By RANDY LANEY
The State Sports Writer
For professional drag racer Paul Smith to be successful this weekend, the airlines will have to earn their wings every day.
Smith hopes to qualify his own Funny Car early Saturday for the International Hot Rod Association Northern Nationals at Milan, Mich.
Then he’ll catch a flight to Columbia and drive Shirl Geer’s Pontiac Trans-Am Saturday night in a National Hot Rod Association divisional meet on Blaney Drag Strip in Elgin before returning for the finals at Milan in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Smith is solidly in contention for the NHRA Southeast Division title in the Funny Car category and thus car afford to miss the local event, although more money and prestige are on the the line in Michigan.
Competition at Blaney actually begins tonight at 8:30, when drivers in five sportsman classes race for $1,500 in prize money. But the bulk of a $45,000 purse will be at stake when professional action kicks of Saturday, with time trials starting at 10 a.m. and finals get under way at 7 p.m.
Smith’s top opposition in the Funny Car ranks is expected to come from R. C. Sherman, Al Baldwin and Kenny Bernstein, defending world champion on the rival IHRA circuit.
Leading entrants in the Top Fuel category are Dick La Haie, Columbian Bob Strauss, Doug Newby and Mark Campbell. LaHaie defeated Jeb Allen to win last Sunday’s NHRA Summer Nationals at Englishtown, N. J.
Jim Kinnet heads a Pro Stock Satmary, Larry Johnson, Roy Hill, Albert Clark, Bob Ingram and Blaney track promoter Johnny Dowey. Kinnett inherited the divisional point lead last weekend after Morris Johnson was suspended for 90 days for using an oversized engine at Englishtown.
Charleston’s Gary Clark and Miami’s Tom Finlay – who currently rank one-two in the Southeast Division Pro Comp points race – expect stiff opposition from Tony LeBor, Ken Smith, Jerry Gwynn, Bob Gosselin, Bill Mullins, Jim Head, Jeff Rapp and Butch Osmon.
Over 300 cars are expected for the two-day event. The fastest eight qualifiers will earn berths in the pro stock and Pro Comp finals, while only the four quickest entrants will advance to the Top Fuel and Funny Car showdowns.
Blaney’s gates open at 4 p.m. today and at 9 a.m. Saturday. Preliminaries each night include wheelstanding exhibitions by Bill Golden’s Little Red Wagon and Rick Mehl’s Hell on Wheels tank.
NHRA Southeast Winston Point Leader Dick LaHaie Digs Off Starting Line In The Run at Blaney Drag Strip in Elgin This Weekend.