POST SCRIPT PHOENIX - FISHY STORY, INSULT OR FAVOR?, KA-BOOM!

 

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The season is only two races old – less than one month old – and already we have shenanigans and controversy.

We know Elvis was wrong. We CAN go on together with suspicious minds, and we will. And drag-racing folks simply will have to build their dreams on suspicious minds. But yes, as Elvis sang, “Here we go again . . .”

This time the buzz following the Magic Dry NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park centers on a couple of matters: significant shrapnel and the Pro Stock class’ new TV show. And we give a special Hard Luck Award of the Week to Funny Car racer Jack Beckman.

Here’s a look at the post-Phoenix scene . . .

JUST SAYIN’ – Billy Torrence’s Top Fuel team got back the piece(s) of the rear-wing element that broke off during his qualifying run at the Winternationals at Pomona, Calif. But the story surrounding the return doesn’t quite add up.

CAPTION - The whole missing wing, returned wing thing sounds a little fishy. (Mark Rebilas photo)

Competition Plus asked crew chiefs Jason McCulloch and Walt Przybyl this past Friday at Chandler, Ariz., for an update on why the wing lost the center panel. McCulloch said, “We can’t really say what happened to it until we see the pieces, and NHRA has yet to produce the pieces for us. The manufacturer [Aerodine] would like to see it. We would like to see it. It’s important for us to be able to look at the parts, and I think that everybody needs to understand that.”

That sounds fair.

McCulloch also said, “It would be nice if NHRA would find it and give it to us. I’m serious. We’ve asked several times and haven’t received it back. NHRA knows. I mean, we’ve asked them several times to get the piece for us, and we still haven’t seen it. It did not fly into the stands. A guy on the track picked it up and carried it and set it alongside the guard wall. They had their hands on it. We just haven’t seen it since then. Somehow it’s disappeared. They say they can’t find it.”

That sounds strange.

First of all, Steve Torrence had posted messages on Facebook and Twitter mid-week last week, pleading for the piece or pieces back. From what McCulloch said, the NHRA didn’t deny it had the piece. One has to wonder what is so precious about that piece that the NHRA would hoard it and not allow the Capco Contractors team to have it? Never mind that no one from Team Torrence demanded it immediately after the run, but McCulloch was certain it was in the NHRA’s possession.

Then Competition Plus learned early Saturday that the wing miraculously had shown up – in Phoenix, in the pits. When Billy Torrence qualified No. 1, CP asked about the circumstances of the debris’ return. Here’s what Torrence said:   

“There was a fan who showed up at the gate, at the ropes, this afternoon. And the gentleman was carrying the missing piece of the wing that had blown off the car during qualifying at Pomona. He wanted that thing for a souvenir, had picked it up off the ground or something. So we all [the crew] turned around and started walking toward him. He actually had picked the wing up and taken it home and brought one piece of it back today. He’s going to bring the other piece back tomorrow. So we did find it and will help get it back to Aerodine. Hopefully they can figure out what’s going on there. It was the exact piece that we needed.”

Torrence also said the fan became a bit scared when the crew rushed over to him. He said the fellow put his hands up, as if to say, “Don’t hurt me” or in a protective fashion.

That sounds fishy.

What Billy Torrence said isn’t fishy. What’s suspicious is the story the “fan” provided. Here’s why it sounds oh-so-shady:

Let’s play along and say this “fan” is telling the truth. Evidently the person lives in the Phoenix area, for he said he had the second broken-off piece at his home and would bring it back to the racetrack Sunday. (Competition Plus has no knowledge that he did or didn’t do that.) So let’s even assume this person is a super-fan – after all, he claims he found the piece at the Winternationals, at Pomona, Calif., about 370 miles away. (That’s about a six-hour drive away, or an airplane flight costing around $200, maybe more.)

Surely someone that invested in traveling to NHRA races more than likely would follow the sport online. Especially if this “fan” had a cool piece of Billy Torrence’s wing as a souvenir, he surely would have peeked in on the Torrences to see if they made any mention of his treasured find. He couldn’t have missed Steve Torrence’s plea for the piece. So why did he hold onto it until Saturday morning of the Phoenix race? Why didn’t he contact the Torrence team and tell them he had the piece they were seeking? And why did he bring it to the Torrence pit? Was he earnestly trying to return it, or was he wanting them to autograph it? If the first choice was the case, what was his hold-up?

And why was he fearful that the crew would harm him? Anyone who sees a group of people dashing toward him could become startled. But if this super-fan who traveled to Pomona to watch a race and showed up at Event No. 2 at Phoenix just wanted to show off his cool souvenir, fear probably would not have been on his mind.

One also has to ask how in the world this “fan” would have gotten his hands on that piece (or those pieces). Logical procedure would be for the NHRA tech committee or the team to retrieve the piece(s), not leave it/them propped up against the guard wall that fans are not allowed to approach. Only credentialed photographers and team personnel are permitted to stand in that area. Furthermore, it’s extremely hard to envision everyone just leaving that piece/those pieces sitting there for a late-staying fan casually to walk over and swipe. Competition Plus even posed the scenario Friday to McCulloch that perhaps a fan grabbed it as a souvenir. McCulloch replied with a look that implied that clearly was not the case.

Moreover, the timing of the piece’s return is a little too contrived. Enough said.

Billy Torrence got his wing debris back. But it’s another shifty incident.

CAPTION - Will the new Pro Stock show deliver the excitement? We will see. 

IMAGINE THIS – Once again, the NHRA is trying to “fix” the Pro Stock class. This time it has given the factory hot rods short shrift on the Mello Yello broadcast but established a dedicated hour-long program of exclusive Pro Stock coverage. Here’s the real rub: Its debut was set for Tuesday night at 9 (Eastern Time).

Four-time Pro Stock Motorcycle series champion Eddie Krawiec stuck up for Pro Stock class – in perhaps a pre-emptive argument for his own. He took to social media to say, “WOW!! Did NHRA Pro Stock run in Phoenix? He congratulated the Phoenix winners but said Magic Dry Arizona Nationals finalists Jeg Coughlin and Matt Hartford and their sponsoring companies “got totally disrespected here. Not even a mention or clip of the finals or allowed in the winners circle for TV. I guess people will have to wait to watch on Tuesday. . . . Yes that is correct. Tuesday, two days after the event happened, to find anything out about NHRA Pro Stock Car. We now know that whoever watches the Sunday night NHRA TV show on FOX Sports FS1 will only know 2 Pro Classes exist. I'm sorry, but it is upsetting to me that NHRA & management thought this is the best way to go. I guess it's safe to say I know on weekends NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle doesn't race and they have events I will not need to plan out my Sundays to make sure I'm home to watch. Sorry, Brian Lohnes, Tony Pedregon, and Lewis Bloom, I guess I will only see and hear you guys at the races. Most people that know me know I support NHRA on a lot of things, but this one I must say really helps DEVALUE all the Pro Stock classes partnerships with in the series. Everyone that feels the same should let NHRA know how you feel. [email protected]

Pro Stock drivers Jeg Coughlin, Kenny Delco, Deric Kramer, Jason Line, and Chris McGaha – and even retired 2009 champion Mike Edwards – were among those tweeting encouragement to watch the program. But privately, a handful expressed their anger at the idea of a separate broadcast, not to mention the time slot..

But Erica Enders was the only one who had the courage of her convictions and stood up publicly to voice her opinion. To her credit, rather than simply complain, she was diplomatic in stating her disappointment, all while offering a strategy that sought to work within the system to improve the situation.

In a Facebook post Tuesday, the two-time series champion wrote, “Friends and fans.... I know we are all frustrated with lack of coverage Pro Stock has always received in the past and especially these last two races. In my heart, I lead the parade in feeling let down and disheartened BUUUUT NHRA and FS1 have come up with what they feel is a middle ground. Tonight FS1 will air the premier of hour dedicated 'Pro Stock Show'. This show is designed to give YOU, the fans, an inside look into Pro Stock instead of blasting through qualifying and eliminations in between Nitro coverage. Please do all of us a favor and tune in for our #ProStockWatchParty tonight from 9:00-10:00 PM ET. We need to rally together to support the class and the people who have worked so very hard to save it, and this is the perfect way to do so. Please don't let our valiant efforts go to waste with no viewership simply because we aren't happy with the current situation. Positive reaction brings positive change! I've read through a lot of your comments on this issue and believe me, I hear you. Even though we all know the results of the race, please tune in and give this stand-alone show a chance for success. We need to send a message to the NHRA that Pro Stock is as alive and well as we know it is. From the social media backlash, I believe they know that Pro Stock is a class that the fans want to see, and tonight we get a chance to prove it to them.”

In his own Facebook offering, Brian Lohnes, co-host of the show, acknowledged the attitudes and called the program “the most controversial show in NHRA history. HA!” He wrote, “Before you chuck rocks at my face, at least watch this thing and then let 'er rip. I can tell you that Bruno [Massel] and I are proud of this show, the content that is in it, and what it does to showcase an NHRA class that deserves it. This was not something that was just slapped together and sent out the door. There's work and pride here, which you will see. ‘But I know who won so I am not going to watch...’ Yep and if that is your hot take, that's fine. You can kick back with some ‘Bachelor’ reruns or maybe those lost episodes of ‘My 600-lb Life’ you have been trying to catch up on. My pea-sized brain kind of thinks that if you dig drag racing you'd want to watch a drag-racing show, but I also think the world is round, too. All the elimination rounds, cool tech, neat features, and stuff like in-car radio communications that will make your hair stand up. Hell, I'd bet a sawbuck that we'll hear from teams in the other classes asking, ‘Why can't we do that?’ Give it a shot, will ya?”

We’ll see what the feedback is following the Tuesday broadcast.

OOF – Jack Beckman already was bumming. “Losing is always frustrating. I feel like we have the better car and we lost to [Bob] Tasca by half a car length,” he said of his second-round finish Sunday. “The silver lining is we didn’t have the better car going into first round, and our guys put their heads together and came up with a great tune-up and we went right down the less-preferred lane and got a win light against Tim Wilkerson. You take your lessons, you take your lumps, and you move on.” He was seeking a measure of validation Monday, when he and his John Medlen-/Dean Antonelli-led Infinite Hero Dodge Charger team returned to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park to test their brand-new car.

“The plan is if that car tests well, it will become our new primary and our ‘old reliable’ we won’t touch. We’re going to stick it upstairs and if we ever need a race car, it will be our backup car,” Beckman said.

He said he was hoping the new edition would turn around his fortune as early as the upcoming 50th annual Gatornationals. But his hopes went ka-blooey in his third test pass.

Beckman reported, “The engine let go with an impressive explosion, followed by lots of fire. The chassis only has fire damage (brand new car), and the body wasn't our new Hellcat version. I appreciate everyone’s concern...I am perfectly fine due to all the safety equipment working flawlessly (thank you, Impact!). I wish the same could be said for our Infinite Hero Dodge Charger. We will come out swinging at the next race in Gainesville, and don't be surprised if we walk out with the 50th anniversary trophy. Stay tuned.”