2018 NHRA THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
SCHUMACHER HALTS 33-RACE TOP FUEL DROUGHT AGAINST FIRST-TIME FINALIST SALINAS - Tony Schumacher has insisted all year long that he and his U.S. Army Dragster team “know we’ve got a good car, and sooner or later things are going to start going our way on Sundays.”
It happened sooner rather than later, in Sunday’s Top Fuel finish to the Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley NHRA Nationals at Tennessee’s Bristol Dragway.
It broke a 33-race winless streak for Schumacher that dates back to the March 2017 Gatornationals at Gainesville, Fla. He had come close, with runner-up finishes this year at Pomona and Las Vegas.
Schumacher’s triumph marked the 70th nitro double for Don Schumacher Racing. Ron Capps won the Funny Car final over Bob Tasca to give DSR its 300th nitro-class victory (323 in all, counting Schumacher’s No. 301 and the ones in Pro Stock and Pro Stock Motorcycle).
“I say my prayer before every run,” Schumacher said after earning his class-best 84th trophy, “and today I didn’t pray for a miracle. I prayed for just enough: ‘Give me just enough.’”
His winning 3.946-second elapsed time at 313.58 mph was plenty against first-time finalist Mike Salinas, whose Scrappers Racing Dragster smoked the tires and wound up with a 5.251, 152.18 clocking.
“The new [track] prep through us a curveball. But we said from the get-go it’s going to throw everyone a curveball,” Schumacher said. “But we have great people. We have seven crew chiefs, more than that, working as a team. We’ll figure it out.”
They did Sunday, as Schumacher advanced past Terry McMillen, Pat Dakin, and Steve Torrence. That set up his 150th final-round appearance and his first meeting this season and only second ever against Salinas.
“He’s the first guy I ever raced, and I lost,” Salinas said, referring to the first round of the 2017 Norwalk, Ohio, 24 races ago.
In just his 25th race, the San Jose, Calif., businessman became the 159th driver to race in a Top Fuel final round by defeating Leah Pritchett, Clay Millican, and Scott Palmer.
Schumacher paid Salinas a high compliment: “I was definitely prepared to do my best with that run, because he had run very, very close to us. And I know it’s an Alan Johnson-tuned car. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him. It’s a great team over there [with crew chief Doug Kuch], and he’s a good leaver. So I didn’t expect it to be an easy round, by any means.”
Salinas broke into the top 10 in the standings, while Scott Palmer moved up to ninth, leaving Richie Crampton in 11th place.
The U.S. Army-sponsored driver capped the service’s 243rd birthday-weekend celebration by sharing the winners circle with Ron Capps (Funny Car) and Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock). According to NHRA/FOX-TV statistician Lewis Bloom, this represents only the second time this particular trio has won at the same event – despite the fact they have a combined 203 victories.
The victory was Schumacher’s sixth at Thunder Valley. He also won here in 2004, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012. He was runner-up in 2001 and 2016.
With more victories here than any other racer, Schumacher still has not joined his father with a Legends of Thunder Valley distinction.
“I’m in no hurry for that,” he said. “Someday, if people think over the course of time I’ve done enough as a driver to put my name on something . . . Until then, I’m just going to have a good time.”
“We’ve had incredible success on Fathers Day, incredible success on big-moment days,” he said. Jokingly, he said his dad, Don Schumacher, told him after the victory, “Been awhile. No, no, he didn’t say anything of the sort. He just came up and said thank you. But in my mind, I heard, ‘Been awhile,’ because it’s been awhile.”
Mello Yello Drag Racing Series competitors won’t have to wait long to race again. Next on the schedule is this coming weekend’s Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Norwalk, Ohio, which will conclude a stretch of four consecutive races.
Steve Torrence remains the points leader, 110 ahead of No. 2 Clay Millican and 136 ahead of Schumacher. Susan Wade
CAPPS GETS TOBLER BACK ON TRACK FOR FIFTH BRISTOL WIN AND FIRST OF THE YEAR - It’s hard to imagine Ron Capps with pompons in his hands and leaping into the splits Saturday upon entering crew chief Rahn Tobler’s office in one of the NAPA AUTO PARTS technical trailers at zMAX Dragway at Bristol, Tenn.
But if that’s what it would have taken to help his Mello Yello Funny Car team snap out of a 13-race slump, the 2016 NHRA Funny Car champion would have happily taken the chance on ripping a groin muscle.
“Tobler looked so down on himself (Saturday morning),” Capps said. “We didn’t run well the night before, and he just had that look. Those are the times you have to play cheerleader, and that’s what I think my job is.
“I said ‘Tobler, you’re going to find it today (Saturday). Today is going to be (hot) like tomorrow (will be). You set the bar for the last three years. You were the one who went out and made other crew chiefs want to retire in these hot conditions,’ and he did.
“He found that clutch disc problem and away we went.”
All the way to the winner’s circle after defeating Bob Tasca III and Tobler’s former assistant crew chief Eric Lane in the final round for Capps’ track record fifth Bristol title.
The other Mello Yello event winners at Bristol were Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel and Jeg Coughlin Jr. in Pro Stock. The three winners have combined for 222 NHRA titles: Schumacher 84, Coughlin 79 and Capps 59.
Capps’ time of 4.234 seconds at 296.37 mph beat Tasca’s 4.300 (286.98) to give Don Schumacher Racing 300 nitro titles and 323 overall.
Capps opened the day by defeating 16-time world champion John Force in what boosted the team’s confidence.
“That’s a final round matchup,” Capps said of facing Force. “It’s a matchup for a championship, it always is. We didn’t have lane choice, we’re running John Force, and someone had just spilled oil in (our) lane, but typical Rahn Tobler, he put it right down the track, over the bump and it was just on a great run and set the tone for the rest of the day.”
He went on to beat reigning world champ Robert Hight, JR Todd, who has two wins this year in 11 races, and Tasca.
The victory earned Capps his 59th Funny Car win.
“This is a great facility, and when you roll into this place you get a special feeling,” Capps said. “Getting to the winner’s circle at a track like this is even more special, because you feel like you really had to earn it, and this weekend I am proud of what my team accomplished in some tough conditions.”
They raced on a hot track Saturday and even hotter one Sunday when track temps soared to 147 degrees.
Capps, Tobler and the NAPA Dodge Charger team had been mired in a slump since early October after dominating the first half of the 2017 season but had not won a Wally Trophy since the 21st race of the season, which was their eighth of the year. Jeff Wolf
COUGHLIN GETS NHRA TROPHY FOR THIRD STRAIGHT WEEK, EARNS PRO STOCK WALLY AT BRISTOL - Jeg Coughlin Jr. hadn’t been in a winner’s circle for about four years until he won the NHRA Pro Stock title two weeks ago near Chicago in his JEGS.com/Elite Performance Chevrolet Camaro.
He followed that by winning the Super Comp Sportsman title a week ago in Virginia and made it three straight Sunday when he won the Pro Stock title in the Fitzgerald USA NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol, Tenn.
While the five-time NHRA world champion continued his winning streak, Coughlin also extended the non-winning streak to 12 races for four-time champion Greg Anderson. Coughlin took the lead at the starting line in the final round and his time of 6.709 seconds at 205.10 mph edged Anderson’s 6.741 (205.07).
“Nothing wrong with a little hat trick, right?” Coughlin said of three straight wins. It is his 60th Pro Stock title and second at Bristol.
The other Mello Yello event winners at Bristol are Tony Schumacher in Top Fuel and Ron Capps in Funny Car.
The three winners have combined for 222 NHRA titles: Schumacher 84, Coughlin 79 and Capps 59.
“We’ve made some pretty cool memories together,” said Coughlin, the youngest of the trio who turns 48 on June 23. “This is another page in that book.”
Coughlin became the third driver in the class to earn two victories on the season.
“My team has made some transitions this season and now we are running much faster, and it feels pretty great to be on the right track,” he said. “Winning at Thunder Valley is historic and it feels fantastic, so to be crowned a champion here is really special.”
He had gone four years without starring in any track’s winner’s circle until winning the Pro Stock title.
“There were some trying times. I’ve been blessed with an amazing career and have worked around some of the brightest crew chiefs, engineers, engine builders and car chiefs.
“We have a lot of great things to show for that. Even if there had been a lull (in winning), I said at Chicago that it felt like my first.”
The final round, however, was far from the first time he faced off with Anderson for an NHRA Wally Trophy. Coughlin now holds an 11-9 record in title rounds against Anderson, who held onto the points lead while Coughlin moved up three spots to sixth in the Mello Yello standings with Elite teammate Erica Enders in fourth.
Coughlin and his team led by crew chiefs Rick and Rickie Jones were quickest in the first and fourth qualifying sessions but lost the pole on Friday night when Anderson earned the 100th No. 1 qualifying spot of his career.
Qualifying No. 2 might have contributed to him getting past Anderson in the final.
On Saturday, Tommy Lee was unable to stop his car on a qualifying run and he sailed through the sand trap then sustained major frontend damage when he slammed into the safety catch fence. Although Lee was uninjured, his car could not be repaired in time for Sunday’s first round.
That left Coughlin with a first-round bye and without the pressure of racing against someone, it could have allowed his team use the run to prepare for the quarterfinals.
He went on to eliminate Chris McGaha and Drew Skillman, who was disqualified for a red-light start. But Coughlin ran quickly enough to earn lane choice against Anderson.
"We had a good run going, and we're definitely getting better," said Anderson, who knocked out Wally Stroupe, Vincent Nobile and Tanner Gray en route to his second final of the season. "We're still not able to make four perfectly clean rounds on Sunday, and that's what it takes to win, but we're a lot closer than we've been.”
The Mello Yello Series moves to Norwalk, Ohio, next weekend for the fourth race in four weeks. Jeff Wolf
ANDERSON ACHIEVES 100TH NO. 1 QUALIFYING POSITION, OSWALD NEWEST THUNDER VALLEY LEGEND, DIEHL GETS ONE, ACCIDENTS MARK FINAL QUALIFYING DAY, GOLDEN KNIGHTS PERFORM
ANDERSON REACHES 100 TOP-QUALIFIER PLATEAU – NHRA Pro Stock points leader Greg Anderson reached a significant milestone Saturday during qualifying for the Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals at Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway.
He held onto his provisional Friday lead to earn the 100th No. 1 qualifying honor of his already decorated career.
He said the accomplishment is a byproduct of “a lot of hard work and a great team effort. No. 1 qualifier is certainly not a driver award,” but rather a team honor. “Some way, somehow,” he said, “I’m going to find a way to pay my [crew] guys back, because this is their award. We’ll have a party at the shop [at Mooresville, N.C.].
“It’s a great, great accomplishment, and I’m not going to take it lightly,” Anderson said after his Friday class-best 6.674-second elapsed time on the quarter-mile remained quickest.
“It’s a huge number, a tremendous number. It’s certainly something I never thought I could do or achieve. I don’t think it ever became a goal or a realistic wish or want until a just a few races ago, when they told me it was in the 90s. I thought, ‘That’s a crazy number. We could go all the way to 100.’ And here a few races later, we’ve gone there. I didn’t think that would happen, but I’ll take it,” Anderson said.
This is his third straight top-qualifying spot and seventh overall this season.
“Hopefully we’re not stopping here,” Anderson, who earned his first Pro Stock victory at this track, said.
And this 100th keeps Anderson No. 4 on the NHRA’s all-time list. Funny Car’s John Force leads with 155 No. 1 positions. Pro Stock’s Warren Johnson is second at 138, and Anderson helped tune him to many of those before getting the chance to become a driver. Third on the list is the late Bob Glidden, another Pro Stock icon, at 102.0
Tony Schumacher is fifth on the list, having led the Top Fuel field 87 times.
Anderson registered six straight top qualifiers in 2007. His 16 in 2004 gives him the NHRA Pro Stock record for most No. 1 qualifiers, a mark he shares with Mike Edwards, who equaled his feat in 2009.
His longtime marketing partner, Summit Racing Equipment, is celebrating its 50th year in business.
“I wanted to do something special for them this year, and I hope this is Step One,” Anderson said.
Wally Stroupe will be Anderson’s first-round opponent when eliminations begin at noon (ET) Sunday.
MARK OSWALD TO BE HONORED SUNDAY – Mark Oswald will join his boss, Don Schumacher, along with several of his former on-track rivals, as the newest Legend of Thunder Valley during pre-race ceremonies Sunday.
Oswald, Antron Brown’s crew chief for the Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota Dragster, is at the center of much of Bristol Dragway’s rich lore from his days as a Funny Car driver from the 1980s.
“Mark raced to much success at Thunder Valley,” Jerry Caldwell, Bristol Dragway executive vice-president and general manager, said. “Not only did he win a lot of races here, [but] he beat some of drag racing’s biggest names – including the likes of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Dale Pulde. His continued success as Antron’s crew chief further cements him as a deserving honoree.”
Oswald won five times and was runner-up twice here between 1982 and ’88 in the iconic Candies & Hughes machine. His two triumphs in 1983 and his victories in 1984 and ’86 came en route to IHRA championships. His 1984 season saw him also produced his NHRA series title. He is one of the few drivers to achieve that distinction.
“I couldn’t be more honored about this award. Bristol was always my favorite racetrack,” Oswald said.
The Cincinnati native who lives today at Houma, La., said this was one of the first tracks near his home that he visited when he started going on the road to race.
“To be a legend here is really an honor,” he said. “We had quite a bit of success here, and the atmosphere was always great. Every time we came here, we felt we had a good chance to win.”
Oswald also won at Bristol Dragway in 1977 in the Pro Comp class. Five years later, he advanced to the final round in his own Top Fuel dragster.
He said he has a greater satisfaction in being a championship crew chief than in earning a series crown as a driver.
“I was always a hands-on person even as a driver. That always meant more to me. When I quit driving, I guess that’s why it didn’t bother me as much. I know how many different parts there are to this car, and I always enjoyed that part of it the most.”
Perhaps his most vivid memory here in Thunder Valley was his 1985 top-end accident.
“I blew up and was on fire,” Oswald said. “This racetrack used to turn to the right down there [in the shutdown area]. They called it the Dog Leg. It turned pretty hard to the right. I couldn’t see where I was going, so I was guessing where I was going. I was telling myself, “This track turns to the right. You’re going to hit something if you don’t turn to the right.’ As soon as I turn to the right, I go, “I think that’s a little too much.’ As son as I turned back to the left, I hit the net. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. It junked that car and forced us to go back to what we do, and the rest of the year was really good.”
So life is good – and a little better after Sunday’s ceremony.
“Just seeing your name up there with other guys you raced against . . . Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Dale Pulde . . . I have the utmost respect for those guys,” Oswald said.
DIEHL GETS DEAL – Californian Jeff Diehl got a huge financial boost this week, as Gas Monkey Energy partnered with the Toyota Solara Funny Car owner-driver as his primary marketing partner for the rest of the 2018 season.
Saturday’s announcement represented the Dallas-headquartered company’s increased involvement in NHRA drag racing. It has joined forces in the past with Pro Stock’s Alex Laughlin and in the sportsman-level alcohol ranks.
“Gas Monkey Energy Drink was created and is loved by those that like to live life in the fast lane. This partnership with Jeff Diehl Racing is another avenue for us to actually be in the fast lane,” company president Traci Carpenter said. “NHRA is fast, loud, and exciting, which Gas Monkey Energy is all about. To participate in these races gives GME the chance to be where our fans are.”
In a prepared statement, Diehl, of Monterrey, Calif., said, “Jeff Diehl Racing is excited to be partnering with Gas Monkey Energy drink because we share goals: to be fast, loud, and exciting.”
LEE CRASHES INTO NETTING – Veteran NHRA Pro Stock driver Tommy Lee was unhurt Saturday afternoon at Tennessee’s Bristol Dragway following a crash into the safety netting at the end of the quarter-mile course.
The accident happened during the third of four qualifying sessions at the Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals. Lee had clocked a 195-mph speed on the run.
“I got on the brakes, and the brakes just didn’t seem to do nothing,” Lee said after climbing from the car on his own power. “I’ve stopped many times without ‘chutes.”
The Statesville, N.C., racer said, “I knew it was going to hurt, especially when I saw the catch net coming up. Thank God the catch net was there and the safety the NHRA does and I was able to walk away.”
Lee’s Alan Rose Chevy Camaro gave him some trouble from the launch. It lurched to the right, but Lee was able to corral it for the remainder of the run. But his parachute failed to deploy, and he blasted into the sand trap at a high rate of speed. The car slammed into the protective netting, crunching the nose of the car and lifting the Camaro’s front end into the air before slamming it back down.
Action was delayed for more than 45 minutes, including a half-hour to repair damage to the net.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - TOP QUALIFIER MILLICAN AWAITS DELIVERY OF ‘TWIN-TURBO MONSTER’ TRUCK; FOUR GENERATIONS OF BROWN FAMILY LEARNING LIFE’S LESSONS AT DRAGSTRIP; WITH EL CHINGON IN SHREDS, PREDREGON RELYING ON FRANKENSTEIN; HOMETOWN FAVORITE JOHNSON BACK IN FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN; STEVEN WHITELEY RISES TO PRO MOD COMMAND
MILLICAN HOPING TO RACE SON’S REBUILT TRUCK – Maybe after the NHRA’s grueling Western Swing, Clay Millican would think Hot Rod Magazine’s Drag Week, sponsored by Dodge and Gear Vendors Overdrive, is a piece of cake.
It’s the September event in which competitors drive their street/strip vehicles more than 1,000 miles on public roads to four dragstrips to participate in five races in five days.
He’s on the waiting list, and if he makes it into the lineup this fall, he’ll be riding and racing in style – in his late son Dalton’s four-door Dodge truck that Jeff Lutz is converting to “a 426 Hemi with twin-turbo chargers with air conditioning and power windows.”
Millican said, “It was a 280,000-mile truck, and now we’re turning it into a twin turbo monster. It will be fun. It’ll be nice. Anything that the Lutz Race Car Shop does is awesome.
“Our goal is to have it ready for Drag Week. Tons of our sponsors have got involved. So many people that are involved in the Top Fuel team are involved with that. And Jeff Lutz is obviously the turbo king. So it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
But Millican confessed, “Well, I don’t think it will be that fast. But I think it will be very unique because it’s such a big truck. And if I get to do Drag Week, I’ll be riding in the air conditioning while Jeff Lutz is in a Pro Mod car with no windows in it. So we’re looking forward to it.”
He said Top Fuel racer Richie Crampton is planning to experience Drag Week. Three-time Top Fuel champion Larry Dixon has done it. And, Millican said, “I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully we get everything done, because there’s a ton of work we’re doing to the truck.”
Drag Week promoters, Millican said, take 750 entries – “and they filled up in four minutes. Four minutes. So I’m on the waiting list but whether I get legally in or not, I’m planning on being there, even if I don’t really get to participate, I’m planning on being there, because so many people have contributed to getting this truck together.”
Lutz and the gang started working on the truck last year and have been working on it steadily this year.
This year’s Drag Week itinerary will take competitors throughout the Southeast: to Atlanta Dragway at Commerce, Ga., Sept. 9-10; Darlington (S.C.) Dragway Sept. 11; zMAX Dragway at Concord, N.C., Sept. 12; Bristol (Tenn.) Dragway Sept. 13; and back to Commerce, Ga., Sept. 14.
GIVING ‘EM WHAT-FOUR – Someone on the sports desk at USA Today must have had a premonition a few years ago. It printed a blurb one Monday, reporting that “Anson Brown won the NHRA Top Fuel race.” Perhaps one day the current 13-year-old will earn a Top Fuel trophy. But he already has won a Jr. Dragster title, a fitting way to represent the fourth generation of the Brown family in the NHRA. Anson’s older sister Arianna and younger brother Adler also have competed in Jr. Dragster.
“It’s always been fun,” Antron Brown said, “but it also can teach you so much. It goes back to what my grandpops instilled into my dad and uncle and they instilled that into me. Now I try to take those same morals and values and instill them into my children.
“Every time we come up and race on [Fathers] Day, it’s another one of the life lessons we learned out on the racetrack,” the driver of the Matco Tools/U.S. Army/Toyota Dragster said. “What racing teaches us is that not every race day is going to be a perfect day – it never is – and those not-so-perfect days are the ones where we learn to lean on each other and we grow from it and share the love and bond to go forward and we grow in life.”
“My kids all have raced Jr. Dragsters from an early age, and they’ve learned those life lessons. You’ve got to put the work in. My son learned that first-hand. If you’re struggling, you’ve got to go test. If you want to get better, you’ve got to test to get it right. And, by working hard, my son Anson won the Midwest Jr. Dragster championship last year,” Brown said.
Anson Brown accepted his honor with a message to Dad: “since you’re not going to win a championship this year, at least you can celebrate mine with me.”
He said, “It felt really cool to win a championship of my own. I love having a family in drag racing. It’s always fun to be a part of doing everything on the car, and the whole family gets to experience what it’s like.” Mom Billie Jo is key to the whole operation. “I love being at the races and watching my father in the winners circle and making history. It’s always fun to be at the drag races.”
He sounded as though he were echoing his father: “I’ve probably been out at the races ever since I was born. I remember coming out here in a stroller.” Antron Brown has shared many times how his first memories were the same and how fond he is of those days when as a boy he played under the Raceway Park bleachers at Englishtown, N.J., and pretended to be like the heroes of the day: Joe Amato, Don Garlits, and Kenny Bernstein.
Anson Brown said, “I remember when I was little, it would always scare me when the cars would go off and I’d cover my ears. Now, I just like how fast these cars are.”
Dad Antron Brown said, “It’s pretty awesome to see what my kids accomplish and the things they do. It’s amazing to just enjoy that time with them and watching them grow into young adults. They’re still kids and teenagers, but [it’s gratifying] to see how far they’ve come in such a short amount of time and how racing has been such a crucial factor with them because they saw firsthand that when you put the work in Monday through Thursday, the results show up on the weekend. The things they’ve learned growing up around racing will help them succeed in whatever they decide to pursue.”
But he didn’t need this special weekend to figure that out. “Every day is Fathers Day,” he said.
ANDERSON LEADS PRO STOCK – Greg Anderson might be too good for his own good. He has qualified No. 1 six times in this season’s 10 completed races, and Friday night he led the field after two qualifying sessions with a pass of 6.674 seconds (at 205.35 mph).
His elapsed time was the only one in the 6.67-second range. But Chris McGaha, the tentative No. 10 starter, posted the fastest speed Friday at 205.91 mph.
He joked with reporters that the might want to change his strategy but said, “I tried that!” That didn’t work, so, he said, “We’ll just have to do it the old-fashioned way.
“I don’t want to stop trying to qualify No. 1. I don’t know what to say. That’s not why we’re not winning on Sundays,” Anderson said. “I wish I had an answer. I really do. I’ll take all the No. 1 qualifiers I can get. I’ve won plenty before from the No. 1 spot. Nothing wrong with that. No jinx against it. I don’t believe in that.”
Anderson said the Bristol Dragway racing surface has “a few bumps.” Coming less than a week later from Virginia Motorsports Park, which has a smooth-as-glass surface, makes it “just a new challenge,” according to Anderson.
He said, “we got about all we could get out of the run.”
SCHUMACHER’S PERFECT FATHERS DAY – Eight-time Top Fuel champion Tony Schumacher said, only half-jokingly, “This race on Fathers Day, it couldn’t be more perfect. It’s always perfect when Larry Dixon is not here. Don’t take that the wrong way. I love Dixon, and he’s a good dude, but it used to seem like he always won on Fathers Day. I’ve been fortunate to do it a few times in my career, as well.” His longtime sponsor, the U.S. Army, will be celebrating its 243rd birthday, and this is one battle Schumacher would like to win for his team-owner dad, Don.
For a racer who is hovering around .500 on race day (11-10), Schumacher has had a number of successes in the first 10 events, including runner-up finishes at Pomona and Charlotte and three top-qualifying positions. “We have been qualifying well,” he said, “and that’s a really good indication of how prepared this U.S. Army team is, week in and week out. I talk to a lot people about the importance of preparation.” He said crew chiefs Mike Neff and Phil Shuler “are looking at everything we are doing so that we can be in the best position on Sunday. We’ve proven through performance in qualifying that we have one bad-to-the-bone machine. We’re consistently bringing out the best in our competition. Sometimes they take their best shot and move on. Sometimes they get us. That motivates all of us to get better. This U.S. Army team will never quit. We’re excited to see what we can do these next few months.”
Schumacher, Antron Brown, and Leah Pritchett will help the U.S. Army celebrate that 243rd birthday during trackside ceremonies Saturday.
JANIS HAS MOJO – E3/J&A Service Pro Modified Series leader Mike Janis won last Sunday’s Virginia Nationals – at the same track where he scored his career-first triumph in the class. And Janis was more relieved than surprised: “I know we have a good team and good power, but we had been struggling against these monster teams,” he said. Janis, the series runner-up in 2015, drives the Al-Anabi Performance / Mike Janis Superchargers Chevy Camaro. And that victory was his first since 2015. “To do what we’re doing and to get that win, it’s very gratifying,” he said. “We’re not making mistakes, and we’ve been running well and going rounds. We put it all together [in Virginia], and hopefully we can keep it up.”
This is the sixth of 12 events this year, and already Janis has advanced to final rounds at the opener in Gainesville and then at Virginia Motorsports Park. In this ultra-competitive category, Janis reached the semifinals at Topeka before the win last weekend. In a class that’s loaded with savvy drivers, Janis amazingly hasn’t lost in the first round this season.
This weekend’s heat isn’t fazing him. Besides, he proved he can run well in it.
“We’ve always run really well in the heat, so hopefully we can continue to have that advantage,” the five-time Pro Mod race winner said. “It makes it more of a tuner’s deal when the track gets tricky, so we’re looking forward to it. These three races in a row, it can really determine a lot in the championship, so hopefully we can go some more rounds in Bristol and put us in a good spot. After the win, we went right back to work to come up with a game plan for Bristol.
“This class just puts on an amazing show,” Janis, who’s fourth in the Pro Mod order overnight, said. “It’s one of the most popular classes in racing, and there’s so many fans that are supporting us. You’re having 30-plus entries at nearly every race, and it’s a really big deal for us to be a part of it.”
WHITELEY LOOKING FOR CAMARO TO STEP UP – This Fitzpatrick U.S.A. Thunder Valley Nationals race at Bristol, Tenn., will be only the third for Pro Mod Drag Racing Series driver Steven Whiteley’s 2018 ZL1 Camaro. “We’ve qualified well at the last two national events – and not just barely in the show, either. A No. 2 and No. 5 five qualifying position shows that our car has the ability to outrun some of the others come Sunday.” But he hasn’t been able to parlay that into a victory.
He might have one advantage: he and his team tested here before last weekend’s Virginia Nationals, near Richmond. That paid off.
Whiteley nailed down the provisional top-qualifying position with a 5.823-second elapsed time at 250.51 mph. Rick Hord and Mike Castellana followed with identical 5.855-second times. But Hord used a faster speed – 251.72 mph to Castellana’s 249.58 – to claim the No. 2 spot.
But Whitely won’t let Friday’s success go to his head at all.
“This class is so unpredictable. You can qualify No. 1 one weekend and then the next not make the show,” Whiteley said. “The field is so tight in terms of elapsed time that No. 1 and No. 16 are normally separated by only a hundredth of a second. That is why I love it. It is challenging, and when you get the win, you know you had to earn it.”
TENNESSEE’S JOHNSON BACK – What would an NHRA event at Bristol Dragway be without Allen Johnson?
We don’t have to wonder yet. The retired Pro Stock 2012 champion is back on the racetrack this weekend at Tennessee's Bristol Dragway in the Fitzgerald USA Thunder Valley Nationals! Johnson, who's from nearby Greeneville, stepped away from his championship career in the Pro Stock class at the close of the 2017 season. Today he’s driving a purple Dodge Challenger in the Factory Stock Showdown.
It's like old times for Johnson, who always got a special joy from racing with his engine-building father, Roy Johnson, particularly during Fathers Day weekend.
They’re optimistic because they had some shakedown runs in their Drag Pak.
“We were able to make 16 runs in testing at Bristol, and that’s got us feeling really positive. We think we’re a lot closer to where we need to be than where we were after the first two Factory Stock races,” Allen Johnson said.
“It’s always good to be home at Bristol and see all our old friends,” he said. “No matter what class we’re competing in, the fans there have always supported us and had our backs.”
Johnson told Jeff Birchfield of the Kingsport Times-News, “This keeps our minds into it, gives my dad something to do. It’s a very hard class but a popular class with the fans and the drivers. I think it will be one of the most popular NHRA classes in time. I’ve never had a car in Pro Stock where we had more power than we could use. With this deal, you’ve got more power than you can use the first 100 feet.”
Johnson said since leaving the Pro Stock class he has kept himself busy tending to his multiple businesses and his horses, playing some golf, and, in his words, "fooling around with this car."
He’s competing with Don Schumacher Racing’s Leah Pritchett and new teammate Mark Pawuk, Pro Mod regular Dan Stevenson, Ford Cobra Jet program mastermind Carl Tasca, legendary Roy Hill, Indianapolis auto dealer and family racing kingpin Bill Skillman, second-generation ace Aaron Stanfield, and Factory Stock champ and multiclass sportsman standout David Barton.
PRITCHETT, PAWUK GIVE DSR 1-2 PUNCH IN FACTORY STOCK SHOWDOWN – Leah Pritchett is competing in both her Top Fuel and Drag Pak cars for the third time this season. She drove her 354-cubic-inch Hemi engine-powered Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak to the No. 1 qualifying position at the most recent Factory Stock event, at Charlotte. In her Papa John’s/Pennzoil/FireAde Dragster, she has earned a victory and a runner-up finish in the past four events.
So she’s still looking for her first Factory Stock victory.
“It’s Bristol, Baby,” said Pritchett. “We’ve got some good track history and data, with a runner-up finish last year. We have a fair amount of momentum happening right now, and even though Bristol presents a unique and difficult atmosphere for tuners, making as much Mopar power and putting it to the track is what I’m looking forward to for this team. Additionally, we’ve made some suspension changes to our Factory Stock program, and of course gearing changes to compensate for the altitude.
“We feel this program is getting stronger with every race,” she said. “It will be (teammate) Mark (Pawuk’s) first race in [Factory Stock], and I typically never weigh on the side of having any more particular experience in a car or class than a teammate, but I look forward to being the best teammate possible to Mark. He did great during licensing, as expected, and I look forward to his competition-side showing through as we both battle through that stacked field.”
Pawuk joined the Don Schumacher Racing team after an 11-year hiatus from NHRA competition. He previously competed in Pro Stock, where Pawuk raced to six victories before making his final Pro Stock appearance at Richmond in 2006. Like teammate Pritchett, Pawuk’s Drag Pak will also be prepped and maintained by three-time world champ NHRA Sportsman racer Kevin Helms.
“I never really retired, rather I just sort of stepped away,” Pawuk, known to fans as “The Cowboy,” said. “I wasn’t quite ready to hang up my driving shoes for good just yet, and I felt like I had some unfinished business, so this was a great opportunity to give it another shot. My goal is to go out and get another Wally. I look forward to working with Kevin and my new teammate, Leah, to build this program for DSR and make it a very successful Factory Stock team.”