PORT McNEILL—Anyone who claims there are no red traffic lights on the North Island clearly missed Sunday’s Vancouver Island Bracket Finals drag races at Port McNeill Airport.
Hometown driver Chris Sharpe battled his way through a day of elimination heats to earn a spot opposite Parksville’s Eric Shields as the last two drivers remaining, only to be disqualified by jumping the gun and drawing a red light in the final heat as Shields claimed the $1,500 top prize.
“I guess I was a little anxious,” said Sharpe, who was ribbed by friends and fellow drivers on his way to the pits. Sunday’s Bracket Finals wrapped up the annual Rumble on the Runway points series on the eighth-mile airport dragstrip and threw drivers from all competitive classes together in a handicapped, head-to-head elimination format.
“That’s the fun of it,” Sharpe said. “Anybody can win this.”
That may be so, but they clearly have to go through Shields to do so. The reigning track champion and super-pro class winner from 2012, Shields tuned up for Sunday’s bracket finals by sweeping to another super-pro win Saturday in the fifth Rumble on the Runway points event.
“I like it,” Shields said of the bracket format. “It’s a lot harder, because there’s so much difference between the times. But it doesn’t chug the way I drive; I just try to stay consistent; that’s the key.”
By the time Sunday’s bracket finals got down to the final three drivers, the field consisted of one driver from the sportsman class (Port Alberni’s Ron Clark), one from the pro class (Sharpe) and one super-pro (Shields).
To illustrate Shields’ point, Clark had timed in his stock Chevy Malibu at 8.01 seconds over the eighth mile, and squared off in the semifinals against Sharpe, whose modified Chevy SS had qualified at 6.32 seconds. That meant Clark got a “head start” of nearly a second and a half over Sharpe, who was force to charge from behind to claim the heat victory.
Then came the gamesmanship.
Shields, who drew a bye in the three-car semifinal, bypassed his free run and waited for Sharpe to return to the start line following his semifinal heat win. Then, Sharpe performed an extended burnout of his tires while Shields rolled to the start line to stage. When Sharpe finally arrived at the start line, he paused again while Shields completed staging and engaged his throttle at half power to await the start.
But when Sharpe finally triggered the second staging light and started the countdown on the light tree, he proved a bit too eager and “broke out” with a huge leap off the start line that lifted his front wheels off the tarmac and triggered the red light.
At that point, Shields, who was waiting at the start line with a time-in of 5.96 seconds, was guaranteed victory and the $1,500 top prize by simply waiting for his green light and completing his run. But Sharpe still wanted to put on a show.
“I saw it (the red light),” said Sharpe. “Then, when the car went up so far, my foot came off the gas. I was laughing and trying to get back on the throttle. I still wanted to give him a good race.”
But while Sharpe struggled to get back up to speed, bouncing once more on his way up the track, Shields inexorably overtook him and pulled away over the final half of the run to cross the line first.
“It was a great weekend,” said Shields, who was presented the winner’s check and trophy by NITA president Jeff Bowell following the event.
In Saturday’s final series points event, Shields topped Ryan Trant in the super-pro final. In the pro class, Don Spencer outdueled Bowell in the final, with Port McNeill’s Tim Walton placing third. In the sportsman class, Brent Odland topped another Port McNeill driver, Larry Von Schilling, while Lynn Egan finished in third place.
The North Island Timing Association will host its annual post-season wrap-up party and awards at Port McNeill’s Legion Hall later this fall. Follow the Gazette for updates on the date and time.
Rumble on the Runway
Series race No. 5
Saturday, Aug. 24
Super Pro Class
1. Eric Shields
2. Ryan Trant
3. Chris Sharpe
1. Don Spencer
2. Jeff Bowell
3. Tim Walton
4. Chris Sharpe
1. Brent Odland
2. Larry Von Schilling
3. Lynn Egan