SUNDAY FINAL NOTEBOOK - WILK MAKES IT A THREE-PEAT, DEL WINS AGAIN AND LINE DRIVES THE DIRECTLY TO VICTORY
WORKING THE ANGLES - On a normal day in Springfield, Ill., Tim Wilkerson wears several hats -- National Hot Rod Association team owner, Funny Car driver, crew chief, husband, father, small-business proprietor -- and sometimes that of a psychologist.
But Sunday at Pacific Raceways near Seattle, Wilkerson wore a crown, as king of the O'Reilly Northwest Nationals.
The Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang driver defeated Jack Beckman in the final round to earn his third straight victory at Seattle. In recording his 17th career victory and first since this event last year, Wilkerson became the first in his class and the only one other than Top Fuel's Tony Schumacher to claim three consecutive victories here.
"Isn't that something?" Wilkerson said of his so-called "three-peat" at Pacific Raceways. "I think it's just coincidence. I have a good-running car at sea level. I do at Englishtown and Gainesville. But other guys do well at other places."
Sunday's performance, coupled with his runner-up finish to Ron Capps the previous weekend at Sonoma, Calif., was a monumental reward for his longsuffering crew.
"When you're the owner of a team, a driver and crew chief, you spend a lot of time being a psychologist, especially when you go a year without winning a race," Wilkerson said. "The guys . . . there's some gloomy faces going on over there. So we do a lot of hugging and [encouraging], 'Keep your chin up.'
"For them it's really going to be a good ego boost," he said. "I could see it last week (after the Sonoma event). They're strutting. They're working harder. They're paying attention to their job. And that's what makes the car better."
This Mustang from the single-car shop was running competitively with the multi-team entries all weekend. The 4.109-second elapsed time he used to secure his 16th career No. 1 start was best of the meet.
Wilkerson is just the second Funny Car driver this year to win from the No. 1 position, following Mike Neff at Joliet, Ill. He won at St. Louis in 2008 (beating Neff) from the No. 1 slot, as well.
"Most of the time when you're No. 1 qualifier, you find some way to screw up," Wilkerson said after breaking the cycle with a winning 4.146-second pass at 300.53 mph.
Beckman challenged with a 4.598, 238.64 in the Aaron's / Valvoline Dodge Charger for Don Schumacher Racing. And he was quicker on the Christmas Tree -- or as Wilkerson put it, "Jack whupped me like a stepchild on the starting line" (with a .070-second reaction time to Wilkerson's .096).
"I rarely race cars. I race crew chiefs," Wilkerson said. So maybe he regarded the victory more as one over Rahn Tobler, Beckman's tuner.
In any sense, the victory meant a lot to Wilkerson, for it means he is competitive.
"[Sponsor] Dick Levi and I talked about what would large money do for us," he said, acknowledging that without Levi's funding he never would be able to keep drag racing. "But NHRA has done a good job keeping some parity in the group that keeps things from getting out of control," he said.
"It does make you feel good when you're a single-car team and we can run with Schumacher and Force. That is a tribute to my team, by all means."
He said it "really couldn't come at a better time, as dismal as the beginning of our season has been. We were so far out of it there for awhile. Now that we've got on a roll we've fixed that. It's good for morale and you can't beat morale when you're going into the playoffs.
"Our car's coming around a little bit. Hopefully we can continue this role and take it to Brainerd and take it to Indy and win the Big Go. Hopefully we can bring that big check home. I'd like to win Indy. I did that once [in 2003], and that was a fun day," Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson improved in the point standings with the win, moving from 10th place to ninth, trading places with Bob Tasca III.
Beckman, seeking his third victory of the season, was attempting to win from the No. 10 qualifier. Jeff Arend won at Houston from the No. 10 spot, the lowest rung on the ladder that has produced a winner this season. And he was trying to team with Tony Schumacher, who lost to Del Worsham in the Top Fuel final, to give DSR a double-up victory.
Said Beckman, “It was a perfect day up to 275 feet into that final run. And being runner-up stinks, but considering how Saturday went and coming from our worst qualifying position of the season, it was a good day. We beat the No. 4 and No. 5 drivers, and the Nos. 1 and 2 went out early on the other side of the ladder, so we made up ground in the points standings."
He's third, 13 points out of second place and 38 off Neff's pace.
“It’s frustrating getting this far and not taking home the trophy, but I am happy because we just ‘found’ our race car," Beckman said. "It's been hiding for two races and now it’s back."
DREAM SEASON CONTINUES - This dream season keeps getting better and better for Del Worsham.
Worsham raced Funny Cars for 20-plus years before switching this season to the Top Fuel dragster ranks, and now he looks like a savvy class veteran.
Worsham, driving the Al-Anabi Racing dragster operated by Alan Johnson Racing, clocked a 3.891-second time at 316.38 mph to edge Tony Schumacher’s 3.915-second effort at 313.95 mph.
“What you guys saw today is what I have got to live the last five to six months,” Worsham said. “It has just been unreal. The team did another outstanding job and they just gave me a car that could win. They (Al-Anabi Racing) have all the resources they need to race over here, but there is a lot more than just the resources. There are the people, the preparation and the detail. These guys are very detailed oriented and it shows because they are very good at what they do.”
This was Worsham’s career-high sixth win of the season. In the only other meeting between Worsham and Schumacher this season, Worsham won in the finals at Gainesville, Fla. In addition to Gainesville and Seattle, Worsham also has 2011 victories at Charlotte, Houston, Norwalk and Chicago.
Worsham becomes only the second driver to win Top Fuel and Funny Car titles at Seattle. Worsham won a Funny Car crown at Seattle in 1999. Ron Capps is the only other driver to win in Top Fuel and Funny Car at national events at Pacific Raceways track.
Worsham has been in the Top Fuel points lead since Gainesville and he clinched a spot in the Countdown Playoffs at the Mile-High Nationals in Denver last month. The six-race playoffs start Sept. 15-18 in Charlotte, N.C.
“What I really want is that No. 1 position going into the Countdown,” Worsham said. “It is definitely not sealed up by any means, but we have put a little bit of gap there. When it comes down to it in the end, if you lose the championship by 29 points and if you were No. 1 (going into the Countdown), you would have those 30 points and you would be kicking yourself in the butt.”
Worsham has 1256 points, followed by Spencer Massey (1130) and Antron Brown (1086).
Worsham ousted Ron Smith, Shawn Langdon and Massey before taking care of Schumacher in the finals by approximately four feet.
“It is exciting for me to race Tony, especially since I am new to Top Fuel,” Worsham said. “Everybody I race in Top Fuel is new to me. I raced against John Force and Cruz Pedregon and Tony Pedregon my entire life. To get to go up against Schumacher and (Larry) Dixon and the Kalitta and all those guys are fun.”
Although Schumacher lost in the finals, he moved up from fifth to fourth in the Top Fuel points chase after he beat Brandon Bernstein in the second round and current world champion Dixon, Worsham’s Al-Anabi Racing teammate, lost to Massey in round two.
Schumacher, who was seeking his 68th career NHRA victory, has yet to win this season, and he has lost in the finals at the last three races in Denver, Sonoma and Seattle.
LINE GETS THE VICTORY - To hear National Hot Rod Association Pro Stock driver Jason Line tell it, his job is humanly impossible.
"You have to be mistake-free. We are in a mistake-free business," he said.
The KB / Summit Racing Pontiac GXP driver might not have been perfect, but he made the least mistakes Sunday to win the O'Reilly Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways near Seattle for the second time in three years.
He defeated teammate and No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson in the final round to gain his fourth NHRA 60th Anniversary special-edition pewter Wally trophy and his 25th overall.
The Charlotte-based racer also replaced Mike Edwards as the points leader. He's 27 points ahead of Anderson, who helped relegate Edwards to third place. So the KB / Summit teammates were 1-2 in the final Pro Stock qualifying order, 1-2 in eliminations, and 1-2 in the standings as the pre-Countdown battle heads to Brainerd in the duo's home state of Minnesota for the Aug. 18-21 Lucas Oil Nationals.
Line's 6.553-second effort at 210.87 mph Sunday to Anderson's 6.567, 211.13 translated to a 0.0107-second victory margin.
He set low elapsed time of the weekend with the 6.531-second opening-round solo run he made after Ron Krisher's car backfired before it got to the starting line.
Line got a gift in the quarterfinals, as well, when Vincent Nobile red-lighted by .005 seconds, although Line said he didn't see Nobile's side of the Christmas Tree and legged out a 6.561-second E.T. that matched Allen Johnson's 210.60-mph speed for fastest of the round.
But he recognized Anderson's experience and wasn't at all sure that he would win at this 14th stop on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series tour, like he did at Atlanta, Gainesville and Atlanta earlier this year.
"He's the best. He's the champion. He's got the big "1" on his window, had it on there four times," Line said. "So I wasn't going to cut him any slack. I told him he'd probably be faster than me at the starting line, and he ended up being faster. He's tough, that guy, in the final round. You just cannot count him out. But today we got the best of him."
Anderson is 10-7 against Line. And this year, Line has stymied the reigning series champion. Anderson is 0-3 in 2011 finals against Line and 3-0 in finals against other opponents.
"I think he's maybe going to start having a complex," Line joked. "I hope he and I are duking it out in Pomona for the championship. I hope it comes down to the last race."
Line said he's "definitely more comfortable racing him in the final. I don't know why, but it's been that way. When I race him I'm relaxed and calm."
This marked the fourth time in the history of this event that the Nos. 1 and 2 starters met in the final round but the first time the slower-qualified driver won.
"It was a great day. There's a lot of days I got into Sunday feeling good -- quite a few times, but usually I screw it up. This is one time I didn't. But today we had such a good car. It was not the same car we had in Sonoma, that's for sure. I felt like if I could not screw it up today we'd be standing here. I managed to not do that and here we are."
"We made a lot of changes. We had a different engine in the care than we had in Sonoma, and a few other different things. Obviously we went the right direction. The car was very happy. It ran good all day, all weekend. It's probably the best car that I've ever had."
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QUICK HITS - RACE REPORTING IN RAPID FASHION
SCHUMACHER KEEPS PERSPECTIVE – When Tony Schumacher beat Steven Chrisman in the first round at the Northwest Nationals it wasn’t a surprise.
Schumacher clocked a 3.845-second elapsed time at 319.67 mph to defeat Chrisman’s 4.010-second effort.
Of course Schumacher was happy to take the win light, but the pilot of the U.S. Army dragster also kept things in perspective.
“You know he (Chrisman) is going to run a 4.0 to 4.05 and you just have to go down the race track if you want to win this race and you probably will have to keep lane choice,” Schumacher said. “For the Army, we got to spend time at Fort Lewis (this weekend), and for all the soldiers that were lost (Saturday). I’m carrying a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with me right now today for a fallen hero of ours. Watching that helicopter go down (Saturday) reminds us why we do what we do. Those guys were the best in the world and our prayers go out to them and their families. We love them.”
There were 22 U.S. Navy SEAL personnel and a total of 30 Americans killed when their helicopter was shot down Saturday in eastern Afghanistan.
OPPORTUNITIES LOST – The NHRA Countdown playoffs are looming with only Seattle, Brainerd, Minn. (Aug. 18-21) and the U.S. Nationals (Aug. 31-Sept. 5) remaining in the regular season.
Following Indianapolis, the top 10 Top Fuel drivers in the point standings will make the Countdown playoffs. David Grubnic, Terry McMillen and Bob Vandergriff Jr. are in a three-way fight for that 10th spot, which Grubnic has.
None of the drivers were able to make a move in the standings in the first round as they all lost.
Shawn Langdon, Doug Kalitta, and Larry Dixon knocked off Grubnic, McMillen and Vandergriff Jr., respectively.
Grubnic and McMillen were both doomed when they smoked the tires early. Vandergriff Jr., however, had the toughest luck.
Vandergriff Jr., in the C&J Energy Services dragster, dropped a close decision to current world champion Larry Dixon.
Dixon clocked a 3.843-second run at 314.68 mph to edge Vandergriff’s 3.914-second effort at 311.92 mph.
Vandergriff’s elapsed time was good enough to win three of the eight first-round match-ups, but his was not one of them.
THIRD TIME A CHARM FOR BERNSTEIN – In the last two national events at Denver and Sonoma, Brandon Bernstein exited early in his Copart dragster.
Bernstein suffered back-to-back first-round losses at Denver and Sonoma to Spencer Massey and Doug Kalitta.
Bernstein was hopeful the fortunes of the Copart team owned by his father Kenny Bernstein would change Sunday and they did.
Bernstein clocked a 3.911-second run at 309.63 mph to get past Troy Buff’s 4.001-second run at 293.47 mph in round one.
Bernstein’s victory came on Top Fuel’s last pair in the first round.
“It is a little tougher,” said Bernstein about waiting to run. “You are amped up and you are ready for first round and you have to wait for seven pairs in front of you to go. That was a great job by our Copart, Matco Tools team though. We finally got a round win. The last two races we have gone out in the first round and maybe this is the momentum we needed and we can keep it going.”
Things will not get any easier for Bernstein in round two as he meets seven-time world champ Tony Schumacher in round two.
MASSEY SURVIVES – Spencer Massey, the driver for the Prestone/Fram dragster for Don Schumacher Racing, had some anxious moments in first-round win over his good friend Scott Palmer.
Massey took the win light at 4.904 seconds, but he suffered through tire shaking that had him pedaling the dragster off and on during the run. Palmer smoked the tires almost immediately and consequently could never catch Massey.
“I hit the gas and it started marching out there and then it went in a little tire shake,” Massey said. “I was saying please do not smoke the tires and it smoked. As soon as you do, you get out of it and you hit the gas again and I’m telling myself to be smooth and get it hooked back up and my foot didn’t want to do that. It wanted to go wide open to get that win light. I had to pedal three times and it wasn’t pretty, but we got that win light and it was good for DSR and we are having fun.”
WORSHAM TAKES A TRIP DOWN MEMORY LANE – For nearly nearly 20 years, Del Worsham drove a nitro Funny Car in the NHRA ranks.
After he defeated Ron Smith in the first round Sunday, Worsham took a moment to remember his top highlight from Pacific Raceways track.
“My favorite Seattle story was in 1999,” Worsham told NHRA announcer Alan Reinhart at the top end of the track. “We had not won a race in eight years and we actually pulled off the win up here. It was tremendous.”
In that race, Worsham defeated Whit Bazemore in the finals. Worsham won 25 Funny Car career national events before switching to Top Fuel this season behind one of the Al-Anabi Racing dragsters.
Worsham has five wins this season and leads the point standings.
BROWN MOVES ON: Antron Brown captured the top qualifying spot at Seattle and he avoided the upset in the first round as he beat Morgan Lucas. Brown clocked a solid 3.883-second time to get the win over Lucas who slowed to 4.540 seconds.
Brown now has a 10-1 career round record against Lucas.
SEEING RED – Doug Kalitta seems to always to be consistent at the starting line. Kalitta, who started driving a Top Fuel dragster in 1998, hardly ever redlights.
Well, hardly ever happened Sunday.
Kalitta left early against top qualifier Antron Brown in the second round. Brown took the win light with a 3.868-second time. Kalitta had a minus-0.037 reaction time.
“The thing about it is you have to stay calm and poise,” Brown said. “The tree goes at different times and it really keeps you honest out there. That was a heck of a run out there. That car was marching there and it was a great time. I just sat there and held my composure and we have to keep it going for the next round.”
Brown has won six rounds in a row dating back to his win at Sonoma, the last national event before Seattle.
SARGE IN CHARGE AGAIN – Tony Schumacher has not won a national event this season, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. Army dragster hasn’t been running well.
Schumacher lost in the finals at Denver and Sonoma to his teammates Spencer Massey and Brown.
Schumacher maintained his strong performance as he defeated Brandon Bernstein in the second round. Schumacher came in at 3.893 seconds at 314.90 mph to Bernstein’s 3.915-second effort.
Schumacher’s run was even more impressive since the track temperature warmed up considerably from round one to 112 degrees. He and Bernstein were the first pair to go down the track in round two.
“You are running Bernstein and they ran an .85 in the left lane,” Schumacher said. “You think you have lane choice and you are going to stick them in the left lane or something like that and we gave the fans a great drag race. This was a great race between two great race teams. For the Army, we are going to go to the third round.”
Brown’s second round win set-up a match-up with the Sarge in the semifinals.
“I hope his car doesn’t start,” Schumacher said about his match-up with Brown. “The fact is if I can’t win a championship, I hope they (Brown’s team) do or Spencer (Massey) does because that also is one of our cars.”
MASSEY KNOCKS OUT CHAMP - Spencer Massey has had a memorable first season driving a Top Fuel dragster for Don Schumacher Racing.
Massey had another highlight Sunday as he edged current world champ Larry Dixon, who pilots an Al-Anabi Racing dragster, in the second round.
Massey came across the finish line at 3.873 seconds at 317.27 mph to beat Dixon’s 3.874-second run at 313.37 mph. Massey had a 0.061 reaction time compared to Dixon’s 0.066 reaction time. Massey won by an estimated three feet.
Massey will try to knock off the other Al-Anabi dragster driven by Del Worsham in the semifinals.
WORSHAM KEEPS ROLLING – Del Worsham didn’t run as fast as his teammate Larry Dixon in the second round, but it didn’t matter.
Worsham clocked a 3.893-second effort at 315.93 mph to defeat Shawn Langdon’s 3.916-second effort at 311.70 mph.
Worsham was already preparing for his clash with Massey in the semifinals. The rivalry between the Alan Johnson led Al-Anabi team and DSR isn’t lost on Worsham.
“It definitely is (different) for myself (this year),” said Worsham about the rivalry. “What an amazing car. Brian (Husen) (Worsham’s crew chief) and the entire Al-Anabi team are doing the job and giving me a car that goes down the track. I feel bad for Larry (Dixon). Larry made a great run and Spencer made a great run and he (Dixon) has just been on the wrong end of some of those close races.”
SARGE KEEPS CHAGRING – At the last national event at Sonoma, Calif., Antron Brown got the better of Tony Schumacher in the finals.
This time in the semis, Schumacher turned the tables. He beat a tire-smoking Brown with a 3.903-second time at 313.66 mph.
Brown, who had the starting line advantage, slowed to 4.995 seconds after smoking the tires almost immediately after he left the starting line.
Schumacher, a seven-time world champion, is aiming for his first win of the season.
WORSHAM GETS THE BEST OF MASSEY – Seemingly every week, Del Worsham and Spencer Massey meet up in eliminations.
The latest battle, the eighth between the drivers this season, came out in Worshman’s favor.
Worsham, who pilots the Al-Anabi Racing dragster, had a consistent pass of 3.882 seconds at 313.51 mph to defeat Massey, who slowed to 6.243 seconds after smoking the tires about 150 feet off the starting line.
This is Worsham’s seventh trip to the finals this season where he has a 5-1 record. His only lost in the finals was to Massey at Englishtown, N.J. Worsham has a 6-2 season record against Massey.
WORSHAM WINS AGAIN – All season, Del Worsham has defied the odds.
Sunday he did it again.
Worsham clocked a 3.891-second time at 316.38 mph to edge Tony Schumacher’s 3.915-second effort at 313.95 mph.
This was Worsham’s career-high sixth win of the season and his second victory over Schumacher in the finals. In the only other meeting between Worsham and Schumacher this season, Worsham won in the finals at Gainesville, Fla.
BEATS 'CLASS OF THE FIELD' - Bob Tasca III, in the Motorcraft / Quick Lane Mustang, handed fellow Ford racer Mike Neff his second straight first-round defeat but gave him the respect due a points leader. Calling the Castrol GTX Mustang driver "the guy who's the class of the field," Tasca said, "That Mike Neff . . . He can tune. He can drive. He can win. (Crew chiefs) Marc Denner and Chris Cunningham had their work cut out for them. We knew we had to go big or go home." He went big with a 4.133-second elapsed time that was one of the best in the round. "We needed that win," Tasca said.
DIEHL'S SECRET WEAPON - John Force got wound up after his first-round holeshot victory over Jeff Diehl, proclaiming, "These legs ain't broke no more." He said he was in the gym Saturday night and, nodding toward the six-foot-three surfer Diehl, "because the kids -- this big ol' football player from Green Bay -- they all whip me on the starting line anymore."
Then Force focused on Diehl's wife, Leeza, who backed him up wearing one of her self-designed Nitro *A* Go-Go outfits and knee-high red boots. Force told Diehl, "I love the girl with the red boots. No wonder I can't leave on time! I keep staring at her!"
He was first off the line, though, against Diehl, eager to capitalize on his No. 2 start Sunday. "Lane choice is so critical," he said, "so I put 'er in shallow. I like to jump in there, but you got to do what Guido and Ron (crew chiefs Antonelli and Douglas) say."
Listening to them paid off, for Force kept the lower-qualified Diehl contained with a slower 4.377-second run to Diehl's 4.349.
BREAKIN IN 'NEW PAIR OF SHOES' - After eliminating former John Force Racing teammate Gary Densham, Hight likened the newest version of the Auto Club of Southern California Mustang to "a new pair of shoes," saying, "I'm not quite used to this car yet." He has had barely more than 24 hours to get to know it. "(Crew chief) Jimmy Prock changed everything coming into here," Hight explained, "and then we had to change more once we got here with that tire explosion." He might not be used to it yet, but, he said, "Jimmy Prock and the Auto Club team, they got it handled." Hight was a JFR mechanic before he inherited the position of company president.
They did, and the No. 4 qualifier set low E.T. and top speed of the round with a 4.125-second, 307.37-mph pass.
DIE HARD DRIVER IGNITED - Matt Hagan's victory over Melanie Troxel was especially satisfying because it averted a second straight Round 1 loss and a third in four races. "It's great for the Die Hard car to start going some rounds," the Don Schumacher Racing Dodge Charger driver said after posting a 4.16-second run. "It felt really glued in, really safe. So I know there's more out there. It felt really good and solid all the way down through there. (Crew chief) Tommy Delago's going to get this thing wicked up, and we're going to have some more fun."
SOME POSITIVES - Melanie Troxel said after her first-round exit, "We made Hagan earn that win against us. The guys made a great call this morning. With the information we had, they made a good call. We ran better than we qualified. We went down the track, which we struggled to do all weekend. We're going to need to make improvements on getting down the track more in qualifying so we're not in this tough position on race day."
INSPIRED - Ron Capps clocked one of the class' five 4.1-second passes in the opening round in beating fellow DSR driver Johnny Gray and said he had some inspiration. "I saw Hagan run that (4.)16. And Tasca's run, that (4.)13, kind of pepped me up in the seat, because it wasn't looking good. Nobody was winning in the left lane," the winner of the sixth pairing said. As for his own 4.146-second, 305.77-mph effort in the NAPA Dodge Charger, Capps said, "It was magical to go down that lane like that and get lane choice" against Don Schumacher Racing mate Matt Hagan in the quarterfinals. I don't even know what to say. I'm stunned."
WIRED - Jack Beckman, happy to halt a mini-streak of first-round defeats before it grew to three, climbed from his DSR Aaron's / Valvoline Dodge Charger after defeating the higher qualified Cruz Pedregon and said, "Yes! Our win light came on! We struggled. This Aaron's / Valvoline car, one out of four times to go down the track is so unusual for us. We clearly had a gremlin. The guys rewired the entire car last night. Whether that fixed it, I don't know. It fixed it that time."
Beckman posted a 4.153-second time at 307.09 mph (against Pedregon's 6.406, 107.77).
"We need to fix the wiring so the win light comes on in our lane all the time," Beckman said. Announcer Alan Rinehart suggested, "Just rewire the win light instead of your car." Said Beckman, "OK -- Deal!"
500-WIN PLATEAU - Tony Pedregon closed the first round of Funny Car eliminations with a victory over Jeff Arend that was the 500th round-win of his 20-year career. "That one I forgot, but that's a milestone," he said.
"We have a lot of good companies that have stood behind us," the financially strapped Pedregon said, naming Wix Filters, Snap on Tools, and Charter Communications. "We love racing up here in Seattle (where he won in 2002). It's just going to get tougher. We've just got to keep working. It's do or die for us, but we can't look at it that way. We've just got to keep our head down and work," he said.
NOT REALLY DAVID VS. GOLIATH - Beckman, running from the No. 10 position and posting a 4.168-second pass, upset No. 2 John Force and said afterward, "Let's face it -- the John Forces, the Cruz Pedregons, the name-brand folks, all the Schumacher cars, statistically win more. So when you go against a Goliath like that, you think about it. I thought about it -- for 4.16 seconds." But is Beckman really David? He has won twice (at Charlotte and Atlanta) and was runner-up to Robert Hight in the Bristol final.
THANKS, PAL - Matt Hagan called DSR colleague Ron Capps "one of the best guys out there in terms of driving a race car" and said gratefully that the veteran "brought me under his wing" -- after he defeated Capps and ruined his friend's chances for a second victory in as many weeks. "This Die Hard car is going rounds. Tommy Delago is one heck of a crew chief. One more round for the Die Hard car. We've got two more to go [to get a first victory of the season] but sometimes it seems like that's a long ways away, though."
THANKS, FANS - Following his loss to Jack Beckman, Force told the surprisingly large crowd, "We got great weather. We got a great crowd. Thank you, Seattle and the Canadians. I wanted to give you a better hot rod, but that old Beckman . . . sent me home."
CLINCHED - Robert Hight, Jack Beckman, and Cruz Pedregon each secured a berth in the Countdown to the Championship field this weekend.
SEATTLE CONTINUES TO BE VERY, VERY GOOD TO WILKERSON – Some drivers seem to have better luck at certain tracks than others.
That is certainly the case when it comes to Tim Wilkerson and the Pacific Raceways track.
Wilkerson has won the last two national events at Seattle and now he has a chance for the hat trick after he won his 11th round in a row at the track.
Wilkerson clocked a stout 4.145-second pass at 299.00 mph to muscle past Robert Hight who came in at 4.206 seconds at 297.55 mph.
“Jack (Beckman) and the Dodge are going to be tough,” Wilkerson said about his final-round opponent. “But for Ford Motor Company and Levi Ray & Shoup, we are just happy to be in the next round. We are just gaining them points and making good runs and that was a terrific run and I am so proud of my guys.”
The only real excitement for Wilkerson came at the end of his run when his parachutes didn’t come out. Wilkerson, however, was able to ride the brakes and stop the car.
Wilkerson came to Seattle 10th in the point standings 52 points in front of 11th place Johnny Gray. Wilkerson will extend his lead over Gray, who lost in the first round at Seattle to Ron Capps.
BECKMAN STOPS HAGAN – In a battle of Don Schumacher Racing Funny Cars, Jack Beckman came out on top in his Aaron’s/Valvoline Dodge Charger.
Beckman clocked a 4.160-second time at 297.42 mph to beat Hagan, who slowed in his DieHard Dodge Charger to 5.301 seconds.
This was a great race until a little before half track when Hagan had some motor problems.
Beckman is making his inaugural appearance in the Funny Car finals at Seattle. And, he has made his charge to the finals from the No. 10 qualifying spot.
“When we front-halved this car for Chicago it is like it got a different personality,” Beckman said. “(Saturday night), we went back and re-wired everything that had to do with the ignition system, but I can’t say that is the problem we had. We made a couple of fuel system changes, and the great thing is Rahn Tobler and John Collins helped get the NAPA car and the Service Central car tune-ups where they are now and we actually learned stuff back from the Service Central guys on the fuel system. So, one or both of those put us right back on track. Hopefully we can get that trophy.”
WILKERSON REIGNS IN SEATTLE – Tim Wilkerson probably will not want to leave Pacific Raceways Track Sunday, and who could blame him.
The veteran driver won the Northwest Nationals for the third time in a row, the latest coming when he beat a tire-smoking Jack Beckman in the finals. He clocked a strong 4.146-second effort at 300.53 mph to speed past Beckman who smoked the tires right after the 330-foot mark and slowed to 4.598 seconds.
Beckman was trying to become the first Funny Car driver who qualified 10th to capture the Northwest Nationals title. Wilkerson, who finished a career-best second in the point standings in 2008, notched his first national event win since the Northwest Nationals a year ago.
STILL SEARCHING - Warren Johnson continues to seek his first victory of the season in his K&N Filters Pontiac GXP. He lost his first-round draw against V Gaines. He has some notable company in son Kurt Johnson, as well as Rodger Brogdon, Erica Enders, Ronnie Humphrey, Ron Krisher, Larry Morgan, and Greg Stanfield -- and Gaines.
BOTH GET FREEBIES - No. 1 qualifier Greg Anderson knew he had a bye run for the first round because of the shortest NHRA Pro Stock field since this Seattle race in 1975. However, KB / Summit Racing Pontiac GXP teammate Jason Line hadn't been expecting a free pass, too. He was scheduled to meet Ron Krisher for openers, but Krisher's car backfired and his crew pushed it from the starting line without him doing so much as a burnout. Line used the solo pass to register at 6.531-second elapsed time.
CLOSE ONE - Team Mopar/ J&J Dodge Avenger driver Allen Johnson had the opportunity to watch six pairings run before his match-up with Lucas Oil Ford Mustang driver Larry Morgan, and he said in the staging lanes, "We'll watch two or three pairs before we make our final adjustments." Whatever he did, it was just enough to beta Morgan to the stripe by about a foot. He earned a victory margin of four-thousandths of a second, 6.587 to 6.591.
MOVIN' ON - Rodger Brogdon, of Houston, won the Gulf-coast contest against Greg Stanfield, of Bossier City, La. It was Stanfield's fourth first-round exit in six events.
OVERCOMES .004 REACTION TIME - No. 4 qualifier Allen Johnson jumped in and staged quickly against No. 5 Erica Enders and was dazzling on the Christmas Tree with a nearly perfect .004-second reaction time. But Enders caught him and won with a 6.573-second pass at a slower 209.88 mph to Johnson's 6.609, 210.60. "My guys gave me a great race car. The trick today is going to be to get down this racetrack on a hot surface," she said.
DIDN'T KNOW - Jason Line said he did not see the red light come on in Vincent Nobile's lane. It did, as the rookie fouled out for the fourth time and the second time to Line. He did the same at Atlanta in the quarterfinals. Line threw everything at Nobile and clocked a 6.561-second E.T. at 210.60 mph. Asked if Nobile is the scariest opponent, Line quipped, "The scariest guy for me is me. I'm the most unpredictable, anyway." He called Nobile "a good driver" and said "that's a good hot rod over there."
CONSOLATION - Vincent Nobile has crossed off one items from his list of goals in this rookie season. The Mountain View Tire Dodge Avenger driver earned a spot in the 10-driver Countdown to the Championship field. Also nailing down spots were semifinalists Erica Enders and Rodger Brogdon, as well as Allen Johnson and Greg Stanfield.
ANDERSON MOVES ON – Erica Enders may get a Pro Stock national event victory soon, but it didn’t come Sunday, thanks to Greg Anderson.
The reigning world champion clocked a 6.562-second time at 210.44 mph to edge Enders who came in at 6.570 seconds at 210.18 mph.
Anderson had a 0.045 reaction time compared to Enders’ 0.056 mark and he never trailed en route to the victory.
Anderson improved his career record against Enders to 7-1.
ALL SUMMIT ALL THE TIME – Jason Line, Greg Anderson’s teammate, made it an all Summit Racing final by ousting Rodger Brogdon.
Line clocked a 6.553-second run at 210.24 mph while Brogdon came in at 6.586 seconds at 209.62 mph.
JASON GOES TO THE VICTORY LINE - Jason Line won the all-Summit Racing final by defeating his teammate Greg Anderson in the finals. In the 24 Northwest Nationals at Seattle, the No. 1 and No. 2 qualifiers in Pro Stock have only met in the finals four times and Line was the first No. 2 qualifier to win.
Line clocked a 6.553-second run at 210.87 mph to edge Anderson’s 6.567-second effort at 211.13 mph.
The difference for Line came in the first 60 feet where his Pontiac was able to produce the horsepower for the lead, which he never surrendered. This is Line’s 25th career national event win and fourth of the season.
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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - A MUCH BETTER DAY IN THE GREAT NORTHWEST
BROWN REIGNS IN SEATTLE - If Mother Nature cooperated, Top Fuel driver Antron Brown thought good elapsed times could be posted at the Northwest Nationals.
Well, after four qualifying sessions with decent weather, no one was faster than Brown at Pacific Raceways track.
The pilot of Matco Tools dragster clocked a 3.809-second time at 321.58 mph to capture the pole position at Pacific Raceways track.
“Brian (Corradi) and Mark (Oswald) (Brown’s crew chiefs) are just doing an incredible job,” Brown said. “We had a good car in Denver. We had the fastest car in Denver and the track just got a little tricky on us and we lost in the semifinals. We are doing decent at a lot races, getting to the semifinals and finals and getting race wins. We just have been missing getting that No. 1 qualifying spot and we finally got it back. The thing about it is our team (Don Schumacher Racing) doesn’t worrying about getting the No. 1 qualifying spot, but it is good for the points.”
Brown’s No. 1 qualifying effort is the 27th of his career and his 16th in the Top Fuel ranks. This is Brown’s first pole position since the Mile-High Nationals in Denver a year ago and his inaugural start from the No. 1 position in Seattle.
Brown faces Morgan Lucas in the first round. Lucas could never make a solid run in qualifying, clocking a best time of 6.720 seconds.
“We just have to come in and focus on race day,” Brown said. “That’s where all the points are made up at and that’s where we need to focus on being consistent and being fast and quick. You do not have to be the quickest every round, but you want to be up there and have a chance to win a race. Our Top Fuel class, by all measures is just incredible, the competition we have. From all our DSR cars to the Al-Anabi team and Brandon Bernstein, all the guys are swinging for the fences.”
Brown has three wins this season at Las Vegas, Atlanta and Sonoma, Calif., the last event.
“The track was definitely a lot better today,” Brown said. “What people do not understand, it is not just the track. You get here and you have some serious horsepower because you are at sea level. The weather conditions are little bit worse than they were at Sonoma for power, but you are still at sea level. You come to a track and you think you could run 70s in Top Fuel and the Funny Cars could run 0s, because it was overcast, but it just wasn’t that way. We kind of had to back off. You can’t be real aggressive with this track early. You have to kind of baby into it. It is showing now because a whole bunch of more cars got down the track (Saturday) because they got use to it. Plus, the track prep NHRA did (Friday night) really helped out. Hat’s off to them.”
WILKERSON COMEDY ACT CONTINUES EVEN IN F.C. SUCCESS - One 4.109-second pass at 303.71 mph -- ordinarily not eye-popping numbers for the National Hot Rod Association Funny Car class -- has Tim Wilkerson looking forward to Sunday's O'Reilly Northwest Nationals eliminations.
"It's been a little bit of a dismal season so far," he said after using that elapsed time Saturday to outshine track speed record-holder John Force, surging Matt Hagan and Robert Hight, and points leader Mike Neff.
The first half of the year has been dismal for him. As evidence, the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang driver cracked the top 10 only at the start of this Western Swing and had eight first-round losses in the previous 13 races
But he has been quick all year -- with his deadpan and often self-disparaging humor.
"We stopped by the Break Store on the way in today, but they were all out and we couldn't buy one," he wisecracked in July after the Joliet race. Before that, at Bristol, he said, "If adversity makes you stronger we're all going to look like power lifters here pretty soon." Earlier, at Topeka, he quipped, "We may be a lot of things, but I guarantee you we're not knuckleheads."
Wilkerson likes the word knuckleheads, and sometimes he does call himself one. He's great with gallows comedy. But the script didn't call for any of that Saturday at Pacific Raceways.
Wilkerson scored his first No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 16th of his career on the heels of his runner-up finish at Sonoma last Sunday.
He'll lead the field for the first time since the September 2010 Dallas race and for only the second time since the May 2008 St. Louis event.
No Funny Car driver -- and no one other than Top Fuel's Tony Schumacher (2006-2008) -- has claimed three consecutive Wally trophies at Pacific Raceways. Not even John Force, who has won at Seattle seven times (more than any NHRA pro racer in any class), or six-time Pro Stock winner Bob Glidden has done it.
"That'd be cool, wouldn't it?" Wilkerson said. "I don't think I have a record for anything, except just being goofy. So that'd be really good. Id like to leave her with a win for many reasons, and there's an additional one, right there. If we could get John [Force] kidnapped for the next 15 years, I might catch him."
All kidding aside, Wilkerson needs to go rounds to strengthen his chances to make the Countdown field. He entered this 14th of 22 races on the Full Throttle Drag Racing Series schedule in 10th place, leading Johnny Gray by 52 points and Tony Pedregon by 95. Both Gray and Pedregon qualified in the top half of the field Saturday.
"Hopefully we can get our LRS car going in the right direction," Wilkerson, of Springfield, Ill., said. "We've made some really good runs the last four or five races, but we just didn't have much luck until last weekend. Finally, somebody let us beat 'em.
"It's been a struggle, believe me," he said, thrilled for his crew that they have something to smile about.
"Guys are really holding their heads up high. It makes me feel good to see them smiling a little bit," Wilkerson said. "Being a crew member, it’s way too much work having car that should be as good as ours that's been running like it has. So I'm happy from them more than anyone else."
He said he always has enjoyed and performed well on the Western Swing, which many teams dread for a variety of reasons (being away from the shop too long, traveling thousands of miles in three successive weeks, uncertainty about tuning conditions and weather).
He's chasing Bob Tasca III in the standings as the Countdown deadline looms Labor Day with just two races remaining (Brainerd and Indianapolis).
He's hoping to see more of the overcast conditions that marked the qualifying days.
"If the sun comes out tomorrow, it's going to be ugly," Wilkerson said. And he has seen ugly.
"I'm tellin' ya, this can't go on forever. We can't keep hitting line drives that get caught forever," Wilkerson said during darker says this season.
"If we just keep our heads down and keep racing like this, it's going to have to change," Wilkerson said after the July home state race at Joliet, Ill.
He's hoping he can build on that Sonoma runner-up finish to Ron Capps and make this his turnaround moment.
PALMER’S ENJOYING WESTERN SWING – Competing against Al-Anabi Racing and Don Schumacher Racing is a daunting task for any Top Fuel team, but especially for a team with a limited budget and resources.
Top Fuel driver Scott Palmer embraces the challenge of competing against the sport’s best. Palmer is in the midst of completing in his inaugural NHRA Western Swing with races in Denver, Sonoma, Calif., and this weekend in Seattle.
“I had never even been to Sonoma or Seattle, so this has been a great trip for us,” Palmer said. “It has just been unbelievable. Marck Industries, Excel Drywall and Woodhams Equipment, and Fischer Toyota, basically got us here on expenses and we just run the car on what it brings in and luckily it has done good.”
In Denver at the Mile-High Nationals, Palmer was No. 15 on the qualifying ladder and lost in the first round to Doug Kalitta. At the Fram-Autolite Nationals at Sonoma, Palmer made a decent 4.167-second run on his final qualifying pass, but just missed getting in the 16-car field. Steven Chrisman was on the bubble at 4.098 seconds.
“We were real happy with what we did in Denver,” said Palmer, who also serves as his team’s crew chief and drives the team’s hauler to the races. “We made the show and didn’t blow up any of our parts. At Sonoma, we smoked the tires every run. The air was so good there that I just had the blower turned up too high and just smoked the tires every time I stepped on the gas. The last session we backed it all off and it blew the blower belt off at three seconds. We barely missed qualifying and we would have easily run faster and got in the show if it didn’t blow the blower belt.”
Palmer’s effort, even though he didn’t qualify, is quite worthy since he arrived at in Sonoma with just four crew members, counting himself, because of some scheduling conflicts.
“It was hard to make all four runs because we only had the four crew guys,” Palmer said. “We ended up making three runs. We figured out why we were smoking the tires and on that last run we took too much clutch away from it. I’m still glad we went because we went there thinking we do not have enough crew guys and we were only going to make one run Friday and one run Saturday and we ended up making three runs. We learned more and that’s what we are trying to do. We came on the Western Swing so we could make runs. We didn’t qualify at Sonoma, but what people do not realize is we are learning stuff and our goal is to have everything put together by Brainerd (Aug. 18-21) so we can make good runs. The end of the year is going to be tough. Running 3.95, four flat is not going to work at the end of the year. We are going to have to go fast.”
This weekend at the O’Reilly Auto Parts Northwest Nationals in Seattle, Palmer has a full eight-man crew.
“Everybody talks about how tough the Western Swing is and we have been out here doing it with just four or five crew members at both Denver and Sonoma,” Palmer said. “Now, it’s great that we have our whole crew. I also have been getting some advice from other veteran crew chiefs at Denver, Sonoma and now Seattle that has definitely helped. By the end of the weekend here (in Seattle), we want to try and go fast. We want to go faster than a 3.95.”
Palmer made one qualifying pass Friday and posted a 4.268-second time despite dropping cylinders and blowing the blower belt off. Palmer is guaranteed to make the Seattle field because there are only 16 Top Fuelers entered. Palmer clocked a 4.263-second time on Saturday, but he dropped from No. 12 to No. 14 in the final qualifying ladder. He meets Spencer Massey in round one.
“People might think because there are only 16 cars here, we are only going to make one or two runs because we will qualify and go to first round,” Palmer said. “That’s not the case. We came here to make runs and get this thing figured out. This is the perfect opportunity for us to learn stuff and go fast. The track is going to make it an even playing field and make it a place where anybody can go rounds. The track is iffy about 200 feet out because of the transition from the concrete to the asphalt.”
This season, Palmer has competed in events at Houston, Atlanta and Norwalk, in addition to the Western Swing.
“We are going to Brainerd and I’m sure we will go to the U.S. Nationals (Aug. 31-Sept. 5),” Palmer said.
Palmer competed in 10 NHRA national events last year and finished tied for 19th in the point standings with Chris Karamesines. This season, Palmer has competed at Houston and Atlanta.
OVERNIGHT FIX HELPS - Tech-savvy racer Ron Capps sent the following message through social media outlet Twitter Friday evening: "Wow..can't b good when ur tires r covered with track surface that peeled up after burnout...#only2carsmadeitunderpower."
That caught the attention of the NHRA, which sent its Safety Safari heavy equipment into action for about six hours Friday night long after fans had gone home.
NHRA spokesman Anthony Vestal said Saturday morning, "There was a spot right after the starting line . . . right off the launch pad . . . that was crumbling. That section of the track needed to be cleaned, washed and cleaned off."
Jimmy Prock, Robert Hight's crew chief, had a long night analyzing what might have happened to cause the Auto Club Ford to lose a tire violently at only about 200 feet off the starting line.
"You're always worried" about conditions at Pacific Raceways, Prock said but said, "NHRA did a good job working on it, and the crew did a good job getting the car ready" for Hight's early Saturday run.
Evidently they did, for Hight improved 12 places in the line-up, from 16th to fourth.
John Force's crew chief, Dean Antonelli, echoed Prock. "The NHRA did a great job getting the starting line in order." His driver gave proof, setting the track speed record on that Q3 run with a 308.78-mph clocking.
Only three Funny Car drivers had traction problems early Saturday, none experiencing serious problems.
In an unrelated occurrence, Jack Beckman had a top-end engine fire, but the class fared much better overall than it did Friday. Eight drivers improved their positions in the order. Tim Wilkerson replaced Force as the tentative No. 1 qualifier with a 4.109-second pass. Also improving their elapsed times in the first Saturday session were Mike Neff, Matt Hagan, Johnny Gray, Cruz Pedregon, Tony Pedregon, and Capps.
FORCE SLOW TO BLAME - John Force was No. 1 qualifier in his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang as well as owner and financier of Robert Hight's Auto Club Mustang that experienced a shredded tire. Though he was grateful that Hight, his son-in-law and president of John Force Racing, was unharmed but heartsick that the incident put a $100,000 dent in his budget .
(After all, when his Castrol GTX Mustang launched the body high into the thin air at Denver two weeks ago because of an engine explosion, Force fumed that he was on a tight budget "and I need my s--- it one piece.")
But he refused to blame the tire or its manufacturer, and he wouldn't finger the notorious Pacific Raceways surface.
Saying, "Everybody gets frustrated," Force defended Goodyear and its product.
"If you can find a problem, you can fix it," he said. "If everybody wants to run around being mad, the first thing people want to do is blame the tire. You don't blame Goodyear. They give us tire and it works. Sometimes they fail.
"But do they really? Have you ever seen photos of when they run these tires? You ever see how hard you twist the tire and you tear the rubber out of it, trying to make it go down that racetrack? We abuse 'em, and I'm amazed they run as good as they do. I'm amazed."
He explained how conditions and driving practices affect a tire, and he simply called what happened to Hight "strange."
Said Force of the track conditions, "I don't think that affected Robert's (ugly qualifying run).
"If the track's that bad and it's loose, then it ain't going to pull the tire off. When they tear at the other end, it's because drivers let off and traction's so great it grabs the tire and pulls it apart. At the other end the tire's just flyin' and the guy lifts and the tire stops and then the traction grabs it and rips it apart. That's what happens," he said.
Analyzing Hight's incident, he mused, "That was strange."
Although Hight's experience was the most dangerous and dramatic, Funny Car problems were widespread. Force described what he saw Friday and how he tried to understand the cause of it.
"If a track's loose -- and it's obviously loose . . . no one's getting down it . . . unless it's so guerilla that it's shakin' 'em (the tires) but that ain't it. We're shakin' because we're spinnin'. And if you're spinning, that don't tear tires off. Somethin' freaky went on out there. I've never seen a car throw a tire at 200 feet. Sometimes it just happens. But we were lucky."
He said Hight told him right after collecting himself, "That could have been bad."
And Force said what happened was unusual but, considering the circumstances, a blessing. "The whole tire came off -- the whole tire. And that's lucky."
Reflecting on his ghastly crash at the Texas Motorplex in September 2007 and Eric Medlen's testing accident six months earlier that proved fatal, he said, "My tire stayed on, and so did Eric's. But we also have that three-rail chassis that will protect you. The thing's a dump truck. You couldn't break it if you dropped a crane on it."
MASSEY SITS IN THIRD – Top Fuel dragster, Spencer Massey took the third-qualifying spot for Sunday’s 24th-annual NHRA Northwest Nationals here at Pacific Raceways.
Happy about having lane choice in his first-round race with good friend and 14th-qualifier Scott Palmer, the 28-year-old Don Schumacher driver believes this could be a key to race success.
“Now that qualifying is done and we have a great starting position, it’s time to get back into race-day mode,” explained the Fort Worth native. “This means I will be looking to cut a good light and then go A to B without messing up the great tune up Todd and Phil (Okuhara and Shuler, co-crew chiefs) always give me.
“But tomorrow, I will also be looking for a quick time, because we’d like to have lane choice all day. The way the track has been behaving during the two days of qualifying, it might make a difference.”
Massey banked a 3.845-second lap at 319.67 miles per hour in Friday’s second session to earn his top-half-of-the-field position. In addition, he ran 3.877 at 318.47 mph in today’s third-qualifying round, while suffering traction issues the other two rounds.
“The NHRA and the track did a lot to make things more equitable between the lanes from Friday to Saturday,” he said. “But I still think lane choice could be an issue. Let’s put it this way – we don’t want to take any chances. We’ll go after winning rounds and being the quickest in doing so. This is such a competitive class, you need any advantage you can get.”
HIGHT 'STOKED' - Of the three John Force Racing Mustang drivers, Robert Hight had the most disastrous news Friday as the first day of qualifying wrapped up.
His Auto Club entry lost a rear tire in an explosion especially odd for its place on the track (about 200 feet). His Jimmy Prock-led crew scrambled overnight to prepare a new ride, and they were rewarded Saturday when Hight jumped from 16th place to fourth and adopted an optimistic attitude about his chances in eliminations Sunday.
"We've still got a race car," a happy Hight said after securing his position with a 4.137-second pass that he lowered to 4.125 by the final session. "We worked until midnight out here," the former clutch specialist said, adding, "I got my hands dirty a little.
"Luckily, we have a lot of parts and spares. We didn't want to take a chance with the car which more than likely is OK. We will take it back and look at it. We pulled out the other car," he said. "We know what we have. We make our cars ourselves. As a driver I am very confident in my team. They worked hard and got this Mustang together. We went out there with a brand-new, unproven car, and we got it qualified and we were very competitive. My guys gave Jimmy a good car today."
Said Hight, "We ran 4.13 and 4.12, and those are two great times. At the same time, I have way more confidence going into race day than I did the previous two Western Swing races. This Mustang now is acting like a race car. It is backed way off and it is running fast, but there is more to go. It is coming together smooth and the clutch is acting like it is supposed to. It is not shaking. It is smooth and fast. I am stoked about race day. I believe we can get to the finals tomorrow."
WILK WEIGHS IN - No. 1 qualifier Wilkerson said of the track conditions and NHRA's all-night effort to solve problems, "I don't really know that it was bad to begin with. It was just different. And they started over, like they do every weekend when they get at these tracks -- and scraped and scrubbed and cut and banged and beat and pried and twisted -- and it was better. You have to had it to them for putting the effort in. They did it to begin with. It just didn't adhere. The place is old, just got an old surface. It's coming up. And that's the way it is.
"Thank God for those tire machines or we'd have seen some terrible show today. With all that happening, I think the fans got to see a pretty decent show," he said. "We only made two out of four runs, but I think Force made it down the track all four times with really good times. That's not good for the rest of us, either, him coming on strong here through the middle of the year."
CHANCES EXCELLENT - Summit Racing driver Jason Line might be just a bit spoiled. After qualifying No. 2-- just two-thousandths of a second off teammate Greg Anderson's track-record elapsed time, Line said, "It’s been too long since I've won, and I'd certainly like to rectify that tomorrow." Um, his last victory came May 15 at Atlanta, just eight races ago. But then again, Line said when he won the season-opening Winternationals that his admittedly unrealistic plan was to win every race.
He does have an excellent chance to win his fourth special-edition NHRA 60th Anniversary pewter Wally statue, for his car has been running predictably.
"In my four attempts, I went 6.548, 6.547, 6.538 and 6.540, so I would say my Summit Racing Pontiac is pretty well dialed in," Line said. "No other car has been that good so far this weekend, so I'm stoked heading into tomorrow. The guys on this KB Racing crew are doing a great job, and best of all, I’ve been able to run well in both lanes, so we should be in good shape no matter which side we race on.
"All in all," he said, "things have gone very well this weekend, and we hope to keep it going heading into tomorrow. I want to thank the guys in the engine department, as well as everyone else on the team, for giving me back my hot rod. Without sounding overconfident or cocky, I'm excited about our chances for race day."
This is the sixth time so far this season that Line has started second, and it's the third time that he and teammate Greg Anderson have landed the top two starting spots.
MCMILLEN TRIES TO GAIN GROUND – With the Countdown playoffs looming, only Seattle, Brainerd (Aug. 18-21) and the U.S. Nationals (Aug. 31-Sept. 5) races remain the regular season, Terry McMillen knows he needs to make up ground in the point standings.
McMillen came to Seattle No. 11 in the points and the top 10 drivers in each pro category advance into the Countdown playoffs. McMillen qualified No. 9 at Seattle and faces Doug Kalitta in round one Sunday.
“I’m very pleased with how our car is running,” McMillen said. “We were sixth after Friday, but we got knocked down to ninth. The bad part about that is we will not get lane choice, but we are just going to have to go out there and get the underdog lane and hopefully we can get down the track and get a win. There are only 12 rounds of racing left before the Countdown playoffs begin and we need to go rounds.”
IN 'N' NOT OUT - The way the class has struggled with track and weather conditions, Melanie Troxel might feel lucky to take the No. 14 spot for eliminations.
"Everybody was really challenged by the track conditions on Friday, including us," she said. "We came into Saturday a little bit nervous, not knowing if we were going to be fighting the racetrack of if we could go back to your normal tune-up.
"We're still struggling with how to get down this track," the In-N-Out Burger Toyota driver said. "We tried something different on that last session that did not work, but we can rule that out as something we'll try tomorrow morning. Track conditions have gotten better. They fixed whatever was giving us fits on Friday. I think we'll get some good racing tomorrow."
"I went to that first session (Saturday) thinking that if the car showed any sign of trying to rattle the tires, I was going to do my best to catch it early and pedal it to make the best of the situation," Troxel said. "Fortunate for me, that plan worked out for us. The car did shake the tires and I pedaled it to get the number we qualified with.
"You want to qualify in the top half and run good, but sometimes when you get different conditions on Sunday, it kind of evens out the playing field a little. We expected to see more sun this weekend, especially this afternoon. Who knows what's coming tomorrow?"
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FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - A TOUGH DAY FOR RACERS, TOUGHER FOR THE FANS
BLOWN TIRE SPOILS CELEBRATION - Despite the calamities that beset his Ford Mustang teammates in Friday's second qualifying session, John Force claimed the tentative No. 1 qualifying spot for the O'Reilly Northwest Nationals with a 4.124-second blast at a track-record 304.87-mph speed on the Pacific Raceways 1,000-foot course.
After the left rear tire on Robert Hight's Auto Club Ford Mustang exploded early in the second qualifying session and the parachutes prematurely fell out of points leader Mike Neff's Castrol GTX entry in the next-to-last pairing, Force emerged as the most triumphant of his trio.
Neff nevertheless managed to grab the No. 4 spot (behind Jack Beckman and Tim Wilkerson) and Hight was on the bubble overnight.
What otherwise would have been a celebration turned into a discussion about safety and this racing surface, which has been maligned and praised alike, depending on which racer is speaking.
Force said he doesn't blame Hight's incident on the condition of the track.
"If I thought it was the track . . . I had a man die and I crippled myself . . . If I thought it was totally the track's problem, then I wouldn't let my cars run. You think I want to go through that again? The track is loose. We can't get down it. Let's be honest -- we could have run over something on the track. We cold have had a tire go flat. We could have a body structure fly off and cut a tire. Sometimes you just don't know.
"I've had two catastrophics. If I thought somebody did something wrong, don't you think I would consider suing for the losses? I never have," Force said "It ain't because I love the sport. It's because John Medlen and all of us got together after evaluating it and said, 'S--- happens.'
"We're test pilots," he said. "That's what we are. Ain't trying to be no hero. At my age you don't want to be a hero, just want to make a living."
No matter what, John Force Racing took a painful financial hit.
"Even though to recover from Robert's deal I got to win the lottery to pay some of those bills. We lost the body. The paint and everything -- that's close to 100-grand. Don't know how the chassis is," Force said.
"That's kind of a queer deal took place. I've never seen a car throw the tire 200 feet. It just don't happen," he said. "If it's spinnin' it's too loose and if it's stuck, it ain't makin' enough wheel speed. When they tear at the other end, it's because drivers let off and traction's so great it grabs the tire and pulls it apart. So that was strange. He pedaled it, like he's done a million times.
"We'll evaluate this one. But Goodyear's got it. And NHRA and Goodyear, they'll evaluate it. They've been through a lot of this before. They're good people. They really work hard to try to find the problem."
As for tires, he said, "We abuse 'em. I'm amazed they run as good as they do."
As for the condition of this controversial racing surface, Force said, "I raced on race tracks in El Paso, Texas, when the sand was blowin' across. Anything's dangerous." After asserting that the only way to keep danger out of the equation is not to get in the race car in the first place, he said, "We have to adapt to that track. The right combination will go down that track. It just won't be fast.
"It's hard to say something's bad. If I thought it, I'd tell you. I'm not being politically correct here. I don't know. But I'm going back to my people what they think," Force said.
"I know they (track owners) made changes. My daughter lost a tire here last year. But I don't think it (Hight's incident Friday) was because the track was rough."
Referring to racing-surface expert Lanny Miglizzi, Force said, "Lanny didn't come back to us and say, 'This track is terrible with bumps and knots and it's going to tear your tires out.' We thought it was going to be good. You've got these high-powered cars that make big horsepower, but, us, we can't use it.
"Something's going on," he conceded. "A couple of racers can make the wrong call, but too many's made 'wrong calls.' Funny Car's struggling," he said. "We have to race what's out there, and you've got to figure it out. But when the cool air comes in like this, you really get all hopped up mentally. We got down it and we softened 'er up more because the left lane appeared not to be as good as the right."
He said the NHRA preps the various racetracks differently. "I don't know how they do it, but they do. Try to keep Pro Stock happy. Try to keep Funny Car and dragster happy. They try to make everybody happy. Sometimes you can't make everybody happy. We're just going to have to adapt. It's going to be tricky."
"We were excited this morning. We thought, 'This is going to be drillin' -- going to run big numbers.' Tomorrow's a new day."
He and his colleagues hope it'll be a safer, less dramatic one.
WORSHAM RUNS TO THE TOP - Before the 2011 NHRA season, questions surrounded Del Worsham about whether he could be a successful Top Fuel driver.
Worsham, who drove a Funny Car for nearly 20 years, keeps silencing his critics with each passing week.
Worsham clocked a 3.830-second time at 319.07 mph in his Al-Anabi dragster Friday to claim the provisional Top Fuel pole at the 24th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts Northwest Nationals in Seattle.
“You make horsepower on this race track,” Worsham said. “You are right at sea level and there are these great trees. You think there is something on the track and someone goes out there like we did and rips off a 3.83 or you watch Spencer (Massey) go 3.84 and you watch John Force go 4.12. There’s obviously a set-up to get down there and we got it 50 percent of the time today. Right now, I like being a Top Fuel driver.”
If Worsham’s pole holds it would be his fifth of the season and 10th of his career and it would be his first in Seattle.
Spencer Massey, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing, came in second at 3.845 seconds.
Although the Pacific Raceways track was at the center of controversy Friday evening after Robert Hight blew a tire during the second qualifying session for Funny Car, Worsham had no complaints about the track surface.
“Generally speaking, in the past we have usually run pretty well up here, and pretty fast,” Worsham said. “There have actually been records set here. The ability to make horsepower here is so easy and I think maybe people may get out of line a little bit, they do not realize how much power can be made and how easy you can do it. We do not run in these conditions that often and it makes it a little more challenging. It’s a cool place to race. I love coming up here.”
Worsham wasn’t making any guarantees as to whether his elapsed time would keep him on the pole following Saturday.
“I’m thinking (Saturday morning) conditions are going to be pretty nice and there is probably going to be overcast and it is going to be pretty cool,” Worsham said. “I think somebody can run that good again. I hope it us or Larry (Dixon). We watched Spencer (Massey) make a great run out there as well, so I think somebody might out-run that (3.830) (Saturday morning). There’s just no telling what you are going to see.”
GIMME MORE - Pro Stock ace Greg Anderson used his 211.16-mph speed to trump Mike Edwards in the second qualifying session Friday, as both ran identical 6.541-second elapsed times in bidding for the No. 1 position for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Northwest Nationals.
But Anderson said he wasn't all that proud of his achievement.
"Something didn't feel quite right," the KB / Summit Racing Pontiac driver said at the top end of the track as soon as he took his helmet off. When he learned how it vaulted him to the provisional top spot, he shrugged and said, "Sometimes they don't feel right, but they run fast."
But he still indicated he had expected better -- and definitely had his mind on Saturday's conditions.
"It was not a perfect run. It definitely was not. Obviously it got the job done," Anderson said. "What we don't know yet is if that's going to be the fastest way down this racetrack. We're not thinking it is right now."
He said he'll experiment a little Saturday.
"Tomorrow we'll get more aggressive with the car and find out if it'll take it. If it doesn't, then we got kind of lucky by accident. But we're going to get a little more aggressive tomorrow and see if it'll run faster and see what happens. It did feel and look on the graph like it (the track) will take a little bit more," Anderson said.
"But you just never know. It's a game every racetrack you go to: How much will this track like? How much wheel speed's it going to want? How much is it going to want to spin the tires? They're all a little bit different. We just hope and pray we hang onto No. 1."
It's especially important to Anderson to seize his second No. 1 spot of the season and 75th of his career.
"Got a little extra incentive to try to get No. 1 qualifier," he said. "There happen to be only 15 cars, so somebody's going to get a bye run first round. Not to act like a sissy, but I'd like to have that bye run first round.
"You can test a little bit. That's what we're all looking for. That gives you one more chance at playing around a little bit with the racetrack and trying to learn something other than just going into race mode and being scared to really change anything," Anderson said.
"We've got an 11 o'clock run tomorrow, so it's going to be fast then, too. It's certainly not over yet. There's going to be fast runs tomorrow morning. At least for a night I can say I've got a good chance at a bye run. At least for one night I've got the leg up on that. We'll see what happens tomorrow. "
Anderson, who won at Sonoma and is third in the standings, allowed himself some satisfaction.
"We're definitely getting in our groove," he said. "The team is working fantastically together, and all three of our cars are really running great. Got a great chance the rest of the weekend.
"I love the weather. I love the cloud cover. Great first day. We ended up with two cars in the top four and the other one's fifth. That's pretty doggone good for three Summit Pontiacs, probably more than we could hope for. We're right on schedule."
Much is made of different climates and tuning variables on the Western Swing, and much is made of the uniqueness of Seattle's racing surface . . . good and bad. Anderson, who has teamed with Jason Line to win four of five final-round appearances here (including two victories and a runner-up finish in the past three years), has his opinions.
"It's a quirky track and has a few bumps in it and it's tricky -- when the sun's out. When it's cloudy, you can't complain about this racetrack one little bit. When the sun comes out, then it gets a little bit tricky and the crew chiefs got to really dig down and go to work."
Friday's overcast conditions shocked him and even tricked him and his crew, he indicated.
"I'm surprised that the clouds are here, because I didn't see any forecast of clouds all weekend. You never know what you're going to get," Anderson said. "We'll see if we're going to get sun or clouds tomorrow. If we get sun, then it'll be a little tougher on the racetrack. It may stay cloudy again."
He said it threw off his tune-up.
"With the clouds like this, we could've thrown more at it, but we just kept expecting there's going to be sun -- it's going to break out any minute, it's going to break out any minute. Never did, and we underestimated the racetrack. It's very good today," he said.
THIN FIELD - The Pro Stock class has just 15 cars competing this weekend.
JUST 18 - Only two Funny Car drivers will miss the starting lineup this weekend. Brian Thiel was the lone entrant among the 18 not to post an elapsed time in the first session of the day. He wrestled his Dodge Charger as it made a hard move to his left, toward the center line. He didn't cross the line, but he did stop the car on the track at the top end, dealing with a header fire. He was charged for an oildown and denied an E.T. In his second chance Friday, he experienced tire shake but got a 7.165-second baseline just the same.
NOT FAIR, MAYBE, BUT OH WELL - Tim Wilkerson expressed his displeasure at the top end of the track last weekend at Sonoma with the oildown penalty he received following his quarterfinal victory. His point was that it's not fair to charge a racer for an oildown at a racetrack where the lanes aren't equal.
It cost the No. 10-ranked Funny Car driver 10 precious points as the Countdown nears and he tries to fend off Johnny Gray -- and $1,000.
"It wasn't a big deal," he said before swiping the tentative No. 2 spot in early Friday qualifying at the Northwest Nationals. "I was a little irritated that there was a spot at the track that causes all this corruption," he said, especially in light of the objective "that you're supposed to put on a good show."
Said the Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang driver, "I was just irritated, because I know the bump's there and I know what it does when you hit it. You watch Q3 and every other dragster smoked the tires. I thought, 'One guy can be dumb and two guys but 10? Ten dumb crew chiefs? That ain't happening.' "
Wilkerson had a point about the unfairness of it, in theory. But he also said he understands that in the real world of pragmatism, and in the NHRA's defense, no sanctioning body can guarantee always that both lanes are equal. The very premise of lane choice, a staple of drag racing, suggests that no set of lanes is equal.
"I was nice. I didn't blame the sanctioning body. I thought the rule shouldn't apply," he said. "I thought, 'This doesn't seem like a fair rule when the track's no good.' "
Perturbed, partly at himself, because he oiled the track only in the last 50 feet of the turnoff, Wilkerson said an oil down is an oil down: "It was a five-minute clean-up, which was still a clean-up. I understand that."
He said, "I was just irritated that I was going to lose my freebie over a bumpy track -- because I wanted it coming here. Seattle . . .this fine place is bumpy from one end to the other. You've got to figure out how to keep the rods in your motor better," he said. "Then I found out that my freebie is just a pat on the back.
"I don't understand," Wilkerson said "I had a freebie coming, but the freebie gets you nothing -- gets you lane choice the next round. You still get charged points. You still get fined. I thought a freebie was a freebie."
He asked officials, "What about the freebie?"
The response was "You get lane choice."
Said Wilkerson, "Wow. That's terrific. I get out of the bumpy lane."
He said he didn't plan to make a big deal of it, and it was just as well. "I didn't get any response out of it," Wilkerson said. "The only answer you're going to get is 'Well, other people went over it without doing anything wrong.' That's the standard answer."
Oh well . . . Rocker Janis Joplin, a Seattle icon, said it best in song: "Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free."
CAT-AND-MOUSE GAME OVER? - To his aggravation, Rodger Brogdon has been playing a cat-and-mouse game with mechanical problems in his EDGE Pain & Performance Chips Pontiac GXP. But the cat caught the mouse, at least for awhile in Friday's first qualifying session of the O'Reilly Northwest Nationals.
Brogdon edged Jason Line by three-thousandths of a second and grabbed the early Pro Stock lead with a track-record 6.545-second pass at 210.67 mph.
"We've been chasing the same problem for several races now, and just when we think we've got a handle on it, it bites us again," he said. "It certainly hasn't been a roller coaster ride that we wanted here in the middle of the season, but in all honesty, it has forced us to really focus on all aspects of our program and once we eliminate the variable we should really be able to get after it.
"We have literally scrutinized everything on the car since Bristol, so we know exactly what needs fixing," Brogdon said.
Although he claimed he hadn't solved the problem totally through last week's Sonoma race, he certainly found something helpful by Friday. And the way he explained the Western Swing emphasized why he said he needed to eliminate the trouble immediately.
"We've got 12 rounds of competition in just 15 days," he said. "A problem like we've been chasing can put you behind the 8-ball real quick. So far we've held our own, but that's really not acceptable.
"With Seattle, Brainerd, and Indy left to set the field for the Countdown to the Championship, we've got to get all this ironed out as soon as possible. Another good weekend or two like we had in Houston or Gainesville earlier this year and we'll be right smack in the middle of the championship run. I know it's something we can do, right now it's just a matter of being able to get it done. We need to get back to our early season form, and we need to do it quick."
PRAISE FUELS BROWN - Antron Brown is quick to say “Big Daddy” Don Garlits is his mentor. Brown pilots the Matco Tools dragster for Don Schumacher Racing.
Earlier this week in a story on CompetitionPlus.com, Garlits praised Brown’s talent.
“I was asked recently if I had a dragster in need of a driver who would I chose and it would be Antron,” Garlits said. “There are other drivers who I also like, but I really Antron’s attitude and just everything he brings to the sport. He is great for sponsors and he is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet. He is such a good driver and he’s always dead on that light.”
Garlits’ compliments were not lost on Brown.
“Don Garlits is the king of the sport because of everything he did,” Brown said. “John Force has done a lot for drag racing, but I would still have to call him the prince and Big Daddy the king. When I hear comments like that from Big Daddy, I do not have to pinch myself. It just makes me want to put my head down and work even harder. I have just been blessed to get the opportunity to work with a lot of great people like Big Daddy and Mark Oswald (Brown’s co-crew chief), who won an (NHRA) Funny Car world championship (in 1984) and nearly won a Top Fuel title.”
Brown came to the NHRA Northwest Nationals at Pacific Raceways in Seattle on top of his game. He won the last event at Sonoma, Calif., and is third in the points behind leader Del Worsham and teammate Spencer Massey.
Brown qualified third at 3.849 seconds Friday.
“Sometimes when it is real hot here (in Seattle), the track can get real nasty,” Brown said. “When it gets real hot like that, we would expect to run high 3.90s. But, this weekend, the weather is supposed to be cool here and if it stays that way, we will be able to run in the 3.80s. We’re excited about this weekend. Our car is in race mode and we are just continuing to gear up for the Countdown.”
Friday the weather in Seattle was in the mid 60s and it is only supposed to reach a high of 78 degrees Saturday and Sunday.
Seattle, Brainerd, Minn. (Aug. 18-21) and the U.S. Nationals (Aug. 31-Sept. 5) are the final three races of the regular season. The six race Countdown Playoffs begin Sept. 15-18 in Charlotte.
“The good thing for our team is we raced at a place like Sonoma where the track was real hot and then this weekend (in Seattle), the conditions are cooler, so that will allow us to get a race set-up for different conditions that we will see in the Countdown,” Brown said.
PRO STOCK NOT FOLLOWING PATTERN - The traditional qualifying pattern is that Friday's second qualifying session produces quicker elapsed times throughout the field. But that didn't happen for the Pro Stock class at Pacific Raceways Friday. Only eight of the 15 drivers were quicker in Q2, including only four form the top half of the field.
SARGE KEEPS BUSY – Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher doesn’t just spend race weekends racing. The seven-time world champion always has a full schedule of events and this week in Seattle has been no different.
On Thursday, Schumacher visited Fort Lewis, Wash., and signed autographs for the soldiers and Friday morning he joined Antron Brown and Matt Hagan, who drives the DieHard Dodge DSR Funny Car, for a special visit to Starbucks’s headquarters where they did some coffee tasting.
On Saturday morning, Schumacher has his normal “Army Day at the Races” program scheduled at the Don Schumacher Racing pit area. He is the featured speaker for a group called “Centers of Influence."
“Just like most race weekends, we have been little busy away from the track while here in Seattle," U.S. Army Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher said. "We started off at Fort Lewis on Thursday visiting with our Army Strong soldiers. As most people know, I always enjoy interacting with our soldiers. Hopefully, we will be able to deliver a victory to them real soon.
"On Friday, I joined my DSR teammates, Matt Hagan and Antron Brown, for a visit to Starbucks headquarters. Being an avid coffee drinker and a Starbucks fan, in particular, it was a great experience. We got to sample a bunch of different tasting coffee which was nice.
"Finally, on Saturday, I will do my usual speech at our Army Day at the Races program. I get to address people known as Centers of Influence, who may be coaches, school officials or even politicians. These folks are very important to the recruiting process for the Army. We certainly appreciate their involvement."
Schumacher has back-to-back runner-up finishes in Denver and Sonoma. His last win was at Las Vegas this past October. Friday he qualified No. 4 at Seattle at 3.856 seconds.
BERNSTEIN AIMS TO BOUNCE BACK – Brandon Bernstein, the driver of the Copart Top Fuel dragster, isn’t pushing any panic button back in his pits at Pacific Raceways.
Bernstein is coming off back-to-back first-round losses at Denver and Sonoma to Spencer Massey and Doug Kalitta.
However, Bernstein is confident the Copart team owned by his father Kenny Bernstein will rebound this weekend.
Bernstein took a step in the right direction Friday, qualifying No. 5 at 3.867 seconds.
“We feel like we have a car that can compete with anybody at any track,” Brandon said. “On race day, we have been just going up against guys who have put up good numbers against us.”
When Bernstein lost to Kalitta in Sonoma, he ran a solid 3.880-second lap, but was edged by Kalitta’s 3.872-second effort.
A year ago, when the Copart team got off to a sluggish start, Kenny Bernstein dismissed crew chief Rob Flynn after the third race of the season at Gainesville, Fla. Assistant crew chief Todd Smith was promoted to wrench boss. Donnie Bender also came aboard as an assistant crew chief and they are still leading the Copart team.
“Todd and Donnie have the car tuned up right,” Brandon said. “They have just missed on race day and we have had cars put up good numbers against us and I have also made a couple of mistakes myself (on race day).”
In the past, some Top Fuel and Funny Car teams have admitted doing some experimenting with engine combinations in preparation for the Countdown Playoffs.
That’s not the case for the Copart team. Bernstein came to Seattle seventh in the point standings, a position he has stayed at since he lost in the semifinals at Englishtown, N.J., in the first week of June.
“We just want to go rounds and win races,” Brandon said. “We want to solidify our spot in the Countdown.”
Brandon has won 18 career NHRA Top Fuel national events, his last coming in 2009 at Richmond, Va.
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THURSDAY NOTEBOOK -
HOT BROWN - Third-place Antron Brown has three victories and has advanced to the semifinals or beyond in seven of 13 races this season in the Matco Tools/Aaron's Dragster. He never raced here in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class, and in his only two previous trips here, as a Top Fuel driver, he won in 2009 as part of his Westernr Swing sweep and finished last season as runner-up to Cory McClenathan.
OLD. VS. NEW - Steve Chrisman and his Kevin Meredyk-led Nitro Fish Dragster team have a system for their part-time operation.
"After we make major combination changes, like putting in a new clutch system and a new supercharger before the season, the only way we can test them is during qualifying runs," Chrisman said.
Last weekend at Sonoma, Calif., Meredyk made a drastic call and used the old equipment for Saturday's final two qualifying runs. The car responded to the tune-up, and Chrisman used his final attempt to take the No. 16 spot. So when he takes to the track in Friday's first qualifying run at Seattle, the new parts will once again replace the old stuff.
"We went back to that system because we knew it and we thought it would help us qualify, and it did," Chrisman said. "We are going back to the new setup to see if we can get the car to run quicker in Seattle. We need to pick up one-tenth of a second to be competitive."
TROPHYLESS IN SEATTLE - Doug Kalitta has won 32 times. But despite three final round appearances at Seattle (1999 vs. Joe Amato, 2000 vs. Gary Scelzi, and 2003 vs. Larry Dixon), he hasn't won here. The No. 6-ranked driver was top qualifier here last season. Teammate Dave Grubnic, who's battling Terry McMillen and Bob Vandergriff for the 10th and final Countdown position, was runner-up to Tony Schumacher in 2004 and 2006.
TROPHYLESS THIS YEAR - Tony Schumacher still is seeking his first victory and 68th overall at a racetrack where he has dominated since 2004 with four victories in six final rounds. "I love that place," he said. "With the towering trees that surround the track, we are able to make some good power." He has performed well in the past two events, racing to the final round at Denver against Spencer Massey and at Sonoma against Antron Brown. "We have been so close," Schumacher said. "The car has been running really strong in recent weeks, but we just can't seem to get over that last hurdle. Maybe it will finally be our turn this weekend. I guess if you are going to lose to someone in the finals, it might as well be to one of your teammates." He's only 16 points behind Larry Dixon in fourth and 40 points from No. 3 Brown. Said Schumacher, "I think we even have a shot at Spencer, who is currently in second. Again, the idea is to be as close to the leader as possible when that six-race Countdown starts. Then you can get after it."
STRAIGHT TALK - Shawn Langdon cut to the chase: "Just going A to B isn't going to cut it. You are going to have to be going fast. Having an A to B race car isn't going to win you a championship." He said, "Crew chief, car chief, driver, crew, and car all have to be on the same page to be successful to perform well in the Countdown." He and his Lucas Oil / Speedco Dragster team are ready to "have everything clicking together," in Langdon's words. He said, "You can’t go into the first race of the Countdown with a car that's not happy. You really have to have that momentum built up headed into that first race. Our parts have been looking great for us. Internally the motor has been looking really good after runs the past couple of races. We should be close to what we were in Sonoma, as far as making power goes. It's just going to be a matter of applying all that power to the racetrack." He's eighth in the standings, 25 points behind seventh-place Brandon Bernstein.
TOYOTA ON TOP - Toyota-sponsored Top Fuel drivers have won 10 of the first 13 events this season. Del Worsham leads with five, more than any pro driver. Antron Brown has three victories, while Morgan Lucas and Larry Dixon each have one.
DOING BUSINESS, MEANING BUSINESS - Robert Hight is wearing a couple of different hats this weekend as the tour wraps up its Western Swing at Pacific Raceways.
In his role as President of John Force Racing, he and Force and their entourage Thursday visited Flow International Corporation headquarters in Kent, Wash., near the racetrack. The company, founded by Boeing R&D scientists, offers technologically advanced, environmentally sound solutions to the manufacturing and industrial cleaning markets. It has developed ultrahigh-pressure waterjet technology, provides robotics equipment, and unveiled its Next Generation of Waterjets.
"We are excited about our partnership with Flow, and I think this relationship is beneficial because Flow is a cutting edge company and John Force Racing has been on the cutting edge of Funny Car racing for years," Hight said. "With our expanding shop in Brownsburg, there are a lot of opportunities for Flow and JFR to develop and explore some interesting possibilities."
Hight knows he has some "interesting possiblilties" as the final three races will shape the Funny Car class' Countdown field. And some of them aren't pretty for the driver of the Auto Club of Southern California Mustang, unless he gets more consistent on track.
Hight has won four of this year's 13 completed races, tying JFR mate Mike Neff for the class lead, and trails only Neff in the standings. He also has four first-round losses and four second-round eliminations.
"This is the same thing we were fighting at the end of last year," Hight said. That's when he won four of the first 17 races but didn't win a single round in six Countdown events -- after coming in 2009 from 10th (last among title-eligible drivers) and winning the championship). "For whatever reason, mine is the only one (of the three JFR Mustangs) that rattles like that.
"We know we have to do something different," he said, "and Seattle is a good place to turn it around. We really, really need to do some testing,but there’s no time to test. So we'l try and work out as many issues as we can this week. Honestly, I can't wait for the Indy test session (the week before the start of the U.S. Nationals)."
Hight owns the Pacific Raceways time and speed records at 4.056 seconds, 304.39 mph. He also set the quickest times ever recorded at both the 1,000 foot (4.005 seconds) and quarter-mile (4.636) distances. He has he has been No. 1 qualifier at the Northwest Nationals in four of six previous appearances but hasn't won. In 2005, as a rookie, he lost to teammate Eric Medlen.
To clinch one of the 10 playoff berths for the fifth straight year, Hight must leave the Northwest at least 300 points ahead of the No. 11 driver (currently Johnny Gray).
NO. 2,000 POSSIBLE - According to John Force Racing statisticians Dave Densmore and Elon Werner, John Force Racing drivers have won 1,985 competitive rounds. "If history is an indicator," they wrote in a press release this week, "the team should reach the 2,000(-win-)round plateau this season." They calculated that JFR drivers in the past 10 seasons have averaged 32.7 per driver, per season. So far this year, the three of them (Force, Robert Hight, Mike Neff) have won a combined 65 rounds. Last year they hit 98 with Ashley Force Hood joining her dad and brother-in-law.
TAKE ME OUT TO THE RACETRACK - The Seattle Mariners won't be at home in Safeco Field this weekend when the NHRA makes its lone visit to the Pacific Northwest. But Funny Car driver Bob Tasca is thinking in baseball terms this weekend. "Our on-base percentage is good, but we don't have any home runs to show for it," the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Mustang driver said. "We've been frustrated with some of the losses we've taken, but what's good about drag racing is that when one race ends, another one begins." He has to be thankful, though, that drag racing doesn't have a 162-event schedule like Major League Baseball does.
"We're very, very, very focused on this race. You never like to say you're more focused on one race over another, but this team is very motivated to do well in Seattle.It's a race we have to do well at. We'll look to Seattle, knowing there are a lot of opportunities ahead of us," Tasca said, describing a season much like Mariners have had. "We've had flashes of brilliance this year, and we've lost by the closest margins. We have a lot of season left. As we tick off races, opportunities become more and more important.
"We know what we're doing," the No. 9-ranked Tasca said. "We have a great car and a great team. We just haven't connected the dots on Sunday."
IT'S STILL ERIC - The late Eric Medlen still the quarter-mile record-holder at Pacific Raceways at 4.735 seconds. He set that time en route to his final-round victory over John Force Racing teammate Robert Hight in 2005.
RELYING ON BACKUP POWER - Greg Stanfield is sixth in the standings, and he needs some more points before the U.S. Nationals is over and the Countdown fields are set. But the Western Swing has taken its toll on the Bossier City, La., and driver of the J&T Racing/Nitro Fish/Coffman Tank Trucks/Indicom Electric Pontiac GXP. Crew chief Eddie Guarnaccia said Stanfield will be pinning his hopes on his back-up motor. "We hurt the good one last weekend [at Sonoma, Calif.'s Infineon Raceway], but we'll be OK. The other motor was pretty good on race day." Stanfield won his first-round race last Sunday but needs to go farther in this last event on the Western Swing, at Brainerd Aug. 19-21, and at the U.S. Nationals. At Indianapolis Labor Day weekend.
AAAH, SEATTLE - Team Mopar / J&J Racing's Allen Johnson just had three days of lounging at a California Wine Country spa with wife Pam, so he's relaxed as he enters the O'Reilly Northwest Nationals at a tricky track he has seemed to master. He said his Dodge Avenger "feels good right now," too.
Johnson advanced to the final round at Pacific Raceways three straight times (2006-08). He was top qualifier here in 2009 and has been among the top three in qualifying four times.
"We've always run pretty well at Seattle," he said. "We have good notes from all the times we've been up (here). The air is very good, and that lends itself to a lot of horsepower, which we have with these Mopar engines. The Mopar Dodge Avenger feels good right now, and as long as we make straight runs down the track, we should be in good shape."
He seems to be in playoff form already with this Avenger that even before the season started promised to be one of the fastest cars in the class. He set a track record last week at Infineon Raceway as he captured his third No. 1 qualifying position of the year.
He moved up a spot to fifth in the standings with three races left before the Countdown starts near his Greenville, Tenn., home at Charlotte's zMAX Dragway. He's just 37 points out of fourth place. "I still want gain another spot or two," Johnson said.
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