The Kalitta Motorsports mosh pit was alive and well Monday afternoon.

The team was in the midst of a wild celebration after its driver J.R. Todd captured the title in the nitro Funny Car class at the prestigious U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Todd, who pilots the DHL Toyota Camry, edged reigning world champion Ron Capps in the finals. Todd clocked a 3.923-second time at 325.61 mph to defeat Capps’ 3.949-second lap at 325.53 mph.

“You win Indy, you know you have beaten the best in the sport and Ron Capps and those guys right now, they are the best in the sport,” Todd said.

The U.S. Nationals victory was extra special for Todd since he grew up in Lawrenceburg, Ind., just five minutes from the track.

“This is where it all started for me,” Todd said. “I grew up racing here when the Junior Drag Racing League got started. We got a Junior Dragster at the end of 1992 and 1993 was my first season. We would pit right behind the Top Eliminator stands and I grew up racing here weekly. To come here as a kid and watch these guys, I remember watching Capps as a kid and now I’m against him in the final round of Indy, it is too surreal.

Todd’s victory parade was comprised of wins over Brian Stewart, Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson and Capps.

This is Todd’s first Indy title and this is his second career nitro Funny Car win – his other one came at Sonoma, Calif. (July 30). Todd, who moved to the seat of a nitro Funny Car for the first time in his career this season, has nine national event wins in Top Fuel.

Todd is the third Kalitta Motorsports driver to win the U.S. Nationals. Connie Kalitta won the Top Fuel crown in 1994 and Alexis DeJoria was the Funny Car champ in 2014. The Toyota Camrys have won three of last four national events – Sonoma, Brainerd (DeJoria) and Indy.

“It’s awesome (to win for Kalitta Motorsports),” Todd said. “Connie tried so hard to win this race for years and years and years and he finally got it done. When Alexis won, that was my first year as part of the Kalitta group and that was a huge win for them. Everybody gets so tensed up for this race, it is like walking on egg shells in the entire pit area. You try and treat it like any other race, and it is not any other race. When it comes to race day, you have to be on your game on the starting line. I don’t know where some of those reaction times came from today, but we definitely had some luck on our side.”

Todd acknowledged the catalyst for his victory came last week.

“What helped us the most is the test session here (at Indy) last week,” Todd said. “We tried some things and we ran really well on the evening run Thursday and that helped produce that 3.86 in qualifying (Friday night) and that was huge for us because that got us in the top of qualifying, which is where we have been struggling all year is getting bad draws first round. I’m not saying there’s easy draws in Funny Car because there’s not by any means. It helped us get up there in the top half and get lane choice and kickstart our weekend.”

Todd heads into the six-race Countdown to the Championship eighth in the points standings. The Countdown begins Sept. 15-17 in Charlotte, N.C.

“We definitely have a shot in the Countdown,” Todd said. “These guys (Kalitta Motorsports) showed in 2015 that you just have to get hot at the right time. If we get on a tear like they did in 2015, I feel like we can beat these guys out here. I knew it was going to be hot (Monday) and I was excited about it and I thought it would play into our hands because you can’t throw out those 3.79s and 3.80s in conditions like this. If the Countdown is like this the rest of the year and I hope it is, I really think we can run with these guys.”

In 2015, Del Worsham won NHRA’s nitro Funny Car class driving for Kalitta Motorsports. Tracy Renck


BECKMAN SCORES THIRD TRAXXAS SHOOTOUT – It didn’t matter to Jack Beckman that the $100,000 he earned Sunday for his third triumph in the Traxxas Shootout was promised away before he got to ride up the return road and wave to the fans at the NHRA’s Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals.

It didn’t matter that he beat opponent Robert Hight to the finish line with a mysteriously, inexplicably broken windshield.

All that mattered was that his 3.952-second elapsed time at 324.67 mph in the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger was quicker on the 1,000-foot course at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis than Robert Hight’s 4.360, 207.11 in the Auto Club Camaro.

It was a rematch of their 2015 Traxxas Shootout final – with the same result, handing Hight his fourth consecutive runner-up finish in the bonus race that pits seven of the year’s event winners and fan-vote lottery winner.

This was Beckman’s third Traxxas Shootout victory in four years and made him perfect in every final-round appearance.

He playfully reached over to the oversized ceremonial paycheck that was made out to “Fast Jack Beckman” and scribbled on it to make the payee “Fast Jack Beckman’s Wife.” But he probably should have signed it over immediately to Don Schumacher Racing colleague Tony Schumacher. Before Beckman could pose for pictures with his bonus-race trophy in the winner’s circle, Tony Schumacher’s U.S. Army Dragster had detonated in a massive fireball.

“Beckman, you’re the man. We’re going to spend that 100-grand real quick,” Schumacher said after climbing from his seriously wounded dragster. “Don’t go buying a plane yet.”  

Beckman, who advanced past DSR mates Tommy Johnson Jr. and Ron Capps on his way to the final round, said, “Just getting in [the field] is incredibly difficult. There’s a big litany of ways to make your way into the field, but there’s only one way to get the trophy. You’ve got to beat three of the baddest fuel cars on the planet. When Courtney Force got voted in on the fan vote, you knew you had eight first-class cars in the Shootout. You’ve got eight cars not only capable of winning the Traxxas Shootout, but those eight cars also are contending for the championship at the end of the year.”

The Infinite Hero Foundation team, as well as the Make-A-Wish Foundation Dodge that Tommy Johnson Jr. drives, has been funded completely by benefactor Terry Chandler under the DSR umbrella. Chandler passed away July 4 following a bout with brain cancer, and her husband Doug has agreed to fund the team fully for the next three years. And Beckman recognized that “this is the first trophy since Terry passed away. She’ll live on in our thoughts.”

Hight beat JR Todd and boss John Force before the showdown against Beckman.

HAGAN HOLDS ONTO TOP SPOT – Saying that “today is really race-day set-up and our car ran well today and repeated itself in both laps,” Matt Hagan will be seeking to become the first to record back-to-back U.S Nationals victories from the No. 1 qualifying spot.

“I hope we can make some history tomorrow,” the Mopar Expresss/Rocky Boots Dodge Charger driver said.

He’ll start his quest against No. 16 Jim Campbell.

No one could improve on his 3.799-second performance at 338.77 mph.

He said Saturday’s effort “was all we could ask for, so I’m pretty excited about that.”

MAKE THAT SEVEN STRAIGHT TIMES – Bob Bode is aware of that cliché that insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. But after six straight traction-troubled runs and a body-cracking, burst-panel-launching concussion Saturday, he and his Funny Car team tried to back down the tune-up and “changed a bunch of things.”

However, it simply ran the number to seven.

Bode explained his Saturday problems: “It got out there to 330 feet and spun the tire, blows up, and kicks the burst panel out. It takes the body off every time we smoke the tire. Kind of disgusted. We got the spare body on it and tried to tone the car down so we don’t do that over and over and over. We’ve done it six times in a row. I was an unhappy Funny Car driver at that moment.”

The concussion cracked the body from the bumper all the way back up to the burst panel.

“And I just fixed it from Brainerd. We just got done with 15 hours of repair to come right here and do it again. We changed a bunch of things. So we’ll see,” he said Sunday morning.

“It didn’t hurt the car. It’s just the explosion stretches the body too much, more than it can handle,” he said.

He hauled out his spare body and soldiered on.

“The Toyota’s good. It was a good car. It’s run as good as a .10 [a 4.10-second elapsed time – which wouldn’t make this field at Indianapolis] before. At least we’re back together. We’ll see what our slowing down a little bit does and maybe makes us faster.”

Unfortunately, in the early Sunday pass, the fourth overall, the car smoked the tires again early in the run. The happy news is the engine didn’t blow up. Bode cut it off early. Ultimately, Bode dropped from the unqualified 17th place to dead-last in 18th. He had been trying to run quicker than 4.137 seconds and bump Justin Schriefer from the field. He had one more chance. But it didn’t help him. He and Jeff Diehl were the two racers who missed the cut.


CAPPS INCIDENT PRODUCES NO CLEAR ANSWERS – One year ago during qualifying for this race, Funny Car driver Ron Capps’ NAPA Dodge sailed off the end of the track and into the sand trap deeper than he ever had gone in 19 years in the cockpit. It flipped into the catch net. One or both of the car’s extruding body latches became tangled in the net, and as he was suspended upside down in his seat, he said he feared a fire, despite the highly professional Safety Safari’s best rescue efforts.

“They couldn’t get those [latches] out of the net. They couldn’t pull me back, nor could they turn me over,” Capps said. “The bodies are latched so well on the front and the back that it stayed on the way it’s designed to stay on. Unfortunately, with our only way out [obstructed] and me being upside down, I was trapped. There’s no kicking a window out. There’s no unbuckling and trying to kick a side window out. The side window’s so small our helmet won’t fit.

“I was worried about fire. The fuel shutoff was off, but the engine was still crackling and popping. I kept saying, ‘Just get it flipped over.’ I was just worried about fuel or oil and something erupting, mainly oil for a fire. I could see them trying to tip it over, and it wasn’t moving at all. That was alarming,” he said.

“Then the air supply started to dwindle. I was still going to be OK. But at that point you start to panic a little bit, because they’re not moving the car at all and it’s been three minutes,” he said. “It’s upside down and the oil pan’s on the bottom of the engine and now it’s on top. And oil is dripping down on hot headers. Any old-school Funny Car fire you see on highlight were 99 percent of the time because of oil that got on hot parts.

“The worst-case scenario for a Funny Car,” Capps said, “is when the body stays latched and on and you’re upside-down. Any driver’s worst nightmare is being trapped with nowhere to get out.”

Todd Okuhara, DSR’s director of racing and crew chief for Leah Pritchett’s Top Fuel team, empathized but was reassuring: “It must have been such a helpless feeling for him. I can understand that. But everybody was around him. There were probably 10 or 20 guys surrounding him. They weren’t going to let him catch fire. It just took them awhile to figure out what was the best way to attack it. He was upside down and couldn’t see anything, but outside there a ton of people surrounding him. When you’re in a situation like that, I’m sure 10 seconds feels like 10 minutes. He was safe. He just had a helpless feeling.”

Safety expert Chad Head – today Kalitta Motorsports’ Safety Director but a Funny Car driver last September – was in Capps’ pit that day at Indianapolis before Capps himself returned, seeking information about the situation. Like Okuhara, he gave the Safety Safari high marks.

“They’re prepared to do whatever it takes. You have to assess the situation. Is he on fire? He’s not on fire. Is he hurt? He says he’s not hurt. You’re not going to run out of air. I’m not saying you’re not going to be uncomfortable. Hanging upside down is not cool. But are we in any immediate danger right now? It didn’t look like it was the case,” Head said. “If he was on fire, if he was hurt, if he was knocked out, they’re going to cut the net, cut the side of the body . . . they’re going to go into a different mode. That’s what you do. I feel that if he was on fire, they would’ve done something different. They’ve got saws. They have the Jaws of Life. I think they did a good job.”

Capps believed so, too, but still had questions. And so did many observers. Cutting the net was an issue. “Why wasn’t that the first solution?” many wondered.  

But the catch-fence is netting, but it isn’t lightweight or flimsy like a badminton or volleyball net. It’s powerful, reinforced, rather bulky, and heavy. So what seemed obvious was obviously not the immediate solution.    

Okuhara only guessed why it took longer than usual to flip Capps’ car right-side-up. “The only thing I can think of is it was such an abnormal circumstance that they weren’t prepared for it,” he said. “In most cases, whatever happens, they seem to have a way to attack it.”

By the October 2016 race at Dallas, Capps said team owner Don Schumacher “has our shop working on a breakaway window, a bigger piece of our side windows, that we can knock out if we had to,” he said.

That idea stalled.

Okuhara said, “There’s been talk about it, and we had a talk with the Chrysler engineers about it, to see if they can put something into the bodies. But it hasn’t gone further than that. There’s been talk, but nothing more has been done yet.”

If the chassis relies on side rails to protect the driver, that leaves little room to accommodate a side escape panel. Monkeying around with the frame rails would compromise the security of the driver.

“That’s what it came down to,” Okuhara said. “You can’t give up any safety from what we have. It’s a great idea, but as of right now, the way everything’s configured and built, there’s no way to do it right now.”  

In the year since the incident happened to Capps here, Okuhara said DSR hasn’t introduced any other safety measures on the NAPA Dodge or any of other three company-operated Funny Cars: “Not yet. We talked about it, but we never came up with a good idea.”

Graham Light, the NHRA senior vice-president of racing operations, said Schumacher’s initial design idea sounded intriguing. “If it’s something that’s doable, we’d certainly be interested in looking at that. The way [Capps] got into the net was very challenging, so creating another exit is probably a good idea.”

Challenging, too, is the choice of options, Light said: “It’s a Catch-22: you’ve got to surround them with a roll cage, and that’s going to limit the amount of exits they have.”

Gary Densham, whose car was totaled in a tangle with the net last year at Pomona, Calif., cautioned against a hasty solution.

Remembering that “[John] Force had, for quite a while, side windows that you could knock out,” Densham said, “We have a problem now that if something happens, nothing is resolved or they [NHRA decision-makers] overkill the problem. Then we end up with a situation in that we either didn’t really get it fixed or it is so over-fixed that it’s too expensive and the average person can’t afford it. It’s almost impossible for a human being to argue against safety. Yet on the other hand, some things get over-engineered.”

Light changed the course of the conversation, saying, “We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of runs down the racetrack at 300-plus miles an hour. We’ve had multiple ‘chute failures, and these cars stop. And that one didn’t. The real question is: Why didn’t the car stop? That’s the thing our people focused on the most. It should have stopped, regardless if the parachutes opened, with the braking efficiency these cars have today. Funny Cars have four-wheel carbon-fiber brakes we mandated after the Scott Kalitta crash. You’ve got a lot of braking power there. You really do.”

Emphasizing that he was in no way criticizing Capps, Light said, “There was no evidence of those brakes locking up and [sending the car] skidding. There was no bouncing, no black tire marks when the Tech Department looked at it. There’s no reason why that car shouldn’t have stopped. It’s my understanding there’s no apparent reason as to why that car couldn’t have been stopped. The brake systems worked.”

Capps hammered on the safety aspect.

He said, “Here’s the bigger issue: If I was physically hurt, my neck was hurt, or something where time was of the essence to get to the driver, that would have been an issue. That’s three minutes or so longer than it needed to be if they needed to get to somebody who was hurt. Thankfully I was fine. Not hurt a bit. Everything did its job. But if we had somebody that was hurt inside there and incapacitated and ‘out’ and unconscious, maybe slumped over and losing their air, whatever it may be, then you have an issue. I got out on my own. They got it flipped over enough that I unbuckled and was out like a rabbit. If I’m hurt and somebody’s [unable to scramble out], they can’t get out, they have to wait until they can flip it over and get the body off of it and open it up and unbuckle and get them out. They’re not going to be able to pull them out of the roof hatch if they’re hurt. So that was a big issue.  . . . What if somebody was in there that was hurt bad and they were at the mercy of being pulled out of the car instead of being able to get out on their own?”

A year later, no clear answers have emerged to Capps questions.

But Head did have a suggestion:

“They [Safety Safari emergency personnel] have a good game plan. As racers and owners, we really need to have a good game plan. I think it’s about working as hard as we can. We work so hard to go faster. We need to work just as hard or harder to slow down and stop. If that means better brakes, if that means better parachutes, you’ve got to do it.”

STILL THE ONE - Matt Hagan leads the Funny Car field heading into day three of qualifying with his track record run of 3.799 at 338.77 during Friday’s opening qualifying run. 

“I think everyone was surprised we didn’t improve,” Hagan said. “Last night was really killer, tonight was pretty killer. You lay the runs over each other and they’re identical. It’s just wild. You’re up there splitting hairs to make these cars run. It’s a real fine line. A little here and a little there makes such a difference. We got us a hot rod though, man. It’s running good, knock on wood, with three good runs in a row. It builds confidence.” 

KEEPING PACE - Robert Hight maintained the No. 2 position in the Funny Car class after the second day of qualifying for the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals on Saturday at Lucas Oil Raceway, but improved his time significantly in drag racing’s most prestigious race.

Hight, driving the Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet Camaro SS, posted a best time of 3.807 seconds at 333.91 mph, the second -quickest time in Funny Car competition. The time came in the evening session, also the third of five sessions over three days of qualifying, and tied the second-quickest of Hight’s career, set in July at Sonoma Raceway in California.


HAGAN QUICKEST AND FASTEST – Driving a brand-new chassis with only three runs on it, Matt Hagan became only the second driver to run in the 3.70s Friday evening during the first round of qualifying at the 63rd annual Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway. It came just a couple of weeks after Robert Hight became the first to do so, two weeks ago at Brainerd, Minn. Hagan posted a 3.799-second elapsed time at a class-fastest 338.77 mph to top Funny Car qualifying.

“What a fun ride to hang on to,” an excited Hagan said. “It is out there digging, it is floating, it is hunting and you are just trying not to make too many moves on a run like that. Obviously, we missed the 70s, just barely. We were the first in the 90s, first in the 80s, and then second in the 70s. That is just how it goes sometimes. But it is also what drives you to be the best you can be.”

Hagan said team owner Don Schumacher gave his crew chiefs permission to swing for the fences.

“The boss gave the OK tonight. We have another run on Saturday, so the crew chiefs were told to get after it,” Hagan said. “That is one thing Dickie [crew chief Venables] knows how to do is get after it. That is only the third hit on that chassis. We came out here with a brand-new pipe, tested it, made two hits and Dickie says put it in the box. We pull back out here at the Nationals and it runs a 79. To the guys at the fab shop at DSR, the guys and girls putting everything together, this speaks volumes.” – Larry Crum

FUNNY CAR AT A GLANCE – Just 60 points separate the Nos. 10 and 14 drivers in the Funny Car standings. Alexis De Joria claimed the tentative final spot in the Countdown to the Championship standings, bumping Cruz Pedregon from among the eligible drivers with her victory in the most recent event, two weeks ago at Brainerd, Minn.

Pedregon, the two-time Funny Car champion, took it in stride. "We were hoping to go into Indianapolis in the top 10, but that final playoff berth was always going to come down to who runs the best and goes the furthest at the U.S. Nationals.  We're 12 points down heading into the weekend and now it's basically a winner-take-all playoff to get into the playoffs. If we deserve to get into the top 10, we will get in."

Off the grid but still in contention are No. 12 Jim Campbell, No. 13 Jonnie Lindberg, and No. 14 Del Worsham.

Six Funny Car drivers are locked into the six-race playoffs. In order they are Ron Capps, Robert Hight, Matt Hagan, Tommy Johnson Jr., Jack Beckman, and Courtney Force.

CAMPBELL’S SOUPED UP – Jim Campbell, in his first full season at Jim Dunn Racing, indicated he isn’t at all nervous about competing on drag racing’s biggest stage.

Go out there and compete against those John Force Racing and Don Schumacher racing cars that are definitely at the top of the pack right now.

The 55-year-old racer from Huntington Beach, Calif., is in 12th place, trailing No. 11 Cruz Pedregon by only 28 points. Campbell is 40 away from Alexis De Joria, who enters this race on the Countdown bump spot.

“I’m absolutely looking forward to this,” Campbell said before qualifying began. “We need to go at least two rounds. One, we need to qualify and, two, we need to go rounds if we want to get in that top 10 spot. But I couldn’t be more thrilled and excited. This is the Super Bowl of drag racing and to be in contention, racing in a sport with the best drivers in the world, I couldn’t be more excited to have a shot.”

TODD GETS COMFY WITH HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS – Top Fuel convert JR Todd said he’s getting more and more comfortable in Kalitta Motorsports’ DHL Funny Car – so much so he said he’s ready to put his new-ride struggles behind him and focus solely on pursuing victories. And he said two days of testing last week lifted his spirits after his sluggish Funny Car debut. It has been feast or famine this season for the Lawrenceburg, Ind., native. In 17 races, he has had nine opening-round exits and six Round 2 finishes – and he has a victory, at Sonoma, Calif. After winning that race, he lost in the first round twice. So Todd was looking for some nugget of positive news when he took to the Lucas Oil Raceway dragstrip in the pre-U.S. Nationals test-and-tune. And he found it.

“I like to think we hit on something at the test session, for sure,” Todd said, referring to his 4.024-second elapsed time the first day and his follow-up 3.899 the next. “We had our best numbers all season long, so it’s definitely showing that we’re going in the right direction. The car wasn’t even tuned up for the numbers that it produced. So that gives us hope going into this weekend. Hopefully in the Countdown, we’ll go out there and compete against those John Force Racing and Don Schumacher Racing Funny Cars that are definitely at the top of the pack right now.”

He said the DHL crew has “made some changes over the season, getting me more and more comfortable in the car, whether it’s a seat or moving the steering and just a lot of different things. Finally [I’m] getting a handle on it.”

Maybe he’ll start to become less harsh on himself. “Me, I come back from every round and tell everybody what I’m doing wrong, what I could do better,” Todd said. Accused of being “Chad Head-like” in that regard, Todd grinned and said, “He’s my guy. He’s the first one to come up and tell me what he thinks I can do better. He’s always videoing my runs for me. It’s nice to have him in our corner and on my side.” Head parted ways with his father’s Funny Car operation and took a position as Kalitta Motorsports’ Director of Safety. Earlier this year he subbed for the absent Alexis De Joria for a couple of races in the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry. Todd said Head is “a guy I look up to, him and Del Worsham. That’s who I go to for help.” Worsham, the two-time NHRA champion, took the opportunity this season to race once again with father Chuck but remains close to the Kalitta Motorsports family for whom he served as a championship driver and crew chief. “He’s not with the team,” Todd said of Worsham, “but it’s like he’s a satellite Kalitta car. He can com e over and get help or parts when he needs to. He’s a great guy and a great friend. And I’m thankful I have him on my side, as well.”      

COURTNEY FORCE HAS DOUBLE MISSION - Courtney Force said repeating her Traxxas Nitro Shootout for Funny Cars victory is “definitely not going to be easy.” But at least she has chance to do that, thanks to the fan-vote lottery that a John Force Racing team member has won for six straight years. The Advance Auto Parts driver earned the eighth and final spot Wednesday for the $100,000-to-win bonus race. She will meet top seed Ron Capps in the first round of the race-within-a-race event that unfolds during qualifying sessions Sunday. The lottery-style drawing took place on downtown Indianapolis’ Monument Circle during an NHRA-hosted press conference. She led the fan vote for the right to enter the lottery, gathering 50 percent of the votes cast.

The opening round of the Traxxas Shootout is set for 12:45 p.m. (ET) Sunday. The second round is expected to go at 2:45 p.m. and the final at 4:40 p.m. Wednesday’s lottery-drawing victory marked the third time Courtney Force has made the eight-driver Traxxas Shootout field three times (2012, 2015, 2017). Sister Brittany won it twice (2013, 2014) for the Top Fuel version of the Traxxas Shootout, and dad John Force was last year’s lottery winner for the Funny Car bonus race.

Although she grew up in Southern California, Force said she knows the significance of this Labor Day classic drag race: “I knew this was a big deal, even as a little kid, that this was the biggest race of the season. Everyone knows just to be out here, just to be qualified for the U.S. Nationals, and to have a car that is competitive in this race, is such a huge accomplishment. I grew up watching my dad compete in this race as a little kid, and this is the race that ends summer and starts that battle for the title. I’m so excited to be a part of this race. There’s so much attention that goes into this race. Obviously, it is Indianapolis, the heart of racing.”  She said it’s “exciting for fans. It’s two races in one. It’s a double feature. They’re seeing some of the top drivers in the world come here and compete because it is Indianapolis, because it is the U.S. Nationals.”

Her best result here was a semifinal finish in 2014. She also earned her career-first No. 1 qualifying position here in 2012. John Force has won the U.S. Nationals four times, teammate Robert Hight has done so three times, and sister Ashley Force Hood has won in both the sportsman and professional ranks. Courtney Force will be trying to give JFR its 13th Indianapolis crown.

“To be able to tell people that you’ve won the U.S. Nationals takes you to a whole new level,” Force said. “We hope to get that job done and walk away with the U.S. Nationals victory for the first time. I want to do it because I’ve seen my dad do it multiple times, my sister Ashley, other teammates. We’ve got a great hot rod. We haven’t gotten a win yet, but to get the first one of the year here, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

THEY’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER . . . – Robert Hight posted the class’ quickest elapsed time (3.793 seconds) and has three of the 10 quickest – all of which came this summer (at Epping, N.H.; Sonoma, Calif.; and Brainerd, Minn.). He also owns the fastest speed in NHRA history (339.87 mph, Sonoma) and six of the top 10 Funny Car speeds (all of which he clocked this season, at Topeka, Epping, Sonoma, and Brainerd). Thanks in part to two Western Swing races, Hight is fourth on the all-time Funny Car victories list (39), behind John Force (148), Ron Capps (55), and retired driver/FOX TV analyst Tony Pedregon (43).

But what many might have overlooked about Hight this year is the fact he has come from as far back as 10th place to No. 2 in the standings as this final race of the so-called “regular season” approaches.

And no matter what achievements Hight earns, the one feat that will distinguish him always is his 2009 run to the title. That’s when he came from the 10th and final qualifying spot in the Countdown field to claim his lone championship. Ever since, bottom-half playoff qualifiers have cited Hight’s performance as hope for their own chances. And Hight said, “It’s a good thing.”

But he cautioned, “Things have changed since 2009. The competition is a lot better. The cars are more bunched up [in the standings]. So to do what we did in 2009, I think you would have win at least four races in the [six-race] Countdown. And we won three that year. So four of six? That’s a tall order.”

LARSEN, NEW TEAM PREPARING TO DEBUT IN 2018 – Veteran nitro tuner and consultant Lance Larsen has a new project: helping organize a Funny Car team that plans to debut next season in a limited run.

“A group of friends of mine from the nostalgia side of things has decided to race what they a ‘big show car.’ They bought what was left of Tony Pedregon’s car stuff – no engine stuff. They proceeded to go to the Lucases and buy some more stuff. And we’re slowly but surely putting it together. The plan is to finish it toward the end of this year and test and get the licenses done. The two gentlemen who own it are Richard Townsend and Dustin Davis, Central Californians who have raced nostalgia Funny Cars for five or six years. They really have a passion for the sport, and it’s something they want to do,” Larsen said.

“When it’s done, it’ll run a very limited season. The deal is to grow into a team that runs all of them, which requires a lot of funding,” he said. “Six would be pretty aggressive for these two guys. We’re building the team with what we consider to be the best equipment – I’m not going to say ‘the best equipment we can afford’ – the best equipment, period. They bought all new clutch-management equipment, all new superchargers from the Lucases. Everything they bought is first-cabin. We’re juts not going to have the depth of the bigger teams, and were going to have to go out and run and then go back home and fix it. And we’re not going to do what West Coast teams do, only run up and own the West Coast. We’re going to try to run once a month or every six weeks at the longest so that every time you run you don’t have to retrain yourself.”

The operation is based in Oakdale, Calif., hometown of John and the late Eric Medlen. “It’s 120 miles east of Oakland in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, on the road to go to Yosemite [National Park],” Larsen said. “It’s a really nice area, very friendly town. It’s pretty big – 20,000 people. I’m enjoying it there – really great people. The crew guys have been with Richard for a while. They’re coming over from the nostalgia side. It’s all volunteer.”

Larsen, who’ll serve as crew chief, has worked with such NHRA favorites as Clay Millican, Chris Karamesines, Jeb Allen, Rhonda Hartman-Smith, John “Bodie” Smith, Richard Hartman, Joe Amato, Dean Skuza, and Bobby Baldwin.