The world-famous NOPI Nationals, now in its 18th year, has become one of the largest car shows in the country. This year, attracting more than 6,000 registered vehicles, the event at Atlanta, Georgia’s Motor Speedway lived up to its reputation for non-stop fun. There was some type of automotive event scheduled for almost every daylight hour, ranging from drift exhibitions and three-car burnout competition to ladies Jell-O wrestling and the world-famous NOPI Swimsuit Finals.
For many, however, a big part of the weekend fun is the Saturday and Sunday afternoon CCE-sponsored Hydraulic Jump-Off. The event attracted some of the hottest switchmen in the sport, thanks to the biggest payout ($9,100) of any show in the country. In addition to cash, competitors also had a shot at glory, performing in front of this year’s capacity crowd of almost 90,000. This year, the event featured the two biggest crowd-pleasing categories, Radical Hop and Radical Car and Truck Dance. Hydraulics circuit veteran Bryan Gillespie from CCE Hydraulics sponsored the Jump-Off and ran this year’s show.
Action began Saturday afternoon with the Radical Hop. Chris Ponder got the crowd fired up, easily sending his Pro-Hopper-equipped ’88 Olds Cutlass to 64 inches and establishing the number to beat. He was followed by Daniel Davis in his “High Hitter” Cadillac, managing 28 inches before mechanical problems ended the run. Jason Garrett stepped up with his magenta ‘80 Chevy Monte Carlo that looked way too pretty to hop. Any notion that this was an all-show-and-no-go-car was quickly eliminated as Jason planted the rear bumper of the Monte on his way to 71 inches for a Saturday class win.
The Radical Dance began with the Hi-Jacker Hydraulics-equipped T&D Custom’s Chevy S-10, painted a bright orange and obviously ready to perform for the crowd. With Jason Grimes at the switch, the “S-Dime” was on its side and the crowd on its feet all within the first 15 seconds. With the help of the pit crew, the truck was righted, Jason continued his routine, then when his time was up, he simply drove the truck off of the field! Jason earned a 22 for his efforts.
Brandon Smith’s orange Nissan Pathfinder from Phase 1 Customs was next, but mechanical difficulties and a fire cut its run short, with the Pathfinder only achieving a 15. The third competitor in the class was the blue ’84 Chevy S-10 of T&D Customs, with Jason Grimes once again at the controls. The Hi-Jacker Hydraulics-equipped truck wasted no time showing the crowd what it could do. Within the first 30 seconds, Jason already had the truck on its side twice. When it was not upended, it was high in the air and Jason easily took the Saturday Radical Dance win with a 24.
Opie Dunn from Knoxville, Tennessee, entertained the crowd with his air-powered Honda CRX. The meticulous little car on its big 20-inch wheels looked like it belonged in the Show and Shine, but it had all of the moves, even getting all four wheels briefly off of the ground during the routine. The performance earned a big round of applause from an appreciative crowd.
Saturday’s entertainment came to a close with hydro circuit veteran Jamie Kelly and his elaborate bed dancing S-10 called “Schizophrenia.” Jamie always has something new for the crowd and this year, after raising the bed almost 20 feet in the air, it opened to release dozens of helium balloons. While the bed was spinning at high rpm, pyrotechnics on each corner sent out streams of sparks, a 5-foot column of flame burst from the center, and the smoke machine behind the cab added to the fun. It was obvious that Jamie had as much fun doing it as the crowd did watching it.
Although the hydraulic events on Saturday were exciting, all of the competitors knew that it was the final high score that won the cash. That meant that there was no holding back on Sunday. The Radical Hop began with the white Cadillac and Daniel Davis at the controls, trying to improve his numbers. Moving from his original 28 inches to 32 inches, the effort was good enough for Third Place and $300.
Chris Ponder and his Pro Hopper-equipped Olds turned in a solid performance of 62 inches, but even though he did not better his Saturday score of 64, he still captured Second and $700. Jason Garrett, with the highest score of 71 inches on Saturday, managed to maintain his lead into the final round. Planting the bumper several times on his way to victory, Garrett duplicated his high score on Sunday, guaranteeing the win and pocketing $2,500.
The Radical Dancers also put on quite a Sunday show. Jason Grimes, with his trademark straw hat was the first of the class, and turned the orange T&D Customs S-10 every way but over. For his efforts, he received a 20 on Sunday, but retained his Saturday score of 22, good enough for second place and $700. Brandon Smith had a few mechanical problems, but still managed to raise the Pathfinder‘s score from 15 on Saturday to 21 on Sunday, strong enough for a Third Place finish and $300.
Jason Grimes came back, this time with the blue T&D S-10, clinching his lead in the Radical Dance by rolling the truck not once, but twice during his routine. His score of 26 was enough for a First Place win and $2,500. Fans were treated to another amazing bed dancing display from Jamie Kelly before the hydraulics competition came to a close for NOPI 2005.
In addition to all of the fun, there was also a serious side to the show. NOPI Motorsports teamed up with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, establishing drop-off sites for Hurricane Katrina relief. Both spectators and manufacturers donated to help the homeless victims in the Gulf Coast states. If you’d like to be part of one of the biggest car shows in the country, put the 2006 NOPI Nationals on your September calendar now. Check out the details at www.nopi.com.