New-wave Pro Stockers stun onlookers
Reprinted from the Feb. 19 1982 issue of National DRAGSTER
NHRA WINTERNATIONALS -- In what had to be one of the most highly anticipated showdowns since the category made its original debut on this same track 12 years ago, Frank Iaconio took top honors in the "new" Pro Stock Eliminator with an unstoppable series of 7.80-second elapsed times. For Iaconio, the win was nearly a complete sweep as he also set Low E.T. with a 7.82, a new National Record. Top Speed went to World Champion Lee Shepherd at 174.75 mph, also a new standard.
Iaconio claimed the title by defeating defending World Champion Shepherd in the final, 7.84, 174.08 mph to a slowing 8.02 at 156.52 mph for the Reher & Morrison Camaro. Clutch problems were said to be responsible for the demise of Shepherd's final-round bid. Shepherd and his Arlington, Texas cohorts had led the pack in qualifying with a 7.84, and their off-the-trailer 7.86 during Thursday's noon time trials gave them the distinction of recording the sport's first official 7-second clocking for a Pro Stocker at a NHRA national event.
Also dipping into the 7s during qualifying was Iaconio with a 7.87, Bob Glidden's wild, wheelstanding Ford EXP with a 7.89, and veteran "Southern Style" match racer Rickie Smith's Ford Mustang at 7.94 seconds.
This first race with the new unlimited rules provided an interesting comparison between the older, long-bodied Camaros and the new breed short wheelbase entries. While the bigger machines definitely were at a disadvantage in terms of frontal area and aerodynamics, they appeared to be decidedly more stable going down the track with less wheelstands and mid-track drifting.
The eliminations kicked off with Lee Shepherd maintaining his strong qualifying pace to outdistance Harry Scribner's Camaro, 7.87, 174.08 mph to an 8.05 at 170.13 mph. John Hagen's Plymouth Arrow followed by besting an out-of-shape Roy Hill, 8.45, 148.26 to a slowing 10.84 at 84.34 mph, and Glidden proved to be the quickest Ford by dumping Don Campanello's Camaro, 7.94, 172.74 mph to a close 8.07 at 168.22 mph. Sonny Bryant, who had qualified well with a strong 8.03, had clutch problems on the line to cause an untimely red-light start. Jim Meyer took the win with an 8.15 at 167.28 while Bryant shut off with a 16.33 at 65.78 mph.
Iaconio's first win came at the expense of Jerry Eckman's Camaro, 7.82, 173.41 mph to a losing 8.06 at 168.85 mph, and Jerry Janke followed with a shocking holeshot upset win over Butch Leal, 8.15, 166.05 to a losing 8.03, 170.45 mph clocking. The usually sharp Leal had recorded a reaction time of .801 on the four-tenths tree, a full two-tenths slower than Janke's .601.
Smith likewise utilized better starting-line reflexes to score an 8.21, 173.07 mph win over the quicker but later Terry Sherrill, whose Camaro checked in with a losing time of 8.13, 168.53 mph.
John Brumley wrapped up matters in the first round with a narrow 8.17, 168.85 mph conquest of the recently returned Reid Whisnant's 8.19, also at 168.85 mph.
In the second round, Shepherd sped to a fine 7.86 at 174.75 mph to outdistance Hagen's 8.21, 157.89-mph bid, and Glidden kept his foot in it for a 7.95, 173.41-mph win over Meyer, even though the Riverside, California campaigner had red-lighted and shut off with a 17.95 at 45.31 mph. Iaconio continued to look good with a 7.84, 171.75-mph win over Jerry Janke's 8.20, 167.55-mph effort, and Rickie Smith bested a red-lighting John Brumley, 7.96, 170.77 to an 8.30 at 169.49 mph to set the stage for the semi's.
The first race of the semi's was another in the now familiar series of Shepherd vs. Glidden showdowns, and as he has now done quite often in the recent past, Shepherd came out on top, 7.84, 174.08 to a red-lighting 12.47 at 84.26 mph.
In the other contest, Iaconio marched to his final round berth by defeating Smith's Ford, 7.86, 173.41 to a 7.95 at172.08 mph.
With both cars running steady 7.80s on every pass, it looked like it would be a real battle in the final. Shepherd's mechanical difficulties slowed the R&M Camaro to the 8.02, however, opening the door for Iaconio's 7.83, 174.08 mph win.