For Bob Ingman, the drought is over. After 15 seasons, he’s back on top as a Bracket Drag Racing Series champion.
Ingman was a three-time series champ while racing in the Sportsman class at Brainerd International Raceway, but after he won the title in 2003 he moved up to race in Super Pro and Pro ET. And that’s when the drought began.
Over the years, he piled up some second-place finishes but perseverance, dogged determination and some mighty fine driving last season helped Ingman fend off 58 other drivers who were gunning for the title. He’ll be rewarded for his efforts at BIR’s Annual Racer Banquet Feb. 22 when he and 10 other Bracket Drag Racers will receive their championship jackets and trophies for finishing first in their respective classes.
“We had a very good year,” Ingman said. “We battled right to the last race in Pro ET. It was a lot of fun.”
Ingman, from Andover, and Mike Casteel were at the top of the point standings going into the final race. Casteel lost in the first round and Ingman won his first two races before losing the third. That proved to be the difference and enough to vault Ingman to the top of the standings for good.
A turning point in Ingman’s season was the third weekend of the seven-weekend season. He swept the Pro ET class by winning both Saturday and Sunday. “That was an excellent weekend for us,” he said. “It catapulted us in the standings and really got us going.”
Those were the only two wins he had this season, but he consistently won enough rounds each race to keep him in the points hunt. He gives a lot of credit to his car, too, a blue 1970 Mercury Cougar that he’s been racing since 1984. On average, he runs about 10.20 seconds at 125 mph in a class that typically attracts 80-90 racers each weekend.
In the Super Pro class, Rodney Thompson may be the only series champ who never won a race. He made it to the finals once last season, finishing as runner up. He still generated enough points each race to win the title in relatively easy fashion, which is saying a lot given that there are typically more than 80 racers competing each weekend, 57 of who were in the points race.
Thompson’s accomplishment is a testament to how important consistency is and winning several rounds at each race. “It wasn’t a matter of a couple wins but rather going three to five rounds every race and not losing in the first round,” said the racer from Nowthen.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the entire team,” he said of his win. “I couldn’t do it by myself. It was definitely a team effort.”
In the 25 years he’s been racing at BIR, Thompson’s won several series championships but never without winning a race. “The trophies and the checks are absolutely fantastic,” he said, adding that he doesn’t really pay attention to the points standings during the season. “For me, (drag racing at BIR) is glorified camping with my family and our extended racing family. Family and racing go hand in hand.”
Thompson thanked his sponsors – Design Electric and Solem Solutions – as well as the grandparents.
The Stock/Super Stock class featured a first-time series champ last season: Brad Haugaard. Driving a 1972 Dodge Demon, he won one race and had a runner-up finish in arguably the toughest class in the series. In the final races, he had to hold off a hard-charging Corey Hopkins, who came up just short to finish second.
It was almost déjà vu for Haugaard, who was in first place with a very comfortable lead in 2016 but let the lead slip away from him and eventually lost to Ben Line in the final weekend.
Haugaard, from Ham Lake, has only been racing in the Bracket Drag Racing Series the last five years. During the previous 21 years, though, he raced in Sportsman classes at the NHRA Division 5 and Nationals levels, so he’s no stranger to tough competition.
Keith Larson ended the season with the most hardware of any series champ. The Street Trophy racer from Brainerd won five races last year and was runner up once as he finished the season in first place. Driving a 1972 Camaro, he finished ahead of defending champ Tyler Gadacz.
Nobody finished the race season as strong as Grant Pesola in the Sportsman class. During the first half of the season, he was racing pretty well, with decent results but he was nearly unbeatable in the second half of the season, winning four of the last five races. During that period, he won 20 of 21 races. His only loss came on Sept. 8 when he fouled at the starting line in the first round.
Despite his incredible finish, Pesola’s points finish was a thin margin over Jerry Hieb, one of the toughest Sportsman racers in the field of 21 cars. Pesola, from Nashwauk, raced a 1997 Dodge Ram pickup.
Ryan Athman, from St. Cloud, frequented the Winner Circle five times last season – four times as a winner and once as runner up – which helped him coast to an easy series championship in the Comp Trophy class. Athman drove a 1965 Chevelle.
In the Pro Bike/Sled class, Bruce Sampson won the series championship by the slimmest margin of any class – four points (he finished with 2,701 points) over Brad Harder. Sampson won two races last season but always seemed to be in the mix toward the end in a field of 10 bikes and snowmobiles, which included Jimmy Paulson, who was the defending champion after easily winning the class last year. Paulson finished sixth.
Sampson, from Forest Lake, rode a 1999 Suzuki, an 8-second bike that averaged about 150 mph.
Bryce Miller won the Quick 16 title last season after winning the first race and then holding off defending champion Gary Loeffelholz, who finished in second place. Miller is from Maple Lake.
In the Junior Dragster classes, Dylan Dancer won the advanced class, Brody Thompson won the Intermediate class and Lily Covington won the Novice class.
Below are the top three finishers in each class.
1) Rodney Thompson, Nowthen
2) Christopher Takacs, Thunder Bay, Ontario
3) Steve Brings, Howard Lake
1) Bob Ingman, Andover
2) Mike Casteel, Thief River Falls
3) Steve Roehrs, Frederic, Wis.
1) Grant Pesola, Nashwauk
2) Jerry Hieb, Maple Grove
3) Joe Moriarty Sr., Ham Lake
1) Brad Haugaard, Ham Lake
2) Corey Hopkins, North Branch
3) James Findell, Zimmerman
1) Bruce Sampson, Forest Lake
2) Brad Harder, Waconia
3) Wyatt Niesen, Brooklyn Park
1) Ryan Athman, St. Cloud
2) John Takacs, Thunder Bay, Ontario
3) Mike Larson, Brainerd
1) Keith Larson, Brainerd
2) Tyler Gadacz, Little Falls
3) Jazper Wiebusch, Ham Lake
1) Bryce Miller, Maple Lake
2) Gary Loeffelholz, Shafer
3) Andy Fischer, Gibbon