Red Bluff 2008 Nitro Nationals
by , 06-24-2008 at 05:23 PM (5021 Views)
I have been a boater for the better part
of 40 years and owner of Rex Marine
since 1981. In my blogs I will attempt to
tell a story of each event I cover,
from my perspective and through my
photos. I hope more people will become
involved as spectators or racers as a result
of my coverage. Enjoy
Hello everyone. As this is my first blog entry for Performance Boats Magazine and Performanceboats.com, let me very briefly give you my background. I’ve been a boater and race enthusiast for over 35 years, have owned several high performance boats, and have been the owner of Rex Marine for the past 27 years. I owned a speed shop prior to that, was also in auto parts sales and was a general mechanic in the early 70’s. I also moderate on the Performanceboats.com forums.
On to Red Bluff. The mid week forecast prior to Memorial Day weekend was to be sunny and in the mid 80’s. After an 8-plus hour drive from Southern California I arrived at the show’n shine Friday night under cloudy skies with the threat of imminent showers. The stories I’d heard about the city of Red Bluff getting behind the show’n shine event were not under rated. There were several thousand people and well over a hundred drag boats occupying a 2-block area of Main Street. I was impressed to say the least. The Top Fuel Hydros were staged right down the center of Main Street. All the various other classes of boats lined the curbs. The race teams were all on hand to talk and it was basically a huge high performance boat party. There was music, beer, food, and lots of cameras testing the limits of their card storage, including mine. The Show’n Shine could have been a stand-alone event most anywhere in the nation.
Towards dusk the Top Fuel Hydros all fired up their engines in rotation. The smell of alcohol and Nitromethane filled the air. It was a boat hotrodder’s heaven. There were flats, hydros, and jets of all makes and colors from basic white to the heavy hitter knock down multi-thousand dollar paint schemes. A true cross section of performance hardware was on display. This was a real close up grass roots type event where folks could walk right up, take pics, talk to the drivers and really be a part of the show. As nightfall dropped over Main Street you could feel a little mist coming down from the clouds, a precursor of what was to come.
Saturday morning it was raining lightly. Not at all deterred, the racers were all at Lake Red Bluff ready to rumble. It was around eight a.m. when I arrived and qualifying had already begun. It continued raining lightly and was a bit breezy but not so much as to halt the lower speed classes from running. I promptly donned my jacket and started touring the pits talking with as many of the teams as I could while trying not to interfere with their race prep. I was taking pictures like a kid at Disneyland while trying to keep the rain drops off my camera lens.
Around mid morning the wind picked up a bit and qualifying was put on hold. I continued around the pits where most of the racers were just waiting for the word on when they could run. I talked with several teams at length and got some real insight and schooling on just what went into these boats. Having not followed drag boat racing closely since the mid 80’s, it immediately became painfully obvious to me I had some serious catching up to do. Everyone was very hospitable though and in a very short time I was coming up to speed on the ins and outs of 2008 drag boat racing IHBA style. Due to the damp, dense air, many of the guys were talking about records likely being set once they were released to run. I stopped in and chatted with a couple of the Ermshar TAF crew and said hello to Don. They were busy preparing for their first round of qualifying, running valves and normal pre-race routine. Don has dominated just about whatever class he’s raced for several decades. He is always a contender and most always on his game. I remember he and his brother Jim both being forces to be reckoned with back in the blown gas flat class several decades ago in NDBA.
Veteran racer Don Ermshar fueling his Top Alcohol Flat for first round qualifying
It was around 2PM and I was visiting with Joe Shelfo of Precisioncraft Marine, talking about his rare Ford powered boat (Fords in boat drag racing being rare, not Joe's boat) when the notice came over the PA calling for a drivers meeting. Shortly thereafter it was announced that the entire weekend’s racing had been cancelled mainly due to the wind and the negative weather outlook for the balance of the weekend. Many were disappointed to say the least. The limited number of hardcore race fans who had braved the rain and wind throughout the morning started heading for the parking lot in mass. No one looked happy. The news that the event had been cancelled produced some controversial reactions. Many drivers had towed long distances and the only water on their boat was on the deck. They wanted to race so the news of cancellation naturally set a somber tone to end the day. The bright side was that a new race was scheduled for the following weekend. So with that news I talked some more with the few that were left in the pits and then headed down to Tony Scarlata’s pit to hang out for a bit. Occasionally, when the need arises, I help Tony out in his K-5 pit at some of the circle race events. The Loud and Proud Superstock team provided a great barbeque, which turned out to be a bright spot in an otherwise mostly cold and dreary day. My thanks go out to them for their hospitality and great food.
Joe Shelfo's PE623 Hydro
Red Bluff #2, Saturday, May 31…
Following a repeat and originally unscheduled long drive up from So Cal on Friday night, this Saturday opened quite different from the former with bright sunshine. I pulled into the parking lot around 8 am again, and there were lots of fans ahead of me, unlike the semi-ghost town a week earlier. This put some enthusiasm in my tank and I couldn’t wait to get parked and get my camera gear out and hit the races. As I walked in I could hear the sound of alcohol and gas engines tuning in the pits and qualifying runs already in progress. The IHBA obviously was getting an early start. I began with a mixture of taking some action shots and visiting with some of the race teams I’d not seen the prior week. I’m not a pro photographer. I’m a amateur at best, so I wanted to get as much practice as possible this weekend. In the end I shot almost a thousand photos between the two weekends, which I’m just starting to sift through as I write this. I wanted shots of every boat and pit if I could achieve it (probably overly optimistic in retrospect but I think I got most).
Vic Esposito's "Freak Show"
One thing I noticed right off was that there were several bare spots in the pits that were occupied by race teams the week before. An unfortunate result of a rescheduled event coupled with the high cost of fuel and lodging, lack of time off, etc. There were plenty of teams in attendance though to put on what would turn out to be an awesome race weekend. Around 10:30 the first round of Top Fuel Hydros got the call following a morning of first round qualifying of the other classes. The crowd came alive as the fuelers thundered down the course. The pro and bracket classes laid down an impressive set of runs all day qualifying for Sunday’s eliminations. The whole race weekend was accident free with one exception. Jason Crews was ejected from his immaculate Dago Red flat. Fortunately, neither Jason nor the boat suffered any injury and he was back out later in the day to lay down a couple impressive straight arrow passes. The Dago Red boat was originally put together by my friend, a true perfectionist, Tony Ervolina. It still looks as pristine as it did when it was built over 2 decades ago. The boat’s a real showpiece and if you haven’t seen it in person I encourage you to take a close look if you have the opportunity.
Jason Crews in "Dago Red"
The Superstock circle sprint boats were also in attendance and ran a half time heat and another near the end of the day. Dave Bryant in Dave Rankin’s SS-80 had the field covered in both heats. With straightaway speeds approaching 110-120 mph these flats are impressive to say the least. I’m looking forward to attending the Burley Idaho race at the end of June where I’ve been told there will be 20+ of these SS hotrods in attendance vs. the 5 of the original 7 that made the return trip to Red Bluff.
The Superstocks on their parade lap
Sunday started out warm and developed into hot. I had a nice sunburn from Saturday so maybe it just felt hotter this day. The program started early as usual and I hit the track for a couple hours of action shots and tried some different settings on my camera. The sharpness level of some of my shots from the prior day left a little to be desired. I hung with a group of fans that were anchored in Redding that I had met Saturday and they were nice enough to offer their shade tent. Everyone in the area ended up with a copy of the initial issue of Performance Boats Magazine. All of the fans I spoke with all weekend were great, friendly, and enthusiastic about being there. Some were also keeping the beer vendors very happy. You could tell this was an event that was much appreciated and anticipated in Norcal. Warm weather, fast times, hot boats, cold beer, fuelers and alcohol engines warming up in the pits… what more could you ask for? Although I only have an occasional beer these days, I can relate from days gone by when I contributed more than my share to several breweries.
The race action Sunday was exceptional. Also accident free (the way we like em) and the IHBA moved the program right along. Some blistering passes were made. At the end of the day the Toxic Rocket team took the Top Fuel Hydro honors with a 5.97 et, and almost 215 mph. Rex Childers in Problem Child unfortunately didn’t get his pass off. Top Alcohol Hydro honors went to Kent Price in the Black Draggin machine with a 5.38 et at 223.88 mph. The Top Alcohol Flat win went to Steve Westerfield in All Lit Up. Steve turned a 6.85 lap at 167.70 mph. I talked with one of Steve’s crew members the first weekend and he schooled me a bit on what it takes to make one of these boats perform. Steve was 2nd in points last year and the boat had a best et of 6.61 going into this race. He said they were ready to move up to first. Obviously these guys got it together and made a big step in that direction at Red Bluff. He went over the fine points of tuning the boat by utilization of the info provided from the onboard race computer. This info is downloaded to their laptop in the pits and tuning adjustments are made. These days most of the pro teams use this setup to tune the boats.
Steve Westerfield in "All Lit Up" takes the TAF win as Don Bausher gets a bit outta shape off the line
There were fast passes all day long as these guys (and a few girls) ripped the quarter mile. I went away from Red Bluff with an understanding that these racers have a true love for the sport and many will spend their last dollar to compete. Many of these guys went way over budget coming back for weekend number two. In the words of Bob Prigmore who runs a multi-championship jet boat, “you’re either in it or you’re not,” referring to chasing the championship and obstacles getting in the way. My two weekends at Red Bluff were very informative and enjoyable. Good people, new friends and some old ones too. You can’t beat that, I’ll be back next year for sure (hopefully for a single weekend).
Next stop, the Lake Irvine V-drive Regatta.
Note: Many more pics to come from Red Bluff and Lake Irvine