Courtesy Nate Van Wagnen Drag Illustrated  Images: Bob Reed

Two-time Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod Association (NEOPMA) champion Mike Decker Jr. raced to victory Saturday night at the Empire Northeast Outlaw Pro Mod Challenge VI at Empire Dragway, marking his first win of the season. In the final round, Decker defeated a red-lighting Derek Ward, the reigning NEOPMA champion. Decker took over the points lead from his son, Mike “Hollywood” Decker III, who defeated him in the season opener final round in April. 

“It was great to get back to Empire Dragway for our first of two races there this summer,” said John Mazzorana, founder and president, NEOPMA. “The conditions were some of the hottest our teams have faced at Empire. Despite the heat and track temperatures that approached 140 degrees or more, the track surface was great. The track staff was fantastic as always, and we’re looking forward to coming back to Empire on August 16-17.”

After three rounds of qualifying, Ward was the No. 1 qualifier with a 3.636-second pass in his screw-blown ’68 Firebird. Buffalo-based Pro Mod standout Melanie Salemi qualified second in Eddie Whelan’s screw-blown “Purple Reign” ’68 Firebird with a 3.666. Decker Jr. ran a 3.671 in his screw-blown Decker’s Salvage ‘19 Camaro to qualify third. Canada’s Kenny Lang charged to a 3.688 in his screw-blown ’69 Camaro to claim the No. 4 spot. Decker III rounded out the top five with a 3.691 in his screw-blown Decker’s Salvage ‘22 Camaro. 

Salemi qualified second in Eddie Whelan’s screw-blown “Purple Reign” ’68 Firebird with a 3.666

“I felt like we were behind Jon Salemi and Derek with Jon tuning those two cars,” Decker said, referencing the ’68 Firebirds of Derek Ward and Melanie Salemi. “We felt a tick behind, but we went down the track every pass. We made 11 or 12 passes this weekend. No aborted runs. We didn’t qualify where I wanted to qualify. I always want to qualify No. 1 whenever I go to the track, but we made every pass and the results was there to show for it.”

Decker Jr. started eliminations by taking out Claude St. Maurice with a 3.716, then he ran a 3.719 at 204.45 to take out Andy Jensen and his turbocharged ’68 Camaro in the second round. In the semifinals, he used a .010 reaction time and a 3.683 at 203.99 to defeat Salemi, who coasted to a 5.717 at 83.24. He also earned lane choice for the final round by just three thousandths. 

Meanwhile, Ward earned a first-round bye run as the No. 1 qualifier. He picked up a second-round win over the nitrous-fed “Dark Knight” ’69 Camaro of John Vergotz to meet up with “Hollywood” Decker III in the semifinals. Decker III left the starting line first, but Ward drove around him with a 3.686 at 205.95 to Decker III’s 3.704 at 203.62. 

The final round was decided at the starting line when Ward went red by .094 seconds. He stayed in the throttle and raced to a 3.681 at 206.23, but it wouldn’t have been enough to beat Decker Jr., who cut a .004 light and ran a 3.662 at 206.71 to get the win. 

“I was ready for a race,” Decker said. “I usually don’t hit [the tree] that well. The good Lord blessed me that day with some good lights. When I let go of that button, I thought I red-lit. I never look out my passenger side, but I looked out the right and I saw a piece of his red light on. I saw that and I looked in front of me and saw my win light, so I knew I won the race when I left the starting line. I guess I was ready for him. I left on time and outran him by two numbers, which surprised me. They’ve been running really well.”

With the win, Decker Jr. took over the points lead from “Hollywood,” who earned his first Pro Mod win in an all-Decker final round at the NEOPMA season opener at Maryland International Raceway’s Door Wars. Decker Jr. is focused on securing a third series title, but he’ll face strong opposition from his own son, who’s also his tuner, as well as Ward and the rest of the NEOPMA field. 

“It feels really good to get a win this year,” said Decker, who won the 2023 NEOPMA season finale. “I believe [the championship fight] is going to be between Hollywood and Derek and myself. Derek is a good racer and a good guy. He’s going to be tough to beat. And likewise, he knows we’re going to be the same way.”

Decker shared his appreciation for his family-based crew and their efforts throughout the hot weekend at Empire Dragway. 

“We were short a few crew guys, so our engine guy, Brad Schmidt from Todd Tutterow’s WYO Motorsports, came to help out,” Decker said. “We didn’t have the fastest cars, but I believe we had the best tuner this weekend because he got the job done. I thank my guys. We missed the ones that weren’t there. I thank my wife and my dad for supporting me, and thank the good Lord for the win.”

The 2024 NEOPMA season will continue in about a month when the series heads north to New England Dragway in Epping, New Hampshire, for Jet Cars Under The Stars on July 26-27. To learn more, visit or