The Midwest Drift Union made its first ever stop in Iowa last weekend to hold its second round of competition for 2014. Held at Mid-America Motorplex in Pacific Junction, IA, one of the smallest groups of drivers the series has ever seen went headstrong into the event, stirring up the points bracket and seeing another David vs. Goliath final match. More after the jump!
It was only around 40 degrees when I got to the track a little after 7 a.m. Like most of Iowa I had seen from I-29N, there wasn’t much scenery, what with a farm house and drag strip west of the track, and that very highway to the east. MAM is not only surrounded by farmland, but IT surrounds farmland – the infields are actively farmed, and one had to walk around rows of cornstalk remnants when navigating said infields.
After tech inspection, the staff discussed with the drivers the course layout. Only a handful of drivers had ever been to the facility, which leveled the playing field as far as any advantages were concerned.
The short list of drivers included a good chunk of St. Louis guys, like Alex Ledbetter, Dan Sommer and Steve Topping.
Chris Gonzalez once again made the trek down from Winnipeg, being the shortest drive he’ll make all year at around 10 hours each direction. His car is proving to be more reliable than ever (even I’ve had to jump start it on occasion) this year, and I’d really like to see him on the podium.
David Mesker is another driver who I’d like to see on the podium. He proven his abilities in both his old S13 and his current M3, but mechanical issues arose at this round, leaving him unable to qualify.
The St. Louis drivers (Mike O’Mara on the left and Mesker on the right) were constantly lining up with each other during practice. When you’re doing tandem with your friends and are familiar with their driving style, it makes it all that much more fun.
I always like sticking my ultrawide lens into the cabins of the cars at grid. O’Mara’s competition S13 looks like it has the amenities of a new S-Class compared to his shell-less S13 “Coyote“
He was also removing mud from Mesker’s radiator. Even though there was nothing really to hit, there were still a good number of dirt drops and off-road excursions. For example:
When everyone was done playing in the dirt, it was time to announce the qualifying order.
After all, some of the best facial expressions and reactions happen when a driver hears he made it to the competition.
Congratulations tend to abound during this time, sometimes seemingly more so than when the event is over and three drivers have left with trophies.
Unlike St. Louis where the number of breakages mean there would only be a top eight, there were enough cars to run the full top 16 gambit. Series points leader Brian Peter got a by run in the first round.
“That battle was pretty easy,” Peter said jokingly. “I was able to pull it together there.“
In his first appearance in MDU since round one last year, Austin Matta took out Chris Gonzalez to advance to the next round.
Steve Topping also got a by run, as his intended competition did not have a rollcage, therefore rendering him unable to compete.
Next up was the battle between two of the St. Louis-area drivers, Mike O’Mara in his green S13 and Alex Ledbetter in his purple S14. Despite both drivers having mistakes on their runs, O’Mara got the nod to advance on.
Last round’s runner-up, Alfaro had a relatively easy victory over Alex Huckleberry and his FC.
Next up was Paul Beiswenger against Chance Crooks.
Crooks, like so many others, experience an off-road excursion and Beiswenger moved on.
That brought out Eric Moen and his green S13 out against Zort Brown, a new face to the series and local Omahaian, and his black S14. With Dan Sommer getting a solo run in his intended match against Richie Clouser, it was time for top eight, where Peter defeated Matta.
“When I led, I just ran how I normally run, pretty much as fast as I can,” Peter said. “My spotter was actually telling me he was doing really good today and I wasn’t going to leave him any room. I did end up leaving him a little bit. He did better than I think I had expected him too, so the next time we run I won’t leave him that gap. I’ve never driven with him, so it’s just a big unknown variable.”
The first even remotely major incident came during the next match between O’Mara and Topping.
“Oh my battle with Omar, you can edit that out,” Topping said, noting he had a myriad of other problems leading up to that point. “My computer, whether it was wet, unhappy or had some grounding issues, was replaced and that solved some problems. And then we didn’t investigate the computer well enough because that led to very odd air/fuel ratios being utilized. After fixing that, we found eight very ugly spark plugs which which were replaced, and then we found a dead coil pack. After that was replaced, it ran the best it’s ever ran today and I ran out of nitrous.”
The incident did little damage to either car.
“I’m glad that worked out well, because I would have felt bad had we had a worse crash than what it was,” Topping said. “It’s cosmetic stuff, who cares…you sign up for that I guess.”
With Topping getting the go ahead, it was time for Alfaro and Beiswenger to go at it.
Alfaro’s would be the black Nissan chosen to go to final four.
The first match of the final four was between Peter and Topping, who last saw battle in Detroit last year.
“I still have a bad taste in my mouth from Brian Peter in Detroit last year, when I botched the run and went into the curb,” Topping said. “My follow run was iffy but my lead run I couldn’t have been more happy with.”
Peter, who got the win, also spoke of that incident.
“When I went against Steve, we were joking that in Detroit that when he was behind me and messed up and hit the curb, he was like ‘oh you know we’re going together but there’s no curbs here,'” Peter said.
“I think I dirt dropped a little and he was joking like ‘oh I can follow you into the dirt,’ and then he messed up and I think he was thanking God there were no curbs here,” Peter added.
It was then Brown against Sommer, with the St. Louian advancing on to the final four.
But Sommer’s chance at a first or second place finish would end there, as Alfaro put him away to advance to the final round.
In the battle for third, it was Topping’s de-faced BMW taking home the bronze.
“Today was just as much of a struggle as round one when it comes to motor stuff,” Topping said. “Luckily I not only had my pit guy Darryl but I also had Brad with me who’s my LS guy. It was four problems that we successfully fixed yet it never really got better, it was just one thing after another. I got real lucky scoring a by in the first round. That guaranteed me some good points from not competing in round one.
Topping admitted he wasn’t too sure about how the track would be to drive before the event started.
“When we were sitting in the bleachers that morning I was not thrilled,” he said. “I was like, ‘we drove six and a half hours for this?’ As soon as we walked it, I was like, wait a second, because the view from the stands doesn’t give it justice. And yeah, as soon as I got the car out there it was a blast. Once you get the line right, it’s just toss your car as hard as you can and go.”
With third place decided, it was time for Alfaro and Peter to once again do battle to see who would come out on top in a re-match from round one. This time, the outcome was reversed and Alfaro got the win.
“In the finals I was like, I ‘m cool with second place,” Alfaro said. “I went out there and gave it my all and I guess BP came in hot and went off and I ended up winning.”
“Rolando was just kicking ass all day,” Peter said. “When I led, the judges decided there wasn’t an advantage. I pushed hard and at the last turn, I was staring at his bumper instead of staring at where I needed to be on the track and just went off the course. He deserved it for sure. It’s my mistake. It was a rematch of round one and hopefully we get that chance again at round three to keep this battle going.”
The events so far culminated to what could only be disguised as a totally serious photo op for the podium finishers.
“Everything went awesome,” Alfaro said. “The car felt awesome. We had minimal issues and my pit crew was there for me. My buddy Domi was up in the tower spotting me and that helped tremendously. So I ended up qualifying third and then ended up on top. About a year and a half ago I drove MAM back in my SR, but I had like 180 horsepower and it blew up within five runs so I didn’t get much track time. MAM is awesome. The course was perfect. It lets low powered cars keep up with all of the higher powered cars which was a relief, because I thought it was going to be hard to keep up. I just had to go balls out.”
Round three will be at Heartland Park in Topeka, KS, which is Alfaro’s home track. Will this rivalry between Alfaro and Peter surface once again in the final round, or will there be new contenders in the last showdown of the day? MDU has never visited Kansas either, so it will be interesting to see what another westward expedition does for the competition.