SUNDAY EDITION – THE MONSOON WINS!
For two days we’ve been predicting doom, which finally arrived on Sunday morning. Okay, so it wasn’t doom in the sense of the end of the world, but in the world of drag racing rain is the same thing. Never mind that the parched Midwest was actually desperate for the remnants of Isaac to give the region a bath. It essentially killed the excitement and momentum of the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals presented by Auto Plus. No matter what happens on Labor Day Monday, this race is probably not going to get fully back on track until 2013.
The plan is that elminations racing will begin at 8:00 AM, weather permitting. Sportsman competition will begin the proceedings, to be quickly followed by eliminations in the professional classes. At the time we left the track no decision had been made about the Traxxas Funny Car race, but we do know it will be contested somewhere down the road. There is just no time to include that plus regular eliminations in the same day. Simply impossible.
Now, all of this assumes that the weather will cooperate. With a prediction of scattered thunderstorms and a 30% chance of rain it certainly looks better than it did for Sunday, but a lot can change in 18 hours. For all we know at this point the sun might be shining by morning. Or it could be snowing.
This year’s Indy has been a disaster on many levels. Regardless of what happens Monday, the revenue generated by the event thus far might not even be enough to pay the guys who pumped the water out of the Pro pits on Sunday afternoon. Traxxas can’t be thrilled by having one race rained out and the other being completed in front of only drag racing’s hardest of hard core fans on Saturday evening, but it couldn’t be helped.
From the competitor’s standpoint things were even worse. The Pro Stock brigade only got two qualifying runs, and with Larry Morgan missing the cut he’s out of Countdown contention. V. Gaines and Jeg Coughlin, Jr. are the ones to make it there. Morgan missed the cut by three thousandths of a second.
Matt Hagan and Tim Wlkerson both made the Funny Car field, so making the Countdown will be dependent on their performances in eliminations. In Top Fuel Clay Millican must go one round further than Bob Vandergriff, Jr. to make the cut, while Khalid alBalooshi still has an outside shot of getting in.
Yes, another two sessions of qualifying would have made the whole thing a lot more exciting but NHRA doesn’t control the weather.
We’re still calling this the “If” Nationals, ‘cause if it rains on Monday, anything goes. A Tuesday finish? Next weekend? Stick around. You’ll know everything as soon as we do.
SATURDAY INSIDER – THE NUMBERS GAME
Drag racing really is all about numbers. Elapsed times and speeds are germane to the endeavor, else why would we constantly hear our buddies saying, “What’d he run?” There were some plenty big numbers posted at Lucas Oil Raceway on Saturday, but the mere fact they ran at all is a credit to the National Hot Rod Association. With one eye on the weather reports (grim) and the other out the window (dark gray), competition director Graham Light kept the racers posted on what was going on through texting. Isn’t the modern world wonderful?
Someone with less intestinal fortitude might have called it a day around noon, but Light felt the weather would lift just long enough, and he was right. It may have been a late start, but in a few short hours they pounded cars down the track as quickly as possible. For the hardy fans who stuck around – and there were more of them than you might have expected – it was worth sitting through the rain and track cleanup. The performances were impressive, period.
But first, today’s confession. In yesterday’s report we incorrectly named Rahn Tobler as Jack Beckman’s crew chief, and for that we’re truly sorry on any number of levels. The first of those is that we unintentionally insulted Beckman’s real tuner, Todd Smith, and for that we humbly apologize. Heck, when a guy has his car thundering, who are we to credit the wrong person for the accomplishment? Todd smith is the one who guided Beckman to the big number last night, and another one today -- in 4.051 seconds.
Strong, yes. Good enough for the top spot, no. That was taken over by Courtney Force with a very impressive 4.049 that was coupled to a track speed mark of 317.27 miles per hour. Don’t ask. No need. It was absolutely the quickest and fastest the presumptive Road to the Future Award winner had ever traversed the drag strip. And thanks to the fans, she’ll run in her sponsor’s special race tomorrow, a race she could easily win if things go her way.
Alexis DeJoria was no slouch either, driving her Del Worsham-tuned Toyota to a 4.064 in front of her father, entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria. High fives for everyone, people!
Men, are you feeling stressed? Under appreciated? Ignored? Do you feel like you don’t have the energy you used to have? Feeling less than a man? Tired of being humiliated by girls? Get used to it. While Ms. Force was killin’ the boys in Funny Car, Erica Enders maintained her grip on Pro Stock, running a 6.624. Oh, for the good old days when girls didn’t even want to race!
While the GK Motorsports Chevy that Enders is driving is anything but a thing of beauty, it’s plenty darn fast. Victor Cagnazzi’s guys are doing an impressive job with the car, but that team isn’t the only one performing well. Allen Johnson has three cars in the show, including his own. Also running Johnson power are Vincent Nobile and Richie Stevens, who’s driving one of Johnson’s older cars. He’s seventh with a 6.666. Teams count in this class. Both of the Summit Camaros are deep in the field, as are both of the cars powered by Mike Edwards powerplants, his own and Ron Krisher’s.
But we digress! Seriously, schedule changes due to the weather threw the proverbial monkey wrench into the proceedings, potentially marring the first ever Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Top Fuel. We said “potentially,” not that it was ruined. It was anything but. Seven drivers earned their way into the field through previous national event wins, while Brandon Bernstein got the nod on a fan vote. Bernstein delivered by topping Antron Brown in the first round. The slowest winner (Bernstein) ran a 3.842, while the quickest, teammate Morgan Lucas, had a 3.792.
That sounds wonderful, but when you get right down to it the class of the field turned out to be tuners Phil Shuler and Todd Okuhara, who took Spencer Massey right into a $100,000 payday. Make that “paynight!” Massey took care of David Grubnic in the first round, dumped Lucas in the second with a 3.762, which took him to the Number 1 spot on the qualifying list, and then stopped Steve Torrence in the finale. Torrence and tuner Richard Hogan looked good throughout, but they never had the numbers Massey produced. It was as simple as that. And the car smoked the tires in the finale.
It really was a good race, one that we’re hoping will continue next year, because better weather will bring out a much larger crowd to witness the action.
By the way, let’s give Tony Schumacher high marks for recognizing what counts in drag racing. After exiting his car at the top end Schumacher publicly thanked the fans for having stuck it out through the rain, and even though he couldn’t hear it a half mile away, his thanks elicited a nice response from the crowd. Forget what anybody said about the canopy, Tony. You’re the man!
Schumacher, by the way, set Top Speed at 324.79, just a smidge better than Massey’s 3234.51. It’s Countdown time, boys, and the DSR cars are looking strong. Better be ready.
The schedule change included moving the Pro Stock cars and Motorcycles to the end of the evening, but alas, those competitors never got a chance to run. The late hour and heavy moisture in the air and on the track made it impossible to complete the sessions. Three or four pairs of Pro Stocks ran before they called it, but none made the field. The bikes were simply aced by the situation. Andrew Hines remains atop the heap, with the Hectors right behind him. Only three Suzukis made it into the top 12. Talk about your performance inequities. Did we just say that? Ah, what the heck, it’s true.
Wanna know Sunday’s weather forecast? How about an 80% chance of rain. Or the fact that they’re calling for flooding late Saturday night. But ya know what? It might all blow over. We thought – no, we would have bet that Saturday would have been washed out, but they pretty much got everything finished that they’d planned on. Because of the schedule changes we’re not sure where the Sportsman competitors are in terms of their eliminations and qualifying. It’s going to be a very tight fit to get everything completed by Monday afternoon. We all know drag racers can do just about anything they set their minds to. What they can’t do is answer this question; Who’ll stop the rain?
FRIDAY INSIDER - WELCOME TO DAY ONE OF THE “IF” NATIONALS
This may turn out to be one of the strangest U.S. Nationals in NHRA history, because as this is being written the balance of the race weekend is in serious doubt. Thanks to our friend Isaac, the race could be washed out – or not.
Here’s the scenario: It rained here in Indianapolis earlier in the week, rain that came down in such torrents that Lucas Oil Raceway was pretty much flooded out. The Sportsman pits were a quagmire but luckily, there were only a handful of cars on the grounds that early. The pro pits, while paved, were also a mess, because even the slightest dip in the pavement resulted in a pool the size of Lake Erie.
Now we come to the all-important weather forecast, which is astonishingly bad for both Saturday and Sunday, and unlike other such weekends, this one looks bad enough that it’s already caused serious concern among the NHRA brass. They’ve already made plans for a washout, but at this point we can only guess about what might happen, but here goes. If Saturday is a complete washout, which it very well could be, a lot will depend on the severity of the rain. What we mean by that is that if there’s a steadily falling but not heavy downpour – in other words, just enough precipitation to keep us from racing, NHRA will mount a major effort to complete the race on Sunday and Monday. If, however, the downpour is massive, and floods the pits as it did earlier in the week, it’s quite possible that the event will be postponed until next weekend.
We can’t ever remember beginning a race story with this kind of negative reporting, but you might as well know what’s going on if you’re not here in person.
One more thing. NHRA is well aware of the fact that regardless of the weather, even if we’re able to complete the race, it’s likely to be a financial disaster at the gate. No one is going to blame spectators facing a drive to Indy from places like Chicago, Cincinnati, or Cleveland if they stay home based on a truly awful weather forecast. It’s just the way things are.
But, hey, let’s talk for just a bit about what took place on this first day of the only real Nationals. The pros got one shot at the track on Friday evening, and despite a couple of time-consuming oildowns in Top Fuel, it was a darn good show featuring the largest turnout of cars we’ve seen in a long time. But it is, after all, Indy, and this is the race that every competitor will readily admit is the most important in his or her life. Winning this race can be a career-maker or a heartbreaker. There’s very little in between. Larry Dixon may have said it best a few years ago when he lost in the Top Fuel finale, and someone who didn’t know him well tried to console him at the top end of the track. “You don’t understand.” Dixon said. “I wanted that trophy.” Yeah, it was a Wally like every other Wally, but it didn’t say “Gatorntionals” or “Mile-High Nationals” on the engraved plate. It read “Mac Tools NHRA U.S. Nationals,” and Dixon understood full well what that meant. It was emblematic of winning drag racing’s most prestigious event.
Hector Arana, Jr. finds himself in a very uncomfortable “sandwich” in Pro Stock Motorcycle. Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson rider Andrew Hines is ahead of him at the top of the list with a 6.928, and H-D cohort Eddie Krawiec is right behind him with a 6.953. Arana ran a 6.932. The quickest Suzuki is Karen Stoffer’s soon-to-be-gone-as-a-sponsor Geico machine back in sixth with a 6.998. Behind her everyone was in the sevens. Twenty bikes ran, with Steve Johnson’s Suzuki dead last.
Surprisingly, for the first time this year we actually had fans stopping us to ask when NHRA was going to do something about the inequities in the Pro Stock Motorcycle rules. These were questions we couldn’t answer, but we have heard from reliable sources at 2035 Financial Way that changes are coming. How extensive those rules alterations may be, we just don’t know, but the mere fact that there will be alterations is good news for the fans and the class. Nothing dampens interest more than total domination by a single machine or team (John Force being the exception).
Thanks to Victor Cagnazzi’s band of engine wizards, Erica Enders has become the real deal. Make no mistake about it, she’s always been a pretty good driver with a nice fan following. But, whatever Cagnazzi Racing’s gang has found, they’ve given her a ride that she’s taken to the winners circle three times in the last, oh, say, four days (Darn! You caught us in another lie!). Guys love to say women are “hot,” but as Bob Frey is want to say, “Right now Erica Enders is certifiably hot.” People, this young lady isn’t hot. She’s on fire, and she proved it again on Friday evening, running a 6.624 for the preliminary Number 1 spot.
Other than an ill-conceived photo op after her first victory in Joliet, Ms. Enders has been the picture of professionalism, and people, don’t be surprised if she moves on from becoming the first woman to win an NHRA Pro Stock race to becoming the first woman to win an NHRA championship. She could well be your last Full Throttle champion.
Right behind Enders came the two Dodges powered by Roy Johnson engines, Vincent Nobile and Allen Johnson, both with sixty-threes. From there the list went down to Jeg Coughlin, Jr. in 12th with a 6.705.
Twenty-nine cars ran on Friday, again the most we’ve seen in a long time and yes, we know that number pales in light of the days when 55-car entries lists were almost commonplace. But, considering today’s economy, 29 is a very nice number. Mark Martino, summarily tossed at Brainerd for being 5 lbs. light, was deep in the show in sixth, right in front of Ms. Enders’ main squeeze, Richie Stevens. It’s been a while since Stevens raced in NHRA Pro Stock, and it’s been just as long for Lewis Worden (remember the old Ash & Worden entry?), who’s now wheeling Jim Cunningham’s Mustang. He’s not yet in the show, but a 6.79 shows promise even though Worden told us, “We’ll have to be really lucky to qualify here.”
In every category the pressure is really on the drivers who are on the outside of the Countdown looking in. A bunch of them still have a chance to make the cut, with one of them being defending Funny Car champion Matt Hagan. He has had an incredibly frustrating season, and the 4.225 that he ran on Friday couldn’t have done much to sooth his troubled soul. He’s 13th, and that ain’t good.
Teammate Jack Beckman is on the top of the heap, thanks to excellent driving and the tuning skills of one Rahn Tobler. Tobler gives Beckman the best chance he’s ever had at a championship. Theirs was the best of the four cars that ran four-ohs, with an oh-five-one number on the board. Impressive is the operative word here.
Johnny Gray is a surprising third, with Courtney Force and Mike Neff behind him. Behind them are Bob Tasca and Alexis DeJoria. Canadian Todd Lesenko made what appears to be his best run of the year in Jim Dunn’s Grime Boss Dodge, recording a 4.20 with a nine for the 11th spot. Dunn has been known to really get after it at Indy. It wasn’t that many years ago when he and Kenji Okazaki stepped up with the Mooneyes car to win the Big Bud Shootout here. Can Dunn get Lesenko into the winner’s circle? That might be too tall an order, but we shall see.
Guess what? The Canopy Controversy continues, as some teams are objecting to its use by Tony Schumacher, not on competitive grounds, but availability grounds. NHRA will apparently take another look at the issue after the race, but for right now Schumacher is the only one to have the device on his car. He used it to good advantage, capturing the top spot with a 3.814. In some respects Schumacher’s number was a disappointment, as a number of tuners had predicted three-seventy elapsed times, but it didn’t happen.
This is another very deep field, and if the weather holds (doubtful, people, doubtful) we’re likely to see those three-seventies. When you have an entry list including the likes of Tommy Johnson, Jr., J.R. Todd and a few others who race part-time, anything can happen.
But, this is all going to come down to one thing, and one only. That little technical formula of one part hydrogen and two parts oxygen is going to determine the outcome of this weekend. If that stuff blows by Indy, it’ll all be good. If it doesn’t, we’ll swim our way clear, and come back next week. But for right now, we’re all being held captive by the weatherman. What a revoltin’ development that is!
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