Drag racing: Finke returning to home turf

Drag racer John Finke hopes to use Lebanon Valley as a springboard to a season championship, just li

If history does indeed repeat itself, as renowned lawyer Clarence Darrow once said, that will be just fine with John Finke.

Last season, Finke used a victory in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series reg­ional stop at Lebanon Valley Dragway as a springboard to winning the Northeast Division Top Alc­ohol Dragster championship.

Coming off three straight disappointing performances, Finke, who resides in Selkirk, is hoping for another big weekend at the Valley.

“There’s definitely a comfort level there, and it definitely makes it easier,” said the 48-year-old

Finke. “I’ve been racing there since I was small, and I know the staging area and know where the finish line is. It makes it easier to make good passes.”

Time trials and qualifying will begin on Friday, with gates opening at 8 a.m. Final time trials will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, and eliminations will continue on Sunday, beginning at 10 a.m.

General admission/pit passes are priced at $15 for adults each day.

Finke began his season on a high note, with a national win in the NHRA AC/Delco Gatornationals in Gainesville Fla., but his performances have gotten progressively worse since then.

“We’ve been treading water since Gainesville,” he said.

He reached the semifinals at Virginia Motorsports Park on May 4 before losing to Arthur Gallant. Finke ran 264.08 mph to Gallant’s 250.55, but Gallant had a lower elapsed time because of a quicker reaction time.

Finke then lost to Dan Mercier of Quebec in the first round at Maple Grove Raceway on May 23, and didn’t even make the top eight at Atco Raceway in Atco, N.J., in his last start on June 13, finishing one spot out of qualifying, despite running 254.86 mph.

“We’ve struggled with the tuneup in the warm, ambient temperatures,” said Finke. “It’s been an ongoing battle. The interesting thing about A-fuelers in that they really know temperatures. Not a lot of guys are running good in the heat.

“With these cars, it’s really hard to test. The only time you really run them is when you race. We’ve been running decent, but we can’t get into the 30s [5.30 seconds]. Three or four cars can, but unfortunately, we’re running against them.”

One of those drivers is Gallant, who resides in Boxboro, Mass.

After setting fast time at Virginia Motorsports Park with a 5.313, Gallant tore up the track at Maple Grove, taking the No. 1 qualifying position with a 5.252 (275.84 mph).

Gallant has been the top qual­ifier in all three Northeast Reg­ional events this season, but this weekend, he’s got to face Finke on Finke’s home turf.

“Last year [at Lebanon Valley] was one of my better performances,” said Finke. “It was 84 or 85 and humid, but we pulled a lot of 40 passes, and I think I won with a 5.40 flat. That track isn’t real aggressive, and it should work well with my tuneup.

“But I know I have to be careful. What we’ve found is this car can create a lot of power, and when we go to a divisional track, I’ve got to be careful not to smoke the tires.”

Despite his recent problems, Finke is still tied for second in regional points with Gallant, and they are just 54 points behind Mercier.

Also expected to headline the card is Top Alcohol Funny Car veteran Frank Manzo of Morganville, N.J.

Manzo is the defending TAC champion at the Valley, but the 55-year-old is also one of most decorated drivers in his division. He won the NHRA Top Alcohol Funny Car national championship for the 11th time last season, and has shown no signs of slowing down this season, winning two of the first three regional events.

Additional information about the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series regional event can be obtained by calling Lebanon Valley at 794-7130, or on the Web at www.dragway.-com

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