POST SCRIPT - THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS EDITION
COUSINS COMPETE IN MOUNTAIN MOTOR PRO STOCK – Johnny Pluchino and cousin Vincent Nobile grew up on Long Island. His father Johnny is Nobile’s godfather, and Nobile’s father, John, is Pluchino’s godfather. And now the cousins are racing together in the NHRA’s Mountain Motor Pro Stock class. Pluchino made his NHRA debut at Bristol Dragway this past weekend in the third of four exhibition appearances for the class this season. The final race for the Mountain Motor Pro Stocks will be July 5-7 at the New England Nationals at Epping, N.H. Nobile had competed in April at the 16-car show at the Charlotte Four-Wide event.
And the cousins got to line up, side by side, for the first time during the second qualifying session last Friday, although neither had an outstanding pass. For the record, Nobile clocked a 7.748-second elapsed time, better than Pluchino’s 20.104, as both experienced tire shake on the tricky quarter-mile.
“We were close growing up, always competitive,” Pluchino said. “We went different avenues as far as racing, but it was similar. We’ll at least be side by side in qualifying – first time we get to run each other. We do hope to meet up at some point in eliminations. I hope it’s in the finals.”
Asked who would win in that scenario, Pluchino grinned and said, “I mean – c’mon. Do I even have to answer that one? I’m pretty confident over here.”
Pluchino figured it out at Bristol, qualified his dad’s Strutmasters.com Mustang third in the eight-car field, and dropped his first-round match-up Sunday to veteran Elijah Morton. Nobile missed the cut in John Watford’s Camaro. Todd Hoerner, of Forest, Va., defeated Maryland’s Frank Gugliotta in the final round.
Pluchino, the reigning PDRA Pro Outlaw 632 champion, raced at Bristol Dragway about 15 years ago in the Jr. Dragster Eastern Conference Finals. He said he saw some bright spots during his return.
“We were so disappointed for all the folks at Strutmasters.com,” Pluchino said. “We were extremely happy with how consistent the car was in qualifying. We ran 220 miles an hour both times we completed a run. As it turned out, that would have been fast enough to be in the hunt for a victory here today.”
Nobile, back in action since Pro Stock team owner Nick Mitsos switched classes and drivers and jumped into the trendy Factory Stock Showdown category, still had a successful weekend at Thunder Valley. He became the new, young headliner for legend Roy Hill’s soon-to-come Mountain Motor Pro Stock team.
“I need a young driver,” Hill said. “I’ve known John Nobile all through his race career and his son Vincent, I’ve watched him grow up. He’s the kind of person I want in one of my cars.” Then with a twinkle in his eye, Hill said, “Can you see me dealing with John Nobile and Vincent? They come out of New York. They’re Yankees.”
Vincent Nobile, a popular 13-time Pro Stock winner (with victories at Las Vegas, Atlanta, and Reading last season), said, “First off, I’ve got to thank Roy for giving me the phone call and asking me to drive one of his race cars. Been on the sidelines for a little bit this year. Naturally, itching to go racing, because this is what I love to do. This is what my father loves to do. Been doing it my whole life.”
He said in the NHRA that “Mountain Motor Pro Stock hasn’t been around in forever. The fans seem to like it. They ask me what I like better to drive. I really can’t pick one. I like both. They’re both different.
“I can say it’s been a little bit of a learning curve. I drove one of these cars – I tell this story to everybody . . . Four or five years ago, I drove Larry O’Brien’s car in Virginia. I got in the car, and I was going to treat it like an NHRA Pro Stock car. I’ve made many laps behind the wheel of an NHRA car. So I got in the car and was in the left lane. I dumped the clutch. The thing was going a little bit right. I said to myself, ‘I’m going to wait on the shift light. I’m going to pull second gear, the front-end is going to come down, and I’m going to bring it back over left.’ Well, that wasn’t the case,” Nobile said. “I pulled second gear, and the thing stood up and I had a lift. And I was like, ‘All right – I can’t treat these cars like I can a 500-inch car.’ It’s cool. I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a whole new animal. The fans do seem to like it. I guess once they come out more, we’ll really be able to tell what the fans like more, the Mountain Motor cars or the 500-inch cars.”
TASCA KEEPS PROMISE – Bob Tasca III is showing promise in the Funny Car ranks. He also is keeping a promise.
Tasca lobbied executives at Ford Motor Company’s Dearborn, Mich., headquarters since the automaker announced its departure from professional drag racing at the end of the 2014 season. He said at the time, “I truly believe they have underestimated the passion and loyalty of the NHRA fans.”
He relentlessly presented stacks of data to Ford executives, this third-generation Blue Oval dealer, who has served on a Ford product advisory board for 20 years, like his grandfather and father before him. And the decision-makers there at Ford saw his point. His badgering might not have been the sole reason Ford is returning. But it did, and Tasca is overcoming any doubts they might have had. He said their initial reaction was, roughly speaking, “We like it. We get it. But how are you going to win? That’s the only reason we race, ultimately.”
Tasca said the same after denying former Ford mainstay John Force his 150th victory Sunday at Bristol.
“I’m an all-Ford kid driving an all-Ford hot rod. I was literally born and raised in a Ford store. Know the whole Ford family: Henry Ford III, [Chief Customer Experience Officer] Elena Ford, [Executive Chairman] Bill Ford. They’re all very close friends of ours. But they don’t sponsor me because they like me. They sponsor me because the Ford brand likes to win. That’s why Ford races,” Tasca said. “There’s no other reason why they’re here. They’ve put an unbelievable amount of resources into engineering, aerodynamics. And they want to put me in a position to win. And I told them I would win. I said, ‘If you come back to racing, please give the opportunity for these Ford fans. I will win. I will get your car and I will compete for a championship.
“It was probably one of the biggest career wins for me. It’s simply because Ford came back. Ford came back to NHRA, and all those Ford fans wanted Ford back,” he said. “I told [the executives], ‘I’m going to win, and I’m going to give you a car that’s going to run for a championship.’”
He expressed his pride in Ford’s first new body in a decade and the first Ford race car to skip the full-size prototype phase of development. Significant was the dramatic cost-reduction implications for both road- and race-vehicle design.
“We had to build this thing from scratch, with a new body that we worked on, that we debuted this year,” Tasca, whose family has operated Ford and other-manufacturer-medallion stores in the Northeast for decades, said. “We’re just starting to catch our stride on how that acts, versus the old body. Then I made a wholesale change coming into Richmond. The only thing in the racer car from Richmond to here is me. I just wasn’t happy with the consistency of the car.”
Today he has the chemistry he has been longing for since he began racing in the Funny Car class.
“Money doesn’t win anything out here,” Tasca said. “You can feed hundred-dollar bills into the injector and it’s not going to do anything. It’s about people.
“Force and I made that swap with Mike Green and Jon Schaffer. He came in with Eric Lane. Last week I said, ‘There’s a little secret weapon in my trailer.’ Mike Neff has been helping us a little bit, and the chemistry has been really good. I’ve never had a race car as good as the race car I have right now. This thing goes down the racetrack fast. They guys put me in a position to win. My team . . . no mistakes, no mistakes, no mistakes . . . that’s how you win these races. That’s what we did here this weekend,” Tasca said.
“I’ve just been very blessed my whole career to be surrounded by great people but never had the right chemistry in that trailer race in and race out. And I was just so excited when Schaffer walked in the door and just to see him and Eric interact. I have so much respect for Eric Lane. [With] crew chiefs, there’s a lot of ego out there, but he checked his ego at the trailer. He jumped in with both hands with Schaffer. There’s a great chemistry between Neff and Schaffer. There’s a great chemistry there for many years. I don’t want to say it was instant pudding, but man, from starting from scratch three races ago to holding the trophy out here, that’s about as good as you’re going to get,” he said. “And trust me, this isn’t the last time you’re going to hear from this Ford.”
He said, “Last year was a tough year. It was a tough year for me personally, starting from scratch, coming out here, struggling. And then earlier in the season, we started to get some flashes of brilliance but didn’t have the consistency. It was still a learning curve with this new body. And then we just started to catch our stride coming out of Richmond. And I said it was the biggest win of my career, and it really was, because I did not want to disappoint Ford. Probably more than half the Ford dealers I know personally. They come to the races. They’re rooting for us. So to be able to deliver this win – and it’s only one win – trust me, it’s a big one for this team. But more importantly, you look at how that car is running . . . OK – you have to take notice. The best is yet to come for this team.”
It’s true he’s a single-car operation, but Tasca subscribes to that “No man is an island” theory.
He said, “You look at Mike Salinas and what he has done, what we have done. And there’s a lot of single-car teams that get a lot of help. Don Schumacher has been a real mentor of mine. I can truly say I wouldn’t be in the position that I am right now without Don Schumacher. He has helped me with resources. He has helped me with advice. He has helped me with access to things that I certainly couldn’t afford. That’s just the kind of guy he is. You see that with [Connie] Kalitta. You see that with a lot of team owners that [we’re] very fortunate help some of the single-car teams. Yeah, I’m a single-car team, but I owe an awful lot to Don Schumacher.”
Lane has won championships with Robert Hight and Ron Capps. And Tasca had told Lane many times, “Imagine if we had real funding – we’d be dangerous together.” Even months ago, Tasca followed that up with, “Well, we don’t need to imagine that anymore. Now all we need to do is win.” And he backed that up Sunday at Bristol Dragway.
FORCE COMES CLOSE TO 150 – One of country music star Toby Keith’s hits declares, “May not be good as I once was, but I’m as good once as I ever was.”
NHRA Funny Car racer John Force could have been singing that song Sunday at Bristol, Tenn.’s Thunder Valley Nationals. Force advanced to his 254th final round in pursuit of his milestone 150th victory.
But he didn’t close the deal for a Fathers Day gift to himself. Instead, Bob Tasca III won for the first time since 2012, fulfilling the promise he made to the Ford Motor Company that if it returned to the NHRA Funny Car class he would win races and challenge for a championship.
“No Father’s Day for me, didn’t get that win. I feel a lot better about my race car being competitive. We’ve moved up to No. 2 in the points – that’s some good news,” Force said.
He credited crew chiefs Brian Corradi and Danny Hood and car chief Tim Fabrisi. Ultimately, though, he gave himself recognition.
“I’ve got confidence, not just in my car. But I have confidence in me. My car has always been good. I’ve had to make a lot of changes myself,” Force said. “I’ve found out a lot of stuff. Not just with the car. I’ve been going to doctors, got special glasses, working on eating habits, got to get off that sugar. It drops ya. I’ve said it before, I’m in the game. I’m feeling good. That win is coming.
“My car’s coming around now, and I’m coming around,” he said.
His car did have a hiccup in that final round against Tasca. After he performed his burnout, Force had trouble getting the car in reverse. Then he struggled to get it rolling forward into the staging beams. The crew quickly got it all fixed, but it certainly was a distraction they all could have lived without. And Force was behind the entire run.
Tasca said, “I knew it’d be a slugfest against Force. I thought he was trying to run me out of nitro. I didn’t know what was going on. I guess he was having some trouble putting it in forward and reverse. I love racing John.”
The 16-time class champion and owner-driver of the Peak / Blue DEF Chevy Camaro started from the No. 1 position in the qualifying order and was making his first final-round appearance of the season but sixth at Bristol Dragway. It was his best chance to record his 150th victory since last July.
TORRENCE STREAK ENDS – Mike Salinas denied Steve Torrence his sixth consecutive Top Fuel victory and his chance to make some more drag-racing history. But Salinas defeated Torrence in the final round Sunday by .0177 seconds, or about seven feet. Torrence and Salinas are the only Top Fuel racers with more than one victory after 11 events this year.
“We’ll reload and get ready for the next one. There’s still a lot of racing to do before the Countdown,” Torrence said.
He said of Salinas and the Scrappers Racing team, who rose to the No. 3 position in the standings, “That’s a really good race team. They’re going to win a lot of races and make it real interesting once we get to the playoffs.”
Torrence has a 339-point advantage over No. 2 Doug Kalitta and leads Salinas by 357.
Dad Billy Torrence, who didn’t compete at Bristol and slipped from the top 10, will be back in the cockpit of the Capco Contractors Dragster this week at Norwalk, Ohio. Billy Torrence won in February at Phoenix and was runner-up to his son at Topeka.