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Ralph Savarese is Grand in the 2004 Top 16 Invitational

Englishtown, NJ, 11/13/04 - The Top 16 drivers of the East Coast Supercharging Corvette Challenge gathered today for the annual Top 16 Invitational Gambler's Race. It rained all day yesterday and into this morning in most of the counties in our area. For Savarese and the Westchester, NY contingent, it snowed. That is right; Savarese and John Panuzzo drove down this morning through some wintry weather to come to Raceway Park and race. Savarese could not have left happier for having done that as he outlasted the field of 16 of the best drivers that Raceway Park has to offer. You only have to read further to evidence the greatness.

Runner-up Bob Sebrowski Bob Trieschmann, Runner-up Joe Signore, Winner Ralph Savarese and Dennis Kazimir Winner Rob Farley
Runner-up Joe Signore Bob Trieschmann, Runner-up Joe Signore, Winner Ralph Savarese and Dennis Kazimir Winner Ralph Savarese

Top 16 Ladder
I normally wrap up the race for you with a recap of the rounds of our finalists but the racing was so great today, I will recap from the beginning. Yes it was cold today! The track opened on time but the drying efforts of the previous night's rain meant we would be starting a little later. We got the call to the lanes around 11 AM. Drivers got three time trials before the 1:30 PM start of eliminations. It was like watching the "home run derby" of Christmas Tree hunting as driver kept working the tree with lights that just kept getting better and better such as .036, .026 then .014. To top this off, they were treated to a Density Altitude in the sub 1000 feet and some personal bests on ET and MPH as well. The pairings were set by the drivers finishing position in 2004 points on a pro style ladder with 1 vs. 16, 2 vs. 15 and so on. Three drivers who qualified for the Top 16 were unable to make it today. 2003 Top 16 winner Bob Sebrowski (9th), Rick White (10th) and John Mackey (11th) each opted out of this race for various reasons. Their spots were filled by three of the next four alternates, David Hollingshead, James Kovitch and me, Edgar Perez, (Tony Abbruzze, the first alternate, was also unable to attend). So without further adieu, I bring you the first round.

Round 1

Rob Farley (1) vs. Edgar Perez (16)
The third pair on the track was "The Champ" vs. "The Underdog". Yes I named myself the underdog because I was the last man into the ladder from the 22nd spot. Farley and I had a time shot together prior to the first round where I went red -.022 to his green .016 so we were ready to go. Farley would go first with the 13.50 dial to my 11.42. Being me, there was no doubt I was going to be pushing the tree as was Farley who left with an .021. I wait the two seconds for my tree to come down and hit it hard. Adrenaline must have got the best of me because no sooner do I leave than Farley's win light comes on. I had tripped it -.014 red. We both ran it out and can you say tail wind? I crossed the line .0238 ahead of him running a .0.042 under 11.378 and Farley a .054 under 13.446. I can assure you, neither of us was holding that much in the bank. I was looking forward to seeing the "Farley Slide" when he slams the breaks across the finish line but there was no need as he already had the win.

Jim Kovitch (15) vs. John Panuzzo (2)
I will call this "The Brakes" vs. "The Boss". Kovitch worked in the cold dark nights to get his car ready for this race. Some overdue and not easily cooperating brake work had us hanging in the balance till Thursday night before Kovitch was able confirm his attendance. "The Boss" of Team Panuzzo was set with brand new rubber for this one. They were the first pair out on the track in this round. Kovitch left first with a 13.38 dial and .051 light and Panuzzo followed with 12.54 dial and .095 light. Panuzzo gave chase but the light was too much for him to overcome. He ended up breaking out with a .012 under 12.528 but it did not matter because Kovitch crossed the finish line with a dead-on 13.383 and a .0294 advantage at the stripe.

David Hollingshead (14) vs. Vic Gandhi (3)
David Hollingshead would leave first in this one and leave hard he did with the second best light of the first round, .016, on his 13.39 dial. Gandhiís, last-man-to-the-track-dialed 12.46 Corvette would be do the chasing. He suffered the same fate as I did when he tripped the red with a -.024. Coupled with the early light and breakout run of 12.421, Gandhi got to the stripe first by just over a tenth but it did not matter because it was Hollingshead who got to the second round.

Ralph Savarese (4) vs. James Peins (13)
If this race were to be an indicator of what was to come, notice was served when Savarese cut the best light of the first round at .013. He would be doing the chasing with his 11.09 dial to Peins' 13.64 dial. Peins did not make it easy, after all, he is a Top 16 driver, and cut a .048 light. Peins took the stripe by .0221 but he broke out doing it with a 13.587. Savarese's package was finished off with a dead-on 11.094 @ 120.21 MPH

Ellis Gray (5) vs. Jerry Muniz (12)
"The Battle of CCDV Members Part I". The rookie, Jerry Muniz, with the sixth generation Corvette, would come in as the underdog in this one by virtue of not only the lower seed, but this was only his second time on the track with the six-speed. Muniz would leave first but he lit the red with -.114 on his 13.10 dial. Gray, dialed at 12.00 must have seen the red and left soft with a .218 ran it out lighting the boards with an 11.937 and a second round birth.

Joe Signore (6) vs. Al Betz (11)
"The Battle of CCDV Members Part II". Signore, again running his convertible with the borrowed "Lucky Top" he sold to Jerry before Jerry bought a C6 and now has the top for sale, (phew, I cannot keep up) but is loaning it to Joe until he sells it, dialed it in at 12.85 to Betz's, oh my God, dare I say: Heads-up, 12.85! That is right, heads-up bracket race! Just how lucky is that Top? Betz left first and red but only by seven thousandths of a second to Signore's .084 light. Signore was on his way up the ladder.

Don Peppler (10) vs. John Hadyniak (7)
Don Peppler came in at 13.00 to John Hadyniak's 11.12 dial. Peppler had the sole C2 in the Top 16 that featured five of the Corvette's six generations. Peppler drilled the tree resulting in an .030 and was well on his way when Hadyniak left to begin the chase. This one never did get close at all as Hadyniak cut a .121 light and also ran well off his dial at 11.654 at 114.95 MPH and Peppler was on his way to the second round.

Al Conner (8) vs. Bill Fischer (9)
Bill Fischer Sr. was another uncertainty until Friday as a new spindle needed to replace the one he broke last weekend when he was up against the very same Al Conner, held up his readiness until then. Fischerís son Eric got right to work on the spindle when it came in and got him ready for the rematch. Conner left first with a 12.29 on the window and .105 light. Fischer was on his heals with an 11.41 dial and .134 light. Fischer gave it everything he had to get the stripe, and that he did by .0024 but he was way quick for the dial and broke out runing 11.321 on the .41 dial. Conner moved on to round two.

Round 2

Rob Farley (1) vs. Al Conner (8)
If you believe that a driver adjusts his performance for his opponent, then it was clear that Farley took his first round opponent (yeah another plug for me) much more seriously (I am going somewhere with this so hang on). Farley left the line dialed 13.42 to Conner's 12.15. Farley's second round .066 tree was off his first round .016 but it was better than Conner's .114. At the top end it did not get any closer as Conner was treated to a view of the "Farley Slide" because he could not run close enough to his dial at 12.415. After the race Conner figured why the car just did not seem to get off the line as he expected or run anywhere in the vicinity of the dial. Let's just say Farley got an "Emergency Brake" in this one.

Jim Kovitch (15) vs. Don Peppler (10)
Both drivers brought their axes to the second round. Kovitch would leave first with a 13.37 dial and .040 light. Peppler would better Kovitch's light with a .035. Kovitch would get a chance to use the brakes he just put in when he tightened it up on the top end with a two-hundredths over 13.390 run to Peppler's 13.144 on 13.00 dial and Kovitch was on his way to the semi-final round.

Ralph Savarese (4) vs. Ellis Gray (5)
"Savarese cuts a late tree!" Holy Cow, what happened here. The bad news is Savarese almost doubled the amount of time it took him to react to the tree in the first round. The good news, for Ralph at least, is that his first round tree was .013 and this round was .020! The worse news for Ellis Gray on this one is that it was all over at the tree when he gave up eight tenths to Savarese with a .104 tree. Farley who is no stranger to the brakes, opps, I mean Savarese is no stranger to the brakes, took advantage at the top end and closed to that gap to only .0331 at the stripe running 11.139 on 11.09 dial at 115.60 to Gray's breakout 11.998 on 12.00 dial.

Joe Signore (6) vs. David Hollingshead (14)
Hollingshead, fresh off his .016 light in the first round was out the do the same in the second. Dialed in at 13.43, he left first and he left red at -.033. His opponent with the "Lucky Top" also left red. However, there is an advantage to having a quicker car (and a lucky top) in bracket racing. Since Hollingshead went red first, Signore got the win despite his -.069 red and was on his way to round three.

Round 3

Ralph Savarese (4) vs. Rob Farley (1)
Okay back to Farley sizing up his opponent. This time it was one of the hottest drivers in the second half, and the winingest Corvette Challenge driver, Ralph Savarese. Did Farley take him serious? You betcha! Farley left first with a 13.47 dial and PERFECT .000 light! Savarese, not too shabby himself was .020 again on an 11.09 dial and was on the chase. Now with a .000 light, it looked as if Farley would be giving Savarese a view of the "Slide". Could it be the 2004 Champ would show the 2002 Champ a thing or two at the top end? No slide here!! Farley apparently ran it out and got the stripe but not he win. Farley crossed first by .0355 on the perfect light but it was too quick. He broke out with by .0155. This was too close to call for either driver and Farley must have been heartbroken (as I too was when I broke out on a perfect light last year, opps there I go about me again, sorry). Ralph didn't mind, he was on the way to run for $1,000 in the final round.

Joe Signore (6) vs. Jim Kovitch (15)
Kovitch pulled up to the line with a 13.42 on his car to Signore's 12.80. Signore, who was runner-up in the Rookie of the Year chase in 2003, was enjoying success in the US Muscle Drags event today as well, so he was really busy running hot laps keeping the car warm. Kovitch was focused on trying to get himself on into the final. The tree dropped and low and behold, the "Lucky Top" did it again! Kovitch lit the red light by -.070, giving Signore the birth in the final. Kovitch ran just .01 under his dial and Signore ran it out and was .118 under at 12.692 on the free pass. Signore was the way to the final having defeated all three of his opponents drop a red agasinst hime and Savarese, living on the edge of the tree. Could it be, Savarse was due to go red?

Round 4 - The Final

It would be down to the "The Uncle" and "The Lucky Top". Each one of these drivers had won one event thus far this year so one was getting his second. The free run in the prior round caused Signore to lower his dial to 12.70 and Savarese dropped his dial to 11.08. To say this one was over at the tree was an understatement. The Lucky Top had run out of luck as Signore needed some help with a .170 light. Savarese wrapped up a super day on the tree. He was .009 in the Final. To use the wood (tree) and sharp object (axe) references, Ralphie was no axe or saw today, he was a chipper/shredder. In four elimination runs his lights added up to .062. That is not an average but an aggregation! His average tree was .015. Savarese, on the brakes tightened it up to only take the stripe by .0484 as Signore broke out as well running 12.689. As if having such a great day on the tree does not put a smile on your face, collecting $1,000 certainly does. Savarese had a horrible winter putting this car together but in the end, it paid off (not for the parts of course), earning him a win in the East Coast Super Charging Corvette Challenge Top 16 Invitational.

Congratulations to all of the Drivers

In the end it was Ralph Savarese taking away the big prize of $1,000 and Joe Signore $200 but no one walked away unhappy. The Top 16 are the elite of the biggest points series at Raceway Park. Making the field for this race is a tremendous compliment to your accomplishments throughout the season. On behalf of all the racers, Raceway Park and the folks we call our coordinators, we congratulate you on your performance in 2004. A special thank you goes to the drivers who came out today as alternates ensuring we have a full field and those that came out to support the Top 16. Now with one race left, our non-points race open to all Corvette drivers, it is time to start working on getting into the 2005 Top 16 Invitational!

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