TOP DRAGSTER - With one of the quickest and fastest nitrous-powered cars in Top Dragster in Division 3, for good reason John Biagi calls his dragster “The Bottle Rocket.”
Every pass for Biagi is thrilling. “The best part about it is it does a wheelie for the first 60 feet,” he said. “There’s no better feeling in the world than a dragster hiking up the wheels. You’re pulling three and a half Gs and you’re almost out of control.
“The acceleration is the best,” he said. “The bug that bites you is the speed.” Biagi’s car has gone as fast as 225 miles per hour and has hit 5.90s in testing. With such potential, in T/D he usually qualifies in the top half of the field.
Combined with his driving, Biagi’s dragster often goes rounds, so many that he finished No. 4 in D3 points last season among 58 racers. Nationally, he ranked No. 11 out of 463 competitors. He ran a total of 13 division and national events.
For Biagi, 35, the one day in his racing career that produced the most fireworks was June 24, 2018, at the Norwalk Summit Racing Equipment Nationals. He won his first NHRA event, to date his only win on the national or division level to go along with runner-up and semifinal finishes.
To add to Biagi’s memories of that weekend, it was his first race with a new car built by Miller Race Cars. He picked up the dragster at the Miller shop in Spring City, Tenn., just two weeks before the Norwalk event and thrashed to make the machine race ready.
Winner With New Dragster First Time Out
Biagi’s first qualifying run was hardly explosive, mustering just a 7.570 at 125.48 because a timing trigger broke 330 feet into the run. With Glenn Butcher, J.B. Strassweg, and Mark McDonald assisting, Biagi fixed the problem and ended up No. 26 at 6.357 at 207.53.
In round one he survived a double breakout over Danny Nelson and then defeated Patty Fisher, Frank Carpinelli, and Justen Moser in the next three rounds. Biagi matched his .017 semifinal reaction time in the final against Bobby Ray McMahan from Division 7 and then prevailed in another double breakout, 6.383 at 208.01 on a 6.39 to McMahan’s 6.198 at 223.88 on a 6.21.
Winning the Norwalk race made good on a vow Biagi made to himself when he was there the previous year when friend Nick Folk doubled in Super Stock and Super Comp. As Biagi drove Folk’s 2005 Cobalt GT/EA from the winner’s circle back to the pits with the Wally, he said to himself, “The next time I’m here I’m winning one of these.”
Biagi had raced previous years at Norwalk special events in different classes. “I could never overcome that place,” he said. “Something always happened. But, when it’s your day, it’s your day. You’re winning no matter what.”
The 5.90s potential of Biagi’s dragster contrasts significantly with the 14.20s his first race car, a 1981 Camaro Z/28, turned at Byron (Ill.) Dragway when he was 16 years old. He was able to pay $3,000 for the Camaro by selling his 1979 Chevy short-bed pick-up. He eventually put the 468-inch big block from the truck in the Camaro.
Transitions From Doorslammers to Dragsters
He raced the Chevy at Byron, Cordova (Ill.) Dragway Park, and Great Lakes Dragaway near Union Grove, Wis., but never consistently at one to run for track points. He also went to Spring Flings and Tenn Tuck races.
Biagi’s next car was another ’81 Camaro, this one with a tube chassis suitable for big-money bracket racing. But, he did not keep the car long. In his quest for more speed, he responded to a Racing Junk ad for a hard-tail Horton dragster in the St. Louis area. He put in a 540-inch engine on the bottle and entered Top Dragster in 2015.
That engine was replaced with a 1990s Pro Stock-style 500-inch engine out of a Daytona bought by Don Baxter, a neighbor of Biagi when he lived in Granville, Ill. The car was either an original Wayne County Speed Shop machine run by the late Scott Geoffrion or a duplicate.
Initially, Biagi was disappointed with the engine because it was slower than his 540. But, he massaged the combination, including adding nitrous, and hit 7.20s. Still, he was not satisfied, so midway through the 2017 season he bought a Reher-Morrison 632-inch Chevy and ran it with one four-barrel carb and one nitrous stage.
At the end of the 2017 season Biagi sold the Horton and ordered his current Miller car, which he painted. It has the 632 that has been reworked by C&M Engineering owned by Comp racer Scott Chamness in Bourbonnais, Ill.
A Powerful Engine in A Hard-tail Chassis
The engine produces 2,300 horsepower through the use of a Brodix aluminum block, Callies Magnum crankshaft, and Ross pistons on GRP rods. The Pro-Filer Raptor 2 heads and sheet-metal intake are from Reher-Morrison, and they are topped with APD 1,150-cfm carbs.
The valvetrain has a Comp cam, Victory valves, PAC springs, Isky lifters, Manton pushrods, and T&D rockers. The MSD ignition fires a mixture of VP fuel and nitrous through a Switzer Dynamics three-stage system. The headers are by Tek Headers.
Biagi revs the engine to 4,000 at the launch, 7,700 before the shift, and 8,000 at the finish line. Handling the power is a 1.80-low gear Powerglide from Don Baxter Racing. The transmission has a Reid case and Coan converter with a 6,700 stall speed. Shifts are made with a B&M Pro Bandit shifter, and the electronics include a Racepak computer and K&R delay box.
The 1,900-pound, 260-inch hard-tail dragster has rigid suspensions front and rear. The nine-inch Fab rearend has a Moser spool and a 4.10 ring and pinion from U.S. Gear. Weld wheels carry M/T 35x15-16 slicks.
Biagi prefers the solid chassis because it is “simple. You only have to deal with the wheelie bar, weight, power, and tire pressure,” he said. “There are 100 things on a suspension car. It’s so easy to get spun out.
Putting Forth More Than 100 Percent Effort to Win Races, Titles
“Top Dragster is hard to do because it’s more complex,” he said. “There are a lot more variables with a lot more power. I just try to build the best bullet I can for the gun. You’ve got to want it bad, and I give it my all.
“Sometime I have a hard time believing in the car,” Biagi said. “It is so stressful to keep yourself calm and trust it. It’s hard to make the right call and stick with it.”
Biagi has been assisted at the track the last three years by his mother Dee. “Sometimes it’s hard to ask her to go, but you can’t run a Top Dragster by yourself,” he said. “No one else goes because they are not available. It’s hard to get off work, leave Wednesday, and come back on Monday.”
He always will figure out a way to race because “What else would I do?” he said. “This is all I’ve ever done. I love it. You gotta love it to do it because you’re not making anything money wise. It’s not like it was 15 years ago. Things have gone up in price a lot.”
Biagi wants to win a division championship and a national title. Apart from the competition, he enjoys having fun and seeing his friends at the races. He said he likes the Division 3 staff and event crews as well as the tracks. “I love the hospitality,” he said. “It’s way more fun division racing than at a national event. They appreciate you being there.”
When Biagi is not racing, he is employed by Coomer Farms near Sheffield, Ill. He has worked full time eight years as a mechanic, fabricator, and welder at the farm, which raises corn and soybeans on 2,800 acres and is not far from his home in Buda, Ill. The farm owner has a 1981 Corvette that turns 10.90s while competing at Byron and Cordova.
Biagi also has a 1977 Harley-Davidson Sportster he rides. He has had the bike 17 years.
In addition to his mother, Biagi gives credit for assistance with his racing career to his father John, C&M Engineering, Reher-Morrison, Folk Race Cars, and Don Baxter.