NHRA RACERS PLAN FATHER'S DAY WEEKEND STRATEGY

Written by Susan Wade.


CF ropesCourtney Force has teased her dad, been chagrined by his . . . um . . .  unique style throughout the years, and acknowledged that he has taught her and her sisters everything they know about drag racing.

But the Traxxas Ford Mustang Funny Car driver has thrown sentiment out the window when it comes to heads-up racing her famous father, John Force. And that goes for any Father's Day meetings this weekend on Tennessee's 1,000-foot Bristol Dragway course during the Ford Thunder Valley Nationals.

"I'm very excited that I'll be out there this weekend racing with my dad over Father's Day weekend," she said, "although he should know if we have a head-to-head match up, there's no way I'm letting him get that win! We've got a good race car and just need to get as many points as possible throughout qualifying and race day to climb our way back to the top."

Reigning Funny Car champion Jack Beckman also wants to leap back to the top but still is looking for his first victory of 2013 in the Valvoline NextGen/MTS Mail for Wounded Warriors Dodge Charger. But he has no delusions that just because he's the champ and a father of two that he's entitled to a Father's Day victory.

"It's very possible that we could go to Bristol and lose early," Beckman said. "What I like about what we've been doing is we have gotten this car back to the point where it is responding predictably to our input. Once you get a car to do that, you can pick away slowly at it to get it back to the top of the charts.

"Everybody in nitro Funny Car has been popped at least one time in the first round, and that will happen," he said. "I don't think there will be a Funny Car in the next five years that will not get beat in the first round a few times. That's what I love about the Funny Car class: it's predictably unpredictable."

Competitor Del Worsham, dad to 11-year-old twin daughters Kate and Maddy, knows that's true. But he also knows how to win at Bristol in a Funny Car. He won in 2003, while racing with his dad, Chuck, in the family-owned entry and again in 2009, with Al-Anabi Racing.

"In NHRA drag racing, it takes more than a good car to go out and win an event. There are plenty of ways to have a better car than the other guy and still lose. We’ve had some of that bad luck this year so we're hoping that the tables have turned in our favor for a while," the DHL Toyota Camry driver said. "We've had a good-running car all season, and we're starting to see good results."
 
Funny Car points leader Matt Hagan's dad will be there to watch his cattle-farmer son compete -- and he's bringing about 200 of his employees from Shelor Motor Mile. They're all from just up the road, about a two-hour drive, from in and around Christiansburg, Va.

"Bristol is a hometown track for me," the Rocky Boots/Magneti Marelli Dodge Charger driver said. "It's going to be crazy. It's awesome. I know they are all rooting for me, and I want to do well for them. Bristol would be an awesome race to win." Wife Rachel and their two children, Colby and Penny, will be attending, and winning on Father 's Day would mean everything to Hagan, he said.

"Rachel's been my good luck charm before," Hagan said, "so I'm really hoping she'll bring us the luck. And to have my kids with me in the winners circle would just be phenomenal.

"It's hard to think about, because we take things one round at time. You just never know what you're going to get with these race cars, so I hope to do well for everyone that's coming out to support me. We're going to dig deep and work hard," he said.

schumacher 3Top Fuel headliner Tony Schumacher joined with Funny Car's Ron Capps last year to make a memorable Father's Day for his dad and their employer, Don Schumacher, with a double-up feat.

"It is great to go racing with him every weekend," Tony Schumacher said of his recent International Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee dad. "It makes the better that much better, but it makes the worse the worst because it is tough. It is family.

"It's a tough sport to get into," he said, acknowledging he has "a family that helps pave the way to get in and teaches you the ropes." Still, he said, "There are no 600 miles to win races. It is so instant and immediate. You hear about great moments and accomplishments, and it makes it hard not to want to live up to that."

As for the specifics of Bristol Dragway, the five-time Tennessee track dominator said, "It is a difficult track since it is a little bit higher altitude. I stay close to the track and show up there well rested. I love Thunder Valley. I love the place, and I go into that race in very good spirits.

"I remember a time before the stands were there," he said, "and people would roll down the hill during the event, back when I drove jet cars there. The fans are second to none."

Summit Racing Camaro Pro Stock driver Greg Anderson, a two-time Bristol winner, will share the weekend with dad Rod Anderson, who'll be celebrating his 80th birthday.

"My parents are coming down from Minnesota, and all the siblings will be there – brothers and sisters from all over the country. We'll all be meeting in Bristol to celebrate, so that's really going to be cool," Greg Anderson said. "I told my dad on the phone last night that I've been so busy because I'm trying hard to get my car to where it will make him proud again. Without a doubt, this weekend would be a great time to turn things around."

He'll debut his latest Jerry Haas-built Camaro Friday. It has about 25 testing runs on it, and Anderson said that since the most recent race "we've tested quite a bit with this new car and . . . we've been burning the wheels off of it. We think we're fairly happy at this point. However, we have tested well in the past and not been able to translate that success at a national event. We're hoping to turn that around this weekend.

"Bristol Dragway has special meaning for me, and I'm genuinely looking forward to this weekend and kind of returning to the scene of the crime, where it all began," Anderson said. The first of his 74 victories came in 2001 at Bristol.

"Thursday will be a great start to the weekend. My Summit Racing teammate Jason Line and I will be playing in the Bristol Dragway Celebrity Golf Benefit in support of Speedway Children's Charities, and my son Cody is going to be playing with us, too. He's pretty darn good at the game, and I think it'll be a neat way to get things going.

"The theme for us this weekend is family, and we're happy to have our team owners, Ken and Judy Black, with us in Bristol. Ken is like a second father to me and, really, to all of us in the KB Racing shop. It would be such an honor to celebrate with my dad and Ken Black in the winners circle on Father's Day," he said.

WIL 0267Pro Stock's Jeg Coughlin Jr. is mindful that Bristol Dragway is a sentimental and special venue for Mopar teammate Allen Johnson. But the JEGS.com/Mopar Dodge Avenger driver, who's second in the standings, said the historic racetrack is "also a special place for our family.

"I can remember as a boy watching my dad [Jeg Coughlin Sr.] race [at Bristol] when the old track was still around. You would finish a pass and go on down around the corner at the other end. It was like another world for a kid from Ohio. Just a beautiful place," he said. "Then Bruton [facility owner Bruton Smith] came in and made the track one of the top drag-racing facilities in the world. It's just as unique for us now as it was back then, and we'd definitely like to win here again."

Coughlin won the 2000 Bristol race from the top-qualifying position. This year, Coughlin has one victory (at Topeka) and two runner-up finishes in nine races.

His older brother, Troy Coughlin, will be there for the fifth of 10 events on the NHRA Pro Mod Series schedule. He said he's excited to go to Bristol because "Pro Mod racing in the Southeast is the best, because this is where the class started. It's the old mindset of 'Cram the biggest, baddest motor you've got into your race car and let 'er rip' that people in the South really enjoy. We do, too, and that's why we love racing Pro Mod."

The Gray family -- including Funny Car's Johnny and Pro Stock racer son Shane -- will have a three-generation party there, starting Thursday at a local golf course.

Gray, his son Tanner, brother Jonathan, and their father, Funny Car racer Johnny Gray, will be participating in the 10th annual golf tournament. Tanner, the middle one of Gray's three sons with wife Amber, is a golf enthusiast Gray says will be leading the team in the tournament.

"That will be a fun way to start off the weekend with very little stress. But then it's time for us to get serious about getting the Gray Motorsports Chevy Camaro to the winners circle," Gray, who reached three straight final rounds earlier this season (at Charlotte, Houston, and Atlanta), said.

"I love this time of year. We get to race at this track that is just a beautiful place," he said. "It's a neat weekend, and we always look forward to going to Bristol. The cool thing will be that the kids will all be there, and so will my brother Jonathan and his family, and we're all going to be enjoying time together. I couldn't think of a better way to spend Father's Day."

Courtney Force's sister Brittany, a Top Fuel class rookie, envisioned a fantasy Father's Day. She said she'd love to race her dad, like Courtney gets to each weekend -- "especially in Top Fuel."

Her dad, John Force, the 15-time Funny Car champion, has competed against dragsters at Bristol in the Winston No Bull Showdown -- and he has won. Among his seemingly countless accomplishments was winning that 1999 bonus race against Top Fuel's Bob Vandergriff Jr.

JF BF fan in staging lanes"Beating the dragsters, our big brothers, that was really special," Force said, remembering his 1999 bonus win. “That was magic, but it's in the past. Right now we're having trouble just beating Funny Cars."

Force said he and his team changed the chassis, seat, and clutch on his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang and are improving: "We got a No. 1 [qualifying position] at Topeka, but we haven't put it all together on race day.  Everybody knows we've been struggling. It's no secret, but we've been there before. We know what to do. I still believe I can compete, and I still believe I can win."

That includes when he's racing against his daughter. He means against anyone. After all, he made Kenny Bernstein eat his own words in 1999. Engaging in the pre-Winston-No-Bull-Showdown hype, Bernstein said, "We remember our days in Funny Car when we whipped Force like a dog every week. I don't think it'll be any different when the Top Fuel boys line up against him in Bristol."

Said Force this week, "I know [crew chief] Mike Neff and Jon Schaffer are going to give me a good hot rod, and Bruton Smith always gives us a good race track. I'm excited about going to Bristol."

Father knows best.

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