2016 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - INDY SPORTSMAN NOTEBOOK
FINAL NOTEBOOK - PAGE, LINDBERG HEADLINE INDY SPORTSMAN WINNERS
Dan Page drove his way from the No. 5 qualifying position to the winner's circle as headlined the Lucas Oil Champions at the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
Page used a 5.352 elapsed time and a quicker reaction time to stop Shawn Cowie in the final round. Cowie lost with a 5.369, 270.27 elapsed time.
Swedish Top Alcohol Funny Car racer Jonnie Lindberg, who turned 27 years old over the Indy week, scored an important victory in his bid to defend the TA/FC championship as he beat No. 2 qualifier Annie Whiteley in the final round when she lifted early in the match.
Lindberg won with a 5.673 elapsed time at 263.00.
Longtime Comp racer Kevin Self scored his third national event victory despite leaving the starting line second with a .019 reaction time against Jason Coan's .001. Self's F/Econo Altered took the stripe with a 7.796, -.494 under the index. Coan's G/Econo Altered made its worst run of the weekend with an 8.224.
Ryan Haag claimed the Super Stock crown be defeating Sean Cour. The victory was not an easy one for Haag who qualified on the 124-car bubble and used a .006 reaction, and +.011 package to stop a tardy Cour, who ran within .007 of his dial.
Jeff Lopez started from the middle of the Stock Eliminator field behind the wheel of his 2014 Camaro and snagged the victory by less than two feet over Charlie Downing's Mustang in a battle of Factory Stock entries. The victory was the fourth for Downing.
Sportsman icon Gary Stinnett had an easy ride to the Super Comp winner's circle as Greg Kamplain went -.007 red.
Another icon, Tommy Phillips took home the Super Gas trophy with a 9.973 elapsed time when Ray Miller III fell off the pace with a 10.071.
Chris Holbrook scored the Factory Stock Showdown title as he ran the quickest elapsed time in the history of the series, an 8.314 at 163.84 miles per hour behind the wheel of his Cobra Jet mustang to outrun Stephen Bell's Camaro, which finished runner-up with an 8.442.
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - EVENT SHAPING UP FOR FINAL DAY BLAST
WELCOME BACK - Steve Harker was just happy to be back out at the drag strip, even if he wasn't driving a race car.
Harker, a transplanted Australian racing in the Top Alcohol Funny Car driver, was in the news back in June, and it wasn't for his domination in races.
Instead, Harker, during a run at the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio, encountered severe tireshake which caused his Funny Car to abruptly turn right and direct hit the retaining wall. He suffered broken ribs and underwent surgery to repair some internal injuries.
"The car started to shake, and my brain told me I could drive through it," Harker recalled. "I kept my foot on the gas, and it hit me a bit hard, and it stunned me. I overdrove the car. It happened pretty quick, so I'm very lucky. It hit the wall very hard."
Harker said nine times out of ten he's handled tire shake in the same fashion he did on that day in Norwalk, it was the tenth time which bit him.
"It’s no different than what I have normally experienced, but it just looks different on the computer," Harker explained. "It looks sharp, violent, short in distance. It was just enough to stun me or not quite knock me out, I believe. Normally I would have driven the car through it."
Harker said what he experienced in the crash only came back to him in bits and pieces, and it only returned weeks after the incident.
"I remember definitely leaving the starting line and patches of it, but just one of those experiences that you don’t need to have very often, that’s for sure," Harker admitted.
Harker believes he's at a crossroads in his career of what his future holds.
"I'm debating that part at the moment," said Harker. "I was planning on this being my last season driving full-time. I might have driven a little next year. I wouldn’t mind finishing out the season and maybe doing Dallas, Vegas, Vegas, Pomona because we’d planned to go to the west coast. We’re just looking at a couple of options.
"Or, maybe I just slow down a little and team up with somebody and tune someone else’s car. I'm considering my options, you know.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - FRIDAY IS AMERICAN FOR "SUPER STOCK"
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON - The importance of the Mopar Hemi Challenge is not lost on second-generation Mopar racer Jimmy Daniels.
Daniels, a second-generation Mopar racer, joined the prestigious list of winners in his first final round by beating second-time finalist Stephen Hebert Friday evening before a packed house at the NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway Park.
Friday represents class elimination day for the Super Stock racers, and the Mopar Hemi Challenge is a gathering of the Mopar-powered Super Stock/A HEMI (SS/AH) Sportsman entries.
Hebert fouled out by leaving the starting line .038-second too soon, handing Daniels, who raced to a very quick 8.443-second pass at 154.90 mph in his Ray Barton-built Dart. Hebert's final time was a slowing 9.352 at 110.51 as he lifted from the throttle after noting his too-quick reaction time.
Daniels becomes the second Mopar Hemi Challenge winner in his family as his father, Jim Daniels, won the event in 2010 behind the wheel of the same car.
Daniels' road the winner's circle included round wins over 1968 Dodge Dart driver Doug Fazzolare, Matt Welker in his 1968 Plymouth Barracuda, and fellow Dodge Dart campaigner Jim Pancake. Every round, Daniels clocked an 8.4-second pass.
"This is just unbelievable," said 20-year-old Daniels, a biology student aiming to follow his father's footsteps into the world of dentistry. "I've only had about three passes in the car before this. We struggled at the beginning of the year, going back to an automatic, and it just turned around this weekend. We did some work on it before the race, and everything just came together. It's an unbelievable experience. If it wasn't for my dad, and Ray and David for the awesome horsepower, and just the whole team effort, I couldn't imagine leaving our home in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and saying, 'I'm going to be in the winner's circle Friday night.' It's unreal.
"Other than the two full passes I made at the Maple Grove points race [earlier this year], these were my only full passes in this car. This feels great. It's such an accomplishment. I just could have never imagined this happening."
When Daniels raced to the Mopar HEMI Challenge victory, his father was on the starting line.
"This is incredible. What a feeling," said the senior Daniels. "I can't say that I wasn't real nervous today, but the car just performed really well all weekend. It responded to every change that we made. Ray and David just worked tirelessly, and I can't thank them enough."
FRIDAY'S LEADERS - The heavy-hitters in the Top Alcohol Funny Car divisions headlined Friday's frequent fliers.
Annie Whiteley leapfrogged John Lombardo Jr. in the Q-2 session and claimed the provisional No. 1 spot with a 5.474, 267.96 performance.
The second-gen Lombardo Jr., was second with a 5.479, 251.95. Tony Bartone was third with a 5.535, 261.42.
Duane Shields was at the top of the list in the Top Alcohol Dragster division with a 5.275, 276.24 to jump ahead of Duane Shields'
5.287, 272.72. Dan Page was third with a 5.305, 272.89.
Doug Doll closed out Comp Eliminator qualifying as No. 1 with a 7.374,-0.726 hit against the E/DA index. Thursday's leader Jason Coan fell to second with a 8.112, -0.718 run in G/EA trim. Todd Patterson,
Troy Galbraith and Clint Neff rounded out the top five.
PAINFUL TO WATCH - Bucky Hess walked away from an accident during Friday's Mopar Hemi Challenge.
Hess, who drives the Kandy Kuda 1968 Plymouth Barracuda driven was blazing through eliminations after driving to the No. 1 qualifying earlier in the day. In the opening round, Hess knocked out Jim Keyes and his Barracuda then edged Eldon Baum Jr.'s '68 Dodge Dart to earn a bye run into the semifinals, but that was where his day came to an abrupt end.
Hess was a cool .005 at the starting line to Hebert's .047, but things went wrong quickly as smoke began to pour from the bright Kandy Kuda, a car painted by hand by Hess's son, Travis.
"It started out great because I knew I drilled him," said Hess. "I looked over to the right and could see that he was way behind. As I came out of the wheelie, still pulling, I looked over again and all of a sudden it started fluttering. When it did, I felt the 'death rattles' and the back end washed out on me. Once it did that, I knew I was done."
Hess crossed the center line and made contact with the wall, ricocheted, and then made contact with the opposite wall before coming to a stop on the racetrack. He was uninjured, but the same could not be said for his previously pristine Barracuda – a car coveted by Mopar fans and classic car lovers.
"I'm fine; I didn't get hurt at all," said Hess. "I'll be building the car over again, or I'll have a new car for the next year. I think I'm more upset over the paint than wrecking it, but I'm good. I'm more determined. Indy just kills me every year, and I don't know why, but it was nice knowing I had a shot of being in the final. He wasn't going to make up four-hundredths. We had her on kill. We were going for it."
SPEAKING OF ACCIDENTS - Chris Demke crashed his Top Alcohol Dragster two weeks ago during qualifying at the NHRA West Region race in Seattle. The accident would have put an average Top Alcohol Dragster racer out of commission, but looking at the Demke's resume, he's anything but average.
The Maddern Racing team went right to work preparing their spare car for this weekend’s 62nd annual Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals.
“Having won the Seattle regional the last three years, this is absolutely not how I wanted things to happen," Demke said. "I’m upset with myself for the driver error and destroying a beautiful race car. I’m very thankful to have a team that can put what happened behind them and move on to the next race."
There was no doubt in their minds missing Indy wasn't an option.
“The decision to go to Indy was made the afternoon after I crashed. The team rolled the broken chassis into the trailer and we all knew that if we were going to attempt to go to Indy, the decision had to be made that afternoon. We reviewed our options in a team meeting and the decision was made to make our best effort.”
Demke is racing a Dave Uyehara chassis which is a proven winner.
“This car is the car I won the 2014 championship with, and we used it through the Vegas national and regional earlier this year," said Demke. "We’re very familiar with this car, and I’m very comfortable driving it; it’s not a huge change. Thankfully we took as little as possibly off of it when we put together this last car, but it was still a major task to get it ready for Indy."
When looking at the big picture, Demke understands there was a real chance the outcome could have been a lot worse.
“The crash was violent as most crashes are, but all of the safety equipment worked flawlessly, and I was able to walk away unscathed,” Demke said. “I had some tenderness, but nothing that a little Advil didn’t take care of. Honestly, I played some Ultimate Frisbee last week, and I was sorer after that than I was after the crash.”
SPECIAL GUESTS - Top Alcohol Funny Car point leader John Lomnbardo Jr. is sharing the excitement of the weekend with a very special group of young survivors from Hoosier Burn Camp of Indiana.
"The U.S. Nationals at Indy is the biggest, baddest race of the year," said Lombardo Jr., three-time Top Alcohol Funny Car division/region champion and 22-time combined event winner. "We work on our program all year to have a shot at earning a Wally [trophy] at 'The Big Go.' Rick Jackson has achieved this coveted honor, and I have qualified low a couple of times, but I have yet to get it done on race day. It would be an honor to win after time shared with such a special group."
Hoosier Burn Camp is a nonprofit organization committed to providing life-changing experiences for young people who have suffered the physical and emotional trauma associated with a severe burn injury. Their annual summer camp and monthly events create experiences for burn survivors where they can be “just one of the kids”™ in a safe and supportive environment.
The Hoosier Burn Camp kids will spend an action-packed Saturday immersed in the excitement of the most anticipated NHRA drag race on the tour. They will be welcomed in the pit area of Lombardo Jr. beginning at 9:30 a.m. for a full day at the races that will begin with viewing the 260+ mph NAPA Filters/Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Funny Car up close as the team prepares for the day of competition.
Lombardo Jr., along with Funny Car driver Jack Beckman; Pro Stock drivers Allen Johnson, Drew Skillman and Alex Laughlin; Top Alcohol racers Jim and Annie Whiteley; Pro Stock Motorcycle riders Angelle Sampey, Cory Reed and Steve Johnson; and Pro Mod competitor TJ Coughlin will spend time with the children and their families answering questions and signing autographs.
The special day and a cash donation to Hoosier Burn Camp, to be used for future events to empower these brave survivors, is made possible through generous contributions from NAPA filters, Arvada, State Farm, Studio Z, Park Tudor, Plainfield Family Chiropractic, John Force Racing, Tony Stewart Racing, JEGS, Lucas Oil, Clevite, PHS, Brick & Belle, J&A Service, Omni Severin Hotel, Jackson Lombardo Racing, Aerodine, Pro Things, and NHRA.
"We are pleased to welcome back the Hoosier Burn Camp, some of the most special people we have ever had the pleasure of hosting," said Lombardo. "NHRA was built on making fans part of the action. This tradition will carry on Saturday in the JLR pits as great drivers and teams join us for the autograph session and meet and greet. Over 100 Campers and family members – many of them new to our sport – will enjoy the sights and sounds of the most exciting racing on the planet. We certainly look forward to sharing this experience with them."
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK - STOCK TAKES CENTER STAGE ON THURSDAY
STOCK MARKET - Stock Eliminator took center stage for the second day at the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, as class eliminations got underway for all classes.
In qualifying, the V/Stock Automatic 1987 El Camino of Jim Parsons passed Paul Mercure in the pecking order.
Parsons recorded a 13.958 in his Missouri-based El Camino to leap to the top with a -1.542 performance. Mercure fell to second with a 9.677, -1.523
Marty Buth, Todd Hoven and Gary Summers rounded out the top five Stockers.
BALANCING ACT - Bruno Massel, current NHRA on Fox pit reporter and past Comp Eliminator champion, might consider a stint with the circus following his time on the drag racing scene.
Massel has been walking a tightrope this season with such precision the legendary Flying Wallendas would be jealous.
Massel is toeing the delicate line of presenting the inside stories on the FOX broadcast while maintaining stoking the fires of his competitive nature.
With the focus on live television, Massel stepped out of the cockpit and has been tuning his Factory Stock Showdown entry now driven by Ryan Herem.
"I’m off these first couple of days, so I’m tuning it, focusing 100% on it," Massel explained. "And then I’ll kinda switch hats throughout the weekend from tuner to TV host/reporter."
The process is not as simple as flipping a switch, as Massel would lead one to believe.
"It’s really, really hard," Massel said. "I didn’t think it would be that bad, and it’s tough. It’s harder for me to sit and watch it than it is to drive. I’m much more calm in the car. I’m nervous as hell standing there watching it."
Massel admits there's a bit of perfectionism at play.
"I want the car to run perfectly," Massel admitted. "I want it to run right. I want my driver to have a chance of winning. And I feel like if it doesn’t, it’s on me. So I take responsibility for it because it’s my car. You know, if I’m behind the wheel, and it doesn’t go well, and I’m behind the wheel, I’m the one who’s gonna suffer. I want him to have a shot at winning."
Massel has a precedent for working while his car is in action. The AutoGeek.net-sponsored entry reached the final round of the K&N NHRA Route 66 Nationals.
"You know we’re down to the final, and it was tough," said Massel. "It was a tough struggle because I was running back and forth any chance I got. We'd got a free second, I’d run back to the pits, look at the tune up and hop back up to the starting line. And I watched my car lose in the final, and almost crash. He got on the brakes a little too hard and scared the hell out of me; I’ll tell ya that."
Massel said the initial idea of living in both worlds created a question mark for his producers, but now he said they've been supportive of his approach.
"They've been really good about it," said Massel. "At first, I think they were nervous about me racing as a whole, you know. They gave me a few races off, and then they knew someone was going to drive for me. I think they were nervous, but I think I handled it okay in Joliet. I don’t think my work suffered; that’s all. That’s the biggest they care about. They think it’s cool that people can still relate to it. That I am relevant out here in the racing world. I still have, I’m a close touch to everything that’s going on out here."
Massel clearly knows where his bread is buttered, but the love of drag racing has consumed him.
"Clearly, the best move for me is to forget racing and go ahead and focus on the world of becoming a better on-camera personality," Massel said. "But my heart is in racing, and I just can’t shake it. It’s my life. It’s all I think about all day long is how I can make my cars better, faster, more consistent. It completely consumes me."
NOTABLES NOT QUALIFYING - The Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals is the undeniably the toughest race to qualify into the field of 128 for Stock and Super Stock. Names like Bobby Warren, Lee Zane, and Carl Tasca will cut their trip to Indy short in Stock. The Super Stockers will have one more chance to qualify tomorrow morning during round one of class eliminations.
COMP COMES ALIVE - After remaining silent on Wednesday, Competition Eliminator fired to life with two sessions on Thursday.
Jason Coan, of Kokomo, Ind., jumped to the head of 51-entries on the property with a -.718 hit against the G/Econo Altered behind the wheel of his '32 Bantam.
Todd Patterson was a close second with a -.704 performance with his A/Super Modified Automative 2010 Cobalt. The veteran engine builder stopped the clocks with a 7.836.
Clint Neff (K/AA), Donald Thomas (B/DA) and David Rampy (A/EA) rounded out the top five with a -0.684 or better.
HEAVEN WILL HAVE TO WAIT - Top Fuel will just have to wait for Troy Coughlin Jr.
Coughlin, more commonly referred to as TJ, is looking to earn two titles this weekend in gasoline-burning vehicles, a Super Comp dragster and a Super Gas Corvette roadster. He's won Indy titles in both entries.
"My emotions are sky high," Coughlin said. "Indy is a major test of a drag racer's persistence and resilience. It's a long grind, and to be successful you have to manage your time and your mental outlook. It's a situational race, and you have to be ready to turn it on as soon as they call you to the lanes."
Wednesday and Thursday have been nothing more than time trial sessions aimed at allowing drivers to get their cars dialed in. Competition will rachet up on Friday.
Coughlin, fresh off a runner-up finish last weekend in Bowling Green, is more than ready to get down to business.
"Obviously, coming off a runner-up finish Sunday in Bowling Green in the roadster has us feeling very good about ourselves. Super Gas is a tough class, and anytime you get to the final round it's a real accomplishment. We only went three rounds in the Super Comp dragster, but it was running strong as well. I just didn't do my job at the top end."
One of only 79 racers in history to claim multiple U.S. Nationals trophies, Coughlin first scored in Super Comp in 2010. He returned to the winner's circle of Lucas Oil Raceway in 2014 with a victory in Super Gas.
"Having won here in the past, that's another mental advantage we have," he said. "It doesn't actually do anything for you as far as the competition itself because we all start from zero each weekend, but it is nice to know exactly what it takes to carry yourself through the schedule and get to that trophy stand. You know what you have to do because you've already done it, rather than just imagining what it must be like."
A RACE WITHIN A RACE - Class eliminations for Stock was the name of the game at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals this morning.
With neither breakouts nor Automatic Horsepower Factoring System [AHFS] in play, the time slips were destined to be impressive.
Most racers keep their cars in "Bracket Mode" to improve consistency and the leave their competitors guessing on how fast they really can run.
Don Fezell, who races a 2008 Factory Stock/XX Mustang, knows class racing.
"So, I gotta be on the lights and drive both ends of the track pretty good to be competitive," Fezell explained. "I think we can accomplish that. Rotating the tires, and pulling a quart of oil out of the motor, to chilling the motor down before we get up there, all those things we do to make sure the car’s ready. A lot of precautionary stuff to get done."
Once the gloves come off at it is time for the heads-up class eliminations these racers do anything and everything to make their Stocker fast.
"You put your car on the best tune-up you can put on it," said longtime Stock racer Lyn Smith. "Which, you know, getting it down to the minimum weight, putting maybe some thinner oil in it, and definitely cooling it. Most racers have a bracket mode and a class mode, but now it’s all-out, so you would definitely be in the class mode. Heads-up runs."
Most Stock drivers had a similar game plan to make their cars as fast as possible.
DEAL AT THE BIG DEAL - VP Racing Fuels revealed a partnership on Thursday at the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals with Victor Cagnazzi and Gray Motorsports’ COPO Camaro Sportsman racing team. With the agreement, each of the team’s cars will be powered exclusively by VP’s C25™ racing fuel. The GM Parts Now Chevy COPO team campaigns four cars -- in Stock, Super Stock,and the Factory Stock Showdown.
“We are excited to continue our 7-year relationship with VP Racing Fuels, which has been a great partner, with a great product that is not only extremely consistent, but also makes more power than any other brands we have tested,” said Cagnazzi, of Gray Motorsports. “Our GM Parts Now Chevy COPO team runs and wins with VP fuel in the tank.”
“To have a racer of Victor’s stature place his trust and confidence in our products is extremely gratifying,” said Mark Ticen, VP’s Director of Race Fuel Sales. “His input will be invaluable to our R&D efforts and we look forward to supporting his team this year and well into the future.”
JUST A MAN AND HIS TRUCK - Randall Campbell could write a country song about his red 1986 C-10 pickup race truck.
"It was my truck," Campbell said. "It was a work truck and I worked for an electric company, and they bought it from the dealer. We kept it five years for work, and sold it to a contractor in town."
Campbell's Chevrolet quite possibly could be the cheapest race car/truck purchase at Lucas Oil Raceway.
"I went by the contractor’s place one day, and I saw it sitting out in the yard," Campbell recalled. "And I thought, there’s my truck. It still had the number on it. The weeds was growing up around it and stuff, and I know they quit using it. And I asked him about it, and he said, 'Yeah.”
"And I said, 'What do you want for it”.
"He told me he’d take $600 for it. So, I bought the truck back for $600."
Campbell fitted his C-10 with a V-6 that he received from a friend along with the rest of the parts and pieces and it was officially an IHRA and NHRA stocker.
Campbell struggled from the beginning failing to qualify at the NHRA U.S. Nationals.
"They told me we can have a V-8, but it was a year before I really realized it," explained Campell. "So I was a little behind in getting it done. And by the time I got it done, it had been hit with horsepower two or three times. But it still was a good combination. So, I had my motor built. And after that, I had no trouble qualifying anywhere,"
The work paid off for Campbell as he was finally able to qualify for the U.S. Nationals. However, in qualifying, he went a bit too fast and triggered the Automatic Horsepower Factoring System [AHFS].
"I put a new carburetor on it," recalled Campbell "It changed it so much that at a thousand foot, I let out of it, it was poppin’ and crackin’ because it was too lean, and it still ended up going like .124 under [the AHFS]. And [NHRA] gave me 12 horsepower that time."
Campbell had to change classes and add weight to his truck. The change didn't really affect him.
"I’m still in good shape, and I’m driving good at times," Campbell admitted. "So, I don’t know, maybe I can win this thing. I’m not gonna quit trying. As long as the Lord lets me stay able to, I’m going to try. I feel like sometimes I’m not winning. I’ve won eight IHRA Nationals, but I ain’t ever won one over here [in NHRA]"
Campbell will have another shot at finally winning an NHRA National Event this weekend in Indy.
UNFINISHED BUSINESS - Call it the first time fortunes, but there's nothing lucky about Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurants-sponsored driver Chase Murray.
Murray, last season in his first Indy outing, raced all the way to the Super Comp semifinals.
Murray heads to Indianapolis with some momentum, as he raced to the fourth round of Super Comp in the NHRA Division 3 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event at Beech Bend Raceway Park in Bowling Green, Ky., last weekend.
"To make it down to the final four cars was a huge ego boost for me," Murray said. "I came up against Luke Bogacki, and he won the race. He's a previous champion, top dog, best of the best."
Those are the kind of racers who compete at the U.S. Nationals, and Murray is excited to get the chance to lock horns with them again.
"The U.S. Nationals is a really big deal," the Orange, Texas, resident said. "I grew up hearing everybody talk about it, and the best of the best are always here. When any racer says, 'Hey, I want to go to this race,' it's always going to be Indy. To be able to do that is definitely a big deal."
STILL MAKING MEMORIES - David Rampy still feels fortunate to be here even after four wins, three in Competition Eliminator and one in Super Comp.
Winning two separate classes on the same day at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals has yet to happen, but Rampy came close in 1998 with a win in Super Comp and a runner-up in Comp.
"That was an exciting moment for me because we were going rounds with both cars, so, you know, a lot of adrenaline going there," Rampy Recalled.
Some might be interested in stats, not so with Rampy. He just wants memories.
"I don’t keep up with all those stats and stuff. I’m just not a stat guy when it comes to all that stuff," Rampy explained. "I just, I have a lot of people talk about my career, and I say, "Well, you know, I don’t really reflect on it now. I’m still trying to create more memories. I’ll worry about all that when I get done.” You know, when it’s all done, then I can sit back and say ‘OK, this is what we've done.’ But right now, I’m just trying to add more."
Indy is just another race to Rampy, and he doesn't get caught up in the luster of the "Big Go.”
"You know, the older you get, it’s not as special as it used to be,” Rampy admitted. “It’s gotten so long that it almost becomes an endurance race instead of a drag race, to a degree. You got to try to just survive everything because we actually go to Bowling Green, we leave there Sunday night, and come here, and then we park Monday morning. So, it gets to be a pretty long deal, you know. Just kinda pace yourself and keep rolling along."
With two cars entered in the U.S. Nationals, Rampy will have another chance to make history and double up.
WEDNESDAY NOTEBOOK - THE BIG GO IS UNDERWAY, AND THE BIG DOGS ARE EATING
MAKEUP TO CLOSE THE DAY - A small number sportsman racers were affected by soggy grounds in the early hours of Wednesday's opening sessions and failed to make their first qualifying run. NHRA Division 3 race director Jay Hullinger provided a session at the end of the day for those displaced racers in Super Stock, Stock and Super Comp.
BARTON SURGES AS THE SUN SETS - David Barton made a major jump in the second session of Factory Stock Showdown qualifying to overtake Chris Holbrook atop the qualifying list.
Barton laid down an 8.461-second pass at 160.92 as the sun began to set on Lucas Oil Raceway Park. Holbrook failed to improve on his earlier 8.461 and remained second.
Of the 20 entries competing this weekend, Larry Stewart Jr. anchored the field at 8.603 seconds with one session remaining.
LET THE DOGS EAT - The NHRA wanted to let the dogs run wild at Indy and after one session of Super Stock and Stock Eliminator, it was apparent they ran scalded.
On May 5, 2016, the NHRA's technical department announced the suspension of the Automatic Horsepower Factoring System [AHFS] during this year’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals. This ruling ensured runs made by Super Stock and Stock competitors at any time during the event would not count towards class averages, nor will they be used to trigger index or horsepower adjustments.
Stock Eliminator would have triggered six classes with 19 different drivers. Super Stock had only one car which would have triggered a horsepower review.
This proposal was brought to the Stock and Super Stock Sportsman Racer’s Advisory Council (SRAC) from racers seeking to show the full performance potential of their cars.
Stock racer Paul Mercure presented the largest infraction, running -1.523 under the FS/F standard.
Mercure was grateful of the weekend's grace period, but not overly concerned had it not been available.
"This is the first race we’ve even run this combination, and it’s pretty fast," Mercure said. "So, we like it. If they put weight on it, we’ll just be back with all the other guys. It’s not a big deal."
The AFHS will remain in effect for all other NHRA Mello Yello Series national and Lucas Oil Series divisional events.
Longtime Stock racer Al Corda is happy with the move to relax the system.
"I think that’s a great idea," Corda said. "I mean, I suspect that it could have happened more or less, happened by itself because of the mineshaft rule. It's a good deal."
THE MERCURE MEMORY BANK - Paul Mercure went to Indy once and a parade broke out.
Mercure, known for his iconic Checkmate Modified eliminator cars, took part in a parade of sorts, a protest parade. When the NHRA announced the class would be disbanded at the end of 1981, and have its classes morphed into Super Stock and Competition eliminator, he and his fellow class racers staged a parade on pit road of Indianapolis Raceway Park during the first round of Top Fuel eliminations.
"I really loved racing Modified eliminator; there are times I wished they'd bring back the class," Mercure said with a smile. "But to be honest, I love what I am doing here with this too."
Mercure has found a niche in the Stock Eliminator division, racing a Factory Stock/F-classified COPO Camaro, and during Wednesday's qualifying drove his way to the No. 1 qualifying position with a 9.677 elapsed time, -1.523 seconds under the index.
And as for his legendary 1967 Camaro, powered by a high-winding small-block and shifted through a Doug Nash 5-speed transmission (with a 50-pound flywheel), the new car would have spotted his classic by a full second.
"They have both been a lot of fun to drive," Mercure admitted. "If you ask me which one I love better, I'd have to flip a coin to make that call. They have their own characteristics, but they are indeed both a lot of fun."
You’d have to toss that one up. I like them both. They’re both different but a lot of fun.
Mercure admits the key to his longevity has nothing to do with his racing talent and everything to do with his personal life.
"I’m not married," Mercure said with a smile. "You’ve gotta have something to do, and this is what I have always done for fun. I don’t go to all the national events anymore. Can’t afford it."
BEST BIRTHDAY EVER - Travis Hess had only one wish for his 40th birthday. His dreams came true when, along with his father Bucky, the participated in the first day of the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals as teammates.
With only a month left to spare, Travis, along with his family and friends, put this finishing touches on a 1964 Dodge 440 A/ Stock Automatic entry.
"I have been coming here since I was a kid but this is the first time I've had a car in the staging lanes," Travis explained. "It's amazing, it really did give me chills. Dad gave me a hug and was like this is it, we made it. It's a really big deal."
Travis has yet to crack the 124-car field and stands 138th out of 176 Stockers entered.
"At first, I was like, I don't care if I qualify," Travis admitted. "Now that I'm here I want to get in [the show]. We aren't going to be the fastest in class. This morning was only my 12th pass on the car and I am still learning how to hit the shifts perfectly. I'm getting better at it."
Travis has one more attempt to fulfill an even larger dream.
ON THE BUBBLE – There are plenty of Stock and Super Stock entries on the grounds at Lucas Oil Raceway Park, and both classes are carrying 124-car fields into final eliminations.
Kyle Ratcliff's C/Stock Automatic Firebird sat on the bubble of the 124-car Stock field with an -.831, 10.569 performance.
Ryan Haag, of Columbus, Indiana, is on the Super Stock bubble at No. 124 with a -.579, 9.871 run in his 1967 Camaro.
PLEASE, NO SUGAR TONIGHT - Bobby Warren is a traditional kind of fella. The Clinton, North Carolina-based legend of the Super Stock and Stock ranks estimates he's only missed 15 races at the GM Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals since he first started racing the event in 1961. One would think his impeccable credentials would include an Indy win, but he's had no such luck.
"I haven't had much luck here," admitted Warren.
Even his favorite race, the 1979 running, also the 25th anniversary of the famed event was somewhat outside of the norm for him.
"It came down to the semifinals and the car started slowing down," Warren recalled. "I didn't know what was wrong with it and every run it was getting slower. I still managed to get the runner-up. It just wouldn't run on the last run."
During those days racers towed their race cars on open trailers and everything, including gas cans, was left outside.
"When I got home and was trying to find out what was wrong with it, I found syrup in the gas tank," Warren said. "I just knew I had some friends but I didn't know who they were."
Warren has seen many changes in Stock, ranking top five in all-time Indy appearances.
"Stock is not very stock anymore. They have allowed so much that there is not a whole lot that is stock. In 1972, they took all Stockers and moved them up to Super Stock. At that time there were some Stockers but there isn't now, they [are just cars] they call stock."
Despite the changes and ill-will through vandalism, Warren is still in love with class racing and isn't about to quench passion anytime soon.
SINGING HIS OWN TUNE - Country music legend Barabara Mandrell once sang a tune proclaiming she was country before country was. Iconic Stock Eliminator racer Al Corda used to sing a similar tune on the drag strip. Except in his case, he was modern era technology when most of his counterparts were stuck in the traditional entries.
Corda was all about fuel injection nestled underneath the hood of either a Formula Firebird or a late-model Corvette.
In today's rejuvenated Stock and Super Stock divisions, Corda is just another brick in the wall, but this is certainly not a statement made talent-wise.
Corda races a COPO Camaro similar to those campaigned by a large contingent in the class.
"You know, the sport is changing all the time," Corda said. "I think of about 170 - 180 cars, now 60 or so are late model cars."
Corda doesn't mind being just one of the pack.
"The sport needs to change all the time," said Corda.
Corda is an admitted Stock Eliminator purist, and even though the traditional cars are becoming less and less prevalent, he understands the cycles of this kind of racing.
"I didn’t even bring my Firebird here because I knew I couldn’t qualify," Corda said, noticing the irony of his words. "Even the new cars are victims of the change."