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ROCKY MOUNTAIN RACEWAYS, West Valley City, Utah (July 10-12) — First-time winners dominated the 2014 NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League Western Conference Finals, one of two national events for drivers in the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League. All eight of the age-group winners — Kaylee Haarbrink (age 8-9), Braden Bettis (10), Jason Horridge (11), Cadie Del Toro (12), Jenna Michaud (13), Seth Andersen (14), Shelby Rae Schoenfeld (15), and Travis Van Maarion (16-17) — were first-time victors, as was team champ Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park. Only Jr. Comp winner Joe Harless was a repeat winner; Harless won the 15-year-old age group in 2011.
Rocky Mountain Raceways made its debut as the host track for the Western Conference Finals, and its racers enjoyed a fair amount of success, tallying three wins. The first of the Rocky Mountain racers to win was Haarbrink, who outlasted Wild Horse Pass’ Jessica Boardman. Haarbrink, of South Jordan, Utah, posted a 12.88 (12.75 dial) to turn on the win light in the final over Las Vegas, Nev., resident Boardman, who had the reaction-time advantage but broke out with a 12.72 (12.80).
Rocky Mountain representatives also finished atop the 14 and 15 age brackets. In the 14-year-old category, Andersen, who hails from Kearns, Utah, got the reaction-time advantage, .029 to .065, and turned it into an 8.97 (8.93) to 7.88 (7.90) win against DeLeon, Texas, runner Codi Bettis, who was part of the Barona 1/8-Mile Drag Strip team.
In the 15-year-old age group, Schoenfeld continued her strong weekend, adding the main event win to her runner-up finish in the Top of the Mountain contest on Friday. Schoenfeld, a Magna, Utah, resident, left the starting line first and ran closer to her dial, posting an 8.17 (8.13) to turn on the win light. Sierra Gartner, a Wellington, Colo., racer who was part of the Bandimere Speedway team, settled for runner-up honors with a 7.94 (7.90).
Also making headlines at the event was Michaud and Van Maarion, who became the first Canadian racers to win a National Championships/Conference Finals title. Michaud earned the distinction of being the first Canadian champ when she scored the 13-year-old class title. Michaud, who lives in Edmonton, Alta., and raced for Wild Horse Pass, put together the best package of eliminations for her age group, a .014-initiated 7.964 (7.95), in the final. That left little room for Joey Leal, another Wild Horse Pass competitor who hails from Loomis, Calif. Leal broke out on his run by .007-second.
Medicine Hat, Alta., runner Van Maarion then gave Canada a double win when he edged out Corona, Calif., driver Madison Whitten in a great final for the 16-17 age bracket. Van Maarion, who raced for M.H.D.R.A. Dragstrip, cut a near-perfect .001 light, then ran a 7.99 (7.98) to finish two-thousandths ahead of Wild Horse Pass’ Whitten, who had a .007 reaction and ran a 7.91 (7.90).
The 10-year-old age group final was an all-Barona affair with DeLeon, Texas’ Braden Bettis squaring off with Temecula, Calif., competitor Grace Doubleday. Bettis had the reaction-time edge, then eased his car to an 8.94 (8.90) to defeat Doubleday, who broke out with a 9.50 (9.57).
The 11-year-old class final was decided on the starting line when Sacramento Raceway’s Jack Stanfield went red. That gave the automatic nod to Horridge, who hails from Victorville, Calif., and was part of the Auto Club Famoso Raceway team. Horridge ran an 8.94 (9.00) on his winning pass.
A red-light start also determined the outcome in the 12-year-old bracket. This time, Hannah Ellison, a Las Vegas, Nev., resident who was part of the Wild Horse Pass team, fouled by .003-second. That gave the win to Del Toro, who also lives in Las Vegas and was also on the Wild Horse Pass team. Del Toro clocked a winning 9.77 (9.55).
Harless took home his second Western Conference Finals Wally when he won the Jr. Comp exhibition race over Friday Gamblers winner AJ Thomas. In the final, Harless got the lead at the Tree, .036 to .061, and parlayed the advantage into a 6.86 to 6.85 (6.90 index) win against Thomas.
In the team competition, Wild Horse Pass dominated with its teams finishing first, second, and tied for third. Wild Horse Pass Team 2 tallied 19 points to win the championship, followed by Wild Horse Pass Team 3 with 17. Wild Horse Pass Team 1 and Rocky Mountain Team 4 both earned 14 to finish tied for third. Bandimere Speedway Team 2 and Barona Team 2 tied for fifth with 12 points.
Drivers were also competing for special Battle of the Best: East vs. West trophies during eliminations. The driver with the best package of eliminations in each age group received a special trophy. Trophies will also be awarded at the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League Eastern Conference Finals presented by ViperizerRacing.com in two weeks. The driver with the best overall package from both events will receive a custom-painted helmet from Brando Custom Paint. Joshua Kirk, age 15, is the current frontrunner for the overall award after putting together a .010 package. Kirk received a custom trophy for his effort and will await the top performers at the Eastern Conference Finals to see if he will win the helmet.
Other Battle of the Best class winners were Gage Wilson (age 8-9, .042 package), Ryan Mason (10, .073), Nolan Oliveira (11, .058), Tyler Ellison (12, .045), Jenna Michaud (13, .028), Matthew Michaud (14, .030), and Carina Wilkerson (16-17, .012).
In the hotly contested Team Spirit contest Barona 1/8-Mile Drag Strip outlasted Western Colorado Dragway and Auto Club Famoso Raceway for the award. Other special-awards winners were Parker Haarbrink (Brando Custom Paint Best Overall Appearing Car), Gartner (Brando Custom Paint Best Appearing Theme Car), Mason (Brando Custom Paint Coolest Car), and Western Colorado Dragway (Best Appearing Track).
Champions Crowned at Western Conference Finals
Summit Racing Equipment's Jim Greenleaf, back row left, and Don Lower, back row right, congratulated the 2014 NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League Western Conference Finals champions. (photos by Harold Hoch)
2014 Western Conference Finals team champion
Battle of the Best: East vs. West winners
Team Spirit award
Brando Custom Paint Best Overall Appearing Car
Brando Custom Paint Best Appearing Theme Car
Brando Custom Paint Coolest Car
Best Appearing Track