Why it took 12 years for the L88 to emerge as the dominant force at the Pure Stock Drags is anybody's guess. In years past, Dan Jensen and Bob Boden, the race's founders and organizers, would survey the state of things and speculate about what kind of car could beat the 440 Six-Pack Mopars, Stage 1 Buicks, and big-block Camaros and Novas that had a lock on the top ranks. They concluded that it would take an L88, probably with an automatic transmission. Plenty of Corvettes participated in the unique drag race and ran competitively, but not L88s, and not at the top of the food chain.
Then in 2003, Wayne Nelson, a newcomer from Minnesota, showed up with an L88-spec Corvette and ran the first sub-12-second e.t. ever at the Pure Stock Drags-11.99 at 119.05. It would be Wayne's only showing as he moved on to F.A.S.T. (Factory Appearing Stock Tires) racing where less strict rules allow more modifications, but his point was made and the movement was on.
Next up in the spotlight was high-flying Jimmy Johnston, a super-sharp driver from Ontario, Canada, who could have had a professional drag racer's career. Jimmy was top finisher in his '69 Nova SS 396, but after years of contending, finally decided it lacked the cubes to go to the top. He sold the Nova and showed up in 2004 with an L88-spec Corvette, but oil-supply problems stopped his debut before it even got started.
A year later, on his second qualifying run, Jimmy recorded an 11.75 at 121.72, the quickest pass in Pure Stock Drags history. He was untouchable and easily the meet's top gun. This year, the L88 express picked up steam. Jimmy was back, and seemed like a logical choice to repeat as top gun.
Terry and Julie Pennington were back too. Last year, Julie was running a sharp L88 built by Terry-always a force to be reckoned with, which made it even more of a mystery why their L88 was a good half-second off the leader's pace. Was there some good reason, or was the car simply slower than Jimmy's?
One more L88, a new, wild card driven by Jim Mattison, another experienced racer, would challenge the quarter-mile as well.
So there's your setup. Gnarly old crocodiles have been hunting in these waters for years, and one of the gnarliest just raised the bar for the rest of the field. Toss in a nonperforming rookie and an iffy new guy, and your pre-game is complete. Can't you just feel the upset coming?
The early air on Friday was good, and what wind there was, was blowing right down the track. Out early, taking advantage of the favorable atmosphere was Julie Pennington. After a couple shakedown passes came an 11.79. Jimmy Johnston's 11.75 record run barely had time to tremble before Julie followed it up with a record-breaking 11.63. Lightning had struck. Julie, now the number one qualifier, was done for the day. Nobody else could touch her.