Reigning NMRA Coyote Modified champion, Haley James and team showed up in Bradenton for the 22nd Annual Nitto Tire NMRA Spring Break Shootout ready to defend her title for the 2016 season. The Horsepower & Heels 2015 Female Rookie of the Year winner would begin her sophmore season of drag racing in qualifying for Coyote Modified on Friday. With a strong 8.438 second E.T. at 155.60 mph pass, Haley would take the provisional No. 4 position entering Saturday’s qualifying sessions. The team stayed busy in the pits making a few changes under the car Friday evening, and many presumed that they would return on Saturday to climb the CM qualifying ladder.
Mid-race class switch
But in a surprising move, Saturday morning word began to circulate that the CM class designation and Haley’s No.1 champion decal had been removed from the copper Hellion B-Team coupe, replaced with a new class and number – a mid-race class switch for Haley James to the Renegade class. Though they had contemplated a switch during the off season, Haley stated that the decision to move up wasn’t decided until after the opening round of qualifying.
“Knowing that I am wanting to go faster and move up, we just decided that now was the time to do it since it is the first race,” Haley said of the sudden change of class between Friday and Saturday qualifying rounds.
Though not prepared to the Renegade class rules, Haley opted to race her former Coyote Modified entry in the Renegade class for the weekend to pick up the opening event points in the class. The smaller mandated turbo, heavier base weight, air-to-air intercooler setup and other Coyote Modified restrictions would put James at a significant disadvantage in the faster, 7 second class. But the Spring Break Shootout in Bradenton is one of six NMRA championship events, and by qualifying and racing in the class with her former CM program, Haley gives herself a chance to contend for the Renegade championship by accumulating some points at the opener.
Starting over in Qualifying
After a few minor adjustments and her new Renegade class number in place, Haley headed into Saturday qualifying for a shot at the eliminations ladder. She posted a best of 8.217 seconds at 164.29 mph, good enough for the No. 6 qualified position in the class out of 7 competitors. Unfortunately, this placed her on the wrong side of the ladder, taking on her Hellion B-Team teammate and reigning Renegade class champion, Frank Varela in the opening round of eliminations on Sunday.
First round of eliminations would be a Hellion B-Team showdown, and the teammates decided to have a little fun and put on a show for the fans.
“We knew I didn’t have the power to take on Frank in Coyote Modified trim, so we decided to have a little fun on the starting line and during the burnouts,” Haley said of her first round in Renegade.
Both cars pulled into the water box and jumped on the throttle, rolling out a pair of crowd-friendly John Force-style smokey burnouts that carried well beyond the starting line. Haley edged Frank out by rolling hers just a bit further, to the cheers of fans watching on the sidelines. In staging, the concentration was on for reaction time bragging rights, and BOTH drivers posted identical 0.084 second reaction times.
But Frank quickly put some distance between them, posting a 7.730 second, 180.94 mph run across the finish line. Though she would run her best of the weekend, Haley’s 8.181 second, 166.38 mph pass wasn’t enough to keep up with the Renegade class champion.
The team will return to their Albuquerque, New Mexico base and begin work on getting the car into Renegade trim. Their next stop will be the 8th Annual NMRA/NMCA All Star Nationals presented by Miller Welders, April 7-10, 2016 at Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, GA.