TOP FUEL’S TORRENCE MIGHT NOT LIKE FOUR-WIDE FORMAT BUT IS TWO-TRACK MASTER OF IT - Steve Torrence never has been a cheerleader for the four-wide drag-racing format.

Despite his grudging participation, the Capco Contractors Dragster racer Sunday became the only one to win a four-wide NHRA drag race at two different tracks.

Torrence used a 3.771-second 1,000-foot elapsed time at 326.63 mph to defeat a Murderers Row in the final round of the Denso Sparks Plugs NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Tony Schumacher, in the U.S. Army Dragster, was runner-up at 3.790, 325.22 – 0.0083 seconds (or about four feet) behind.

So while Torrence pushed his elimination-round record to 8-2 by winning two of the past three events, Schumacher had to settle for his third runner-up performance in four-wide competition. Schumacher’s consolation prize was improving from fourth place to second.

But the victory was no cinch for points leader Torrence.

“We rode the Struggle Bus all through qualifying. We even stopped in Struggletown – I made one [complete] lap out of four. Our car did nothing we told it to do. We were trying to figure out what it was doing,” Torrence said.

But thanks to crew chief Richard Hogan’s late-Saturday obsession at the computer, Torrence said, “When we came out this morning, that thing did everything it was supposed to every lap.”

In the final round, Torrence didn’t face only eight-time series champion Schumacher, the most successful Top Fuel driver at Las Vegas (with eight victories). He also had to line up against three-time champ Antron Brown, his close friend and on-track nemesis in the Matco Tools Dragster, and veteran Mac Tools Dragster ace Doug Kalitta, who also was going for his second victory in four races.

Said Torrence, “They’re legends, at least in my eyes. They’re the bad dudes. I’m just the kid going, ‘What am I doing here?’ It was a tough final. I just went up there and tried to do my job.”

The Kilgore, Texas, native stretched his lead in the standings from seven to 33 points as the series shifts in two weeks to his home state for the Spring Nationals at Baytown’s Royal Purple Raceway.

To Torrence, the victory here was as ironic as his points lead. He has been a critic of the novelty layout here and at Charlotte’s zMAX Dragway, but mastered it, praised the construction and track-prep crews, and said racing on the equally smooth lanes “was like going on a Sunday drive down through there, just easin’ along.”

But he isn’t convinced the four-wide design is for him.

“Not at all. It’s terrible,” he said, a bit chagrined.

As for his status, he said, “We’ve won two races out of the four. Nobody has set the woods on fire. We sucked at Pomona. We sucked at Gainesville. And we’re still No. 1 in points.” He said rival team owner Don Schumacher asked him what had been wrong with his performance lately, and Torrence said he replied, “I don’t know, but nobody else is doing much better. So it’s OK.”

“We’re still working on our car. It’s not performing at the level it was all last year. But it’s coming around. We approached this season with a little different strategy than last year,” Torrence said. “We’re prepared right now for the latter part of the season instead of driving [with victories in mind]. You always want to go rounds and win races, but you need to prepare for those last six. Who knows what would have happened in a different world if we wouldn’t have had the wreck [at Dallas]. That definitely put us behind, and we’re trying to diversify our set-up so we’re not solely dependent on just one car, one everything. We’re still working on the set-up, and it’s a little bit of a struggle.”

But he said Sunday he was going to visit the casinos for the first time all weekend. He hadn’t tried his hand at gambling before race day “because I didn’t want to use any of my luck up. I figured as bad as we did in qualifying, I wasn’t going to be lucky, anyway.”

That might be how Doug Kalitta felt. With JR Todd in the Funny Car final four, Kalitta Motorsports was trying for the 13th time to pull off a nitro-class double victory. Kalitta, the Pomona winner, was seeking his third victory at Las Vegas and his second victory in four races.    

Brown, four-wide winner at Charlotte, was making his first final-round appearance of the season. He dropped from second place and seven points off Torrence’s pace to third and 43 points out of the lead.

Torrence and Todd joined Pro Stock’s Vincent Nobile in the winners circle. Susan Wade

TODD OVERCOMES FOUR-WIDE CHAOS TO WIN AT VEGAS - J.R. Todd is not shy about his opinion of four-wide drag racing.

He’s simply not a fan.

But after a couple of round wins and a session runner-up finish leading to his very first victory under the unique four-wide format, Todd’s perspective has changed - a little bit.

“I have been saying all along that I am not a fan (of the format), but it is definitely cool to be the inaugural winner of the first four-wide here in Vegas. I guess we have to somewhat like it now,” Todd said with a laugh.

Todd outlasted a fierce trio of Jack Beckman, Courtney Force and Tommy Johnson Jr. in the Funny Car finale to collect his 12th career NHRA victory, driving the DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car to a 4.041-second pass at 317.05 mph to edge Jack Beckman at the 19th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Beckman crossed the stripe second with a 4.052 at 312.21 mph, while Courtney Force was third with a 4.007 at 300.53 mph. Johnson, who lit the red bulb by the smallest of margins, finished fourth.

And it was Johnson’s red light that created a bit of confusion for Todd, who didn’t actually realize he had won the race until after he had climbed from the car.

“I honestly didn’t know who won. I am going down through there and I see T.J. pulling away from me in the lane next to me and then cross the finish line and the win light is on over in Beckman’s lane. All I heard on the radio was someone saying ‘holeshot’ so I just assumed we lost on a holeshot,” Todd said. “I didn’t know until we turned the corner and they are waving me over to the TV guys that, holy crap, we actually won.

“I still had no idea until I got out of the car, got my helmet and everything off that, yeah, he lit the red light and that explains why he was driving away from me over there. That is the confusing part of the four-wide as a driver, you simply don’t know.”

And that wasn’t the only uncommon occurrence to take place during the race. The unique format lent itself to a number of oddball scenarios throughout the afternoon.

In round two, Todd advanced despite having the slowest elapsed time of the quartet, posting a 4.054 to finish second behind Johnson, who had a 4.007, and ahead of John Force (4.050) and Del Worsham (4.049). Todd completed the march to his 22nd career final with the quickest time of the day in round one, posting a 3.959 at 318.99 mph to advance ahead of Force, Bob Tasca and Shawn Langdon.

“The thing with Funny Cars is, you kind of cheat on the starting line,” Todd said. “In dragster racing everyone is in agreement that they are not going to roll it in on each other, where you might steal a few thou here or there on race day in a Funny Car. I probably robbed us maybe five thou in the second round and that was good enough to turn on the win light.

“It is tough in Funny Car because you have to be on your A game every time you roll up there because it is usually a matter of who gets off the line first is who is going to turn on the win light.”

Despite the opposition to the format, Todd admits that the unique four-wide element may be a good thing for the sport and, if it helps, he is just fine with it - as long as it is only a few times a year.

“It is new and exciting and draws a huge crowd and that is what our sport needs. If this is what we have to do to take the next step in drag racing to bring in the younger crowd, then I am all for it. I just hope we don’t do this 24 times a year,” Todd said. “As a driver you have to focus so much more on the starting line than you do two-wide. In a traditional race you know everyone’s routine on the starting line. I kept telling myself I want to know what lane John Force is in every time. Once I know he is staged-up then I am ready to go because I know he takes the longest of everybody out here. You have to make yourself aware of what lanes everyone is in. In the first round, Shawn and I had a gameplan of what we were going to do and we executed it and I think the reaction times tell the story.”

With Sunday’s win, Todd also continues a trend of saving his best stuff for the sport’s biggest races and also extends Kalitta Motorsports’ hot start to 2018 with the teams third win in four races, with Doug Kalitta and Richie Crampton winning earlier this year on the dragster side.

“All of our teams across the board have come out swinging. Doug and Richie have wins under their belt, Shawn (Langdon) has been to two semifinals, while we’ve kind of struggled up until this point,” Todd said. “We brought out a new car in Gainesville and then had that issue first round with the chutes coming out during the burnout and really didn’t run all that well Friday in qualifying. Saturday we made some changes, the conditions got a little bit better, the track got more cars on it, and we threw down in Q4. That got my confidence up as a driver.

“It is cool to win here in Vegas. I am just happy to win any race. We don’t show up to any race and say this one doesn’t mean as much so we don’t care if we win or not. I want to win every time I show up at the track. But I have had success here as a driver with Kalitta, we just haven’t gone that final step and come out here with a trophy. We finally did that today. It is nice to check that off the list.” Larry Crum

THIRD ENGINE IS THE CHARM FOR NOBILE IN VEGAS FOUR-WIDE VICTORY - If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again.

That was the mantra for Vincent Nobile on Sunday as the Elite Motorsports driver went through a trio of engines over the course of the weekend, ending with a surprise win at the 19th annual DENSO Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Nobile bettered KB Racing drivers Deric Kramer and Bo Butner in the four-wide final, posting a 6.690-second pass at 206.80 mph with a solid .019 reaction time in the Mountain View Auto Chevrolet Camaro to drive around Kramer who finished second with a 6.678 at 206.45 mph. Butner finished third with a 6.682 at 206.57 mph, while Chris McGaha finished fourth after going red.

With the win, Nobile snaps a 30-race winless streak dating back to Maple Grove in 2016 to collect career Wally number 11.

“We actually worked our butts off this weekend. That was our third engine of the weekend, which is three too many for a Pro Stock car,” Nobile said. “On Friday we struggled in qualifying which, unbeknownst to us, our engine was hurting. We didn’t necessarily break anything, it was just wearing itself out. Then we put in a second bullet and that thing was more of a turd. Then, finally, after first round we put in our backup-backup and that is obviously the one that should have been in the frame rails from the beginning.

“All-in-all it was a great weekend. I can’t thank my team enough. I know we have a great car, great team, there is no reason we can’t be in the winner’s circle again soon.”

Nobile advanced to his 22nd career final round with a second-place finish in the semifinals behind McGaha, posting a 6.674 to McGaha’s 6.675 to see the pair advance, and ahead of Greg Anderson and Matt Hartford. In the opening round Nobile again was second behind Anderson with a 6.725 to Anderson’s 6.668 to advance, eliminating Joey Grose and Erica Enders.

The crazy finishes were just part of the excitement that is generated from the unique four-wide format, one that forces drivers to abandon their comfort zones and step into uncharted territory.

“My routine changes a little bit,” Nobile said. “The staging process is obviously different. You are staging against two more cars and you have no time to waste. If you don’t get in, you are going to be timed out. That is just one extra thing you have to focus on at these races.”

Nobile had been working his way back toward success this season, taking the top qualifier award in Pomona to start the season and advancing to the semifinals in Gainesville, but this weekend the team was able to put it all together to collect the first Elite Motorsports win since June of last year.

“We sat (the car) at the end of the (last) year to recoup. We got a new Jerry Haas racecar and the thing is working great. The Elite guys went to work over the winter and they definitely found some horsepower,” Nobile said. “The car has been running good, we just haven’t had much luck this year. We qualified first in Pomona, did decent in Phoenix until a relay popped out on me and Gainesville wasn’t too bad with the semifinal finish, and now here we are in the winner’s circle.”

And Nobile said he could feel that extra horsepower behind him, giving him an extra shot of confidence as the rounds ticked off on Sunday.

“It is definitely a confidence booster when you know you have the car behind you. You can only do so much as a driver when we are separated by a few thousandths of a second and if you don’t have the car as well as the driver, you don’t have a winning combination,” Nobile said. “I have to be on my game and the car has to be on its game or you are not going to win the race. Getting our first final for Elite, that is great for the whole team.

“This is also my fifth or sixth final in Vegas and we finally got it done. This place treats me pretty well, we have been knocking on the door for a while now and I am pretty stoked about it.” Larry Crum



ANDERSON LEADS FIELD, SCORES ANOTHER BONUS VICTORY – As winner of the K&N Horsepower Challenge bonus race for the third straight time and seventh overall, Pro Stock dominator Greg Anderson has $50,000 more in his pocket.

As the class’ No. 1 qualifier for the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the KB/Summit Racing Camaro driver said he has the car, engine, tune-up, crew chief, and crew to win this fourth race on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

“It’s all down to me,” Anderson said.

He won with a 6.731-second elapsed time at 205.47 mph over Bo Butner, who red-lighted in his first Challenge final-round appearance.

“There aren’t many people who can say they left Las Vegas with more money than they came with,” Anderson said.

His 6.669-second, 206.45-mph performance in the first qualifying session Friday held up as the quickest and fastest among the Pro Stock racers.

Anderson will meet No. 16 Joey Grose, No. 8 Vincent Nobile, and No. 9 Erica Enders in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations.  

BALL OF WHAT? – Although Don Schumacher Racing teammate Tommy Johnson Jr. is the one who marked his 50th birthday yesterday, Jack Beckman received a specially crafted, unique gift at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

But he had to share it with crew chiefs Dean Antonelli, John Medlen, and Neal Strausbaugh. It was a ball composed of rubber bands, but it was an elite ball of rubber bands.

The father-son team of Competition Plus photographers Mike and Jeff Burghardt, along with Beckman’s close buddy Jim Campbell, who drives Jim Dunn’s Funny Car, presented the ball to Beckman and dubbed it “Beckman’s Back-up Blower Belts.”

The gag referred to the fact Beckman lost a few supercharger belts in the first two races this year. Ron Capps (No. 4 starter), Gary Densham (No. 12), and Robert Hight (No. 5) will appreciate it if Beckman’s belts stay in place Sunday – they’re racing against him in the first round. Densham is fresh off his International Drag Racing Hall of Fame induction at Gainesville, Fla., last month.

ESCAPING THE GILDED CAGE – Reno resident Bill Miller said he has not idea how many race he’ll enter his Troy Buff-driven BME Dragster. The deciding factor, he said, is “my wife.”

Miller pointed to the booth-type seating in his hauler lounge and said that’s where wife Virgie “has been sitting all those years, taking care of the guys [crew members] . . . coming out with me early in the morning, going home late at night . . . for, I’m guessing, 30 years. How would you like to sit right there four days, not moving, from seven o’clock in the morning to eight or nine or 10 at night – sitting there with eight guys, all of whom are just doing their best to put the car together again? It’s testosterone overload. For 10 to 15 times a year, three or four times every couple of months. So you’d probably get tired of being with the boys.”

Nodding to Buff, Miller said, “It’d be like him and I having to go to a tea party with a bunch of women – seriously – twice a month from Thursday until Sunday and sitting there with women clacking their lips for eight or nine hours a day. How long do you think that would last?”

Reminded that he might get a slew of nasty e-mails from feminists, he shot back, “Right – because the issue is that she has done what I have elected to do for 20 years, so should I not do what she wants to do now for the next 10 or 15 years until we’re dead? I’m 73. She’s 77. She’s two years away from being 80 years old. Why would you like her to continue to be out here? You can’t ask her to do that. She has put in her due diligence. She has been with me a long time, sitting in this golden cage, because that’s what it is. It’s a golden cage. She’s got all the things you need: the Internet, TV, radio, computers. But still, she has to be trapped in here for four days. Isn’t a marriage a relationship? So that’s how it is: tea party versus racing. It’s payback time. It’s fair.” She spent Friday and Saturday at their hotel suite this weekend. “She has plenty to occupy herself and is very happy not coming to the races.” He said she plans to attend race day.

Buff will open runoffs in a quad that includes the father-son Torrence duo (No. 4 Billy and No. 5 Steve) and No. 13 Clay Millican.  

The team’s next appearance, Bill Miller said, likely will be at Seattle.

BIKER JOHNSON PROMOTING SPORT – The Pro Stock Motorcycle class isn’t racing here until the fall, but Steve Johnson has been in Las Vegas, as a mentor/role model for high-school students and an ambassador for the NHRA. Johnson said his association with 2016 bike champion Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator Racing team “unraveled” after the Gatornationals and that he’s once again an independent racer. But his mission to promote drag racing and help usher in a new generation of skilled mechanics continues to go strong.

“There’s a lot of opportunity at all these events,” he said, “because there’s the economic impact that the National Hot Rod Association brings to the community. And that sounds like I’m a corporate guy, but I’m not. It evolved into a situation to where the community knows that this excitement’s going on. So we [Steve Johnson Racing] engage the high schools, and specifically the [auto shop classes], and let the students know about careers, specifically in the automotive industry. The Department of Labor says there’s 800,000 jobs that are going to be needed in our industry in the next 10 years. So the reality is there’s a lot of opportunity for young people. And we have a program called Marketing Your Brand After the Diploma and just talk to kids about ‘Hey, I’m a brand.’

“We come in [to the schools], and we have a reaction timer. We ship in some electronics. We bring prizes, have a special PowerPoint presentation that we do. We have a real exciting video that introduces us and a slide show and music. So it’s very, very interactive,” Johnson said. “So where that all opens up is the engagement that they understand in Las Vegas the difference between the Bellagio and Bally’s. You know, what’s the difference in those two hotels? Nicki Minaj and Carrie Underwood. Both singers, both girls, two different personalities, right?

“So I let the students understand that, then I test them. We use Kahoot! and we test them, get a survey, and then we give them a chance to do mock interviews where they can kind of bring out their brand. And then we teach them about how to do that better. So it’s extremely rewarding. “ he said. “But this weekend we got to administrate our first scholarship winner ever. We put up $500 cash of our own money, or the student, the winner, could double that and get tools. And so we had two students that were so good we split the prize, but we still gave the maximum amount of tools. So here there’s a guy Logan Hester out of Boulder City High School and Rodney Ball is the instructor and his student won. So he got $1,600 worth of tools. And I’ll tell you, this kid, this kid was really, really excited. He was really proud. And it was very rewarding to give it to him. So I’m fortunate that my buddy George Arrants helped me come up with this program. He’s an education consultant”

Johnson said, “We’ll do the same thing in Houston. The next winner’s in Houston. Oscar Guerrero is his name. And I’ll go to a school over there, met with Chris Wasson and we’ll do the whole thing again. But it’s neat to do it before an NHRA national event. The students come the next day to the YES event, which is the career day. So I feel like we get a chance to put an extra star next to our industry, and especially the sanction body. It’s very rewarding.”

KRAMER HAS MORE TO CELEBRATE – Pro Stock driver Deric Kramer has something this weekend, in his 69th career race, to celebrate, besides qualifying No. 2 and continuing his streak of top-half qualifying this season. The American Ethanol / Novozymes Chevy Camaro driver has recorded two semifinal finishes in the first three races this year. But he said he’s excited about his new firesuit from Sparco. “I’m a lot more comfortable in it,” he said. “It’s my first one-piece firesuit.” So Kramer will start eliminations against No. 15 Alan Prusiensky and the Gray tandem of son Tanner (No. 7) and Shane (No. 10) wearing his first “onesie.”


TASCA IMPROVING – Bob Tasca III powered his Motorcraft Ford Mustang Funny Car from 14th place Saturday afternoon to sixth place and will race John Force (No. 11) and the Kalitta Motorsports cars of JR Todd (No. 3) and Shawn Langdon (No. 14). Hell be looking to advance past the first round for the first time all season so far.

“The way we ran in Gainesville and the progress we made is exciting,” he said. “In two races – Pomona and Arizona – we were still sorting things out. We hit Gainesville hard and put everybody on notice that this team is right on the cusp of big things.”

Already he has achieved one goal. He has earned a spot in the top half of the ladder for the first time this year. That feat, Tasca said, was “the one piece this season that we haven’t accomplished.” But he said he thought he and the car were ready this weekend to start checking off the boxes on his wish list, said he “fully expect[ed]” us to be in a position to be inside the top-eight in qualifying in Las Vegas. “I can't chalk up lane choice to any of our losses this year. However, I can certainly chalk up our first-round losses to not qualifying well. When you have one of the best running cars in Gainesville, but you didn’t hit the Friday night session right, that’s disappointing. We had the third-best car in Gainesville with (Jack) Beckman and (Ron) Capps. That’s what qualifying in the bottom-half will do to you on Sunday.”

Tasca said he and his Eric Lane-led crew didn’t make many “wholesale changes for this weekend. We made some substantial changes going into Phoenix. We made some massive changes going into Gainesville. This will be the first race that we’re going into a race with no tremendous changes. We stumbled on our setup in Gainesville. The car ran exceptionally well all weekend. We pressed a little too hard in the Friday night session. We were trying to put down a big number.” He said he knew this weekend that “this Motorcraft Ford Mustang is going to be fast.”

Tasca said, “I have never had an issue racing four-wide. I’ve always done really well and felt very comfortable with it. Some of the other drivers have had challenges. There’s two big differences for me. Reacting against the tree doesn’t change. But staging the car in eliminations changes dramatically. Where normally you have to worry about one person, now there’s three. Who’s in? Who’s not in? Who went in first? That part of it requires another level of concentration. Once everyone is in the lights, amber means “go”. You just need to have more attention to staging. On race day it’s just about getting to the finish line first. You have to get it to the finish line. You have very little line of sight of what’s going on around you. You’re doing what ever you have to get the car to the lights. The only noticeable difference for me is the burnout. Normally, if you only race against one car, you don’t hear anything. Now you hear three “brrrrrrps” and that’s odd. When you hit the throttle, there’s so much energy in your car that you can’t really hear anything.”

LANGDON, UFC BRAWLER EXCHANGE TIPS – Shawn Langdon discovered even before the Denso Spark Plugs Nationals started that four-wide racing wasn’t his biggest challenge this week at Las Vegas.

The Global Electronic Technology Toyota Camry driver for Kalitta Motorsports had a rigorous workout with unbeaten Ultimate Fighting Championship middleweight amateur Julian Marquez, a/k/a “The Cuban Missile Crisis.” Langdon represented drag racing well, except for an accidental tumble on the floor mat.

“We did a little footwork drill, to where you know how to distance and range. We also showed him a set of combinations. So he learned how to punch forward, backward, side to side. We kept it simple – you don’t want to overwhelm somebody. There’s a lot of technique and a lot of details. But we made it fun for him,” Marquez said.

Langdon knows drag racing is extreme, but he pretty much decided he’s not cut out for the rigors of UFC competition.

“These guys are animals, and they’re a lot bigger than they look on TV, too,” Langdon said as FOX Sports cameras rolled at the UFC Performance Institute. “I’m regretting that cheeseburger I had for lunch. What an experience! I quickly learned I’m no match for these guys and I should stick to drag racing.”

Langdon redeemed himself by demonstrating how hard he can deliver a punch. A cube-shaped machine registered the impact, measured in pounds per square inch.

Marquez put it in perspective: “He had a stronger punch than me. Francis Ngannou, of the UFC, has the hardest hit in the entire world at 129,000 pounds per square inch. I didn’t even break 50,000. But Shawn got 63,000. Forrest Griffin [a UFC Hall of Famer] hit it as hard as he could right before, and he got 62,000. Shawn stood up right after and bumped it up one more thousand – showed us all up. We ran away from him. We didn’t want to get hit. He walked away a true champion that day. He explained it to me in a certain way that I could understand it. Today I get to see exactly what he does and exactly how fast his car goes.”

Langdon was back on familiar turf Friday, tutoring Marquez in drag racing and introducing him to the sensory overload.  “You could see his passion when he spoke to me about how the car works and everything. I love that he’s living his dream. Instead of doing 9-to-5, sitting there, doing something you don’t want, he’s racing, doing something he wants. Living your dream’s the best thing in the world.”

Said Marquez, “They told me to go to the bathroom beforehand because I’ll pee my pants. I’m really hoping for that to happen, because I want my entire world to be rocked.” After being on the starting line for the 40,000-horsepower launch, he said, “It’s an intense feeling. You can feel the vibration in your chest, nose, and ears.”  

Langdon has won NHRA national championships in Jr. Dragster, Super Comp, and Top Fuel.  

Marquez said, “He’s a GOAT, the Greatest Of All Time, in my view. He’s done everything. I don’t really have any pro titles or anything cool like that. I did hold the Buck Hunt video game top score for a long while at the Dave and Busters here in Las Vegas.”  

When Marquez learned about the Kalitta Motorsports tradition of the crew members pig-piling on each other at the starting line at every final-round victory, he was all in. He thought it would be a swell idea to do it even if a Kalitta team doesn’t win. He said he’d join in, for sure: “OK! Yeah! Why not?! I’m here for everything! Let’s go! Let’s celebrate! We’re all champions, every time we show up here, right?”

FUNNY CAR DNQs – Funny Car’s Jeff Diehl had a glitch when he set up shop at Las Vegas. "We didn't really skip the first session,” he said. “We had a technical problem, and rather than rush we just stayed back and fixed it before we came out. [Crew chief] Johnny [West] said we were going to be soft and go down the track. It got loose down there, but it was a clean, slow run. I'm sure he'll tune it up, and we will go for it tomorrow."

They did, but it didn’t work out – for Diehl, as well as for Jeff Arend, Bob Bode, and Phil Burkart. Jim Campbell ended up on the bump at 4.137 seconds. Predictions of an all-three-second Funny Car field were way off the mark. Only the top nine ran in the three-second range, with Jonnie Lindberg’s 3.998-second elapsed time as the last. The Top Fuel and Pro Stock classes were full at 16 cars apiece.




‘THROTTLE DOWN, PEDAL TO METAL  – One month ago, Matco Tools Dragster driver Antron Brown drove the pace car at NASCAR’s Pennzoil Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – right across the street from the dragstrip here. His goal then, he said, was “Throttle down, pedal to the metal - I just want them to get off to a great start.” This weekend, he wants to lead the field here at the Denso Spark Plugs Nationals. So far, that’s what he’s doing. Brown led the field Friday with a 3.772-second elapsed time at 324.83 mph to take the provisional Top Fuel lead.

Brown got a sneak peek at the new four-lane set-up here then and called it “phenomenal” and “super-smooth.” He said, “It’s going to be a cool twist to have a battle royale and see who’s the best of the best out in the West. I’m really pumped up.” The difference between a regular race and a four-wide spectacle, Brown said, is “there’s just a lot going on. The difference is, when you play a game of chess, you’re just playing one competitor. When we go to a four-wide, we’re not just playing one competitor, we’re racing two additional competitors. You’ve got to go out there like it’s a battle royale and give it all you’ve got, keep your head down, and go after it. You can’t go out there and be shy. The top two go to the next round, so everybody is trying to throw the gauntlet down. You’ve got to go out there and be confident, efficient, and, like we always say, ‘Let’s go places.”

He’ll be showing his versatility once again, making his Papa John’s Charity Challenge debut. Driving a 2015 Toyota Camry, Brown will line up against “Papa John” Schnatter to benefit the Infinite Hero Foundation and Overcome Academy. Most drag-racing fans are familiar with the Infinite Hero Foundation through the Doug Chandler-funded Funny Car that Jack Beckman drives for Don Schumacher Racing. But the perhaps-less-familiar Overcome Academy also is a program for combat-wounded military men and women. According to its website, it’s a two-week targeted experience that connects these servicemen and -women with advisors and mentors and directs them how to achieve success in the civilian environment. Among its topics are leadership, resiliency, communication/attire/speaking skills, and physical fitness and nutrition. Brown knows a thing or two about those subjects. He’s a TV host and all-around leader and three-time series champion at DSR (thanks also to his dealings with his co-sponsor, the U.S. Army). Brown is a three-time winner of this spring race (2011, 2016, 2017) and won the fall race here in 2013. He has the distinction of being runner-up here in two different classes: Top Fuel and Pro Stock Motorcycle.

BANG! – Brittany Force seldom wavers from her Top Fuel routine. And why would she? It has brought her a championship. But this weekend, she said she’ll have a different approach because of the four-wide format. Again, why not? It worked for her at Charlotte, where she is the most recent Top Fuel winner to defeat three other opponents in the final round.

“I definitely go into the four-wide races with a different mindset. The races are completely different,” she said. “I will get in my Monster Energy Dragster and go through my routine, but I will also spend some time on the starting line. I want to stand in each lane and look down the race track to prepare for each run, no matter which lane I might be in. I want to look at the Christmas Tree and figure the visuals out before we get to race day. We have had some success racing four-wide, and this is the first one in Las Vegas.”

She started the weekend with a supercharger explosion and still took the early No. 2 spot in the order. She closed the day at No. 7.

ROLLIN’ THE DICE WITH EL GUAPO – Cruz Pedregon – Say adiόs to El Jefe and ¡Hola! – again – to El Guapo. El Jefe no longer is “the boss” or “the chief” among Cruz Pedregon’s Toyota Camry Funny Car bodies. It’s time to show off El Guapo, “the handsome one.” The two-time Funny Car champion is back at Las Vegas, where he stayed in control in the fall of 2016, when El Chingon (“the badass”) lived up to its name and flew across the finish line – literally – to give him a first-round victory. He’s back at Las Vegas, where he made his 500th career start. He’s back at Las Vegas, where he once hit the wall and took a trip to the hospital and where he once hosted legendary musician Carlos Santana and where The Palms Hotel and Casino distributed special gaming chips bearing his and brother Tony’s likenesses. And he’s back in Las Vegas, where he won this race twice – in 2006, against Ron Capps, and in 2013, against Courtney Force. 

"To get ready, we took some time to study that intake valve break we had last weekend, and we've got the car set to make more successful runs in Vegas. I had my 500th career start at this track, and fans will remember the 2016 wheel stand…I know I do. So, we plan to make new memories, with even better numbers, while keeping the car on the ground," he said. Crew chief Aaron Brooks said, "We've got the El Guapo body loaded to go after El Jefe took the heat from a valve issue in Gainesville. I’m feeling good about where we're heading, looking forward to the new four-wide format and a solid Q1 to set the stage for consistent runs in Vegas." Pedregon was one of four Toyota racers (along with JR Todd, Richie Crampton, and Antron Brown) who got to make burnouts Thursday at the pre-race media event. Pedregon entertained with a 1,000-foot burnout in the far-right lane. “I’m a fan of the four-wide, and I’m glad that they made it happen in Las Vegas. It’s a fun format,” he said. “It looks like we’ll have four equal lanes. It’s something I’m looking forward to. It also starts the busy time of the year. It’s going to be great for fans on the West Coast to see a four-wide.”

But not everything was great for Pedregon Friday. He has a habit of naming his NHRA Funny Car bodies. And right now, he’s naming them faster than he can build them. He sold “Scarface.” El Chingon and El Jefe already are out of commission. El Jefe blew up at the Gatornationals three weeks ago. But he scraped “El Guapo” against the wall Friday during the opening session, leaving a so-called “Darlington Stripe” on the side. So “El Guapo” isn’t so “guapo” anymore. Pedregon’s crew prepped the vintage “Frankenstein” body, but he had troubles on the Q2 launch, still isn’t qualified, and will start Saturday’s final day of time trials from the 20th and final spot. The Snap-on Tools team, which already had worked into the wee hours of the morning rebuilding the cage, will have a long night again Friday. It is planning a coming-out party Saturday for “El Cucui” (“The Boogeyman”). In the on-deck circle will be “El Chicano” (which, in tribute to Pedregon himself, refers to a Mexican born in the United States).

POINTS LEADER HAS GLITCH – Funny Car Points leader Matt Hagan lives in the rolling hills of Southwest Virginia, but he has been in the desert for a little while. The Pennzoil/Mopar Dodge Charger driver has been spending some time near Moab, Utah, “doing some Jeep stuff with ‘Chibo’ from Pennzoil, and Mopar and Jeep. It’s been a cool thing.” He said the special adventure has him “pumped to roll into Vegas and hopefully do big things.” He won here last fall but said to repeat – and this time on a four-wide layout – brings the “need to focus - It’s going to be chaotic event. It’s going to be a new event in Vegas. Obviously, something we’re used to with Charlotte, but it’s Vegas, so a little different altitude. Everything’s a little different.”

Hagan was runner-up at the latest race, at Gainesville, Fla., has led the Funny Car standings all season so far. But he had some troubles Friday, especially in the later session. He started out with a decent pass that left him No. 9, but by the end of the second session, Hagan found himself on the bump spot, with four drivers eager to knock him out of the lineup in two Saturday chances. Dickie Venables, Hagan’s crew chief, said of the Q2 quirk, “For whatever reason we didn't get a burnout," Venables said. "Not sure what caused that. It got the clutch hot. That takes the chances of it going down the track, pretty much. It does put you behind, but they've done such a good job with the racing surface. We will get our act together and be back tomorrow. We'll be fine."

WHAT? A SOLO RUN?  – The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway has given Troy Buff yet another special memory. The BME Dragster driver from Spring, Texas, still is reveling in his final-round appearance here in 2016 against Antron Brown. Friday’s first qualifying session handed him a quirky memory.

“It was really funny. I got out at the top end and I kind of giggled,” Buff said. “Somebody said, ‘What’s so funny, Troy? You smoked the tires.’ I said, ‘I just thought it was funny. I came to race four-wide, and I get a single. Three guys didn’t show up.’” Terry Haddock, Terry Totten, and Steve Chrisman – who had been assigned to his so-called “quad” – were unable to make a pass. Buff is 10th overnight, with two more qualifying sessions Saturday.


OH, MAGOO . . . – Nebraska native Terry Totten didn’t make an appearance in either Top Fuel session Friday, so his first four-wide experience will have to wait until Saturday. He will be making his third appearance of the season and his NHRA pro career. He’ll go for his second start in the former Mr. Magoo car with Don Sosenka as his crew chief.


NOT STELLAR BUT MAYBE A WINNER – With a member from Top Fuel standout Damien Harris’ crew at Rapisarda Autosport International joining him from Australia, Scott Palmer started his weekend by qualifying in the provisional No. 3 position at 3.877 seconds (at 314.68 mph). “That might not be a stellar number,” Palmer said after that first pass, “but it could win a race Sunday.” He improved to 3.850, 322.50 later in the day but slid to the tentative No. 8 slot, with two Saturday sessions before the field is set. But he’s in the top half overnight.


IN THE FIELD – Terry Haddock waited until the second session to attempt a qualifying run, and his strategy paid off. He’s 12th in the lineup after Friday’s sessions.


SNEAK PEEK – The Top Fuel class’ most recent winner, Richie Crampton, joined Kalitta Motorsports teammate JR Todd – as well as Antron Brown and Cruz Pedregon – at the pre-race press conference Thursday that featured the first four-wide burnout at Las Vegas. The head start might have been a factor in Crampton’s Friday performance. He was fourth in the opening session and sixth after the second session.


CAN HE HIT 50? – Mac Tools driver Doug Kalitta is zooming in on his 50th No. 1 qualifying position. He’s aiming to be the 14th driver to achieve that status. He’s No. 2 overnight Friday, with two chances Saturday to hit the milestone.



THAT DARN SENSOR - Terry McMillen was quickest to half-track of all the Top Fuel drivers during the first session, but a front-wheel sensor malfunctioned and automatically shut off the Amalie Oil Dragster midway through the run. McMillen said it read the data twice “and thought we went twice the distance and shut the car off. We made an adjustment on it this morning, and it was a little too much. It cost us the No. 1 spot [in his quad], because we were ahead of everybody. We’ve got a good baseline.”

He finished the first day of qualifying at the tentative No. 9 position. McMillen, who still is savoring his victory – his first NHRA victory – from this track last fall, might have a bit of that legendary Las Vegas luck on his side: he happens to be staying in the exact same hotel room he stayed in during his last visit here. 


HOPING TO CONVERT – Parts Plus / Denso Dragster driver Clay Millican and crew chief Dave Grubnic will be trying to convert outstanding qualifying performance to a second career victory for Millican. The West Tennessee driver has qualified No. 1 at two the first three races and started third at Phoenix. 

“Obviously, the goal is wins, but if we keep knocking down semifinals all summer, come the Countdown, we’ll be in a good position,” Millican said. “I feel like there will be some wins along the way, but it’s all coming together. We started the year with a chassis we didn’t know, but it looks like Grubby has found more power. I know we have a car that can outrun anybody, and that allows me to concentrate on just doing my job. It is really a lot of fun. I would definitely say we’re further along than any group I’ve ever had to start the year. We’re way further ahead than we were at this time last year, and all things considered, we’re in really good shape. When we go down the track, we’re pretty awesome. Everyone has a good handle on everything, and I’m having a blast.”

During the renovation at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Millican said he paid close attention on social media and, like Funny Car’s Ron Capps, predicted a full house this weekend. And that just adds to the liveliness for Millican. “I really like the chaos of the four-wide, all the crazy staging. It’s fun. When it’s all said and done, we’re there to make the fans have a good time. When you have something new like this, it’s a good chance there’s some new people watching, and I love showing fans what they’ve been missing.” Millican is 11th in the order following two sessions.

STAYING OUT WEST – Steve Chrisman is staying close to home so far this season. The Anaheim, Calif., resident skipped Gainesville, after first-round exits at Pomona and Phoenix. He went to eight races and qualified at each last year in the Pronto Auto Service Center Dragster.


NO FOULS IS GOAL – Mike Salinas, the determined By Area business owner began his first fulltime season with a pair of first-round losses to Antron Brown but bounced back with a quarterfinal finish at Gainesville. He’s hoping he can prove his driving skills and make a run at his first Wally without any disqualifications involved. At Phoenix, he red-light. At the Gatornationals, he took advantage of Steve Torrence’s center-line foul to advance but committed the same infraction to exit in the next round. 


SCHUMACHER LOOKS FOR FIRST FOUR-WIDE WIN – Tony Schumacher is the most successful Top Fuel driver ever, with 83 trophies (including eight from Las Vegas, four from the spring event). But none has come in four-wide competition. In eight previous four-wide outings at Charlotte, he has advanced to the final three times but has had to be proud of a runner-up finish as his best showing (to Spencer Massey in 2012 and 2013 and to Steve Torrence last year). Still, the U.S. Army Dragster driver is fine with the format.

“We’ve all done it enough times that we’re pretty used to it, by now,” Schumacher said. “One cool way to look at it is you only have to win three rounds – or finish top-two in the first two rounds and win the third – and you have yourself a Wally. How many times have I won three rounds and not come away with a Wally? If you add those 65 runner-up finishes to my 83 wins, I’d have 148 and that would tie us with John Force for best all-time. Seriously, though, racing four-wide is an action-packed show that’s fitting for a place like Las Vegas. Picture one of those old-time Vegas prize fights between two rivals and you add two more guys to the ring and let them have at it. That would be crazy. Well, that’s four-wide racing. You can have two rivals or two hot drivers who are trying to beat each other, and you add two other drivers to the race. It’s incredible for the fans. Who do you watch? Who do you pull for? Who do you pay attention to? It’s sensory overload for the drivers down there, and it’s sensory overload for the fans in the stands, for sure.”

FATHER-SON TAG TEAM – Missing his Poncho Villa mustache for the second race but gaining his dad as a teammate for the second time this year, the Capco Contractors Dragster headliner and Top Fuel points leader knows it will be Billy Torrence’s first time to experience the four-wide format. “My dad and I have raced together since I was a teenager,” Steve Torrence said, “and racing him in the semifinals at Phoenix was one of the great moments of all time. And he tried to kick my butt!” Steve Torrence, who made it clear last fall he doesn’t like the Countdown, also isn’t crazy about four-wide racing. Nevertheless, he knows how to navigate the tricky procedure.

He won the spring four-wide race at Charlotte once and was a finalist there in each of the past two years. “These are 10,000-horsepower race cars that accelerate to 330 miles an hour. You don’t want to have to think about what you’re going to do when you’re strapped in there. You want to have trained yourself well enough to just do it,” Torrence said. “But when you go four-wide, you change the normal way you do things.  You just don’t feel totally comfortable.” Even so, he’s game to see if he can earn his 18th career victory.

MY FIRST TIME - After losing to son Steve in the Phoenix semifinal round in February, Capco Contractors boss Billy Torrence is taking the four-wide challenge for the first time. “This is the first time even to attend a four-wide event!” he said. “It’s pretty cool. It’s pretty noisy.” It was pretty cool, indeed, for he was No. 1 after the first session. He landed in the No. 5 position by the end of the day.

LIKES FOUR-WIDE RACING – Leah Pritchett has proven herself better than what her 2018 start might suggest. Pritchett is looking this weekend to get past the second round for the first time in four events. And she has been studying video of the Charlotte spring races to get in a rhythm, at least virtually.

“Our team has a proven track record of having a strong grasp on the various Vegas race conditions, which brings confidence heading West after a promising Gatornationals performance. There are currently no ‘four-wide’ practice trees to help prepare, so I’ve been watching replays on tape and through my mind, to make the four-wide become as real this weekend as it was almost a year ago in Charlotte.”

Pritchett, the Papa John’s Pizza Dragster driver, is using logic to cope with the curveball a four-wide format throws at all drivers.

“Some drivers feel strongly one way or another toward four-wide racing as a whole. But I take the approach of ‘How can you excel at something you don’t embrace?’ Can it throw all of us off our very much dialed-in precision routine? Yes. Are there larger chances for error? Yes. Does race-day mentality change once past the Christmas tree? Yes. Does it require a maximum level of focus? Of course. But that’s what the four-wide racing brings, beyond just the cars being physically lined up four-wide across. I feel Vegas is the perfect venue to debut the second four-wide event, as it’s the opposite side of the country from Charlotte, and the two races are close enough to each other that it won’t seem so foreign when we get to Charlotte. To all of our West Coast fans who have never experienced this, you’re really not going to want to forget your earplugs this time.”

HIGHT LEADS IN FUNNY CAR – Robert Hight understandably enjoys returning to this Las Vegas track, whether it’s the traditional two-wide venue or now a four-wide challenge.

He’s No. 1 heading into the final day of qualifying, thanks to his 3.963-second, 321.42-mph effort that was quickest and fastest in the Funny Car class Friday. The Auto Club Chevy Camaro driver, with extra confidence as the two-time and reigning class champion, has five victories and seven No. 1 starts here, including three victories and four No. 1 qualifying positions at this spring event.

His two With his two victories at the Charlotte four-wide event, it’s no wonder Hight said of this Las Vegas inaugural four-wide, “Bring it on. I have had success in the four-wide format. I don’t change my routine. You just have to race your own race and try and be one of the first two race cars to the finish line. In that last round on Sunday, I want to be the first one across the stripe.”

FIFTH TIME THE CHARM? – Will the fifth time be the charm, in a four-wide race, for Advance Auto Parts driver Courtney Force? The Phoenix winner is seeking her first victory here and second of this season. She has made the final round four times, once at the spring event, and has had a No. 1 qualifier in two of the past four years here, including at last year’s race.
“It mixes things up a little bit,” she said, admitting that on first sight, the familiar facility looked “strange.”

It will be strange to see the new (four-wide) design but I know my team will be able to get a handle on it and get our first four-wide win,” Force said. “We are coming into Vegas focused on getting another win this season. There is always a huge crowd there. It will be great to be back.”


HAPPIEST MAN ON THE PROPERTY?- John Force might be the happiest racer at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. All the buzz is about the first four-wide race in the West; the conversation has shifted from his team’s string of spectacular engine explosions. Moreover, this four-abreast racing is something positive for him to talk about.


“I won the first four-wide in Charlotte,” he said. “I had to study it. We were all screwed up just like all the other drivers and crew chiefs, and we had to really study it. The trickiest part is understanding the tree. I still go up there and watch and study while Pro Stock is up. It moves so fast. It’s a mind rush. Throwing two more race cars in there, it’s 40,000 horsepower. It’s unbelievable. To have won the inaugural in Charlotte, it was something special and unique.”

Force can boast of his success in first-time events. He won the first Traxxas Shootout in 2012, the first (and only) 50th anniversary NHRA Nationals at Pomona in 2001, and the first Winston No Bull Showdown (for a $210,00 payout) in 1998. The 16-time champion has won six times here, including 2012 and 2015 at the spring event. This weekend, his PEAK Chevy Camaro will be branded with Boss Shops, a 42-outlet industry leader in truck repairs.

FIRED UP – Count Jack Beckman as one of the folks excited about four-wide drag racing heading West.  “There are a hundred reasons to be excited about rolling into Vegas for this race. It’s the first time at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that we’ll have a four-wide event.” He said before he arrived here that he was eager to see the upgrades.

He already was fired up: "The Infinite Hero team just came off of our first win of the year, a huge victory at the Gatornationals. It’ll be exciting to try and continue that momentum.” Beckman was top qualifier at this race in 2016 at this track where he made his NHRA pro debut in Top Fuel in 2005. He owns the Las Vegas Funny Car elapsed-time and speed records (3.854 seconds, 335.57 mph, both set last season).


BIRTHDAY BOY – Once again, Tommy Johnson Jr. is celebrating his birthday at Las Vegas. But the two-time winner of this event (2001, 2017) isn’t the only one who will receive surprises. Johnson said he expects them to be pleasant ones. 

“It’s neat to be part of a first event like this, and it’s going to be really cool. This will be a unique one. I’ve heard from a lot of fans on the West Coast at the first two races who are excited to see four-wide racing for the first time,” the Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger driver said. “It definitely takes a lot more thinking as a driver, because there’s a lot more going on. You have to have your act together and be aware of what’s going on. Me, personally, I like it. It adds a new level of difficulty, but if you can overcome that and excel at it, it gives you an advantage. There’s certain things you have to add to your routine just because of this event. It’s just another level of having to remind yourself. You can easily fall back into habits that can really bite you.”

Entering as the reigning event champ has the Don Schumacher Racing driver even more gung-ho. “It has always been one of my favorite tracks, and I’ve always done really well here. It’ll be a bit different this time around, but I don’t mind four-wide racing at all. I feel sometimes it gives certain people an advantage, so I enjoy that. We’ll see if we can’t go back and repeat and kick the wins off this season. We’ll just do it four at a time instead of two.”


NEW CAR FOR WILKERSON – John Force, Robert Hight, and Matt Hagan aren’t the only ones at the most recent race who had engine explosions and fires in their Funny Cars. So did Tim Wilkerson. And Friday he debuted a new carbon-fiber body and Murf McKinney chassis for his Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Shelby Mustang. "We've had a lot going on since Gainesville,” the owner-driver-crew chief said. “After we had the blow-up there, we brought the car back to Murf McKinney, and he fixed it up. We got a new carbon-fiber body because the other one was damaged. We have a new bottom-end guy who was with us in Gainesville. And he's going to come to Vegas and we'll see about using him. There are a lot of things happening for us, but I'd like to think they're all good things and that we're moving in the right direction."

Wilkerson won the 2016 Charlotte four-wide race and was a back-to-back runner-up at that event (2013, 2014). "We have a pretty good handle on that Charlotte racetrack, and I think that's why we've done pretty well at the four-wide race in the past. I don't know if that can translate to Las Vegas, but we're hoping to turn our woes around. I'm optimistic that we'll do good in Vegas. We need to do better, and we're hoping we're able to take the success we've had in the past with this format and bring it [here]." Wilkerson won this race in 2008.

CAN CAPPS RATTLE OFF WINS? – The Funny Car class’ most recent four-wide winner, Capps said his two semifinal finishes in three races so far have him thinking it’s not “out of the question that we can rattle off wins like we did last year.” The NAPA Dodge Charger driver said he’s thrilled his team is ahead of its expectations after switching to a six-disc clutch. “We’re excited to be as good as we were the last couple races,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m talking out of school to say I see our team rattling off some wins real soon.” Anticipating sell-out crowds this entire weekend, Capps said, “It’s great, seeing this type of excitement from the West Coast for this race. Last year, getting a four-wide trophy was big. It’s an exciting time right now with NHRA.”

As for his own class, he said, “There’s so many good cars if you leave them out of the conversation they can bite you in a heartbeat. The class has just continued to grow, and it’s amazing how many full-time cars there are in Funny Car. I did a radio interview and I was asked to make a list of who is going to make the Countdown. And as you go down the list, you realize there’s way more really good full-time cars than spots for the Countdown. It’s going to be very interesting.”

BURKART TEAM CONNECTED – Driver Phil Burkart and team owner Robert Schwab raced three events together in 2017 -- Pomona 1, Phoenix and Las Vegas 1 – and qualified at all three races. They’ll make their 2018 debut this weekend in the TNT First Aid Funny Car – with financial support, as well, from Amethyst Beverage of Reno. Jeff Midgley, founder of TNT First Aid, has an array of products – including BurnFree and the Virtual Medic phone app – that will appear on the race car as associate sponsors.

The association between Schwab and Midgley is one with dramatic beginnings. They have been friends since the day in 1999 when Midgley save Schwab’s life. Schwab was making a test pass 19 years ago at Rocky Mountain Raceway in Utah, and his car hit the wall and burst into flames. Midgley was working as chief medic at the track. He rushed to the scene and saw that the fire was so intense that Schwab’s helmet was melting onto his face. Schwab suffered severe facial burns, but the results would have been worse, were it not for Midgley’s quick thinking, knowledge, and training.

Schwab said, "Jeff’s and my relationship was etched in stone in 1999, when he pulled my unconscious body out of my Funny Car. I woke up with Jeff yelling 'Can you hear me?!' to which I responded, 'Get this [bleeping] helmet off me,' because it was burning me and I couldn't breathe. A lot of things lined up that day to make it possible for me to even be here today. I'm honored to now be working with Jeff to get the word out about his First Aid kits, BurnFree and the Virtual Medic phone app."

For Midgley, it’s gratifying to be associated with Schwab and Burkart. "It's very rewarding to have the TNT First Aid Funny Car come to life in Las Vegas," Midgley said. "This brings Robert Schwab and me full circle, in a sense, as it was 19 years ago at when I first met Robert after rescuing him from a terrible testing crash."  

Burkart said, "I'm excited to get back in a nitro Funny Car, and I'm really happy to be showcasing TNT First Aid, BurnFree and Virtual Medic. Once you see their products, you remember the value of being prepared for any emergency. We work in a dangerous environment out here, and it pays to be aware of what can happen. I'm honored Robert has asked me to drive his car again. We have worked well together in the past, and I enjoy the family atmosphere of his race team. Maybe we can shake some things up.”

Schwab’s operation is headquartered at Grantsville, Utah, and the crew is composed of technicians from Wheeler Machinery, of Salt Lake City. And the connections keep on going with this team. Schwab, who has been working for Jim Head Racing since this past winter to help fund his clutch research, said he wants to be part of what he predicts could be history: the first all-three-second Funny Car field. That’s especially exciting for him and Burkart, because they hadn’t planned to race Schwab’s car at all this season.

"We had actually planned to sit out the year until Jeff and I started talking. So we are excited," Schwab said. "Last year we were running an outdated clutch. Over the winter, a light went off and it all became very clear why we need a stiffer clutch hat. Short on funds, I asked Jim Head if I could go work for them driving trucks and helping with the car maintenance to pay for the clutch I wanted. I have been with them all season so far and now have a clutch that will perform much better. There is a little quiet race going on with about four teams right now that have not run in the three-second zone, and this event could very well be the first all three-second Funny Car field. We plan on being a part of it all. Chemistry is extremely important to me [in] building this team. I believe the crew is like the front line of a football team, protecting the quarterback, and they all need to be working together. Phil has a personality that enhances this team's chemistry, and that's exciting when it comes to race day. It's a pleasure to work with such a quality driver and such a good guy."

Meanwhile, Midgley, the veteran medic and safety specialist who has treated drivers in drag racing, the IndyCar Series, and NASCAR, has developed a variety of first aid products for use in homes, businesses, racetracks and transporters. Moto-FAK grew from Midgley's personal experiences and familiarity with the most common injuries in motorsports settings. The kit focuses on burns, eye injuries, sprains, and cuts. BurnFree, he said, was a product he used on Schwab’s face following his accident. "In my estimation, no race transporter should be without a Moto-FAK. That's the main message we hope to get out through this sponsorship," Midgley said. His Virtual Medic app is a first-of-its-kind video-based program that helps users with step-by-step first aid treatments.

"One of the most exciting things about this sponsorship is this great app," Schwab said. "It really is something, because no matter where you are in the world or what you are doing, if there is a medical emergency, you will now know what to do. Everyone on the planet should have this app on
their phones. As for the Moto-FAK, well, we know racers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their race cars but usually very little on first aid. We should all be equipped to help ourselves and others when we're working out on the road."

Another Jeff has joined the fun. Jeff Flasco, CEO of Amethyst Beverage, said he’s excited to partner with this team. He said, “We are looking forward to backing Phil for some additional race in 2018 and '19." He said Amethyst Beverage’s water “has been designed to hydrate athletes 37-percent faster than normal water.”

LANGDON FEELIN’ GOOD – Of his 208 starts, only three have been in the Funny Car class. However, the multiclass champion has four rounds-wins in his newest category so far. The Global Electronic Technology Toyota Camry driver said, “I love racing in Vegas twice a year, but I have never been able to find much success. Hopefully, it will change this year with the new track and lanes and the switch to four-wide. I feel good about where we are thus far with this season.” He is looking for his first four-wide trophy.


FUNNY CAR FINAL IS TODD’S GOAL – JR Todd has reached three final rounds here at the fall event – running two-wide and in Top Fuel. But the DHL Toyota Camry driver – who made his Kalitta Motorpsorts debut here – did compete in the final round at the NHRA’s most recent four-wide event (last spring’s Charlotte race). Todd beat John Force in his first round of the season and hasn’t advanced since, so he’ll be extra-hungry this weekend.



WILD WEEKEND FOR WORSHAM – Kramer Service Group Toyota Camry driver Del Worsham has seen just about everything in drag racing, so he’s not worried about the new design of The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “When we first started doing the four-wide races in Charlotte, it took some getting used to. Some of it made perfectly logical sense, and some parts of it are still challenging because we’re all creatures of habit. We have to be,” he said. “The staging process is hard sometimes, especially when you’re in lanes two or three, with four sets of staging bulbs blinking. We’re all pretty good at it now, but you have to think it through.” He said, “We know that Bruton Smith and his group can do some amazing things, and it’s not the first time they’ve built something huge with a very short timeline. Everything they do is first class, and I’m confident the racing will be exciting. Fans in the western United States and Canada have their own four-wide now, and it will be a heck of a show. From what I’ve heard, ticket sales are really strong and it’ll be packed, especially on Saturday and Sunday.” Worsham said that although the number of lanes here has doubled, it shouldn’t be all that much of a novelty. "It’s a new surface in all four lanes, but it’s a new surface for all of us. So that shouldn’t be an issue. NHRA and the LVMS people are really good at giving us a great race track, no matter if they just added two new lanes or not,” Worsham said. “Our tune-up is sorted out now, and the car went from being almost impossible to tune to being really consistent and agreeable in Gainesville. It just goes right down Broadway. We won’t try to fix what’s not broken, [not] right now.”

But some things were broken Friday, and he had to scramble.

Worsham got no official time on his first pass. He didn’t do anything wrong, other than shaking the tires, but Cruz Pedregon’s Camry in the adjacent lane hit the wall and tripped the timers in Worsham’s lane. Even to get to that lap required an epic thrash by his Worsham & Fink team. After the crew serviced the car and put the body on it, for some reason it could not be lowered into place, hanging up on the injector. Funny Cars were not only in the lanes by the time the thrash was complete, but Worsham’s quad was due at the line next.

“That was ridiculous,” Worsham said. “There’s not really anything different about the car, but it wasn’t clearing the injector in front and it kept getting hung up on something else in the back. It was all hands on deck to hold it in place while one of my crew guys and I were under it, grinding and drilling. We barely made it up there, and then we got no time. We were all pretty exhausted, to be honest.”  They worked on the body and latch some more in the pit between sessions. They were able to fix the problem while also warming up the car, just in time to head back to the lanes for the second session. Worsham was in Lane 2 for this run, and his 4.048 was clean, safe, and right down the middle. It gave him in the No. 10 spot heading into Saturday.

“After all the drama of the first run, the last thing I wanted was to put a really aggressive tune-up in it and smoke the tires,” Worsham said. “I just wanted to make a nice clean lap and get a decent number on the board. From what I’m hearing, the forecast for tomorrow is for it to be even warmer and pretty windy. I don’t know if we can improve if the track temperature gets up over 125, so we’ll just continue to work on getting our Kramer Service Group Toyota Camry down the track.”

What Worsham would like most, he said is to put on a strong performance for his new sponsor and guests. “It will be great to have Brent LaBrie with us again and his Kramer Service Group on the sides of our Toyota Camry. He’s a great supporter of ours, and he loves the sport. We’re very fortunate to have him involved with our program. I’ve heard he’s bringing some important guests with him this weekend, and we’ll do our best to give them all something to cheer about.”

Another Worsham guest this weekend is Buck Hujabre, who was in the national touring company of the Broadway smash “Jersey Boys” before moving to the permanent Las Vegas show for a long stint. Hujabre has opened a new Las Vegas restaurant, and he’ll be supporting the Worsham team to promote The Pizza Kitchen. Hujabre, a lifelong NHRA fan since his boyhood in Baton Rouge, currently appears in a supporting role in the critically acclaimed mini-series “The Looming Tower” on Hulu.

LINDBERG PLUGGING AWAY – Head Racing’s Jonnie Lindberg advanced to three final rounds last season as a rookie, but this year is not starting the way he had hoped. He’s not in a so-called sophomore slump. He just became derailed in the second 2018 event, at Phoenix, by an accident he didn’t cause. Lindberg just happened to be in the opposite lane when John Force’s engine blew, knocking him unconscious and sending the Peak Camaro into his lane. Pinched against the guard wall with Force’s car rolling over the side of Lindberg’s, their parachutes became tangled. Both cars were destroyed, which was far more devastating for the lower-budgeted Head team. Lindberg came back at Gainesville with a fresh car but missed the cut.

“We’re struggling a little bit with the tune-up this year,” Lindberg said. “We need to keep working and doing our best to be more consistent. We have a good team, and everybody is working really hard. I just felt bad because we worked so hard for Gainesville and didn’t qualify. But then when we do better, we can appreciate it all more. It’s not easy in this class. We know the car can run low, we just need to work on doing it more often.” Lindberg, the two-time Top Alcohol Funny Car champion, said,  “Of course, in this class you always need to be on your ‘A’ game,” Lindberg said. “For me, it’s not really about going to one race or three races in a row. It’s about doing our best. Of course, this year we want to be in the top 10, and to do that, we just need to go rounds and do whatever we can do to go rounds. It’s going to be tough this year, but we’ve got a good shot at it. I’m fortunate to work with good people. They’re fun to work with and we work pretty good together. Me and Jim [team-owner Head] think the same, which is ‘If they can do it, why can’t we?” The Jim Head-owned team plans to race all 24 events this year. Lindberg said, “We’re all trying harder to get better. I’m not the best driver out there, and I still need to work on my reaction times. But I’m doing my best, and we’re just a group that works. I know Jim is out there to win, and so am I. We’re not out there to BBQ and camp. We’re out there to win races.”

‘THINKING PERSON’S GAME’ – Current Pro Stock points leader and champion Bo Butner said, "A lot of people don't particularly like the four-wide deal, but I think it's cool. It's definitely a thinking person's game, just to even stage. We've had a very good Vegas record in all the classes, and I'm happy. My buddies are out there, and we always have a good time and a great race."

In Pro Stock competition, the KB Racing / Jim Butner Auto Chevy Camaro driver has four victories in nine final-round appearances here. This where he earned his first Comp Eliminator victory, in 2001. He also won the Comp final in 2007, then in 2012, he won the fall race in both the Comp and Stock Eliminator classes. In Pro Stock, he has been runner-up four times here, including last year as Tanner Gray scored his first victory, and advanced to his first Pro Stock final in 2015. Butner started this season with a victory at Pomona, Calif., and a runner-up finish at Gainesville three weeks ago in Race No. 3.


ANDERSON FARES WELL AT VEGAS - Greg Anderson, who has eight victories in 10 Las Vegas final rounds, said the notion of four-wide drag racing is growing on him. It’s no wonder – he has two trophies from four-wide races and was No. 1 Friday.

"If you would have asked us four or five years ago, we would have said everything negative we could about racing four-wide,” he said. “But over the last few years, we've learned a little bit more about it, and it's actually not so bad. We've had some success at it in Charlotte, so I don't see why we can't have that same success in Las Vegas. That's one of our favorite tracks, and if we can go out there and get that trophy with one of our Summit Racing Chevy Camaros, our team owner, Ken Black, is going to become a big supporter of four-wide racing, just like we have." Anderson is tied with Top Fuel’s Tony Schumacher at eight Las Vegas victories, most of all professional drivers.


LINE READY TO BREAK OUT – Jason Line is second in the standings, thanks to runner-up finishes at Pomona (to Bo Butner) and Phoenix (to Chris McGaha). However, in his never-satisfied-with-himself fashion, the KB/Summit Chevy Camaro driver naturally has dwelt on those close-but-no-cigar moments and a first-round loss at Gainesville that cost him the points lead.

“It's been a little bit of a struggle for me here lately, but I need to get to the winner's circle. If it could happen in Las Vegas, in front of our team owners, Ken and Judy Black, I'd be very happy,” Line said. He is on the verge of several personal milestones. With 47 Pro Stock victories and two in the Stock Eliminator sportsman class, Line will record his 50th victory when he earns his next trophy. He already has 50 Pro Stock runner-up performances, but he’s just three final rounds away from 100 in his combined pro and sportsman career.







comp-product 700 200