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Tales of Tucson

High Desert Adventures

Dec 22, 2003

Second only to Denver in elevation, many folks are surprised to learn that Southwestern International Raceway in Tucson is approximately 3,000 feet above sea level. The drag race tuners have to compensate for every bit of that, and more, depending on the local weather conditions.

Gary Irving was up to the task, however, as he turned in low e.t. of the event with a 6.28-second run during Saturday qualifying, and went on to win the finals on Sunday. However, that was not enough to overhaul Dan Nickelson, who clinched his second consecutive Nitro Coupe Championship, with a first-round win.

Irving should be tough to beat next year, particularly as the word around the pits is that Nickelson will be running an abbreviated schedule for 2004. We sure have enjoyed their head-to-head battles for points during all of 2003, and look forward to seeing some new talent in the Nitro Coupe ranks next year. Stay tuned for more word on what teams will be competing in Nitro Coupe for 2004; it will be interesting.


This ultra smooth '41 Chevy was the hands-down winner of our "Outstanding Custom Rod" Award, presented by Custom Rodder Magazine. Jessica Laya from Douglas, AZ, is the owner of this slick custom, but she quickly gave credit to her uncle, Javier Ortega, who found the car in Hermosillo, Mexico, and built it in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. Quite a talented uncle, we must admit.

If you're going to get this close to the business end of a jet dragster, make sure it's at rest, as Al Hanna does during some routine maintenance. This is where he does the lube, oil, and filter every 500,000 Btu's.

On occasion, Nitro Coupes "flameout" a bit. Jerry Hicks had a good run during qualifying on Saturday, and then things came apart at the top end. He drove out of it, cranking his racer across the track to slow things down.

It looked worse than it was, and Hicks was back racing on Sunday. Jerry was quite pleased to tell us that the rescue personnel were at his door about the same time the car stopped. Great track workers at Tucson!

The Hemi Chevy in Bob and Marion Horchar's '53 Plymouth gets plenty of attention. This car is actually powered by a 1989 350 cubic-inch Chevy motor, fitted with Hemi valve covers.

Close to clinching the championship, Dan Nickelson lights 'em up before his run with Kirk Kuhns, driving the C5 Corvette that Dan debuted earlier this year.

Nickelson decided both cars needed some laps, so we got a chance to see the whole team at once. Kuhns left a bit early, and Dan benefitted from his over-anxious red light.

Was it just our imagination, or were the women always around the Corvettes? There are many reasons to have a Vette, including the attention of the more particular people in the crowd.

The Hicks team thrashed on their racer all night and got it back for Sunday's Pro Show. Jerry's in the far lane warming up for his run against Andy Neyer, displaying his trademark flag during burnouts.

Lee Smith and his beautiful '61 Corvette left in a hurry against Gary Irving. Running against Irving's team, you'd better leave quickly, but it was to no avail, as Gary moved up the ladder with a win.

We'll call this the "no name" mid-year Corvette. It's a great car, but without a show tag on the dash we can't tell you who owns it (or where it came from). Too bad.

"I think it's a short-sleeve occasion." Drag racers can probably tear an engine apart and put it back together faster than any people in motorsports.

For what this trailer went through, it should have much more damage. It survived a fairly serious crash with a show car inside.

Fortunately, the trailer is still being used to haul that car, and what you see is all the damage it sustained. See our magazine coverage for full details.

Here's a look at the "big end." There's a whole different perspective of a high-speed drag race when seen from this angle. Not everyone gets to stand where we do, so here's a look at the chutes. The sensation of speed and the noise is very impressive "up here."

Irving and Nickelson have battled it out in numerous final rounds this season. Usually, the race is much closer, but Dan left his blower belt on the track during this contest.

Phil White retrieved the shredded remnants of Nickelson's blower belt, while Gary Irving took the win light (and the trophy).


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