Joe Morrison Races Part 6: A Tale of Two Legendary Drag Strips

Super Camaro at Island Dragway-min

Records Set at Dream Dragways

If you were to ask me which two drag strips (currently open) I consider to be “legendary”, I’d probably answer Island Dragway and Gainesville, which makes my recent experience at these two legendary strips – in two COMPLETELY different cars – even more memorable.

After our Oxford Dragway experience, I was excited to be making runs in the Super Camaro at my home track, Island Dragway the following weekend. We were running the rain date from the Island Dragway Anniversary race and the Nostalgia Nationals. It was great to see a bunch of my friends from NETO (The North East Timing Organization) who were also racing that day.

For the first pass, the car launched great but lost traction as soon as I hit second gear. We decided to back it down a bit and I would shift a bit sooner. On our second pass, the car shook the tires pretty hard, I pedaled it, and we still got the track speed record for an alcohol nostalgia funny car: 215 MPH. Thankfully, with modern brakes and parachutes I had no problem getting the car stopped unlike when “Big Daddy” Don Garlits ran the first “official” 200 MPH run and ended up going off the end of the track.

The event was very well attended and there was some great racing. One of the most moving moments of the event was in the second round of Funny Car, the Time Bomb driven by my good friend Bobby Toth carried in the parachutes the ashes of fallen team owner Douglas “Rocky” Roxlau and released them at the finish line for Rocky’s last pass. It was a fitting memorial for a long-time racer and friend to many.

South Bound and Down

Next up was my first of two trips to Florida – to the Drag Race for a Cure event run by David Pike, Jr at Bradenton Motorsports Park. It was great to go back to Bradenton and see some of the folks who were there back in January and February when I was making my first passes in the Leverich Racing Top Fuel car.

My buddy and fellow Right2Breathe board member Mike McCormick joined me for the trip since Right2Breathe was doing an outreach display at the event and a portion of the proceeds were to be donated to Right2Breathe.

The day started out fantastic- qualifying was underway and at the Right2Breathe booth we were busy helping people find the resources they needed. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans and decided to rain on us. It was decided to postpone the event until Saturday, October 17th to accommodate the track schedule.

Mike and I packed up and headed up to Gainesville Raceway where my friend and track manager Mike Yurick let me know I could leave my RV trailer for a couple days while we drove back home to NJ so I could take care of some of my landscape customers.

A 9th Qualifying Position at The Gatornationals

I got home late Monday night, worked Tuesday and Wednesday, then headed BACK to Florida for the Gatornationals Thursday morning. This time, the truck was full since Mike and I were joined by my wife Jen and our sons Ryan and Brendan. We left NJ at 5 a.m. and arrived at Gainesville Raceway around 11:30 PM. The next day was filled with preparing the top fuel car for competition and setting up the Right2Breathe display in the midway.

Saturday qualifying was interesting to say the least. We were the second pair and got to line up with Cameron Ferre in Terry Haddock’s dragster. Cameron had issues early, but we ran a solid 4.07 at 294 MPH with a cylinder out around 800 feet. Believe it or not, we were qualified 5th after the end of the first session. We decided to sit out the second session since we hurt some parts during that first run and ended up qualified 9th which set us up with Leah Pruett as our first-round opponent.


Race day Sunday conditions were completely different than anything we saw on Saturday. The track conditions were prime, but the air was terrible with a TON of moisture. I really wanted a round win over Leah for 2 reasons – one: for the team. These people work their tails off and I wanted a win for US. Second – Leah is in the contention for the championship so if I could win it would help my friends Doug Kalitta and crew chief Rob Flynn.

Rob sent a text Sunday morning saying, “Tune it up” so we added more timing and more blower overdrive to make up for the “bad” air. Being qualified 9th (or 8th) usually means you are the first pair out on race day, and such was the case in Gainesville. Sitting in the car behind the water box during the invocation and National Anthem was surreal.

I still must pinch myself sometimes to make sure I’m not dreaming. We got the signal from the Safety Safari to fire it up- Brian engaged the starter, Dena poured in the fuel, Gary and Matt adjusted the fuel flow and I was fully focused on race mode. Leah and I staged our cars and the ‘tree came down. She had a slight starting line advantage – her .056 to my .061. Right about 200 feet I drove into tire shake and had to pedal it to stop it from smoking the tires – she drove into a little tire smoke and pedaled it as well.

I was bummed when we came up short, but since she had trouble a little further down track from us the momentum is hard to overcome. Still, I believe that the Leverich Team had never qualified 9th in an NHRA event before and we learned some things in the clutch department that will help us step up our performance.

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