Manners overcomes another close battle with Evans to take Pro Fuel crown
Nitro Jam Media
Sep 6, 2011
Talk about having a bad case of déjà vu.
Two years in a row Michael Manners was forced to relive the exact same moment in time against the same man for the same prize, but this time Manners was able to do just enough to change history in his favor.
Entering the final race of the 2011 Nitro Jam season, Michael Manners traveled to Martin, Mich. with just a handful of points separating himself and rival Bill Evans in the battle for the Pro Fuel Dragster crown. And just like the year before, the chase for the championship came down to the same two drivers in the exact same scenario with the top driver of the weekend walking away the champion.
Last year Evans proved victorious in the final pass of the season to win the inaugural Pro Fuel championship, but in 2011 Manners was able to do just enough to hang on to the top spot and exit U.S. 131 Motorsports Park with his first career championship behind the wheel of the insanely popular “Shredder” nitro-powered dragster.
“It was a huge disappointment last year. It was really a neat competition all year long and Bill and I actually got to race for it all in our last race together, but we smoked the tires and really let ourselves down,” Manners said. “This year it was the same scenario all over again. It was horribly nerve-racking; I can’t really remember feeling quite this nervous ever before a race. We were almost hoping for a rainout on Friday and being told ‘great, you guys are the champions now go home,’ but I am glad that we got to make those extra laps and do it properly.
“It was just a wonderful feeling to lift the weight off our shoulders and win this championship. This team worked so hard all year long and to walk away from here with the trophy is just remarkable.”
Knowing exactly what was at stake and with the fog of last year’s narrow loss hanging over the team, Manners and the “Shredder” crew packed up and headed north to beautiful U.S. 131 Motorsports Park in Michigan from their home base in Texas with one goal in mind – win the Pro Fuel championship.
Unfortunately, things got off to a very rocky start.
Manners’ rig almost didn’t make the race when mechanical issues left the team stranded still hundreds of miles from their destination. Adding to the fun, on the teams first pass of the weekend Manners’ dragster went up in smoke immediately after hitting the throttle, giving Evans another opening to steal the show. However two pairs later Evans did the same on his run, relegating the pair to a consolation matchup unlike any other with valuable championship points on the line.
And in the biggest consolation round of the year, Manners left nothing to chance firing off the quickest and fastest lap of the entire year – a very impressive 5.261, 276.01 – to drive around Evans who had to lift near halftrack.
While the win narrowly extended Manners’ championship lead, it was still not enough to seal the victory. And to make matters worse, Manners was forced to wait another two days before getting another opportunity to wrap things up as heavy rains moved into the region, delaying the final day of the Northern Nitro Jam to Sunday afternoon.
Once the sun returned and the track finally dried, Manners was again forced to sweat it out when Evans found his groove with an opening round shot normally good enough to make the final. But Manners and teammate Kristen Dennis were able to narrowly edge out the Florida native and push him out of the final, finally sealing the championship for Manners and his team after a long and stressful weekend.
“We like to go last during a run because that gives us some idea of the track,” Manners said. “Seeing Bill go down the track with a reasonable run and then Kristen go down with a darn good run, we were a little worried that we might not even make the final.
“Thankfully the car fired off another incredible lap and we were able to lock ourselves into the final against Kristen and essentially seal the deal. The last few days with the rain and all the waiting was very, very stressful and it was such a huge sense of relief after that first round. It was like ‘finally, we can breathe.’”
Manners finished the 2011 season with an impressive four wins in seven finals to compile a final tally of 298 points, 13 points ahead of Evans and the “Black Pearl” crew. Evans finished the season with two wins in six finals, while Robin Samsel finished third with two wins, Cherissa Smallwood fourth with one win and Kristen Dennis fifth with one win.
Of Manners’ four big wins, none was bigger than his pivotal weekend sweep in his home state at the San Antonio Nitro Jam in April, a weekend that would ultimately prove the difference in the standings. Manners also had a season-best 14-6 round record while laying down the quickest and fastest Pro Fuel lap of the year in Martin at 5.261, 276.01. Manners’ other wins came at the season opener in Palm Beach and in Pittsburgh just a few weeks after the San Antonio sweep.
In addition to a great deal of success on the track, Manners’ season also proved that his team is heading in the right direction as the team has now compiled and impressive eight wins in two Nitro Jam seasons and seen a steady increase in consistency.
“Last year we had a chassis problem and a clutch problem we had to overcome. This year we had a little bit of inconsistency with our motor performance, but we proved that we can run decent numbers so we were pretty happy with the way things went,” Manners said. “We also couldn’t have asked for a better opponent. We absolutely love Bill and his team. They are good guys to race. You know they are going to go out there and try and win every time and it is just an honor to get a win against a guy like him.”
Manners also noted the incredible popularity boom his race team has enjoyed over the past two years, especially with the unique black and green “Shredder” design adorning the car.
“If you go back to the history of drag racing, people had names on the cars and when we started with the IHRA Pro Fuel program we decided to do the same,” Manners said. “At first we really struggled to find a name, but eventually came up with ‘The Shredder.’ I didn’t even like it at first because it didn’t really mean anything, but I think we have put our own definition on it now.
“Today people see the car and are like ‘wow, there is The Shredder’ like we have been around forever. The car has incredible name recognition now.”
Now Manners hopes that he and “The Shredder” can ride that popularity to another championship in 2012, most likely against another team with a popular and easily recognizable car name.
“We have had a lot of fun this year and it is really a shame it is over really,” Manners said. “Next it is back to the drawing board to find a way to keep besting that ‘Black Pearl’ crew.