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Locals Light Up Nitro Night Of Fire
6-16 RACE Lee Jennings
Hilmar racer Lee Jennings gets off the starting line in a hurry on Saturday. - photo by CONTRIBUTED BY MIKE AND JEFF BURGHARDT

The 33rd Annual Nitro Night of Fire event attracted many of the best racers from around the Sacramento area and surrounding counties over the weekend. The counties of Stanislaus, Tuolumne, Merced and San Joaquin were all represented at the event.

Josh Crawford, with his ‘Blue Max’ Mustang funny car from Oakdale, was also present. Unfortunately for Crawford and his team, they were not able to compete in the race. After completion of the event in Las Vegas, where they found many of the recent mechanical and tuning problems that were plaguing their performance efforts, they sent most of their engine parts off to be refreshed. As of the Sacramento event, the parts had not returned. Finding themselves short of parts needed to run the car safely and competitively, they had no choice but to sit this one out. For the benefit of the fans, Crawford and his crew did bring the ‘Blue Max’ funny car to the event and place it on display. Crawford spent most of the day signing autographs and taking photos with the fans.

Rich Nedbal, of Sonora was on hand trying to make it two consecutive wins at the Sacramento track in the Quick 16 category, with his 2007 Land Shark dragster. Nedbal was able to make it to the semi-final round, where he lost by only four thousandths of a second.

Dan Maciel of Jamestown with his 1932 Bantam roadster, running in the highly competitive 7 second index PRO category qualified ninth, but lost in the first round to a quicker reacting Bill Windham of El Dorado Hills.

Shanon Wisdom of Modesto and Dennis Copus of Merced competed in the Northern California Drag Bike category. Wisdom qualified sixth, but went out in the first round. Copus qualified seventh and lasted into the semi-final round with his 1991 Harley Davidson Sportster.

In the Nostalgia Nitro Funny Car category, Hilmar’s Lee Paul Jennings qualified number one with a 5.72 elapse time. He then set the new Nostalgia Nitro Funny Car speed record at 258.36 mph in the first round of eliminations. Unfortunately, a quicker reacting Leah Pruett-LeDuc in the Plueger and Guyer 1972 Mustang funny car took him out, even though his 5.798 elapse time was the quickest in eliminations.

Roger Garten, in the “War horse” 1973 Mach 1 Mustang took home the trophy in the Nostalgia Nitro Funny Car category with a final round 6.107 at 239.58 mph effort.

The long distance traveler for the event would have to be John Hale of Dallas, TX. Ironically, he drives a 1969 Chevy Camaro Bodied Funny Car with a familiar name on the side (Mike Burkhart). The original ‘Big’ Mike Burkhart was a famous fuel funny car racer in the 1960 through mid-1970 era. The car is a highly competitive and well-maintained tribute car. John Hale worked for Mike Burkhart in his younger days. Not only is the car great, but so are the barbeque and hot sauce creations that John Hale creates.

The Nitro Night of Fire event would not be complete without the smoke puffing, flame roasting shows put on by the jet cars. The “Night Hawk” jet funny car and the “Beast” jet dragster brought the crowd to its feet, with side by side mid-200 mph runs. As these cars streak down the track, the temperature goes up considerably as the cars pass by with after-burner flames trailing 30 feet behind them.

If that was not enough, the annual event closes out with a Jet Dragster ‘burn down.’ This is where the ‘Beast’ Jet Dragster is chained to an old car from a wrecking yard in a special outdoor arena at the track. In this case, it was an old Volkswagen beetle bus. With all the facility lights turned out, the after-burner flames from the jet car are directed at the car, which melt the car in a huge ball of flame. Talk about a pyrotechnics show.