BRITTANY EMOTIONAL IN HOUSTON TOP FUEL WIN - Brittany Force could hardly hold back the emotions as she exited her dragster Sunday afternoon.
In one day, the defending NHRA Top Fuel champion managed to erase what has been a season of heartbreak, frustration, and disappointment with four consecutive round wins at the NHRA Springnationals at Royal Purple Raceway, located outside of Houston, Texas.
Force debuted a new dragster replacing the one she crashed at the season-opener and likewise showcased renewed enthusiasm befitting a world champion.
"This is a big win for our team," Force said, as she fought back the emotion. "Everything that we've been through since Pomona ... it was not easy to get back in the car. You dream of this, this is what pushes you. It pushes your team.
"It's because of this Monster team, they've always had my back. This is a big win for us; I am very proud."
Force, who up until this weekend had only one 2018 round win to her credit, stopped an upset-minded Terry McMillen in the final round.
“That emotion is built off of the championship," Force admitted. "It was built off of Pomona this season. Leaving Pomona last season we were on a huge high. We won the championship and that is something every driver dreams about. We were able to do that and then coming out to the opening race of the season at the same track in Pomona it was the ultimate low. It was really tough in Phoenix getting back in that car.
"My guys knew it and for me I didn’t care about winning the race. All I cared about was getting back in the car and making runs. Gainesville was game on and Pomona is behind us. This is a huge surprise because looking at last season we got our first win a lot later in the year. This win is big for us. It puts Pomona behind us and it pushes us towards another championship.”
“I feel great now. I am back in the gym but not 100% back.”
Ironically, Force and McMillen will forever be linked in their careers. It was in 2016, she beat McMillen in the finals of the NHRA Gatornationals to win her first-career Top Fuel race. Two races later, McMillan crashed his dragster in Houston.
Fast-forward to October 2017, McMillen stopped Force at the Vegas-2 event to score his first career NHRA Top Fuel race win. Two races later, Force crashed her dragster in Pomona.
Time heals all wounds.
Force jumped off to a great start, pacing Friday's qualifying sessions. She fell to No. 2 with a 3.701 behind Leah Pritchett, who took the top spot.
Today's victory was not exacty four rounds of smooth sailing. Force, in her first round match against Terry Haddock, experienced a considerable engine explosion in the victory.
“I feel like all the runs were a handful," Force said. "It has been quite a ride all weekend. Every single run it was moving around a lot. It is a good learning experience.”
Force then scored wins over Doug Kalitta and Tony Schumacher before settling into the final round match with McMillen. She launched first on McMillen and led him through the traps with a 3.762, 299.46 to a 3.818, 311.56.
For his part, McMillen qualified in the No. 12 spot with a 3.783 best elapsed time. He then methodically worked his way through his side of the ladder taking out Antron Brown, Billy Torrence and No. 1 qualifier Pritchett.
The victory vaulted Force into the seventh spot in the championship points, with McMillen climbing into ninth.
The victory also ensured each member of the four-driver John Force Racing team has now won at Royal Purple Raceway.
"“That is something special," Force said. "We will all share that. We have all won here. Now this track is really a special place for us.” Bobby Bennett
TODD STAYS HOT, WINS FUNNY CAR TITLE IN HOUSTON - Before Sunday, J.R.Todd had never beaten reigning world champion Robert Hight in NHRA nitro Funny Car eliminations in four attempts.
That’s not the case anymore.
Todd, who pilots the DHL machine for Kalitta Motorsports, defeated Hight in the final round of the SpringNationals near Houston Sunday.
Todd clocked a 3.955-second time at 313.29 mph to upend Hight’s 3.993-second effort at 308.14 mph.
This is Todd’s second national event win in a row as he also won the Four-Wide event in Las Vegas. Todd now has 13 career national event wins - nine in Top Fuel and four in Funny Car. This is Todd’s second season driving a Funny Car.
“It’s nice to have this much momentum early in the season, because we struggled really bad last year,” Todd said. “We didn’t really turn around our season until probably the Western Swing. I feel like we started picking up momentum around Denver last year, and then we fell on our faces again. It’s nice to come out swinging like we are and winning races. That definitely makes Connie (Kalitta) happy and it keeps team morale up. It’s good all around. I didn’t expect to have this kind of success (in a Funny Car) especially this early in the season.”
With his latest win, Todd moved up to sixth in the point standings.
“It is nice to keep moving up in the points,” he said. “It feels like every year I have been out here competing in the Countdown I’ve always been in or around the cut line. Hopefully, we can keep this going, and stay up there in points. That would be nice.”
Todd’s victory parade Sunday consisted of wins over Tommy Johnson Jr., Jeff Diehl, Tim Wilkerson and Hight.
“I’m just happy to get a win,” Todd said. “We show up every weekend trying to get a win and we will take them however we can get them.”
Todd did acknowledge he truly appreciates getting to be a part of the Kalitta Motorsports team, which also consists of Funny Car driver Shawn Langdon and Top Fuel drivers Doug Kalitta and Richie Crampton.
“These guys are all my buddies and we can bounce information off each other and we have each other’s back,” Todd said. “It is awesome to work with a team like Kalitta Motorsports. All the crew chiefs get along and work well together and I think that is a big key to our success, especially with two Funny Cars.”
Throughout qualifying Todd didn’t look like the driver to beat Sunday.
“We couldn’t get our car to run good enough early,” Todd said. “You really needed to find as much power early as you could in the run before you got on the asphalt because you knew it was going to spin the tires out there and there was really nothing you could do about it. We didn’t qualify as well as we wanted to but we went down the track three out of four runs in qualifying. We just missed it there Friday night. We are getting to that point in the season where the night run is crucial just to get your qualifying spot. But, I feel like the runs we made in the heat in qualifying helped us (Sunday).” Tracy Renck
HARTFORD CELEBRATES FIRST CAREER NHRA PRO STOCK WIN - The long, long wait is over for Matt Hartford.
Hartford debuted in NHRA’s Pro Stock class in 2006 and finally in his 80th race in the class he captured his first career Wally Sunday at the SpringNationals near Houston.
Hartford clocked a 6.522-second time at 211.36 mph to defeat two-time world champion Erica Enders’ 6.570-second lap in the finals at Royal Purple Raceway.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Hartford, who made his inaugural appearance in the finals. “I have let the clutch out a few times and I’ve lost way more than I have ever won. We struggled in qualifying and we qualified 11th and we should have qualified third or fourth. The best air was Friday night and we completely missed the setup. We started in the back of the field and had to work our way through.”
Hartford pilots the Total Seal Chevy Camaro. He was a 66th career NHRA Pro Stock national event winner. The Arizona driver on Sunday beat Chris McGaha, Tanner Gray and Jeg Coughlin and Enders.
“We earned this,” Hartford said. “I didn’t leave on any of them. Let’s just make this clear they all left on me. We just did a better job with our car today than the other teams.”
Hartford acknowledged his was considering not competing in Pro Stock this season.
“Over the winter I was done,” he said. “I said I’m not coming back and Richard Freeman called me and said we need cars and you will have good power, you will have as good of power as what we have. The joke in our pits is I have his fifth-best motor, well his fifth-best motor is as good as his best motor. That’s the joke I always tell Richard if I had your real power we could really do something. When you have horsepower, this is fun. When you struggle like I have for so many years and have carnage and don’t have power the fun starts going away.”
Hartford was quick to credit his team for his car’s performance.
“My crew is all part time, they all have day jobs, including myself,” he said. “We are some of the closest-knit people you can bring together. We have a good time out here. To us, this is not work. We have a great time, we go out and we have a nice dinner, we have a couple of beers and we get up in the morning and we’re excited to be here. Without those guys working as hard as they do, I wouldn’t be here. My driving is not why we won today, that is a fact.”
Hartford has competed in three of the five NHRA races this season and had one round win in Las Vegas before this weekend.
“When we left Vegas, we thought we had a really good car setup,” Hartford said. “Our when we came here (to Houston) was to try and go to the pole. Om Friday night that’s exactly what we tried to do, and we made the wrong call. Even though we lost in the semis in Las Vegas, we had a lot of direction that we felt would be beneficial, so we came to Houston and I’m glad I did.”
In the finals against Enders, Hartford knew he had a hefty challenge in front of him.
“I knew I couldn’t leave on her, she is as good as it gets and I’m not that good,” Hartford said. “But, we were able to tune the car and we had enough power to drive around her at the end.”
The next national events on the schedule are the Four-Wide Nationals April 27-29, in Charlotte, N.C., and the Southern Nationals May 4-6 in Atlanta, but Hartford doesn’t plan on being at either one.
“The next race we are scheduled to go to is Topeka (Kan., May 18-20), and there are two races between that race,” Hartford said. “I know I’m going to get a lot of pressure to Charlotte and I’m probably not going to go to Charlotte. It doesn’t matter because the next time we unload that car we know that we have a car that can win.” Tracy Renck
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - NEW NITRO ATOP THE LEADERBOARD; ANDERSON HOLDS ON
BEEN ONE OF THOSE SEASONS - In drag racing there are no provisionals, just ask 16-time champion John Force.
Force was unable to qualify for Sunday’s eliminations, which is the first time since Charlotte 2008 that he did not advance past the qualifying rounds. He sat sixth overall on the career qualifying records with 221 consecutive events prior to Houston.
“That is hard for me. You earn what you get. We didn’t put it in the show. We couldn’t get to half-track,” said Force. “We have had a lot of problems all year. At least I got my final shot to get in, and I didn’t make it. I will be here tomorrow rooting on Robert, Courtney, and Brittany. I’ll be signing autographs for all the fans.”
Force had not suffered a DNQ since Sept. 13, 2008 when he failed to make the show at the NHRA Carolina Nationals at Charlotte. Saturday’s stumble was just the 22nd of the Hall of Famer's 40-year pro career and his first in the Peak Coolant and Motor Oil Chevrolet Camaro. Force set a drag racing record by qualifying for 395 consecutive events from 1988 until April 2007.
“I am bummed that the boss didn’t get in. That was quite a streak he had going,” added No. 1 qualifier and teammate Hight. “There is nobody better at rallying a team and leading a comeback than John Force. He loves the fight and he will do whatever it takes to get his team back on top. It really isn’t something to worry about because two of our Chevys are No.1 and No. 2 right now. We have good combinations and we just have to duplicate one."
SARGE MARCHES ON - Tony Schumacher ran consistently strong throughout qualifying, landing third with a 3.703, 319.75 best. He earned bonus points in every session.
"The car is fine, the track is challenging, but we need to race on it," Schumacher said. "So we have to learn, somehow, to slow it down a bit and we’re just struggling with that. As we get to race day, it's going to come to us a little bit. It should be building rubber. Our early numbers are just fine. Leah made an exceptional run on that. She was 6-mph faster at halftrack, so they did a great job stepping it up and we just missed it by a little bit – we’re just partially smoking the tires. But it’s all good.
"I’m as comfortable as I’ve ever been going into race day. I think the Army team is doing a great job. We earned a lot of points during qualifying. Now, we just have to win. I’m tired of just getting close. Mike (Neff, crew chief) is tired of just getting close. The whole U.S. Army team is tired of just getting close. It’s time to go out and get it done tomorrow.”
EL GENERAL, EL NUMERO UNO - Jose Gonzalez secured the No. 1 qualifying position Saturday during the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service portion of the NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway. This weekend’s Pro Mod racing, presented by Tige Boats, is the third of 12 events this season.
Gonzalez ran a 5.69-second pass at 257.78 mph in the second qualifying session on Friday to take the No. 1 position. This is his first career No. 1 qualifier at his second NHRA event.
“I’m just happy to be here,” Gonzalez stated. “Honestly, I didn’t think my run would hold. We were just focused on making consistent runs today because I think that consistency is what’s going to win this thing.”
Gonzalez will face-off against Danny Rowe in the first round of eliminations.
KINDA-SORTA HEADED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION - Tim Wilkerson clocked a best time of 3.925-second at 311.41 mph to move all the way up to the No. 6 position during the final day of qualifications.
"The car is parked outside there, and I shut the door so it wouldn't hear me say this, but it's really showing some good signs," Wilkerson explained. "I don't want to ever brag about the thing, but it's going nice and straight, and the guys are working hard on it. It would be lovely if we could win a round of racing tomorrow."
Wilkerson is in the majority of drivers trying to find a groove in the new asphalt at Royal Purple Raceway.
"The car acts different when the track is good; it's all the header push and how different it is," Wilkerson said. "We just have to learn how to run it. You think about it, we haven't been on an 80-degree racetrack since Pomona. We're still working on it, but after the first run today, looking over it, it was real nice and safe. It looked good. I was trying to go 3.95 and it went 3.96.
"I told Richard [Hartman, co-crew chief] well, now we're gonna try to go 3.90-flat. He asked me if I thought it would do that, and I said I thought so. Well, it would have, but it got through the clutch in the middle and then spun really bad out at the other end. We ended up with a 3.92. If it wouldn't have gotten through the clutch, it would have been real close to a 3.90."
Wilkerson will race Shawn Langdon in the first round.
"There aren't any good draws out here," said Wilkerson, who has one win (2004) in three previous Royal Purple Raceway final rounds. His most recent final here was in 2016, the same year he claimed the Houston pole. "Who do you go up there and say, 'I would sure like to race that guy?' We'll see what we can do tomorrow, but I'm looking forward to it. It could really be a good day."
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - PRO STOCK IS FINDING IT'S GROOVE WHILE FUEL CARS FACE CHALLENGES
ANDERSON BRINGS OUT 6.4-SECOND SWAGGER - You would have thought Greg Anderson was back to running carburetors on his Pro Stocker.
Anderson reset both ends of the track record and raced to the pole during Friday qualifying and upped the ante in the Q-2 session.
"You don't get conditions like this but maybe once or twice every year, if you're lucky," said Anderson, who was No. 1 in Houston in 2004 and 2016. "It just puts a smile on your face, and you lick your chops. We don't have a supercharger where we can influence the air and speed up the blower if we have bad conditions outside. We're just dependent on what Mother Nature gives us. These are the conditions that Pro Stock racers love."
If the No. 1 should hold through two additional rounds of qualifying on Saturday, the driver who is racing in his 20th anniversary season will secure the 96th pole of his career, third at Royal Purple Raceway, and third consecutive on the season.
In the first round of qualifying, the driver of the red Summit Racing Chevrolet Camaro clocked a 6.492-second pass at 213.00 mph that reset both ends of the Royal Purple Raceway track record. The pass was also the ninth quickest since Electronic Fuel Injection was mandated at the beginning of the 2016 season in place of old-school carburetors to provide fuel to the naturally aspirated Pro Stock engines.
"This was a great day for me, and I've got a bracket car out there," said Anderson, who clocked a best-of-the-round 6.495, 212.29 in the later session. "I'm really happy about it. If the forecast for tomorrow holds off and the rain doesn't come, it's going to be cool conditions again, and you won't see a lot of sun – if any. This deal is not over, the top spot is not secure, but the bottom line is that we've got a great car. It's like money in the bank. Now we don't go up there conservative. You can go for broke, you go up there and try to run faster because you've got nothing to lose."
SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE - John Force has had one of those seasons already, and we're only five races into 2018. As the sixteen-time NHRA Funny Car champions admits, "In the first three races, I had logged more miles in the ambulance than in my race car."
Four destroyed Funny Car bodies later, Force believes he's on the other side of the storm.
“We have been testing, and we figured some of our problems out," Force said. "We ran well in Las Vegas at the Four-Wide and didn’t have any issues. That is a step in the right direction. We stayed and tested after that race, and I feel good about our chances."
Currently, 11th in the NHRA Mello Yello points standings, Force is only narrowly outside the top 10 by 18 points. After a series of races that required Force to pull out multiple car bodies and motors, he's looking to build on his second round finish at the inaugural Las Vegas Four-Wide Nationals where he made six successful passes.
“We moved up in the points some in Las Vegas. We aren’t going to win the championship this weekend, but we need to start running better and winning rounds,” Force said.
Force has won seven times at Royal Purple Raceway, more than any other professional drag racer in any category, and he also has nine No. 1 qualifiers. Force’s 100th NHRA victory also came at the NHRA Springnationals in 2002.
THE TEXAS NO-STEP - Steve Torrence could quit racing today, and he's amassed quite the career. The past NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster champion has won the big races including the NHRA U.S. Nationals Top Fuel title the most coveted title in drag racing as well as the $50,000-to-win Traxxas Top Fuel Shootout.
Torrence reached the finals of 11 races, winning eight times during a stellar 2017 season. Those eight races represented half of his career national event victories at that point.
Torrence became the first Top Fuel driver this season to win two events when he won earlier this month in Las Vegas.
Still, his accomplishments, which are many, would be incomplete considering the proud Texan has never won a Top Fuel event in his home state.
"We’ve been racin’ in California, Arizona and Florida,” Torrence said. “So it’s great to get back in Texas. Houston and Dallas are the only two home games for us, so we’d really like to finally win one. We’ve been to the finals a lot, but we’ve never hoisted the trophy – not yet, anyway.”
Torrence, who is from Kilgore, Texas, uses this event and the NHRA Fallnationals outside of Dallas to entertain family and friends including co-workers at Capco Contractors, Inc.
“We love it that we have so many people supporting us," Torrence explained. "I love having friends here including Tara Kyle and everyone from the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation who do such great work for veterans and first responders.
“The downside is that there are more distractions than there are at the other races. There are so many people you want to spend time with; you just have to maintain focus, manage your time and remember that the there’s still a race to run.”
FATHER KNOWS BEST - Billy Torrence is racing for the third time this season.
Torrence, the elder of the two Torrences in Top Fuel this weekend, drove his dragster to the semifinals at Phoenix before outqualifying his son two weeks ago in Las Vegas.
“I love racing with my dad – and against him,” admitted the younger Torrence. “Drag racing always has been a family deal for us. We’re both really competitive. That semifinal at Phoenix (in which he beat his dad by .003 of a second) was awesome. He was out there trying to kick my butt.
“If he gets another chance (to do that), I hope it’s in the final on Sunday.”
TAKING A BREAK - Del Worsham plans to park his Funny car following this weekend's race, while he searches for additional funding. He has plans for a return to NHRA competition at the Toyota NHRA Sonoma Nationals, July 27-29 at Sonoma Raceway in California. If funding can be secured in the interim, the team will be ready to compete immediately.
Worsham has competed at all four NHRA Mello Yello national events prior to Houston, with backing from a consortium of associate sponsors, and has compiled a round record of 2-4 while earning 167 points, good enough for the No. 10 spot in the standings. His 2018 Toyota Camry has been consistent and fast at the prior two races, in Gainesville and Las Vegas, but the full-time search for additional marketing partners will be his primary focus moving forward.
“In some ways it’s one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made, but in other ways it’s one of the easiest,” Worsham said. “I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re underfunded and kind of piecing this thing together. We had a little bit of a rough start, performance wise, in Pomona and Phoenix but we fixed the issues and we've been really consistent and real contenders at the last two races. I expect no less here in Houston.
“What I need now is time. These cars are expensive to run, even when things go perfectly, and in addition to that they consume almost all of your time when you have a small organization like ours. I work on it, service it, drive the transporter, tune it, and I drive it. My dad and I have a very talented, loyal, and hard-working crew, but I need to put 100 percent of my focus into continuing some conversations we’re having with a number of companies that already see what we have to offer. Hopefully, we can start a few additional conversations, as well. We will have the car ready to go, so if we can land a partnership we’ll be able to race at a moment’s notice. Otherwise, we’ll aim for Sonoma.”
The veteran driver and tuner is assisted by his father Chuck and a small crew. He is one of only three drivers to ever win the NHRA World Championship in both Top Fuel (2011) and Funny Car (2015), along with Kenny Bernstein and Gary Scelzi.
In 2017, Worsham returned to the family operation, racing with his father Chuck and much of their current crew.
“I made that decision with my heart and I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Worsham said. “This is what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. A lot of it felt like 1996 all over again, but it’s family and I wanted to race with my dad. I’ve won two championships and a lot of races, but the next bucket-list item was doing that with my dad. If any of the conversations we’re having right now turn into a major partnership, that company is going to be working with a championship-caliber team that’s ready to go.”
FINDING HER WAY BACK - Erica Enders' back-to-back championship seasons of 2014 - 2015 seem like a distant memory. It's been a struggle ever since.
The 22-time event winner and her Elite Motorsports Pro Stock team had a strong test session before the most recent race in Las Vegas, but it didn’t translate to results. Still, Enders remains impressed with how her team continues to push forward. Enders knows nobody in the group will stop working until a solution – and plenty of race wins – come their way.
“Hopefully we can make a turn in Houston,” Enders said. “We’re either stubborn or we have zero quit. For a year and a half, we’ve fought to get better. We’re not making excuses, but it’s just been an uphill climb. We’re not pleased with where we’re at, but there’s not any quit in any of us. Really, half the battle is believing and I’m optimistic about what’s to come. Regardless of performance, our team is going to dig deep and work hard, and that speaks volumes about their character.”
A victory in Houston would be a welcome return to form for Enders, who has one win over the past two years, and would give the Pro Stock class its fifth different winner in as many races this season.
“We’re definitely hopeful that Houston is our turning point,” Enders said. “Whatever comes our way, we’re going to face it head-on. The races get more frequent, and heat plays a big role in Pro Stock as well. I feel like we’ve got good track management skills and we can get a handle on it.”
Enders is pulling double-duty while also competing in the Pro Modified division with an Elite Performance turbocharged Camaro.
So why a Pro Mod car? In addition to being a good way to promote Elite Performance's engine capabilities, it's another way for Enders to get behind the wheel. The Pro Stock star has dabbled in Super Gas the last couple of seasons for Elite, and it's clear she loves to drive.
"I've always wanted to do it," Enders said. "Just for fun. I'll race anything. It's fast, it's exciting. The procedure is actually quite simple compared to a Pro Stock car."
WELCOME BACK - Rodger Brogdon, who competed in NHRA’s Pro Stock from 2007-2015, has a new company building aerospace parts, and what better way to get the word out than by drag racing.
After taking some time off, Brogdon returned this weekend with a Camaro out of the KB Racing camp.
“I would not be telling the truth if I didn’t say I missed it,” Brogdon said. “Racing was such a big part of my life, so I figured I would run this weekend and see how it goes and maybe run two or three more races before the year is over and make a decision on whether I want to race next year or not.”
Brogdon last competed – or even attended an NHRA drag race for that matter – in Chicago July 9-12.
“KB Racing is providing the car and I am going to show up and drive,” Brogdon said. “They are a great bunch of guys over there and I’m glad I get to do it with them. We talked at the first of the year about me coming back out maybe in the middle of the year. I have so many things going on in my life right now with the businesses I’m running. I have a new manufacturing business and we are making a lot of parts for the aerospace industry. I’m really busy with that and I told them (KB Racing) maybe I will just race the Houston race and hopefully a couple of more before the year is over and I will make a decision for next year. I haven’t been to one dragstrip since my last race. I thought it would be good if I stayed away.”
Brogdon is running the Camaro formerly driven by reigning world champion Bo Butner drove last year.
Brogdon, who has three career NHRA Pro Stock wins, resides in nearby Tomball, Texas, making Purple Royal Raceway his home track. He won his first NHRA Pro Stock race in Bristol, Tenn., in 2013. He also won at Reading, Pa., (2014) and in Phoenix (2015).
LEGENDS IN THE HOUSE - The NHRA's Legends tour rolls into town this weekend for it's third stop enabling race fans to interact with a few of the most renowned names in drag racing during the NHRA Legends Tour. This weekend's meet-and-greets, autograph sessions, and a variety of other activities. Legends include Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen and Richard Tharp.
"It’s good that [NHRA] recognizes you as a legend," McEwen said. I guess that’s what we are, and I guess they figured they’d better hurry up and do it while there’s still a few of them alive. I keep telling them, you know I’m 81, so I told them 81’s the new 80. I like seeing my fans when I’m around the country, and we had a lot of them.
McEwen plans to make at least eight more of the Legends appearances this season.
"You know what’s fun, is the generations," McEwen admitted. "All these people have come, sometimes there are three generations of people, the father and his kids and that kid’s kids. They’ll come, and the kids will have a little Hot Wheel car in their hand, and it’s completely worn out, you can’t tell which car it was. It’s been passed down, and a lot of the families, one of the kids was a Mongoose fan, one was a Snake fan."
LOOKING FOR A FOURTH - Three-time e3 NHRA Pro Modified champion Rickie Smith is looking for his fourth title. Last month, the decorated doorslammer pilot who has won titles in three different race series, provided himself with a major boost by winning the season-opener in Gainesville, Fla.
“The biggest thing in Gainesville was we made four good runs in a row (during eliminations),” said Smith, who has 12 career NHRA Pro Mod wins since the class was officially recognized as a series. “We’ve been struggling with the automatic and we haven’t figured out how to be consistent. But we got lucky and ran our own pace in Gainesville.
Smith tested his clutch combination at the Texas Motorplex on Wednesday before headed to Houston. He ran the clutch on Friday, due to the uncertainty of the weather on Saturday.
Smith missed a handful of early-season races a year ago, eliminating any chance he had for a world title. He finished with a win in eight races on the season and a ninth-place point finish but seems intent on improving on that in 2018. Even with decades of success and championships in multiple categories, Smith remains motivated for more wins and titles, in part because of the incredible competition he’s currently facing off with in the class.
“I’ve been saying it my whole life, but when you hate to lose as bad as I do, it makes you work harder,” Smith said. “This is what I love to do. The older I get, the harder it is to get yourself pumped up, but the big thing for me is just staying focused and doing my job. I like to be a robot in the car, and there’s so many other things going on, that’s where I try to strive. I try to know what’s happening and really try to keep my focus right.”