2019 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - SPORTSMAN NOTEBOOK
MONDAY NOTEBOOK - MARATHON 65TH ANNUAL IS FINALLY FINISHED
The following are Monday's Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series winners from the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals.
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - MOTHER NATURE DELIVERS THE SMACKDOWN ON SUNDAY
REMEMBERING TOM - Sean Bellemeur is racing with a heavy heart this weekend at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. He lost his boss Tom Shelar.
"You don't have enough time," he said. "He flat out stuck his neck out for me. He gave me the chance to drive his Nostalgia Top Fuel car and gave me a chance to work at his company. He also paved a career path for me. I'm glad that one of the best things in my life is that I've listed to him. Now, I've been there for over 15 years. He took a kid that knew nothing about the Cad Cam industry and molded me into who I am today in the industry. I'm excited to go to work everyday because of him. My wife is the same way. My wife has worked there over six years now.
"Tom was a special man. He had the ability to find the best in anybody. He could see a little bit of talent in you and turn it into a lot of talent. I've never seen that ability like Tom. He gave me a shot when I was pretty young -- he taught me a lot about discipline, taught me a lot about life. When we got the news (August 23), it was devastating."
He admitted that Shelar was more than just a boss to him. Bellemeur said he was a friend and a father figure.
"I have a father that I'm very, very close with,” Bellemeur said. “He had that larger than life persona about him. Not just with me, but a lot of people. I've seen the impact that he has had out here at Indy, as people have come by and told their stories. That is actually helping me have closure. I was fearful of what it might be like. I knew people would want to talk about it -- and it reminds me what he was all about. It's a lesson for a lot of us to learn. He was smiling and laughing all the time. The term Rest in Peace does not symbolize Tom Shelar. He's up there causing craziness wherever he is."
The Tony Bartone/Hussey Performance made a tribute to Shelar on the car. It’s in the back window and it was a surprise to Bellemeur.
"It was a total surprise to me,” he said. “A couple of my teammates came up with this idea, who then contacted another friend of ours, Tiffany Januik, who has a Graphic company, besides running a Top Alcohol Dragster. They put the whole thing together and it could not be more beautiful. The tribute to Tom is pretty cool, and it nearly took my breath away. As a driver, I'm trying to focus and do my job, especially at the biggest race of the year and be in the championship hunt. I'm trying to do my best job, but we have a little bit of motivation this week.
"I didn't know anything about it until I arrived at the race track on Thursday afternoon. I got emotional about it. As much as I'm mourning the loss of my great friend, I'm appreciative of the gesture by my team. It truly shows the chemistry of this team. I'm lucky to consider all of these guys over here at Tony Bartone's team my friend. That gesture right there is really special."
Shelar owned the High Speed Motorsports team that Mendy Fry is the driver of the Nostalgia Top Fuel Dragster. Bellemeur was previously the driver, before being a crew member in recent years.
"At the end of 2003 and into 2004, the High Speed Motorsports team evolved with Tom Shelar and Dale Singh got together with a pretty prominent sponsorship, Plata Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas,” Bellemeur said. “We had two, as I drove one and Mendy Fry drove the other. As that team progressed through the years, it got dwindled down to one car. I drove it, then Tyler Green took over the seat. I had an opportunity to drive a full-time Top Alcohol Funny Car, which I was offered and accepted. Tyler and I basically switched roles on the team and over the years, I've done the right cylinder heads, bottom end, clutch. In the past four-to-five years, I've shown interest in the fuel system in that thing. Tom, once again, took me under his wing and basically taught me how to run it. There were a couple of times, where Tom couldn't be there and we ended up running the car without him.
“Once again, I started out as a driver and he took me under his wing, and showed me how to run a Top Fuel team. What is really cool is, in Tom's memory, we're going to try to finish out the season for him. We're going to run the last two races (Nostalgia Nitro Nationals at Osage Tulsa Raceway on Sept. 20-21 and the California Hot Rod Reunion at Auto Club Famoso on Oct. 25-27). His son, Patrick, is the car chief on that car and Mendy Fry both stepped up to run those races. Patrick is really behind this thing. He gave me the go-ahead and told me that I'm their guy. I couldn't be more honored to do it. Those shoes are too big that they'll never be filled -- and I'm not even going to try. We're going to try to go out there and finish this thing. We're going to race smart and we're going to race as a team. Shoulder and shoulder, we're going to get through this together. I cannot be more excited.”
MOTHER NATURE, SCHEDULE MURDERER - NHRA officials knew the odds were against them when faced with Sunday's weather forecast at the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals. Their plan of action was to get in as much of the Lucas Oil Sportsman Drag Racing Series action they could before forecasted rain hit.
Sunday morning, their plan was to run 404 race cars down the track plus another 12 exhibition cars before Pro Modified hit the track for their final session at 12:30.
NHRA began competition at 7:45, and managed to get through a full round of Stock (128 cars) and was two-thirds of the way through E-1 for Super Stock when the rain began falling just after 9 AM. Racing resumed just after 3 PM, EST.
GUARANTEED SPOT - Mark Jones had a guaranteed spot to be a part of the Top Dragster class at the Chevrolet Performance US Nationals. He said when he won the Division last year, it gave him this opportunity.
"I've been looking forward to it all year," he said. "I was able to guarantee a spot to get in to get the chance to come here. It has been highs and lows all weekend. First run, we ran like a 6.26 and it was the 27th qualifier. On the second run, I sped the car up and it went 6.07 so they threw that run out. On that run, though, we hurt a valve in the motor. We wound up taking the heads off and go to Steve Schmidt's shop, put it back together, and went out and had a 6.13 on the third pass. We were solidly in the field with that pass. It was very nerve-racking putting the motor back together."
This year, Top Dragster and Top Sportsman were added to the Sportsman class. This is their first time being a part of The Big Go.
Jones said he is part of the Sportsman Racers Council. This group, according to Jones, helped Top Dragster get added to the event.
"I was looking forward to it 100%," Jones said. "For two or three years, I've been trying. We've been talking about trying to get to Indy. I'm on the Sportsman Racers Council for Top Dragster so we've been talking to Rich Schaefer, which is the Division 2 rep for the NHRA and we've been trying to get Top Dragster here for the last three or four years. Finally, the NHRA put us in there. I think we put on a good show.
"This race really means a lot. First time I've ever been here. My friend Craig [Craig Bourgeois] has been here 20 times. He's even runnered-up here. He's been a World Champion in Competition Eliminator. But it's the first-time for Top Dragster, my class, to come."
Since Jones is new to the biggest stage in drag racing, he said it's overwhelming to be a part of. There is nearly 1,000 Sportsman racers on the property, not including the Pro competitors.
"This place is huge," he said. "I was very excited to finally be here. It's really happening. But, at the same time, it's overwhelming. When I saw the Big Arch over the track and all that, it was really surreal.
"I've been to Vegas and a lot of the race tracks on the schedule, but this one has so much history. All my friends talk about it. They have been coming here for at least 20 years to compete or just watch. I've never been here until now. I was at Bowling Green before this. Just never came to Indy. Never had enough time to really do it."
Depending on how he does at the Chevrolet Performance US Nationals, he'll plan his schedule accordingly.
"It depends on what I do here," Jones said. "This is only my third national event. I get this full race right here. I'll get the 30 points from here, plus, I get all the points after that if I advance. Some guys, they won't get the first 30 points because they've already made three races. I'm short on races. We don't run St. Louis, which they took away from us in Top Dragster. We don't run in Dallas. We get to run Norwalk next week [rescheduled the Sportsman competitors after rain forced the Bader family to move the Sportsman racers back in June]. We don't run Maple Grove. I'm from New Orleans so that's really far. Even the four-wide [in Charlotte] is kind of far. I think they got one more there at Charlotte.
"Charlotte is a possibility. Norwalk not so much because there's a Hurricane that may be coming towards our house. It hit Miami and it might cut across and we're in New Orleans so it might come across. I'm really watching what it does."
THE FAMILY APPROACH - Doug Gordon is racing for his family's Top Alcohol Funny Car team. He is also following in his father's footsteps.
He has been driving the Top Alcohol Funny Car for nearly the past 30 years.
"I wouldn’t do it any other way," he said. "My dad and my mom come to every race. This is what my dad does day-in and day-out. He drives the truck to every race. When he gets home to the race car shop, that’s what he does. When he gets up, he works on the race car all day. I’m fortunate to drive his race car to be honest with you. I’m very fortunate."
This weekend, Gordon traveled from California to compete in the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis. He is one of 17 Top Alcohol Funny Car drivers on the property for this prestigious event.
"We came here in 2003 and qualified well, but got beat in the first round," Gordon said. "I didn't really realize much, but I started to run well here once we put the AJPE stuff in. We came in 2016 and that's when I realized just how much this race was when we qualified No. 1. I'm from California and for us, Pomona is big, but they make a big hype out of it. But when you're here, it's pretty special."
He said his favorite memory at this track involves the late Blaine Johnson.
"In 1991, I drove out to Brainerd and went out to Indy with Alan Johnson, and we won both races," he said. "My biggest memory is in 1991 when I won Indy with Blaine Johnson [in Top Alcohol Dragster]."
Gordon knows what it is like to make it to Monday, the biggest day of racing. However, when he made it to Monday, he finished as the runner-up in the class.
"It's nerve wracking, because you know you have to get down to the final four cars to even make it to Monday," he said. "It's pretty stressful -- you have to get past the first round, you have to get past the second round to even have a chance to make it to race day. We have made it to that point and hopefully, we can make it to that point. We have a car that can do it most of the time if I can drive it well enough. When you do that, you have a good shot. You have to have luck to go along with it, too."
He knows that this race can change his life. In addition, he also knows how big this race is.
“To say that we won the U.S. Nationals would be huge,” Gordon said. “We want to say we won the U.S. Nationals and won a Championship. We finished second in the World Championship to Jonnie Lindberg a few years ago. If we can pull it out and have a U.S. Nationals win, it would be game-changing. The best of the best is here. The only thing that would make it better is if I can have my wife and kids here, as they go to a lot of the West Coast races. They're not here, as they have school.”
Presently, Gordon is fourth in points in the category. He has 480 points. Brian Hough -- who is not competing at this event, as Jonnie Lindberg is competing in Funny Car -- leads the class with 652 points.
Lindberg is Hough's crew chief on the Oregon native’s Funny Car this season.
"We're fourth in the points, but I actually think it's skewed, as I don't think we should actually be that high," he said. "The national events that we've been to, we've been the runner-up in six national events. However, unfortunately, in our region, we've been to four races and you only get to count five. All four of them, we've lost in the first round. We're going to have two first round losses on our scoreboard. We only have one regional left, which is in Las Vegas, which is going to be a super tough one to win.
“We're in a bad position this year. We have to count at least two in the regional with the two losses, but nationally, we're doing very good. We can only count six out of 10 -- and it's near impossible to win a championship with first round losses on your scorecard. We would have to win a lot of races at this point. I don't think this will be our year for us. We have to do better than this year to be in the mix."
BETTER BE MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY PREPARED - Jeff Strickland is an NHRA Champion. In fact, he won two championships in one season in 2016.
He won the Stock and Top Dragster Championship that season. But, this weekend, he is trying to win his first Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Wally.
"There's only two places where you get everyone," Strickland said. "One is here and the other is the JEGS All-Stars. I race for a lot of reasons, but just to get in the All-Stars, because you've got to be very competitive in your Division and then you got to go face the best of everyone out there. So, to win the US Nationals, I don't know what it would be like. I've never been close. That's the sad part. That's the reason why I'm not running Stock Eliminator and just running Super Stock.
"Instead of using this race, where the competition is at a different level, because you have the best of the best, as everybody in the world's here -- way more cars, it's very spread out. I like that kind of race, but this particular race is, it's good for me, and it's bad for me. It's good, because we have really good equipment -- the best equipment. It's good or better than anyone has out there. Mentally, I think we would be as prepared more than anyone out here. And then you have the competition."
While he has not had the success here, Strickland dreams of one day winning the race.
"To win here would be great because it is the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals," he said. "It would also mean a lot to win another championship. I would be ecstatic to win the US Nationals, but mentally, you cannot even look for that until you're three or four rounds deep and then you can start concentrating on that. Right now, it's just get a first round win and then it's going to get a second round win, before focusing on a third round win. Once you're three to four deep, you can get into a rhythm because it's hard to get in a rhythm here."
Strickland also emphasised with the longer schedule, it can mess with a driver mentally. This event begins on Wednesday and runs nearly a week through Labor Day Monday.
"It'll tear you up," he said. "I mean it really will if you let it. I get up early in the mornings. We prepare everything. We try to make a really good run for the data. We need the data. And then once my run is over, I don't even want to think about a race car. We're going to go play golf here. We're going to get out of the race track and just pretend we're on a little vacation. I'll go watch, but normally I don't watch.”
When Strickland won both championships in one season, it was very rare to accomplish. He needed to defeat Brad Burton in the final event in Pomona to win the Stock Championship.
Presently, he is just 14 points away from the Top Dragster championship. Ross Laris leads with 524 points, while Strickland is second with 510.
"I get chills," Strickland said. "I watched my dad finish second in the world when I was a kid. I want to say it was four times that he lost the championship by single-digit points and he never got one. I get chills every time I think about it. My parents were there. My brother was there, as well as my sister, my wife, and kids. Everyone flew in and we weren't even going to go West. I get teared up about it. To win one Championship was great to win, but two was the greatest thing ever! I can't even explain it. There's no words. When you get a police escort back into your town, that's pretty special."
GOTTA GO TO THE BIG GO - Dennis Fisher is a Top Fuel Harley rider. However, for the first time during the 2019 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, he is making his season debut.
He has a new sponsor for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
"I was introduced to the Senior Marketing Executive at Cycle Gear and I made a proposal to them and they liked it," Fisher said. "They liked the idea. We’re showing them what we can do on social media and this is their first foray into drag racing. They’ve been involved in motocross and road racing, but never drag racing until now. We’re going to show them why this is one of the most exciting classes in the NHRA. Top Fuel Harley is a fan favorite and you have to see it to believe it."
Fisher said he had to show Cycle Gear some things, as he said, before the deal was completed for the biggest race of the year. He also said he had to show them that we would represent them in a professional manner.
"We emphasised to them that this is the biggest drag race in the world," he said. "It’s the Big Go or the big dance, whichever you prefer. This is where every drag racer wants to be. And once we showed the stats to them on that, all we had to do is deliver on our end. I want to get into the field and make a good showing for them."
Fisher is one of 13 Top Fuel Harley riders, who are competing at this event.
"The best of the best in the sport are here," Fisher said. "It’s an honor and a privilege to be here. Last year, we pitted in the same place, and John Force comes over and is looking at the Top Fuel Harley. A couple of years ago, unfortunately, we had an issue and had a spectacular blow up and we had coverage of that on national television. Tony Pedregon said he would never ride one of those with a seven layer fire suit or a cool set of leathers like that. Dave Reiff said when he was looking at the video, and saw me looking between my legs and said what are you looking at, and I said what do you think I was looking at. I wanted to make sure everything was intact.
"We’re here with the best of the best. The crowd absolutely goes nuts over these things. We run the quarter mile in the low 6’s and we carry the front wheel out to 1,000 feet -- maybe even a little further. It is a spectacular class to watch. This is a whole new level."
"The Nitro Menace" said there will be additional talks with Cycle Gear. He admitted there could be more sponsorship in the future.
"Absolutely," he said. "They’re really excited to see what comes of this. We absolutely have further talks scheduled to talk about the next year. We’re looking forward to 2020 and beyond."
A PLAN COMES TOGETHER - Mick Steele is making his first U.S. Nationals appearance this weekend. The plan to compete in Top Alcohol Dragster came together at the NHRA Southern Nationals presented by Mello Yello in 2018.
Much of Steele's racing has been done in the IHRA. He previously won the 1997 President's Cup National at Maryland International Raceway in Budds Creek, Maryland.
"One of my crew guys that worked with me on the Funny Car was working with an A-fuel team and we went to see him, because I hadn't seen him," Steele said. "He lived in Texas and I wanted to see him while he's running with the A-Fuel team. I've been kind of following him and I went there to look at the Funny Cars and just to see what was going on with it, because being an ex-drag racer, I'm not a good spectator. I really hadn't been to drag races in 15 years. So, we went to the Southern Nationals and I talked to him and then I looked at the Funny Cars and some of the people running just to see and get an idea because the itch never went away for drag racing. I just took a break from it.
"Tony Garinsway told me, “You need to run the A-fuel. It’s a lot cheaper. It's a lot less work”. Anyhow, so it got me thinking about it and there's something about running Nitro. As a drag racer, there’s just something about Nitro. So I talked it over with Rick Hickman, who's the crew chief. He was Mark Thomas’s crew chief. They won seven championships in IHRA. We were going back and forth about whether to run a Funny Car or whether to run the injected Nitro Dragster. I really like the Funny Car, but I'm 20 years older. Driving the Funny Car is more like riding a bull. They’re a beast to drive. There's a lot to it and with me being older, I knew the dragster would be safer. I’d get to run Nitro. Anyhow, we went back and forth and finally decided that we get the injected Nitro deal going."
After Steele made the decision to compete in Top Alcohol Dragster, the pieces of the puzzle came together pretty quickly. Steele said this is the unbelievable part of the whole deal.
“In October of last year is when I really decided that I'm going to get back in drag racing,” he said. “So I went ahead and hired Rick at that time, to help me put this deal together. So in October 2018 all this was just an idea. So we decided on what we're going to run -- the injected Nitro deal. So the first week in November, I went to Atlanta and bought this tractor-trailer. So we had the tractor-trailer first week in November. At the same time, Rick was looking around to see what was available plus what was available that would fit me, because I'm no little guy. So he was doing his thing.
“I found the truck and trailer and bought it. Then we found a car out in Texas. The guy was the same size as me. He was getting out of racing and had lost his Dr. Pepper distributorship that he had. We went out there and looked at his car and the car fit me. The car is only a couple years old. Didn’t have a bunch of runs on it. A Copeland car. So we bought his car and all his parts. Everything that he had. We took this out there [tractor and trailer], loaded up this trailer and we had everything. This is a week before Thanksgiving. We had the transporter, we had the car.”
One issue that Steele also faced was that he needed a place to put the rig and trailer. He ended up building a shop near his new home.
“Our other problem we had was that we didn't have a shop to put anything in,” Steele said. “None of that was even taken care of. I was building a new house and Rick knew some people right near my house. You can actually see this property. We were able to buy two and a half acres of property there. I've got a 5,000 square foot building that we put up at the end of February. We got the tractor trailer, we got the car. Rick worked on the car in his garage, but everything was parked in the trailer. We built the new shop. The shop was done at the end of February before the Gatornationals. We went down there and made six passes and I got my license then.”
Steele licensed in the Top Alcohol Dragster in March. He then came up with a schedule with Hickman and the team went to the races.
“You’ve got to only have one grade point to enter,” he said. “You only have to run one regional event. But I mean, it's the regional events in Division Three are actually harder to qualify than what the national events are. It's only an eight car field and a lot of those they've been having 11, 12, 13 cars. So I mean we went to Columbus, we qualified there. We had one shot to qualify because of weather. Qualified there and then we went to Norwalk and qualified number one there. So the car threw us a bone and we qualified number one there. We ran the first round and then smoked the tires.”
This is his second national event with the car since the team was put together.
“It's just a situation where you watch it on TV,” Steele said. “I used to come here just to spectate. I had a friend of mine back in the late 80s and 90s, we’d just come and spectate. This event has grown and grown and just having the opportunity to be a part of it, you never know what's going to happen. Go talk to Terry McMillan and ask him if he was going to win the US Nationals last year. I mean Terry ran an Alcohol Funny Car at one time. I remember he ran Alcohol Funny Car when I was running, when he got his start with that. I don't know how many people know that, not the general fan. So we raced together.
“But coming to a race like this, it's an opportunity just to be part of it. Even as a fan to be able to come here and be part of it, it's pretty cool. But getting to race on a stage like this, it's just something that you dream of. I remember Terry struggling with his Funny Car, but to see him win last year. It's the underdog winning.
HOODS FOR HEROES - Competition Eliminator Ed Federkeil has FireAde and E3 Spark Plugs on his car at the Chevrolet Performance US Nationals. In addition to those two sponsors, he's also sporting the Ronnie Thames Foundation, which is a charitable initiative for FireAde, and the Hoods for Heroes Foundation.
"Three years ago, if you would have asked me, would I ever go back racing again, I'd tell you absolutely, unequivocally, it's not going to happen," he said. "I woke up one day and I had this feeling of not being finished. I've been a competitor my whole life, whether it be football, whether it be baseball, whether it be business, whether it be firefighting. Because when you put out a fire, you're competing with the fire. And I woke up and I said, 'I can still do this.' Then I saw a television program called A Football Life [on the NFL Network] and they did one on Dan Marino. I'm watching it and you know Dan is gold. He's God in South Broward. The greatest to ever play the game in the city. He talking about all the records he set, all the games he's won. He said, 'But I've never walked off the field.' I sat there and I finished No. 4 in the World in 1991 and lost the Championship by two rounds. I said, 'He'll never ever play football again, but I can still drive a race car.'
"And from then, I contact, as Alan Reinhart calls him, my twice removed cousin-in-law David Nickens. I'm married to his wife's sister. I said, 'David, I think I'm going to put the band back together.' He said, 'Are you out of your mind?' Long story short, we started putting a plan together, acquiring assets, and putting all the right component's together -- equipment, truck, trailer, motor home, so we had it because if I was going to do it, I wasn't going to do it half-assed. This is way too much of an investment. I created a lot of relations. I created a lot of credibility. Why don't I take companies that I can help in that market and bring them in. And that's how we got with a company like FireAde, E3, and the Ronnie Thames Foundation."
"Federkeil said Hoods for Heroes reached out to him one day. As a firefighter, he rose through the ranks to become Fire Chief in his 33-years. Through some guys he knew and the Hoods for Heroes founders, Bill Hamilton and Jeff Rountree, connected with him.
" “We're based out of Jacksonville, Florida and we have some deep roots in Jacksonville with the JFR Fire Department (Jacksonville Fire Rescue Fire Department),” Rountree said. “One of our guys from our training facility knows Chief very well. He connected us with Chief and told him that we're doing some great things to get this equipment on firefighters heads that they cannot get themselves. Once we connected with Chief, it made sense and Chief decided to give us some room on his car. We're trying to make some connections to support the foundation and help us fulfill the grants that we have all over the country and parts of the world.”
"The mission of the Ronnie Thames Foundation is a non-profit is committed to help children and their families when their lives have been changed forever by fire. The mission of Hoods for Heroes is to protect those who protect us.
"Since 1999, an average of 496 children ages 14 and under have died each year due to unintentional fire or burn-related injury. Approx. 85% of fire-related deaths occur in homes. Every year, more than 400 children under the age of 10 die in fire homes.
"The Hoods for Heroes Foundation is providing new hoods for firefighters around the world.
" “Right now, 1 in 3 firefighters will be diagnosed with cancer during their lifetime, which has been found is, these older hoods have been used for 25-30 years and they protect against the heat, but not against the chemicals,” Rountree said. “When they wear these old hoods and they're in a fire and it's getting wet, it's causing carcinogens as the composites. These composites cause much higher burn rates and all that sticks to the hood. As it gets wet, it seeps through the skin and they're having these rare cancers -- Multiple Myeloma, Lymphoma, Throat Cancers. These new hoods show that they stop 99.9% of chemicals and carcinogens. We have about ten manufactures. We don't make them. We raising the money in the private and public sector. We buy the hoods with our relationship with manufacturers and we grant the departments hoods to lower the risk of them developing cancer.
" “Through some research from the University of Miami and through NC State [North Carolina State] -- they're one of the leaders of testers of hoods in the world. How does this technology work? They're proving this is a gateway because of the old hoods are not equipped to help firefighters, like the new one's. It closes the gateway because chemicals are not able to get in. The only other way that chemicals could get in is through gaps. They're looking at some zipper stuff -- like where the boots and pants come together. The hoods close the gap right now that's open for most firefighters.”
"Since July 31st, 2018, Hoods for Heroes have provided 2,500 hoods for firefighters. Rountree said the old hood costs around $15, while the new one costs $125.
"While firefighters risk their lives to save others on a daily basis, 70% of the core are volunteers. In addition, less than 5% of Americans are aware of the cancer epidemic in fire service.
"The Hoods for Heroes is helping promote health and wellness of fire stations through education.
""States like New York, Texas, California, Florida have more departments as a whole than around the country," Hamilton said. "You have some different as some volunteer department could have 12 guys, or they could have 200 guys. You're talking about $2,000 bucks to $20,000 bucks. We’ve had communities that stepped up and fundraise then will partner with us to help their local departments. It kind of varies. We’ve had some private donors that stepped up. Or people who have stepped up to help local fire departments. They may see us on the news and say I have a local department nearby and how much do I need? They’ll donate several thousand to get them guys protected. It all depends on the station and the department, the community and who sees it.
""Stuff like this [an interview], almost every time we have a delivery and it’s on the news, which we just had one on Wednesday in Pasco County. It always leads to another delivery, because somebody in business or general public will see it and say I want that same exposure. We’ve had people help us spread the word."
THE RIGHT PITCH - Traditionally, buying sponsorship in Motorsports can be a bit tricky. But word of mouth led Chris Marshall being back out at the dragstrip.
He secured a new sponsorship and is competing at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals this weekend.
“We were at our local racetrack in Woodburn, Oregon,” he said. “I had just finished doing the golf cart races. They have golf cart races there they run in the evening and my wife and I were sitting on the golf cart after we had lost the golf cart race and Dan Provost walked up to me and introduced himself with his girlfriend, Tammy. He said, “We heard you guys were thinking about quitting or you couldn't afford to do it anymore.” I said, “Yeah, that's true.” He said, “Well, we've been following you and we would hate to see that happen. So we want to help you out.” That's basically where it happened. He said, “Come and see me in the morning and we’ll talk about the details.”
“The deal came together pretty much just like that. I had never met Dan before,but he does do a lot of stuff with the Division Six. I've seen his logo on a lot of other cars, a lot of different class cars in the Division. Turns out he's a big part of the Division and helping a lot of different folks. He hasn't helped any cars at this level that I know of but he wanted to see us keep racing.”
Before the offer, Marshall was going to sit out until a new deal happened. He is now being sponsored by Rad Torque Systems.
“We have approached,” he said. “We've also hired, Marketing Specialists. But we have yet to land anything. We've actually been trying for a couple years and just haven't been able to find anything at all. Oddly enough, Dan just walks up to me and says, “I want to help you.” So I guess instead of knocking on doors, he came to me, which was awesome. A gift from God at that point, because we were pretty sad that we were going to have to quit. But yeah, that's how it all happened. He just introduced himself, and the deal was done shortly thereafter.”
He won the Magic Dry Organic Absorbent NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in early August. It was also the first event with this new partnership.
"He was pretty happy with that obviously," Marshall said. "Two weeks after winning Seattle, we were running the car for the Regional event, he was also there running his car and I won that event, as well. So needless to say, I think he's pleased. That's the way you want to start out. We did first put the logo on the car in Sonoma, California, because that was the race right after the Woodburn event, and I went to the semifinals there, but didn't get it done.
“Still, I think he's been pleased. He didn't really have a lot of expectations. Like, 'In order for me to be on board, you have to win every race.' That's unreasonable. But he's obviously pleased to get the exposure because that's really what it's all about."
The deal that is in place with RAD Torque Systems is for the rest of the season. Yet, it may be longer than just these past few months.
"We're already talking about next year," he said. "We haven't finalized anything yet but he says he's on board for next year and plans to help which is great because it gives us some solidity into what we're going to be doing for the next year."
Marshall admitted that this is his second Indy event. He was the No. 1 qualifier in the class last year at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
He made the show for the 2019 event.
"It's an interesting stat on that too," he said. "So the first time I've ever been here was last year. We finished number four in the world last year unexpectedly. Just got lucky. This is only our fourth year ever racing at this level. Last year we came here for the first time ever. Number one qualifier. I was the quickest car out of the whole group. I ran low ET of the entire event. The only car to run in the .40s at all. Went a .49 in the semifinals. I went to the finals. Had the round won. Had my throttle cable break mid track. Sean Bellemeur, who is now the world champion, went around me with an unsuccessful run. He went 5.82 that day against me. So it was horrible that I lost because I was the car to beat that day and so we're super excited to be here again.
"Will I be able to repeat that sort of performance? I don't know. We were absolutely not going to go to this race with our funding until Dan came along. So it's huge for me to be here again because I plan on redeeming myself is the hope from that performance last year. We ran really well. Made it all the way to the final did everything right until we had a $5 part fail. The throttle bracket, it wasn't even the cable, the bracket just broke off. Just a silly thing and I had no throttle and couldn't complete the run. So that's how our weekend was that year and we plan on having it hopefully repeat up until the final and get it all the way down."
GOTTA BE INDY - Jared Dreher runs a limited schedule in the Top Alcohol Dragster class. He said the team does 12-14 races a year, yet one of those races is the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, which just happens to be close to home for him.
Dreher said he lives 50 miles away from the track. He is from Clinton, Indiana.
"It means a lot," he said. "It's awesome. It's home, so there's a lot of people here. I'm just 50 miles west of here. In addition, it's the best of the best here. There's 22 good cars. Like anything, we can win this thing and it would mean so much. Just competing in this thing is unbelievable. If we can run with all these 22 cars, we're one of the best of the best. There's people from New York to California and all in between. It makes us feel good."
He is presently qualified 11th following the first qualifying session. He went 5.521 at 256.26 mph.
Dreher is one of four Indiana natives trying to make it into the field at this prestigious event. Besides him, Jasmine Salinas, Krista Baldwin, and Jerry Powell are living in Indiana, according to the entry list.
“The championship is on the line here,” Dreher said. “Randy Meyer has two of the baddest cars out here. [Shawn] Cowie is here. Jackie Fricke is here. If you can run with them or the others out here, you’re the best of the best even on a small team budget. We don’t have a lot of support, but we get support from Amalie Oil.”
Clinton is located in Vermillion County in Indiana. It was established in 1829 and named after former New York Governor DeWitt Clinton.
"It’s tough to race under conditions to have everyone here," he said. "It’s good for all of them. They see it on TV and they read about you on the Internet, and they also get to see it in person. In our town, there’s only about a population of 5,000. Everyone in town knows that we race. They’re there to support us.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple of hundred are out here this weekend to see us. All avenues, there will be a couple of hundred people checking on us through the TV or here in person."
While Dreher is close to home, it still wants to perform well for them.
"It seems like we can go 17-18 hours away and things just flow," he said. "But when we're so close to home, so many people want to see us. We're making sure every avenue is done right. They're here to see what we can do.
"It also gives you a boost of confidence when you're facing Shawn [Cowie], Megan [Meyer], Jackie [Fricke], and the other heavy hitters out here. You don't want to get over confident, though, because you may blow up something. You may lose and still have a good time. You know you have a good car behind you that's the baddest of the baddest in this class."
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - FIELDS ARE SET FOR SUNDAY RACE DAY
DETERMINATION RETURNS COUGHLIN TO TOP - Saturday at the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals might have been a day littered with delays and misfortunes, but for third-generation drag racer T.J. Coughlin, the day couldn't have worked more in his favor.
Also finalizing their fields were Sean Bellemeur (Top Alcohol Funny Car) and
After falling out of the provisional top qualifying spot, Coughlin thundered back to the top, scoring the No. 1 spot with a 5.174 elapsed time. Coughlin replaced Q2 top runner Megan Meyer atop the leaderboard, who turned in a 5.18. Meyer sibling Rachel was third with a 5.229.
Bellemeur scored the pole position for the Funny Car portion of the alcohol cars, running over a half-tenth quicker than No. 2 qualifier Shane Westerfield. Westerfield ran a 5.491, 268.97.
Doug Gordon was third with a 5.498, 267.37.
Brad Plourd held onto the top spot in the 52-car Competition Eliminator field.
Sunday's action opens with the first round of Stock, Super Stock Competition Eliminator and the Top Alcohol divisions. Racing begins at 7:45 AM.
LONG HAUL, BIG REWARD - Shawn Cowie traveled very far to attend the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway. According to Google Maps, it would be a 34-hour drive or an eight-plus hour flight.
He is presently leading the Top Alcohol Dragster category in points. Yet, he wasn't planning on coming to the race.
"No," Cowie said. "Just the competition. Every car here is a stout car. We weren't planning on going to Brainerd and made a last-minute decision to go to Brainerd. So we're just kind of picking and choosing where we want to go. Our schedule says subject to change on the bottom of it and every weekend now is basically a decision we have to make if we're going to go to the next one or going to hold out to the end of the year."
The prestige of this race changed Cowie's mind.
"We planned on doing other races where the competition might not be as good at," he said. "But it is Indy. The guys want to win Indy. I've been close twice. Been to the final round twice, never won it but winning it would be a big deal. If you don't come, you don't win so it was just another reason to come here. Add another good car to the field and hopefully we meet Megan somewhere and hopefully we can beat her so it makes our chances even better."
Cowie is leading Randy Meyer Racing's Megan Meyer in the points. He leads by nearly 100 points.
"Both of us have got really good teams, good cars," he said. "I believe I’m 95 points ahead of Megan, but anything can happen at anytime. I found that out last year against Joey Severance. We both won a lot of races and do exceptionally well. We’ve just got to keep it up and keep winning races and stacking the points up. Hopefully she can't catch us.
"We've both maxed out for the regional events. We both got our three wins. I believe we got four national wins and she's got two. So they’ve got a little catching up to do but they've also got some final round appearances where we've got some semifinals. So it's definitely going to go down to the last race of the year probably. They're great people and I wish them luck and wishing them to do good. I just hope we do better."
If he wins the Championship, it would end Joey Severance's dominance in the category. Severance has won the last four Championships.
The last Top Alcohol Dragster Championship winner that wasn't Severance was Chris Demke in 2014.
"It's a pretty big deal," Cowie said. "It's been a few years now that I've had the number two on the car with missed opportunities. Ever since my accident [in 2011 in Tennessee] it’s cool to get back in the car, but then now having a shot back at a World Championship, it'd mean a lot to me, and mean a lot to my guys. We'll see what happens. Hopefully it works out in our favor.
"To do all the rehab to just be able to walk again to come back, to be able to do what I love, it was a big accomplishment on its own but now to be able to race for a national championship and be back to the caliber team that we had back before the accident. It would mean a lot."
THE NEXT EPISODE - Victor Cagnazzi is a former NHRA Pro Stock owner. These days, you can catch him competing in the Sportsman class in the NHRA.
He is competing in Super Stock at the Chevrolet Performance U,S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
"The Sportsman racing is a lot of fun," he said. "When Chevrolet came out with these cars in 2012, it was something that we wanted to get involved with even when we were still in Pro Stock. We thought it was something pretty unique and a throwback to the past and also bring back some excitement on the factory front and Chevrolet certainly was very much into it.
"We're racing COPOs right now. We have the Super Stock 2018 car that I drive. We have three cars in Stock. We have a 2015, which runs in FSD Stock. We have a 2019 that Jeff [Strickland] runs in Stock FSCOB most of the time. Adam Badget runs the 2013 car that we run in FSF and then Adam Berberic occasionally runs a car that we occasionally run in FSF as well."
Cagnazzi is competing in both Super Stock and Stock Eliminator at this race.
"Both of these cars are set up exactly the same,” Cagnazzi said. “So whether it's that car, that car, all five cars are pretty much set up exactly the same. Same shifter, same everything. So any driver can move in there and drove. In fact, Jeff drove that white car last year in Super Stock."
"It’s a historic race. You're getting racers from all over the country from both sides. So it’s one of the few places where you have everyone racing at one time. Certainly, the best of the best is here. We're looking forward to seeing what we can do in eliminations against the best of the best. In Pro Stock, we had a lot of success here. I think Dave won Indy here three times. So we're hoping to replicate that success."
The Cagnazzi Racing team would like to keep up that legacy. He is a capable driver to accomplish his fourth Wally near Indianapolis.
“Jeff is a championship driver,” he said. “I think that he certainly -- if we give them the right equipment -- can certainly take the car to the winner's circle. I feel the same way about both Adam actually as well. So I think for us winning this race in Stock or Super Stock would be just another achievement that Jeff or anybody can add. Jeff obviously being a Stock Eliminator World Champion, I’m sure it’s something he wants to add to his resume.”
Cagnazzi believes Sportsman racing will be in their future for a long time. He has no plans on going back to Pro Stock.
He said the Pro Stock business model became flawed in 2013.
"Actually, we got out of Pro Stock being totally transparent, we got out of professional racing really because the business model didn't make sense," he said. "That's really what it came down to. We certainly could have remained competitive in Pro Stock, but the business model was turning into being non-profitable at that point. We run this as a business. It needs to not only be very, very strong performance-wise but it needs to perform financially as well for all of us. Then there’s no money to reinvest in the cars either.
"If the business model changed where professional racing and drag racing could become profitable again, then certainly it would be something we would look at for sure. I'm sure Jeff would love to drive a Pro Stock car. I fact I know he would.
JEGS RENEWS COMMITMENT TO NHRA - JEGS announced on Saturday that it has extended its NHRA sponsorships of the JEGS Allstars program and the JEGS NHRA SPORTSnationals event. The multi-year extensions will ensure the longevity of an Allstars competition which has been around since 2002 and came on as the title sponsor of the SPORTSnationals in 2005.
“The Allstars is an awesome event that the family has raced in and been a part of and won,” said Scott Woodruff, JEGS director of media & motorsports. “It’s something that’s really near and dear to our hearts and we just really enjoy supporting the sportsman racers as another way to say thank you.
“As most people in the sport know, it kind of puts them on stage and makes them kind of the stars on Saturday during Chicago, and it’s something that they really appreciate as far as the competitors, and it’s just a fun deal for us.”
The JEGS Allstars event is a race-within-a-race bonus program for the very best in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series which takes place annually at the Route 66 NHRA Nationals in Chicago. It’s one of the most anticipated events of the season when these high-performing sportsman racers hit the track to face off in a battle for individual and team honors. It pits the top points earners from NHRA’s seven geographic divisions and four Top Alcohol regions against each other in the culmination of a yearlong points battle
The JEGS NHRA SPORTSnationals is a premier standalone event for competitors in the NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series. This event awards national points to competitors and features three days of intense racing action from the top sportsman racers in the country. Widely regarded as one of the biggest and most prestigious weekends in sportsman racing, the 2019 event will take place at National Trail Raceway in Hebron, Ohio, September 20-22.
“I think what makes this event so unique is the fact that it is a national event points structure for just sportsman racers,” Woodruff explained. “So it’s really like the sportsman racers having their own national event.”
Expect neat things in Columbus, Woodruff said.
“This year the event is coming up here at mid-September,” Woodruff explained. “We decided we’re going to do a big bonfire. We’re going to do some movies at night rather than just a traditional racer barbecue and just kind of do more of a Midwest feel to it with a little bonfire and all that kind of stuff. That’s something kind of fun we’re looking forward too.”
VERSATILITY - Phil Dion said he has competed in every Sportsman class except for the Top Alcohol. This weekend, he is competing in Top Dragster and Top Sportsman at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
“The only thing that would mean anything about that is winning it,” he said. “I mean, it's a big race, a lot of people, very congested, very difficult to get back and forth, just plain difficult because of the number of cars that are here. But in terms of race, once you're on the starting line, it's all the same. You don't know if you're at Indy, Brainerd, Chicago, Denver or Sonoma. You don't know where you are. On the starting line there’s another car next to you. It's all you know.”
While Dion and his team is competing at this prestigious event, he’s had trouble with both cars.
“We've had a lot of trouble this week,” he said. “I mean a lot of trouble. These guys have been up every night. We just had a lot of breakage. In one, I went too fast, then I went too slow in the other. This one broke so that's what we're working on and the other car is broke, too.
“These are two very different cars, but when I’m in each, we’ve made it so they are identically the same.”
He said he has been racing for the past 20 years. He has been drag racing since his retirement.
“I retired and been doing it ever since,” Dion said. “I always wanted to do it when I was in Phoenix at what they then called the Winter Nationals. I'm watching these guys and I said, ‘I can do that.’ So that's what got me going.”
He won a Wally at the 53rd annual O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Winternationals in February 2013. He won a Super Comp Wally.
“I loved it. I mean it was a goal,” he said. “I’d like to win one in these cars. I want to win one now in Top Dragster. They’re easier to drive and easier to work on. I prefer that class now. I need some luck to be able to do that.”
GRUMP INSPIRED - The late Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins is one of the legends of the sport. Super Gas racer Kevin Robb, who is competing at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, grew up around Jenkins.
“Being around Bill, he was a great guy,” Robb said. “Most people didn’t get to see the different side of him. You got that grunting rough attitude when he was at the track, but he loved racing, and he loved motors. He loved showing people what he knew and with Paul Thimm Jr. and Bob Kaiser racing with the V6 and driving. One of the memories I have from him was we were out here I believe it was in 95 or 96 running Comp Eliminator with the V6 Camaro. We were qualified pretty good and Bill came into the trailer and said, “You know kid, if you can drive this, you could probably win this race”. And he just walked away and I looked at my father-in-law at the time I’m like, “What did he mean by that?” He said, “Just that. You got enough power to win.” We ended up red lighting in the semi-final to David Billingsley, who went on to win.
“Then, we were fortunate enough to win using his motors in ’97 at the Keystone Nationals with the V6 dragster running DED. He’s the type of guy, who walks over and hands you a cigar and his comment to me was, “It’s about time”. We had been running V6 for him for about three years and he knew his motors were fast enough and we had won the division in ’95, ’96 and ’97 racing with his motors -- just hadn’t won any national events and we were able to win that one. So that was pretty special for him. He came to my bachelor party. He came to my mom’s funeral. Most people didn’t get to see that side of him. But you know, he was a true person but he liked drumming up the game at the track.”
Jenkins died on March 29th, 2012. Yet, Robb still remembers several things that stick with him today.
“There’s a couple things,” he said. “We were actually fortunate enough to win with one of his old Vega’s in 1993 driving for Paul Thimm Jr., which is my father-in-law. It was the ex-Pro Stock that Larry Lombardo won with in Englishtown, as well. So we won that in ’93 and I’ll never forget that. That was my first national event win and to do that in a legend’s car like that. That was a three-link car. It wasn’t even a modern day four-link car.
“But the biggest thing for me was his advice on driving, just basically cut the tree down and know everything you can about competitors and driving smart. Get everything you put out of the car. He was all about being consistent and doing the best you can and being prepared. When you got to the racetrack you were prepared.”
Despite the loss and memories of racing with Jenkins, Robb continues on as he is racing the A1 Mulch sponsored team. Besides Robb, there are 132 racers in the Super Gas category.
“It’s racing and with a lot of memories because of my father-in-law raced with him,” Robb said. “They raced in Modified. Being around Stevie Johns and Bob Kaiser and running the V6’s out of their shop. My brother-in-law had worked there at the time. Stevie Johns used to work at Jenkins shop in the V6 program. He was world champ with the V6. So I got to be around a lot of great people that taught me a lot. When that kind of deal all ended, I got back to grassroots bracket racing and running Super Comp and Super Gas. But that’s a part of my life that I’ll never forget those moments.
“At the time I didn’t recognize how much of a legend I was around. You know, I was young. I didn’t understand. But after he passed away and seeing how people want his memorabilia, it makes me wish I could have had more time.”
Robb is still in competition and will attempt remain in competition in order to win the Super Gas Wally on Monday.
“I went to the semi-finals in Comp years ago,” he said. “Two years ago, in Super Gas, I got down to five cars, and then that same year we won at Maple Grove at the National event. So Englishtown and Maple Grove are my two favorite tracks. I would really love to win here, I got close. We were here Sunday night. All we wanted to do was get to Monday and didn’t make it. But there was nothing like racing the V6 program and running for Jenkins and being under the lights on a Monday night, even though we went red in the semi-finals to be able to have that experience with him at Indy was pretty cool.”
FURY-OUS - Steve Wann has a ’62 Sport Fury at the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The vehicle was gifted to him.
“I had some medical issues, in and out of the hospital, and I was going to quit racing,” he said. “My good friend from New York, John Shaul, gave me the car, so I would keep racing. It was an extra car and he’s parked right next to me here. He wanted me to continue racing and I was going to quit because I was just tired of having to sell everything I had to pay my medical bills. He helped me out and now I have the car and I’m racing again.”
Both Wann and his friend compete in Stock Eliminator. Besides those two, there are 157 other competitors competing in the category.
“It’s a really competitive class,” Wann said. “You have to constantly work hard on your cars to be competitive with everybody else. I’ve done really well in the past. I’ve won class here at this race the last three years in a row. This year, I may not because I haven’t worked on the car this year. The motors been in it for over a year now and I had some family issues and I had to take care of them and just haven’t had time to work on it.”
This year, he is competing in Stock. However, he has previously competed in Super Stock.
“I don’t [make any changes] because the car is fast enough to be competitive in Super Stock,” he said.
The car that Wann is driving this weekend has an index of 11. It has gone as quick as 9.55.
Wann comes halfway around the country to compete. He lives in California and said it took him 2,300 miles to come to Indianapolis. He added that it took 40 hours to make the trip.
“It means a lot for this race,” he said. “This is where all the fast cars show up and come here and be able to win class means a lot. A lot of pride in it. I like coming out here and visiting with all the people that I haven’t seen back here in a year. Almost all the races are really good people and you just enjoy coming out and talking to them.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - DANIELS KEEPS ON CASHING IN WITH DODGE HEMI CHALLENGE TITLE
STILL THE NO. 1 - He’s got 19 round wins in a row.
He’s also got four consecutive Dodge Hemi Challenge titles to his credit.
It’s just another Friday before Labor Day for the decorated Mopar driver Jimmy Daniels.
Daniels, of Yardley, Pa., defeated Rich Locker to win the 2019 Dodge Hemi Challenge title and the $15,000 bounty which accompanies the prestigious victory.
“We really have a good team here,” Daniels said. “Everything has gelled together, and we have developed a winning routine here. There’s so many people who go into this deal. It’s incredible.”
Daniels was the quicker of the two off of the starting line, but spun the tires at the hit.
“When I let the transbrake go, and it spun, I thought I was in trouble,” Daniels said. “It hooked back up, and I ended up driving around him about the eighth-mile.
“I wasn’t good on the tree all day. Ray and David covered me on the other end. That allowed me to drive around them.”
Daniels entered today’s class eliminations as the No. 1 seed, carding an 8.473 best on Thursday. He opened eliminations with a bye run, and then took out hitters such as Doug Fazzalore, Wendell Howes and Jim Pancake to reach the finals.
Daniels dedicated the victory to someone who meant a lot to him.
“This win is special to us compared to the others,” Daniels explained. “We lost my grandmother back in January.”
THE KID IS HOT TODAY - When you're hot, you're hot.
Top Alcohol Dragster driver Troy Coughlin is certifiably hot after winning three of the last four races he's entered. Friday, at the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals, he added some fuel to the fire with a provisional No. 1 qualifier.
Joining Coughlin atop their respective Lucas Oil division Friday were Phil Esz (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Mark Pawuk (Factory Stock Showdown), Brad Plourd (Competition) and Ernie Neal (Super Stock).
Coughlin, who drives the JEGS.com injected nitro dragster for McPhillips Racing, covered the Lucas Oil Raceway quarter mile in 5.276 seconds at 272.67 miles per hour.
"Indy week 2019 is already a success in my opinion," said Coughlin, an Indy victor in 2010 (Super Comp) and 2014 (Super Gas). "We're already here, ready to set up in the pits, excited to go drag racing with some great cars, and most of all, we're going to have fun. What more could I ask for?"
Coughlin is sold out on drag racing, which is one of those things that stir Coughlin's soul.
"It takes a lot to do this," Coughlin explained. "It takes even more to win. You get with a team like I have at McPhillips Racing and watch the long hours, the selflessness, the dedication these guys have to being the best, and you start to understand what needs to be done to even have a chance.
"We've had some great chances the past year and a half and won a bunch of races and a regional title, we were in the mix for a national championship last year and we're back challenging again this year. I mean, for a kid that literally came to the drag strip for the first time in a baby carrier, I must be the luckiest person in the world."
Coughlin is the reigning North Central Region Top Alcohol Dragster champion and previously won the 2013 North Central Division Super Gas title. He's currently ranked third nationally and first in the Eastern Region in TAD.
Esz paced the Funny Cars on the strength of his opening 5.593, 259.66.
Both Plourd and Neal set the paces for their classes in the first day of qualifying, and will now head into eliminations.
Lucas Oil Sportsman Drag Racing Series action resumes on Saturday morning at 8 AM.
THE STAPLE OF SUPER STOCK - When it comes to drag racing at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, Ray Paquet is one of the famous names. In fact, he has 28 U.S. Nationals wins in his racing career.
“Class wins,” he said. “[It’s] very important to indicate class wins and once an overall eliminator win in 1981. That’s important. All the rest of those other wins were class wins.”
“I don’t think about it [about his success at the track]. I just look forward to every day and hope I got lots and lots and lots of years left.”
Paquet is driving a 1964 Ford Thunderbolt. One he believes to be the last one in competition, according to Paquet, who is competing in Super Stock at the most prestigious drag race of the season at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.
“It’s like anything else,” Paquet said. “You get used to what you’re doing, and you look forward to doing it. I don’t know what else to say. It does what it’s supposed to do most of the time and as long as I do what I’m supposed to do.”
He competes in Super Stock A. There are 159 people in the Super Stock category.
“It’s a good category,” he said. “I think there’s more work and maintenance involved in the higher classes, especially in stick shift. It would be less expensive to build and compete in one of the slower superstock classes, but this is what I prefer, so that’s why I do it.”
The 73-year-old said he has been racing for 57 years. He said he has been coming to this track since the 1960s.
“I’ve been racing like I said 57 years, but I’ve only been coming here since the late 60s,” Paquet said. “But for the Divisional races, I’ve been coming here since the mid-to-late 60s, and I’ve also been racing cars here at least since 1970 if not before.”
Paquet is not letting his age stop him. He thinks it doesn’t make a difference.
“That’s why I still compete.. It’s a very competitive car,” he said. “That’s how we’ve had all these class wins. I’m thankful for that. The car is competitive, and as long as I do what I’m supposed to do, and the car does what it’s supposed to do, we are usually the car that everybody else in the class is trying to beat.”
THE LEGEND OF THE SS/A - Once upon a time, in a class racing land decades ago, the Super Stock/A classification roamed drag strips across the world with the ferocity of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Drag racing has changed, but the relentless drag racing machine is still the same - a car whose bite is much worse than its bark.
“They’re a whole lot of fun to drive,” said Brandon Wilkinson, who races a Super Stock/A 1968 Corvette. “Driving it is a lot of work, but when everything goes right, it’s the most fun you can have in a race car.”
Wilkinson’s Corvette has a 427-inch Chevrolet engine with a 4-speed transmission and a twin-disc clutch.
“It’s a lot like a mini-Pro Stocker,” Wilkinson added.
Ray Pacquet has raced his rare Ford Thunderbolt in Super Stock/A for decades.
“Dearborn Steel Tubing did a bunch of these for Ford in 1964,” Pacquet explained. “They did them in various batches, there’s over 100 of them. A lot of people say it’s a hundred but it’s some odd number, 114 maybe, 117. They would have been Hi-Po 289 cars minus the engine and transmission and then the later ones, minus sound deadener.
“They configured them to put in the 427 high riser dual four-barrel engine, and that was because at that point in time, the full-size Fords with the full frames weighed like 4,500 pounds and the Chrysler stuff were in those middle body-sized unibody cars.
“Ford did these, so they were on a similar weight, similar wheelbase as the Chrysler stuff. So it’s just an interesting combination.”
Pacquet beat Wilkinson for the SS/A class title, overcoming a .176 starting line advantage and massive tire spin to win the race, 8.740 to 8.953.
“My mindset was I hope it runs equal or better to what it did earlier that day which was a 8.55 but on that run both I and the other car had some issues. Neither of us ran a good number. I had some excessive wheel spin and tire chatter and I only caught him by three hundredths whereas on our earlier run, he raced somebody and I had a bye run and we were almost a quarter of a second apart. It was close but I got the results I wanted.”
Pacquet found himself in the hole early in the race.
“I thought I was gaining on him pretty good in the mid-range, but once I got in front of him, I realized it was going to be close at the end, and it was,” Pacquet explained. “Looking at the numbers on the time slip, it was like I said, I think I crossed .03 of a second ahead of him. He had a much better light because I sat there and freewheeled the tires, and then finally it started doing tire chatter and shaking and a lousy 60 foot and then it took off.”
The victory was Indy class win No. 29 for Pacquet. One might think winning might become a mundane experience for the seasoned veteran.
“Nope, nope. Never get tired of it,” Pacquet said with a smile. “Just a lot of hard work, and a lot of good luck, and thankful that it’s still happening.”
Winning Indy is a blessing, especially class.
“There’s been other events around the country many times over the years but this is close to home and this is the big one,” Pacquet said. “We come to this one whether or not we make it to any others or not.”
NEAL SHINES - Not only will Ernie Neal go into Sun day’s first round of Super Stock eliminations as the No.. 1 seed, but he will also take home a 12th career NHRA U.S. Nationals class racing Wally.
Neal, who runs Super Stock/P Automatic, was the only racer entered into the division this year, and as a result, ended up in the Super Stock/Automatic combo.
Neal survived the four-round battle, beating Fred Allen’s truck for the victory.
THE DRAGGIN’ WAGON, PT. 2 - Tim Weinzapfel competes in Stock Eliminator at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. He is competing with an R/Stock 1966 Bel Air Wagon.
“I was looking to get into the Stock Eliminator race, and I was looking for something a little bit less expensive than some of these cars,” Weinzapfel said. “It popped up, and I didn’t want a wagon, not necessarily one this big but it’s what came up, and that’s what I bought. I was looking for something. I wanted it to be a Chevy. I wanted something with a four-speed in it and the small-block motor, and this came up, and here we go.”
On the Bel Air Wagon, it has that he set four national events. It says the records were set in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011. All of were set at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
“We were doing it pretty regular for a while,” he said. “It was something I always wanted to do. I always wanted to have a national record and we did it for years and kind of got away from it. I’m getting lazy in my old age and don’t want to tear the motor down. You’ve got to go through that after you set the record. So that might have something to do with it.”
While Weinzapfel comes to Lucas Oil Raceway at least four times a year despite being approx. 200 miles away in Indiana, he doesn’t feel like there’s any pressure competing at the track.
“No, because there’s a lot of guys are a whole lot better than me,” he said. “I try sometimes but I’m not so good, but I do the best I can.”
With his Bel Air Wagon, he is slower than traditional cars that he would face on the dragstrip. He gets a head start.
“I like the wagon because you can look out when the car is chasing after you,” Weinzapfel said. “In my car, you run in the 13 second range and most of them are always at least one or two seconds faster. So I get that handicap and I’ve got a lot of windows in it so you can turn around and see where they’re coming and kind of judge the finish line and see how you’re going to do.”
The Wagon, according to Weinzapfel, has gone 12.89 or 12.90 at 103 miles per hour.
“It’s hard to judge,” he said with his speed in the break out class. “If my car is running 102 and a guy is coming up on you running 150 mph, it’s really hard for me to judge, too, if he’s coming by like that. It’s pretty tough to judge the finish line.
“The whole deal is that you have to be able to cut a light. The whole race is that. Sometimes, I’m okay and sometimes, I’m not okay. But it’s all right there at the starting line. I know the car is pretty consistent. You’ve got to be able to cut a light to get down there.”
STICKING TO HIS DREAM - Distance is only a number, just ask Dan Williams.
Williams, a drag racer from the United Kingdom, had his 1969 Nova shipped from the United Kingdom so that he could race in Thursday’s A/Stock Challenge, class eliminations for the top of the line for conventional Stockers.
“We love stock eliminator, and we know we have to race stock in Sweden because in the UK, we don’t have NHRA Stock,” Williams explained. “We’ve been racing for quite a few years and we figured well, we got to go to the home of the best racing in the world. So we got to come to the US, and we’re just having a ball.”
This year’s event was not the first time for Williams and his brother, as they brought their AA/Stock Automatic Camaro to last year’s event.
In the United States where a stick-shifted Stocker is in the minority
“It’s just something about a car with a 4-speed, letting that clutch out, leaf spring car,” Williams explained. “These things are wild to draw. It used to be an automatic car. I changed the stick, and I just have so much fun with the car. You go down the track and you’re really fighting it, it’s like driving an old pro stock car. It’s just so much fun. And once you’ve had a stick, you never go back.”
Racing a stick car at the most prestigious drag race in the world, there are just no words strong enough to describe the euphoria.
“I’m going all goose-pimply now thinking about it,” Williams admitted. “You go on YouTube, and you watch all the legendary races like Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, all the old guys, and you feel so special you’re on the same turf as all these famous guys. They’re my hero for this type of stuff, and I don’t know, it just gets the Goosebumps going. It’s unbelievable.”
FIRST TIME INDY FOR THIS VETERAN - Jeff Brooks has been racing in Top Sportsman for nearly the past 11 years. Yet, for the first-time, he is competing in the category at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
"Somebody asked me that for years, “How come we never go to Indy?,” Brooks said. "The reason we never went to Indy when I raced Super Gas and Super Comp is that you have to take off five or six days to get here. Time to get here and everything. So we never really scheduled it and then I was telling everybody, “It’s just another quarter mile drag race.” I've won the Summernationals twice, which is a big deal. But when I got here it wasn’t a big deal. And then when you pull underneath the tower you’re like, “This is pretty cool. I'm racing at Indy, this is where all the history is, they did the shave [with Don Garlits] and everything.”
"Until I fired up, pulled under the tower and did the burnout, I thought it was no big deal. But it was a big deal to me to be at the track for the first time."
Brooks will face Kynon Dinkel in the first round of eliminations in the category. He went 6.481 at 216.76 mph and qualified 8th in the Top Sportsman presented by RacingRVs.com Elimination Ladder.
"As you soon as you get up here, you’ve got to do your job," he said. "So then it all kind of fits in, but we made our fastest past we've ever made here yesterday. First pass. Fastest I’ve ever been on the race track and is here at Indy. That’s pretty cool. We know the car can go faster. I've got a different combination in this year. We have a new motor but with the tune-up we had in there, we're coming off too good. We won last week in Cecil County [Cecil County Dragway in Rising Sun, Maryland] and runner up in Atco [Atco Dragway in Atco, New Jersey]. We've been to two straight finals the last two race weeks. We didn't touch the car. We went out and ran about a tenth faster than we’ve ever been."
With the success that Brooks has had in recent race weekends, he is hoping to continue that success at the biggest race of the year.
"I’ve been racing a long time," Brooks said. "The racing Gods humble you real quick in this sport. So haven't been to two finals back-to-back [until recently]. I’d like to make it three I can tell you that right now."
Winning a Wally at this prestigious race can make or break a driver. It would mean even more for the first Top Sportsman and Top Dragster drivers when they win. Previously, those categories have not raced at this event.
"It would be pretty amazing," he said. "We won the SummerNationals back-to-back. It was a year off in between. It was back-to-back for Top Sportsman. We won it back in 2015 and 2017, then we won the Thunder Valley Nationals last year on Father's Day. I think winning your first Nationals is a big deal. Second was a big deal. Winning on Father's Day last year with my dad, it was a big deal for Bristol. But I think Indy is the crown jewel."
"You do the same thing you do every weekend when you're racing. The venue's the venue, right? But I think what makes this difficult is it's spread out over a number of days. We're going to make a pass this afternoon about one o'clock and then we won't run the first-round until tomorrow night. So, it's basically over 24 hours before you run the first round."
What makes it difficult for a driver is this event is spread out. Instead of traditionally being Thursday through Sunday with a national event with a strict schedule of usually several passes within one day, this event has so many cars that it is held Wednesday through Monday.
"I think it's a lot harder," Brooks said. "I really do. I mean because I'm used to getting in a rhythm. You get in a rhythm, you get going. I always tell everyone the hardest round is the first round. The caliber of competition is pretty much everywhere you go -- the competition is the same. But the neat thing here is you got the best of the best across the country here. When you look at the sheet, number one guy is here, the number two guy is here, etc."
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK - STOCK ELIMINATOR TAKES CENTER STAGE ON DAY TWO
DANIELS PACES HEMI CHALLENGE - After making the fifth-best quarter-mile pass in Wednesday’s opening qualifying session for the 19th annual NHRA Dodge Hemi Challenge, three-time consecutive and reigning champion Jimmy Daniels couldn’t wait to make his second and final qualifying run Thursday afternoon. The 23-year-old driver delivered the best run of the day powering his Super Stock 1968 Dodge Dart to earn his first career No. 1 qualifier position at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
“I didn’t really think getting that No. 1 position was really possible with the warmer weather today,” said the Yardley, Penn. native, who will vie for his record-setting fourth straight triumph Friday. “We really worked on it coming into today. For us to come back tomorrow and win another Dodge Hemi Challenge, it’s going to take a lot of consistency, a lot of fine tuning by Ray and Dave Barton and I have to do a good job on the tree.”
Now in its 19th year, the Hemi Challenge contested during the NHRA U.S. Nationals continues to showcase Mopar-powered 1968 Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda Super Stock cars. Drivers compete for the iconic 42.6-pound NHRA Dodge Hemi Challenge trophy and $15,000 winner’s purse awarded after Friday’s elimination rounds.
Daniels held the fifth position following Wednesday’s first qualifying session and admitted some minor adjustments were needed today in order to claim the top spot. Daniels was spot on in the left lane Thursday afternoon after clocking a run of 8.473 to edge Wednesday’s provisional pole holder Steve Comella, who’s run of 8.480 seconds in his 1968 Plymouth Barracuda held up for the No. 2 spot. Comella’s 156.68 mph from Wednesday’s qualifying run topped the field.
Gary Wolkwitz, last year’s runner-up and No. 2 qualifier, raced his Super Stock 1968 Dodge Dart to the No. 3 position ahead of Canadian runner Wendell Howes while inaugural 2001 Hemi Challenge winner Bucky Hess completed the top-five in his 1968 Plymouth Barracuda.
Qualifying spots sixth through 10 are Doug Fazzolare, Jim Pancake, Rich Locker, Stephen Hebert and Gus Mantas.
The field of Hemi Challenge cars will participate in a parade on Friday, August 30, prior to the first-round eliminations, with the championship final round slated for Friday evening, just before NHRA Nitro qualifying.
The NHRA Dodge Hemi Challenge showcases Super Stock/A-HEMI (SS/AH) NHRA Sportsman class competitors battling on the quarter-mile in 1968 Mopar package cars, powered by the legendary 426 Hemi engine. The Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracuda Super Stockers are one of the earliest and most iconic iterations of the purpose-built vehicles created at the factory. The cars feature distinct race packages and are for use solely on the drag strip. The Dodge Dart and Plymouth Barracudas are precursors to the modern-day package car — the Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak.
KING OF THE BEASTS - Let the record reflect, there’s a new beastmaster in town.
A/ Stock, the top of the food chain for traditional Stockers, has a new champion in the supremacy of the A/Stock Challenge, the annual battle of the machines, now in its eleventh season.
Randy Mans made his trip from Minnesota worthwhile as he overcame a holeshot from defending event champion Caleb McFarland.
Mans’ 346-inch powered, 2000 Pontiac Firebird drove around McFarland with a 9.807, 140.43 for the victory. McFarland lost with a 9.862.
Mans took the international route to the finals by stopping first Englishman Dan Williams and then Swedish drag racer Markus Svensson.
McFarland’s day started with a bye run for pacing the 11-car field, then took out his dad Bret McFarland and the beautiful 1967 Corvette of Brett Saurbaugh.
The victory marked the fourth class title for Mans.
Man’s qualified for Stock final eliminations at No. 93, while McFarland was No. 106.
CLASS IS IN SESSION - Stock Eliminator took center stage as class eliminations got underway to determine the best of the best. Here are the results.
W: 5500 Randy Mans, Rogers, Minn. ('00 Firebird/346) .092 9.807 140.34
L: 353 Caleb McFarland, Manchester, Ohio ('01 Firebird/346) .068 9.862 134.75
W: 1117 J. Wayne Totaro, Essex, Md. ('00 Firebird/346) .056 10.131 132.97
L: 1322 Tim Bishop, Queenstown, Md. ('97 Firebird/350) .048 10.314 130.48
W: 2040 Ken Vaughn, Columbia, Tenn. ('96 Corvette/350) .036 10.420 128.14
L: 4121 Kyle Ratcliff, Denton, Texas ('98 Firebird/350) .000 10.669 126.52
W: 4109 Sheila Holt, Houston, Texas ('66 Nova/327) .030 10.393 126.16
L: 2217 Brian Rogers, Franklin, Tenn. ('69 Camaro/302) -.020 24.779 58.21
W: 1741 Matt Welker, Clear Spring, Md. ('68 Camaro/350) .082 10.568 124.79
L: 5147 James Tolston, Lincoln, Neb. ('04 GTO/346) .002 14.830 89.35
W: 3113 David Walther, Lanesville, Ind. ('69 Camaro/350) .029 10.774 122.43
L: 1041 Steve Welker, Tower City, Pa. ('69 Camaro/350) .106 10.771 122.07
W: 3492 Donnie Beeler, Elizabethtown, Ky. ('91 Corvette/350) .016 10.875 121.04
L: K169 Bill Kelly, Long Point, N.B. ('78 Nova/350) .027 10.909 120.85
W: 3074 Tommy Turner, Tompkinsville, Ky. ('85 Mustang/302) .082 11.431 114.75
L: 3608 Bill Sempsrott, Franklin, Ohio ('66 Nova/283) -.194 11.572 114.38
W: 3700 Doug Box, London, Ont. ('69 Camaro/427) .038 10.370 127.81
L: 1340 Scott Gove, Dennysville, Maine ('69 Camaro/396) -.011 10.085 132.97
W: 7980 Steve Wann, Modesto, Calif. ('62 Fury/413) .019 9.865 133.61
L: 1044 John Shaul, Fultonham, N.Y. ('64 Fury/426) .074 9.937 132.36
W: 1499 Jim Boudreau, Tewksbury, Mass. ('69 Camaro/396) .069 9.969 131.06
L: 1614 Barry Parker, Southampton, Mass. ('70 Camaro/402) .063 10.063 130.81
W: 4705 Bobby Brannon, Bossier City, La. ('15 Camaro/376) .062 9.990 132.50
L: 2455 Jason Line, Troutman, N.C. ('70 Gran Sport/455) .053 10.015 131.27
W: 3207 Andrew Hill, Oak Park, Mich. ('70 Camaro/350) .116 10.281 127.11
L: 339L Randi Lyn Shipp, Floyds Knobs, Ind. ('67 Firebird/400) .044 10.537 124.06
W: 43 Jimmy Hidalgo Jr., Donaldsonville, La. ('04 GTO/346) .051 10.525 117.25
L: 3393 Darrell Steiger, Clayton, Ind. ('70 Challenger/340) -.006 10.803 122.73
W: 350 Doug Duell, Newburgh, Ind. ('69 Barracuda/383) .070 10.636 123.72
L: 3340 Chuck Beach, Delaware, Ohio ('68 Barracuda/340) -.006 10.704 122.88
BIG CHANCE AT THE BIG GO - Alison Prose is a local driver from Indiana. When she was young, she grew up at the race track and around cars.
She began her racing career in Jr. Dragsters. However, this weekend at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, the young driver competing in Super Gas and Super Comp.
“It’s not too bad with these two cars since they’re both index classes,” she said. “I’m running pretty similar setups. Mentally, I prepare myself the same way. In Super Gas, this weekend, I’m a really slow car because normally this is a Super Street car. So I’m probably one of the lowest mile-per-hour cars in the class. So when I get in that Super Gas car, I’m more prepared to be chased hard on the big end.
“In Super Comp, it’s not so much like that. But, yeah in Super Gas, I’m definitely more prepared to be getting chased down and having a little harder time judging the stripe, but as far as mentally preparing for the pass goes, really it’s the same for each car. I’m getting in, getting on the pro tree and trying to run the index.”
Prose said it’s harder to judge being the slower car in her Camaro that runs in Super Gas this weekend when she is going down the track. Typically, outside of this weekend, she said her Camaro runs in Super Street.
She said she has been competing in Super Street/Super Gas for the last year.
“It’s just a little harder to judge when you’re the slower car because you’re trying to look back for them,” Prose said. “When you’re the faster car, you’re just looking right up at them, and you know exactly where you are. It’s a little harder to judge when you’re the slower car trying to judge someone coming up on you with a 20 mile per hour gap or 30 mile per hour gap.”
While Prose has to focus on her competitors coming down the track in Super Gas, she also has to focus on her car going down the track.
“It takes a lot of multi-tasking,” she said. “You have to be able to multitask and focus on a couple different things at once.”
Prose has been competing at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals for the last three years. However, she said she has been attending this race over the past 15 years, mostly as a fan.
“I feel so lucky to live around here,” Prose said. “Not only with just this race, but all of the big tracks we have around here and all the really nice facilities. But just to have this track here, you get to a certain age and you realize, ‘Wow, this race is really a big deal.’ That’s pretty cool. But that’s right close to home.”
BOUDREAU GETS NO. 11 - Veteran drag racer Jim Boudreau is mostly known for his exploits in Super Stock, but on Thursday he showed his versatility behind the wheel of a Stocker.
Boudreau waded his way through a 10-car B/Stock Automatic class to score his eleventh career NHRA class eliminations title, stopping Barry Parker’s 1970 Camaro.
Boudreau’s victory came at the expense of Jeff Jerome, and Jamie Southards before getting the bye run into the finals.
The quickest of the B/Stockers was the 2015 Camaro of Marion Stephenson.
FAMILY TRADITION - Doug Doll Jr. is following in his father’s footsteps of being a drag racer. He has been racing since he was 15-years-old.
A short time after Doll Jr. began his career, he won the most prestigious race on the calendar. He won the 1999 U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis in Super Comp Dragster in Brownsburg, Indiana
“You know that was a pretty special moment,” he said. “I had never been past the fourth round at a race in my life until that day and everything just came together. I mean the car was good, the driver was good when he had to be not so much when he didn't have to be but everything just kind of came together and it’s kind of a blur when we ran the last five rounds of competition on one day and just going up there every round and seeing less and less cars and still be in there.
“I knew I had made it to the semis. It felt like it was just an awesome day and if it ended there, I know I would have been satisfied at that point, but looking back on it now, I sure am glad we pulled it off because I've been coming here every single year since and I have not accomplished in a second time.”
In drag racing, a U.S. Nationals Wally can make or break a career. He was lucky enough to win his right out of high school.
“A lot pf people had told me at the time, I was 18 years old, fresh out of high school,” Doll Jr. said. “Everybody said, ‘You don’t realize what you’ve accomplished.’ At the time, I didn’t. In my mind, I had just won my first drag race, but to put it in perspective, somebody had competed at every single one of the U.S. Nationals -- Al Brown -- told me, ‘you do not realize what you’ve done.’ I said, ‘I’ve just won my first race.’ He said, ‘no, you won THE race.’ He said I’ve been here every single year since the very first one in Kansas (Great Bend Municipal Airport in Great Bend, Kansas in 1955) and I’ve never won it. So this better mean something to you kid.”
Doll Jr. has special memories of these grounds.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Like I said, I’ve come every year since and honestly, there’s some years that I probably had no business being here -- just the car wasn’t running right or I wasn’t in the right mental frame to be trying to win a race, but every single year, I’ve come back.”
While a second Wally at the prestigious U.S. Nationals still eludes him, he has won an NHRA Championship. He won the Competition Eliminator Championship in 2016.
“That was pretty special,” Doll Jr. said. “That’s honestly I think probably the goal everybody sets out for, but honestly, I never thought it was something that was achievable. When Charlie Greco stepped in and asked me if I wanted to drive for him, I felt that was my opportunity to actually achieve that. Working for him, he’s a good guy. He spends what it takes to win and is willing to do whatever it takes to win, so that was how it all seemed to come together.
“I knew we would have a good team and I knew we’d win a lot of races together, but to think that we would be able to get together and in one year’s time, end up winning the championship, I didn’t see that on my end. I was just getting comfortable enough in the car to win enough to do that for them. I knew they were a championship team. I just didn’t know if I was going to fit into their end of the deal.”
Lately, he has been focusing much of his attention in Super Comp. He said it was not easy to work on both cars at one race.
“Not so much that I wanted to switch,” Doll Jr. “I’ve driven two cars at one race already and it’s just kind of hard to do if you don’t have a big crew or a lot of people helping you, it takes away from the other one if you’re not on top of it. So, I kind of just put the Super Comp thing on the back burner, while I was racing Comp, and now that I’m not really doing as many Comp Eliminator races, we dug the Super Comp Dragster out again, and we’ll go Super Comp Racing.”
This weekend, Doll Jr. will attempt to win his second U.S. Nationals Wally. When he won in 1999, the race was just known as the U.S. Nationals.
“We made our first pass so far this weekend, and doing pretty good so far, an 8.88, pretty close to the index,” he said. “And the driver let go of the button on time. So, if you can do that eight times and eliminations, maybe we;ll get somewhere here.”
A MAN AND HIS SAVOY - Doug Martin is driving a 1963 Plymouth Savoy in Super Gas at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. He bought the car four years ago from a friend.
“He was building a new car and he said, “You need to buy my Super Gas car and go racing with me,’” Martin said. “So he threw this ridiculous price at me and I couldn't turn it down. So I bought it and we've been running together for four years now. We've been to Gainesville. We've been to Denver and Earlville, Iowa [Tri-State Raceway], Topeka. He's chased me all over the country. But we have a good time and he's like a little brother to me. I've known Scott for 15 years probably.”
When Scott offered him the deal to race, Martin was already competing.
“To get into the Super Gas, I thought, ‘that's a really good deal because it's a 9.90 index,’ he said. “Everybody runs 9.90 and I was running bracket racing and that's a whole different deal than this. I just love this. I'm having a lot of fun with it and it's been a great time.
“Last year at Brainerd, I went three rounds at the national event and that made me so happy. It was indescribable. To go that far in a national event as a novice that I am, I don't get to all the races. I get a couple. But all my friends that drag race, they come up. I’ve got a friend that's coming right now to help with the crew. He always comes to Brainerd to help me. These guys are really supportive of me. When I first started racing the nostalgia car, they were up every race. They'd bring the camper up and stay the whole weekend. They're really, really supportive of me.”
Martin said when he went the rounds, it felt like he won the event.
“Definitely,” he said. “I haven't gone rounds here. I didn’t trust my number I put in the computer on the car when I did go rounds and I lifted it at 1,000-feet. I learned my lesson -- don't lift. So now this weekend we're going to trust the number that goes into the computer.”
Martin is competing at the biggest drag race.
“This is a thrill of a lifetime,” he said. “This is my fourth time here, third time racing. This is the drag race of the year. I told my friend if I won the first round here, I’d say I won the whole US Nationals and we could be ready to pack up and go because I'd be really proud of myself if we even won one round here. There's so many cars and there's so many quality drivers out here that that's all that they do is run Super Gas. There's 133 cars in Super Gas.”
THE RAREST OF THE RARE - This classification would be reserved for the AA/Stock Automatic division. Traditionally AA/SA has featured combinations with a production of fewer than 50 cars. This would be your rare Yenko cars, among others.
This year’s AA/Stock Automatic division was won by Doug Box’s ’69 Camaro, stopping fellow classic Camaro pilot Scott Gove.
Unfortunately, none of the AA/SA cars made the final qualified field.
V IS FOR VICTORY - One of the more popular classes with a cult following is the V/Stock Automatic division. The great thing about the division is that it produces entertaining oddball combinations. This year, Dan Tool, behind the wheel of his 140-cubic inch 1980 Mustang slew the giant in McNeil Freeman, whose 1985 Caprice is powered by a 262-inch engine.
McNeil left first, but the overachieving Mustang reeled him in for the 15.02-to-15.13 victory. Unfortunately, neither driver qualified for final eliminations.
TWICE AS NICE - One year ago, Devin Isenhower won the prestigious Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. This year, Isenhower is back to attempt to win another Wally.
He won the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals Wally in 2018 in Super Gas. This weekend, he will be competing in Super Gas and Super Comp.
“It was my first national event win and I was chasing the national points last year and I needed to do good at national events,” he said. “With that win, it was what ultimately brought me the national championship and for that to be my first national event win, it was crazy. But the thing about it is since this is my home track, I grew up here and I come out here. I raced all the time here. I raced junior dragsters here. I come out here and bracket race whenever we're not busy somewhere else.
“So to me, it just felt like a normal race and it's been a year and it’s still starting to sink in what the magnitude of it is after having the year that I'm having this year where we've been struggling. To hopefully do good at this race would turn the year completely around. This one race could change your entire year.”
Isenhower will be tasked with completing in two separate classes and juggling the driving responsibilities.
“They're two totally different cars, but yet again, I try to keep my routine very similar in both cars and they both follow the same premise,” Isenhower said. “It's the same concept but it's just a different seat. You're doing the same thing, but it's just in a different car. We try to keep them as close to similar to each other as possible.”
Isenhower said despite being a Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis regular, he feels no pressure competing at the track. He said it feels normal to compete here, even with this big state
“No added pressure, not really,” he said. “I'm comfortable with this track. We race the Divisional races here. We race the Fall Classic and I feel comfortable here. So I don't have that added pressure, but we have plenty of laps at this track. So we know it and I think that helped us last year and I think that gave me less pressure.”
Besides competing regularly at this track, Isenhower has been a part of the JEGS All-Stars for the last two seasons.
“It’s really awesome,” Isenhower said. “I love that event. It brings the best of the best people from even Division Seven out in California. They come for just that race and it’s really tough to qualify for it. I’ve been fortunate enough to make my last points race to try to quality for that. It’s been make or break, and I’ve been able to come out on the right side of that. So just to be able to go and race that race is awesome. It’s really though racing. This year, I lost in the second round in Super Comp of the JEGS All-Stars. I raced Ray Miller -- and if you know Ray Miller -- he’s been on a tear and he’s done really, really good. We had a really close race and I came up on the wrong side of it. It’s tough competition and that race brings some of the best racers out there.”
MOONLIGHTING - Kenny Carson is a clutch assistant for Clay Millican’s Straightline Strategy Group’s Top Fuel Dragster. However, at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, he’s competing in Super Comp besides his normal responsibilities with Millican’s team.
“This is my first national event I've ever entered,” Carson said. “The schedule kind of lined up so it doesn't conflict too much with the Top Fuel. Some of the guys were willing to do a little bit more work for me and made the schedule work.
“I'm super excited. I can't wait. Hopefully I get first round win today. This is my first ever national. So hoping to go a few rounds. I'd love to just win first round and be able to race and work tomorrow on Clay's car. I think that'll be pretty neat. So I'm excited.”
He had to get permission from Owner Doug Stringer, Crew Chief Mike Kloeber, and pilot Clay Millican to compete.
“They're really supportive,” he said. “So they were like, ‘Go do it’ and we'll make it work.”
When Carson is racing in Super Comp, it is racing for his family’s operation. His father is the owner of the team, and also drives the dragster when his son cannot due to his schedule.
“It's pretty cool,” he said. “It's just me and my dad, so we work on it during the week. Make sure it's ready to go. We're always together. We travel together. Either I meet my dad or he meets me. Just me and him. We do everything but you know, we have one of our friends, who does the motors for us and we help out and it's a family sport, so we get to spend every weekend together. So it's pretty cool.
“I run 24 national events and then every off weekend, I'm racing our own car in Super Comp or Bracket racing. Sometimes my dad enters national events. So that's pretty cool when he's there running as well. He'll run it at certain national events that I can't which, this is the only one I've ever done, so he'll do a select few as well in Super Comp.”
Carson said he has bonded with Millican since being a part of the team. He said the two talk more about Sportsman racing than the actual Top Fuel Dragster.
"We talk about the Super Comp car more than the Top Fuel car," he said. "It's pretty cool. I've learned something from him. And yeah, I really enjoy working with him. He's a sportsman racer, too, so we get along and we have a lot of fun over there. I really enjoy it."
Carson has gone to four final rounds as part of Millican's team this year. In the off-season, Millican was reunited with Mike Kloeber as his crew chief and the team is having a lot of success.
The team also has three No. 1 qualifiers this season.
"It's pretty cool," he said. "It's cool having Kloeber back. He's not afraid to try new things to run low ET and really go for it. We're due for a win. Four runner-ups. Some number one qualifiers, so hopefully, we get a win this weekend."
WEDNESDAY NOTEBOOK - SLOW START COMES TO A QUICK CONCLUSION
AN INAUSPICIOUS START - The first day of competition at the biggest event of the year in drag racing began on a delay. Officials estimated it would be at least noon before cars hit the track. The Noon start eventually stretched to 3 PM, as a multitude of rigs took up space in both east and west staging lanes.
The issue that the NHRA officials faced were wet ground. As a result, teams were not been able to park in their locations for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
“We’re on a three-hour delay because the grounds were very wet when we went to start parking,” Mike Rice, NHRA Pacific Division Director said. “That delayed the parking – we broke three tow truck cables in pulling rigs out. They got stuck when we went to park them. We couldn’t get everything done, so we’re still parking cars this morning. We’re giving everyone time to set up, teched in and registered.”
There are 820 Sportsman entries, including the Top Alcohol Dragsters and Top Alcohol Funny Cars, who will be competing at The Big Go over the course of the next week for the most prestigious Wally in Motorsports.
STOCK FIELD SET, CLASS RACING CENTER STAGE - The first day of the marathon Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals began under a delay but came storming through at the conclusion.
Gary Summers opened Wednesday’s first session by driving his U/Stock 1977 Mustang to a 12.842, good enough for -1.808 under the index. Bill Dyer’s Factory Stock/K late-model Mustang was second quickest with a 10.196, -1.704 performance. Randy Hopkins was third in his Factory Stock/B Mustang with an 8.545, -1.455 under the index.
There were 154 Stockers to make the first call Wednesday afternoon.
In Super Stock, Ernie Neal cruised to the top of the Super Stock ladder in his four-door Caprice, nailing the Super Stock/P Automatic index with a 10.902 elapsed time, -1.74 under the index. Lincoln Morehead was second quickest with a 9.710, -1.290 while Paul Candies was third with his FGT/B 2012 Mustang, carding a 7.959, -1.241.
The Dodge Hemi Shootout got in one qualifying session, and it was Joe Comella’s New York-based Dart leading the pack with a 8.480. Gary Wolkwitz was second with an 8.532. Wendell Howes was third, recording an 8.564.
Competition resumes at 8 AM, on Thursday with the first round of Stock class eliminations.
HOLY STICK-SHIFTERS BATMAN - Every Thursday of the NHRA U.S. Nationals, Stock Eliminator class eliminations take center stage. At the top of the traditional Stock food chain, the A/Stock Challenge brings out the best of the best.
After seasons of just four entries and then six, a total of 11 entries will square off for the prestigious class trophy.
This annual showdown of the gnarliest race cars in the Stock Eliminator roster debuted as the vision of Jim Schaechter, a longtime Stock eliminator competitor.
The class has become the stomping grounds for father and son duo Brett and Caleb McFarland.
Brett, the inaugural winner in 2008, beams with pride at this season’s massive entry list.
“You’re going to have to win four rounds this time to win it,” McFarland pointed out. “It’s a class whether you have a Ford, Chevy, Pontiac, or Mopar, you can bring it to the A/Stock Challenge. Every year, the racers keep bringing more.
“Generally, you would only think there are only 11 of these cars in the world.”
Worldwide, there are two international competitors, Englishman Dan Williams, and Swede Markus Svensson.
Williams has raced his 1969 Nova across The Pond, and decided this was the year to bring his machine over to battle it out with the best.
“We love Stock Eliminator,” Williams said. “We don’t have NHRA Stock in the United Kingdom. We’ve been racing this car for a while, so we figured the time has come to bring it to the home of the best Stock drag racing in the world. We are having a ball.”
DON’T FEED IT AFTER MIDNIGHT - Traditionally, you would see a dragster compete in Super Comp. However, at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, those in attendance will see an AMC Gremlin in compete in the category.
Local racer Don Rayburn drives the 1972 AMC Gremlin. He has been running the AMC Gremlin at Lucas Oil Raceway and NMCA events since 1975 and also competed in it in Nostalgic Pro Street with it.
The vehicle has a 632 cubic inch motor and makes 1,400 horsepower. The car has done 7.45 at 189 mph.
“It’s a little tougher because you got the dragsters, where they got the long wheelbase, and they are so consistent,” Rayburn said. “Nowadays, it’s just money and electronics.”
When he is facing a dragster, he said he cannot make up the difference. He will attempt to run the 8.90 or break out.
“You’ve just got to turn in the right throttle stops, the right timers and the right dial-ins so that you can run 8.90,” he said. “They use the throttle stop just like I do, and they use timers just like I do. It’s all about who’s got the best equipment to tell you what to put in the box, so you run the 8.90 class.”
He said he has an advantage over the dragsters. He said what he does is put time in the timer, or take time out of the timer.
“To make the difference on these, if it’s not too hot outside and you go too slow, you just take time out so you can run the 8.90 or if you go too fast, you put time in. You can’t go fast on 8.90, or you break out. You don’t want that because you lose automatically.”
“On Super Comp Dragsters, they have the 8.90 index box back by the engine. However, on the AMC Gremlin, he does not have the same 8.90 index box.
“It’s just got Super Comp honestly, so they know it’s automatically 8.90,” Rayburn said. “The only reason they got the 8.90 time on the trackers, they put 8.90 because most of them run bracket racing. So that’s just an 8.90 they put on the car. It doesn’t make a different. When they go up, the starter knows they’re all 8.90. They just put 8.90 up because they must go bracket racing. They change that dial-in for what they want to run.”
He has also used the AMC Gremlin in Top Sportsman at some events.
“I’ve just had this car so long, and I’ve drag raced for so long. You know when your car is paid for, and your trailer is paid for, I’m not like everybody else. If it doesn’t cost you anything to sit there, if you don’t have the money, you don’t go. If you got the money, you go. When I ran a Nostalgia Pro Street, it’s traveling everywhere, but you have to be competitive because it costs so much money to travel. This is why you can’t get most of your people to travel because fuel is outrageous, and maintenance is outrageous. Everything is outrageous anymore to go bracket racing.
“You want to go bracket racing you just got to go race the big races or stay home. The national events are like it but say you won a national event, and you had all your stickers; you don’t win a ton of money. If you don’t win first or second, you don’t get anything. Unless you let you go into bracket racing, where there’s a $5,000, $10,000 or a million-dollar race. You pay the entry fee, and you win money. I come here because I like Raceway Park, I love the NHRA and I love to run Super Comp.”
SLOW RIDE - It’s not fast, but it’s slow.
Ellis Buth has heard all the jokes, and while they might be good for a chuckle. He’s all business when he pulls his 113 horsepower 1976 Pinto to the starting line.
Buth runs W/Stock with his 140-cubic inch gear-jammer with the inspiration from his brother.
“My brother started with an automatic Pinto and he found this Pinto and we decided to go with a stick shift,” Buth explained.
Buth ran 15.68s in Friday’s qualifying, an impressive but unqualified -.718 under the 16.80 index. Rarely does Buth start first once eliminations begin.
“When they’re coming at you 80 or 90 miles an hour faster than you’re going, its makes you wonder,” Buth admitted.
In Stock Eliminator the name of the game isn’t in being the quickest and fastest. It’s who can master their index the best.
“You’ve got to be under the index especially at this race to qualify,” Buth said. “At a divisional level you just have to be under the index and that’s it. But here you’ve got to be way under.”
Being the slower car does have both its advantages and disadvantages.
“You do get to leave first,” Buth explained. “The other guy has to wait. Other than that, I don’t know that we have a whole lot of advantage. Just that we get the chance to make a mistake first and then the other guy has to wait.”
Let the record reflect, Buth has doled out a head start before.
“There’s a few front-wheel-drive cars that are just a touch slower than me,” Buth said with a smile.
The best thing about the old Pinto?
“It does get a lot of attention,” Buth said. “They must have sold a million of them because everybody had one.”