POST SCRIPT POMONA - RANDOM RECOLLECTIONS FROM THE NHRA WINTERNATIONALS
Here are some random recollections and revelations from the Winternationals . . .
BY THE TIME I GET TO PHOENIX . . . – Steve Torrence is especially glad to return to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, where the week before the Winternationals he made a brief test-session appearance, nonchalantly posted the best elapsed time and speed (3.689, 328.78), and went home two days earlier than his competitors. This time he wants to regain the lead in the standings. Doug Kalitta ended Torrence’s streak of elimination round-wins at 57 and knocked him from the No. 1 position he had maintained since last year’s visit to Chandler, Ariz. At this year’s Magic Dry Arizona Nationals, Torrence will go after another Tony Schumacher NHRA record. After missing out on the chance to tie Schumacher’s record for consecutive Top Fuel victories, he’ll seek to eclipse Schumacher’s record for victories throughout the course of three consecutive seasons. Schumacher won 26 races from 2007-2009 campaigns. Torrence has 19 since the beginning of the 2017 season. Of course, he’d rather focus on winning races and championships and eventually pass Schumacher’s eight titles.
JUST WONDERING – Why did Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith have to wait until the Winternationals – February – to receive his jacket and ring? He claimed the title three months before, received his check, and made a speech at thr awards ceremony back in November. It’s true that Smith’s third title wasn’t a done deal until he beat Eddie Krawiec in the final round at the final event of the season Still, it would have been nice to see him receive his spoils of war the same day, like the other three Mello Yello Drag Racing Series champions did. This year was not the first time that has happened for a Pro Stock Motorcycle champion. But why is that? They should be celebrated right away when they lock up the title.
WORKING WITH FOUNDATION – Who says women can’t keep a secret? Courtney Force can. A Courtney Force sighting Saturday prompted a trackside public-address interview – which was one of her shortest and least enlightening. She was cordial but tight-lipped about her new life out of the seat of the Advance Auto Parts Camaro Funny Car . We learned she’s plugging her former sponsor and loves being at the racetrack with her family. No, we didn’t learn that – we already knew that.
She never mentioned last weekend that as of Jan. 29, she has joined her husband in the newly renamed Graham and Courtney Rahal Foundation, taking what the 501(c)3’s publicist Brooke Rowden called “a more significant role.”
Graham Rahal established the foundation in 2009, inspired by the philanthropy of his former team owner, the late actor Paul Newman. The organization has raised more than $1 million in support of United Rentals’ Turns for Troops program, One Cure, and the Flint Animal Cancer Center at Colorado State University. Its signature event is the Drivers Golf Tournament that in 2019 will be Thursday, May 23, at Indianapolis’ Broadmoor Country Club.
In a prepared statement Jan. 29, Courtney Force said, “I truly admire what Graham has done with his Foundation over the years and have tried to support those efforts where and when I could. I am extremely proud to now be joining my husband Graham to work together on growing the Graham & Courtney Rahal Foundation. I look forward to what we can accomplish in the future and am thrilled to be a part of this foundation that will focus on causes close to our hearts. I’m humbled to start this next chapter and look forward to doing what we can to help change lives.”
Graham Rahal said in that statement, “Courtney had an incredible career on the track. I have always been so proud of what she has accomplished. And when we spoke about her future goals, she made it very clear that she wants to play a bigger role in the Foundation. With that said, it is only natural that we change the name to reflect her increased involvement. Courtney is going to bring a ton of passion and energy to our efforts, and that will ultimately benefit those organizations that we support.”
BEST APPEARING CAR (CARS?) – The NHRA awarded the Best Appearing Car honor to Top Alcohol Funny Car racer Steve Gasparrelli, of West Covina, Calif., for his ’19 Chevrolet Camaro. But frequent Competition Plus photo contributor Ron Lewis found a close contender at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona after the Monday conclusion of the Winternationals. Surely this one from Costa Mesa, Calif., deserves at least honorable mention.
McMILLEN READY TO MIX IT UP – Terry McMillen set and reset his career-best performances in the first two rounds at Pomona on the way to a semifinal finish that put him in third place, his best-ever start to a season. He knew what he, crew chief Rob Wendland, and his crew and car were capable of doing, but he expressed surprise about how early his strategy is paying off. “The odds were really stacked against us coming here and doing well. We built an in-house car, added four new crew members, and didn’t get to test,” the Amalie Oil Dragster owner-driver said. “We came here with the same motor that we ran in the NHRA Finals and had a great weekend.
“We got better every run,” McMillen said of the 2019 Winternationals. “We’ve got a hot rod that can really compete this year.”
Although he bowed out against eventual winner Doug Kalitta (by only .0113 of a second), McMillen said, “I didn’t think I had a bad light. Doug just had a better one. He took out me, Billy [Torrence], and Steve [Torrence] on holeshots. Doug earned that victory.”
As for his own outlook, he said, “The car was happy all weekend. “Rob [Wendland] did a great job on our chassis. Now he has something he can work with. It’s responding to the changes he’s making. The best part of it all: we’re not even leaning on the motor. There’s a lot more left in it. A few tweaks here and there and we’ll be even more consistent. When is Phoenix?” The second of 24 Mello Yello Series events is February 22-24.
SERIOUS FUNNY CAR COMPETITION – Robert Hight was optimistic for the entire class after he earned the first Funny Car victory of the year in a showdown between the top two qualifiers. He nicked No. 2 Jack Beckman by .0073 of a second, or about four feet. “I think you are going to see a lot of racing like that all year long. It is that close and competitive. You look at the Funny Car class, and I think it is tougher this year than last year. And that is really saying something,”
HAGAN HAS A NEW THEORY – Matt Hagan, driver of the Mopar Express Lane Dodge Charger Hellcat Funny Car for Don Schumacher Racing, was unable to achieve a three-peat at the Winternationals. He fell in the first round this past Monday to John Force, who tried, also unsuccessfully, to earn his record-extending 150th victory. Hagan started fourth, which looked promising. But he said he has developed a new philosophy about performance in 2019.
After what he called “obviously not the Winternationals we were hoping for,” Hagan said, “We won this race the past two years in a row and were hoping to make it three. I think if maybe we struggle at the beginning of the season then we’ll do well at the end, because the last couple of years we’ve done well at the beginning and then stumbled at the end. At least that’s how I’m trying to look at it right now. Our MOPAR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is going down the race track, but it was just one of those things. We hit the bump out there and the clutch came at it really hard and pulled the tires loose. No excuses. On to the next race. But I think with the way we qualified and the way the cars been running, I’m happy with it.”
eCOPO eLECTRIC IN ACTION – Division 6 racer Pat McCue broke the 10-second barrier in Chevrolet’s eCOPO Camaro Saturday in an exhibition pass during Winternationals qualifying. McCue, who manages the eCOPO Camaro project with fellow Seattle-area drag racer Jeff Lane, registered a 9.837-second elapsed time at 134.07 mph. He took the all-electric concept car down the Auto Club Raceway course in 10.02 seconds at 133.39 mph the day before. Check back in a few days as Competition Plus will share more about McCue, the Bothell, Wash., High School auto tech teacher and his team. The eCOPO will be on track again at the Magic Dry Arizona Nationals next week.