2017 NHRA SUMMERNATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TORRENCE BEATS BROWN ON BEST FRIEND’S HOME TURF - Steve Torrence figured turnabout was fair play.
Antron Brown had beaten the Kilgore, Texas, native in the Top Fuel final round last October at his home track near Dallas.
So Torrence returned the favor Sunday for Central New Jersey native Brown at the NHRA Summernationals at Englishtown.
Torrence blasted to a winning 3.857-second elapsed time at 320.28 mph on the 1,000-foot Old Bridge Township Raceway Park course in the Capco Contractors Dragster. Brown, from nearby Chesterfield, chased him with a 3.932, 306.74 in the Matco Tools/Toyota Dragster.
Brown took the points lead from Leah Pritchett after she lost in the first round and he eliminated class newcomer Blake Alexander, then had a second-round bye. He’ll have a seven-point advantage over No. Torrence as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour moves this coming weekend to Tennessee’s Bristol Dragway.
“All day long I was pretty confident,” Torrence said after earning his 11th overall victory, his third of the season and his third total and second straight at Englishtown.
“They went out there and threw down some jaw-dropping numbers,” he said of Brown and his team. That track was 130-some degrees, and that’s not easy to navigate. That’s a testament to [crew chief] Richard Hogan being able to slide this thing down a dirt road, a gravel road, a wet racetrack, or whatever. He does it, and I’m proud of him and my team.”
Torrence’s achievement spoiled the annual homecoming for Brown, who spent hours as a youngster at this racetrack, watching his father and uncle race and dreaming of being like “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and his other NHRA heroes.
“Honestly, I wish that we could switch it: I could win at home, and he could win at home, because it’s a big deal to win in front of your hometown crowd. You don’t want to not win, but I would prefer to win at home and him here, just for friends and family you have around here,” Torrence said.
“He’s just as happy for me as I am for him. That’s the guy I least want to race, knowing my success ratio against him. That’s a super-super-lopsided victory record he has against me, but it’s not in my head anymore. I’ve got the car that can win. He’s got the car that can win. Now it’s just up to us to do our jobs and go. He’s one of my best friends I have. We’re racing Top Fuel. I’m living my dream. I’m racing one my best friends in the world. You’re not going to have a bad day,” Torrence said.
He might be beginning to think of this as his summer home.
“This place is about as far as you can get from my house,” he said, “but I think we should race at least seven or eight a year here. There’s always special things you get to remember about each one of these racetracks, and each one of these Wallys carries its own story that only me and my guys will know.”
Torrence defeated a list of highly motivated opponents: Smax Smith (the 60-something budget-strapped British-Canadian racer who tripped up Tony Schumacher in the first round a week ago), Clay Millican (the IHRA icon who’s seeking his first NHRA victory), and Doug Kalitta (who wanted a symbolic triumph in tribute to his late cousin Scott, who perished here in 2008).
He shared the winners circle with Jack Beckman (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Jerry Savoie (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
Brown said, “We had a great weekend coming home to Englishtown. We qualified No. 1, and then we had a great E.T. in the first lap and then we ran low E.T. of the semifinals. Going into the finals, we just put it in ‘rinse and repeat.’ We knew we had a great car.” He said the runner-up finish “was a bummer. We dropped a hole at the step of the throttle. That’s what happens when you’re running these types of conditions. We learned a lot that we can apply for future races in the heat.
“We only have two wins right now, but we should have a lot more. But the finals didn’t go our way. The key is we’re going rounds, and that’s what wins championships. We’re heading in the right direction, and we’re improving every weekend. It was hilarious, because people were making comments that we’re a consistent car. But we’re not the quickest car, so this weekend it was good to come out here and qualify No. 1 and go some rounds and take over the points lead. So we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing and let the results speak for themselves.”
Bobby Lagana, Torrence’s car chief and a New York native who considers this a home victory, said seconds after the victory, “Those guys [the Matco Tools/ Toyota team] are sick racers. We love them. It’s family racing. Antron’s mom brings us cake.”
So Sunday afternoon, Torrence proved that against Brown, he can have his cake and beat him, too. Susan Wade
BECKMAN GETS FIRST FUNNY CAR WIN OF SEASON AT ENGLISHTOWN - During the 2016 offseason, Jack Beckman’s Funny Car team at Don Schumacher Racing went through wholesale changes.
His crew chiefs became John Medlen, Dean Antonelli and Neal Strausbaugh, and the trio helped Beckman reach the winner’s circle at the Summernationals at Englishtown, N.J. It was the first win of the season for Beckman in Terry Chandler's Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger nitro Funny Car.
Beckman clocked a 4.100-second time at 312.42 mph to beat Ron Capps’ 4.143-second lap.
“Not only did we only have a whole team change in the offseason we’ve had three crew members change during the season,” Beckman said. “Apparently people don’t like me nearly as much as I thought, so it has been a lot variables there. We are not where we want to be. We are where we want to be today, but we still have to work on this car. We will probably stay after Bristol (Tenn., the next race) and test the thing. It was an odd race weekend and a very, very hot race track. It became a crapshoot down there in a lot of the races turning into a pedal fest.”
Beckman defeated Jim Campbell, Cruz Pedregon, Courtney Force and Capps.
“We dodged a huge bullet when Courtney had a redlight against us in the semis, but we are the ones holding the trophy,” Beckman said. “When I go down there and stand next to that Infinite Hero Charger with our seven crew guys and three crew chiefs they are going to realize they were the best today and we needed to get that one, so they know we can do this. The first one is always the best one. Not having Terry Chandler here is a big deal, and this trophy is going to go to her and hopefully she will get better and we can win some more of these.”
Beckman, the 2012 NHRA nitro Funny Car world champion, captured the 25th win of his career – and his first at Englishtown.
“Winning at Englishtown is a big one,” Beckman said. “This is the Summernationals and a Summernationals win in a Funny Car is about as cool as they get. I got strapped in the car before the final round and we were going to do a live TV deal and then all of a sudden there’s a delay and I appreciate that. The NHRA track safari went out and scraped the race track and I love the fact that they recognized that was the most important thing even if it was a few minutes delay, we wanted to give the fans a side-by-side show, so I applaud everybody who spent the extra effort scraping the race track and prepping it for us.” Tracy Renck
ANDERSON CAPS HECTIC WEEKEND WITH PRO STOCK WIN AT ENGLISHTOWN - The pace of this past race weekend at the Summernationals at Englishtown, N.J., was hectic for Greg Anderson and in the end, it was worth it.
After flying back to Mooresville, N.C., Saturday to attend his son’s high school graduation, Anderson made it back in time to Englishtown Sunday and left with a Wally.
Anderson clocked a 6.613-second elapsed time at 210.44 mph to defeat Vincent Nobile’s 6.665-second, 210.21 mph lap in the finals.
“It wasn’t an easy day,” said Anderson, who drives for Ken Black Racing. “For me, I’m sick with this stuff. My wife explained to me how important it would for me to be there (for his son’s graduation), and I agreed. I told my guys when I left that I will either be back in time for Q4 or you will probably never see me again if I don’t make it there in time. Everything worked out.”
And, Anderson was grateful he could attend his son’s graduation.
“I witnessed a really, really cool event, it was a neat deal, they did it on the football field at the high school and the kids had a blast,” Anderson said. “It was a neat atmosphere and a neat deal and definitely brought a tear to my eye. I was very glad I was there. The only thing I’m sad about is I missed the party after graduation, but this makes up for it. Now, we will have to go home and have another party. I’ve never actually handed my son one of these Wallys, but this one is absolutely going to him. I’m proud of him.”
This was 88th NHRA Pro Stock national event win in his career and his eighth at Englishtown.
“Englishtown has been magical for me,” Anderson said. “I have a lot of great memories here even before I got behind the wheel and coming here with Warren and Kurt (Johnson), and Kurt running the first 6-second run when I was on their team. It has been a great place for me.”
Anderson beat Kenny Delco, Allen Johnson, Bo Butner and then ousted Nobile.
“This is the first real hot race track we’ve had all year and it’s a great race track when it is cool out, you set world record times,” Anderson said. “When it is hot out here at Englishtown you struggle because it is just hard to get a hold of that starting line. You have good barometric pressure up here and the cars make great power and then you lose the starting line with the heat. It is the worst of both worlds for Pro Stock cars. It is very hard to get them hooked up in low gear. You saw the challenges everybody had today, and we were able to do a better job than the rest. That’s probably why we have won eight times here because I have a great team behind me.” Tracy Renck
SAVOIE KEEPS WHITE ALLIGATOR RACING TEAM ONE TO BEAT IN PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE - From an NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle field of 16 that boasted five female riders Sunday, it was the same familiar guys who have dominated the season so far.
Jerry Savoie scored his first victory of the season at the Summernationals at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park – and the third straight for his White Alligator Racing team in four bike events.
L.E. Tonglet’s back-to-back victories at Charlotte and Atlanta (the latter against Savoie) have put the Louisiana-headquartered team in a strong position with six races remining before the Countdown to the Championship playoff fields are set.
“L.E. and I feed off each other. Win or lose they [Tonglet, dad Gary, and brother GT] are like family to me,” the team owner said.
Savoie used a .031-second reaction time to score a holeshot victory against Hector Arana Jr., whose rather snoozy .111 light cost him a chance to stop the Savoie-Tonglet steamroller.
The Cut Off, La., racer covered the Englishtown, N.J., quarter-mile in 6.918 seconds at 192.85 against Arana Jr.’s much quicker and faster 6.862-second, 195.62-mph performance.
“Junior just had a little misfortune in the final, and we were able to take it home. And I’m thankful,” Savoie said. “This track is a little bit tricky, but Englishtown for me has been a blessing.”
This marked his second victory here in three visits. In 2015, Savoie recorded the second of his seven triumphs here at this fabled racetrack.
The alligator farmer from Lafourche Parish deep in Louisiana bayou territory, the No. 4 starter, defeated Cory Reed, Scotty Pollacheck, and Angie Smith to set up the meeting with Arana Jr., who was seeking his first victory since the 2015 St. Louis race – 25 races ago.
Arana Jr., the No. 2 qualifier aboard the Lucas Oil Buell, advanced past Melissa Surber, Eddie Krawiec, and Karen Stoffer to reach his first final round since last year’s U.S. Nationals.
Savoie said that in the final round, “I could hear Junior, but I didn’t know where he was. I just stayed in it and kept plugging away. I thought I saw his [win] light come on. And they’re pointing and pointing. I thought they were pointing at him, but they said, ‘We’re pointing at you!’”
Arana found a positive spin on his runner-up finish.
"There's only one guy happier than me at this point in the day,” the East Northport, N.Y., racer said. “So we’ll leave here feeling pretty good about our program. We went four rounds, got a chance at the trophy, and best of all, both bikes were consistent all weekend. I'm really excited right now. I wish the next race started tomorrow."
The bike class will convene next June 22-25 at the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio. Krawiec continues to lead the standings, but Tonglet trails by a mere two points and Savoie is 34 behind Tonglet.
Savoie said crew chief Tim Kulungian is the one who shoulders the responsibility and pressure of prepping two motorcycles for each race. But, he said, “He’s had a handle on these things.
“I’ve had some struggles with reaction time,” Savoie said, “and we’ve been working on that. Today it showed.”
However, he was humble: “At 58 years old, I don’t know if this is the last one. You never know. What I want everybody to know is this is not a gimme for me. It’s from the heart. I’m out here because I love it and my family loves it. We just love it.” Susan Wade
GAYDOSH EXPERIENCES UP AND DOWN IN A FLASH – Every driver has ups and downs in drag racing, but Pro Stock owner-racer John Gaydosh experienced the spectrum of emotions all within a few minutes.
The Baltimore native and No. 13 qualifier edged rookie hotshot Tanner Gray, the No. 2 starter, by six-thousandths of a second on a holeshot for the upset. It was Gaydosh’s first round-win of the season and only the third of his career. He was happy because he said the weekend had been rough on his lower-budgeted team. They had hurt a piston in the third overall qualifying session and had to rebuild the motor in the Pypes Camaro. That caused him to miss the final session Saturday.
The elation of upsetting Gray and advancing to the quarterfinals was short-lived, for he quickly realized his engine was damaged beyond repair. He knew right way he would be unable to return to the starting line to face Vincent Nobile.
DÉJÀ VU – It was an ironic moment when JR Todd in the DHL Toyota Camry lined up in the first round against Robert Hight and his Auto Club Camaro. Todd had a special mission at this event: to win in the DHL car that still bears the driver name “Scott Kalitta.” It was at this event eight years ago that Kalitta passed away in a high-speed qualifying accident in the original version of the yellow and red race car.
Moreover, Hight was the one who would have matched up against Kalitta in the first round of eliminations that Sunday. Hight made the solo pass eight years ago, rolling slowly down his lane, while the entire Kalitta Motorsports team stood together respectfully behind the starting line in the other lane. Todd immediately smoked the tires Sunday against Hight.
McMILLEN MAKES MOOTH RECOVERY – Determined not to be remembered simply for his explosion last Sunday at the Epping, NH., race, Amalie Oil Dragster owner-driver Terry McMillen has forged ahead with a rebuilt ride and said he has a fair amount of work but an abundance of blessings as he regroups and regains his focus on keeping his top-10 status as the Countdown creeps up.
He said before qualifying it was going to take a couple of passes to determine what the new, untested supercharger wanted. He had predicted, “We’ll be right back in the [3.]70s. I’m confident of that.” He took it out early Friday and staked himself to the No. 7 berth in the order, where he stayed through four qualifying sessions. He did start with a 3.9-second elapsed time but improved to 3.783 by the end of qualifying.
McMillen gave first-round opponent Clay Millican a serious scare Sunday, as he discovered that his new Xtermigator is “almost like a bracket car. It’s that consistent.”
While he didn’t win that opening-round match-up Sunday, he did remind himself that “we have to be real smart about what we do.”
He said crew chief Rob Wendland has “done a great job of just picking at it, just tweaking it here and there, so that we’re not hurting the car. That’s why we’ve been really successful this year. We hadn’t hurt anything until Epping [the ninth race of the season].”
And the team unloaded the DSR-built dragster off the trailer at Pomona, Calif., at the start of this season, and ran in the 3.7s-second range, qualified seventh, and advanced to th quarterfinals. So whatever car McMillen has to drive, Wendland and his maturing crew have been making strides.
“It’s a compliment to the entire team and certainly Rob Wendland and their dedication in giving us a really good car and making sure that Amalie Motor Oil and all of our marketing partners, including CP-Carillo Rods, are ecstatic about what we’re doing.,” McMillen said. “Our guys are working hours after hours after hours, making sure we’re dotting every “i” and crossing every “t.” He said, “I’m excited, and I’m confident we’ll get back on track again. We have to focus on staying in the top 10. We’ve got to go some rounds.”
He didn’t get past the first round Sunday. But McMillen gave Clay Millican a run for his money at the Summernationals.
As for McMillen’s current state, he said, “We’re still trying to play catch-up. The car was together when we loaded it in the trailer to leave Epping. Now we’re making the spare parts for the next time we need them. We’re building a blower, another injector, and all those things so we have two ready to go at all times – not necessarily that we’re going to have another explosion like that again.”
Although McMillen isn’t all that interested in looking backward, he said of last weekend’s incident, “It was just a strange deal. We found a couple of things that happened in the car but really, nothing definitive to say what caused it, other than it just came apart. Part of that is because I pedaled it. The car got in trouble, and the car has never been in trouble all year long that early in the run. It’s too early for our car, because I believe that would go down a dirt road any day of the week. For it to do what it did probably caught me off-guard. I don’t think the car should have exploded like that. Caught it, got off of it, got on it and the holes [cylinders] didn’t light. So something else broke first, pretty confident of that.”
BECKMAN GOES BOOM . . . BUT REBOUNDS – Jack Beckman didn’t say exactly what failed to cause the ugly detonation of his Infinite Hero Dodge in early Saturday qualifying that destroyed the car. But he was certain about one thing: “There's no such thing as a small explosion in a nitro Funny Car. They do a lot of damage, and they tear up a lot of parts and pieces."
He was sure about one other thing: “I was so thoroughly impressed with our crew, getting everything back together.”
Beckman said, “Because of the live TV, we had a very quick turnaround time before Q4. They put a new body on the car, got the warm-up done without any issues, got up to the lanes, and actually had time to wait. We weren't even rushed, because everybody did such a great job and worked together. That's really what the whole program is about with Infinite Hero.”
Crew chiefs Dean Antonelli, John Medlen, and Neal Strausbaugh hustled between sessions to get the back-up car to the starting line for the final session. They agreed Beckman would shut off the engine early, Beckman said, “if anything didn't sound right.”
Despite the incident, Beckman said he was “very confident going into Sunday. “He also said, "It was the most interesting Saturday I've had in quite some time."
BROWN WARY OF HEAT, KEEN ALEXANDER – Hometown hero Antron Brown, who grew up in nearby Chesterfield (Burlington County), retained his No. 1 qualifying position and is set for a first-round match-up in Sunday’s eliminations with former Funny Car driver Blake Alexander, who earned his Top Fuel license just this past Wednesday.
Had the 16-car field not been two entries short, the two might not have been lining up against each other. But officials set the Nos. 8 and 9 slots as empty, granting no one a first-round bye. So the winner of this pairing will get a pass into the semifinals to face the winner of the Shawn Langdon-Scott Palmer race or the winner of the Brittany Force-Troy Coughlin Jr. match-up.
Brown is concerned about the aggressive independent racer Alexander as much as he is about the soaring temperatures forecast for race day.
“Blake’s been out here in Funny Car, so he’s no stranger to the fuel ranks. But he’s chasing that dream, and I remember being in the exact same spot he’s at: out here on this vehicle and that vehicle and just trying to make ends meet,” Brown said.
“When we go for that first round tomorrow, that heat is going to be the equalizer. It will be the equalizer. You saw – a lot of the good cars can’t go down the racetrack, and the other cars are going down the track and they’re running mid-[3.]80s,which can get the job done tomorrow,” he said.
“We’re not going to take anybody lightly, especially not Blake the first round. We want to get past that first round. Tomorrow’s going to be tricky. It’s going to be the first hot temps we have run all year. Today was a teaser of it. Tomorrow’s going to be even worse. We’ve just got to be efficient [in] executing tomorrow.”
Brown set a track elapsed-time record at 3.713 seconds to claim his first No. 1 start of the season and his 48th of his career, and he’ll seek his second Top Fuel victory here at Englishtown with his third overall victory this year.
“The track was better yesterday than everybody thought it was going to be,” Brown said. “We were shooting to be top-five in qualifying, and we went No. 1, which is crucial for race day. We’re back here in New Jersey, at Englishtown. Every time I come to this track, it brings back so many memories [of] racing with my uncle and my dad. It’s like I remember being a kid sitting in the stands and thinking, ‘One day, I hope to be on this track and set some world records and win some races and hopefully, maybe, I could be on a team that can win a championship. The Good Lord has blessed me in so many different ways to win so many races and be a three-time champ and now to come home and qualify No. 1 in front of my family and my friends.”
MOTIVATED KALITTA TEAM TO TAKE ON MOTIVATED FOES – Doug Kalitta – who just competed in his 450th race a week ago at Epping, N.H – qualified third, only one-thousandth of a second ahead of teammate Shawn Langdon, who’s fourth in the order. Kalitta will square off against New York native Dom Lagana, the No. 12 qualifier who, like No. 1 starter Antron Brown, considers this his home track.
Kalitta, coming out of the No. 3 starting slot, had problems getting his Mac Tools Dragster to start for his final qualifying run and had to be content with the best of his previous three passes. He said the incident was “not the way we wanted to end qualifying, but I know my Mac Tools guys will have it figured out by tomorrow.” And as much as recent Australia-race winner Lagana would love to record his first U.S. victory on familiar territory, Kalitta wants to score big here, too. Referring to the racetrack where in 2008 his cousin and teammate Scott Kalitta died in a qualifying accident, Doug Kalitta said this is a “special place for the Kalitta family, and we are going to go hard for the trophy."
Meanwhile, Langdon has an extra sense of urgency when he races Scott Palmer, for Palmer is the driver he’s chasing for the 10th and final berth in the Countdown to the Championship lineup.
Langdon called his opening race “a huge round for us. We race the guy who is ahead of us in the Countdown. The way we look at it is if we can stop him from getting 20 [points] and we can get 20, that is a 40-point swing. It is an important run for us tomorrow. We are very confident in the setup with this Global Electronic Technology team. We learned from all the runs, and that is the most important."
No. 10 qualifier Troy Coughlin Jr., the third Kalitta Motorsports dragster driver, has an extra-inspired opponent in No. 5 starter Brittany Force as he seeks his first Top Fuel victory. She’s looking to make it two in a row, after winning the New England Nationals last Sunday.
“We have a monster of a matchup tomorrow,” he said, using a pun for Force’s Monster Energy Dragster. “She has been on quite a tear. We are going to have to get off the starting line a little quicker and hopefully take this SealMaster Toyota some rounds tomorrow.”
FORD EXECUTIVE MOVES ENCOURAGE TASCA – Bob Tasca III is sponsoring himself at the Summernationals, marking the first time he has done so. And he’s proud to do it for Tasca Parts. It’s the offshoot of the Tasca automotive group that’s billed as an online source for genuine factory OEM parts at below-wholesale prices.
“This brand – Tasca Parts . . . I say Jegs and Summit are everything aftermarket. We’re everything OE. We don’t compete with Jegs and Summit; they don’t really compete with us. If you need an OE part, an original factory part, for your Ford, GM product, Chrysler product, Jeep, Nissan, Mazda, Volvo . . . that’s about 65 percent of the cars on the road . . . we can sell you a part. We’ve got a lot of brands covered,” he said.
The new venture, he said, is “really growing for us” and said he’ll be racing later this season at Norwalk with True Car branding, at Reading with Auto Alert, and at Dallas with Ford Alert. “Hopefully,” Tasca said, “it’ll lead to bigger things next year.”
He received a boost of confidence this spring when the Ford Motor Company replaced CEO Mark Fields with Jim Hackett and promoted Jim Farley to Executive Vice-President and President of Global Markets. Tasca – whose family has been associated with the upper-tier management at Ford for decades – was vocal against the automaker’s decision to drop its NHRA investment after the 2014 season. And he has lobbied to restore Ford’s involvement. He’s optimistic that the latest moves at Ford are a positive sign for him. He said he has a meeting coming up soon with Ford.
“We’re working hard on sponsorships. I’m fortunate enough to have what I have. Trying to get Ford back. Every time I have a chance to plug ’em, I do,” Tasca said.
“They have a whole new management team at Ford. I know them very well. They know I believe in drag racing, and I think we’ll get at least another chance to present our case and see what they think. But to have Chevy and Dodge and Toyota out here in a big way and no Ford, it’s crazy. It’s crazy,” he said.
“Jim Hackett, the new CEO, I’ve never worked with but I’ve heard a lot about him. The gentleman who’s running the sales and marketing globally, is Jim Farley. And Jim Farley I know very, very well. He’s a close friend and was part of my program when it kicked off in 2008. He knows drag racing very well, knows our program very well. With all the good things going on in the sport and TV and attendance being as good as it is, we do have a compelling story to tell. It’s just a matter of whether Ford sees the whole picture and value of the proposition,” Tasca said.
“I can tell you this: The people in charge now are more pro-drag racing than the people who were. That’s a good thing,” he said. “Jim’s a performance guy. The investment out here is minimal, compared to some of the investments they’ve made – whether it’s LeMans or NASCAR. This is very small investment [compared to] what they spend in other racing. And the ROI, I believe, is far superior to anything else they could get.
“So we’ll see. I’m optimistic,” he said.
Tasca qualified an especially respectable 10th but gave up lane choice to No. 7 Tommy Johnson Jr.
CAPPS RIDES WITH CREW – Ron Capps didn’t take another cross-country flight home to San Diego from Boston following the New England Nationals at Epping, N.H., this past week.
Instead, the points leader rode in one of Don Schumacher Racing’s NAPA Auto Parts technology rigs with his crew members for 300 miles down to Englishtown, N.J.
Capps and the team have registered four victories in nine races so far, but they saw their streak of elimination round-wins end at 17, when he lost to Courtney Force in the semifinals at Epping.
"It's a bummer the streak is over, but with the competition now in Funny Car, winning 17 rounds in a row like we did is pretty amazing," the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge driver said.
He rode shotgun with crewmen and semi drivers Tyler "Otis" Troxel and Terry "Sweet Chuck" Prososki when not riding in the luxury of the team's Dodge Durango.
"It's been a fun & very memorable last five races for our NAPA Auto Parts team," Capps wrote on his Facebook page. "While we lost in the semifinals Sunday, [crew chief Rahn] Tobler and the guys learned some very valuable things that are going to make our race car even stronger the remainder of the season."
Epping winner and DSR colleague Matt Hagan sliced Capps’ points lead 40 points to just 79. Hagan is a three-time winner this year.
"We really feel like we can get right back and get back on top and keep rolling in these points. They're important right now,” Capps said. “We obviously want to win the regular season, but just to take these rounds early in the year has been a lot of fun."
He qualified third and will face Del Worsham, the 14th-quickest starter.
RACING, FLYING, DANCING – Allen Johnson’s final qualifying opportunity Saturday was up in the air – literally.
Already safely in the field at No. 4 after two Friday runs, the Marathon Petroleum / J&J Racing Dodge driver made his run in the first Saturday session (6.582 seconds, 210.44 mph), then bolted from the top end to Old Bridge Airport, which is adjacent to the racetrack.
He was headed home to East Tennessee to watch wife Pam Johnson participate in the “Dancing With The Tri-Cities Stars,” a charity event whose entire proceeds from donations, ticket sales, sponsorship, ads, and silent and live auctions will go benefit Steppen Stone Youth Treatment Services. The program and academy, dedicated to helping disadvantaged boys in grades 7-12, is at Limestone, Tenn., near the Johnsons’ home at Greeneville, Tenn.
The 2012 Pro Stock champion had his street clothes in a shopping bag in the tow vehicle. He grabbed the bag and dashed onto the plane, where he changed clothes en route to Kingsport for the 6:30 p.m. function at Meadowview Convention Center.
Accompanying Allen Johnson on the plane were Courtney Enders and Justin and Gina Humphreys. Johnson usually flies the plane, but this time the pilots were his trusty go-to and the Elite Motorsports pilot who flies Richard Freeman and Company around.
Allen Johnson said his wife “has worked her tail off for about two months,” preparing for the competition.
Pam Johnson, who like the other Tri-Cities Stars was wearing a dress from the actual network-TV hit show “Dancing With The Stars,” grew up in Greeneville, Tenn., and received a degree in Organizational Management from Tusculum College. She has worked for 18 years in the family business, Roberts Furniture, where she is a co-owner.
SteppenStone is a non-profit organization that provides treatment programs within a safe, caring environment, for boys 13-17 years old who have experienced significant trauma, abuse, and/or neglect and have developed emotional and behavioral issues. Services include year-round residential treatment, foster care, adoption, and a fully accredited school. The primary mission of SteppenStone, which was established in 2003, is to help these young men heal and develop skills to become successful, healthy adults.
Johnson will be back Sunday for eliminations in the Summernationals. As No. 4 qualifier in the two-car-short field, he’ll meet No. 11 Matt Hartford in the first round Sunday.
HONEY-DON’T LIST FOR GAYDOSH – Many men have honey-do lists. But Pro Stock owner-driver John Gaydosh has a “do-not-do” list.
The owner-driver from Baltimore said he learned valuable information last week at Epping, N.H., and wanted to apply it to this weekend’s race.
“The first three runs [at Epping] were great data. But we had a massive tire shake in Q4 that popped the ‘chutes right out of the gate, and we tried to do something we don’t normally do,” Gaydosh said. “Those changes did not work out how we planned so we know not to do that anymore. We’ll put that in the do-not-do list. We make mistakes. We were just trying to see what you can do. We’re going to build off our runs.”
He said, “We’re in much better shape at this point in the Eastern Swing compared to the past. It’s the first time in five years we didn’t hurt an engine in Epping. We had to borrow and lease bullets to get to Englishtown. Not this year, thank goodness. Everything is perfect on the motor, and we fixed the throttle blade we had issues with in New Hampshire. Everything is back to normal. So now we can focus on the tune-up and going faster this weekend.”
He began this event in 13th place, then improved to 12th overnight Friday. He was 13th early Saturday and skipped the final session. He will start race day from the 13th position, against No. 2 Tanner Gray in the field that’s two entrants short of a full one.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
TEAM LIBERTY EAGER - Scotty Pollacheck and Jerry Savoie had better watch out.
They are racing against Angelle Sampey and Cory Reed, respectively, in Sunday’s first round of eliminations.
And Sampey, manager for Team Liberty Racing, is ready to repeat her 2016 victory here. (It was her first since 2007, an emotional one that simply made her hungry for more.) Reed, too, said he’s not here just to have fun. These two are champing at the bit to go for their collective first victory after the Pro Stock Motorcycle class sat on the NHRA sidelines for the past five weeks.
Sampey is 10th in the standings, Reed 14th. And the Cordele, Ga.-based team wants to join Eddie Krawiec and L.E. Tonglet as 2017 winners.
“I want to qualify both bikes at every race this year,” Reed said. “When we do that, it’ll prove we may be a new team but we’re doing something right. There’s a lot of good people we race against that haven’t qualified for every race this year, and that’s kind of the point we’re trying to make. We want people to know we’re here and we’re not here just to have fun and spend money to go racing. The whole team and I want to be competitive and make a statement and win some races.”
Sampey said they had a productive test session last week at South Georgia Motorsports Park, at Valdosta.
After that, she said, “I feel the most comfortable I have been since last season,” Sampey said. “I finally just got over the hump of having enough seat time and runs on the new bike. I made six or seven runs, and they were all straight down the track. It’s so much fun when you don’t have to fight the bike as hard. I know I’ve had a lot of success at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in the past but that doesn’t guarantee it’ll happen again. It’s going to be a combination of luck, skill, and fighting your way to that winners circle.”
Sampey is trying to make it five victories at Englishtown. The three-time champion won here in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2016.
Pollacheck will have lane choice against Sampey, for he’s the No. 5 starter. Savoie locked in the No. 4 position and will have lane choice over Reed.
ARANAS SURGING – Hector Arana Jr. came within one-thousandth of a second of knocking L.E. Tonglet from the top qualifying spot. He settled for the second-place berth, with .022 of a second quicker than his father on the twin Lucas Oil Buell.
Arana Jr. clocked a 6.801-second pass, and his dad was third with a 6.823, 196.67.
"We have a bracket bike here," Arana Jr. said, celebrating his consistency. “We didn't end up No. 1, but we are only behind [Tonglet] by one-thousandth of a second. The good session on Friday night, we hit a bad bump and it slowed us down just enough for him to take it away.
"Out of the four qualifying runs, we were No. 1 three times. And in the other session, I was second by a hundredth, so we are right there. What's really encouraging is we had our best run on a hotter track, so I am very happy with the performance of this Lucas Oil Racing TV Buell."
As for Dad, he said, "When we qualify both bikes like this, it brings me more joy. I am now more relaxed and I want to keep doing this. It's what we needed to turn this thing around. We will keep doing the work we are doing at the shop so we keep seeing these improvements. Summer is just starting so to run well at the first summer race is a good sign.
"I am very pleased with the performance we've put out here at this event. We never stop working,” the patriarch said. “It's been long road to get here, but I am finally starting to enjoy this, because last year we struggled the whole time and the beginning of this year was more struggle. But now we are headed in the right direction.”
He’s especially satisfied with his performance, because he won last weekend's U.S. Pro Stock Motorcycle Open, a non-NHRA race. The bike class wasn’t on the schedule at the New England Nationals, when the other three pro classes visited New Hampshire last weekend.
Arana Jr. will open eliminations against Melissa Surber, who qualified 15th with a best of 6.906, 189.90. Arana will face 14th-ranked rider Steve Johnson, who recorded a 6.905, 192.82.
FRIDAY - WOMEN DISTINGUISHINGTHEMSELVES, TODD HAS SPECIAL INCENTIVE, ANDERSON TO MISS Q3 SATURDAY, NOBILE EXPECTS TO TURN CORNER, HARLEY-DAVIDSON RIDERS DEBUT STREET ROD
WONDER WOMEN OF DRAG RACING – Last weekend, blockbuster movie “Wonder Woman” made its $100.5 million North American debut and grossed an additional $122.5 million at overseas box offices. And the NHRA came close at the New England Nationals at Epping, N.H., to toasting three female professional-class winners at the same race for the first time in history.
Brittany Force earned the Top Fuel trophy, and Erica Enders won the Pro Stock final. Courtney Force was runner-up to Matt Hagan in the Funny Car class. That wasn’t the first time three women have advanced to their respective final rounds. Enders was part of the first and only other time that occurred, in 2006 at Gainesville, Fla. Angelle Sampey was the Pro Stock Motorcycle winner, and Enders and Top Fuel’s Melanie Troxel were runners-up.
Enders also was part of the milestone the first two times women won at the same event. She and Courtney Force shared the winners circle at Seattle in 2012, and in 2014 at the spring Las Vegas race, Enders won, along with Funny Car’s Alexis De Joria. So Enders scored a “yellow hat trick” last Sunday when she and Force took home Wally trophies.
Force has a chance this weekend here at Englishtown, N.J., to join an elite group if she becomes a back-to-back winner in Top Fuel. She would be only the third female in NHRA history to win back-to-back events. Lori Johns did it first in 1990, and no one else matched that until this February, when Leah Pritchett won the first two races of the year, at Pomona, Calif., and Chandler, Ariz.
“I’d love to go back-to-back and bring home another win,” Force said. “That’s what we’re going for. That’s what we’re going to try to do. I’ve had some success [at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park] in A-Fuel, but we’re going after that win. We won last weekend, and we want to do it again.
“Keeping the momentum going after a huge win like that is pretty easy,” the Monster Energy Dragster driver said. “We’re all pumped. We’re all excited. The whole team is still on the high from that win, and to be able to go back-to-back right into the next one, you’re going to be able to feel it in our pits, for sure. Claiming a win in Epping just boosts everyone’s confidence. It just gives them that push, that drive. Really, it’s about how hard the whole team has worked, how much they put into this car over the last few months through the ups and downs we’ve had. It paid off, and that’s what makes it all worth it, knowing that all that hard work paid off.”
A victory here would be her first at the storied racetrack. However, she was runner-up to hometown hero Antron Brown here in 2015, nd she reached the semifinal last year. She has a better-than-even elimination-round record (7-4) here and is perfect in four first-round match-ups.
FEAST OR FAMINE – For early qualifying leader Steve Torrence, the Summernationals has been feast or famine. In five of his seven previous starts here, he has lost in the first round. The other two times, he has won. He defeated Brandon Bernstein to win in the 2012 final and Tony Schumacher in 2016. The Capco Contractors Dragster driver also has qualified in the top half of the field in every start and won last June from the No. 1 qualifying position.
This year he has two victories, at Charlotte and Atlanta, and as he arrives here, he might be relying on that extra necessary racing luck known in his camp as “The Lagana Factor.” This race is a homecoming for Capco Contrctors Dragster car chief Bobby Lagana Jr., 40, and younger brother Dom, 31, grew up in nearby Scarsdale, N.Y. But they could make the case that they literally grew up at Raceway Park. This is where their father, the late Bobby Lagana Sr., was a fixture as owner and driver of a series of low-budget pro entries, including the “Twilight Zone” and “American Challenger” entries.
They learned racing by working on their dad’s cars, and both Lagana brothers have or have had driving careers of their own. Dom Lagana this weekend will be serving as a teammate, of sorts, to Torrence, driving the family’s Nitro Ninja Dragster and using a Torrence tune-up – with the Torrence, crew chief Richard Hogan, and tuning consultant Alan Johnson.
“We share data and ideas,” Torrence said. “It’s always a big deal when Bobby and Dom can run their own car. It gives us a teammate against all the multi-car teams out here.”
Ten-time winner Torrence is in third place, 63 points behind leader Leah Pritchett.
BACK-UP CAR AT FRONT OF FORCE’S MIND – Courtney Force discovered something positive in the wake of her engine detonation during qualifying at Epping.
Her spare Advance Auto Parts Camaro – which never made a complete pass in three qualifying attempts and actually veered into the wall on her burnout in its debut – has turned out to be a gem. It was pressed into service when a fiery explosion destroyed the original car, one co-crew chief Ronnie Thompson just before that had called “forgiving.”
Force drove the back-up to her first final since the season-opener (and improved from sixth place in the standings to third) and used it to record some of her top speeds.
She said she felt “really good” coming into this race.
“I’m actually very confident about this car, this spare car, and how it’s running, compared to the one we had before. So really feeling positive. My crew has put together an incredible race car,” she said before qualifying “I can’t wait to see how we can do.”
She’s looking for her first finals appearance here and her first opening-round victory since her rookie season in 2012. That year, she made it to the semifinals. She lost last year’s first-round matchup to father John Force in a match-up that produced JFR’s only round-win at Englishtown last season.
TODD HAS SPECIAL INCENTIVE – This year marks the ninth since Scott Kalitta’s fatal qualifying accident at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in the DHL Toyota. JR Todd is the third driver (after Jeff Arend and Del Worsham) of the yellow and red Funny Car that still bears Kalitta’s name as driver. And Todd is especially mindful of the history of the car and this race as he continues to master the class after switch this year from a dragster.
Following last weekend’s first-round loss at Epping, N.H., in the New England Nationals, Todd recognized one habit he needed to correct.
“I need to be more aggressive with the steering wheel,” he said. “I feel like I didn't do a good job getting after the wheel early in the run [at Epping] and ended up driving out of the groove and having to lift and giving up the important round-win. My focus is and always is doing the best that I can inside the car. I never want to be the weak link, and I've definitely cost us some runs this year. So I'm always working on what I can do to improve. Each race we keep working on making our stuff better.”
The Camry he raced with at Epping had no runs on it when it rolled out of the trailer for the first time. Todd qualified eighth in it.
“We unloaded a brand-new car in Epping, and I think that's a big key for us in taking the next step and getting this DHL team back at the top,” he said. “The four-race swing helps put the issues behind and hit the reset button. I enjoy consecutive races, because it allows you to get into more of a rhythm. The more laps in the car, the better for me. So I'm hoping we can start clicking off round-wins heading into summer.”
Todd always has had respect for this facility, and he understands what a victory here would mean to his team.
“Englishtown is one of the majors on our tour, and you always want to win the big ones. That race always draws a big crowd, and they are really passionate about drag racing,” he said. “The race also means a lot to everybody at Kalitta Motorsports. It would be right at the top of biggest wins for me if we were able to win with the DHL Toyota Camry and give the Wally to Connie at the end of the day.”
NOBILE EXPECTING TO TURN CORNER – New Yorkers are straight talkers.
And 10-time winner Vincent Nobile, a Long Islander from the Dix Hills / Melville area, didn’t mince words about the grade he would give his season to date, despite his top-10 standing: “I would pretty much say the season has gone terrible so far. It’s definitely not what we expected to this point. But everyone has ups and downs, and I think we’ll be really good [here]. In the past, we’ve done well on this East Coast swing. We’ve haven’t been on the hot side yet, but it’s coming. It’s just a matter of time. We’re definitely looking forward to this weekend. I think it’s going to be a great race.”
The farthest Nobile has advanced this season is a single semifinal, at Topeka. But he said, “With Erica [Elite Motorsports teammate Enders] doing well, I think the whole program is turning around for the better. We all have the same stuff. With a three-car team [which includes five-time champion Jeg Coughlin Jr.], we’re all able to try different things at different times to benefit the whole team. We’ve all been trying different things, but whatever is working with Erica’s car seems to be the direction we need to go. Hopefully that correlates into success for us. There’s no reason we can’t do that.”
Already Nobile is gearing for the Countdown, which starts in mid-September at Charlotte.
“The Countdown will be here before you know it. We need to make sure we turn the program around before that comes. We don’t want to start the Countdown in 10th. The lower you are, the harder it is to gain points back. We need to jump up and we need to start this weekend,” he said. “It will be a challenge to move up a few spots, but we’re going to do our best moving forward.”
Behind him is the gremlin that cost him in Round 2 at Epping last weekend. “As I was staging and putting the second bulb on, a cam sensor went out and the car just shut off. And there was no restarting it whatsoever. That one just decided to go out right then. We needed it to last another seven seconds and it would have been OK. Naturally, it did not,” Nobile said. But it’s ancient history to him. “We’re going to be good this weekend. I feel pretty confident. I have a really good feeling we’re going to qualify where we’re supposed to” he said.
Nobile said this would be a tremendous place to perform well and win Sunday. We have family and friends who get to come out only once or twice a year. We’ll have 50 or 60 people tomorrow [hanging out at his pit]. It’ll be a bunch. So it’d be pretty neat,” he said.
ANDERSON TO MISS Q3 – Greg Anderson definitely will be on hand Sunday to go for his third straight victory at Raceway Park. But he won’t be here Saturday morning. He’ll be home in North Carolina, attending the 8:30 a.m. high-school graduation of son Cody and will miss the third overall qualifying session.
The Pro Stock veteran plans to leave New Jersey on an extra-early morning flight. After the commencement ceremony, he’ll fly back here and hopes to arrive at the racetrack in time to make a pass in the final qualifying session.
"This is something that I certainly don't want to miss, and I'm working every angle to make sure I'm there to see the boy walk across that stage. It'll be a great morning, and then I'll come back here to one of our favorite racetracks and hopefully have a great afternoon, too,” Anderson said. “The whole family is with Cody this weekend, and sure, I'm a little sad I'm going to miss the big party there on Saturday afternoon – but I'll be there for his graduation, and we'll just get to celebrate all over again when I get home. It's hard to believe that Cody is already old enough to be graduating, and his mother is taking it particularly hard. But we both know that tomorrow is a day to be happy and proud. This is the next chapter of life."
Anderson, driver of the red Summit Racing Camaro, has the most victories at Englishtown among professional drivers, with seven. Kenny Bernstein also has seven victories here, but his came in Funny Car and Top Fuel; Anderson's all came in Pro Stock. His first trip to the winners circle here was in 2002, and it was only his third of 87.
Anderson is the second-most winning driver ever in the category, with just 10 fewer Wally trophies than Warren Johnson.
That feat, he said, "was beyond fantastic. Every win is great, but some of them sure stand out, and that was one of them. A lot of neat things have happened for the KB Racing team at Raceway Park, and for me personally. It's a very special place, and if there is such a thing as a great Pro Stock track, that's what Englishtown is. That one is a great feather in the cap, and it was just a great, great feeling to get that first win. It's fun to go back to racetracks like that. You go in there confident when you have so much history at a racetrack, but you still have to do your best to succeed. You can't go there expecting to win, no matter what history says."
Anderson’s 2012 Englishtown victory gave KB Racing its 100th victory and the brand-new Camaro Pro Stock body its first in its debut weekend.
DOES PATTERN FAVOR COUGHLIN? – Jeg Coughlin is seeking his 77th career victory, his 59th in the Pro Stock class, and fifth at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park. And he said he sees a pattern that could spell positive results.
"We're kind of in this up-down deal lately, where one race we seem to do really well and the next one something happens and we're out earlier than we want to be," Coughlin said. "We lost a close one to our teammate Vincent Nobile last weekend in Epping (N.H.) so I have to assume we're due for another 'up' weekend.
“Certainly we have the car and the people here at Elite Motorsports to get the job done. Seeing my other teammate Erica Enders breakthrough and win Epping was a huge boost for all of us and combined with the success our JEGS.com part of the team has enjoyed this year, we feel very, very optimistic," he said.
Coughlin has two runner-up finishes this season (at Houston and Topeka) and two No. 1 qualifying posititons (Houston and Charlotte). So his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro unquestionably is competitive.
A winner at Englishtown in 1998, 2000, 2009, and 2014, Coughlin said, "Love the track and love the people. It would be awesome to win another one [here]. I said it last weekend and it certainly goes this weekend too, the people in the northeast are some of the best Pro Stock fans in the country. They are really knowledgeable about our cars and what it takes to run them. I think they're great.
"I'm also a big fan of the Napp family. They've owned this track forever and racing is as big a part of their lives as it is to my family so we speak a common language. Gosh, I remember this place seeming so exotic and far away when I would read about it as a kid and to have been here racing so many times as an adult is really cool. This is definitely one of the 'bigs' on the NHRA schedule," he said.
WILL STRATEGY WORK? – Raceway Park has been a special one for Allen Johnson, who won here in 2011, has advanced to two other times, and was No. 1 qualifier twice (2006, 2014). So he has a special tune-up an strategy this weekend.
The Marathon Petroleum / J & J Racing Dodge Dart owner-driver said, “Englishtown was a Mopar race for a really long time after I first started racing Pro Stock and through the Mopar race, we’ve gotten to know a lot of great people at this race. The Summernationals always is pretty good to our Marathon Petroleum/J&J Racing team.
“We’ve got a set-up for if the track gets hot and grimy, and we’ve got a setup for if it gets cold out there,” Johnson said. “I feel like I have more confidence right now than I have in a long while, which is good going into this long stretch. Maybe we can go some rounds and get some crucial points this weekend.”
In nine races this season, Johnson has won only one round (at Topeka).
BUTNER WANTS 1-2-3 STATUS – Early Pro Stock qualifying leader Bo Butner, who has led the Pro Stock standings since the Topeka event, completed his 50th race last weekend at Epping, N.H. And he said, “The really cool thing about racing in Englishtown is that they are huge, huge fans of Pro Stock – maybe even the biggest I've ever seen. The Houston and Atlanta winner said he’s proud to be associated with Jason Line and Greg Anderson. “[Team owner] Ken Black is a legend, and of course, so is Greg Anderson. Jason Line, he's not too bad, either,” he said wryly about the reigning and three-time champion, who has joked with him and christened him “Bob Utner.” Said Butner, “You sleep well at night, being part of KB Racing, because you know you're going to have a good car. We'll have a good weekend. We just have to focus on getting the KB Racing cars back 1-2-3."
They almost were 1-2-3 in the order after the first qualifying session. Tanner Gray broke up the KB / Summit party, with a 6.555-second pass that was a mere four-thousandths of a second off Butner’s pace. The KB/Summit team filled slots three and four. Just .027 of a second separated the top four qualifiers in the opening session Friday. In the standings, it’s the same situation: Butner is first, Gray second, and Anderson and Line Nos. 3 and 4.
LINE’S FIRST VICTORY HERE MEMORABLE – Jason Line laughs today at the first of his three Englishtown victories, which he earned in 2004 in a not-so-pretty way.
"I remember my first Englishtown win – I made a terrible run and was over by the wall, and I was very shocked when my win light came on," he said with a chuckle. "But it was fun, and I remember what a big deal it was to win Englishtown for the first time. It was a great race, and I think I won there the next two years in a row. It was my favorite track for a long time, but it's been a challenge for me in recent times. I'd sure like to win there again. I have some good memories at Raceway Park. We've just been in a little bit of a slump here lately. I'd like to think I'm due to have a good weekend."
Line, the winner at the season-opener at Pomona, Calif., is No. 4 in the Pro Stock standings.
NO. 2 AND TRYING HARDER – Tanner Gray, who has established himself as frontrunner for rookie-of-the-year distinction, is second in the standings, 35 points behind Bo Butner. And after Friday’s first qualifying session, he trailed No. 1 Butner by four-thousandths of a second. Gray has made three final-round appearances in nine races.
However, Gray said, "I do not think about how fast I have experienced success, because my own expectation is to run up front. We have a great car, a great team. I have a lot of great people around me watching and helping me improve.
"Making better qualifying runs leading up to race day has been our team’s main focus. Making consistent runs is our main focus. This consistency should allow us to reach faster E.T.s, which ultimately will lead our team to the front," he said. “Racing new tracks every weekend allows me to bring a fresh perspective to the team, providing insight that might get overlooked.”
Gray said his team made a minor adjustment to his clutch pedal “to see if we can’t make the ride a little smoother."
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
VANCE & HINES DEBUTS HARLEY STREET ROD – Andrew Hines and wife Tonya have a baby daughter at home in Avon, Ind. But at the racetrack, he has another new baby: the new Harley-Davidson Street Rod that he and Vance & Hines teammate Eddie Krawiec unveiled Friday at the Summernationals.
They went out and qualified sixth and seventh in the first session, with Krawiec’s 197.80-mph speed proving to be top for the day. At the end of Friday qualifying, Hines was seventh at 6.866 seconds on the quarter-mile course at 197.05 mph. Krawiec was two-thousandths of a second behind in the provisional ninth spot.
That’s more than respectable for the champions, who had only eight and nine full passes on their respective bikes before they arrived at Old Bridge Township Raceway Park and completed their wind-tunnel testing at Wichita State University and on-track testing at Martin, Mich., and Indianapolis only about a week and half ago.
“We’re at the point where we’re still getting comfortable on the motorcycle,” Hines said. “It’s a totally foreign feeling for sitting on it. The seat’s nowhere close to what the V-Rod had. The hand position is different. We’re still used to getting down the track. Our sight perception is different. Our old bikes, we had our clear windshield and we could see everything around us. This has a carbon fairing with a smaller viewport out of the windscreen. So our view is definitely inhibited, compared to what we used to have. We no longer can see 360 [degrees].”
Krawiec said it’s like a racehorse’s blinders, allowing them to see only what’s directly in front of them. “And maybe that’s good,” he said.
Said Hines, “It’s just different. I’ve been racing the V-Rod for 15 years, and Eddie has been racing it for a decade. I’ve made 3,000-plus runs on the V-Rod and only nine on the Street Rod [before qualifying, so it’s now 11 runs]. We’re confident but there’s still that learning curve.”
For Krawiec, it’s an entire re-learning process: “We have to re-learn to ride these motorcycles. We’re so used to muscling our bikes and the track. These will be a little more ‘finesse bikes.’ ”
“It’s probably like the difference between a Funny Car and a Top Fuel car,” Hines said.
For better or worse, Hines and Krawiec will compete on the Street Rods from now on.
“This is a 100-percent commitment,” Krawiec said. “We don’t have our old bikes with us. We’re out here to represent the brand, and Harley-Davidson. And they want us racing on production motorcycles. We need to adapt to those changes and make it work for both of us.”
What changed is Harley-Davidson’s evolvement. The Vance & Hines Screamin’ Eagle team didn’t make this effort on a whim. They did it in cooperation with both Harley-Davidson and the NHRA Technical Department, making at least 15 tweaks and changes to designs in the interest of Harley-Davidson’s preferences, NHRA’s mandated specs, and their own comfort and aerodynamic advantages.
“We retired the V-Rod and have moved over to the Harley-Davidson Street Rod. The V-Rod was done in production in the middle of last year. The company wants us to race a motorcycle that represents their brand and is something that they sell We’re excited to have it,” Krawiec said.
Hines said, “We started thinking in the middle of last year that we wanted to do a new chassis design. We were at the limits of what our old chassis could handle for running 6.70s now – not that it was bad. It was just unpredictable sometimes, as far as racing. So when Harley said it wanted to come out with the street rod bodywork, we decided to take the opportunity to do a whole ground-up new deal. It’s the same engine, same powerplant, same everything inside there. It’s just gave us the opportunity to wrap the new body around the new chassis that we feel is suitable for running in the six-second zone.
“I designed the chassis with my brother [three-time NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle champion Matt Hines], starting in September last year. We started working on the bodywork design with Harley styling in January. It took a little bit longer than we really wanted. We did all the bodywork design in CAD.
“Originally we wanted to debut in Gainesville. But obviously we wanted to make sure this was right and ready to go down the track when we were comfortable with it,” he said.
Krawiec said, “Three months is not enough time for that.”
Hines said, “We worked with the Harley guys with styling. We made I don’t know how many revisions we went through – probably 15 different revisions – little tweaks to the fender, just to get the styling as close to the stock bikes’. They wanted to rotate the tank a specific way, and we have to work with what our engine wants, and how the gas tank wants to sit on the bike. These motorcycles are a total ground-up redo. The front end, every mount, weld fixture, is completely different than anything they ever put on our V-Rods.
“It was a huge endeavor in our shop, just to get all our new parts off the CNC mill and get some stuff water-jetted out and get everything to the point where we were happy with it. We wanted the finished product to be the best Pro Stock Motorcycle that’s ever been out there.”
That was spoken like a proud new papa of this new-generation Harley-Davidson.