Maspeth, New York native Sal Biondo got an early start on his 2011 season when he and the Vinny Barone crew headed west for the NHRA opener at Pomona. It was at the WinterNationals where Biondo debuted the team's new 2007 Chevy Cavalier in the I/AA Comp Eliminator class.
Competition Eliminator I/AA Cavalier driven by Sal Biondo
While things didn't go as well as they would have liked at the first race of the year, fast forward two weeks and 2,400 miles to Gainesville, Florida and the NHRA GatorNationals.
Sal Biondo has been competing on and off in Comp Eliminator since 1995 and certainly knows the ins and outs of playing the class rules to his advantage and not costing himself or his team any permanent CIC (Competition Index Control) for the season.
That can become very challenging for other racers who aren't as seasoned as Biondo, especially at an event such as Gainesville, where the weather on Thursday and Friday was nearing "mineshaft" conditions. By Saturday and Sunday, the weather had warmed up and that actually helped the racers.
"That took the pressure off of us," noted Biondo of the weather changes. "We were no longer in the big-time index wrecking position. By later in the weekend, we could only hurt ourselves a little bit and it took a little pressure off the driver."
Biondo whittled his way through his side of the ladder, giving himself the starting line advantage in each and every round through the quarter-finals where he earned a precious bye into the Comp Eliminator final.
What makes Comp Eliminator such a difficult and interesting class are the number games these drivers have to deal with. The class is much like bracket racing in many ways, but with a very different twist where drivers can hurt themselves in rounds to come by taking too much stripe and damage their index, which can really play into the hands of their next round opponent, as it did for Biondo in round three against Van Puckett.
"Third round was pretty big for me as I had an opponent who was pretty fast so he lost a lot of his index already. He had lost fourteen hundredths, that's a pretty good feeling to already have fourteen to work with against the guy," explained Biondo. "He is a friend of mine and I knew when I passed him by a car and a half at halftrack that he would probably lift and shut off. And he even told me, 'Hey there's no reason for me to run you to the end and hurt you [CIC] for the next round.' So it was really a big favor he did for me by shutting his car off after I passed him and trusting him and knowing him, I was able to kill enough ET."
"So that round and the bye into the final were both very crucial for me," he continued. "Because without those rounds and to run Frank Aragona Jr. in the final, if I would have been down any kind of index, I would have been in trouble."
Aragona Jr. wasn't able to stay "clean" through the event as Biondo had, with respect to their individual class indexes, and had to carry a two-hundredths CIC into their final round match up.
"In the final it was a little warmer and the car was running a little slower than we thought, but I didn't know that. I figured I was still running a sixty-eight on the run, which would have been permanently damaging to the index," he pointed out. "So I scrubbed as much as I could up to four-hundredths and took two-thousandths win light."
"It's neat to have somebody really close on the tree [index or dial-in]," he continued. "But Frank had lost two-hundredths of his index. So I really was hoping and praying I could be twenty [on the tree] and that might shut the door on him. I was twenty but I didn't expect him to be double-oh, which he was. And he was pretty close to out running us. He claims he was on a bad run and I was on a pretty good run, like I said I had killed some which I didn't really need to, but being in the car and not knowing and trying to protect the index for the rest, well actually the whole entire season. It was important to save it that round."
While Sal was blasting though the Comp Eliminator rounds, his brother Peter was doing the same in Super Stock.
"When Peter won his final first, that was added pressure," confessed Sal. "I know we've done it before, but here I am saying, 'well, we can do it again'. Today we could be in the winner's circle together again and how special that would be. Plus, I was pulling for the K&N car of Dan Fletcher in the Stock final, he's a good friend of mine, too. Gotta pull for all the K&N team cars."
"So Fletcher lost, then Peter won then a good friend of ours Tom Dauber won and then I had won," he said. "The amazing part about it, if you think about it, is that we took home three trophies [Wallys] a thousand miles from home. We all live eleven miles from each other."
The Comp Eliminator victory at the GatorNationals was the ninth NHRA National Event win for Sal and the fourth time that he and his brother Peter shared the winner's circle with a family double.
"It was just fantastic," he said. "And to do so in this Cavalier in only its second event out is an absolute tribute to all the people and products that are a part of this team. We have worked with companies like K&N for a very long time and their people and whole line of products are really second-to-none. You don't have a chance to win races of this caliber without using the best products you can get. That's why this and every car I compete in is protected by K&N filters."
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