The Beach Boys sang about him: "A real famous cat all dressed up in red. And he spends the whole year workin' out in his sled . . . Just a little bobsled we call it Old Saint Nick, but she'll walk a toboggan with a four-speed stick. She's candy apple red with a ski for a wheel. And when Santa hits the gas, man, just watch her peel." (Ha! You're humming the song already, aren't you?) Well, Ole Saint Nick is coming to town. But will he have goodies for our drag-racing family or big lumps of coal? Find out who deserves what by reading Competition Plus' presented by award-winning writer Susan Wade.
We'll get the lumps of coal and switches out the way first.
for its handling of the Tommy Johnson Jr. situation. Johnson was on the verge of becoming the first American driver to earn the European Top Fuel championship but was suspended because a narcotic he uses to combat a sleep disorder showed up in a random drug test. NHRA has approved the drug in cases of medical use, and Johnson has noted it on his medical applications wit the U.S. sanctioning body. However, the drug is on the FIA's banned list, considered an amphetamine. Johnson and the FIA might have resolved the issue, had Johnson known to fill out an FIA-mandated Therapeutic Use Exemption form prior to participation. But he and team owners Per and Karsten Anderson said they never received the document.
NHRA official Graham Light told Competition Plus' Bobby Bennett, "I don’t know that anyone is really at fault here. Tommy Johnson Jr. has had an NHRA license for years. Tommy has noted it on his medical applications in the past. It's not a prohibited substance on our substance list. When Tommy elected to go over there and run, he needed an FIA license. At that time when Tommy applied for his license, he should have disclosed the medication he was on and the doctor's documentation of what he was taking it for. He didn't know he had to do that. We didn't know he had to do that. He filled out the [FIA] license application, the fact he has a recognized license with a major sanctioning body, and the FIA went ahead and approved a license.
"Their licensed competitors run under different policies. Their anti-doping policy certainly is structured much differently than our policy. That doesn't mean that they are wrong or we are wrong. They are different," Light said. "He tested positive for a substance which is not allowed under their policy. He's always been upfront with us. He's been upfront with the FIA. He wanted to resolve it as clear as possible and clear his name. He wanted to go back racing. It could be construed as a misunderstanding."
The sanctioning body has the responsibility to communicate clearly with its participants. If the FIA failed to do that, the blame rests with the FIA.
John Force (Don't worry, Force Nation -- he and his family are on the Nice List, too -- in several places!) for his near collision with Bob Bode in February at the Winternationals. During about the last 200 feet of the final qualifying run at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, Force swerved into Bode's lane and zipped in front of him so closely that when he threw out the parachutes they landed on the hood of Bode's car and blocked his vision completely.
Force laughed off the incident with one of this trademark yarns, giving fellow Funny Car racer Jim Head an undeserved elbow. Force said it was (safety committee member and longtime safety advocate) Head's fault that he had to wear a balaclava, blaming the sock for his on-track troubles.
"The rules say that we have to wear an extra sock. I've never worn one before, and as I was staging, I was having trouble breathing. I reached up and pulled it down and pulled it over my eyes. Then I couldn't see the Christmas Tree. I tried to shove it back up and said h--- I'm going for it. Then I got down to the end and it put me in the dark. I could just see cones out of my one eye. Then I saw that kid next to me, and I thought we were going to lunch early."
First of all, if he couldn't see, he should have shut off his car rather than risk an accident. If he couldn't see the tree, then how did he know when to leave the starting line? And how did he make it almost all the way down the 1,000-foot course at a competitive speed? His last incremental speed recorded was 257.24 mph at 660 feet. Bode clocked a 300.80 mph in a masterful job of driving. If Force's story is correct, he took a serious risk and ended up right where he was when he pulled to the starting line -- a completely respectable fourth place in the order. Moreover, he blamed Head for the balaclava rule. (Force PR rep Elon Werner said the next day that the John Force Racing helmets are so tight, so form-fitting, that a balaclava isn't necessary. If that's the case, then JFR should have come to some agreement with the tech committee about the matter. At any rate, blaming Head, who is supposed to be one of his partners in safety vigilance, is not productive.)
After Eric Medlen's accident, Force's own accident, and countless hours and dollars dedicated to racing safety, we have come to think of Force as a leader in safety. So the move was dangerous and disappointing in so many ways. Force talks about his "babies," his daughters, racing. Bob Bode has a son who want his father to be safe, too.
If that isn't what happened, then tell us the truth. We all love John Force tales, even when we know he's "embellishing," ash likes to say. But John Force, you're better than what we saw in this incident at Pomona in February. We all still love you for all your tremendous qualities and contributions, but we just know you're better than to do that.
Whoever could have helped Roger Burgess promote the Get Screened America Pro Mod Series and didn't.
The NHRA for its handling of the Don Schumacher Racing shroud controversy at Phoenix this fall. An undisclosed team owner offering the sanctioning body an apparent copy of a report by an undisclosed researcher about whether the shroud was a safety measure or a performance enhancer . . . It all smacks more of political shenanigans than fair judgment in the racing community. Don Schumacher has a right to face his accuser. Did the NHRA do any due diligence in approving the shroud? Did it do any real due diligence in disapproving it? Graham Light, the NHRA's senior vice-president of racing operations, said the NHRA tech committee has no aerodynamic expert. So, in a sport that swirls around competition based in large part on aerodynamic efficiency and superiority, to have no one who can competently rule in such matters sounds . . . what's the proper word? . . . bizarre? stupid? short-sighted? incompetent? None is complimentary. Sorry, but it seems so obvious. Is the tail wagging the dog in the NHRA? The timing of the ruling was suspect, as well. This incident, which was bungled on so many levels, called for a little competence and honest, straightforward dialogue among the parties.
Pacific Raceways for so many reasons, all of which have been talked nearly to death on the pages of Competition Plus for more than a decade. Just because this isn't August and race time in Seattle doesn't mean anyone has forgotten about the poor racing and working conditions -- and the long history of such -- or doesn't care. Racers care. Fans care. The media care. How could the NHRA also not want a facility it could embrace? Please, stop being cheap (and cavalier) and fix the problems and we'll stop complaining.
Hate to give them sanctioning body another lump of coal and it's nothing directed at any one individual, but the NHRA needs to find a spot in the tower at Indianapolis for the public-relations representatives and photographers. They work closely with the writers, and they need to be together, even if in different rooms. As it is, they have been separated by a quarter-mile. The PR reps are shoved off to the side in a the circle-track press room past the top end of the dragstrip. For professionals whose primary duty is to communicate, the NHRA (maybe not on purpose but certainly, nonetheless) is making it hard from them to work. Photographers are stuffed in the back of a storage room that is not secured or protected in any way. These are professionals who promote the sport, and they need to be treated in a professional manner. It isn't that hard to do, so maybe this Labor Day we can see some positive changes.
Keyboard cowards -- the ones who use their names, as well as the anonymous ones -- who stir up trouble via Internet forums and message boards with unfounded and often nasty, vulgar comments. Our advice: Please direct your interest and energy toward contributing something positive to the community.
Matt Hagan and Del Worsham, two of the sport's truly "good guys," for exciting the fans on the final day of the season by winning their first series championships.
Jason Line, for his humility and entertaining self-critical sense of humor as he seized his second Pro Stock championship. And he did it after undergoing back surgery for a condition called spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column, that had caused numbness in one leg and pain in the other.
Eddie Krawiec for talking back to the critics of his Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson organization, then winning his second championship. He further answered critics who suggested his first title was a fluke because he hadn't even won his first event trophy. This time he won four races in six final-round appearances. So he's a
"Screamin' Chicken" ? If so, he's screamin', "I'm the champion -- again -- for the second time in four years! Vance & Hines has its eighth championship in 15 years!"
Allen Johnson for 6.498-second pre-season run -- the Pro Stock class' first sub-6.5-second elapsed time -- at Bradenton, Fla., in his J&J Racing/Team Mopar Dodge Avenger, but even more so for his charity work. He announced in September he will continue to support B.R.A.K.E.S. (Be Responsible and Keep Everyone Safe), the teenage driving education program that Top Fuel racer Doug Herbert organized in memory of sons Jon and James. He is funding a B.R.A.K.E.S. school, like he did in 2010, bringing Herbert and his B.R.A.K.E.S. staff to Greeneville, Tenn., this next spring so students in his hometown can benefit from the instruction. Later in September, he flew to Dallas early to participate in the eighth annual Greg Morris Golf Tournament. It honors Morris, a track worker at the Texas Motorplex who died from brain cancer. The event supports Heather Morris, Greg Morris' daughter, who lost her mother in a car accident just six months after Greg's diagnosis. The tournament this year was the day after Heather Morris' 16th birthday, and foundation presented her with a new car. Johnson also invested a lot of time in helping new drag-racing Pro Stock talent Vincent Nobile and Kurt Busch.
Mike Castellana for winning the ADRL Pro Nitrous championship and The Shakedown at E-Town in his bigger triumph over cancer.
Kurt Johnson for proving his relevance in the Pro Stock class, despite sponsorship woes. Johnson reached three final rounds during the Countdown and scored one victory, at Charlotte.
Bob Vandergriff for nailing the first victory of his Top Fuel career in his 14th final-round appearance, at Dallas in September -- and for his unorthodox leap from his C&J Energy Services Dragster and run back up the racetrack to meet his team to celebrate, bypassing the top-end trophy presentation.
Tony Schumacher for his graciousness to the fans and the media, even though, uncharacteristically, he didn't win a single race all season. "I want to win. The Army wants to win. We all want to win. But my life and my career has been very much me being as kind when I'm winning as when I'm losing," he said.
Don "The Snake" Prudhomme
, for his remarks July 31 at Sonoma, Calif., when he took the podium as the showcased NHRA Legend at the FRAM-Autolite Nationals. Before instructing the first Top Fuel pairing to fire up their engines for the start of eliminations, Prudhomme gave a special shout-out: "Thank you to all the smokin' hot women who have always come out over the years." Some sniffed that it was immature, but . . . So what?
He was just drafting off Baptist preacher Joe Nelms, who delivered one of the wackiest pre-race prayers the weekend before, at NASCAR's Nationwide race at Nashville.
Pastor Nelms -- who gets a candy cane for his enthusiasm, too -- prayed, "Heavenly Father, we thank you tonight for all your blessings. . . . We want to thank you tonight for these mighty machines that you brought before us. Thank you for the Dodges and the Toyotas. Thank you for the Fords. And most of all we thank you for Roush and Yates partnering to give us the power that we see before us tonight. Thank you for GM performance technology and RO7 engines. Thank you for Sunoco racing fuel and Goodyear tires that bring performance and power to the track. Lord, I want to thank you for my smokin' hot wife tonight, Lisa. . . . "
Too many people simply didn't recognize the clever connection. And those who found Prudhomme's comment offensive should be thankful he didn't finish as Pastor Nelms did: "In Jesus' name, boogity-boogity-boogity, Amen!"
"TV Tommy" Ivo for simply being fun this September at Charlotte in his weekend in the spotlight as NHRA's featured Legend. His innovation, his sense of humor, and his keen love of the sport beg the question: Why isn't he a fulltime ambassador for the NHRA? Besides, it was fun once again to hear somebody use the term "Jim-Dandiest."
Hot Rod Fuller for his DiGiorno Pizza sponsorship and promotions. We know -- "It's not delivery -- it's DiGiorno." Just the same, the Top Fuel racer delivered.
Danny and Ashley Force Hood, for blessing "Grandpa" John Force with grandson Jacob John Hood to give him some hope that he won't always be outnumbered by women at home.
The National Hot Rod Association for including and spotlighting its legends throughout its 60th Anniversary celebration.
The International Hot Rod Association for remembering its rich heritage and colorful characters as it marked its 40th Anniversary in 2011.
John Force for his vision and passion in establishing and funding his Road Show, which spreads the gospel of drag racing across America.
for his graciousness and civility in the wake of Dave Grubnic trumping him for the second straight year to gain the Top Fuel class's final Countdown berth -- and to the Hoosier Thunder Motorsports owner-driver for welcoming fans at his pit, encouraging the technical and mechanical leaders of tomorrow through his partnership with the University of Northwestern Ohio, being a smart promoter, and bringing his seemingly endless supply of energy to the racetrack every single day.
for serving as ambassador for the Ford Motor Company Fund's Driving Skills for Life (DSFL) program that targets teenage motorists and encourages safe habits behind the wheel of a car. She's using social-media outlets to encourage teens to log onto DSFL's website, www.drivingskillsforlife.com
. The site -- complete with videos, games, and driving tips -- teaches and reminds young drivers about the necessary skills for safe driving beyond what they learn in standard driver education programs. Jim Graham, manager of the Ford safe-driving initiative, oversees the program.
Doug Kalitta, the 32-time NHRA Top Fuel winner and 1994 USAC National Sprint Car champion. For his induction this November into the Michigan Motor Sports Hall of Fame in Mt. Pleasant, Mich. Inducted posthumously was his cousin, Scott Kalitta, the two-time NHRA Top Fuel champion. Accepting the induction plaque for Scott Kalitta were his sons, Corey, 18, and Colin, 11, along with longtime Kalitta Motorsports team member and crew chief Jon Oberhofer.
Kenny Bernstein and John Force for their selection, along with NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, as members of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame's Class of 2012. The induction ceremony will be May 3, 2012, at Talladega, Ala.
Kenny Bernstein for all his years of dedication to drag racing and to motorsports overall, and Copart for giving Kenny Bernstein Racing two more years in drag racing.
Official starter Rick Stewart for enduring one last year of nonstop noise and fumes and standing on his feet for hours at a time. To Stewart, as to Bernstein, we say, "Enjoy your retirement! You've earned it!"
Top Fuel racer T.J. Zizzo for honoring racing artist Kenny Youngblood on his Peak-Herculiner Dragster all season and for his first-class treatment of the fans at every race he enters.
Mike Neff for stepping back in the cockpit with little notice before the season-opener to fill in for John Force Racing teammate Ashley Force Hood, serving as his own crew chief, winning five of nine final-round chances (including the Gatornationals and the U.S. Nationals), leading at the end of the so-called regular season, and finishing in the top five.
Pro Stock Motorcycle's Hector Arana Jr. and Pro Stock's Vincent Nobile for their racing performances and their professional conduct as they competed for the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award late into the season. Although Arana had a strong closing surge to receive the most votes among all the eligible racers, he and Nobile -- close friends off the track -- both were winners.
John Nobile, who's normally hyper-excitable, for not having a stroke because of son Vincent's explosive Pro Stock success.
Erica Enders, who shined in her return to fulltime Pro Stock racing and to Victor Cagnazzi Racing. With maturity and composure, she proved she is on the edge of victory, beginningt he season as top qualifier at the Winternationals and repeating at Norwalk and advancing to three final rounds.
Jack Beckman for leading the Funny Car standings for the first time in his career, dispelling rumors of his departure from Don Schumacher Racing, overcoming odds from the doctor that he wouldn’t father children -- again -- by becoming Daddy to daughter Layla -- and for reminding us not to procrastinate. The latter came in his kind and genuine remarks about the late Mike Aiello, our dear friend at Competition Plus, when he accepted the Mike Aiello "Spirit of Drag Racing" Award in November.
Matt Smith for continuing to perform competitively in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, despite losing sponsorship following his Englishtown, N.J., victory.
Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Steve Johnson for sharing some of his abundant energy at Atlanta to help the Red Cross raise funds for tornado victims in Alabama and Georgia this May.
Motorcraft Quick Lane Ford Mustang driver Bob Tasca for keeping his racing focus at Indianapolis after his anxious moments the week or so before. Hurricane Irene churned up the East Coast and brought 60-plus-mile-an-hour sustained winds and heavy rain to his hometown of Hope, R.I. His auto dealerships didn't have much flooding, nor did his neighborhood, but his family of six was without power for a week in a stretch he called "pretty humbling." His happy news this year is that in May he finally got to witness first-hand the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour and see his friend, Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly. (Tasca, who even sent a thank-you e-mail to Kelly's in-orbit address, said, "Just to look at it: four million pounds, sitting there on the launch pad. It accelerates in eight minutes . . from blastoff to in-orbit in eight minutes. We talked about which would be louder, my Funny Car or the space shuttle. It was pretty loud, and I was two miles away. The Funny Car is louder, but you're standing right next to it. This thing was two miles away and the ground was rumbling. It's an amazing machine."
, who said when he reached the May 1 Houston finals that he was "going to do something lovely." He didn't win that day, but when he did win on his return to Texas, at Dallas in September, he gave a lovely tribute to his mother, Aline, who traveled from Baton Rouge to watch him race.
The NHRA, qualified pro racers, first responders, and motorcycle riders saluting the Flight 93 victims for orchestrating and carrying out a pre-race ceremony at the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis this past Labor Day that marked the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The extended ceremony featured a gigantic banner that read "9-11-01: We Will Never Forget" which the drivers unrolled from the top of the tower. The morning also welcomed a giant American flag, a bugler playing "Taps," and speeches from retired Sgt. Major Tony Rose, who was at The Pentagon when it was attacked, and Debra Borza, mother of the youngest hero on Flight 93 that crashed in Western Pennsylvania. It was impressive and emotional. In a separate presentation, "Big daddy" Don Garlits tearfully thanked Darrell Gwynn (whose foundation gives wheelchairs to extremely needy individuals) for being a godsend to the recipients and for what Gwynn is doing "for the human race."
, Antron Brown
, and Larry Dixon
for giving Del Worsham a run for his Top Fuel championship money. Likewise for Mike Neff
, Cruz Pedregon
, Jack Beckman
, Robert Hight
, and Ron Capps
in chasing Matt Hagan to the Funny Car finish.
Competition Plus' Roger Richards for all the long, grueling travel he puts in each year as photographer.
Bill Stephens for encouraging NHRA racers to start "selling" the sport with enthusiasm and honesty when they have the opportunity to do so on television.
Alan Rinehart, for doing extra duty at Las Vegas this fall when Bob Frey had laryngitis.
Bob Frey for all the announcing that triggered his laryngitis.
Every single sponsor of every drag-racing vehicle. Thank you!
And Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night . . .