Local drag racers win Wally trophies at Western Colorado Dragway

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Caleb Nowlin, 11, of Whitewater wins his first Junior Dragster Challenge A race at Western Colorado Dragway on Saturday.

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Charlie Ruckman of Grand Junction takes the lead during his semifinal race against Austin Hayward during the Junior Dragster Challenge B races at Western Colorado Dragway on Saturday. Ruckman went on to win in the final hitting 82.12 mph on the 1/8-mile track.

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Charlie Ruckman, 14, of Grand Junction wheels his racecar into position for the finals of the Junior Dragster Challenge B competition at Western Colorado Dragway on Saturday. Charlie won the race with a time of 7.92 seconds.

Local junior drag racers faced more competition than normal and did just fine.

Grand Junction’s Charlie Ruckman and Whitewater’s Caleb Nowlin each won their respective National Hot Rod Association Junior Dragster League Challenge title Saturday at Western Colorado Dragway. Junior Dragster League Challenge winners across the nation receive a prestigious Wally trophy, named after the founder of the NHRA.

Juniors race on a 1/8-mile track, half the distance of the adult divisions.

Ruckman, 14, won the B division race (age 14-older) to win his second junior Wally trophy. He defeated Pontiac Pearmain of Grand Junction in the final with a time of 7.92 seconds at 82.12 mph.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Ruckman said. “The car was running real good. My lights (reaction time) were good.”

He won his first Wally in Las Vegas last summer in the NHRA Division 7 Junior Lightning class.

“It’s cool now that I have two (Wally trophies),” Ruckman said. “It definitely give me more confidence.”

“He did good,” his father Terry Ruckman said. “He had good lights. The car is running well. He was within 1/100th or 1/200th (of a second) of his dial-in.

“We adjusted some things a little bit each round, but it wasn’t big swings like a funny car.”

Terry used to race a funny car, but stopped to focus on Charlie’s racing.

“He and I get to do this together,” Terry said. “It’s just as exciting seeing him do well.”

Nowlin, 11, won the A division race (age 13-under) for his first win in drag racing in his three years.

“It’s amazing,” Nowlin said. “It my first win ever and to win the Wally, it’s just the best feeling ever.”

Nowlin defeated Sean Hart in the final with a time of 9.42 seconds at 67 mph.

“It all came together,” Nowlin said. “It started out running perfect, but my reaction times weren’t very good.

“After the first race, I knew I had four to go and thought, ‘OK, I’ve got to make it happen.’ I calmed down and I got it.”

His previous best result was the third round.

“What a race to pick to do good at,” his father Richard Nowlin said. “This was the biggest (junior) event of the year (at the track). To get a win like that is great.

“It ran on it’s number all day long. I think we ran a 9.41 five times today, so the consistency was phenomenal.”

Both drivers qualify for the biggest junior drag race of the season, the NHRA Junior Racing League Western Conference Finals, next weekend at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison. The NHRA has a Eastern Conference finals to determine the best junior racer in the Eastern United States in late July in Tennessee.

Each NHRA member track may send up to three teams of 10 racers to the event. Drivers compete for savings bonds and Wally trophies as tall as the junior drivers.

“It’s a confidence booster going into the Western Conference finals for sure,” Terry said.


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