season two weeks ago at Cordova Dragway Park and has put himself right in the thick of the Nitro Harley championship. Moller won her first career race in Jet Dragster in Cordova a couple of weeks ago. Both topped their respective classes Friday night at the IHRA Nitro Jam Pittsburgh Nationals presented by Good Vibrations Motorsports.
Cox cleared second place qualifier Alvin Kobernusz by a sizable margin on Friday, putting down a solid 5.679 second lap to Kobernusz’s 6.0138. Now Cox will look to use that momentum try win his third race of the season and make up more ground in the Nitro Harley championship standings where he sits fourth, a little over 100 points back of the leader.
“The bike is running pretty good, what we are chasing right now are the track conditions,” Cox said. “Obviously we have got some momentum coming out of Cordova with the win and now we are getting pretty hungry for points. We made a big step last night in getting down the track, we had a good tune-up and I was fortunate to pedal it at just the right time. We will see what the conditions show today and get after it.”
Cox missed the first handful of races this season while awaiting a brand new bike and has made up considerable ground on the competition over the last five points races.
“We are trying to focus our attention on the points. Right now, anything can happen, so we are focusing on one pass at a time and giving it our best shot,” Cox said.
Another driver on a hot streak as of late is Moller.
The 20-year-old racer out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida had not even won a single round of competition entering the IHRA Summer Nationals at Cordova Dragway Park two weeks ago, but Moller found her groove and powered her way to the win over team boss Elaine Larsen for her first career win.
Coming off of that win, Moller put the Matrix Systems sponsored jet-powered dragster in the top qualifying spot Friday night in Pittsburgh, edging Larsen Motorsports’ newest driver Allison West to the line by a razor-thin margin - 4.9802 to a 4.9804.
Now Moller will look to add a second Ironman to her collection when she goes to work on championship Saturday in Pittsburgh.
“Winning last week was pretty exciting. It was not something I expected, but I was so happy to get that first one under my belt,” Moller said. “Last night everyone was so close, it just shows that anything can happen tonight. More than anything, this has been a real confidence booster. The car has been running a bit slow all year, I am glad we are finally picking things up and we are excited for the rest of the season.”
LITTON BACK ON TOP
Bruce Litton is not used to being near the bottom.
After all, the Indianapolis native is a two-time IHRA Top Fuel World Champion and is considered one of the true legends of the sport.
But that is exactly where Litton has found himself this season as he has struggled to adapt to his new Nitro Funny Car ride after more than 20 years behind the wheel of a Top Fuel Dragster. Litton took ownership of his new racecar during the offseason and hasn’t quite found the right combination, winning only a handful of rounds and missing the show all together on more than one occasion.
Friday night, however, Litton may have turned a corner. While the rest of the field struggled to find the right setup at Pittsburgh Raceway Park, Litton powered his way right down Broadway in the “U.S. Male” Nitro Funny Car, temporarily taking the top qualifying position before being bumped to second in the final pass of the night.
Looking to gain some much-needed momentum, Litton will start second on the grid later today, taking on Ronny Young in “Blue Max” in round one.
“Of course we would have loved for the number one spot to stand, but we still ended up second with top mile per hour for the weekend, so we are happy with that,” Litton said. “Our car is really coming around. Mike (Wolfarth) has found a few things it likes and we are hoping we can turn that into rounds. Today, it isn’t going to be about going for low ET, it is going to be going for surviving ET and that is what I am hoping we can do here today.”