SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - THE 2011 NORWALK IS IN THE BOOKS
TIGHTEST COMPETITION EVER - They were evenly matched Sunday afternoon at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals, Top Fuel finalists Del Worsham and Spencer Massey.
- Worsham brought a 24-5 elimination-round record to his fifth final of the season; two-time winner Massey took his 22-7 mark to the starting line.
- Worsham has led the standings since winning his second Top Fuel race in 15 years in March at Gainesville. Since then, Massey has climbed from seventh place to third and was as close as second place earlier this month.
- They represented two of the NHRA's elite organizations: Worsham, the Al-Anabi/Toyota team; Massey, Don Schumacher Racing.
And they went down the Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park 1,000-foot course side by side. But Worsham had a little extra in his tank and won with a 3.905-second, 298.14-mph effort to Massey's 3.931, 297.42 in the formidable FRAM Dragster.
Worsham will take his points lead into the July 7-10 Route 66 Nationals at Joliet, Ill. He leads No. 2-ranked Massey by a mere 61 points.
"To make five finals in the first 10 races and win four is just amazing. It's a season any driver would dream of," the Chino Hills, Calif., veteran racer said. "To get it in my 21st season racing ... it's amazing.
"Coming over here I had high expectations, and I was pretty sure that at some time we were going to race for the championship. But I thought we'd get rolling and get things kind of ironed out and by the time Indy got here (and the Countdown field would be set) we'd be in our groove. I had no idea we'd come out and run this well this quick," he said. "It just shows what kind of team Sheik Khalid and Alan Johnson and Brian (Husen) and Jason McCulloch put together. I'm just the lucky passenger."
He said he recognized his day didn't go perfectly.
"It was an emotional weekend with a lot of really tight races," Worsham said. "We even lost lane choice a couple of times. The whole field is just so competitive right now. Every round feels like the final. I'm absolutely beat up at the end of the day."
He said he's pleased to see the warmer temperatures and better yet, to see his Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster perform well in new conditions.
"It was fun to run on a hot race track. We've been on cool racetracks and we're run quick and now we've come out and won on a hot track. This place is a very good racetrack with great grip, and we saw some good racing," he said following this rematch of the Englishtown showdown, in which Massey ruined his unblemished final-round record.
Worsham did extend another streak. He was running from the No. 1 slot this weekend for the third time this year, and each time has reached the final round. He lasted longer than the other pro leaders at this race, for the Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle top qualifiers lost in the opening round and Funny Car's No. 1 dropped out by the quarterfinals.
Furrthermore, his victory meant that for the second straight event, DSR went away empty-handed from a chance to double-up in the winners circle for the 25th time.
Worsham advanced by beating Luigi Novelli and Antron Brown, then getting a break against a red-lighting Morgan Lucas.
Massey took out Terry McMillen, then sidelined one of his own teammates (Tony Schumacher) and Worsham's (Larry Dixon).
He's not vengeful, per se, but on the track Massey, like any other racer, likes to see the balance in his own favor. In the previous event, at Bristol, Dixon eliminated him in the semifinals to spoil his chances for a third straight victory. In the semifinals Sunday, Massey defeated Dixon to deny the reigning champion his third consecutive triumph at Norwalk.
Against Dixon in the semifinal, Massey ran a 3.899-second elapsed time identical to Worsham's that round to earn final-round lane choice by virtue of his faster 299.33-mph speed.
But in this battle between the class' two hottest dragsters right now, 10 races into the season, first-year crew chief Brian Husen had the edge over Massey's more seasoned tuners, Todd Okuhara and Phil Shuler.
Still, the FRAM Dragster has 36 consecutive passes without any tire smoke.
"We are right there," Massey , of Fort Worth, said. "We are just a little over three rounds of racing out of first place. Hopefully, we can continue our march and eventually rise to the top. We're still going from A to B. We haven't lost our mojo, which I'm happy about. I can't wait to get down to Route 66 Raceway in two weeks. We have momentum that we want to carry into the next race.
"We are all having a blast and that’s important," Massey said. "It’s always better when you are enjoying yourself out here.”
Counting Brown's two victories and one apiece from Dixon and Lucas, this victory for Worsham marked the eighth for a Toyota-sponsored Top Fuel car in 10 events. Worsham leads the class with four victories and has 28 overall, including 25 in the Funny Car class.
THE TUNER CARRIED THE DRIVER TODAY - Mike Neff was puzzled following his win Sunday.
His confusion had nothing to do with racing or tuning decisions. It had everything to do with history.
Neff, in beating Ron Capps in the final round of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals, became the first John Force Racing driver to win a national event at the drag strip in Norwalk, Ohio.
“I was surprised when I learned that,” said Neff, who extended his Funny Car point lead with the victory. “I was hoping he [John] would have made the final again. That would have been great for his team. They (Force) had a great car all weekend and today. Something went weird with it in the semis. We lost in the final here last year with John driving. To be able to get a win here feels great.”
Neff methodically worked his way through eliminations, beating Tony Pedregon and Matt Hagan before beating Cruz Pedregon to reach the final round.
On a day when the right lane initially appeared to be the lane of choice, the tuner in Neff began to notice the value in a rapidly improving left lane. Losing lane choice in the match against Pedregon worked in Neff’s favor, even though he was leaning towards making the move after the second round.
“My car had just been getting real fast in the right lane out at about 80 feet,” said Neff. “It was chopping the tire pretty good. It just looked kind of awkward to me. I was actually contemplating taking the left lane in the very first round but I went in the right. It looked funny and kind of looked worse the second round so when we lost lane choice in the semis against Cruz I was like, ‘Good.’ because I would have taken the left lane in the semis if I had the option.
“We took it again in the final. It worked out. It was one of those things that you would look like a real idiot if it didn’t work since everyone was running in the right lane.”
Neff faced a resurgent Capps, who was racing in his first final round of the year following a season of crew chief instability. The addition of Tim and Kim Richards made Capps a legitimate contender to win the race, a fact not lost on Neff.
The fact that Capps gained wins in races he could have lost didn’t encourage Neff to change his game plan.
“You have to just keep doing what you do,” Neff said. “We had been going down the track. The track was still hot in the final. We were just doing our own thing. (Capps) has a great team over there. If you give them enough shots you know they will get a win. They put up a great race. It was good to see a good drag race in the final.”
Neff’s win came in his fifth final round appearance in the last six races.
“The more rounds you go the better you get,” said Neff, who has adapted better to the physical rigors of pulling double-duty. “That was what, five or six finals, so that is like training. I am getting in the groove and my team has been in the groove. They went to eleven finals last year. They can hack it and I am getting better at it. I am getting in better shape. It is a long day especially when it is hot out there like today; it wears you down.”
At the end of the day John Force had the smile of a satisfied team owner.
“When one car gets on a roll then everyone is taken care of. That is why all the sponsor names are on every Mustang. Right now Robert (Hight) and Mike are on a roll. At the end of the day I am still struggling but I got some round wins today,” said Force. “I moved up in the points and I got some distance away from the guys outside the Top Ten. It was cool that Mike Neff’s son Chase was here to see his dad win. That was the first time he has seen him win in person. He has the same eyes as Mike and he has the same personality. He is really cool, too.”
THE KID IS HOT AGAIN - Here’s your betting tip for the day:
If a hometown favorite reaches the Pro Stock final against rookie driver Vincent Nobile, double-down on the kid driving the Nick Mitsos-owned Mountain View Tires-sponsored Mopar.
For the second time in his short career, Nobile won a national event and did so at the expense of a driver with local ties. The second-generation Pro Stock racer dumped Larry Morgan, of nearby Newark, Ohio, in the most unlikely of final rounds.
Nobile ran a winning 6.615, 208.26 to beat Morgan’s 6.657, 209.30 in the last round of the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio.
“I lost my hometown race at Englishtown,” said Nobile. “I just seem to beat everyone at home, which seems to be unfortunate for them.”
A month ago, Nobile beat Houstonian Rodger Brogdon at the NHRA Spring Nationals in Baytown, Tex., in a race decided by less than .001 of a second.
Morgan, Nobile admits, isn't just another opponent. He's a mentor.
“He’s like a second father to me,” said Nobile, describing his relationship with Morgan, who congratulated him with a kiss on the cheek. “Him and my father [John Nobile] taught me everything I know about drag racing. It was bittersweet, but it came up sweet for me.”
Nobile’s victory moved him from fifth in the Pro Stock points to third, 13 points out of second. This move, combined with his final round appearances, makes the kid from Dix Hills, NY, the overwhelming front-runner for the 2011 NHRA Rookie of the Year honors.
Beyond the freshman honors, Nobile understands he’s a legitimate championship contender, too. He prefers to focus on the present for now.
“We are doing very well now, but there are six races left in the regular season,” Nobile said. “We’re just going to take it one race at a time and hopefully get a few more wins along the way.”
Nobile has adapted to the pressure of high-stakes Pro Stock competition in the same fashion which made him a Long Island, NY., college baseball prospect.
“When I played baseball, I felt a lot more pressure than inside of the race car,” Nobile said. “I felt like I had to try extra hard. When I’m inside of the car, I felt it was my responsibility. On the field, there are eight other players who have to do well. I felt the responsibility of everyone there. If they didn’t do their job, I felt like I had to make up somehow or someway.”
This weekend, there was no making up for anything or anyone.
“My team supplied me with a car that was top notch this weekend,” Nobile said. “We made six great runs, anywhere from a 6.59 to a 6.61. This car was basically a bracket car all weekend long. I couldn’t have asked for a better car.”
For Morgan, the final round was his first since 2009, and represented Ford’s first Pro Stock appearance since 2003.
THE VIEW FROM THE INSIDE - Perception is a funny thing.
It's clear that 2007 Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Smith is going through a rough patch of his career, despite reaching the final round of the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, against his successor, 2008 champion Eddie Krawiec.
Smith's bike broke on that final run just after he shifted out of second gear and he watched Krawiec zip away for a 7.077-second, 187.81-mph victory on the Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park quarter-mile.
But that was just the most recent incident in a long string of unfortunate twists to Smith's 2011 season in which winning doesn't even seem to matter.
Before the NHRA season began, Smith had an outstanding performance in Sheik Khalid Al-Thani's door car in Qatar, and Smith was getting better and better on his Al-Anabi-sponsored Pro Stock Bike. Then abruptly and unexpectedly, the sheik yanked away Smith's funding just days after Smith won the race at Englishtown. Then the next weekend, the biker's dad, Rickie Smith, finished Fathers Day at Bristol, Tenn., in a hospital with a broken kneecap from a Pro Modified accident.
So to advance to Sunday's final was a major accomplishment.
Ironically, Krawiec, despite winning for the second time this season in five races and regaining the points lead from Karen Stoffer, said he felt he had battled through an unusual amount of adversity, too.
"Our team is struggling. It may not seem like it. We're in the winners circle," the Screamin' Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson racer said. "But our performance ... We don't feel it's up to snuff."
Teammate Andrew Hines, who won at Houston to give the Vance & Hines team 60 percent of the bike victories so far this season, lost in the opening round Sunday, and Krawiec said despite working hard to make an inconsistent bike behave, he was just lucky in the final round.
"We've tested more this year than we have probably in the last three years combined. But we don't have the consistency. Our tune-up is not right. We can't get the thing to run good every lap. We've been struggling to have two good bikes," Krawiec said. "And winning championships is based on consistency."
Krawiec said, "I've been riding a lot better than I've been racing this year. We changed the clutch set-up and we've got the bike working awesome. But I've been struggling. I've been struggling to get it on the tree."
Smith cut a .038 light to Krawiec's sluggish .069 reaction time in the final. Krawiec said he was thankful for what he called "my own mistake for going out there and being late."
Krawiec, the Gatornationals winner at the March bike-class opener, said his goal this year was to win every race. Holding his second 60th Anniversary pewter Wally trophy, he said in reference to the 16-event Pro Stock Motorcycle schedule, "I've got two of them so far. I was hoping that (first) Wally had 15 brothers."
From the No. 5 spot, he earned his ninth career victory and improved from third place, leapfrogging his teammate and Stoffer, whose Suzuki quit on her at the starting line in the first round.
Said Stoffer, "We have good equipment. It was just one of those deals. I felt something in the waterbox when I put it in gear. I thought it was going to be OK. Then the motor shut off before I got to the starting line. Everybody's heart broke on the starting line, but we'll mend it and come back in Chicago. We'll go back to our same program of being consistent. That's what's been helping us through."
Going for his 14th victory and second in a row in a race that he speculated could be his last of the season, Smith recorded his career 100th round-loss, against 160 round-victories.
So whether Smith enters the July 7-10 Route 66 Nationals at Joliet, Ill., the next stop on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour, remains uncertain.
"We've got a good bike. We just need a little help," Smith said.
Funny, that's what Eddie Krawiec was thinking about his own situation.
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QUICK HITS - RACE DAY REPORTING IN RAPID FASHION
IT’S A TOOL RACE, OF COURSE IT’S IMPORTANT – Antron Brown has been in the first pair of Top Fuelers to race Sunday before. He’s been commanded by a legend before. But, at his sponsor Matco Tools’ home race, he was foreign to the experience.
Just because it was a new experience, didn’t translate into being naïve as to how important the victory was.
“It’s not another round,” Brown said of his 3.865 second win over a tire-smoking Doug Kalitta. “This is Norwalk; this is how it is. I mean, it’s an incredible deal, with Shirley [Muldowney] out there; the Bader’s track is incredible. It’s nerve-wracking. We’re racing a Matco Tools car and we wanted that round win. That was huge for Matco Tools.”
THE STREAK CONTINUES – Spencer Massey’s streak of consecutive national event wins ended last weekend at Bristol with back-to-back wins. Before and into this weekend’s final eliminations, Massey has been riding a wave of success with another kind of streak.
Massey has made 33 consecutive clean runs, including his first round victory over Terry McMillen.
“It’s a Top Fuel car, every run is a challenge and every run is exciting,” Massey said, when asked if making clean runs has gotten boring.
DIALED IN – For the second event in a row, the Al-Anabi dragsters, orchestrated by iconic tuner Alan Johnson, ran identical times in winning the first round.
Point leader Del Worsham ran a 3.866 second elapsed time at 313.88 miles per hour to send an upset-minded Luigi Novelli packing. On the other side of the ladder, Larry Dixon coupled the same ET with a slower 311.63 speed in beating Bob Vandergriff Jr.
OF LIGHTS AND STAGING - Worsham had a chance to upset the apple cart in his staging process. He nearly got upset himself as Novelli strapped .063 on him at the starting line.
“I could have got it in a little thinner,” Worsham pointed out. “You’re up there racing and just doing the best you can and that light, it’s not as thin as I get it in qualifying.”
Novelli ran a 4.08 in losing. He was assisted throughout the weekend by noted tuner Lance Larsen.
The victory paired Worsham with Antron Brown in the second round while Dixon’s win earned a second round match with Bernstein.
WIN-WIN SITUATION – Team owner Morgan Lucas showed both ends of his emotional spectrum. He scored a first round victory over David Grubnic only to advance to a second round match against his teammate Shawn Langdon.
“It’s never fun when you have to race your teammate, but at least we’re doing it in the second round for once instead of this first-round stuff,” Lucas said. “The car’s running really good and it has a little more left in it and I’m just proud of my guys for keeping the car going down the race track. We’ll get this turned around and have some fun next round.”
Langdon’s first round victory wasn’t as orchestrated, as he won when Scott Palmer left before the tree was activated. Known for his lightning quick reactions, Langdon was unaware initially of Palmer’s plight, and described the situation as an “oh-bleep” moment.
FIRST ROUND ROUTINE? – While Tony Schumacher might give the impression that first round races are routine, he’s quick to say they are anything but easy victories. Schumacher easily outran Pat Dakin with a 3.894 second pass at 312.28 miles per hour.
Schumacher has won every first round since Houston of 2008.
“You don’t get them for free,” Schumacher said. “It’s great that we all want it, but you have to earn it and go out there and run good. We didn’t run good and we won the round, but we need to take the .03-.04 off that the other guys got.”
CAN A BROTHER GET A WIN? – Larry Dixon texted Tony Schumacher following his Bristol victory and let him know it was the U.S. Army-sponsored driver’s time to win a race. The two drivers have split the lion’s share of Top Fuel wins in the last two seasons, but headed into the race last weekend, both were winless in 2011.
“Obviously we want the wins, there’s no doubt about it, we’re way too good of a team to not have a win,” said Schumacher, pointing out that they’re gathering information at this stage of the season.
“But the fact is, we’ve got to learn, man, because it’s a countdown format. We know how it works, we have to go out and win at the end.”
WIN-WIN SITUATION – Morgan Lucas rolled to the starting line facing a situation any team owner would love to have – a win, win situation. He was paired against teammate Shawn Langdon, who was flying the Lucas family banner on the side of his dragster.
Lucas beat Langdon by leaving the starting line first and winning the race to the finish line with a 3.964, 296.63 run. The victory marked the second time this season that Lucas has reached the semifinal round.
“I caught a little break there,” Lucas said of the win. “Racing our teammate is never fun but at least we have one car in the semis. At least we broke that second-round slump.”
IDENTICAL DOESN’T MEAN TIE – On paper, no one can deny the DSR dragsters driven by Tony Schumacher and Spencer Massey came to the line with equal tune-ups. The starting line was the deciding factor as Massey continued his incredible season by beating Schumacher in a race where both ran 3.962. Massey was .014 better on the line.
DIXON BEATS BERNSTEIN – Larry Dixon and Brandon Bernstein used to stage beer wars on a regular basis with Dixon driving a car sponsored by Miller and Bernstein representing Budweiser. During those years, Dixon and Bernstein forged a friendship to the point that the former has a hard time getting fired up to beat the latter.
“I still have to think I am racing [his father] Kenny to get up for him,” Dixon said.
Dixon beat Bernstein to advance to the semis.
YEAH, THIS CLASS IS TOUGH, TOO – Del Worsham has won three times in 2011. The former Funny Car driver has led the championship point standings since March and is quick to point out that the competition in the class is very tough.
“Top Fuel is ultra, ultra competitive,” said Worsham. “So is Funny Car, but Top Fuel, I just can’t believe how fast all these cars run.”
Worsham used a 3.894, 294.75 to beat Antron Brown, who lost with a 3.922, 296.97.
MASSEY VS. WORSHAM IN THE FINALS - Spencer Massey eliminated recent Bristol winner Larry Dixon to prevent an all Al-Anabi final round. Massey thundered to a 3.899 elapsed time at 299.33 miles per hour to knock off Dixon.
The final round berth marked Massey’s fourth of the season.
Worsham scored lane choice in the final round by .005 as he used a 3.899 to beat Pomona winner Morgan Lucas.
WORSHAM’S REVENGE - In a rematch of their NHRA SuperNationals final round in Englishtown, NJ, Del Worsham exacted his revenge on Spencer Massey in Norwalk. Worsham’s victory was his fourth since switching over from nitro Funny Car.
Worsham left the starting line .001 ahead of Massey and flexed his Alan Johnson-tuning muscles at the finish line with a winning 3.905, 298.14. Massey battled to the finish line with a 3.931, 297.42.
NO. 1 IS IMPRESSED – Robert Hight was impressive in his first round performance, running low elapsed time of the first round with a 4.111 second pass in victory over Jeff Arend. As impressed as others might have been with him, he was more enamored with the work ethic of Summit Motorsports Park’s elder statesman Bill Bader.
“He is unbelievable,” said Hight. “He is all-out, like my boss, John Force. He knows how to treat people. The other night when it was rained out, he was out there greeting people and then, this morning, he came by my pit and was emptying the trash.
“The guy is unbelievable, he’s a great promoter and we love what he does for this sport.”
IMPRESSED WITH WILK - Cruz Pedregon admires the guy he beat in the first round, Tim Wilkerson.
“I’ve got a lot of admiration for Tim,” Pedregon said. “He does it on his own, he’s the crew chief, too, and he has his son running good, so I knew they would be tough.”
NOT A SHORTCOMING – Mike Neff stays busy tending to the demands of driving and tuning a nitro car. He might be too busy to check the track conditions, a must for any tuner, but he’s not worried in the least.
Track specialist Lanny Miglizzi and his fellow tuners have his back.
“Everybody’s up there letting me know what’s going on,” Neff explained. “I’m just happy to get this Ford into the next round because that’s the main thing here and I’ll be rooting for my teammates.”
All the while, they’ll be watching his back … or in his case, track.
THE QUARTERS – Matt Hagan and Mike Neff both ran 4.170 second passes in winning their first round. By virtue of speed, Neff gets lane choice.
John Force earned lane choice by stopping Jim Head and second-gen flopper driver Dan Wilkerson beat Paul Lee . Force has lane choice.
Ron Capps beat Melanie Troxel in a race to put the final nail in the R2B2 coffin for the weekend. Two of the team’s three Pro Mod cars failed to qualify and the one which did failed to fire for the first round.
Capps has lane choice over teammate Jack Beckman in the second round.
NO TIME FOR ALAN– You have to give Dan Wilkerson credit. He might not have the driving experience to out-drive the seasoned veterans but he certainly understands the importance of making the next round.
Wilkerson wounded an engine in beating Paul Lee and declined the traditional post-run interview over the public address system.
HE KNOWS HIS PLACE – Beckman beat Bob Tasca III in a race where the top end was challenging.
“It definitely spun on the top end and that new asphalt, when you get on it, you can do a lot of things to get try to get these cars to hook up,” Beckman said.”But at 8,000 horsepower, when they want to spin, they just do their thing.
“The guys fixed the Valvoline body the driver burned last night; we got it back on. One down, three to go.”
IT’S A FAMILY AFFAIR – The Forces and Wilkersons were feuding at Norwalk again. Usually it’s John who races Tim in a battle of the patriarchs. Then Tim began mixing it up with Ashley Force-Hood, John’s Funny Car-driving daughter.
The battle of drag racing families wrote a new chapter when, for the first time, John met the second-generation Wilkerson, Daniel, racing in his second of three scheduled appearances in 2011. John won the battle both on the track and the top-end microphone.
“Because NHRA Full Throttle is a family sport, and whether we win or lose, and we hate to lose just like the Wilkersons hate to lose, but on any given day someone is going to win,” Force said. “But, to me, this is the next generation coming, this kid and his dad. But it’s just so cool to be out here with the kid and we’re a big racing family.”
Wilkerson wasn’t extremely disappointed about losing the race. He was excited about the simple things in racing.
“We didn’t leak oil,” Wilkerson said. “We didn’t look bad; the thing was right down the groove all the runs and we looked like we knew what we were doing for Summit Racing Equipment, and that’s what we really wanted to do.”
HE’S A PLANKER – John Force is hip to the youthful trends.
He went planking on Saturday afternoon in his pit area.
For those of us who aren’t hip to the phrase, Force’s PR Director Elon Werner explained to the media.
“It’s like a flash mob – one of those new crazes,” Werner explained. “Lay down flat like a plank of wood, face down, hands at your side, toes pointed, no expression on your face.”
Apparently, Force went planking on the roof of his 8,000-horsepower Funny Car and it created quite the buzz in the pits.
“It’s something they’re doing all around the world and it’s kind of the rage for young people,” Force explained. “My kids want the old man to do it and I got on the roof of the Funny Car, and then I found out my wife was doing it. It’s just something we can do together as a family, but don’t do anything that’s unsafe.”
NO. 1 ELIMINATED – Robert Hight’s No. 1 qualifier frustration at Norwalk continued with a loss to Cruz Pedregon.
ALSO ADVANCING – Mike Neff [Matt Hagan] and Ron Capps [Jack Beckman] won their second round matches.
PLEASE, SHOW US HOW - Mike Neff, the tuning Funny Car driver, might have to be the one John Force Racing driver to show the mega-team how to win a race at the facility they are very familiar with. Every year, JFR drivers are the centerpiece of the track’s Night Under Fire show.
Neff eliminated Cruz Pedregon with a 4.187, 287.23.
On the other side of the ladder, Ron Capps took advantage of a tire-smoking John Force to advance to his first final round of the season.
JFR WINS, FINALLY – The Funny Car final round was all about redemption for the final car finalists.
For Neff, he was carrying the hopes of a frustrated John Force who has been winless despite two previous finals.
For Capps, a final round would provide a lot of stability for a team which has struggled with consistency.
Capps left on Neff, .055 to .082, but Neff drove by at the finish line to win with a 4.211, 289.94 mph to 4.259, 279.09 mph.
ONE AND DONE – Just one day after pocketing $50K by winning the K&N Horsepower Challenge, Greg Anderson’s bid to double-up by winning the Sunday race was halted on both ends of the track.
Allen Johnson snagged .044 on the starting line and won by a 6.629 to 6.604 margin.
STARTING LINE MEANS IT ALL – Mike Edwards advanced to the second round thanks to a .046 holeshot against Ron Krisher. He scored the 6.620 to 6.583 decision.
HORSEPOWER DOES, TOO – On the other side of the fence, horsepower accounts for a lot too. Jason Line surrendered .012 on the line against Shane Gray and won at the stripe by .005. Rodger Brogdon left .02 on the line against Kurt Johnson and thundered by for the win when KJ got crossed up.
NO CLEAN SWEEP – Erica Enders, still smarting from her Bristol final round loss, appeared to be headed for an emotional rebound by qualifying No. 1. However, second-gear tireshake ended her day against No. 16 qualifier Greg Stanfield.
TO THE SECOND ROUND – Vincent Nobile [Warren Johnson], Ronnie Humphrey [Richard Freeman] and Larry Morgan [V. Gaines] advanced to the second round.
IT IS HIS HOME RACE – Familiarity worked well for Larry Morgan in the second round as the Ohioan put a holeshot on a heavily favored Rodger Brogdon and led him to the stripe.
“I guess it’s luck,” said Morgan, who tests frequently at SMP. “I guess I’m lucky here and I guess all the runs I’ve made here testing with the Baders, I guess it’s paying off now. We were just very lucky to get by Rodger.”
Morgan grabbed .028 out of the gate against Brogdon and the advantage was enough to score a 6.662 to 6.644 decision.
16 AND TO THE SEMIS – When you qualify on the bubble, your chances of reaching the final round are the least likely. It’s a good thing for Greg Stanfield that he decided to ignore the naysayers headed into Sunday’s final round.
Stanfield took out No. 1 qualifier Erica Enders in the first round and got by Allen Johnson in the quarters.
“If you’re in this race, as tight as Pro Stock is, you’ve got a chance of winning here,” Stanfield said.
HEY YOU, WAKE UP – Vincent Nobile doesn’t need any prodding to get off of the starting line quick. However, his opponent Ronnie Humphrey could have used a little in their second round match-up. Humphrey was extreme tardy at .196 and the delay was enough for Nobile to score the convincing win.
INTO THE SEMIS – Jason Line entered this weekend’s event with the unenviable stat of being unable to advance past the second round since early May’s Atlanta event.
The streak was broken when Mike Edwards, who has struggled at times to get his Pontiac down the track consistently during the course of the weekend, launched, got crossed up and lifted just past the tree. Line took the win light with a 6.609.
“It’s been a struggle to get past the second round the last few races,” said Line. “That was an interesting race right there. I’ve never seen Mike do that before.”
THE VISITOR VS. THE HOMETOWN – The last time Vincent Nobile met a hometown favorite in the final round, he won by less than .001 of a second, one of the closest races in Pro Stock history. That final round meeting with Rodger Brogdon in Houston was back in May.
A month later, the 19-year old Nobile has earned his way into a similar situation by beating a red-lighting Greg Stanfield.
On the other side of the ladder, Morgan, of Newark, Ohio, beat Jason Line on both ends of the track to advance to the final round.
“When you beat those guys you’ve done something,” Morgan said.
In racing Nobile, Morgan will face the son of a former engine lease customer.
“I have all my family and friends here,” Morgan said with a smile. “I’d hate to get on my little boy Vincent.”
THE KID WINS – Vincent Nobile scored his second career national event victory by beating Larry Morgan.
Nobile was first off of the line by .036 and only extended the lead at the finish line with a winning 6.615, 208.26. Morgan ran a 6.657, 209.30 to finish runner-up.
Morgan’s final round represented the first Ford Pro Stock final since 2003.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
NOT GOOD TO BE THE LEADER – Hector Arana III and Karen Stoffer learned the hard way in the first round, being the leader isn’t all it's cracked up to be.
Arana, one day after securing his career first pole position, lost on a holeshot to GT Tonglet.
Karen Stoffer, the Pro Stock Bike point leader, never had a chance to lose on a holeshot as her Suzuki failed to fire. Jim Underdahl singled for the win.
NOT A GOOD DAY TO BE THE CHAMPION EITHER – Andrew Hines struggled throughout the weekend, qualifying in the ninth spot. David Hope ended the champion’s day by a 7.056 to 7.164 margin.
TO THE SECOND ROUND – Eddie Krawiec [Mike Berry], Steve Johnson [Gerald Savoie], Hector Arana [Angie Smith], Matt Smith [Shawn Gann] and Michael Philips [Chip Ellis] advanced to the second round.
STRANGE DAYS – Any racer who wins a race usually has a “lucky” round, Hector Arana will tell you his came in the second when he beat Steve Johnson. The Lucas Oil-sponsored rider gave up .170 on the starting line but still managed to run him down at the finish line.
“I looked up and I was staged,” Arana said. “I heard him [Johnson] get up on the two-step and leave, so I just left.”
NHRA announcer Bob Frey suggested Arana might praise a third-party at the finish line after the victory.
He’s going to thank whatever supreme being he prays to because he got a gift there,” Frey quipped.
NOT SO LUCKY – While Arana grabbed a large measure of the luck for the round, Jim Underdahl didn’t fare as well. Underdahl hurt his engine on the first round single victory over Karen Stoffer, whose bike wouldn’t start.
Underdahl’s team thrashed to change engines only to face an electrical problem.
Eddie Krawiec, his scheduled opponent, singled to a 6.953, 193.74.
WORKING THROUGH – David Hope, who knocked off series champion Andrew Hines in the first round, continued his march through eliminations by knocking off GT Tonglet, 6.993 to 7.014.
RIVALRY RENEWED – Matt Smith beat Michael Philips in a battle of longtime rivals. Philips was .054 off of the starting line ahead of Smith, but the bike slowed and Smith passed for the 6.943, 190.89 win.
IMPROBABLE FINAL – Matt Smith entered the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals facing the reality that unless he finds major funding before the next race in Chicago, Norwalk could be the former champion’s last race. Smith ran a 6.952, 190.62 to beat Hector Arana.
“We are pumped up on this Full Throttle and looking for sponsorship,” said Smith. “We’ve been to two finals in a row. What can I say? We’ve got a good bike and need some help to keep going.”
On the other side of the ladder, Eddie Krawiec used a 7.007, 192.11 to get around the upset-minded David Hope, who ran a 7.036, 187.81.
H-D WINS AGAIN – The Screamin’ Eagle Harley-Davidson team scored its third win of 2011 with Eddie Krawiec.
Krawiec avenged his semifinal loss to Matt Smith in the finals by tracking down the quicker-reacting Smith.
Smith had .031 off of the starting line but lifted at mid-track with mechanical issues.
Krawiec won his second national event of the year with a 7.077, 187.81 pass.
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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK -
CHA-CHING - He might live in Mooresville, NC, but Pro Stock champion Greg Anderson looks at home in the final round of the K&N Filters Pro Stock Showdown.
Anderson, the defending champion in the Pro Stock specialty event, scored his fourth victory in the history of the $50,000-to-win race by running down a quicker-reacting Mike Edwards.
Edwards passed the Christmas tree with a .027 advantage but at the finish line, Anderson thundered by in his Summit-sponsored Pontiac with a 6.587, 209.17 performance. Edwards lost with a 6.632 second pass.
“I love coming here to race and love this race track,” Anderson said, as he clutched his K&N hood scoop-themed trophy. “I love racing at Summit Motorsports Park and I love racing at this K&N event. It’s the most fun of the year. Getting to race for all of that cash is just a blast.
“You don’t have to worry about points and you can just go for it every time. You can throw the kitchen sink at it.”
In the three rounds of competition, Anderson did just that. He opened with a 6.605 to defeat Ron Krisher and followed up with a 6.583, 209.53 to take out the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals Pro Stock No. 1 qualifier Erica Enders in the semifinals.
In the traditional format, the second round of the K&N Horsepower Challenge would have been considered part of qualifying, but because of the abbreviated schedule it was adjusted accordingly.
If it had been a part of qualifying Anderson would have beaten Enders’ top qualifying effort.
“I’ve been struggling with the tune-up all year and the first two runs, like it has been all year, weren’t that great,” Anderson explained. “We found something in the second round of the K&N and the car came around. I didn’t do a great job of driving in the final round. The car bailed me out.”
Anderson became the fifth driver to score back-to-back wins in the event and his monumental fourth victory tied him with Kurt Johnson for most wins.
Anderson appeared to be cool, calm and collected headed into the final round. The inside of the cockpit, he pointed out, told a different story.
“I’m not as calm on the inside as it looks on the outside,” Anderson admitted. “I’m churning on the inside and that’s how it should be when you race at an event as prestigious as this. You should be flipped upside down and I was.”
For Anderson, there’s a big difference in being flipped upside down at home and on the road. Today he was at home in his heart, mind, and most importantly, his race car.
YOU'RE KIDDING RIGHT? - The thought seems almost comical.
The notion was almost as unbelievable as legendary baseball slugger Babe Ruth stepping into the batter’s box with the intention of gunning for a base hit.
As unbelievable as it may seem, drag racing’s version of the upper deck swingers, Robert Hight and his aggressive tuner Jimmy Prock, came to the starting line at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals aiming for a base hit.
The base hit sailed to the top of the Funny Car qualifying list, landing Hight atop his first No. 1 qualifier of the 2011 season.
“Jimmy has always been one to swing for the fences,” Hight said. “We’re trying to play the consistency game. We talked about it over the winter and knew it was something we needed to do. We looked back at all of the rounds we lost last year and how it all shook out. If we had just gone down the track more and not been pushing it.
“[Jimmy’s] really come around and what’s neat is that I look at him, and it’s a night and day difference whenever we’re lost or struggling or trying to find a combination. He goes to the box once and you can tell. It’s so easy to read him and he’s got some confidence.”
Hight took the top spot with a 4.065-second run at 306.53 miles per hour.
Last week, Hight not only won the NHRA Ford Thunder Valley Nationals crown, but he also established a new class speed record. The victory marked his third national event triumph of the season.
This is a major turnaround for a driver who failed to win a single round of competition during the championship phase of the 2010 season.
Getting the No. 1 qualifier Saturday ended an 18-race drought for Hight and Prock since they headed into Sunday eliminations as the No. 1 seed.
“We made eight great runs in Bristol and came out here with two elapsed time runs in Norwalk,” said Hight. “We have to put all of this behind us because Saturday is going to be a new day. It’s going to be hot and the asphalt will be tricky.”
And Sunday they plan to swing the bat and let whatever happens – happen. This is what swagger will do for a team, even if it is base-hit swagger.
WORSHAM TO THE TOP - Top Fuel points leader Del Worsham said he thinks the competition level in the class "has risen the last three or four races. It's really at a peak right now. It's almost like we're already in the Countdown."
He only can wish this were the last race of the Countdown. Even though it's just the 10th of 22 races on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule, the Al-Anabi/Toyota Dragster driver is in the best spot he can be.
Thanks to a Top Fuel-best elapsed time and speed -- 3.798 seconds at 318.54 mph -- in Saturday's first of two qualifying sessions, Worsham will lead the field for the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio.
In this third No. 1 start, he is hoping history will repeat. He won from the top spot the first time, at Charlotte, and advanced to the final round at Englishtown. He has qualified first or second in four of the past five races (including a first at Englishtown and No. 2 at Topeka and Atlanta).
"I've only qualified No. 1 four times in my whole life, and three times this season alone," Worsham said. "So definitely it’s pretty neat, pretty exciting, driving for Al-Anabi, Sheik Khalid, Alan Johnson and Brian (crew chief Husen). They put out a great effort."
His second-session run wasn't stellar at 4.685, 158.17.
"That second run, we spun the tires, but it's hot out there. I asked Alan (what was going on with the car) and he said, 'Just checking boundaries right now,' " Worsham said, adding that Sunday's boundary "is hopefully the one where we smoked the tires. We won’t cross that again."
That knowledge, he said, is helping Johnson shape the Al-Anabi/Toyota team strategy for eliminations. Worsham said Johnson told him, "We're going to race to the end of the (concrete) pad tomorrow. The first guy to the end of the pad's going to win." Worsham said that's "because it's kind of slick out there. The surface is new and everybody's spinning (their tires)."
As for his own second run Saturday, Worsham said, "It was on a pretty good run. It just wouldn’t quite make it."
That underscored his opinion that 'we've been a little bit all over the map. We've made some great runs and some runs that weren't so good. But it seems that come Sunday, Alan really, really gets dialed in and figures out his boundaries, figures out what it'll take. That seems to be how you win races."
He said, "A lot of it is timing. I've been saying that all season, and it just has to all work out."
Thinking back about teammate Larry Dixon's overdue victory at Bristol last weekend. "Our Al-Anabi car ran really well in Bristol but not well enough to get it done. Our car is running well, too, but the timing hasn't worked out for us in the last few races."
It certainly was working Saturday, when all teams had just two chances to make the field after Friday's wash-out. No one came close to Worsham's 3.798 in the second session. Dixon was quickest then, with a 3.877 E.T., to get the maximum three bonus points. But he had to settle for sixth place in the order, thanks to a tire-smoking run in the opening session Saturday.
Dixon, who still owns both ends of the track record (3.780, 320.43), is making his bid for a third straight victory at Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park.
Tony Schumacher was second and No. 1 Bristol qualifier Brandon Bernstein took the No. 3 slot, followed by Morgan Lucas Racing Shawn Langdon and Lucas.
"I'm confident we'll make the Countdown and have a chance to win a championship. I've waited 20 years for this opportunity, and I hope we can get the job done," Worsham said. "But for right now, the only thing on our minds is Norwalk, Ohio, this weekend."
He'll face No. 16 qualifier Luigi Novelli in the first round of eliminations Sunday.
POSITIVE FROM NEGATIVE - The best way to counter a negative is to respond with a positive.
Six days after losing what could have been a historic Pro Stock final round, Erica Enders didn’t have to have to struggle to find a smile. In her case, elapsed time worked well towards healing her wound.
For Enders, 6.585 seconds proved an adequate salve, enabling her to score her second No. 1 qualifier of the season during the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals.
“I just try to take the positive from everything we’ve encountered this year,” said Enders following Saturday qualifying in Norwalk, Ohio. “I’m so proud of my team. We came off of that high of reaching the finals. Did we want to win? Absolutely. Were we disappointed when we didn’t? It was a kick in the gut.
“It broke my heart having to shut off and watch Mike pull away. I had
.05 in the bank on the starting line and that’s not common in Pro Stock. It wasn’t our race to win. It wasn’t meant to be. We’ll carry the momentum from here.”
Enders could feel the momentum as her ZaZa Energy-sponsored Chevrolet Cobalt left the starting line during the second of two qualifying sessions Saturday. Friday qualifying was canceled because of persistent rain.
“I knew I was on a good run when I let the clutch out,” Enders said. “It carried the front end really nice. We knew we had to get to get down the track. We were conservative on the first run but came out swinging on the second run.”
Enders clings to the hope that she lost in Bristol just so she can win the historic first female Pro Stock win from the top qualifying position. This kind success would go a long way towards erasing the pain of the past few days.
“I have thought about it all week, woke up every morning and it’s the first thing I thought about,” Enders said. “I fell asleep and it’s the last thing I thought about. It’s important to me and a dream of mine [to win], I’m just blessed to be in the position I’m in anyway.”
THIS IS HIS FATHER'S NORWALK - George Bryce and Frank Hawley had a hunch about young Hector Arana's ability to race a Pro Stock Motorcycle. Both taught him how to do that, how to prepare for competition. And both signed his NHRA license.
Forrest Lucas knew his second-generation employee at the Lucas Oil production plant in Corydon, Ind., was championship drag-racing material, just like his father. Lucas called him into his office and told Arana III that he would like to expand the Lucas Oil Buell
bike team and have him race as a teammate to his father.
Bryce, Hawley, and Lucas all looked especially brilliant Saturday, as Arana III set the track elapsed-time in qualifying No. 1 for the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals -- in only his fifth outing.
Arana, 22, seemed less amazed at his first top qualifying position than the fact that his 6.887-second pass at 191.59 mph was the first down the Summit Racing Equipment Motorsports Park quarter-mile with his newly installed engine.
It's named "Gracie," a tribute to his mother.
So in celebrating the feat, he thanked his parents (including dad Hector, who was seventh-quickest Saturday) and the Lucas family for giving him the chance to run in the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series.
"It means the world to us. It's an amazing feeling to be No. 1. This race has been good to us so far," Arana said, reminding that his father's first victory came at this Norwalk, Ohio, facility in 2008, after 18 years of trying. "That was one of the most exciting times of my life. Now it's looking good for me. Hopefully it can be my first win at this racetrack."
Arana works at the Southern Indiana Lucas Oil factory in the maintenance department. There, as well as at the racetrack as he served as a mechanic for his 2009 champion dad's motorcycle, Lucas noticed that this oldest of Hector and Grace Arana's four children can fabricate and weld. But he also noticed the loyalty to the Lucas Oil family and to his own family.
Said Arana the elder, "After work, he punches out and comes and helps me (prepare the bike for the next race)." Forrest Lucas saw the young man was cut from the same cloth as his dad, who said of Lucas and his business interests, "He needs something, he asks you, and you just do it. He never gave up. He believed in me. He gave me the chance, and I've got to do the same thing back -- whatever it takes. I don't care what I have to do. Whatever they ask me to do, I don't care. I can machine a part, make a piston, fabricate something, work on the truck, mop the floor if I have to."
Hector Arana, the father, has mopped floors at the plant, not at all considering that to be demeaning work. Lucas admired that.
The respectful young Arana, who has repaid Lucas' kindness by moving up from 17th at the beginning of this rookie season to 10th and so far in line for a Countdown berth, naturally wants to bolster his chances to earn the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as the NHRA's best-performing rookie.
"I don't plan to go backwards," he said coming into the event. And Saturday, he said, 'We struggled in the first couple of races. As you can see, we finally got our stuff together."
His first test in Sunday's eliminations will come against GT Tonglet, the No. 16 qualifier who saw his younger brother and reigning class champion LE Tonglet, among others, miss the cut.
Before the season began, young Arana said, "I had imagined making passes so many times in my head that when I finally did it seemed like I already had done it before. It's like a giant slingshot."
The real question is can this No. 1 spot slingshot him to victory and add to his family's racing lore at Norwalk? The answer will come Sunday, when final eliminations are set to begin at 11 a.m.
BROGDON'S BETTER SEASON - Comparing this season’s K&N Horsepower Challenge to last year was a tale of two seasons for Rodger Brogdon. And even though he lost in the first round of the special event in 2011, the difference in how he got to the dance made all the difference in the world.
“We got lucky last year,” said Brogdon, who qualified sixth this season. Last year Brogdon began campaigning for the fan vote portion of the event in May in case he didn’t qualify for one of the seven available spots. In the end, he claimed the seventh and final spot in the event. This year he was secure at sixth.
“We tried hard and did our fair share of campaigning, but we kept qualifying good and doing our best, and we got a break when Greg Stanfield didn’t qualify at one race,” Brogdon explained. “I’m not saying we wouldn’t have caught him, it would have been close, but we got a good break on that last year. As a racer, you seem to remember the breaks you don’t get, but a lot of people don’t remember the breaks they do get. There’s a bunch of them you do get.
“I can think of several occasions where we did get a break, but when you don’t get that next break, it seems like you never get a break, so it’s just craziness. “
This season, fate has nodded favorably towards Brogdon and he’s responded with a score of impressive qualifying efforts including a No. 1 and an elapsed time record in Gainesville earlier this year.
“It’s all due to the team getting better,” Brogdon said. “Tim Freeman is the major thing that affected my team. It’s incredible. At the last race, when he missed one qualifying session, hell, everybody was running around like a chicken with their heads cut off, ‘What do we do? Tim isn’t here. What do we do? Tim isn’t here.’ It was a big deal. I’ll give him 99 percent of the credit.”
Brogdon believes Freeman should be categorized in the upper echelon of Pro Stock crew chiefs.
“He’s always been in the front line of crew chiefs to me,” Brogdon said. “He came in last year right after Englishtown, looked at everything we had, went to [engine builder] Victor’s [Cagnazzi’s] shop and he was just able to go through all the notes we had taken, saw a few things, went over the car front to back, changed just about everything you could possibly do, a little tweak here and there, and, heck, the first couple races we showed we were headed in the right direction really quick.”
Brogdon never questioned Freeman’s approach to putting his fingerprint on the team and the race car’s combination.
“I said, ‘Tim, just do what you need to do. What we’re doing isn’t working, so just get after it and do what you need to do,” Brogdon said.
Now, as Brogdon puts it, the Edge Pain & Performance Chips team is so close to securing its first victory he can imagine the celebration in his mind.
“Before Tim came on board, we couldn’t get even that close and now we’re close, it’s driving us all nuts,” Brogdon said. “I don’t know if it’s paying your dues, but it’s crazy. Anything in life is like that; things don’t always go your way. You’ll go along and sometimes things don’t go good, but you just keep plugging away and next thing you know, things just turn around for you.
“That’s what we’re thinking over here. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. We evaluate everything we do and we don’t see anything we need to do differently; we just need the chips to fall our way every once in a while, and eventually they will.”
TONGLET MISSES THE MARK - A season that has already featured highs and lows, suddenly hit the basement Saturday afternoon when LE Tonglet did not qualify for the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals.
The reigning NHRA Full Throttle Pro Stock Motorcycle champion struggled with motor problems in his last outing at Englishtown, N.J. and lost in the first round using a borrowed motor. The motors were repaired, but losing Friday’s two important qualifying sessions to rain did not help.
Tonglet was 13th after his opening quarter-mile time of 7.098 seconds, 189.15 mph, but he couldn’t better it on the next run (7.121 at 188.17 mph) and dropped out of the starting line-up.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY - If the professional racers appear to be on the same page with the race directors at events where the schedule gets shuffled,
there’s a reason for it.
NHRA VP of Operations Graham Light has become both a proficient and avid texter.
Funny Car racer Ron Capps believes Light’s embrace of modern communication has improved the interaction between the control tower and the pits.
“He started this year, sending these text messages that go out to all the drivers and crew chiefs keeping them up to date on what’s going on,” Capps explained, showing off a severe weather warning text from the recently completed Bristol event.
“He’s got their numbers in his phone and he’ll let them know if the next session is delayed five minutes, 10 minutes.
"It’s pretty cool. He gets a lot of flak for other things, It’s kind of cool he is doing that, and I know if you talk to any other driver or crew chief, they’ll tell you it’s a nice change.
Capps says the text message updates is just another means the NHRA’s management has taken the initiative lately to improve communications with the drivers.
“It’s nice to see the communication,” Capps explained. “Graham Light’s in a tough position and he gets a lot flak for a lot of stuff that happens that’s part of his job, but a lot of people don’t know what goes on behind the scenes.
“With being the director of competition, there’s so many things he has to take care of within a day and not everybody’s going to be happy about decisions he makes. The communication that started this year with the text messages to all the drivers concerning something safety-wise; I know we rolled into one of the tracks early in the year and it was a text message about which turn-outs for drivers to take during a race, and then he started adding crew chiefs to the list and telling them how long the sessions were going to take and if they were behind schedule.
“It is a night and day difference.”
And, Capps on the cutting edge of today’s modern communication, is all too willing to text anyone with the proclamation.
SIGN AN AUTOGRAPH, LOSE A FAN - John Force figured the kid standing at the edge of his pit area, holding a t-shirt, wanted an autograph. The truth is, the kid already had the autograph he sought. When Force grabbed the t-shirt and signed it, unbeknownst to him, he didn’t gain a fan.
As it turns out, 8-year old kid Kenton was an exclusive Allen Johnson fan and the veteran Pro Stock driver had made his day with an autograph on a just-purchased shirt during the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. He didn’t care about any other driver. The Allen Johnson signature was more than he could have imagined.
Then Force signed right over the top of it. It was just another autograph for an admiring fan until Force crossed paths with Johnson and his wife Pam. Force did remember a kid in Bristol for whom he signed a shirt who asked afterward, "Why did you do that?"
The bewildered kid was Kenton.
“The kid is my No. 1 fan, he’s made me plaques and even called and left messages,” Johnson said with a smile. “He’d bought him a new t-shirt at my trailer, brought it down and I signed it. He was awful proud of it. Force saw the kid standing there and reached down and signed it.”
Kenton made his way to the Allen Johnson suite where he proclaimed, “John Force ruined my Allen Johnson shirt.”
Kenton was none too happy with Force’s gesture, according to Johnson. In fact, he didn’t even know who John Force was. The only detail he knew about the 15-time champion is that he’d ruined his new t-shirt.
“He didn’t know John Force from Adam,” said Johnson, laughing.
Force, who admits he’s an Allen Johnson fan too, became saddened by his unintentional transgression.
“I thought I did good but in learning the kid was crushed, I didn’t do so good after all,” Force said. “I’m gonna get him a new shirt and give him a John Force shirt, maybe he can have Allen Johnson sign over it.”
Yesterday Force delivered a replacement shirt for Kenton.
ANOTHER FACTORY REBUILD? - Warren Johnson inspected the primered Pontiac GXP delivered to his pit area on Thursday. The Pro Stocker wasn’t a new one. Instead, it was the one he crashed at Atlanta Dragway.
“Oh, it’s just another factory rebuild,” said Johnson, as he walked around the car.
Johnson filled the void caused by the crash with a Chevrolet Cobalt, formerly driven by son Kurt, while the Pontiac was at Jerry Hass' chassis shop. To him, a car is noting to get attached to.
“I never miss any car,” Johnson admitted. “These are nothing but tools to make a living with, that’s all they are. I’ve never had a favorite car, ever. It was just one of those things that happened.”
The majority of the damage sustained to the car in the March crash was primarily body and cosmetic. There were a couple of tubes which needed replacing in the front just to be on the safe side.
“There was really no structural damage at all,” Johnson added.
Johnson expects to have the car ready for the NHRA Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, Ill. He isn’t planning to test the Pontiac beforehand, choosing instead to pick up where he left off.
He’ll likely paint the car to match the traditional “butter bean” look of the 1980s and currently adorning the Cobalt. But, he’s not sure at this moment.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Johnson said. “Paint has not always been my real forte anyway.”
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - RAIN IS THE NO. 1 QUALIFIER IN NORWALK
RAIN, RAIN -- GO AWAY - Peristent rain showers forced race officials at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals to cancel Friday's qualifying.
Rain began falling early morning on Summit Racing Equipment Raceway Park in Norwalk, Ohio, and despite repeated attempts to dry the racing surface by the Safety Safari, finally pulled the plug at 6:30 PM.
Saturday and Sunday’s weather forecast appears perfect for racing.
NHRA officials plan to get in two professional qualifying sessions, including Pro Modified, and complete the unfinished sportsman qualifying. In addition, the K&N Filters Horsepower Showdown will run.
First round eliminations for both Top Alcohol divisions, as well as Pro Modified, have been pushed over to Sunday.
First round of qualified sportsman fields begin at 8 AM.
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THURSDAY NOTEBOOK -
SPONSORLESS - Matt Smith hopes something comes out of this weekend.
Smith will race in this weekend's Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals; competing in an event without a major sponsor for the first time since 2005. The former NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion lost his backing from Al-Anabi Racing earlier this month.
Without a sponsor, the fifth ranked Smith, could be competing in his final race of 2011.
“With Al-Anabi pulling out, we have just got to find something else,” said Smith. “This is the first time I have been to the track since 2005 without a sponsor. We are doing everything we can to find one. It’s a great opportunity for anyone. Hopefully someone will realize that and keep us going.”
Smith brings to the table for prospective sponsors a proven combination and momentum. He won the most recent Pro Stock Motorcycle event in Englishtown, NJ. Snutg also enters this weekend’s race as defending event champion.
“I am ready to run at Norwalk,” said the 2007 NHRA Champion. “We seem to have this Buell running strong and can’t wait to get on track this weekend. Winning the last race out and having won here at Norwalk last year, gives me great hope this weekend to win again.”
And for Smith, he’s pulling out the stops to ensure his season doesn't end five races into the season.
GRACIE IS HIS GIRL - Hector "The Dad" Arana has decided to let Hector "The Son" Arana make his own calls with the second Lucas Oil Buell Pro Stock Motorcycle. And Hector "The Son" has decided to rely on Gracie.
Gracie?! Who is Gracie?!
Gracie is an engine, more specifically the new engine the younger Arana will have powering his bike at this weekend's Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio.
It's named after his mother, Grace Arana. And Grace Arana's son said of the motor, "She's going to kick butt."
Said his dad, "I'm giving Hector the meanest of the baddest."
He means the meanest of the baddest engines -- just to clarify, so he's allowed back in the house.
"We had some issues in Englishtown," Arana III said. That's where he qualified 12th and lost to Andrew Hines sin the first round.
"That's one of the things that threw us off our game," he said. "But we're going to come back this weekend at Norwalk fighting strong."
The bike class will be making its fifth of 16 appearances on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule.
The elder Arana is prepared to let his protégé learn for himself. Both are in the top 10, Dad in sixth place, Son in 10th. And Dad wants to repeat as a winner at the racetrack wher he earned his career-first victory in 2008.
"I know the first couple races, all my focus was on Hector Jr.," Arana said of his rookie son. "Starting from Englishtown, I have let them make their calls. I still watch them, and if I see something wrong, I'll say, 'You sure you want to do that?' But I'm focusing more on my program, and that's the key."
His son wants to make that Countdown field, too.
"Of course, it's still early in the season, and we haven't gotten to the Countdown yet," Arana III said. "I'm in the 10th position, so I'm in the Countdown but just barely. I don't plan to go backwards. I hope to get better and better every race. Once we get that locked up, then I'll think about the rookie award a lot more.
"That would mean everything," the 22-year-old Arana said. "That's my ultimate goal. Of course, I'd love to win the championship also, and if I'm lucky enough to win the championship, the rookie of the year title should follow right with it. Winning the rookie title was my top goal for this year, but you have to take things one step at a time."
A victory would put him on more even footing with good friend Vincent Nobile, the Pro Stock winner at Houston. And after watching LE Tonglet storm to the Pro Stock Motorcycle championship and grab the Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award for the NHRA's rookie of the year, his dreams don't sound far-fetched at all.
The family is looking for some fun and some good luck with a return visit this week to Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, Ohio. (Never mind that the Arana family lives just a few miles from Holiday World, the amusement park in Santa Claus, Ind., which boats award-winning roller coasters and the titles of the World’s Friendliest and Cleanest such facilities last year.) But this trip to Sandusky has a significance.
"I'm trying to focus and capture the moment, so I can be back in victory lane," Arana the elder said. "That event, we took off on Thursday and went to Cedar Point. We spent the whole day there, having fun. So our plan this week is to get to the track Thursday, set up our pit real quick, and go back to Cedar Point and have a great time.
"I think it's looking good. It even rained a little bit on that Thursday, and it's supposed to rain this Thursday, too. It's looking good," he said.
BACK WITH MAC - For the first time since 2008, Mac Tools will be on the side of the Top Fuel dragster piloted by Kalitta Motorsports driver Doug Kalitta.
Mac Tools served as the primary sponsor on Kalitta’s 8,000-horsepower Top Fueler from 2001 to 2008.
“It’s great to see that big Mac Tools logo on the side of our dragster again,” Kalitta, a 46 year-old resident of Ann Arbor, Mich., said. “The economy has definitely been getting better and Mac Tools is now able to be the primary sponsor for our Team Kalitta dragster again this weekend in Norwalk.
“For now, it’s just for one event, but we have some big things planned with Mac Tools for later in the season, so stay tuned for that. We are also welcoming 30 of the best Mac Tools Distributors out to the race track this weekend and hopefully we can put their Mac Tools dragster back in the winner’s circle in their home state and our team’s home track.”
Kalitta Motorsports is based in Ypsilanti, Mich., about 120 miles away from Norwalk.
The “new” Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster will make its debut on the 1,000-ft drag strip in Norwalk during Friday’s first qualifying session which is scheduled to begin at 5:00 p.m. (ET).
Kalitta is currently in sixth place in Full Throttle Top Fuel championship points, 260 points away from the lead. He has posted three semi-final showings so far this season in Las Vegas, Houston, and Topeka, Kan.
Kalitta, a 14-year drag racing veteran in the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing Series, has amassed 32 NHRA Top Fuel title trophies in 64 final-round appearances. He has finished in the top ten in Full Throttle championship points in every year of his straight-line career. He was the 1994 USAC National Sprint Car champion.
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