Local drag racers taste success at national level
They may be from Grand Junction, but they are among the nation’s best drag racers.
Jim Whiteley, Terry Ruckman and Mike Knowles each placed first or second in their respective classes on the national level.
Whiteley won the NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster finals race, placed second in the NHRA Lucas Oil Series national championship points race and won the Pacific Division 7 title.
“We had a real good year,” Whiteley said. “There were a couple of bad outings, but overall those (bad outings) didn’t hurt us.”
Whiteley’s NHRA finals victory over the one person that finished ahead of him in the points standings, Bill Reichert, made it all worthwhile.
“That’s the highlight of my racing career at this point,” Whiteley said. “There were so many nitro-ignited cars running in my class. When the air is good, it’s hard to run with those guys.”
It is Whiteley’s first World Finals title.
Terry Ruckman won the NHRA Division 7 Top Alcohol Funny Car title in his first year competing in the class.
Ruckman won three of the series races and had the points title wrapped up before the last race. He won his second race after being disqualified in the first race for a false start.
“It went excellent,” Ruckman said. “I’ve always wanted to do that funny car. The last two years we put it together.
My crew guys were really instrumental in getting the car to run as good as it did this year. They know a ton about alcohol motors.
“Getting a championship your first year is pretty rare.”
Mike Knowles didn’t have quite the same luck, but still had a successful year, finishing 12th overall in the JEGs
ProMod Challenge Class with the help of a second-place finish in the final race at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Two-time series champion Josh Hernandez defeated Knowles in Las Vegas by .04 seconds.
Knowles gained 12 spots in the final four races.
The JEGs ProMod Challenge includes a bigger variety of cars that are a closer resemblance to regular vehicles.
Knowles said his vehicle looks similar to a 1963 Corvette.
“I worked on a top-fuel car as a clutch guy,” Knowles said. “After that, I built my first ProMod car. Last year, I qualified pretty decent.
“The JEGS Pro-Mod Challenge is the fastest (class) out there. Only a handful go in five-second zone.”
Many of the cars in the class run a super-charged hemi motor with 300-plus horsepower and a short-wheel base.