US 41 Dragstrip crowns Pumpkin Nationals winners at second annual fall bracket race By Van Abernethy
US 41 Dragstrip took advantage of some spectacular Indiana weather in early October as the facility hosted the second annual Pumpkin Nationals , a three-day bracket race that featured the Slick Willy ’ s free-entry gamblers race on Friday night to kickstart the weekend festivities . No less than 285 entries were competing each day throughout the weekend .
Friday ’ s gamblers event stretched well into the night with some unfortunate parts breakage and also dew settling on the racing surface , which ended day 1 early with a 10-car split .
Saturday morning ushered in some great weather and an early start for the Diamond Engine and Machine $ 10,000 main event . In No Box , Ricky Pena went the distance in his Chevy Nova to grab the $ 1k bonus and jumped over to the Box class at four cars in the main event . In the end , Brian Whitworth drove his Chevy S-10 truck to the winner ’ s circle on Saturday , cashing in on the $ 10k payday . In the Jr . Dragster division , it was a brother-sister matchup in the finals , with Brody Degnitz edging out his sister , Kylee , on the last run of the night .
Sunday ’ s finale was another highly-competitive day of racing , as participants in all divisions were dishing out tight packages and winning rounds with the slightest margins of victory . Adam Needles took his beautiful 442 Oldsmobile to the final of No Box , winning the round and cashing in on the $ 1k bonus , moving into the main event
at four cars for a chance at $ 10k . When the dust settled it was Joey Moore , who ’ s come close so many times with runner-up finishes , but got the job done on Sunday . Moore and his Camaro laid down a 7 total package in the finals over Michael
Churley for the $ 10k payday . Mia Rybarski got past Ricky Pena Jr . in the Jr . Dragster finals .
The weekend was also highlighted with numerous perfect lights and also a perfect package by Ashley Cole . Chris Stine wowed the crowd with a blistering pass of 4.08 at 174 mph , making it look easy . All total , there were 1,500 laps down the eighth mile in three days , which took a huge group effort . The chili cook-off and costume contest only added to this light-hearted gathering .
“ We laughed , had a blast , and all the smiles all weekend just makes this crazy-hard work worth it ,” comments Steve Keys , who took over managing the track in 2020 . “ Big shoutout to Matt Davis for all his help throughout the year , and to my announcer , Adam Jakupcak , who makes it fun and does an unbelievable job up there in the tower . Jack Foster came back to run the computer for us , and huge thanks to my partner in crime , Lora Haven , who keeps this crazy train on the tracks !”
US 41 Dragstrip continues to be on the upswing after nearly being shut down forever just a few short years ago . When the Hupke brothers bought the track six years ago , the bracket program was pretty much nonexistent , when Keys was brought in to rebuild it . Five years later , and with a robust bracket program created , Keys was then asked to be the general manager of the Morocco , Indiana , facility . Along with a passionate team of people , Keys and company have been holding some incredibly successful events .
As 2022 draws to a close , a reflective look at the year in review includes events such as the Street Car Brawl , Twin 10 ’ s Bracket Race , Area 41 Nostalgia Drags , as well as the heavily-attended Pumpkin Nationals , and many more events throughout the year . “ We had a blast this year , no doubt ,” smiles Keys . Another roster of events that promises racer-friendly gatherings is currently in the works for the 2023 season . DI
PHOTOGRAPHS BY VAN ABERNETHY AND STEVE KEYS
44 | Drag Illustrated | DragIllustrated . com Issue 179