When you gotta make the next event, and points are on the line, longtime NHRA competitors, like K&N's Ray Connolly, won't let a little thing like hurting a motor stop them from getting to where they need to be. Connolly took care of business, both with the engine swap he needed to make, and the field of Super Gas entries to pick his latest NHRA Wally during the Lucas Oil Series Division 3 event at Beech Bend Raceway Park, in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
NHRA Super Gas Racer Ray Connolly
"Well, I hurt the motor in my Corvette Roaster at the IHRA event in Martin," said Connolly. "So I took the motor out of my dragster along with putting a new fuel system on it and everything seemed to work out alright."
Even though there was a test session available for racers on Thursday prior to the event, Connolly was still trying to get everything buttoned back up and was unable to take advantage of any additional track time, but missing an extra chance to get the combo tuned in, didn't hurt him one bit.
Connolly drove well right from the start, first sending home Scott Lemen in round one and a memorable round for him in round two, when he managed to send Trisha Allen packing. "I thought I was fast, she's so slow I didn't catch her until late," he said of the round. "I tried to make it really tight and well it ended up being one thousandth. You know that could have went either way. I was like ninety-five to her ninety-one and I just killed way too much."
He then went on to get by Xenia, Ohio's Tim Gillespie in his 1933 Ford, when Gillespie was a little too anxious on the tree and allowed Connolly a shot to really dial his car in for his round four pairing with Mark Sanders. It was there where some great top end driving skills came into play, as Connolly turned his being .012 behind on the starting line into a dead-on the index run at the stripe and sent Sanders away on a 9.883 breakout.
Now that the Super Gas field was down to five cars, Connolly was wondering who was getting the bye into the semis. "I asked in the staging lanes, 'Who gets the bye" and Kevin Kleineweber just smiled," he pointed out. "I said to him, 'So it must be you' and he goes yeah but you are running for it and I laughed 'Oh, OK'.
It was at this point Connolly could see that his chances of sewing up the Super Gas title were getting stronger and his shot at the most important bye of the race, into the final, was just a win light away. First, he needed to seal the deal against Ray Sawyer. Like so many of his earlier rounds of the weekend, Connolly was deadly at the finish line, this time it was a .003 margin and Connolly taking the holeshot win with his 9.934 to Sawyer's 9.925.
Now with his smooth free pass into the final where he showed that he was dialed in by putting a 9.898 on the board, he would be ready for the final round match up with 2011 Jeg's All-Star Super Gas Champ, Rusty Cook.
"Oh yeah, we have raced each other a lot over the years," noted Connolly when asked about Cook. "He's been really hot this year and well, running him or Kevin [Klineweber] would have made for a tough final."
In another absolute squeaker at the stripe, where it could have been anyone's game, Connolly came out on top for his first ever win at the Bowling Green event, with a .001 margin at the stripe or a mere five inches. When both cars are almost evenly paired in mile-per-hour, Cook's 165.54 to Connolly's 164.39, it makes for a heck of a drag race, as both drivers stare at each other going across the line in their respective Corvette Roadsters.
"I've been to the semis there, but that is really about it," admitted Connolly. "I've never been able to finish it there, so it felt really good. The win also came at a really good time."
Meanwhile, just two hours earlier Connolly's son Dave had wrapped up his respective race for the Super Street Wally during the NHRA Div 2 event at zMax Dragway in North Carolina. "No actually I didn't, but my wife was with me," when asked if he was able to personally keep tabs on Dave's plight for his final. "She was letting him know what was going up here and letting me know how he was doing, so he and I didn't actually talk until my race was over."
"I am really happy to get this win for everyone that supports what we do, including K&N," he said. "They have nothing but the best products, we really appreciate the help that they provide for us and our cars. I am looking forward to making some changes over the winter to my Super Gas car and going with a special molded K&N air filter like fellow K&N racer Craig Anderson has on his car. There isn't a whole lot of room with what I have to work with and it's the R&D that the guys do at K&N to make special pieces like they do for situation like this that just can't be beat. They understand sportsman racing, because so many of them are racers themselves and they listen to what our needs are and make things happen."
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