Hoisting His First Wally

Anthony Bongiovanni Scores First NHRA Mello Yello National Event Win

Words Evan Smith/Photos Phil Hutchison

This past weekend, New Jersey Super Stock racer Anthony Bongiovanni captured his first national event title competing at Epping Dragway at the NHRA Mello Yello New England Nationals. Bongiovanni, drove his FSS/B 2014 Ford Mustang Cobra Jet past some of the National’s toughest competitors en route to hoisting the coveted “Wally.” In fact, he hoisted three Wally trophies, the other two coming in Stock and Super Stock class eliminations.

Bongiovanni’s involvement in drag racing began just over a decade ago, first with his daughters Genna and Michelle in the Jr. Drag Racing League, and then in NHRA Stock Eliminator and Super Stock. Over the years his love of the sport has grown and so has his racing team, which now includes seven Ford Performance Cobra Jet Mustangs. With help from Micro Strategies, Resource1, B&B Race Cars, Optima Batteries, NEC Financial Services, Martino Race Engines, and Select Transmissions, Bongiovanni fields the stable of Cobra Jets in Stock, Super Stock and the School of Automotive Machinists & Technology Factory Stock Showdown. His team has set NHRA records, won in class eliminations, and his drivers have won multiple events in NMRA and NMCA. As a driver, Anthony Bongiovanni has been victorious in NHRA National Open and Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series divisional competition in Stock—however, this is his first national win and his first in Super Stock.

Finding the winner’s circle was no easy feat, as Bongiovanni defeated some of Division 1’s heavy hitters while driving a flawless race. “Admittedly, I was struggling before heading to Epping,” he told us. “The cars weren’t where we wanted them to be. We worked hard after Lebanon Valley, and we felt good going into this weekend, but then it rained and we only got one [qualifying] run. Michelle’s car didn’t run as anticipated, but my Super Stocker ran well.

“Going into first round, the most important thing for me was to get her car down the track,” he added. “She hasn’t been able to race much, so it was the only thing on my mind. Michelle was two pairs ahead of me, and I when saw her leave I knew it was on a good pass. She didn’t win, but we gave her a chance.”

With that behind him, Bongiovanni focused on his opponent, Mike Letellier. “I had a .021 light against Mike, caught him and pedaled him for the win,” said Bongiovanni, who ran 8.45 on an 8.41 dial.

Next up, Bongiovanni faced the seven-second Mopar of Scott Gove. “I have never been chased in my Super Stock car and [Gove] put me in the left lane. I set up my mirror so I could see him and I watched him come at me. Near the stripe I pedaled really quick, then he went out of view,” said Bongiovanni. “I wear a HANS, so I can’t turn my head very far. I don’t have a lot of runs in my memory bank to be good at being chased,” he said.

Amazingly, the race played out with both drivers going dead on (8.41 for Bongiovanni and 7.86 for Gove), but the better light (0.29 to 0.134) went to the CJ driver who got there first for the win.
Defeating Gove earned Bongiovanni a bye, followed by a meeting with the ever-tough Byron Worner in round four. “This was a good, close race,” said Bongiovanni. “I was .025, he was .022 on the ‘tree, I ran dead-on with a ‘4’, and he broke out.”

In the semifinals Bongiovanni faced another hot shoe, Scott Albrecht. “Scott and I were dialed the same and we go about the same speed,” Bongiovanni stated. “When we left it seemed like he was a hair ahead of me. Then I started inching ahead of him and I was trying to decide if I could hold him off, or if he was going to catch me.” Albrecht did in fact have the better ‘tree (0.048 to 0.053), but he ran one off the dial, where Bongiovanni went dead-on his 8.45 prediction, sealing yet another tight win by just .0071 of a second.

This earned Bongiovanni a trip to the final, where he faced long-time Division 1 competitor Tom Boucher, driving a 9-second 1997 Firebird in GT/GA. “I spotted Tom in the final and he had a slight advantage on the ‘tree, but I could tell I was going to catch him before the stripe. I pedaled him once as I got on his bumper, and barely got there ahead of him. It took a second for the win light to come on, and when it did the feeling was surreal. I couldn’t believe I won the race. There was no better feeling in the world at that moment. I was absolutely thrilled to have my daughter Michelle there. Michelle and I haven’t been out racing much and we spent the whole weekend together. The only thing that would have made it better is if Beverly and my other daughter Genna were there to help me celebrate.

“It was a great day and a lot of fun. The Cobra Jet made it easy, I had no concerns. Nick Casertano built a great car, it’s won Best Engineered and now it’s a NHRA national winner. That was the best race car I’ve ever had on race day,” he added.

Like most winners, Bongiovanni gets it done with a host of great people and partners including crew chief Ricky Hertzog, who works tirelessly to prepare the cars, B&B Race Cars, Kenny Miele of ClassRacer.com, engine builder Tom Martino, the guys at Select Transmissions and especially, Ray Scardelli, who first introduced Bongiovanni and his daughters to drag racing. Bongiovanni is also aligned with Micro Strategies, Resource1, NEC Financial Services and he is a brand ambassador for Optima Batteries.

“Drag racing is a great sport,” he says. “It offers great opportunity and we use it as a tremendous marketing tool for my companies Resource1 and Micro Strategies. It’s exciting to cultivate business relationships at the track and also to spend time with my family and friends. We’ve shared it all and grown from Jr. Dragsters, up to Stock and Super Stock. It was so cool to win because we do it as a family. I was so proud, and they were over the top. This sport is so challenging and humbling. You can be competitive with yourself and against the competition. At times it’s tough, but a win like this gives you the enthusiasm to work harder.”