Virginia Motorsports Park - Reporter's Notebook

Notes from Jim Luikens' Reporter's Notebook at the 2005 Hardcore Spring Open

For the past five years The Spring Open has been the official pre-season test session of the International Hot Rod Association. Held each year at Virginia Motorsports Park, it gives east coast competitors a chance to shake down their cars before they make the long tow to San Antonio to begin the IHRA season in earnest. New this year was title rights sponsorship from Michigan's Hardcore Motorsports, a premier LS-1/LT-1 engine-tuning firm.

Last year's event featured more than 60 pro entries and an even greater number was expected for this year. A less than glowing midweek weather forecast for the weekend hampered racer turnout. Although the weather never turned as bad as had been predicted, the grim forecast caused a number of pre-entries to change their plans and abort their planned trip to Virginia. This is the story of the competitors that actually made it to VMP.

Dom Lagana
Without a doubt the happiest person on the grounds was young Dom Lagana. Dom, who is the little brother of Bobby Lagana, Jr., beamed all weekend as he made two license runs in the family top fueler working towards his T/F license. The Lagana dragster has been repainted for the new season but retains its familiar metallic blue color of season's past.

Unlike last year at this event, when Dom smoked the tires at the hit in his only prior licensing run, his two runs this year were flawless. After his first burn out he backed the car up quickly and smoothly, just like a seasoned professional. As planned, he clicked the engine off near the 150-foot mark on his first run. He then returned later in the day and drove the car to the 500-foot mark under power for his second run.

Crew members and fans alike were impressed by the poise that Dom showed during the two runs. The fact that he is the one that sits in the car each time it is warmed up between rounds when Bobby is driving at regular IHRA events no doubt contributes to Dom's comfort behind the wheel. Speaking of Bobby, it is well known that he is the new driver of the Bill Miller dragster on the NHRA circuit. Bobby's first event in the Miller car will be Houston with 13 more NHRA events to follow this season with the Miller Team if all goes well.

Bobby does plan to drive his family's car at the seven IHRA events that do not conflict with his NHRA schedule. Since he can not be a serious IHRA title contender with just a seven event schedule, Bobby plans to run his car hard at the events that he does participate at without regard to having to conserve parts or run unnecessary qualifying sessions to remain in the championship points chase.

Going into the weekend the Lagana team's plans were uncertain as to what they will do at the five IHRA events that conflict with Bobby's NHRA schedule. After Dom's impressive showing, team members joking said that Bobby's seat was far from guaranteed when it was time for him to return to the fold. The team would love to run Dom for the five events in question if funding could be found.

Darren Bauder
Pitted next to the Lagana's was the Top Fueler of Harleysville, Pennsylvania's Darrin Bauder. This is the car that Bobby Lagana, Jr. has driven at some NHRA events in the past. This year, team owner Bauder is working towards obtaining his own T/F license. He made two outstanding runs here, driving the car further the second time just as the licensing procedure requires. His goal is to acquire his license and then drive in the east coast IHRA events. His car is a McKinney dragster that was originally built for Doug Herbert. Assisting Darrin at this event were long-time crew members Eric Litvin, Randy Peters and Don Sorences.

New Milford, Connecticut's Sal Passarelli was here driving the Shooting Star '97 Corvette Pro Modified. Sal, who's most famous for his Neon Groundshaker '68 Nova Pro Mod (the world's fastest Nova), was getting acquainted with the Vette's blown 526 CID, Brad Anderson engine after using a nitrous engine combination in his Nova. He plans to debut the Vette at the Rockingham national event after skipping San Antonio. Shake down runs here produced a best of 7.77 seconds at 146.02 miles per hour.

Also present here was the well-known "Christine" 1958 Plymouth Pro Mod of Bryon Rich and Dave Hietz. The team suffered engine damage on their only run, recording a 16.44 elapsed time at 49.43 miles-per-hour. Closer examination of this car reveals that amazingly, despite it being radically reworked as a Pro Mod entry with nearly every body dimension altered, it uses stock 1958 Plymouth tail lights and bezels.

Jeff Burnett
Australia native Jeff Burnett, Funny Car winner at last year's IHRA Edmonton event, had his familiar Pontiac Firebird here. Like the Lagana's, he has had his car freshened for the 2005 season using the same colors and paint scheme that he used last year. Jeff made two strong partial runs here, clicking each run early just as he had planned. Satisfied with their car's performance the team then changed the engine's rods and pistons and declared themselves ready for San Antonio.

New on Jeff's car this year is the latest generation high-flow fuel injector from his own Composite Specialties Corporation. Tony Pedregon used the nitro version of this injector to claim the number one qualifying position at the first two NHRA events of the season. Gary Densham has also purchased one of the nitro injectors while Jim Sickles, Dr. Tom Carter and Steve Gasparelli have the other alcohol versions produced to-date. Steve Gasparelli has already used his injector to record an impressive 5.58 second elapsed time at this year's NHRA Winternationals.

Candyce March
Another broad smile could be found in the Top Sportsman pit of Candyce Marsh. Her car, the former Harold Martin Pro Mod Firebird that was built by Alan Pittman, was sporting new major sponsorship from Bar's Leaks. Candyce plans to start the year in T/S but then upgrade to Pro Mod, hopefully by the AC Delco Virginia Nationals in May. She plans on using a 707 CID Harold Martin EFI engine with a Bruno transmission in P/M. The Bruno uses a Lenco planetary transmission and a torque converter (in place of the normal clutch) to transfer power.

Mark Wisneski
Another T/S car here was the entry of Michigan's Mark and Ed Wisneski. Their car is the former Moser Engineering Monte Carlo Pro Stocker of Ron Miller. The father and son team battled ignition troubles early in the weekend before finally discovering a faulty crank trigger, which solved their problems. In addition to the Pro racers mentioned, Saturday featured a great turnout of local racers who were getting their first chance at the quarter-mile for 2005 as well as a respectable crowd of spectators.

Any time that you plan an outdoor event you are at the mercy of the weather. This event has faced weather challenges in the past, but nothing on the order of what it faced this year. It's a shame that the event didn't draw more Pro racers than it did, considering the amount of preparation and promotion that went into producing it.