FINAL INSIDER: THE DOUBLE-UP KID
Vincent Nobile Wins It All
Vincent Nobile is not only good for car owner Nick Mitsos, he’s good for drag racing, an endeavor that’s crying out for young, enthusiastic and competitive drivers. They don’t come much more competitive than this New York college student, but along with that lightning-quick left leg coming off the clutch is a world of personality. He is, simply put, the real deal, and he proved it at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park during the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals.
We’re giving Summit that big bump right there because under most circumstances we’d be writing about another big win by either Jason Line or Greg Anderson in their Summit Pro Stock Camaros, but not this time. No siree, this weekend belonged to Nobile and his NAPA-backed Dodge powered by a Roy Johnson-built Hemi.
So the headlines go to Nobile, who pulled off a rare double by winning the race after taking Saturday’s K&N Horsepower Challenge, but when it comes right down to it, the best single race in Pro Stock was actually the slowest, won in a little over eight seconds by Line against Shane Gray. Both men had their cars get loose about 300 feet out and each, realizing the other guy wasn’t thundering by, got back on the gas and tried to get to the finish line first. Eight-point-two-one-one seconds later, Line got the win light – and the loudest reaction from the fans all day.
That was in the first semifinal race, and the other one wasn’t much quicker. Again both cars got loose, with Mr. Nobile recovering before his engine supplier, Allen Johnson. Nobile’s win came in 7.792 seconds – but it was good enough to get him lane choice over Line in the finale. When was the last time you remember a seven-seventy getting lane choice in Pro Stock?
This was Nobile’s weekend. He won the Challenge on holeshots, but on Sunday he won with quicker Reaction Times – until the finale when Line left first with a very nice 0.010 light to Nobile’s competitive 0.020. The New Yawka’s 6.661 was simply better than Line’s 6.705.
On Saturday we suggested that Mike Neff had the best chance among the JFR cars, and we were proven right, although that only brings our success rate on predictions up to about the 7 percent level! All that aside, Neff actually won this race in Chicago.
Huh? Uh, yeah. Just ask him.
His team was struggling at the time, so they stayed over after the race to test. As Neff recalled, the conditions were miserable. It was hot, overly humid and generally the kind of day when you’d rather be in the pool or in front of the air conditioner. They sweated through the testing, discovered and fixed a problem in the car, and headed down the road. The funny thing is, though, that those horrible conditions encountered during testing were exactly the same conditions they faced on Friday and Saturday – so they were ready for it.
You have to understand who Neff is, and where he came from. He is anything but a rah-rah driver, and in some respects is the antithesis of a John Force Racing car handler. Certainly no one at JFR has yet to attain the level of insanity is evidenced by Mr. Force himself, and his son-in-law, Robert Hight, is pretty volatile and vocal himself. Ms. Courtney is, well, a member of the family and can be just as outgoing as her father, albeit much calmer. Neff, on the other hand, is a thoughtful, careful tuner first, and a driver second. He is not going to jump out of the car at the top end and just go off. That’s not who he is. Pleased by his win, yes. Quick to praise his crew, yes again. But screaming? Yelling? Kissing the trophy. That’s some other guy, not Mike Neff.
Tim Wilkerson’s LRS Mustang made it an all-Ford finale, but despite a better light, Neff had the power to win. Wilkerson doesn’t make that many final rounds, and was visibly crushed in defeat.
As was suggested earlier, Pro Stock Motorcycle was again, after the second round, an all-Harley/Buell show. Despite the faults we find with the class, the racing was very good and very close. The finale, for example, was stellar, with Andrew Hines topping Hector Arana, Jr. by virtue of the difference in their Reaction Times, basically. Hines was 0.030 seconds quicker off the line, and that was the difference as they almost matched elapsed times, running 6.929 to 6.928.
“Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about,” Spencer Massey shouted through his helmet after he made the turnoff after defeating Steve Torrence. Massey won it on a holeshot, his 3.916 a tad slower than Torrence’s 3.894. The difference was in the lights, of course, Massey leaving in 0.054 seconds, and Torrence following in 0.078. Not good enough. He was bummed at the top end.
In discussing qualifying we have suggested that there will be weekends when so-called “name” drivers won’t make it into eliminations because of the depth of the fields. Well, for those who do make the show, the same situation exists. For example, when Hillary Will comes up against Clay Millican, a six-time world champion, you’d think he had the edge. Uh-uh. Will took him to school, winning fairly easily. Khalid alBalooshi is driving what many consider the baddest fuel car in the world, but guess what? He has yet to win a single round of racing. Doug Kalitta has won numerous races and has seriously challenged for the championship more than once. Keith Murt sent him home in the first round. There was a time when you said the name “Tony Schumacher” and you knew it meant victories and championships. He was humbled by Torrence in the second round.
The point is that NHRA Full Throttle drag racing has reached a whole new level of action. There are no easy rounds, no freebees, no gimmees. Every driver and every car is a bad (insert your own word choices here. Mine has 10 or 12 letters…).
Despite the harsh (an understatement) conditions on Friday and Saturday, Sunday’s weather was ideal, and the fans responded by showing up in significant numbers. They didn’t leave disappointed. Two weeks from now they’re going to do it all over again in Denver, and those fans aren’t going to go home disappointed either. NHRA Drag Racing is on a roll. The cars are competitive, the drivers are cool and the action is certifiably hot. If you’re missing out on this well, shame on you.
SATURDAY INSIDER - AND THE YOUNG SHALL LEAD THEM
Vincent Nobile Showed His Elders The Way To The K&N Horsepower Challenge Winners Circle
Yesterday we spoke about the heat and humidity, suggesting that Saturday would be no better. We hate it when predictions like that come true. If ever there was a race that was negatively impacted by good weather, it was the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals. Knowing the rabid nature of the Ohio fans, and even knowing how this sounds, we’ll say it anyway: Had it been 15 degrees cooler on Saturday it’s likely that another 5,000 or so fans would have shown up. That they remained home, huddled around their air conditioners, is almost understandable.
On Friday more than 60 fans were overcome by the heat, and today was no better. And, like yesterday, the fans played it as cool as they could, once again beating the heat by hanging around underneath the massive grandstands until the racing commenced, and then retreating to shelter between sessions.
The highlight of Saturday’s action was the fifty-grand-to-win K&N Horsepower Challenge, a race that requires a year’s worth of effort to even qualify for. Points may be earned only through qualifying positions at prior races, and while there’s little pressure for much of that year, about five or six races ago you could begin to sense that the drivers on the outside looking in were getting a little antsy. Suddenly, instead of just bemoaning their fate at a certain race, drivers were beginning to acknowledge that qualifying in the bottom half of the field at, say, Bristol, was killing their chances for the Challenge. Let’s face it, where we come from, $50,000 is a lot of money, and we’re no different from the men and women who drive these cars. It’s a lot of money to them as well.
Despite the conditions there wasn’t a “bad” run in the Challenge. The opening pair set the stage as the Joliet Pro Stock finalists, Greg Anderson and Erica Enders, faced off. This time, though, Anderson was not to be denied, winning on a holeshot with a 6.733 t Erica’s 6.724. Right here, of course, is where you’d expect to see how Greg had a triple zero Reaction Time, but the truth is that his rather pedestrian 0.042 R.T. was more than good enough against Ms. Enders’ 0.090 – and before you even think it, yeah, those lights aren’t representative of what either driver normally puts on the board.
Even though he had the better elapsed time, Vincent Nobile’s first round win over engine supplier Allen Johnson was also a holeshot – and also a surprise. Nobile’s black and white NAPA Dodge honoring America’s military heroes left the line first in 0.048 seconds, with Johnson a tick behind in 0.059 seconds. Johnson would have needed his pole-grabbing 6.663 in order to run Nobile down. Okay, that was an exaggeration, but one thing we do know for sure, Johnson’s 6.731 wasn’t quick enough to overcome Nobile’s 6.714.
Mike Edwards downed the third Summit entry of Ronnie Humphrey in another close one, 6.742 to 6.741. Edwards had a 0.043 second quicker RT, and back to Florida went Humphrey. Okay, so we lied. Again. He went back to the pits to prepare for Sunday.
The battle of the mail order giants closed out the round when Jason Line’s Summit Camaro faced and defeated Jeg Coughlin, Jr’s. Jeg’s Mail Order Dodge. Line’s 6.705 turned out to be the quickest elapsed time of the affair, while Allen Johnson’s first round speed of 206.83 was the Challenge’s fastest.
Nobile, to be known hereafter as The Holeshot King, continued to teach his elders their lessons when his 0.051 Reaction Time bested Mike Edwards’s 0.057. They matched elapsed times to the thousandth with a pair of 6.733s. Good racing. G-o-o-o-d racing!
After that Line popped up with a killer 0.008 light against teammate and defending Challenge champ Anderson, winning easily with a 6.718.
The finale, which came after the final Top Fuel session and in front of far too few fans (many had bailed out by then, overcome by the heat), featured yet another Nobile-applied holeshot, and before you say it we will: If he does this all day Sunday, ultimately winning seven straight rounds on holeshots, it might make drag racing history. We just can’t recall if any driver has won a “special” race and the same weekend’s national event, all on superior Reaction Times. The odds are stacked against this, however, because the question for Nobile will be, how much of himself did he “use up” on Saturday, and how much will he have left for Sunday?
Anyway, Line went from that great semifinal R.T. of 0.008 seconds to a more mundane 0.066 second light in the finale, almost half again slower than Nobile’s 0.037 second move. That’s a lot, making Nobile’s 6.750 a winner against Line’s better 6.732.
Think there are some tight jaws in Summitland this evening? With three entries in the 8-car field the odds were stacked in their favor, but it didn’t happen. Now they’ll have to await the results of Sunday, where those three drivers, Humphrey, Anderson and Line, can still pull out a big win for the race’s title rights holder.
While all of this was going on everyone else was either still trying to get into the show, or was intent upon solidifying their positions. Several drivers impressed, including both Kurt and Warren Johnson, and Mustang runner JR Carr from Pasco, Washington in a refrigerator white machine. Carr’s horsepower comes from an in-house program, and clearly, it’s working. The Johnsons build their own engines, as everyone knows, and have also turned the performance corner. From here on out, expect to see the senior member of the family operation competing on Sundays on a regular basis.
Angie Smith scared the crudballs out of her husband, Matt, and just about everyone else on the grounds, when her Buell rocketed off the end of the track after an apparent brake failure. Ms. Smith could be seen almost calmly wheeling the motorcycle through the sand trap, across a field and almost into a patch of corn before she decided to bail out. She rolled heavily several times, tried to stand, and then fell back down, but she was quickly attended to and appeared remarkably calm while being interviewed by Alan Reinhart. If her bike can be fixed, and she’s medically cleared to ride, she’ll be in the program on Sunday.
Three Suzukis cracked the top eight, led by Karen Stoffer (fourth – 6.992), L.E. Tonglet (seventh – 7.019) and Steve Johnson (eighth – 7.037), but this is still pretty much a Harley-Davidson/Buell eliminator. Andrew Hines is atop the field with a 6.961, followed by the Aranas, Senior over Junior, and then Stoffer. Right behind her is Screamin’ Eagle Hines teammate Eddie Krawiec. We’re not odds makers, but we think the Suzukis have a steep uphill battle on their hands if they hope to win this race.
No one came close to Johnny Gray’s 4.094 from Friday night. In fact, he smoked the tires on the Service Center Dodge in both sessions Saturday, and he wasn’t alone in doing that. While everyone faced the same difficult (and that’s being generous) conditions, some were unable to solve the problem, including past champion Tony Pedregon, rising star Alexis DeJoria, and former national event winners Jim Head and Terry Haddock. Robert Hight got in by the skin of his teeth, as did Bob Bode and Matt Hagan, while Blake Alexander helped prove for the umpteenth time that you can never discount tuner/car owner Paul Smith. Todd Lesenkio looked smooth and professional in Jim Dunn’s car, and so did young Daniel Wilkerson, out-qualifying his father, Tim.
Who impressed in Top Fuel? T.J. Zizzo, for one. When his Peak Motor Oil machine stopped the clocks in 3.96 seconds, everyone from announcer Bob Frey to the guys standing on the starting line paid attention. It was an awesome run under rotten conditions. Impressive was the operative descriptive term.
Although they’ll start at the back of the pack, both Morgan Lucas and Brandon Bernstein made the field, and after their recent struggles, it was good to see. But our aged hero, Chris Karamesines, once again did not. We just hope he keeps racing long enough so we can see this Hall of Famer win an NHRA national event, something he’s never managed to do.
It’s all well and good to talk about this stuff now, but the real test is to come on Sunday. These are unquestionably the most difficult racing conditions the Full Throttle series racers have faced this year, and the best way to describe what’s ahead is to quote a team owner who had a car in the K&N Horsepower Challenge. “We’ve got a real problem here. We’re not in the show yet, but we’ve gotta win this round of the Challenge first. We need to do both.” That was Saturday. On Sunday there’ll only be one goal, and that’s going rounds. This race might go to the guys who can back their stuff up the most without just idling down the track. It will take very little power to smoke the tire. The line between tire smoke and hooked-up power may be the thinnest we’ve ever seen on Sunday.
FRIDAY INSIDER - YOU COULD’VE FRIED AN EGG ON THE TRACK!
Despite the Heat – Or Because of It – The Racing Was Hot In Ohio
Are you even old enough to remember when they used to say that on a hot day you could fry an egg on the sidewalk? Well, take our word for it, you darn sure could have fried an egg on the surface of Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio on Friday. Let’s just put it this way: When the track temperature exceeds 150 degrees – that’s hot. There’s just no other way to describe it.
Let’s give some credit to the hardy Ohio fans, who showed up in considerable numbers – very good numbers for the Friday after Independence Day. These are not neophyte fans, wandering around in an overheated daze of confusion. They’re smart. They take care of themselves. Yes, there were more than a half dozen calls for the medical emergency people to help with those who just couldn’t deal with the conditions, but by and large the fans played it as cool as they could. Hundreds stood in the shade of the huge grandstands until the cars they came to see began to run. Others, already ensconced in those grandstands, bailed out when there was the occasional oildown or track problem, returning only after the action continued. Water was consumed by the truckload, and we spotted hundreds of people with water-soaked towels wrapped around their necks, and who could blame ‘em?
For the competitors those conditions were, in a sense, multiplied, because they not only had to take care of themselves, they had to get their cars down the track as quickly as they could. The numbers – and let’s face it, drag racing is a numbers game – may not have been what everyone was looking for, but the tuners are realists. They did the best they could under the circumstances, and the fans knew it. They responded well to elapsed times that, under ideal conditions, might have elicited yawns. When a three second time came up on the boards in the first Top Fuel session, the crowd reacted. They weren’t record-setting threes, but they were good enough for the fans, who clearly understood how tough the conditions were for the competitors.
And maybe, just maybe, they were cheering because they knew what the drivers were going through after having sat in their firesuits for a half hour or so. Ya gotta love it when fans react that way.
The evening session did exactly what it was supposed to do. Elapsed times dipped, the fields tightened up, and there’s still room for more on Saturday. This is one of those situations where everyone appreciates the NHRA system under which the quickest 12 competitors in each pro class are locked into the show, yet four spots remain open. It means that those on the outside looking in can still get in even if the track temperature’s 250 degrees on Saturday, with 110 degree air temperature and 95 percent humidity.
That means that Saturday will really count, if you get our meaning, and this is a very big deal. Before this rule came into effect there were many races at which the Friday evening session meant everything, because Saturday became just an exercise in making test runs. The conditions would be so much worse than Friday that there was no hope of qualifying – until NHRA “reserved” those final four positions for that final qualifying day.
It’s now time to start talking about Top Fuel racer Steve Torrance and tuner Richard Hogan in slightly hushed tones. At the beginning of the season we’d wager there wasn’t a single member of the media (true confession – that includes us) who considered Torrance a serious threat to even win rounds, much less races, yet here he is, threatening to make the Countdown a whole new ball game. That Hogan is onto something is so obvious that he might as well have a signboard hanging around his neck reading “I know something you don’t.” They are atop the field with a very impressive 3.829, and even though the evening session had pretty good conditions, they were far from ideal, yet that car marched down the track as if the air temperature was a chilling 60 degrees, not closer to 85.
Earlier this year we said there were going to be race weekends when “name” drivers wouldn’t make the show because the level of competition was increasing in every pro category, and we’re sticking by that. We’ve already seen it happen, and it might happen again here in Ohio. We know it’s early, but right now guys like Keith Murt and T.J. Zizzo are in the field, while the likes of Morgan Lucas and Brandon Bernstein are not. There is a simple explanation for this: Every single car that rolls through the water box is capable of putting down a staggering number, and now everyone knows it. In days of yore politically correct drivers, when asked about another competitor, would often spout platitudes about how good he was. Now they’re not kidding. They know they might kick their butts at any time.
Look at Funny Car, where there are 20 entries, and there’s no way to look at the list and say, “Well, by Saturday night So-And-So’s not gonna be in the show.” It doesn’t work that way any more and we, the race fans, are benefitting from that. Put another way, it would appear that the day of the leaker is pretty much over.
Johnny Gray is atop the Funny Car list with a super-impressive 4.094 – the only driver in the four-ohs. Not among the Top 12? You know, the no-names, like Jack Beckman, Matt Hagan, Robert Hight, Tony Pedregon and more. Get the idea? It is brutal out there, and we have moved way beyond – way beyond – the days of some guys having a good hot weather tune-up and others having a good one for the colder weather. Everyone has a good tune-up for whatever the weather brings, which means better racing for the fans – and that’s the way it oughta be!
Jason Line and Greg Anderson put up very good numbers in their immaculate new Summit Racing Camaros – and then Allen Johnson just humiliated ‘em with a pass thirty-four hundredths quicker. That’s a ton in Pro Stock, and sets the table for a very interesting K&N Horsepower Challenge on Saturday.
If there’s a surprise in Pro Stock it’s that Mike Edwards is back in the eleventh spot, and appears to be struggling just a bit. That’s unlike the Bristol winner, but still, we’ve seen him go from the drag racing outhouse to the penthouse between qualifying sessions, so it’s far too early to count him out.
In Harley-Davidson eliminator, or as they’d like it to be called, Pro Stock Motorcycle, only three Suzukis have managed to penetrate the plethora of H-Ds and Buells. The class is now top heavy with Harleys or derivatives of the brand, and while the fans may prefer the Harleys to the Suzukis, if they’re going to be allowed to compete, NHRA simply must provide a more level playing field. Either that or end the pretense of equality and just tell the Suzuki runners to take a hike.
This is not to detract from the accomplishments of the Arana family, who occupy the top two spots, but t’s been a helluva long time since anything other than a Harley or Buell won a race. We’re just sayin’.
Yeah, L.E. Tonglet’s third and Steve Johnson’s sixth, but unless we miss our guess, come Sunday afternoon they’re probably going to be going home early. And before you even ask, we’ll happily eat our words if a motorcycle carrying anything but a Harley or Buell label wins. We’d love to see it.
What will Saturday bring? Sure, it’s going to be hot and humid, but it’s going to include some very good racing. The Horsepower Challenge will highlight the day, and deservedly so. At the end of it someone’s going to be holding a check for fifty grand. Any way you look at it, that’s a lot of money.
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