It took four long, sometimes tumultuous and heartbreaking years to get there, but Dragzine’s very own BlownZ Racing Team finally broke through for its first series championship in 2016, achieving a goal that, at times, seemed so close, yet so far away. But, as they say, good things come to those who wait, and four seasons of highlights and low-lights, late nights, broken parts, and lessons learned after our endeavor began, it all culminated with the NMCA WEST’s ProCharger Limited Street title at the series’ season-ending West Coast World Finals at Auto Club Dragway in Fontana, California.
The championship run, too, had its challenging moments, but few of those came during the NMCA WEST’s four-race schedule of events, as driver James Lawrence parked the Project BlownZ Camaro in victory lane at every race in 2016, garnering 14 straight round wins and setting the class standard in the process with a 4.48 at 168 mph.
Lawrence had come heart-wrenchingly close to the title two years ago in the series’ 275 Drag Radial category, with a loss in the final run of the final race of the 2014 season to Ryan “Toaster” Jones deciding the title (and less than one full round of racing serving as the difference in the points). A year prior to that, the team finished just two rounds out of the championship. And this year, with those oh-so-close seasons as mental ammunition, the team loaded for bear, assembling a new 441 cubic inch Late Model Engines-built Dart LSNext-based powerplant paired with a ProCharger F-3-121 supercharger on alcohol to deliver competitive horsepower.
The BlownZ crew, with crew chief Sean Goude and right hand man Dean Jigamain calling the shots, made the long trek across the country to debut the combination at the Lights Out 7 radial tire extravaganza in South Georgia, some 2,300 miles from home, in what ultimately proved to be a learning experience that would pay dividends once back West.
In Georgia, the team hurt the primary and backup engines while getting a handle on the new alcohol-fed combination and never made a representative run. They returned back East for the Outlaw Street Car Reunion in Memphis, Tennessee in March and again struggled to find the magic formula to keep the engine happy.
“We broke our engines … both of them, at Lights Out 7, and then hurt one again at Memphis, trying to figure out this new alcohol setup,” said Lawrence. “It was a long road, and a lot of late night phone calls … but we finally fixed the issues. 51 psi from that ProCharger 121 on alcohol is not for the meek.”
The team opened the NMCA WEST season in April at the Spring Nationals by qualifying No. 1 with a 4.59 and setting the class elapsed time and speed record with a 4.53 to defeat Roger Rydell, then followed it up by qualifying second at a 4.66 and again defeating a red-lighting Rydell at the June West Coast Shootout event.
In between the first two events, the team headed a few hours East to Las Vegas to compete in the West Coast Hot Rod Association’s “Battle of the Belts” event, where BlownZ clocked what would be its best 1/8-mile lap of the season at 4.42-seconds at 171 mph on the way to a runner-up finish in the Outlaw Drag Radial class. At 171 mph, with 4,100 ft. of density altitude, the team knew their alcohol-combination combined with a race weight of 2,850 pounds would be deadly.
In September, the team struggled to get a solid lap together in qualifying at the NMCA WEST Street Car Nationals, mustering a 4.80-second best to slot in third in the 11-car order, but with most of the field struggling with the conditions, a string of high-4.70 and 4.8-second runs was enough to get it done on raceday, as Lawrence outran Jones in the final, 4.82 to 4.95.
At the season finale, BlownZ qualified atop the field with a 4.53 and marched through eliminations, ultimately taking a dominating 4.48 to 4.65 win over Jones to cap off the newly-minted championship.
“Our dream for many years was to be a champion. I can’t tell you how many people over the last five years helped us learn something — even sometimes very small things — that led to today,” Lawrence said after earning the title. “I spent my first five years drag racing thinking I knew everything, and the last 10 realizing that I really didn’t know anything. It has been amazing how much help there is available — how willing people are to mentor you and spend time with you, to help you become better. Hopefully, we can pay back the knowledge we’ve received as a gift and stay humble as we race on.”
The team will close out the 2016 campaign next month at the Street Car Super Nationals in Las Vegas.