Rupert dominated the IHRA Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series in 2014, compiling four wins, six final round appearances, six No. 1 qualifiers and set a new IHRA elapsed time record to easily cruise to the IHRA’s Nitro Funny Car championship over rookie Mike McIntire Jr. this season. Rupert was a model of consistency throughout much of the year, allowing the Yorba Linda, California native and driver of the Bays and Rupert “Black Plague” 1969 Camaro to lock up the championship one race early as he laid claim to the very first Funny Car championship under IHRA’s new “return to racing” competition rules.
“It feels great to win this championship. Everyone out here tries so hard and all of these guys are such great drivers,” Rupert said. “With such great cars and tuners out here doing their thing, it is truly an honor to be the champion of this group.”
Rupert’s run to the championship was made possible by an absolutely overwhelming assault on the class through the first half of the season. Rupert visited the final round five times in the first six races of the year, winning four times. His wins included the season-opening Southwestern Nationals at Southwestern International Raceway in Tucson, along with wins at the San Antonio Nationals in San Antonio, Texas, Spring Nationals in Rockingham, North Carolina and Mopar Nationals in Grand Bend, Ontario.
During that stretch, he also added 20 bonus points to his totals by setting a brand new elapsed time record in the class at Rockingham Dragway in May, putting down a blistering 5.684-second pass on the historical quarter-mile.
“The car had a lot of consistency and speed to start out the year and that helped us find some wins early on,” Rupert said. “Thankfully, we were able to ride that momentum right up to the end and win the championship. It is such an amazing feeling to win another championship in this class. I am really proud of my guys and everything they were able to accomplish this season.”
While Rupert’s historical start left many wondering if anybody could challenge the veteran racer in IHRA’s most popular class, the door was cracked open just a bit in the late stages of the season when the team ran into some unexpected troubles.
The first sign of vulnerability for the “Black Plague” team came during the only race through the first six that Rupert failed to make the final round. In that race, the return of the President’s Cup Nationals to Maryland International Raceway, not only did Rupert fail to make the final round, his team actually did not qualify, leaving the door open to those teams still in the hunt.
Rupert would bounce back from the first of his two DNQs one week later by winning in Grand Bend, but he wouldn’t see another Ironman the rest of the year. He reached the finals one more time in an epic showdown with Shawn Bowen at the Summer Nationals in July, but after that the team would return to their struggles in qualifying. Rupert finished the year with a first-round exit in the Pittsburgh Nationals followed by his second DNQ of the season at the Summit Racing Equipment World Finals at Memphis International Raceway.
“It certainly wasn’t the way we wanted to finish the year, but it was still an amazing season overall for the team,” Rupert said.
Thankfully for Rupert, other teams in contention for the title ran into some late-season struggles of their own. And when “Mr. Explosive” Mark Sanders failed to qualify for the Pittsburgh Nationals in August, Rupert formally locked up the championship off of the merits of his early season dominance.
“I truly thought it would be a fight to the finish when we started struggling there at the end. I was actually a little nervous to tell you the truth. This car goes down just about anything and we couldn’t find it at some of these tracks,” Rupert said. “After it was all over and we found out we had won it, it was a bit of a relief for me. We have had our peaks and valleys this year, but overall we have had a really good season.”
With a class-leading four wins, Rupert finished the season with 803 points. Rookie Mike McIntire Jr. who took over for his father in the “McAttack” Camaro this season, finished second with 684 points. McIntire’s two victories, including a thrilling victory over Peter Gallen in the rain-delayed Pittsburgh Nationals makeup race at Memphis International Raceway to close out the year, helped propel him into second in the standings.
Sanders, in the “Mr. Explosive” Mustang, finished third in the championship standings. Tim Boychuk and Bruce Litton rounded out the top five in fourth and fifth place respectively.
More than two dozen different race teams made a start in the Nitro Funny Car class this season with the Nitro Jam Drag Racing Series, with seven drivers visiting a final round. In addition to the wins by Rupert and McIntire, John Hale, Shawn Bowen and Peter Gallen each had a win this season.
While Rupert acknowledges the rarity of a season like this, he also was quick to dismiss any talks of continued domination in the near future. After all, he knows that it can all change in an instant and he does not take for granted all he and his team accomplished this year.
“I have a lot of heroes in drag racing, but the guy I really look at is Frank Manzo. He has won so many championships and he is so humble about it and I now understand why,” Rupert said. “Success is not going to last forever, and knowing that makes this mean so much more. When you are chasing others you have nothing to lose, but when you are being chased you have everything to lose. All of these guys are great drivers, this was just our year. Next year, it could be someone else’s turn in the spotlight.”