SUNDAY NOTEBOOK -
OFFICIALLY A DRAGSTER GUY - With Al-Anabi Racing headliner Larry Dixon's dominating Top Fuel championship run last year that included winning all 12 of his final rounds, leading the field eight times, and posting a 62-11 elimination-round record, many figured Dixon would grab the lion's share of the team victories at the beginning of this season while Funny Car veteran Del Worsham worked at reacquainting himself with a dragster.
But Worsham earned his first victory in the NHRA Top Fuel class Sunday at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals.
The Chino Hills, Calif., resident heads to the April 1-3 SummitRacing.com Nationals at Las Vegas with the lead in the point standings.
In a thrilling side-by-side blast down Gainesville Raceway, Worsham's pass of 3.858 seconds at 318.99 mph in the right lane beat Tony Schumacher's 3.866 / 318.39 in the U.S. Army Dragster.
To accomplish that in his second race back in a dragster after a 16-year absence from the Top Fuel ranks, Worsham said Sunday night, "is almost surreal. I can't even tell you the emotions I feel right now.
"It definitely can't get any better than it just did," Worsham said. "I guess the only thing better would have been racing Larry Dixon in the final. But unreal -- what a day.
"We experienced a little bit of everything today. We definitely didn't have the fastest car but we had a great car when we needed to. The car performed well," the winning No. 10 qualifier said after knocking off the top three in the order.
He joined Mike Neff (Funny Car), Jason Line (Pro Stock), and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) in the winners circle.
Worsham praised the work of crew chief Brian Husen and his team, as well as the help from Dixon's crew, which helped his team prepare for the final round after the engine blew in the semifinal.
"The dragster guys came over and gave us a hand," Worsham said, before correcting himself. He acknowledged that he lapsed into the feeling that his group still is operating a Funny Car. "All my guys are Funny Car guys. We're just learning to be dragster guys," he said. Then laughing at his faux pas, he said, "That's so funny."
The Al-Anabi dragster Worsham was driving was the one Dixon used to carve out his third series title.
"The car I have is a great car and a great team. I'm driving Larry's car from last year. That thing's won 12 races; now it's won 13. The fact that it won shouldn't surprise anybody, but it surprised me. Basically, we're just riding on Larry Dixon's coattails, his tune-up," Worsham said. "I'm just lucky to be the driver. I'm the rookie at this point.
"Funny Car's cool, man. I love Funny Cars, and I have a lot of great memories in Funny Cars," he said, recognizing that he needs to consider himself a Top Fuel racer now. He said the sheikh approached him last spring with the idea of switching to a dragster and, he said, "Wahat am I going to do? Say no? I like my job."
However, he said, "To tell you the truth, I'm uncomfortable. I get in the car and I don't have that comfort level I had in the Funny Car. I'm sure it's going to be awhile before I do. I'll go out there and do my best."
It was plenty good Sunday, while Dixon was struck by some unfortunate racing luck.
"He's had some bad luck over there. He had a great run going and he broke an input shaft," he said about Dixon.
Worsham said his pattern seems to be winning from the lower half of the ladder.
"Probably an amazing stat - I don't know the exact numbers - but I think I've won more from the bottom half of the field. And we did it again here. Sometimes 'racing up' is better than having to maintain where you are," he said.
Worsham advanced past Brandon Bernstein, Antron Brown, and Spencer Massey to land in his first final-round appearance since the June 14 rain-delayed running of the SuperNationals final at Englishtown, N.J. His previous trip to the winners circle was Oct. 12, 2009, at Richmond, Va., in a Funny Car.
"It was a great race," Schumacher said. "Those were two quality teams battling it out right there. Even though Del hasn't been in Top Fuel for a lot of years, he's still a very talented driver. I sensed it was going to be a very close race."
He was right. They left virtually at the same time, Schumacher posting a .044-second reaction time and Worsham a .040.
"Despite losing to Del, we still had a very good weekend," the U.S. Army Dragster driver said after making his 104th career final round. "We got down the track with consistency and made plenty of power."
Schumacher set low elapsed time and top speed of the meet with his qualifying-best 3.814-second, track-record 325.45-mph performance and had low e.t. and top speed in both the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Worsham denied Schumacher the chance to become the all-time Top Fuel leader in Gatornationals victories with five. He was trying to break a tie with Joe Amato, Larry Dixon, and Don Garlits.
However, Schumacher remains winless at Gainesville from the No. 1 position. In his only other No. 1 Gatornationals start, in 2006, he lost to Doug Herbert in the opening round. He beat Dave Grubnic, Doug Foley, and Larry Dixon to reach the final round and his first meeting with the savvy drag-racing veteran Worsham. But his 555th round-win will have to wait until the next race, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
NEFF’S VICTORY PUTS HIM IN POINT LEAD - The competition should have listened to Matt Hagan.
Saturday after qualifying No. 1, Hagan told the gathered media he was very concerned about Mike Neff on Sunday.
His feelings were justified.
Neff scored his second career Funny Car victory by stopping Cruz Pedregon in the final round of the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. Neff ran a winning 4.092 second pass at 310.48 miles per hour.
If anyone knew how tough Neff was going to be, it was Hagan, who matched alongside the double-duty tuner/driver in three of four qualifying sessions.
“That’s a strong team right there and obviously we barely got around him last year,” said Neff, crew chief for John Force on the 2010 championship team who beat out Hagan for the title. “He’s probably just trying to be nice.”
Complimentary, maybe he was.
In Hagan’s defense, the numbers validated his claim.
After qualifying third with a 4.071, Neff ran as quick as a 4.059 in the heat of the day for low elapsed time of eliminations. Tuning wise, Neff was on his game. His driving was good enough to out-react his opponents in three of his four winning rounds.
“It was a great day for this team, we need this to keep the John Force Racing streak going,” Neff explained.
JFR teams have accounted for the last four race wins on the Full Throttle tour.
Neff is driving last year’s championship car he tuned while Force, the defending series champion is driving the car vacated by Ashley Force Hood, who is sitting out 2011 on maternity leave. Her absence is the reason Neff has returned to driving.
He only found out about returning to drive less than a month before the season began and just hours before his appointment was announced. The last time Neff had driven a Funny Car was in 2009 when he won the NHRA Auto Club Finals event title.
Neff stepped away from driving to concentrate exclusively on tuning. A part of Neff longed to return to driving if only to make up for some of his previous shortcomings during his first driving stint.
“This might only be a one year thing for me,” Neff said. “I’m trying to make the most of it. When I drove a few years ago, I was disappointed with my results. I just felt like I didn’t achieve what I wanted to. I made some mistakes driving and for some I reason, I felt unsettled.
“I didn’t feel like I did a good job in driving. This year I want to be a good driver. This win means more to me than the last one by far. I didn’t expect to drive this season. I am thankful for John Force and Castrol for letting me do it. I am bummed to not see Ashley out here. She is big for the sport. To get this chance this year, it’s the chance of a lifetime and I want to give it all I’ve got.”
The victory propels Neff into the point lead, 26 ahead of Hagan.
Neff becomes the 37th different driver to lead the NHRA Funny Car points since 1974 when the sanctioning body began crowning champions based on points.
STILL UNBEATEN - A driver couldn't have asked for a better start to the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock season.
Jason Line, 41, in his Summit Racing Pontiac, scored his second win in as many events this year, this time claiming the trophy in the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway. It is the second time in his career Line has scored back to back wins – the first being in 2005.
The win is his third consecutive victory in the Gatornationals, and marked his fourth consecutive appearance in the final round.
It is also the sixth win for KB Racing in the last eight events.
“Winning two in row is very special,” Line said of his performance this season, adding, “Because I usually don't rebound from wins very well. My goal for the year is to win more races.”
In a strange twist, Line knew exactly what his competition was doing in their effort to take the win only because Anderson is his teammate.
“Yeah, you usually don't know what your competition is doing, but I knew what they were trying - just so they could get down the track. We really left my car alone because it had been making good runs all day.
“I actually thought about it back in the pit,” said Line of the unique situation. “I thought, we're paying no attention to mine. It was a little bit funny; I was thinking I know exactly what he was doing to his car. If we were racing Edwards or Stanfield or somebody else you have no idea what they are doing. So, I was thinking, they are swinging for the fence basically.”
The ace up Line's sleeve – the right lane. While the organization worked to see if they could get Greg Anderson's car down the left lane, Line was confident his set-up would hold up in right lane.
Line led from start to finish courtesy of a .058 light to Anderson's .086. Line would need every spare hundredth as Anderson ran a quicker 6.545 at 212.43 mph to Line's 6.554 at 211.96.
The margin of victory at the finish line a scant .019 seconds for Line; or about the distance from Line's front bumper to the handle of his driver's door.
Line outran Vincent Nobile in the first round, dispatched Erica Enders in round two and then beat Rodger Brogdon in the semi's to set up the all Summit Racing final.
Anderson dispatched Larry Morgan, Shane Gray and Ron Krisher on his way to the final round.
KRAWIEC DRAWS FIRST BLOOD IN PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE - One race doesn’t make an NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle season, but Eddie Krawiec couldn’t have been happier with his results Sunday.
Krawiec capped a flawless weekend by driving his Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson to the title at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals.
Krawiec claimed the season-opening victory for the Pro Stock Motorcycle class by defeating Karen Stoffer in the final round. Krawiec clinched the victory at the starting line when Stoffer registered a redlight.
In addition to the race win, Krawiec also set the national speed record at 199.26 mph during qualifying.
“The caliber of bikes out here right now is just incredible,” Krawiec said following the win. “There are no gimme rounds of racing. You have to be on your tree, riding well and you also have to have a good tune-up and a good motorcycle and I had everything this weekend. Those speeds out there (were because) we had a great tailwind and we had some phenomenal conditions. You know when you come to Gainesville that you are going to go fast and this track had some killer air and some killer conditions and it was just meant to go fast.”
This is Krawiec’s eighth career victory and second in a row at Gainesville. Krawiec, who won the 2008 Pro Stock Motorcycle world championship, has won two Pro Stock Motorcycle events in a row as he also captured the crown at the 2010 season-ending race at Pomona.
Although Krawiec was ever-so close to the elusive 200-mph barrier, he isn’t making any bold predictions for the remainder of 2011.
“I do not know about this year,” Krawiec said. “There possibly are some other races that you can have tailwind conditions. I do not think you can do it (go 200 mph) without having a wind right now. Our bikes are just not quite there yet. I think that record will stand for another year or two.”
Krawiec, who qualified second at 6.778 seconds, beat Katie Sullivan, Gerald Savoie, reigning world champ LE Tonglet, and Stoffer to gain entrance into the Gatornationals’ winner’s circle.
“I knew I had a great motorcycle,” said Krawiec about his thoughts after he posted his 6.778-second effort on his first qualifying lap. “It was one of those things where I didn’t want to let my team down and go out there and screw up as a rider. We wanted to focus on this year being consistent and having a good motorcycle on race day. That’s where we faulted in the past. I think in testing that was one of the key things we focused on. We made six runs in one day and they were all within three hundredths of one another and all within a half mph. I’m just happy to have a great motorcycle that is going up and down the track consistently.”
Krawiec, who finished third in the points standings a year ago behind Tonglet and his teammate Andrew Hines, said there’s been no wholesale changes to his motorcycle this season.
“We just did some chassis stuff and worked on trying to just make our package better,” Krawiec said.
Tonglet beat Hines in the second round Sunday, but Krawiec wasn’t nervous when he came to the starting line against the young star in their semi-final matchup.
“This was the first day that I can honestly say I had no nerves, no butterflies, no nothing going into the first round or any round,” Krawiec said. “I just wanted to go out there and race and enjoy myself and that’s what I think I did. I didn’t change the way I did anything; neither did our team. We didn’t mess with my motorcycle much. We know when LE and that blue bike is in the other lane, we need to be on our game. It definitely shows for every other person in this category that you better be ready or you are going to get your butt spanked.”
QUICK HITS - RACE DAY REPORTING IN RAPID FASHION
ROUND ONEGIANT FIRST STEP - Doug Foley's first passes in his new Attac car came this weekend, and he made the most of them. In the opening pairing of eliminations, he won by mere inches against Doug Kalitta. Perhaps it was inspiration from drag racing's most famous driver. "It's an honor to have Big Daddy start our car," Foley said.
Foley, who began his season with no on-track testing time and a last-place showing in early qualifying, is resigned to losing his "giant-killer" status. He recovered beautifully for his owners, the Dote family, jumping into the top half of the order and edging the veteran Kalitta, who won here in 2000 and 2005.
Tony Schumacher, who came along later and beat Dave Grubnic for the right to face Foley in the next round, said, "How about Doug Foley? He hadn't run since Reading (last August)."
ANOTHER MILESTONE - Larry Dixon earned his 600th elimination-round victory in beating Terry McMillen in the opening round. Dixon, who thought it was only his 599th, was more excited that he got a bit of on-track revenge against Terry McMillen, who upset him at Pomona from the No. 16 slot. Dixon was excited about how his Al-Anabi Dragster carried the front wheels at the beginning of the run. "It felt like the Dick La Haie days."
NO REPEAT WINNER - Steve Torrence said he and Morgan Lucas, his buddy from the top alcohol ranks, "were talking a little trash" for fun during pre-race ceremonies. But the Kilgore, Texas, driver of the Capco/Tuttle Motorsports Dragster, said of the Winternational winner, "Somebody had to knock him off."
YOUNG VS. YOUNG AT HEART - No. 3 qualifier Spencer Massey used a 3.853-second, 311.41-mph run to dispatch Chris Karamesines, a driver who was inducted into the Don Garlits Museum Motorsports Hall of Fame when the fresh-faced driver from Fort Worth was 15. He said his Prestone/FRAM Dragster "went .85, just like we planned on it."
LATER, INSTIGATOR - Larry Dixon's payback from Pomona capped a crazy week for Terry McMillen that included some interaction with alligators. He and his team visited Orlando's Gatorland theme park and wildlife preserve before pulling into Gainesville Raceway, and Gatorland brought a five-foot alligator to the racetrack Saturday. Even NHRA President Tom Compton was brave enough to come over to McMillen's pit and get chummy with the reptile. (Compton, for his effort, ended up with a handful of . . . ummm . . . Gatorade.) But on the track Sunday, Dixon took a bite out the fun for the IntiGator (what McMillen calls himself and his new McKinney-built car).
BIG GESTURE FOR BIG DADDY - Drag racing legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits received another tribute Sunday morning in pre-race ceremonies, as the NHRA named the Top Eliminator Club (south/pit side) grandstands at Gainesville Raceway in his honor. The move followed the February dedication of a section of Auto Club Raceway at Pomona grandstands to the achievements of Don "The Snake" Prudhomme.
Garlits, a Tampa native and longtime resident of Ocala, Fla., said, "I look at this place and it just boggles my mind, because I remember when they built it and we had the Turkey Trot drags here and we never dreamed it would ever be anything like this. Here we have one of the major drag racing facilities on the entire planet and it is an honor to have it here in Florida."
DIFFERENT RAILS - During qualifying, the Top Fuel field had five different chassis makes: DSR, Hadman, McKinney, Attac, and Neergaard (the last a creation by Danish racer Stig Neergaard). Brandon Bernstein and Terry McMillen were Top Fuel's only drivers with a '11 McKinney, while Tony Schumacher, Antron Brown, and Spencer Massey -- the top three in the order -- were in new DSR cars.
OH, 'CHUTE - Doug Foley had lane choice against Tony Schumacher in the quarterfinals, but his chance of advancing past the seven-time champion fell apart when his parachutes fell out even before the car even got to the starting line. That gave Schumacher a free pass in the right lane, and he took the U.S. Army Dragster on a 3.83-second ride, just like he did in the left lane in the first round. Schumacher's 3.831-second elapsed time at 322.81 mph was slightly quicker and faster than his first of the day (3.836 / 322.19). Meanwhile, Foley was headed home to North Carolina to prepare for his next race, the 4-Wide Nationals at Charlotte's zMAx Dragway.
DEJA-WHO? - The Tony Schumacher-Larry Dixon semifinal match-up is a repeat of last year's semifinal. Schumacher won that one -- setting the track record (which subsequently has been rewritten twice) -- en route to his fourth Gatornationals victory. Dixon remembers it well, although when told he would face Schumacher again, he kidded, "Who?" Said Dixon, "Nah -- we've fought a lot of battles and here we are."
Schumacher beat teammate Antron Brown here in last year's final but missed out on any chance to line up against him again in the showdown. Brown lost to Del Worsham in their quarterfinal pairing.
WELL, OF COURSE - Del Worsham will make his second straight semifinal appearance in just his second race back in a dragster. He drove to a meeting with Spencer Massey. Told he would face another Schumacher driver in the next round, Worsham said, "They're everywhere -- I'm not surprised."
WORSHAM WINS HIS FIRST - Racing Top Fuel for only the second time since 1995, Del Worsham secured the first nitro victory for the Al Anabi team in 2011.
Worsham, the only bottom half of the field winner today, ran a 3.858, 318.99 to beat Tony Schumacher to the finish line. Schumacher lost with a 3.866, 318.39.
PRESIDENT 2, OWNER 0 – Two races into the season and the newly appointed John Force Racing president Robert Hight has already beaten the team owner twice. Today he put the defending series champion out in the first round.
Hight fears no repercussions.
“It’s tough when you race the boss but he’s going to tell me to go ahead and get this thing,” Hight said.
Maybe Hight will replace Force with a driver who can win? Not to worry, Force has a plan in place.
“If he fires me, Schumacher will hire me.”
Hight’s win was the only one by a driver in the bottom half of the ladder.
IT WAS UGLY – Funny Car drivers are sometimes faced with split-second decisions. Bob Tasca III made one and it worked will for him. It worked better than his 4.33, 253.75 winning pass over Tony Pedregon indicated.
“That was a wild ride,” Tasca said. “He smoked the tires halfway and I knew I had to make a decision. I stuck with it and this Boss Ford engine stayed together.”
I’M STILL CATCHING UP – Poor Johnny Gray, the re-born Funny Car rookie, is still trying to catch up with his Service Central Funny Car. Scoring his first round win since returning to the nitro ranks after racing Pro Stock, he was forced to pedal for the first time in a long time.
“I felt like I was a little behind on the pedaling,” Gray said. “We got down there. It wasn't pretty but it was effective. You don’t think. I’m not quick enough to think, so I just react.”
THE SNOW-TOWN SHAKER – Jack Beckman admits he’s never driven a nitro car in the snow, it just feels that way. In his first round victory over Brian Thiel, Beckman used up quite a bit of his lane.
Beckman ran a 4.081, 309.77 to advance to the second round where he’ll race Robert Hight.
“Too much wheel speed and I know that sounds like a contradiction for Funny Car,” said Beckman. “It’s like a car in the snow and it makes them fun to drive. It’s dancing around and moving around and as a driver you love it.”
DIE HARD IN COMPETITION – Matt Hagan may have raced the No. 16 qualifier in the first round, but in his mind, it might as well have been the No. 2 car.
“You’re up on the chip with every lap,” Hagan said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re racing John Force or Bob Bode. This car is a handful. It is up on the tires and wants to go everywhere but straight. The clutch is coming in and it just hauls butt. It’s going to get crazier as it gets warmer out here.”
CRACKING CRUZ CONTROL – If you’re driving your street car and need to disengage your cruise control, you just tap the brake. To re-engage you just press the button to resume. Cruz Pedregon pulled off a similar scenario in his Funny Car win over Ron Capps.
“That one scared the heck out of me,” admitted Pedregon. “The Snap-on Tools Toyota started shaking the tires, and I knew if I stayed with it, we were done. I decided to get out of it and get back into it. I just hang on. To get out of it and still run a 4.16 – is pretty darned good.”
MAKE A TRAIN TAKE A DIRT ROAD – Jeff Arend and Tim Wilkerson staged an ugly race. Just how ugly? If it were a train, it would have taken a dirt road.
Both drivers consumed nearly every square inch of their lanes in a dual tire-smoking duel. Arend recovered first to collect the win. If his actions in victory weren’t ugly enough, he crossed the center-line just past the finish line.
“I tried to give it back to him,” Arend admitted. “The car was moving around and it was a bit loose. I smoked the tires and got back into it. It didn’t cross the centerline so I look like the hero for now.”
Arend won with a 4.646, 198.90.
DESTINY IN HIS HANDS – Filling the double-duty role of driver and tuner, Mike Neff provided himself a significant weapon in his battle against fellow Ford racer Bob Tasca III.
Neff scored low elapsed time of eliminations with a 4.059, 312.71.
“I felt pretty good going down there,” admitted Neff. “This car has been running good. I just didn’t want to screw it up. I’m still behind these guys [in my driving] and it’s a mental game. Little by little, we are having fun.”
CRUZ CONTROL, PT. 2 – Cruz Pedregon is adamant he wants to be a leader and not a follower. His second round win from the less advantageous right lane sent a strong message.
His 4.077, 311.41 was the quickest run from the right lane.
“We made a good run last night, a 4.10,” said Pedregon. “We don’t follow trends, we don’t follow the leader. We want them to follow us.”
POLAR OPPOSITES – Four seconds after Neff defeated Tasca, he was halfway out of his firesuit in the shutdown area. On the opposite end of the spectrum, his teammate John Force, an hour after losing to Robert Hight in the first round was still walking around in his.
SPINNING HIS ICE OFF – In the first round, Jack Beckman likened his clean run with driving on snow. A round later, he won a pedalfest with Robert Hight. A 103-degree track temp makes it unlikely that he hit a patch of black ice.
Also spinning quite a bit was his DSR teammate Matt Hagan, who won despite a 4.441, 254.41 effort.
HOT CRUZ, HOT TRACK - Cruz Pedregon eliminated the No. 1 seeded Matt Hagan with a blistering 4.126, 306.95 run on the hottest track the Full Throttle Series has experienced up to this point in the season.
NEFF REPRESENTING – No. 1 qualifier Matt Hagan warned in Saturday’s press conference the driver to watch on race day was Mike Neff. Neff didn’t make Hagan regret his words.
Neff, whose last win came at the 2009 NHRA Finals, won with a 4.128, 309.27. Neff has lane choice in the final round.
NEFF WINS - Mike Neff continued the John Force Racing domination thus far in 2011.
Neff ran a 4.092, 310.48 to easily defeat an up-in-smoke Cruz Pedregon.
YOU GOT BEAT BY A GIRL - “It was a great experience,” said Busch after losing to Erica Enders in the first round of Pro Stock eliminations. “Roger Penske always told me 'put yourself in position to win and good things will follow.”
While Busch didn't get the win, good things have followed. He's gained a new appreciation for the sport of drag racing which he will spread around the country as he competes on NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series.
“It was the best run we ever put together, we just came up short. What's amazing is it was three hundredths of a second,” lamented Busch. “In drag racing that's enough to put you back on the trailer.”
Busch expressed his desire to race again, but figured he'd have to quit his weekend job to make it possible to run again this year. There is a window of opportunity around the June race in Denver.
“Who knows,” he said with a smile. “It is my sponsor's big race. However, if we are 8th or 9th in the (NASCAR) standings, we'll have to concentrate there on getting into the Chase (NASCAR's method of crowning a champion).
OH YEAH IT WAS FUN - Just how much fun did Busch have?
"It's like a carnival atmosphere here," Busch said. "I'm ready to go get a corndog, cold beer and sit and watch the rest of Pro Stock eliminations."TOP EIGHT ADVANCE – All eight of the top qualifiers advance to the second round, led by Mike Edwards' 6.517 pass at 212.59 mph. Three drivers ran 6.541, but only two advanced to the quarter-finals – Rodger Brogdon and Greg Anderson. The third, Kurt Busch, lost to Erica Enders 6.538.
CHARGING TO THE TOP - Jason Line scored the low elapsed time of the second round in knocking off Enders. Both cars left with identical .045 reaction times but it was Line’s 6.530, 212.09 which spoiled Enders’ Busch-beating party.
“I think we are definitely headed in the right direction,” Line confirmed.
STRANGE STUFF – Something seemed out of the normal for the Mike Edwards versus Ron Krisher race. The seemingly long tree eventually yielded a green light race officials determined.
Krisher who left a perplexed Edwards on the starting line didn’t see it. He just left.
“I sat there for a long time on the [rev] limiter and it didn’t come on,” Krisher pointed out. “I don’t know what happened there – but it was a MESS!”
RELATED STORY - DRIVERS BELIEVE HUMAN ERROR
NOT THE QUICKEST BUT CONSISTENT – Newly christened record holder Rodger Brogdon won his first two rounds of competition with runs only .002 apart. He beat rookie Buddy Perkinson in the first round and Pomona runner-up Greg Stanfield in the second. He will meet Line in the third round.
THE RIGHT LANE TO VICTORY - The left lane turned into a strip of disaster for number one qualifier Roger Brogdon and number seven qualifier Ron Krisher. Both Brogdon and Krisher veered right early in their runs against Ken Black drivers Jason Line and Greg Anderson respectively.
Anderson, who celebrates his birthday on Monday, might won't lane choice against his teammate, however Line was quick to point out from the top end “you don't always get what you want.”
ADVANTAGE ANDERSON - Teammates Greg Anderson and Jason Line have previously met in the final round 14 times with Anderson holding a 10-4 advantage.
LINE STILL UNDEFEATED - Showing no ill-effects of back surgery, Jason Line extended his 2011 round winning streak to eight by defeating Greg Anderson in an all-KB Racing finals.
Line has been impressive in his driving and became the NHRA Full Throttle Series’ first back-to-back winner with a 6.554, 211.96 to Anderson's 6.545, 212.83.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
SORRY DEAR – While there were no surprises in the first round, the top eight all advanced, the key match-up involved the husband/wife combination of Matt and Angie Smith.
Matt led from the light with a .026 advantage, stretching out distance at the finish line to .084 seconds with a winning 6.873.
WHEW – Top qualifier Hector Arana picked up a gift when Joe Desantis failed to stage for their first round match-up. While Arana clocked the third quickest run of the round, a 6.854, the -.02 at the light would have handed the win to Desantis.
YOU? THIS EARLY? – LE Tonglet met Andrew Hines in four finals last season. He was taken aback to see his friendly rival in the second round. Tonglet won again.
“I looked over at him in the staging lanes and said, ‘it’s much too early for us to be racing already,” said Tonglet. “I can’t say a whole lot more about this bike, it’s fun to ride. Hopefully we can get the next win.”
Tonglet faces Hines’ teammate in the second round – Eddie Krawiec.
SLAYING THE GIANTS - Karen Stoffer, on the GEICO-sponsored Suzuki, ran down number one qualifier Hector Arana in their semi-final match-up. Arana, .006 quicker off the tree was no match for Stoffer's 6.841 at 196.39 mph.
On the other side of the ladder, Eddie Krawiec showed the strength of his Vance & Hines Harley by overcoming L E Tonglet. Tonglet was two hundredths quicker off the tree, but was no match for Krawiec's 6.825 at 198.85 mph.
KRAWIEC SEALS THE DEAL - Eddie Krawiec has been a terror for the competition since the first session of qualifying on Friday. For her part, Karen Stoffer offered a serious challenge; however her chances were dashed on the starting line when her Geico Suzuki rolled the starting line beams too early with a -.002 foul start.
Krawiec, after opening the weekend with only the second 6.7-second run in Pro Stock Bike history, scored the victory with a 6.847, 197.08.
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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -
I AM WOMAN, HEAR ME ROAR - She is woman and tomorrow in the first round of Pro Stock at the NHRA Gatornationals, Erica Enders intends to roar.
Enders, the subject of a Disney movie based on her Junior Dragster career, hopes to be the winner in possibly the most publicized opening round Pro Stock drag race in the sport’s history.
Enders lines up against NASCAR superstar Kurt Busch in the opening round of Sunday’s final eliminations.
“When you put the helmet on, everything’s equal … I don’t care if you’re Kurt Busch or George Bush,” Enders said. “I’m going to do the same thing I do every Sunday. Hopefully, he will go back and tell his NASCAR buddies how tough it is to race NHRA Pro Stock.”
Admittedly, she wanted something else. As a member of the press corps suggested, “And catch a little ribbing for getting beat by a girl?”
“That’s what I was trying to say … being politically correct,” she admitted.
As Enders sees it, she has nothing to lose.
“Think about what he’s thinking. It’s his first race, he’s got me … a girl. He’s got 80 million in his entourage. It’s tough for me and I’ve driven a Pro Stocker. I’ve been doing this for seven years. I was the only girl Pro Stock driver for a long time with a camera in my face all the time. I know what he’s going through and it’s tough.”
Busch made the field as the 12th quickest while Ender’s fifth quickest lap was a 6.502 coupled with a national speed record of 213.57 miles per hour.
“He’s awesome in NASCAR and has a ton of experience,” Enders pointed out. “He’s a professional and we will fight it out tomorrow and see who comes out on top.”
For Enders, win, lose or draw, she understands a publicity windfall looms on the horizon.
“Win or lose, we’re getting media for having to race Kurt Busch,” said Enders. “It’s a great opportunity. I’m excited but as I said, I’m not looking at it any different than any other race. It doesn’t matter who is in the other lane because I have to do my job.”
Never has a day in the office for her been more crucial.
SCHUMACHER STUDIES TRACK, STAYS NO. 1 - Tony Schumacher isn't a stab-and-steer kind of drag racer. He didn't win seven Top Fuel championships by going out, willy-nilly, and just reacting to a green light.
His thoughtful approach is why he leads the field for Sunday's Tire Kingdom Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
The U.S. Army Dragster driver's 3.814-second pass at a track-record 325.45 mph from Friday held up as quickest and fastest Saturday and gave him a first-round meeting with Dave Grubnic.
"We didn't go out to try to run another (3.)81," Schumacher said Saturday afternoon. "We wanted to see if we could go faster this morning. Guess what -- we couldn't. The conditions are fine but the track isn't going to take anything better than that."
Crew chief Mike Green, perhaps a bit eerily, has developed the same unspoken vibe with Schumacher that Alan Johnson had when together they steamrolled the competition in the Army Dragster.
"Mike's brilliant," Schumacher said, recalling the way Johnson would give him "a look" that let him know the car was ready to fly and it was up to the driver. "Mike's doing the same thing. He gives you a comforting nod."
Just as they have learned each other's mannerisms, Schumacher and Green are trying to learn Gainesville Raceway's quirks this weekend.
"You've got to move these cars around," Schumacher said. "If you want to just push the pedal down and kind of finagle it through there, fine. If you want to be good at it, you go out and look at where the lights are at, what's the track surface . . . "
He said he figures that most crew chiefs tell their drivers, "Good luck -- don't kill yourself." But his theory of interacting with the car to win a round is that "you've got to put them where they need to be."
Schumacher naturally is hoping that with this 62nd career No. 1 qualifying position, his second at Gainesville, and first since 2006 that he can win here from the top spot for the first time.
But with NASCAR headliner Kurt Busch qualified for the Pro Stock field, Schumacher almost rather would have talked about Busch's first-round match-up against Erica Enders.
"It's amazing that he's over here," Schumacher said. "You have people who stand in awe of these machines, like he's doing."
As for Busch's chances Sunday, Schumacher said, "He's at a very serious disadvantage, because she's a very good driver and he's in our world. That doesn't mean he won't become great at what he does, but he's brand-new.
"He's probably going to have a hard time staging, knowing she's got 700 plans of attack and he's just sitting there, trying to figure how to roll it in with enough load on the front brakes and the clutch in the right place. It's a lot of stuff," he said. "If he does what he knows how to do -- just drive the car, make it fun -- he'll do great."
He said Busch, his former teammate when both had Exide sponsorship, has learned an entirely different system of racing and fan interaction.
"We're very open," Schumacher said of the NHRA. Of a NASCAR driver's way of doing business, he said, "They keep locked up. It builds them into a bigger star. 'We can't get to them, so they must be somebody.' They're hard to get to, so they must be important, whereas we open the doors and we're just a regular Joe. But that's all right. I love other sports, but this is where I belong. I'm exactly where I want to be."
That includes being atop the Top Fuel order.
BROGDON THE CONQUERER - Gainesville Raceway is a special place to Pro Stock racer Rodger Brogdon; made even more special as he clinched the number one qualifying spot for the first time in his Pro Stock career.
“A lot of people don't know it, but this is the first national event I ever went to when I started drag racing – probably 1984,” said Brogdon, who entered drag racing in the Super Stock class.
Brogdon complimented his crew for their effort in winning the pole for the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals.
“They did a good job. I give them all the credit; all I do is drive. Our average for four runs was underneath the old national record. That last run impressed me more – it corrected to a 48. On paper it was the fastest run we made.
“It's good to be number one, but now you're the man to beat. I was number one a lot in Competition Eliminator; but this is a different game. Anybody who qualifies in this class can win. We've got to make four more good runs tomorrow, just like we did the last two days, in order to win this race.”
Pleased to enjoy his first ever Pro Stock number one spot, Brogdon was cautious not to predict a win during eliminations.
“Anything can happen,” he said, doing his best to enjoy the moment while not appearing boastful.
When asked if he would like to line up against interloper Kurt Busch, Brogdon turned the question around and emphasized the advantages of Busch's involvement.
“I'm glad he is here,” stated Brogdon. “I think it is great for this sport. I felt sorry for him yesterday. It just goes to show you this is a different game. It is nerve-wracking. I don't care how many times you go down that track it's nerve-wracking. Most of the time if you are going to make a mistake you are going to do it at the wrong time.”
Brogdon will be doing his best not to count his chickens before they hatch as he lines up against 16th place qualifier Buddy Perkinson in the first round of eliminations.
HAGAN: NO 1, WITH EYE ON FIRST FC ‘3’ - Good old Gainesville Raceway.
Matt Hagan smiles a lot when the phrase is uttered.
Hagan’s Friday-afternoon 4.030-second run at 309.84 miles per hour held throughout Saturday’s two sessions of qualifying during the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla. Both ends of his run represent track records.
Hagan left nothing on the table with his top run. He believes crew chief Tommy Delago’s assessment was spot on.
“I just went out there and it was a handful,” Hagan said. “Tommy said it best when he said we got lucky and got all of it on that run. It was paddling the tires because it was quick on wheel speed. It went out and cleared up and then it went one-to-one [on clutch graph] and my vision got blurred. I knew at that point I was on a good run.”
The DieHard-sponsored driver’s No. 1 effort represents the seventh of his career and second consecutive at Gainesville Raceway.
“Florida has been kind to us,” said Hagan, a native Virginian. “For us to come out here and run as well as we have for two years in a row, just goes to show you how good this track is and how hard our team has worked. I think you’ll see a 3.99 run this season.”
The historic run is coming, advises Hagan. Three weeks ago in Pomona, Cruz Pedregon ran a 4.015. For his part, Hagan ran a 4.023 at the same event.
“It’s like a piece of metal, the more you massage on it, the more it will shine,” Hagan said with a smile. “We had a few issues early on out here but we got them ironed out. It’s right there. I think we are all on the verge of it and it’s going to take that one evening or morning session, with killer conditions, and you will see it pop up.”
Hagan certainly is a favorite, having scored low et in three of the four elimination rounds in Pomona and doing the same during qualifying this weekend in Gainesville.
“[Crew chief] Tommy Delago, when he comes to play, he plays,” said Hagan. “He swings for the fence and nine times out of ten, it sticks with him. He’s a good tuner and trying real hard.”
The current NHRA elapsed time record for Funny Cars belongs to Hagan at 4.010.
“I think we are going to see some crew chiefs swing for the fence during a night session later in the year,” Hagan said.
ARANA HOLDS ONTO TOP SPOT - 2009 Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Hector Arana, Jr. celebrated capturing the top spot in Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying with mixed emotions.
Happy to be the number one qualifier, Arana was disappointed with his son's failure to secure a spot in the field for the season-opener for the bike class at the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals.
Claiming his 16th career number one starting spot, second at Gainseville, was a definite happy moment for the veteran rider.
“Qualifying number one gives you a little bit, just a little bit, of feeling where you can relax and don't have to kill the tree; but as you know on raceday
anything can happen.
“Number one means you did the best at the moment of qualifying. I am pretty sure there are out there who missed the window of opportunity. When it comes to Sunday, its a new day.”
There are some advantages. Arana will be able to watch the rest of the field attack the racing surfacing.
“There is an advantage,” admitted Arana. “There are some adjustments I can make. Mentally, know what is happening already gives you and advantage.”
Given the closeness of the Pro Stock Motorcycle field, Arana will take any advantage he can get.
BERNSTEIN HONORED - As part of its 60th anniversary celebration, the NHRA honored Kenny Bernstein for breaking the 300-mph barrier at Gainesville Raceway by renaming the racetrack "301 Bernstein Way."
Bernstein and his Dale Armstrong-led team recorded the milestone March 20, 1992 -- 19 years ago.
Bernstein, who forever will be hailed as "The King of Speed" for the achievement, said the tribute was "a great honor" beyond description that "caught me completely off-guard." Still, that moment, he said, "always will be in our hearts."
That's how he remembered the speedy run itself. He said he had no idea his Budweiser Dragster would crank out that number, leapfrogging from 297 mph to 301. However, unbeknownst to him, his crew -- including Ray Alley and Wes Cerny -- was aiming for the 300, he said.
What surprised and impressed him, he said, was the "wow" factor of hitting the 300-mph speed. "We didn't realize how big a deal it was. That that didn't hit me for two weeks," Bernstein said.
He found out when he attended a NASCAR race and later at the Indianapolis 500, tending to the two other teams he owned at the time. When he climbed the grandstand stairs to take his position as a spotter at the Winston Cup race, NASCAR fans called out to him, "Hey, 300-Mile-An-Hour Man!" He got a similar reaction when his driver, Roberto Guerrero, earned the pole position at the Indianapolis 500.
"They were paying attention," he said, gratified.
"It was the last barrier in drag racing," Bernstein said. "We don't need to go 350. It's pretty ridiculous now, as fast as they go. Cars go 300-plus all the time now. That's the magic number. That's the key -- it always has been and it always will be."
He cautioned that the NHRA and its fans "can't live in the past forever. We need to keep going with the youngsters we have now," he said while remembering the sport's rich history and revering such drivers as Don Garlits ("those guys did put it all on the line"), the old and fresh both have their places. "We've got to blend them together," he said.
Bernstein was only the second to receive this rare tribute at an NHRA-owned track. Auto Club Raceway at Pomona honored Ralph Parker, the late Pomona police chief who lobbied in the early days of drag racing to give the local car club, the Pomona Choppers, the right to race on the Pomona Fairgrounds. So that historic West Coast facility has Parker Avenue, and Gainesville Raceway has 301 Bernstein Way.
CAUSE BOB SAYS SO - Ten-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Bob Glidden sat in the Cunningham Motorsports Mustang, as the engine idled during a pre-qualifying warm-up. He studied the gauge readings in the cockpit and occasionally rapped the throttle and then studied the response.
He motioned for one of the youthful crew members to make a carburetor adjustment.
Taking in the moment, off in a corner of the pit area, was Buddy Perkinson, budding Pro Stock driver under Glidden’s tutelage. Perkinson was using the moment to study Glidden’s mannerisms.
“I’m in good hands,” confessed Perkinson. “The amount of knowledge that man has is just incredible. He can get this team where it needs to be. Everybody is confident and glad he’s here. I just need to keep focused and keep working hard at it.”
Perkinson, even by Glidden’s affirmation, is off to a good start in his short career. In his first race, Perkinson established a career best run [6.593] and landed twelfth in the NHRA Winternationals field. He lowered his personal best over the course of the Gainesville weekend to a 6.584 weeks later in yet another qualifying effort.
“I need to pay attention to everything he does from warming up the car to everything else, if I could just become half of the legend he is, I’ll be successful,” Perkinson said.
Impressed, Perkinson certainly is. Intimidated by Glidden’s swagger, he once was – big time. Glidden broke the 19-year old of it rather abruptly using his trademark bluntness.
“It was kind of a mutual thing,” Perkinson admitted. “He told me in the early going during our Bradenton test that I needed to remain calm. The first two runs when I got out of the car, he told me if I didn’t calm down he’d shove his foot somewhere. I figured it would be in my best interests to do what he said.”
Perkinson smiles and points out that he and Glidden have a great relationship at and away from the track.
“The chemistry is here between us,” Perkinson said. “He knows that I want to do this and I am focused towards what it takes to make this work.
“The first day we went testing, I sat in the car and we changed whatever we needed to make this comfortable for me. I took a big jump from Comp eliminator to get to Pro Stock. Bob is the biggest asset of how we’ve come this far – this fast. I know I am 19 and we have a long road to go, but as long as he stays here, we are going to be just fine.”
And with his closing statement, Perkinson went back to studying his mentor.
FORCE HOB-NOBBING WITH THE CELEBS - John Force is used to being a celebrity in the drag racing world. Outside the straight-line sport, his status is hit or miss.
Force took his NHRA/John Force Racing Traveling Road Show to last weekend’s NASCAR event at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and met the superstars of stock car racing from NASCAR President Mike Helton to Jeff Gordon to Kyle Busch and even shared a stage with the legendary NASCAR icon Richard Petty.
The most intriguing celebrity the 15-time champion met was a true racing novice – Paris Hilton.
“I read the National Enquirer,” said Force. “It was fun to watch her in a place she didn’t know where she was at. She seemed like a real nice kid.
“The weekend was fun and we spread the word about drag racing.”
Force’s traveling road show, still using a makeshift trailer, is in full swing as the champ puts it, “bringing racing to the masses”.
And, according to Force, his promotional blitzkrieg is getting the attention of the motorsports movers and shakers.
“The race fans can get on a kiosk and watch interviews with NASCAR drivers talking about what we do,” Force explained. “It has interviews with drag racers talking about how they like NASCAR. We gotta put butts in the stands for all of motorsports, drag racing, stock car and Indy car, for that matter.”
For as good as Force’s efforts are, the goodwill gesture doesn’t put him above ribbing from the NASCAR elders.
Force took his trusty bus to the event and lined up alongside the upper echelon of NASCAR’s fraternity. Yes, the same bus, Force admitted is a rolling relic, with parts falling off on a regular basis.
However, it wasn’t the condition of the bus which made Force the butt of the jokes.
“A bunch of NASCAR drivers were standing around laughing at my bus,” Force said with a chuckle. “They couldn’t understand why my name was on the side of my bus.
“I guess Richard Petty said, ‘Either Force’s ego is so big or he’s gotten so old he forgot which bus was his.”
He might forget which bus he owns but he’ll likely never forget meeting Paris Hilton.
SMILES PLUS FOR PARTS PLUS - Even in his most trying moments, Clay Millican sports a smile. But the one he flashed Saturday morning was wider and shinier than usual, for he was surrounded by representatives from his new primary sponsor, Parts Plus.
From this match made in Memphis, Millican will compete at 12 Full Throttle Drag Racing races this season and a full schedule in each of the next two years.
Justin Crosslin and Mike Domagala, who served as Millican's crew chiefs for his two appearances last season at Reading, Pa., and Las Vegas, are back, along with the longtime team members.
Steve Tucker, vice-president of Parts Plus' Auto Pride brand, said Saturday, "We are excited as can be to be here. This is our first foray into NHRA, let alone Top Fuel. We see a lot of value in it. And we don't think there's anybody better than Clay. Without him we probably wouldn't have done this. His presence goes beyond drag racing. He has enabled us to expand our influence."
Besides the fact that "the NHRA looked like a much better spend, Tucker said the NHRA demographic is right in Parts Plus' wheelhouse. NHRA fans, he said, "are car people, people who do maintenance of their own vehicles."
Tucker is a local circle-track veteran who races his '67 Chevelle at Riverside Speedway across the Mississippi River from Memphis in West Memphis, Ark. So he already understood the industry and was aware that the six-time International Hot Rod Association Top Fuel champion lived just 40 miles up the road in Drummonds, Tenn., and operated his shop out of nearby Munford. But he had to guide his corporate colleagues.
He said this Parts Plus sponsorship with MPE Motorsports has been in the works since last July. "We had a lot of research to do. The corporate people were not that familiar with drag racing. First came the education, then the opportunity."
However, he said, "As a fan myself, I think to have this level of involvement is thrilling."
For MPE boss Mark Pickens, who bought the team in 2008, the partnership is a blessing. Last May brought sickening news -- floods that struck Middle and West Tennessee and a huge portion of the South left a muddy mess in Millican's shop, ruining much of his racing memorabilia and damaging his dragster.
"I thank God for so many things," Pickens said, "but I'm thankful that out of tragedy good things can happen. That's the message: don't lose faith and don't lose hope. Good things will happen."
Said Millican, "Mark and Lauren Pickens kept us employed for a full year, and we only raced twice."
Pickens' loyalty paid off with Tucker's investment in the race team and hospitality plans for 10 of Millican's 12 appearances this season. He said, and Millican reiterated, that selling parts and improving the bottom line is as much a goal for Parts Plus and winning that first NHRA race and more is for Millican.
ARANA THE ROOKIE: NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS - Life didn't go according to plan for Hector Arana, III during qualifying for the Tire Kingdom NHRA Gatornationals.
Arana, son of 2009 Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Hector Arana, Jr., couldn't put together a quick enough pass to garner one of the 16 spots making up the Pro Stock Motorcycle field for Sunday eliminations.
“I expected it to be a little easier,” admitted the youngster who is vying for rookie of the year honors this year. “I don't know if it's the pressure getting to me or the bugs are starting to come out of the new bike; but its been a tough weekend for me.”
Tough included a close call with the wall in the right lane on the first day of qualifying and another slip towards the same wall in the first round of Saturday qualifying.
Prior to his final pass, this one in the left lane,
“I get more determined because this is one race I would not have qualified for. It won't discourage me; it's just going to make me try harder. It's the first race, so we've got all year.”
One aspect of being a higher rookie Arana was not fully prepared for was the media coverage. Arana was quick to adapt and learn “lessons on how to handle the pressure and how to stay focused.”
Arana's father, thinking back to his first attempt to run Pro Stock Motorcycle, remembered the outcome wasn't any different.
“I was at my home track, running good and I didn't qualify. Everything went wrong, also. It can happen. Overall, I think it was the best thing to happen. He learned a big lesson; if he keeps that in mind and respects the motorcycle, he'll be fine.”
With a month off before the next Pro Stock Motorcycle event, the younger Arana should have plenty of time to further prepare for the pressures of racing as a professional.
A THREAT AGAIN? - For a driver who never even started his dragster before Friday's first qualifying session, Doug Foley fared pretty well Saturday. He vaulted 12 positions, from unqualified and dead-last among 20 Top Fuel drivers to the top half of the field at No. 8. He did that in the third qualifying session with a 3.869-second pass at 310.55 mph) and held on through the fourth session for the right to meet Doug Kalitta in Sunday's opening round.
"We hadn't even started the car until we got here," Foley said, although he said he and his partners, the Dote Family, "spent every day" planning for this race since last August's event at Reading, Pa.'s Maple Grove Raceway.
"We changed everything," he said. "We changed cars. We changed crew. The only things that's the same from last year is the owners (the Dotes), me, and Doug (crew chef Koch). It seems to be working."
He attributed Friday's stumble to troubles figuring out some new clutch disks.
Foley, a transplanted New Jersey native who works out of his new shop in Mooresville, N.C., has four full-time crew members. Part of their Gatornationals preparation was getting last year's dragster ready after it was back-halved. Simply having a back-up car in the trailer is a luxury, he said, "especially for a team that's planning on running only 10 races. We don't care if we go to one race or 22 races. We want to be able to be competitive when we're there."
In the past few years, ever since he switched from IHRA competition to NHRA racing, Foley has developed a reputation as "the giant killer," a David of sorts against the sport's Goliaths. But, Foley said, "We didn't feel like that yesterday (Friday)," he said. "We thought we had lost that reputation yesterday but we seemed to have it back today."
Foley qualified ahead of veteran Del Worsham, his former IHRA on-track nemesis Clay Millican, and Winternationals winner Morgan Lucas, among others.
"This team would do well if we could ever go 22 races. We've just got to go find some money," Foley said.
Plans call for Foley to skip the April 1-3 Summit Racing.com Nationals at Las Vegas, return to the tour at Charlotte.
LOOKING AHEAD TO GO BACK IN TIME - While Ron Capps and Jeff Arend are both focused on their tasks at hand with Full Throttle Funny Car racing at the NHRA Gatornationals, there’s a small compartment in the back of their minds already in Southern California.
The seasoned Funny Car drivers are scheduled to race Nostalgia Nitro Funny Car next weekend during the Bakersfield March Meet.
“I’m honestly trying not to think about it too much,” said Arend, with a broad smile.
Arend will pilot Dale Pulde’s War Eagle flopper while the drag racing legend continues his recovery from Valley Fever. Next weekend will mark the first time in Arend's storied career that he’s driven one of the modern day equivalents of the classics.
“Once we are done with this race, I will think a lot about it,” Arend admitted. “It will be great to go back to quarter-mile racing. And, what can you say about the opportunity to drive for the legendary Pulde? I’m honored to do this and help him out.”
Unlike Arend, Capps is a seasoned veteran of the old school cars who is downright giddy about racing in Bakersfield. Capps is driving a car for Top Fuel racer Del Worsham.
“I’ve been sending out tweets all day long pointing out the best thing about the beautiful Gainesville weather is that it won’t get rained out and rescheduled, so we can make it to Bakersfield,” Capps said. “The popularity of this event is like an avalanche.”
Capps’ team over the course of the weekend could be likened to a beer league softball team filled with current professional baseball players. Those helping to turn the wrenches on the Worsham-owned car include Chuck Worsham, current nitro tuners Tommy Delago and Nicky Boninfante, Grant Downing and Chad Head.
“I’m pumped up, and while I’m not overlooking this weekend, Del and I are texting back and forth with each other looking forward to next weekend,” Capps said. “All you have to do is go to the event once and you will see what we are talking about; Funny Cars doing half-track burnouts with no side windows and smoke pouring out.”
While Capps has enjoyed those teams he’s been able to drive for, there’s a part of him longing for the chance to drive a Nostalgia car for big show team owner Don Schumacher. Schumacher, in the 1970s, was a legendary Funny Car racer.
Which car would he love to drive? Arguably the most revered of the Schumacher Funny Cars – the old Wonder Wagon-themed Vegas Panel Wagon.
“I’ve talked to Don about it, hoping we could put one of his old Wonder Wagon cars out there,” Capps said.
FINDING THE RIGHT WINDOW - Two races into the 2011 NHRA Full Throttle season, former Comp eliminator standout turned Pro Stock racer Richard Freeman likes his chances of having a good season. A race car switch between national events has him even more stoked.
“We've gained a lot, we feel like we're good, we just have to prove it now,” said Freeman, who is sponsored by Elite Performance. “We've done a lot of testing and picked up since we've started. There's a lot of tough competition out here. We have to keep stepping forward and every race is a new deal.”
Freeman is racing at this weekend’s NHRA Gatornationals with a car that is new to him and according to him, the ex-Johnny Gray Pontiac is exactly what his team needs. After racing much of his Pro Stock career with a Rick Jones chassis, he’s giving a Jerry Haas car a try. The new car provides more of a chassis tuning allowance, or as he puts it “a larger window”.
“The window in our other car just wasn’t as big,” said Freeman. “Rick Jones and I are very good friends, and we want to continue that work with him, but right now we feel like we have to do what’s best. We have some people consulting on the car and we felt like that was the right move so we will see this weekend.”
There are other variables in the equation, Freeman admits, affecting the window. They used a test session earlier this week in Valdosta, Ga., to get the details ironed out.
“I'm so big up top weight transfer and in those cars it is a big thing,” said Freeman, who is 6-2, 248 pounds. He lost 50 pounds during the off-season.
“We got down a couple of times [with the new car] when we feel like we couldn’t have got down in another car. You don’t know till you get around everybody else to know where you stand.”
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - A RECORD-SETTING DAY IN GAINESVILLE
BROGDON: LIVING FOR THE MOMENT - Living for the moment is just fine with Rodger Brogdon.
Brogdon, the successful businessman from Tomball, Texas and driver of the Racers Edge Pro Stocker, made the quickest run in the history of the class during Friday’s first qualifying session at the NHRA Gatornationals – 6.495.
For the moment, he can bask in the prestigious accolade.
“I figured the run was quick enough to be the low qualifier but I never figured it was going to be as quick as it was,” Brogdon admitted. “We had a good track, the right air and here we are.”
If the run holds through Saturday’s qualifying, it will be his first career Pro Stock pole position. A 6.510 during the second session serves as an adequate backup.
While both Mike Edwards and Greg Anderson ran identical 6.495 elapsed times, Brogdon ran his first and produced the faster speed of the trio, so he’s headed into Saturday’s qualifications as the historic driver, a feat he says his friends have reminded him “about 200 times”.
“I think it might sink in later tonight,” Brogdon admitted. “Everybody has worked so hard on this team and my guys deserve it. We’ve went through changes, crashes and a lot to get to this point. It feels good, I can tell you that.”
Brogdon’s feat is made even more impressive considering he’s driving with a torn meniscus (knee) suffered last summer.
He was scheduled for off-season surgery but opted out, choosing to manage the pain with his sponsor’s product – The Racer Edge pain management chips.
“Really doesn’t bother me at all,” Brogdon confirmed. “In fact, I’m chipped up all over – feet, knee, back and everywhere – and I feel good. Might not be so good passing through a metal detector right now but we don’t have to do that driving out here.
“I drove real good today. I did today, like I do most any first day of an event, got fired up about racing and driving. I got the [rpms] high in the burnout box but not enough to hurt anything. I staged it shallow and it worked out real well. I felt like during the run, it was so smooth, I could have turned loose of the steering wheel.”
Brogdon attributes a good bit of their Friday success to a laid back approach to racing in one of drag racing’s most complex professional categories.
“Our bunch is from the south and we do things a lot different,” said Brogdon. “We’re not as serious as everyone is all the time. I think a lot of that comes from those who are actually trying to do this for a living. We’re not and we know we are fortunate that we get to do this.
“We might not be as serious regarding what our team can or can’t do. But, you’ll not find a team more serious about winning.”
You’ll not find a quicker one either.
SCHUMACHER'S SURPRISE - If you had told Tony Schumacher one week ago a 3.814 would be enough for the provisional top spot in Top Fuel qualifying, he would have said you would been proved wrong.
Yet, there he was, sitting in media center doing the interview as the provisional pole sitter in Top Fuel after the two rounds of Top Fuel qualifying for the NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
“I thought everyone would go much quicker,” admitted Schumacher. “I don't think anyone here would have said at the beginning of the day an 81 would be the number one qualifier in Top Fuel.”
Having smoked the tires in his first qualifying pass, Schumacher needed to make a solid run on his second run.
“We smoked the first round heavy, so we needed to be overly cautious to make sure we could get down the track,” said Schumacher.
While Mike Green, Schumacher's crew chief, was cautious on the second run he was not overly cautious. Green left a little bit on the table, leaving just enough to secure the top spot with more than enough speed to spare. Schumacher's 325.45 mph was seven miles per hour faster than teammate Antron Brown's 318.39 mph on a 3.822 second pass.
First round quickest Larry Dixon's 3.858. Dixon slowed to a 6.994 on his second qualifying run.
Quite pleased with the day's efforts, Schumacher lauded the track and it's history.
“I have always considered (this race) possibly the biggest,” said Schumacher. “It is an amazing race. It's not the first race, but you've got a little momentum.”
With four Gatornational titles under his belt, Schumacher is looking to build momentum towards a fifth trophy Sunday.
With Antron Brown second quickest and Spencer Massey third, Schumacher Racing has a near lock on spots in the top half of the field.
Dixon's teammate, Del Worsham has not faired so well. Worsham was 18th quickest on the day with a coasting 4.846 at 155.56 mph.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the ageless Chris Karamesines sits 10th on the field with a 3.898 at 309.98 mph. Karamesines' age is by his own admission somewhere in the low 80's.
NO MORE FRUSTRATION - Already this weekend, Funny Car standout Matt Hagan has plenty of pressure from teammates Jack Beckman and Johnny Gray, who closed Friday qualifying in the Nos. 2 and 4 spots, respectively. Dogging him as well is the Ford contingent of Mike Neff, Bob Tasca III, and John Force, who also are in the top six.
As if that weren't enough, Hagan is haunted by words from his boss, Don Schumacher: "You're only as good as your last run."
Hagan came into the NHRA Gatornationals, still agonizing about his most recent run -- a final-round holeshot loss at the Winternationals to Robert Hight -- a result he said "makes you want to throw up in your helmet."
But, by the end of competition Friday at Gainesville Raceway, Hagan had a track-record 4.030-second pass (at 309.84 mph) which landed him atop the qualifying order overnight in the Die Hard Dodge Charger.
Maybe now Hagan can shake that angst, the angst of finishing second to Force for the 2010 championship and of falling short against Hight in his February return to Pomona.
"I wanted to get out here and make a run," the eager Hagan said. "It does a lot for my confidence to come out here and run some numbers like we have been and know that we're going to have a fast car on Sunday."
He said thinking about the ones that got away -- races which yield a less-than-perfect performance -- are constructive, not burdensome to him.
"It's so easy to forget the ones you didn't do well at. I try to remember those," he said, "and make sure you don't tuck them away and write 'em off."
Going back to the season opener, he said, "We should've won that one. We had the car to beat. I left a little bit on the table. It was one of those things where I got caught with my pants down. You look over and think, 'I hope that was good enough.'
"That whole week I changed up what my routine was. But no excuses. Robert was ready, and I wasn't. Next time I've got to dig a little deeper," Hagan said. "To let my guys down like that, it definitely hurt inside . . . to know they worked so hard to get us there and me being the weakest link."
Hagan gave kudos to the Safety Safari for its track prep Friday in Gainesville, saying, "To be able to run an .03, you have to have a good track. The track's real good out there. The Safety Safari has been doing a great job."
He said the Tommy Delago-prepared Charger "was on a great run. It was going everywhere but straight. I was trying to reel it in and keep it in the groove."
He did -- and maybe that means Hagan, too, is in the groove again.
JUST A LITTLE LOVE - Riding a bike which last year was a bit on the fickle side, Hector Arana put together passes of 6.777 and 6.790 seconds to grab the provisional top spot in the opening qualifying rounds for Pro Stock Motorcycle during the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Florida. The 6.77 pass is a national record.
Eddie Krawiec was second quickest at 6.788 seconds, 199.26 mph, securing the national speed record.
Both riders made their best pass in the first session of the two scheduled for Friday.
Arana was truly surprised when he learned he set a national record.
“It felt like I missed the tune-up. It felt slow,” revealed Arana, who thought because he had neglected his bike over the offseason, slow was to be expected.
“I tried to get the ET but there is no slips at the top end; no radio. One of the other members of a team was hollering, 'good job. Good job.'
“It was unbelievable when they gave me the slip with the 6.777. It felt slow.”
To say Arana was surprised at the run might be a bit over an understatement.
“Might bike didn't get touched until about two weeks before this race,” revealed Arana. “All I did was put in new rings, honed the cylinders; Larry Morgan did that for me, other than that I neglected my bike.
Arana did a little bit more than just hone the cylinders and put in new rings.
“When I put my motorcycle back together I gave her a big hug, and I told her, 'honey, you are still my number one, I love you; don't get jealous.'”
In the second round of qualifying, Arana was nearly as quick, but his mind wasn't entirely on the business at hand. His son, Hector Arana, III came dangerously close to the wall on his second run. The younger Arana suffered a minor abrasion of the foot but was checked and released by medical personnel at the track.
“I don't know if he is letting the pressure get to him but it sure is getting to me!” said Arana. “I haven't checked on him but I hear he is okay. I am pretty sure he doesn't want to hear what I have to say.
“He'll realize now this is not as easy as it seems; a lot of things can happen.”
The single message Arana said he will relate to his son - no run is worth your life.
Once Arana saw his son make the turn at the end of the track, he strapped on his helmet, patted his baby on the tail and got down to the business of qualifying.
WELCOME TO THE 6.70S - Hector Arana ran an previously unimaginable 6.777 during the opening Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying session at the NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla.
Oddly, it was Eddie Krawiec who proved the run was no fluke, with a 6.788 pass; representing the two quickest runs in the history of the class.
“I was surprise because I felt like I missed my tune-up,” admitted Arana of the historic run. “I believed the pass was slow and over. I was surprised by the 6.77. This feels great.”
Arana ran 4.316 to the eighth-mile on the momentous run at 162.86 miles per hour. This too was a best for the class.
“I really didn’t work on my bike during the off-season but I knew the performance was there from last year,” explained Arana. “We left it alone and concentrated on my son’s bike.”
Arana checked the atmospheric conditions early in the day and the initial readings of below sea level air indicated the potential of big runs. However, with the increased challenge of preparing two bikes for the first run of the season, Mother Nature’s potential got lost in the shuffle.
“It was minus a couple of hundred of feet earlier in the morning but before we ran, I couldn’t tell you what it was,” Arana admitted. “I never looked at it, so I will admit I was lost headed up to the staging lanes.”
Just like Arana, Krawiec pointed out he’d felt other runs which seemed quicker.
“It ran smooth and straight as a string,” Krawiec explained. “Because of that, I was able to concentrate on my shift points and it slowed down the experience because I wasn’t having to ride it. I honestly didn’t think it was that fast.”
Krawiec had the fastest speed of the two trail blazers at 199.26 miles per hour, also uncharted waters.
“There’s always the potential for record runs here in Gainesville,” said Krawiec.
Adding to the incredible atmospheric conditions, according to Krawiec, was a 20-mile per hour tailwind.
“You always know when that tailwind is there, you have the opportunity to run fast,” Krawiec said. “These were Disneyland conditions, negative altitude and a tailwind.”
Krawiec believes the potential is present to run quicker adding he believes Arana could have left as much as .02 on the table with his run.
For Arana, the record-setting run was enough to send a message loud and clear.
“We are working hard and want to win another championship,” Arana proclaimed.
GUGLIOTTA GOES FROM AAA TO THE MAJORS - Frank Gugliotta can honestly say he knows how a minor league baseball player feels getting the call to play in the majors. The decorated mountain motor Pro Stock racer, who built a name racing in the IHRA, is now competing in the big show - NHRA.
Gugliotta is racing a Pro Stock Mustang at the NHRA Gatornationals largely in part because of the help JR Carr has given him.
“This is a dream come true and one that’s a long time coming,” Gugliotta admitted. “I raced with the IHRA for many years, and now there’s no longer a place to race since they did away with Pro Stock. It’s always been a dream to race (NHRA) Pro Stock and we are truly starting at the bottom here. We know it’s going to be a hard deal, but we’re going to try our best and see what happens.”
Gugliotta, along with Carr, are making a concentrated effort at a 12-race tour in 2011. Some races they will field two cars and at others just one. Some of the races will feature Gugliotta as the driver, others will feature Carr.
“Hopefully we can get out there and qualify; we kind of don’t think we have the power to do that quite yet,” Gugliotta admitted. “We just need to get some passes under our belts. We just need data.”
Gugliotta confirmed that he and Carr have embarked on an in-house engine development program. They started on the program last June with longtime Gugliotta associate, George Miller, overseeing the program.
Gugliotta makes no qualms that his participation this season is solely due to Carr’s assistance. In fact, the rig transporting his new Mustang belongs to Carr.
“He’ll most likely drive my car in Charlotte,” Gugliotta explained, adding he’ll likely drive another car that weekend.
Gugliotta plans to make the most of this opportunity.
“I can’t even explain, these are the guys I have idolized coming up in drag racing,” Gugliotta said. “Warren Johnson, Bob Glidden and Lee Shepherd, those were the guys over here I looked up to, they made me want to do what I am getting the opportunity to do now. Just to race with them, is tremendous. Just qualifying will be a big feat.
“I’ve had success over there [IHRA], won races and even set records. Over here this is the big leagues, the majors. I can only imagine how a rookie feels standing in the batter’s box when a Cy Young pitcher is on the mound.”
If only Gugliotta can get into the starting lineup, he’ll feel like an all-star.
A REAL HOT SHOE – Rookie Pro Stock Bike rider Dawn Minturn understands her flaming red locks and driven personality could label her as a fiery redhead. However, in testing leading up to this weekend’s NHRA Gatornationals, her right foot was hotter than her hair.
Minturn was making a test run at Palm Beach International Raceway when her foot began to get warmer with each gear shift. During the course of the run she attempted to look at her foot, an unsafe practice at 180 miles per hour; immediately she moved her foot off the peg and completed the run.
"I looked down and saw my big toe, and I know there was something very wrong,” said Minturn. “I had on my full leather safety suit and boots, and I knew I didn't drag my foot, but now I had searing pain down there and my whole toe was exposed and flaming red.”
Later it was discovered a shorter exhaust pipe that had been installed on her bike which blew directly on her foot resting on the pegs.
"Definitely not what was planned, and man, did that hurt," she said.
Minturn was examined and released by local medical personnel, cleared to race this weekend by the NHRA and was ready to get back on the bike and make more runs - after the pipes were changed.
WHERE'S WALDO, JUST ASK FORCE - John Force learned a valuable lesson Wednesday.
Speed is king on the drag strip but in the small town of Waldo, Fla., it can get you in a heap of trouble.
Fifteen world championships mean nothing if a policeman clocks you running 62 miles per hour in a 45 mile per hour zone. He also learned the same shtick he routinely entertains the media with holds no value in the pouring rain when trying to find favor with “ole smokey”.
Force, by his own admission was in search of a Dunkin’ Donuts, and despite flying by signs warning of the speed trap, was in his own little world while accompanied by daughter Courtney and publicist Elon Werner.
Once Force saw the lights, he figured he could reason his way out of the punishment.
It was wishful thinking on his behalf.
“I went right into the Force bull-jive talking,” Force explained during Thursday afternoon’s pre-Gatornationals press conference. “I asked him, ‘Do you know how fast I will be going at this weekend’s Gatornationals?”
The officer didn’t bite, according to Force.
“I don’t know how fast you’ll be going but I know how fast my radar said you were going and you’re getting a ticket,” the officer responded, according to Force. “You can shut up, get in your car and I’ll see you at the Gatornationals.”
Ticket in hand, Force learned his options as the officer so eloquently delivered them.
“He told me my options,” Force said. “One, you can pay it. Two go to jail. Or three, come down here, pay it and then go to jail. The policeman was just doing his job. And my PR man, putting the spin on the deal said, ‘thank you sir.”
“I looked at him and said, ‘what are you thanking him for?” Force said.
Press conference emcee Bob Frey had the answer.
“Because he didn’t take you to jail.”
HE'S JUST A CAR GUY - Champions filled the dais on Thursday morning in the Top Eliminator Club at Gainesville Dragway – Don Garlits, John Force and the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, Kurt Busch.
Garlits, considered the premier driver of his time, represented the NHRA's storied past, Force it's storied present, and Busch – what did Busch represent?
Busch was on the stage representing his own dreams and desires. His own need to do more than just drive in circles – a need to do what true racers need to do, race. Garlits raced in his day, and still runs down the track, because he loves to race. Force races for the same reason – he loves to race. Busch is no different.
“I'm a car guy,” said Busch, Glidden and Force at his side listening. “I hope we make two good passes on Friday, Saturday, and that gives the opportunity to make more passes on Sunday and be there for eliminations. It's a whole different challenge.
“At the end of the day it's a racecar and a racetrack and I am here to put the best effort down. This feels like being a rookie again.”
The side benefit of this endeavor is also important to Busch.
“Just being a regular guy and just trying to have fun – I can't do that. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with (my being here). We're looking to enjoy this weekend for what it is worth; to go out there and compete with the best of the best and to live up to what these legends have done for our sport, this sport; nobody does it alone. This is like family and everyone here has accepted me like family.”
Busch said “our sport,” before correcting himself. Not NASCAR, not Indycar and not NHRA. Kurt was thinking and talking about racing in general.
“It is motorsports in general,” agreed Busch. “I'm a car guy. That is why I love to come to this event; to go to drag races when I can. To go to sports car races. To jump in an Indycar racer when I had the chance. To go to sprint car races and see the USAC race; to just be a car guy. My dad had street rods. Just being around cars; feeling the love for these cars. It's just about being a car guy.
“We are car people and we generally love to be a competitor in all we do. That is why we are all here because we are car people.”
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN - “Big Daddy” Don Garlits shakes his head all the while thinking of what could have been.
The Kid, the nickname Garlits bestowed upon Darrell Gwynn, was a racer of largely untapped nitro talent, a star on the rise and certainly a threat to Garlits' throne as king of the Top Fuel dragsters. Garlits knew an up and coming star when he saw one.
Coming to Gainesville Raceway always reminds Garlits of Gwynn, the facility the Floridians both claim as their home track.
Gwynn, who made his nitro debut at 23 year old , was winning national events and establishing world records during his meteoric rise through the ranks. A year later, he challenged Garlits for the world championship and fell short despite winning four races and finishing in the runner-up spot thrice.
Then on Easter Sunday 1990, while making an exhibition run at Santa Pod Raceway in England, the drag racing world watched Gwynn’s dragster break apart as it crossed the finish line. The end result of the accident - Gwynn was paralyzed.
Garlits admits one of drag racing’s most promising nitro racers could have and would have been a driver for the ages.
“He would have been a champion,” Garlits said. “He’d be giving these guys a fit. The Schumachers, the Dixons, he would have been right there with them. It was a terrible thing.”
Starting on Friday, during this weekend’s NHRA Gatornationals, Garlits will meet up with Gwynn in a best two-out-of-three match race series while driving specially-prepared electric dragsters. The races will be for charity aimed at raising awareness of the Darrell Gwynn Foundation and the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.
There’s a part of Garlits who wants to go after the jugular against Gwynn in the special competition and then there’s the compassionate side towards the “Kid” he believed would one day take the sport to the next level.
“It’s a tough deal,” Garlits admits. “I’m just doing it for the charity. I don’t want to outrun him because I feel sorry for him. It’s a terrible thing. He’s really done a lot with his life. I ain’t taking that away from him. I know because a long time ago, I saw the potential he had. But then again, I don’t want him outrunning me either. I don’t know how to handle this thing exactly.”
Gwynn’s last Top Fuel victory came at the 1990 NHRA Gatornationals in Gainesville.
GARLITS: THE WAY IT USED TO BE - Don Garlits can’t help it. He’s prone to call things as he sees them.
With Garlits' words, applause erupted from the audience in the general public section of the Top Eliminator club. Garlits has this kind of effect on the race fans still, years after retiring from active nitro competition.
“You don’t even need a parachute here because there’s so much distance,” Garlits added.
Garlits will be busy this weekend handling his duties as the NHRA’s legend for the 60th anniversary, running a special electric dragster match race against former rival Darrell Gwynn as well as racing his A/Stock Automatic Dodge Drag Pak Challenger.
Garlits has embraced racing the sportsman competition.
“It’s fun racing, it’s a lot of fun and they are a bunch of super guys just like the old days,” Garlits explained. “They will come over and help you and loan you parts. It’s not as corporate and reminds me of the days when we started racing.
“We did this [drag racing] for a long time before money had anything to do with it. We just loved running it and that’s sportsman racing. We do it because we love to run our cars.”
And then there’s his relationship with the NHRA, it’s much better.
“We get along real good now; it’s not like the old days when there was a lot of eephus going on,” Garlits said.
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