Rumor Mill

2017 NHRA THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK

 

 

       

 

SUNDAY NOTEBOOK

NO COINCIDENCE: MILLICAN EARNS FIRST NHRA TOP FUEL VICTORY AT BRISTOL - The day started out painfully for Clay Millican and ended in the NHRA winners circle Sunday in a swirl of emotions that transcended the obvious joy of a racer who had slogged through 254 starts without a victory – especially after he had won more IHRA Ironman trophies than any Top Fuel driver in history.

At Bristol Dragway, in his beloved home state of Tennessee, on Fathers Day – a day he didn’t even want to talk about after losing 22-year-old son Dalton in a motorcycle accident in August 2015 – Millican claimed his long-awaited first NHRA triumph Sunday.

He defeated Leah Pritchett and her sizzling-hot Papa John’s Pizza Dragster in the final round with a 3.825-second elapsed time at 316.38 mph on the 1,000-foot course in his Parts Plus / Great Clips / UNOH Dragster. She countered with a 3.881, 307.09.

And Millican was convinced the victory was no coincidence.

“There’s no such thing as a coincidence. John Medlen told me that,” he said, mentioning another father who lost his young son, Eric, to a drag-racing accident in 2007. “There’s no such thing as a coincidence.”

He knew Dalton had orchestrated this day:

“He was riding [with us], and he got us four win lights,” Millican said.

“I couldn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “My lights sucked, but it didn’t matter.”

And he said, “When it’s your day, it’s going to happen. It’s no coincidence. This was supposed to happen. Mama [Martha Millican] always told me when the time was right it would happen. And today that time was right. I really mean that.”

But Millican and his soulmate, wife Donna, just about had resigned themselves to the chance that “maybe it’s not meant to be.” He said he soldiered on through one teasing final-round berth after another “because I love what I do.”

Then along came Fathers Day. It wasn’t the first he and Donna and son Cale had experienced without fun-loving Dalton. But it was just as hard on them all as the first had been.

“I didn’t want people telling me ‘Happy Fathers Day.’ I didn’t even want to hear about it this morning,” Millican said. “It’s a tough day for anybody who’s lost a child. It just is.”

Ever since that awful August day two years ago, Millican has questioned neither his faith nor his love of drag racing.

Nor did he doubt himself or his driving ability, he said.

“I’ve won so many IHRA races. I knew what it was like to win. I’ve won a bunch of races. But it’s been such a long stretch since I raced in IHRA. I never questioned myself,” Millican said. “I just started to work harder. I’ve been working than I ever worked.”

He has put one foot in front of the other, gone about his business and his passion, and immersed himself, as always, in the sport he loves so dearly. And that is what he did Sunday at Bristol. He said he sat in his dragster in the hot, sticky summer conditions and barely noticed the sweat pouring from everywhere underneath his firesuit. It was simply his day, as he eliminated Kyle Wurtzel, Brittany Force, and Steve Torrence for his ninth final-round appearance.

“I got crazy-emotional rolling up for the semifinal. I held it in. After we won the semifinal, Donna came walking over,” he said.

But it was a moment he needed all to himself.

“I just told her to back up and give me a little space,” he said.

Perhaps Millican was lost in prayer. Perhaps he wanted to send some words of love and remembrance to Dalton. Perhaps he thought about all the folks in Drummonds, Tenn., his hometown 500 miles away near Memphis, and how wonderfully happy they would be if he won this race on this day and how they might say they knew he could do it, after all the times they heard him “squealing my tires” around town as a kid. Perhaps his mind darted back to the days when Dalton and Cale played in the creek near this storied Bristol racetrack, in the days when the actual racing surface was 20 feet below the current one. Perhaps he felt the love, the racing luck, the dedication of his crew members – one of whom never even had attended a drag race before coming to work for team owner Doug Stringer and Stringer Performance at McLeansboro, Ill.

 Perhaps he felt all of that wrapped into one inexplicable moment, one overwhelming moment.

Then he went out and sealed the deal, on Fathers Day, at Bristol, Tennessee.

“I’m such a Tennessee boy. My family all lives here. We’ve never moved,” Millican said. “I’m proud of the fact everybody calls this my home race, even though I live 500 miles away. It’s my home state. I’m proud of this place. This is my home. We’re all about Tennessee,” he said. In the past, he has clarified: “I always say I’m a hillbilly, but I don’t come from the hills of Tennessee. I grew up near the Mississippi River, so I always say I’m a river rat.”

What he is is seventh in the standings as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series concludes a stretch of four races in consecutive weekends at Norwalk, Ohio – another former IHRA marquee racetrack where Millican has felt completely at home.

Millican was quick to give credit to Stringer, who he said “has spent a lot of money and sacrificed a lot” and to crew chief “David Grubnic and all the biys who work on this car. I mean that 100 percent. They bust their butts.” He said the normally serious, studious Grubnic “had an easiness about him all weekend. When that dude’s smiling, the results show.” And he predicted Grubnic “is going to have a lot more” trophies as a crew chief.

Pritchett advanced past Troy Coughlin Jr., Scott Palmer, and Shawn Langdon as she sought her fourth victory off the season. She’s fiercely competitive, but she understood what the victory meant for Millican.

“The first one is always sweet. So congrats to that entire team. It was a very deserving win,” she said afterward.

And who could argue?

The day started out painfully for Clay Millican and ended in the NHRA winners circle Sunday in a swirl of emotions that transcended the obvious joy of a racer who had slogged through 254 starts without a victory – especially after he had won more IHRA Ironman trophies than any Top Fuel driver in history.

At Bristol Dragway, in his beloved home state of Tennessee, on Fathers Day – a day he didn’t even want to talk about after losing 22-year-old son Dalton in a motorcycle accident in August 2015 – Millican claimed his long-awaited first NHRA triumph Sunday.

He defeated Leah Pritchett and her sizzling-hot Papa John’s Pizza Dragster in the final round with a 3.825-second elapsed time at 316.38 mph on the 1,000-foot course in his Parts Plus / Great Clips / UNOH Dragster. She countered with a 3.881, 307.09.

And Millican was convinced the victory was no coincidence.

“There’s no such thing as a coincidence. John Medlen told me that,” he said, mentioning another father who lost his young son, Eric, to a drag-racing accident in 2007. “There’s no such thing as a coincidence.”

He knew Dalton had orchestrated this day:

“He was riding [with us], and he got us four win lights,” Millican said.

“I couldn’t do anything wrong,” he said. “My lights sucked, but it didn’t matter.”

And he said, “When it’s your day, it’s going to happen. It’s no coincidence. This was supposed to happen. Mama [Martha Millican] always told me when the time was right it would happen. And today that time was right. I really mean that.”

But Millican and his soulmate, wife Donna, just about had resigned themselves to the chance that “maybe it’s not meant to be.” He said he soldiered on through one teasing final-round berth after another “because I love what I do.”

Then along came Fathers Day. It wasn’t the first he and Donna and son Cale had experienced without fun-loving Dalton. But it was just as hard on them all as the first had been.

“I didn’t want people telling me ‘Happy Fathers Day.’ I didn’t even want to hear about it this morning,” Millican said. “It’s a tough day for anybody who’s lost a child. It just is.”

Ever since that awful August day two years ago, Millican has questioned neither his faith nor his love of drag racing.

Nor did he doubt himself or his driving ability, he said.

“I’ve won so many IHRA races. I knew what it was like to win. I’ve won a bunch of races. But it’s been such a long stretch since I raced in IHRA. I never questioned myself,” Millican said. “I just started to work harder. I’ve been working than I ever worked.”

He has put one foot in front of the other, gone about his business and his passion, and immersed himself, as always, in the sport he loves so dearly. And that is what he did Sunday at Bristol. He said he sat in his dragster in the hot, sticky summer conditions and barely noticed the sweat pouring from everywhere underneath his firesuit. It was simply his day, as he eliminated Kyle Wurtzel, Brittany Force, and Steve Torrence for his ninth final-round appearance.

“I got crazy-emotional rolling up for the semifinal. I held it in. After we won the semifinal, Donna came walking over,” he said.

But it was a moment he needed all to himself.

“I just told her to back up and give me a little space,” he said.

Perhaps Millican was lost in prayer. Perhaps he wanted to send some words of love and remembrance to Dalton. Perhaps he thought about all the folks in Drummonds, Tenn., his hometown 500 miles away near Memphis, and how wonderfully happy they would be if he won this race on this day and how they might say they knew he could do it, after all the times they heard him “squealing my tires” around town as a kid. Perhaps his mind darted back to the days when Dalton and Cale played in the creek near this storied Bristol racetrack, in the days when the actual racing surface was 20 feet below the current one. Perhaps he felt the love, the racing luck, the dedication of his crew members – one of whom never even had attended a drag race before coming to work for team owner Doug Stringer and Stringer Performance at McLeansboro, Ill.

 Perhaps he felt all of that wrapped into one inexplicable moment, one overwhelming moment.

Then he went out and sealed the deal, on Fathers Day, at Bristol, Tennessee.

“I’m such a Tennessee boy. My family all lives here. We’ve never moved,” Millican said. “I’m proud of the fact everybody calls this my home race, even though I live 500 miles away. It’s my home state. I’m proud of this place. This is my home. We’re all about Tennessee,” he said. In the past, he has clarified: “I always say I’m a hillbilly, but I don’t come from the hills of Tennessee. I grew up near the Mississippi River, so I always say I’m a river rat.”

What he is is seventh in the standings as the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series concludes a stretch of four races in consecutive weekends at Norwalk, Ohio – another former IHRA marquee racetrack where Millican has felt completely at home.

Millican was quick to give credit to Stringer, who he said “has spent a lot of money and sacrificed a lot” and to crew chief “David Grubnic and all the biys who work on this car. I mean that 100 percent. They bust their butts.” He said the normally serious, studious Grubnic “had an easiness about him all weekend. When that dude’s smiling, the results show.” And he predicted Grubnic “is going to have a lot more” trophies as a crew chief.

Pritchett advanced past Troy Coughlin Jr., Scott Palmer, and Shawn Langdon as she sought her fourth victory off the season. She’s fiercely competitive, but she understood what the victory meant for Millican.

“The first one is always sweet. So congrats to that entire team. It was a very deserving win,” she said afterward.

And who could argue? Susan Wade

CAPPS GETS FIFTH TITLE OF SEASON WITH BRISTOL WIN - Last year was unforgettable for veteran nitro Funny Car driver Ron Capps as he finally won a coveted NHRA world championship.

Well, he's delivering quite the encore in 2017.

Capps, behind the wheel of the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge, won his fifth race of the season in seven final-round appearances. His latest trip to the winners circle came Sunday when he beat his Don Schumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman at Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn.

Capps clocked a 4.054-second time at 317.05 mph. Beckman had a quicker 4.040-second elapsed time at 319.29 mph, but the difference was at the starting line where Capps had an .026 reaction time while Beckman was .044.

"We have got a few lucky rounds here and there,  but it has just been preparation in the offseason,” Capps said. “On Friday night, (Rahn) Tobler (Capps’ crew chief) asked if I wouldn’t mind driving the car we had upstairs, the back-up car with a brand new DSR chassis. Usually you go test and make some laps in the car before you go run it, not in the middle of the race. He was convinced when we left Topeka (Kan.) and we struggled in Epping and Englishtown, even though we got to the final in Englishtown (June 11), the car just wasn’t reacting. We are going to have that car front-halved right after Norwalk (June 22-25), but what a decision to make on a Saturday morning (at Bristol).  It went down the track both runs in very, very hot, tricky conditions. Then, we made four runs on Sunday against four of the toughest cars, crew chiefs and drivers combined. There’s not very many teams out here that are that prepared to pull out (a back-up car) and have it completely ready to go. That’s offseason preparation and that’s Rahn Tobler.”

This was Capps 54th career NHRA nitro Funny Car win and his fourth at Bristol, tying him for most nitro Funny Car wins at Bristol Dragway with John Force. Capps has Bristol Dragway wins in 2001, 2006, 2012 and 2017. Force’s victories came in 2004, 2007, 2010, and 2013.

Overall for DSR, the NAPA Funny Car title is its 10th in 11 races this year

“He (Force) has owned this place and to be mentioned with him is great and on top of it, it is Father’s Day,” Capps said. “I grew up as a little kid in California reading about Bristol. The history here is unbelievable. I was also blessed with a dad who took me to drag races every weekend whether we raced or not. Now, I get to take this home to my dad and it's going to be fun.”

Capps’ victory parade Sunday came against Alexis DeJoria, Robert Hight, Matt Hagan and Beckman.

“I brag about the facility and the people and he (Bruton Smith) didn’t have to build this facility,” Capps said. “There’s no other race track you get all the drivers to sit down for an autograph session. This is a track that you want to do stuff for and give back. Like my good friend Dale Jr. says, ‘It’s Bristol baby!’” Tracy Renck

LAUGHLIN CAPTURES BRISTOL’S PRO STOCK CROWN - Being a part-time NHRA Pro Stock racer makes things difficult for Alex Laughlin.

That, however, didn’t detour Laughlin this weekend at the Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, Tenn.

Laughlin cruised through the competition, culminating with his victory over Bo Butner in the finals Sunday.

Laughlin recorded a perfect light – .000 – and then clocked a 6.718-second elapsed time at 205.04 mph to oust Butner’s 6.729-second lap at 205.79 mph.

“After the semifinals when I was (.012) on tree, for the first time in my life I thought we needed to slow the pedal down because I’ve struggled forever on the tree,” said Laughlin after he snared his second career NHRA Pro Stock Wally. “I always swore, guys I could see the light just like everybody else sees it, something else isn’t working. We made one change after another and incrementally it got better every time and after the last couple of changes, coming into this weekend, I knew the first time I let the clutch out that we were on to something.”

A year ago, Laughlin competed in all 24 NHRA Pro Stock national event races, highlighted by his inaugural Pro Stock race victory at St. Louis, Sept. 25. He powered his Gas Monkey Garage Chevy Camaro to a final round win over Butner. Laughlin also captured one No.1 qualifying spot at the Mile-High Nationals at Bandimere Speedway in Denver in July.

Laughlin just missed finishing in the top 10 in the points standings to make it into the Countdown to the Championship, coming in 11th place.

On Sunday, Laughlin defeated Allen Johnson, Jeg Coughlin, rival Tanner Gray and Butner while driving with power supplied by Elite Motorsports.

“Being .012 on the tree in the semifinals, I was nervous about going red (in the finals) because I knew I would be a little more amped up than I was before, but we did what we had to do,” Laughlin said. “We didn’t really have anything handed to us. We had some good match-ups all day. I was nervous about going up against Jeg in the second round as his car has been running great. His car ended up shaking and I got the win over him.”

Laughlin also addressed his victory over Gray, who was disqualified when he recorded a red light. The two drivers and their crews were involved in a heated exchange after Gray beat Laughlin in the first round at the Spring Nationals at Houston April 23.

In the offseason, Laughlin made the switch from Gray (Motorsports engines) to Elite.

“I definitely feel like I had a point to prove,” Laughlin said. “To go up there and be good on the tree against him even though he was red, just proved to the rest of them there was something wrong with the car and that the guys at Elite have found it and fixed it. I always had a fast car and now I have a competitive car on the starting line. I came into this weekend with the confidence to win and I believed that we would win this race and we did.” Tracy Renck

MISCELLANEOUS

Jeff Diehl has dodged cones behind the wheel. He's even dodged errant race cars crossing the centerline. 

Diehl, who is an avid surfer in his downtime, can now add a supercharger drive to his resume.

Saturday, during Top Fuel's Q-4 session, Diehl, along with Jim Dunn Racing crewmember Eugene Gray were standing along the chain link fence at the edge of the professional pits watching the action when Shawn Langdon experienced his massive supercharger explosion. 

The blast sent shrapnel flying from the fiery engine. 

"We saw him coming down the track, and we were watching the cars, it blew up, and stuff was flying, and I yelled, ‘Duck!" Diehl said. "Everybody went on the ground. And I’m dumb enough to keep looking on the ground."

From his vantage point at the bottom of the retaining fence, Diehl watched in amazement as the errant piece left a trail of damage in its wake. 

"This thing comes flying, and it hits the fence and ratchets down the fence and hits the pole," Diehl said. "It broke the pole, and then it flew. I kept my eyes on it now, and it’s like driving the car, it’s in slow motion, pow, pow, pow, pow down the fence, hits the pole, goes back up in the air and hits the guardrail."

Diehl was uninjured, and Gray walked away with scratches on his arm from pressing against the fence so hard. 

The incident got Diehl's attention to the inherent risks of drag racing, even as a spectator.

"I was white as a ghost," Diehl admitted. "I came over and hugged [wife] Leeza and went, ‘Wow, that was close." 

Tempers flared in the Bristol Dragway shutdown area during first round Funny Car eliminations at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals. 

In a close race, John Force defeated Del Worsham, and shortly after the Funny Cars crossed the finish line, the 16-time champion's Camaro darted over into Worsham's lane. There was no contact between the race cars, but upon exiting his car, Worsham was not shy about voicing his displeasure.

"I'm the one who had the problem," Worsham said. "He made a great run, and he beat me. I am cool with that. I got beat. When you lose, and see a bunch of celebrating and everyone is excited when a guy crossed over into your lane but not only bumped cones, but also went into your lane and his parachutes come out in front of you, I just don't like that. 

"We've talked about it for years, how there should be boundaries beyond 1,000 foot. You have to stay in your lane. He put me in danger to make sure he won. He put himself in danger, too. He didn't know where he was. He could have run into me. It's one thing to bump a cone; it's another to bring your car into the other guy's lane."

Force believes Worsham was well within his rights to say what was on his mind. 

"Worsham's a really good racer," Force said. "He didn't say another thing wrong. He's an honest guy; the one guy I listen to. I got over on the centerline and had to get out of it to keep from getting the cone. I cleared it, but when I went by I went over in the other lane. I hit my parachutes, and I guess they went in his face. 

"I'm fighting out here to survive, and so is he. If he said it, he's the real deal, and if he said it he believes it happened. That don't make it right. I love Del Worsham. If I did something, I apologize."

Worsham had put the incident behind him by the time he returned to his pit area.

"Maybe I will be the one who does it next week; I don't know," Worsham said. "Hard racing. John Force is a great guy and a great competitor. We fought it out, side by side race, and I lost. Maybe it was all a heat of the moment thing; no one likes to lose. 

"I just didn't appreciate that big blue car in my lane, and definitely didn't appreciate the parachutes in front of my windshield. Whether it was close or not, or it was me [thinking they were.

"Luckily I get my parachutes out on time and get stopped. Had I have missed the parachutes, it could have been the Frank Pedregon 2000 race with Scotty Cannon incident all over again."

 

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SATURDAY NOTEBOOK – OF HUMIDITY, RAIN AND BROKEN DREAMS

 

THE RAIN FACTOR – Mother Nature usually has her hand in Bristol Dragway drag racing. Saturday afternoon, after a humid afternoon, the skies over the picturesque facility opened up and dumped rain. Racing was put on hold for nearly 90 minutes.

 

OH STEVE OH - Steve Torrence took advantage of cooling afternoon rain to swipe the No. 1 qualifying spot away from Doug Kalitta who, until the rain, appeared on his way to another pole with the 3.781 second time he recorded Friday evening.

Torrence stopped the clocks at 3.772 seconds at 319.29 miles per hour.       

In claiming the 15th No. 1 of his pro career, his second straight at Bristol, Torrence moved into a tie with three-time and reigning Mello Yello Champion and close friend Antron Brown for the point lead.  Both will start the day with 914 points, 31 points ahead of third place Leah Pritchett.

A winner at Bristol in 2012, Torrence has been to the finals in five of the last six races in the series with wins at Charlotte, Atlanta and Englishtown.  He now has qualified eighth or quicker in 42 consecutive races going back to the 2015 season.  That’s the longest such streak in the category.

IT'S GONNA BE FUN - Tim Wilkerson sits atop the Funny Car class with his pass of 3.895 at 328.22 from Friday night in his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang. This is his first No. 1 qualifier of the season and 19th of his career.

“It’ll be an interesting day tomorrow,” Wilkerson said. “This place is really trying. Don’t think you’ve heard one crew chief say, ‘Wow. This is the easiest thing in the world.’ I’m very optimistic of how we can run tomorrow. I told my guys I hope I’ve got them worn out by the time four o’clock rolls around tomorrow.”

Wilkerson will face Bob Bode at the starting line in the first round.

JEGGIE SEALS THE DEAL - He's won more times on Father's Day than his three other drag racing siblings. Today Jeg Coughlin Jr. took a step closer to snagging another accolade.

"We were able to get all four qualifying sessions in despite a little bit of a late afternoon rain today," Coughlin said. "I really thought things would pick up a little bit in Q4 but the quickest guy, Bo Butner, went 6.707 and we went 6.708 right next to him so that's probably all there was to get."

Coughlin's run of record in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro came Friday evening. Because only 13 cars qualified for Bristol, Coughlin has earned a first-round bye. He'll advance to the second round and face the winner of a race between his Elite Motorsports part-time teammate Alex Laughlin (6.740 at 204.54 mph) and local favorite Allen Johnson (6.730 at 205.13 mph) of nearby Greeneville, Tenn.

"We've made four pretty good runs so far," Coughlin said. "In Q3 this morning it spun the tire a little bit midway through low gear but the other three sessions were all pretty nice runs. I think we've got a strong baseline going into Sunday and we'll see if we can't take this thing the distance. Obviously, we'll do this one round at a time, put our best effort forward each time, and try to bring home a Wally."

Less than halfway through the 24-race season, Coughlin is on pace to earn more No. 1 starting spots in a single season than ever before. Bristol marks his third of the year, along with Houston and Charlotte, with his best seasons coming in 2000 and 2007, when he was low qualifier four times. Coughlin has qualified in the top half of the field at all 11 races this year.

THE FINE LINE BETWEEN BRAVERY AND STUPIDITY - Matt Hagan knows his role when it comes to his racing. He drives, and his father David lends unwavering support. It's the way the dynamic has always worked for the two-time NHRA Funny Car champion from Christiansburg, Va.

"Everybody says, ‘You’re so brave’ and all that. But I always use the line of ‘There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity."

"I just don’t know what side I’m on today."

Hagan, without a doubt, knows which side his father is on.  In fact he's offered the opportunity to take a spin.

David politely responded, "I don't think so."

Hagan understands his father gains his enjoyment living vicariously through his son.

"I think he enjoys seeing me do what I do and if that’s what I want to do," Hagan said. "Him and Larry, his partner, they didn’t have to help me get started. They put a lot of time, energy, resources, and money into it.

David is a successful automobile dealer with multiple dealerships.

"I’ve been asking for a job for a while and he won’t give me one," Hagan said. ‘You get to drive race cars,' is what he's told me every time."

KABLOOEY - Shawn Langdon found himself as the odd man out during the rain-delayed Q-4 session but managed just enough to get into the 15th spot with a 4.023, 244.07. The last-ditch success came at a price though.

 

IN WITH A WIN - Pro Stock drivers will soon be switching over to a new tire. The new tire is essentially just like the old one except for a small number of ingredients in the compound. Because of this Goodyear had to offer a new tire number for what is now the D2433.

Let the record reflect that John Gaydosh is the first driver who used the new tire in competition. He also scored the first victory in a monumental triumph over Tanner Gray.

D2433 is mandatory for Pro Stock teams in Chicago.

 

THE BEST LAID PLANS AND MURPHY'S LAW - If drag racing his Pro Stock Camaro didn't mean so much to John Gaydosh, his life could have been so much easier on his 23rd wedding anniversary.

In the midst of a career moment, Gaydosh, during last weekend's NHRA Summernationals wounded an engine in scoring an upset victory over Tanner Gray. The damage threatened to keep him from racing this weekend.

With the blessings of wife Tina, and help from fellow competitors Kenny Delco and Alan Prusiensky, Gaydosh and his team put in the long hours to prepare the car for this weekend's event.

The Q-1 session provided a lesson in Murphy's Law.

"Went up and did the burnout and everything seemed to be good when I was getting into high gear and I was going through the water, getting ready to lift, when I heard the motor just start sounding funny," Gaydosh explained. "It started shaking and I lifted and it kept running away. It popped another piston. So we don’t know whether the piston broke, the valve dropped or what happened. It’s hard to say. It’s all brand new parts except for the pistons."

Gaydosh is still at a loss for what went awry in the engine.

"Just a little disgusted, disheartened," Gaydosh admitted. "Just trying to get back out here. I love doing this. It’s a shame that this had to happen at this opportune time."

As Gaydosh learned last week, he has fans in the pits.

"Johnny Gray came over last night and said, 'Hey, we got a motor at the shop. Drive to North Carolina, pick it up and put it in the car," Gaydosh revealed. "Me and my brother drove 7 hours last night back and forth to North Carolina and picked up the motor."

Problem solved? Not hardly, if it wasn't for bad luck, it seems Gaydosh would have no luck at all.

"We got here this morning, went to put it in and the fuel pump hits the steering shaft because it’s a different engine design that locks the pumps in a different place," Gaydosh said. "So at this present time, we’re done. We don’t have anything else to put in."

Chassis builder has agreed to take the car back to his shop, where the chassis will be adjusted to work with the loaner engine.

Gaydosh is expected to race next week in Norwalk, Ohio.

Hindsight being 20/20, was it all worth it?

"It’s a tough one," Gaydosh responded. "I love doing this, and my passion is to do this. I want to do this more than anything in the world, and I guarantee you I have more drive and passion to do this than anybody else out here. I want to do this for my heart because this is what I love. Yeah, it’s worth it, but it’s been a long couple days. I just want to do this so we’ll do what we can."

All's not lost as the Gaydoshs have an anniversary to celebrate.

"We’re going to go out, take the whole crew out and we’re going to have a nice dinner and celebrate our anniversary," Gaydosh said. "They’re all going to go home tomorrow except for me and Bob Krouse. We’ll stay here and swap cars out after the end of the race and we’ll drive home."

The faces of victory, for the crew, and of course, the driver. 

WORK HARD, PLAY HARD - The 1972 Miami Dolphins, the NFL team best known for a perfect season, had their no-name defense. Give Top Fuel racer Steve Torrence a time machine, and he'd be more than willing to put his tireless crew up against them.

Torrence's team works under very little fanfare, but as the 11-time Top Fuel winner, fanfare doesn't win races, a relentless work ethic and a fiery desire for perfection does.

"I put those guys, each and every one of them, up against any team out here," Torrence said. "They are, in my opinion, the best out here. They have continuity between each other. We’re a family, and that’s the way that we run this entire team. Everybody gets along.

"We do fight from time to time, and we may get mad at each other but it only lasts for a little bit before we go back to racing to keep business at hand. Somebody said, three or four races ago that I’m kind of the outlaw and I said well the rest of these guys are outlaws too. We’re just a whole bunch of outlaws running around and wreaking havoc on some of these teams. We’re having a good time doing it."

They work hard, and they play hard as evidenced by a post-race golf-cart wheelstand through the Raceway Park pits, which would have made even the most seasoned wheelstander pilot envious.

"I might have been the guy running the camera," Torrence said with a smile. "And then I might not have been. I don’t want to incriminate myself, but I’ve said this many times before, we race with passion. We enjoy what we’re doing. We’re out here to have fun. We’re out here to win. When we win we celebrate. When we don't we ’go home and figure out how we can win."

ONE ZING, TWO ZING - Let your car do the talking.

This is the sage advice Leah Pritchett received from crew chief Todd Okuhara when Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence tried to lure her into a war of zingers.

Torrence had some good ones, like gold digger, referencing her gold-painted dragster, which could also be construed as a money-hungry female as well as the pizza delivery car.

"He has some good ones," Pritchett admitted. "He’s better at it than I am. He’s had more time; he’s older than me."

Zing.

"It was cute, a little fun," Pritchett continued. "People have to tell me about it, I don’t get to watch the show because I’m never home and I don’t really follow them on the internet because I’m not really that interested."

Credit Okuhara as the voiceof reason at the onset.

"When we first had a bit of success, he said 'no matter what happens, whether we win or we don’t qualify, let the car do the talking," Okuhara counseled. "Us as a team, we’re new together. Have confidence in what you’re doing, stay low-key, let the car do the talking.”

"And then when Steve kind of started ramping up some more, and he had some good ones, when he said gold digger, I was like, 'I am married to the guy who does the clutch on your car. I don’t know what you consider a gold digger.”

Pritchett says what has been a one-sided war of words is just banter between drivers.

"Bobby Lagana wanted to make that clear too," Pritchett explained. "I think he told him, 'do whatever you want but leave the teams out of it because we have to live with each other, live in the same town and do the same things, and still operate in our daily lives with each other.”

"For Steve and I it’s good, I think. We’ll just keep coming up with more paint schemes to give him more material."

Pritchett says she just wants to keep living the dream.

"I cherish my time inside the car," Pritchett said. "I cherish the racing part. I cherish the competition. Smack talking is part of that competition, but I don’t have time to think about what I am going to say about Steve Torrence next race.

"Maybe he can do that on his private jet."

Zing.

HOLDING HIS OWN - After running his best pass of the event to qualify second in the Pro Mod field, two-time series champion Troy Coughlin managed to get even quicker in defeating Mike Janis in the opening round of eliminations.

"I'll tell you, the JEGS.com team has done a helluva job of keeping this thing going great and I'm excited for second round," Coughlin said. "I think getting to the final round last weekend in Englishtown and coming away as runner-up really motivated everyone to be absolutely on their game here in Bristol."

Coughlin was actually the provisional top qualifier after posting a class-leading 5.854 at 254.33 mph Friday evening, and even though he improved to a 5.846 at 255.58 mph in Saturday's third and final round of time trials, he was passed on the starting grid by Shane Molinari's 5.837 at 256.70 mph.

"Consistency is very important in this sport and (crew chief) Steve Petty has this thing as consistent as maybe it's ever been," Coughlin said. "In the four runs here we've gone 5.88, 5.85, 5.84 and 5.84 and had the quickest car in three of the four rounds, I believe, so obviously we have a quick and consistent car."
 

FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – FUMING FRIDAY YIELDS A CRACK AT DRAG RACING HISTORY
 
 
IF DOUG CAN HOLD ON ... - Doug Kalitta has an opportunity for a major milestone if his 3.781 No. 1 qualifier can hold through two sessions on Saturday.
 
Kalitta can become the only active Top Fuel driver to earn a number one qualifier at every track on the 24-race NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing schedule.  Heading into this weekend, he has 45 career poles to go along with his 42 career wins.
 
"The conditions will be warm, but … the one thing I have to admit, you know you get these hot conditions and the way these cars run these days, I would have to say a 3.78 is not safe quite yet," Kalitta admitted.
 
Qualifying No. 1 in Bristol is a bucket list item for Kalitta.
 
"It’s a pretty cool deal; this is a place I love coming to," Kalitta said. "I remember coming here with Connie back in the mid-80’s. It’s one of those tracks that you know, for some reason, I just remembered out of all the ones that we went to. And Connie always ran well here, so that was part of the reason I have fond memories of this place."
 
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING - Tim Wilkerson can attest that one a nitro car, fixing one problem can cause myriad problems. Such has been his experience this season.
 
“It really makes a difference when we don’t have two or three cars,” Wilkerson said. “Even when we had Brian Stewart’s car at Topeka it gave me something else to look at there. I learned a lot there too. We started out in Topeka with brand new clutches. It’s been the last three or four problems that we’ve had. Three or four weekends, we’ve really had some problems. They were brand spanking new and they didn’t have any heat cycles in them and now they are starting to get some heat cycles in them. They’re starting to act like a clutch again. It’s starting to show. We’ll see how it does tomorrow and Sunday.”
 
Wilkerson said a combination is exactly that, a combination of items, and sometimes they don’t always work in harmony.
    
“Well it is a combination, a merry-go-round for lack of a better term,” Wilkerson said. “We’d had a disc come in and out of it at the same time. We ran out of one disc and put another one in and it seemed like it was too aggressive so after Topeka I changed it for Epping. Then it acted a little backwards the other way so I took it back out for Englishtown and chased it along. I made two out of four pretty good runs in Englishtown and first round just got out there and got in the middle of the hot racetrack and got beat. Coming here I was pretty confident.”
 
OF HEAVEN, HELL AND DIRT ROADS - Jeg Coughlin might be in heaven these days, but last year was hell.
    
“It’s funny, for some reason we just struggled with our program last year,” Coughlin said. “We knew the Chevrolets that Vincent were closing the season out with won a race and that was in a couple more finals. Our team owner Richard Freeman elected to just go in that direction and consolidate and focus on one program. The work is certainly paying off. The team is much more at ease. They’re not working 24/7, week in and week out as we were last year all year, and we’ve got fast cars on top of it.
 
“Performance-wise, we feel great. My Chevy Camaro, it’s a brand new Rick Jones car this year, and it’s really a mean race car. I’ve joked around and said I think this thing will go down a dirt road with the way it adheres to the track.”
 
ARE YOU FEELING ME? – Antron Brown can understand how Steve Torrence feels these days; well, kinda sorta.

Torrence has only beaten the defending Top Fuel champion twice in their 22 head-to-head races. 
 
Brown, while in his first three seasons found himself on the short-end of the stick in rivalries against two of the top running drivers in his first three seasons of Top Fuel.
 
Every time the three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion Brown has rolled into Bristol Dragway, he's reminded of a 2011 final round against Larry Dixon.
 
"I remember when I came into Top Fuel racing, it was Tony Schumacher and the Larry Dixon show," Brown recalled, face cracking a smile. "It was either Tony winning or Larry winning. When I came over here, if you wanted to be mentioned amongst the best, you have to beat the best."
 
Dixon taught the third-year fuel driver a lesson about not counting his chickens before they hatch.
 
"I wanted to beat him so bad that I knew I left on him, I was gone, going down the race track," Dixon said.  "I did everything really, really fast. So I mean by everything really fast, I was like 'I did this, I did that."
 
"Next thing I do is just hit the chutes, and I’m like, ‘I’m hitting the chutes, why am I hitting the chutes?"
 
"And my chute popped out before the finish line and jerked my car back, and I lost by two-thousandths."
 
Dixon's victory extended his dominance to 13 - 4 over Brown.
 
Then there was his one moment of elation of victory against Tony Schumacher which came in his rookie season with a monumental first victory in the NHRA Southern Nationals final against Top Fuel's winningest driver. It would be the only time he would beat Schumacher in seven races.
 
In fact, they beat Brown like a drum for those first three seasons.
 
Maybe, Brown reasons, he was trying too hard to beat Dixon and Schumacher.
 
Maybe the same forces are at work against Torrence in his battles against Brown.
 
"You try so hard with somebody that you want to beat so bad," Brown admitted. "Steve had the car to beat us numerous times. He just messed up just like how I messed up, against like Larry Dixon and other people. And what it does is it takes you to a moment in time where you learn all I can do is what I do. And that’s what I learned from that whole deal with Larry Dixon."  

A huge series advantage means nothing more or less to Brown, he's coming to the line to win.
 
"The way Steve feels about me, I feel that about him," Brown said. "It’s not like I go up there and say, ‘I got this."
 
"[At Englishtown] I went up there and gave him my A+ level game as I do, every time. It's going to be a brawl. So when I lined up against him, I didn’t go up there and go ‘Oh, I could pass this round by cutting an .80 light’. Oh heck no, I went up there and tried to take the tree with me. I tried to take the tree and the roots so he couldn’t see."
 
MARATHON, NOT A SPRINT - If Leah Pritchett learned one lesson early in her career, it's to understand the regular season is a marathon and not a sprint.
 
Pritchett, who led the NHRA Top Fuel points earlier in the season, has now dropped to third behind Antron Brown and Tony Schumacher headed into the tenth race of the season. Peaking too early in the season is the least of her worries.
 
"If we can peak in the beginning of the season I think we can peak multiple times throughout the year," Pritchett explained. "[Fox TV pit reporter] Amanda [Busick] had asked last week if I was discouraged with qualifying last week when we weren’t on top and we weren’t in the bottom half of the field and I still have that same mentality of ‘absolutely not."
 
"I think it’s good that we had a small peak at the beginning of the season – call it small, call it big – because it shows that we can do it. So if we did it then we can do it again. But from a marathon standpoint, I’m just going to cut it up into a lot of mini sprints because I’m a terrible long distance runner and I like to sprint."
 
Learning you win some, and lose some is not hard to accept for Pritchett.
 
"I don’t think that part is tough for me to accept at all because racing for so long and understanding that, I’d actually told [Papa John founder] John Schnatter that in the off season, I think it was after we won the first two, I said “we’re doing really, really well. Not to say that’s abnormal but this is a perfect storm, a perfect case scenario; we’re not going to win them all.”
 
"He said, “well don’t say that. You won’t win them all if you don’t think you can win them all.”
 
"I said, 'touche."
 
"We go to the race every single day thinking, knowing we can win but, last time I checked with Lewis Bloom, no one's won every race of the entire season, ever."

GREAT BALLS OF FIRE - NHRA Top Fuel Harley rider Chris Smith had quite seat warming experience during Friday's Q-2 session. Smith's ride exploded an engine, forcing him to step off into a puddle of spilled nitro. He was uninjured. (Mark Rebilas Photos)



NOTHING LIKE FATHER'S DAY - Bristol Dragway became the Father's Day destination for drag racing starved fans, as well as the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series in 2010.
 
Many of those who run in the professional ranks pay homage to their fathers on this weekend.
 
Probably one of the more famous fathers racing this weekend at the NHRA Thunder Valley is a drag racer who coveted sons and ended up with daughters. And for John Force, the 16-time champion, the gender deficiency has worked well in his favor.
 
For many years, Force wasn’t able to enjoy Father’s Day with his kids.
 
Now, thanks to the career paths chosen by two of his daughters, Brittany and Courtney, he gets to spend plenty of time with them, and at his favorite place - the drag strip.
 
“In my early days, I spent a lot of Father’s Days on the road,” John Force said. “Couldn’t get home to them, and I didn’t have the money – I was driving the 18-wheeler. To be with kids that I’ve missed so much and to race with them, life’s good for me.”
 
"Being able to race against my dad on Father’s Day weekend is something that I really look forward to,” Courtney added. “Hopefully, we can give him Sunday off – that’s always the goal coming out to Bristol, to give dad the day off for Father’s Day. We’ll see what we can do.”
 
For Jeg Coughlin, Sr., there's strength in numbers. He's got two sons and a grandson racing in Bristol on Sunday.
 
“It’s been extremely exciting for me,” Coughlin said. “Drag racing has been the piece of equipment that we’ve used all of our life to keep our family excited with each other and working together, and it’s been an absolute thrill for me to see how it has developed over the years. When Father’s Day rolls around the family has been so close, and it’s been fabulous.”
 
Two-time Funny Car champion Cruz Pedregon uses the Father's Day weekend to pay homage to his father, the late "Flaming" Frank Pedregon, killed in a 1981 in an airplane crash.
 
"My brother Tony and I are keeping the family business going with Tony in the booth for FOX and me behind the wheel of a Funny Car," Pedregon said. "Drag racing is something we grew up with and a life and a sport we love sharing with all the great NHRA fans. I'm hoping lots of dads will make it a memorable Father's Day by coming out to the track and enjoying the race or getting together with family at home to watch the broadcast on TV. It's a great sport to share with your kids, and I'm sure glad my Dad shared it with me."
 
Erica Enders, also a two-time champion, uses the weekend's special nature to honor her father, a man she describes as a driving force to make her the champion she is today.
 
“My dad means everything to me and winning those two races on Father's Day weekend and being able to share that with him was awesome,” Enders said. “He's the reason I race. He's the reason I've been able to make a career out of this crazy world out here. The older I get, the more I realize the sacrifices he's made for me."
 
NO PLACE LIKE HOME - Funny Champion Matt Hagan has two race tracks within three hours of his Christiansburg, Va., home, Concord's zMax Dragway and Bristol Dragway. Between the two, the picturesque facility carved out of the mountains of eastern Tennessee is closer, and holds a special place in his heart.
 
Hagan has made himself at home the last two years at the tenth stop on the tour, winning one of the two final rounds.
 
“It doesn’t get any better,” said Hagan, who is currently second in Funny Car points. “I’ll have my boy here this weekend, my family will be here, and it’s just a blessing to have them all so close. At this race, you have so many people you grew up with that come out and watch you. They watched me race at a local level, and they’ve been able to grow with me. For them to see you do well, I think it’s a pretty special thing. Some of those people really, really care about you and your career.”
 
If home is where you lay your wins down, Hagan has been living all over the country this season. He won the first two races of the season  [Pomona and Phoenix] and followed with another two weekends ago in Epping, NH.
 
HOME GAME 2 - There are only eight racetracks where Allen Johnson hasn't won at Bristol Dragway, less than 20 minutes from his home in Greeneville, Tenn., is one of those.  
 
The only time Johnson reached the finals in Bristol, he lost what was essentially a tie drag race back in 2012, a race which went down to a .0000 margin of victory for Mike Edwards. Additionally, he's been the No. 1 qualifier three times.
 
Johnson's shortcomings pale in comparison to the fun he's had racing here since the 1970s.
 
“I love this race because this is where we get to sort of give back to all of our friends and our employees that allow us to race like we do,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of employees that have a suite and it’s always fun coming here. My dad has raced in the area since the 1960’s and it’s nice to be gelling as we head into this race. We’ve got a shot to win it for the first time.”
 

THIRD TIME IS THE CHARM? - Defending Top Fuel event champion Shawn Langdon has won this race twice in the last three years. Langdon won with Alan Johnson Racing in 2014, and with Don Schumacher Racing in 2016.  
 
Despite missing the season’s first four races before joining Kalitta Racing, Langdon is currently just one spot out of the final playoff berth in Top Fuel.


 PLAYING FAVORITES - Erica Enders doesn't sugarcoat it, she loves Bristol Dragway.
 
It's not hard to figure out why.
 
In her back-to-back championship years of 2014 and 2015, Enders took him race titles. She also has two runner-up finishes (2013 and 2011) and a No. 1 qualifying effort in 2015.
 
"Bristol is my favorite track on tour and I'm not saying that because we are here this weekend, it just is," Enders said. "I've had a lot of success there in the past and we are looking to carry our momentum from our win in Epping on through to Bristol and just do the best we can."
 
Two weekends ago in Epping, N.H., Enders broke through for her first win since the 2015 fall race in Las Vegas.
 
"We continue to feel like we're on the rise," Enders said. "Throw E-town out the window because that track was in really bad shape. The starting line was completely bald and it was freshly ground when we showed up with the worst grind job we've ever seen. If you look at the Pro Stock field collectively, from 1-10 was one hundredth of a second apart so the starting line was a huge equalizer. You couldn't be aggressive at all down low, you just had to kinda baby it through low gear to get it to go down the race track."
 
While Bristol's racing surface is upper echelon, the atmospheric conditions are not always chamber of commerce.
 
"You know it will be hot and tricky there," Enders said. "Bristol also has a few bumpy spots so it will definitely be a survival-of-the-fittest type weekend. It's okay because like I always say, I'll put my money on us every time."
 
 

PEDREGON TRENDING UPWARD – Cruz Pedregon's No. 5 qualifying spot after the first session was indicative of the upward trajectory he's been as of late.  After defeating John Force in the opening round in Englishtown, Pedregon has now climbed to 11th in the Funny Car point standings, just seven points out of the top ten.  
 
The two-time Funny Car world champ has qualified in the top seven in three of the last six races and has qualified seventh and fifth in the last two events.