Justin Olson knew he had his work cut out for him last weekend during Brainerd International Raceway’s GSTA Muscle Car Shootout.

Drag racing in the Real Street Unlimited class, Olson and the rest of the field were chasing Jesse Nelson in the point standings after Nelson won the first two races of the three-race Muscle Car Series. The best everyone could hope for during the series finale was a colossal meltdown by Nelson, who finished second in the class in 2019. Olson said he was just hoping to run good rounds and chip away at Nelson’s lead.

Instead of melting down, Nelson won his way to Sunday’s semifinals as the No. 1 qualifier. His top qualifying time was almost a half-second faster than Olson’s, who qualified No. 2. The two faced off in the semifinals, with the winner advancing to the finals for a chance to race Jason Bergeson.

Driving a 1978 Chevy Malibu, Olson picked a good time to have his best reaction time of the day, smoking Nelson off the starting line and holding on for every inch of the quarter-mile track.

“I didn’t think it was real,” Olson said of the win. “He was definitely coming for me. I was watching him in the rearview mirror.”

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Olson’s reaction time of .024 seconds to Nelson’s .121 seconds wasn’t the whole story, though. Olson’s winning time was 8.220 seconds at 168.47 mph. Nelson ran 8.561 seconds at 182.92 mph.

In the finals, Olson was a hair slower off the starting line than Bergeson but the Malibu had enough horsepower to pass him at the finish line with a winning time of 8.136 seconds and 169.47 mph to Bergeson’s 8.278 seconds and 165.56 mph.

Nelson will still win the series championship in the Real Street Unlimited class but Olson finished only 2 points out of second place for a very respectable finish and something to build on next year in his second year of Real Street Unlimited racing.

Olson was one of 519 drag racers to compete last weekend during the Muscle Car Shootout. The race has been attracting more than 500 racers the last few years and continues to be one of the biggest drag races of the year at BIR. In addition to featuring drag racing, the Shootout also showcases the Central Roadracing Association on the road course for three days of Superbike racing. The event includes a classic car show, camping and live music. The other two races in the Muscle Car Series are the Street Car Showdown on Memorial Day weekend and the PleasureLand RV Show & Go on the Fourth of July weekend.

The Outlaw Pro Mod class, which is typically the fastest class in the series, featured the two racers who have been slugging it out all season: defending series champ Lee Loew and Chris Willemssen. Loew and Willemssen qualified Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, with less than a tenth of a second separating their qualifying times.

Loew’s 1936 Ford truck is as fast as it is wicked-looking. His top qualifying time was 6.577 seconds with a lightning speed of 220.37 mph. He beat Vern Laurin Jr. in the semifinals and then watched Willemssen and his 2002 Firebird dispense of Tim Davey to set up the showdown.

“I knew I needed to go one more round than (Willemssen)” to repeat as series champ, Loew said. So, by advancing to the finals, Willemssen won the series title.

But there was still the matter of winning the Shootout, and Loew had the Ford dialed in and ready. Willemssen couldn’t give Loew a race, though, because he had throttle issues on the starting line, handing Loew the win.

The Outlaw class, traditionally the second-fastest class, has been a slugfest all season, not just among seasoned veterans but including newcomers as well. A dozen cars filled the field last weekend, with Michael Hoey cracking the 200 mph mark to qualify No. 1 in his 1969 Dodge Dart. His times were 6.7 seconds.

He saved his fastest run for Sunday’s finals, though. He faced off against No. 3 qualifier Chris Orr and his 1967 Pontiac Firebird. Orr had an edge off the starting line but Hoey came roaring back with a winning time of 6.739 seconds and 209.59 mph. Orr finished with a time of 7.616 seconds and 133.30 mph, shutting down early.

Joe Cardin took home the Index Class Championship after winning the 9.50 Index. The winners of the 10 Index classes get paired up in a run-off to see who’s the best Index class racer. Cardin and his 1982 Firebird beat Patrick Huebner in the 9.50 Index finals on Sunday and then won the four-round run-off by beating Kaytlin Turner in the finals after she won the 10.00 Index. Cardin’s winning time was 9.707 seconds at 129.38 mph.

The following are the finals results for all the classes.

Outlaw Pro Mod
Finals: Lee Loew of Darwin def. Chris Willemssen of Stewart
Finals: Michael Hoey of Hugo def. Chris Orr of Superior, Wis.
660 OS
Finals: Wayne Bellanger of St. Louis Park def. Clint Greyerson of Grand Rapids
LS 660
Finals: Logan Loesch of Hastings def. Jacob Cooney of Cedar
King Street
Finals: Dave Feders of Isanti def. Jason King of Saginaw
Real Street Natural
Finals: David Beck of Superior, Wis. def. Taylor Gullikson of North Branch
Real Street Unlimited
Finals: Jason Olson of Cokato def. Jason Bergeson of Cottage Grove
Strip Eliminator 1
Finals: Steve Matsch of Hastings def. Darrian King of Bovey
Strip Eliminator 2
Finals: Nick Eklund of Isle def. Mike Siegle of Cologne
Strip Eliminator 3
Finals: Eric Pouliot def. Bruce Markow of Ham Lake
Truck Eliminator
Finals: Tim Newton of Ramsey def. Sydney Dorion of Nisswa
Manual Transmission
Finals: Bob Stephany of Zimmerman def. Tyler Mack of New Ulm
Index Class Champion
Finals: Joe Cardin of River Falls, Wis. def. Kaytlin Turner of Nowthen
9.50 Index
Finals: Joe Cardin of River Falls, Wis. def. Patrick Huebner of Bloomington
10.00 Index
Finals: Kaytlin Turner of Nowthen def. Michael Janousele of Duluth
10.50 Index
Finals: Chad Hoffmann of Lafayette def. Mark Angler of Waconia
11.00 Index
Finals: Leon Vinkemeier of Belle Plaine def. Eric Olson of Hugo
11.50 Index
Finals: Carrie Sheely of Kasota def. Larry Plank of Mantorville
12.00 Index
Finals: Rusty Mack of New Ulm def. Shawn Hammre of Zimmerman
12.50 Index
Finals: Brian Hollon of Anoka def. Greg Christenson of Willmar
13.00 Index
Finals: Brian Schraut of Sauk Rapids def. Mike Hut of Shoreview
13.50 Index
Finals: John Olson of Zimmerman def. Branden Swanson of Ham Lake
14.00 Index
Finals: Heather Laclare of Zimmerman def. Mike Stevens of Park Rapids