NHRA Northeast Division Finishes 2023 Lucas Oil Series at VMP
Drag Racing Action Online Images: David Smith/Kubicke Photography
After seven Lucas Oil events at six tracks throughout the 2023 season, the NHRA Northeast Division finished their Lucas Oil Series events the last weekend in September at Virginia Motorsports Park.
The more the Lucas Oil divisional points chase seemed to be clearer, the more it became murkier with more than one class still up for grabs after the event. With numerous out of division events still available to add to the points, it won’t be decided until the last Lucas Oil divisional of the year.
One racer not having to go out of division is Top Alcohol Dragster racer Matt Cummings. Cummings from Delray Beach Florida, driving the Rich McPhillips dragster, cemented his spot at the top of the East Region with a win at VMP over teammate Rich McPhillips Jr during Saturday’s action.
Rich McPhillips Jr, far lane, was sleeping on the line in the finals against Cummings
As has been for most of the Lucas Oil NED races, there was a good turnout in T/AD with a dozen cars qualifying for a spot in the final eight car show. Leading the charge was Cummings with a 5.174 with third generation racer Madison Payne right behind with a 5.193. New Jersey racer Jackie Fricke, the closest to Cummings in the chase, put the Finke Equipment A/FD in the #4 spot with a 5.263. Part time racer John Ausherman held down the bump with a 5.401.
Not making the quick field was another third-generation racer Megan Smith from South Carolina with a just missing 5.439 along with former NED champ Richard Bourke, returning racer Mark Albert and the blown car of Mike Hepp on the outside.
Cummings took care of Fricke in the semifinals with a 5.17 to the up in smoke 14 second run of Fricke to set one side of the final. Cummings’ partner McPhillips Jr took a bye as the blown car of Dan Dietrich was a no show. McPhillips legged it out to a 5.286 to make it an all McPhillips team final.
McPhillips, driving the Mobil 1 car normally piloted by Tony Stewart, took a nap on the line and then smoked the tires to a 16 second pass as Cummings cruised to a shutting off 6.012 for the win and the East Region title.
After his Region clinching win Cummings said, “We knew we had one chance left to win the region and we were struggling for 3 races, just not the performance we usually have. We made the decision to test at the track before the race to get ready for our biggest challenge of the season so far.”
“Our first goal, win the region. I changed all my travel plans to accommodate. We pulled out a 5.15 on our last test pass on Thursday. Confident going into qualifying we came in 1st. I knew I had to go to the finals and Jackie could not beat me in the final or else she would win the East.”
“The ladder matched us up in the semifinals if we both got there,” Cummings continued. “Same scenario as when I won the central region last year against Julie Nataas. The difference was last year, I really didn’t know it, this year I knew it was a winner take all. A lot of nerves and pressure until I heard the team say, clutch in- switch on… Ready Matt? Ready! Then it just went into race mode. Super grateful and thankful that we came out the winner against an incredible team. I went through the finish line seeing my win light come on. An incredible feeling of excitement. It’s why we do this.”
The win at VMP was Cummings’ 5th career Wally and his third in 2023 having won at Maple Grove and Lebanon Valley.
In Alcohol Funny Car, Lucas Oil East region points leader Matt Gill did not tow to Virginia from his home base in Massachusetts as the Moduline Cabinets driver has a commanding lead over his closest rivals DJ Cox and Wayne Morris. But both made the trip to VMP to try and whittle into Gill’s lead.
Adding to the excitement was former Lucas world champ Sean Bellemeur in the Steve Boggs tuned Bartone Brothers ’21 Camaro who made it look easy leading the six car field with a 5.42 over the #2 qualifying pass of Cox who ran a 5.456 and Morris #3 with a 5.489.
Bellemeur got a bye run in the semis due to the odd number of cars as DJ Cox beat the “Follow a Dream” Camaro of Jay Blake driven by Phil Burkart in a close one. Cox got the jump off the line and held the Yorkville NY driver off with a 5.461 to Burkart’s close 5.52 in the loss.
In the final, Cox from Whiteford MD was second off the line and lost traction, shutting off to a 6.351 pass as Bellemeur went a consistent 5.41 for his 21st Lucas win and his third of 2023. Bellemeur left VMP tied for first place with Doug Gordon for the Lucas Oil National Championship.
In the always competitive Competition Eliminator, all the racers still in the NED Lucas Oil hunt were at VMP for what became the showdown of the year. Leading the pack was the C/DA of Don Eckel from Piscataway NJ with a 0.662 under 6.918 in his dragster.
Right behind Eckel was Cecil County winner Kevin Houghtaling in his G/A Chevy Cavalier followed by Steve Szupka in Pam and Mike Miskovsky’s C/DA. Michele Costa and Todd Logan who were also in the chase, qualified 5th and 8th respectively.
Costa went out in round two as did Houghtaling. Szupka spun the tires in the first round leaving Logan and Eckel to battle it out.
Eckel beat the little F/DA of Chris Piston in his semifinal race and Logan’s A/EA took out Santo Volpe in his race to get to meet Eckel for the event win and possible ,the NED championship lead.
Eckel, near lane, had the better RT in the final and it counted at the stripe resulting in a win
Eckel was first off the line with a 0.049 to Logan’s 0.090 RT and he passed Logan with a 6.953 on his 7.44 index to Logan’s better but losing 7.308 on his 7.82 index. The race was won on the starting line.
“I knew the race at VMP was important as far as the division point standings go and I knew there were 5 of us still in contention coming in,” Eckel said after the win. “It sure didn’t look good for me after the first round when I took a major CIC penalty, but it turned out to be one of those crazy races where the unexpected and a little luck just seem to take over.”
“The car was flawless all weekend and when you have confidence in that part, it’s easy to focus on driving. I knew I was decent on the tree in the final against Todd and when you’re chasing, you know if you’re going to “get there” on your opponent. That’s a good feeling! Winning is always nice but this race was extra special, as my son was able to be there from college to help us too!”
The win was Eckel’s eighth career Lucas Oil win and his second of the year. He left VMP with 338 points and the D1 lead with Houghtaling second with 284 and Costa third with 265 points.
Eckel added, “The division isn’t locked up yet. The Rockingham Lucas Oil race is in a few weeks and depending on who goes and how they do, things will be a lot clearer then.”
Former Lucas world champ Bryan Worner from Duncannon Pa. took the Worner and Sons Motorsports GT/JA Camaro to the Super Stock title at VMP beating Karl Martel’s GT/HA Camaro in the finals to take the win and move into first place in NED Lucas points.
Bryan’s brother Byron, put his SS/IA ’95 Camaro on the pole with a #1 qualifying -1.056 under 9.644 just a tick better than his twin brother’s -1.034 under 9.766. Eventual runner up Martel from Dover Del. put his Chevy into the #3 slot with a -0.983 under 9.517.
In the final, Worner was all over Martel at the tree with a James Bond 0.007 light to Martel’s 0.033 and on the top end it was Worner turning on the win light with a 9.87 on his 9.86 dial to a breaking out 9.54 on his 9.55 of Martel.
After the win Worner said, “I knew qualifying position would be key, since I was improving on a 3rd round loss for my last divisional points claim. So having an early round bye could help me. As it turned out, by qualifying second (to my brother) I got the 3rd round bye. That turned out to be beneficial because the weather was totally different on Sunday afternoon than it was the entire weekend. But, as has been the case all year, the car was deadly, doing exactly what I thought it would.
“All I had to do was hit the tree and drive the finish line and I would be good. Have Justin (Picillo) on my heals for the points lead, I knew a win was the only thing that would keep my title hopes intact! So that definitely kept me focused, especially after he lost second round, meaning he did not add any points to his total. I guess I did my job.”
Worner left VMP with the D1 lead with 427 points over second place Picillo’s 363. The win was Worner’s 12th Lucas Oil series Wally and his second in 2023 having won at Lebanon Valley in June.
“I’m number one in the Lucas world points too. But I don’t think it’s going to hold,” Worner adds. “I need a little luck as I am out of races to claim.”
A few weeks removed from his runner up in Stock Eliminator at the Pep Boys Nationals at Maple Grove, Ford racer Ken Miele drove his quick FS/AA ’08 Mustang to the Stock title in Virginia. Miele, who now calls Selma NC home, had the FS/D ’23 Camaro of Steve Foley from Clinton NC. in the other lane in the finals. Miele had the advantage off the line with a 0.035 light to Foley’s 0.045 and ran a 8.493 on a 8.48 dial to Foley’s 9.828 on his 9.80 dial in.
“In the first round I was late, but the other guy (D2 racer Dennis Pope) was a lot worse, which gave me an easy win,” Miele said. “Second round, I hit the tree good and it got me to the third round where Joey Warren fouled out. I did see Warren’s red light, but it was not the reason I went red, I was just trying too hard. That round I lifted early, I thought I hurt something, turned out I just needed a new set of spark plugs, but I did not know it going into the fourth round.”
“Shane Oakes went red, and I was late again, but I was able to run it out and the car was good. Fifth round bye, and into the sixth round against Steve Szupka. I had the starting line advantage, with a .010 light to Szupka .052. Just what I needed to take the stripe and the win.”
“I knew the final against Foley would be tough, he’s been driving great all year. He is in the top ten in national and D2 points. I had him a .010 on the tree, I was holding two, but did not know it, but was able to drive the stripe for the win. I only drove 3 respectable rounds; the rest was just luck.”
The win was Miele’s first ever Lucas Oil win in his third try. Massachusetts racer John Gray Jr leads the NED points chase with 338 points but did not compete at VMP. Gray’s closest competitor, Jim Roberts, raced at VMP and added to his total for 330 but is running out of races to catch Gray.
Super Comp is another class in the NED that is up for grabs. Jason Kenny is in first place with 394 points, but New Jersey racer Tom Stalba will have something to say about that after his win at Virginia.
Stalba, driving the AA Auto Salvage dragster out of Hammonton NJ ultimately locked his competition Lee Ream from Narvon PA out of any chance of winning with a 0.011 light and a right on with a seven 8.907 to Ream’s 0.019 light and a breaking out 8.897 for his 30th career Lucas win and his third of 2023. Ream who walked away from a crash in his D/DA earlier in the weekend, beat D2 racers Jimmy Stahl and Frank Altilio to get the chance to run Stalba for the money. Stalba on his side of the ladder beat recent Pep Boys winner Chase Fahnestock and D2 racer Bill Roberts to get to the finals.
“Lee is very competitive, and his cars always go rounds,” Stalba said. “You never want to look over in the burnout box and see him there. You need your ‘A’ game against him.”
“I was never chasing the division title this year. My gameplan was to bracket race and focus on taking my kids to the Junior races. I didn’t go to Cecil, or Numidia but after good finishes at Maple Grove in both Super Gas and Super Comp at the spring race and winning the August race I started scratching my head and was thinking, maybe I have shot at the division.”
“Didn’t do well in New England where I fell on my face but decided to go to Richmond where I ended up winning and also went rounds in Super Gas.”
Stalba adds, “Right now my cars are sitting at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison Il. for the double Lucas Oil divisional this coming weekend. If I go four rounds in Super Gas, I will be leading the division and if I go three in the dragster, I will be in first there too. I have two races left to try and win both classes.”
Stalba, in addition to his family for all their support, would like to thank Hoosier Racing Tires, VP Race Fuels, Simpson Race Products, and Wilson Racing Engines. Stalba adds,” Thanks to Steve Everett who helps at the shop and my son Paul who is my crew chief at the track. And not to forget, Steve Logan who drives the rig around for the team.”
Koncen, far lane, won his first ever Wally beating Bob Phillips’ Neon in the finals of Super Gas
In Super Gas it was returning racer Dale Koncen from Chaptico MD driving his ’63 Corvette roadster racing to his first career Lucas win over the Mopar of Pennsylvania racer Bob Phillips in the finals. Koncen, who was back behind the wheel of his beautiful Chevy after a long layoff, nailed the tree with a 0.011 light to Phillips’ good 0.026 and won a double breakout with a 9.896 to the 9.886 of Phillips. Earlier in eliminations Koncen beat D2 racer Frank Altilio and New Jersey racer Rich Mattioli as Phillips put Iggie Boicesco and Tom Stalba on the trailer in earlier rounds.
“The last couple years have been tough along with a double bypass that stopped me from racing for a while,” Koncen said. “Had a rough season getting back on track! But today was my day I was on my game and the car was consistent. It was great having my wife Brenda and my 10-year-old granddaughter Chevi helping make it one of the best wins ever!”
When asked about his reaction time in the finals Koncen replied, “Oh I knew when I left the line in the final it was a good one!! I guess it was finally my day. Every round I seemed to make the right decision at the finish line. My only regret for the weekend was my daughter Stevie couldn’t be there with us. Normally she would be competing in Super Street.”
Although the Richmond race didn’t make the Super Gas Lucas Oil division winner any clearer, it’s crowded at the top with Former NED champ Rich Price and Richard Stroud tied for first place in the division with 288 points. Iggie Boicesco is one point back with 287 points. All three racers were at VMP with Boicesco going the furthest in eliminations to make it tight. Add in Ken Bowers, Jeff Fisher, Charlie Kenopic, and Tom Stalba to the mix as all four are within striking distance. Gonna be a wild finish for Super Gas in the NED for 2023.
Pauley, near lane, broke out in the finals of Super Street handing Brock his first career Lucas win
Division Two racer JJ Brock from Pickens S.C. drove his ’68 Camaro to a first ever Lucas Super Street win beating fellow D2 racer Ed Pauley from Shelby N.C. in the finals. Brock was second off the line with a normally great 0.017 light to Pauley’s 0.010, but Pauley took too much stripe breaking out with a 10.886 to the winning 10.914 of Brock.
“After being out of racing for almost 12 years, it feels awesome to be back in the sport,” Brock said after the win. “I won the NHRA Open Carolina Dragway earlier this year and now this. Winning two Wally’s was a goal of mine and to know I accomplished that feels great!! I want to thank my family and a big thank you to Scott Duggins and the guys at PAR race engines!”
Add Tommy Tape Top Dragster presented by Select Performance to the list of critical classes for the racers at the top of the points at VMP. Former NED champ Al Kenny was neck and neck with recent Pep Boys National winner Vince Musolino from Bridgeport NY and as things worked out, both racers met in the finals at VMP for the win and possibly the division championship.
Kenny, who calls Jupiter Florida home, was second off the line with a 0.029 RT to the 0.022 of Musolino. It was tight on the top end but Musolino’s 6.598 on his 6.59 dial beat Kenny’s 6.193 on a 6.16 dial. The win was Musolino’s 9th career Lucas win and his fourth of the year. He leads the NED with 432 points and has for all intents and purposes, will be the 2023 Northeast Division Top Dragster champ.
After the race Musolino said, “It was like a story book ending with the top drivers in the divisional points racing each other. If I won the finals it locked up the division, if not the chase moved to next race.”
“I’m very thankful for the season I have had so far and looking forward to the reminder of the season.”
In Tommy Tape Top Sportsman presented by Select Performance, Canterbury Conn. racer Brandon Miller has been leading the pack from the start taking the first two races of the year at Cecil County and Maple Grove. Miller added to his total at VMP winning Top Sportsman over the ’00 Camaro of Dave Muller from Pennington N.J.
Miller, behind the wheel of his S-10 truck was second off the line with a 0.036 light to Muller’s better 0.029 but at the finish line it was Miller’s dead on with a seven 6.857 beating Muller’s 6.847 on his 6.83 dial.
Miller’s third win of the year effectively puts the title out of everyone’s grasp as his 412 points easily outdistance his closest rival, Ron Riegle’s 270.
“Luck was on my side all weekend,” Miller said. “If felt really good to be able to win again after a few tough weekends and some runner ups.”
Junior Dragster 13-18 went to local racer Louis Crockett from Hopewell VA. Crocket had the better light and ran right on his dial with a 8.017 on a 8.01 as his competition, Lavar Lewis pushed it too hard breaking out with a 7.396 on his 7.94 dial in.
The 10-12 Junior class went to Jason Gerves over Kylie Varnier. Gerves had a 0.051 RT to Varnier’s late 0.138 and took the easy win with a 8.965 on his 8.90 dial as Varnier ran an off pace 9.075 on his 8.98 dial.
Best Appearing Car went to the unique Gremlin of Florida racer Allan Kremkau. Kremkau runs the little AMC in the Super Street class and went to the fourth round finally losing to eventual runner up Ed Pauley.
Competition Eliminator racer Kevin Houghtaling’s G/A Cavalier took the Best Engineered award back to Henrico Va.
To check out more action from Virginia go to