A field of 50 Pro Mod drivers entered qualifying on Friday at the 50th annual Snowbird Outlaw Nationals presented by Motion Raceworks, and after five rounds of eliminations on Sunday, Melanie Salemi was left standing as the $50,000 winner of the Bradenton Motorsports Park event. In the final round, Salemi recorded a 3.65-second pass at 206.83 mph to defeat Ken Quartuccio and his 3.692 at 198.12.
The other winners of the Snowbird Nationals were Daryl Stewart in Voss Wheelie Bars Pro Outlaw 632 presented by $hameless Racing, Manny Buginga in Pro 275 presented by FuelTech, Paul Gargus in Limited Drag Radial presented by Mickey Thompson Tires, DJ McCain in X275 presented by Precision Shaft Technologies, Jason Spina in Ultra Street presented by TRZ Motorsports, Charlie Farrar in 4.60 Bike, Tom Orr in 5.50 Index, J.T. Sheaffer in 6.50 Index, Austin Logan in 7.50 Index, James Cavanaugh in 7.90 Index Jr. Dragster, Cameron Rich in 8.90 Index Jr. Dragster, and Zandir Cook in 11.90 Index Jr. Dragster.
“This just solidifies the fact that our hard work pays off and we are still really good at what we do, regardless of what our season may have looked like to some people,” Salemi said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs this season, and it’s always awesome to finish off on a high note like this.”
Salemi went into the weekend driving Eddie Whelan’s screw-blown Al-Lee Installations “Sidepiece” ’19 Camaro after driving the roots-blown “Purple Reign” ’68 Firebird for the last half of the season. Salemi and her team, led by her husband, Jon, and brother-in-law Jim, tested well during the week, which led to some frustration when they qualified No. 17 in the 32-car M&M Transmission Outlaw Pro Mod presented by Carmack Engineering field.
“Not that we did bad [in qualifying], but we had tested fairly well and we wanted to go faster because other cars were going faster,” Salemi said. “Jon was a little angry at himself, but I had to have a little heart to heart with him and say, ‘Listen, we came here to win a race, not to win qualifying. It doesn’t matter. As long as we qualified, we can win. We can win from anywhere on the sheet. Just relax a little bit and it is what it is. There’s no changing where we qualified, but on race day, that’s where we can show what we have.’”
Salemi paired up with two-time and defending PDRA Pro Nitrous world champion Jim Halsey in the opening round, using a 3.667 to knock out Halsey’s 3.704. Another heavy hitter, PDRA Pro Boost championship runner-up and No. 1 qualifier Daniel Pharris, was waiting for Salemi in the second round. Salemi left the starting line first and held on with a 3.693 at 205.66 to finish ahead of Pharris and his 3.722.
“Everybody here had a chance to win,” Salemi said. “There was not one person in that 32-car field that didn’t have a shot to win. Every round was the same as the one before. Daniel Pharris, when I had him second round, I got a little bit lucky on that one. He broke and that was maybe my luck turning around. We’re all just as good as one another. If you let somebody’s success in the past get in your head, I think you’ve lost already.”
Salemi combined another consistent, quick reaction time and a 3.686 at 205.13 to beat Kurt Steding’s 3.649 on a holeshot in the third round.
“Those [holeshot wins] are always the best,” Salemi said. “Honestly, they make your team feel confident about you also. I’ve had some issues in this car with cutting lights. I think we’ve got it figured out. There’s a few things I’d like to work on. But I know Kurt can be really good on the tree. He’s beaten me on a holeshot before. I knew that was definitely one of the rounds that I needed to be up on the wheel.”
Confidence continued to build in the Salemi camp going into the semifinals, where Salemi stepped up to a 3.664 at 206.54 to knock out Kris Thorne and his 3.947.
“You have to be on your game to be able to win a race like this,” Salemi said. “Everybody on our team has to be on our game 100 percent or it doesn’t work.”
In the final round, brothers Jon and Jim got even more aggressive on the tuneup. Salemi took advantage of the extra power, running a 3.65 at 206.83 to stop Quartuccio and his 3.692.
“We really had a perfect day of racing,” said Salemi, who thanked the team’s sponsors, the G-Force Race Cars shop guys, and car owner Eddie Whelan. “Our crew worked flawlessly. We were missing Katey [Knight]. We weren’t the fastest car on race day, but I did my job when I had to and the crew had my back when I was a little late. It was a perfect day all around.”
Salemi also shared her appreciation for the Bradenton Motorsports Park staff.
“Thank you to Victor [Alvarez], Wade [Rich] and all of the staff at Bradenton for being so welcoming and working their butts off to put on such an awesome, safe race,” she added.
Quartuccio, who qualified No. 6 in his ProCharger-boosted “Serial Killer” ’69 Camaro, consistently improved through eliminations up until the final round. He ran a 3.691 to defeat Robert Abbott in the opening round, a 3.684 over Terry Coyle in the second round, a 3.657 over Todd Tutterow in the third round, and a 3.653 alongside a red-lighting Mike Decker Jr. and his 3.631 in the semifinals.
The Outlaw 632 final round was a heavyweight battle between two-time and defending PDRA Pro Outlaw 632 world champion Wes Distefano and Florida’s own Daryl Stewart. The drivers left with nearly identical reaction times, then Stewart powered ahead with a 4.133 at 171.51 in his HRE-powered Chassis Engineering ’15 Camaro to defeat Distefano’s 4.222 at 169.36.
Pro 275 No. 1 qualifier Manny Buginga stayed hot through eliminations in his ProCharger-boosted ’03 Mustang, ultimately running a 3.68 at 202.21 to knock out Paul Gargus and his 4.292 at 134.94 in the final round.
Gargus made up for the Pro 275 loss with a win in Limited Drag Radial, where he posted a 4.015 at 188.75 in his ’69 Camaro in the final round to defeat Chris Perry’s 4.182 at 176.49.
The X275 final round was decided on the starting line, as “Mean” Dean Marinis left .089 too soon, allowing DJ McCain to coast through to the win with a 31.489 at 68.10 in his small-block, nitrous-fed “Bowser” ’71 Datsun.
Cocoa, Florida’s Jason Spina used a near-perfect reaction time and a 4.528 at 154.72 to score the Ultra Street victory over Kieffer Simpson, who ran a 4.583 at 157.59 in the runner-up effort.
With the 50th annual Snowbird Outlaw Nationals presented by Motion Raceworks in the books, the Bradenton Motorsports Park team will focus on the track’s next major heads-up race, the U.S. Street Nationals presented by Diamond Pistons, Jan. 27-30, 2022.
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