2019 NHRA GATORNATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
NHRA GAINESVILLE - AMALIE OIL GATORNATIONALS
CRAMPTON CARVES TOP FUEL HISTORY OF HIS OWN AT 50TH GATORNATIONALS - Florida’s Gainesville Raceway is a Kalitta Motorsports kind of dragstrip.
It still is after Sunday’s Top Fuel final round of the Amalie Oil Gatornationals.
Capping the Gatornationals’ Silver Anniversary 24 years ago, in 1994, was the historic Top Fuel round in which Connie Kalitta defeated Scott Kalitta in the NHRA’s first father-son final round. Doug Kalitta, Connie’s nephew and the late Scott’s cousin, won the Top Fuel trophy in 2000 and 2005. Dave Grubnic gave the organization another victory in 2006. Scott Kalitta was runner-up twice but never earned a Gainesville victory.
Richie Crampton, driver of the DHL Dragster, carved some history of his own here Sunday in the Golden Anniversary of this East Coast classic, one he said is “like the East Coast Winternationals.”
Scoring a holeshot victory over Clay Millican, Crampton joined a list of legends in becoming the seventh driver to register back-to-back Gatornationals victories.
Capping a weekend that spotlighted eight of the sport’s icons (including some who pulled off the feat), Crampton is the only active Top Fuel driver to earn consecutive victories at Gainesville. Tony Schumacher (2007-08), Larry Dixon (2001-02), Eddie Hill (1992-93), Darrell Gwynn (1989-90), Shirley Muldowney (1981-82), and Don Garlits (1977-78) also achieved the distinction.
“It’s pretty hard for me to fathom right now, to do anything similar to what those legends have done in their careers. It means a lot. I think it’s going to take quite a while for this one to sink in. I’m by no means like the legends before me who have won back to back. I’m just lucky,” Crampton said.
With his ninth triumph in 11 final rounds, Crampton made another argument that he’s a master of the “big races.” But he said he can’t explain why he has been on his game at the right times.
“I’ve been lucky enough to win the 60th U.S. Nationals, now the 50th Gatornationals,” he said. “I don’t know why I’m so lucky and why I have such a great team. It puts me in a position to win like this.”
He credited his crew chiefs – team owner Connie Kalitta, Rob Flynn, and Kurt Elliott – and said he was mindful that he could match his boss’ milestone Sunday.
He said Scott Kalitta “has definitely been on my mind a lot. We’ve got Colin Kalitta hanging out with us this weekend, one of Scott’s sons who’s living here in Florida. Leading into this race, I was kind of watching old videos of that particular race where Connie raced Scott in the final round here. The history with Kalitta and this racetrack is pretty impressive, and it’s pretty nostalgic to watch Connie win here in that old video. To have him put me in the winners circle, that was something that kind of came full circle. Pretty good company to be in. We’re going to try to do it again next year.”
Winning 50th Gatornationals Wally trophies, too, were Robert Hight (Funny Car), Bo Butner (Pro Stock), and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).
This year Crampton has lost twice to Terry McMillen in the first round. But Sunday, in Race No. 3 of 24 on the Mello Yello Drag Racing Series tour, the Australian-born naturalized U.S. citizen advanced past Antron Brown, Leah Pritchett, and T.J. Zizzo.
He defeated Millican, relying on a .042-second reaction time to make his 3.769-second elapsed time at 323.89 mph to top Millican’s 3.756, 324.67 in the Great Clips/ Strutmaster Dragster for Straightline Strategy Group. Millican launched in .058 of a second.
Crampton’s margin of victory was .0032 seconds, or about 18 inches. That was enough to vault him from 10th place in the standings to a tie with Phoenix winner Billy Torrence for fourth place. Doug Kalitta continues to lead the points chase as the tour heads back west to Las Vegas for some four-wide action April 5-7 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Millican, of Drummonds, Tenn., was seeking his fourth NHRA victory and first since last year’s Route 66 Nationals at Joliet, Ill.
He also was looking to make a statement with a first NHRA victory with crew chief Mike Kloeber. The tandem won six consecutive IHRA championships and a record 52 victories.
Strong rookies Austin Prock and Jordan Vandergriff, as well as two-time Gatornationals winner Doug Kalitta, were Millican’s victims Sunday on his way his first final-round appearance here since 2013. Susan Wade
GAINESVILLE FC WINNER ROBERT HIGHT: 'I THINK I GOT AWAY WITH ONE' - Robert Hight was this close to throwing away a victory in the 50th-annual Amelie Oil NHRA Gatornationals on Sunday at Gainesville Raceway.
The two-time champion had a bracket car this weekend, running 3.86 after 3.86 in rolling to the final round.
Lining up against Tim Wilkerson, Hight knew he had to hit the Christmas tree hard, as Wilkerson has been good on the starting line all weekend.
"I saw him last night, and I told him, 'I've been watching. You've had great lights all through qualifying,'" Hight said. "He told me he poured a new seat and got more comfortable in the car. He had the best lights of any Funny Car driver in qualifying.
"I knew going up there I was going to have to be on my game. I got a little antsy; it was a long tree. I started to go, caught it, then went all the way down."
Instead of a red light, Hight's reaction time was .031 seconds, which in Funny Car is unusually good.
"It's a good thing I didn't deep-stage," Hight said. "I think I got away with one, to be honest with you."
Wilkerson, meanwhile, smoked the tires at the hit, providing no match to Hight's brilliant run of 3.867 seconds at 331.61 mph. That gave Hight his second victory of 2019 and his fourth Gatornationals title.
"This is a big one," Hight said. "The 50th, there will only be one of those. It seems like my boss always wins the big races. I finally got one. This is a cool race to win, especially with everybody that's at this race. The who's who of drag racing was at this event, a lot of the people I looked up to growing up as a kid. Now I’m holding the trophy and they're watching me, so it's kind of a cool thing."
Whether Hight "got away with one" could be up for debate, but there's no doubt he was dominant this weekend. He qualified No. 1 and then dispatched Terry Haddock, Ron Capps and John Force en route to the final. And his four runs Sunday were remarkably consistent: 3.869, 3.870, 3.852 and 3.867.
"I've never seen a fuel car so consistent as what I have right now, especially a Funny Car," Hight said. "If you take last night's qualifying run and the first two rounds (today), it was two-thousandths apart for three runs. We broke out, basically, in the semis and ran .85 and then back to an .86 in the final round."
Hight said crew chief Jimmy Prock and assistant crew chief Chris Cunningham have been pleased with the clutch package in Hight's Chevrolet, comparing their early-season performance to his championship-winning 2017 season.
"Qualifying No. 1 at the first three races, pretty impressive," Hight said. "It shows we've got a really good handle on this race car. That goes back to over the winter. We didn’t get the job done on the last day of the season last year, and my team really worked hard (over the winter). They do not want to be in that spot again. They want to be ready to win at the end of the year." Lee Montgomery
BO BUTNER WINS A CRAZY PRO STOCK RACE, JOINS FIANCE RANDY LYN SHIPP AS GATORNATIONALS WINNER - The 50th annual Amalie Motor Oil NHRA Gatornationals on Sunday at Gainesville Raceway will go down as one of the weirdest races in Pro Stock.
The last driver standing – or, sitting, as it were, as he was the only driver in the final round – was Bo Butner, and, boy, was he appreciative of winning the 50th Gatornationals.
"It's just absolutely crazy," Butner said. "God gets this glory because I had no shot at winning rounds today. First round, we did our job, but second round we didn’t get down the track and third round we didn’t get down the track. Just some mishaps on the other side of the track for the other guys.
"But the KB (Racing) guys never gave up. They looked, and we tried everything. It made the best run of the weekend I made in the final, so we were ready for the final."
Take nothing away from Butner, for he's holding the Gators trophy. But this was a weird one.
• Erica Enders has a .050-second advantage on the Christmas tree against Chris McGaha in the first round – but loses
• Jeg Coughlin loses on a holeshot to Kenny Delco
• Shane Tucker wins on a holeshot with a .048 light – because Matt Hartford was .112
• Tucker gets the second-round jump on Delco, but Delco runs him down and goes to the semifinals
• Deric Kramer has an .006 light against Butner in E2 but rattles the tires
• Alex Laughlin and Greg Anderson run brilliant 6.50s in the second round, with Laughlin winning on a holeshot
• No. 1 qualifier Rodger Brogdon leaves before the tree in the semis, giving Butner a pass to the final despite an 8.103-second pass
• Laughlin ends Delco's Cinderella day with a 6.531 for lane choice in the final
Finally, the weirdness ends as Laughlin's engine ate itself – well, OK, he had ignition problems – before the final, giving Butner a rare final-round single. He joined fiancé Randy Lyn Shipp as a Gatornationals winner, as she won Stock on Saturday night. Shipp also lines Butner up in the staging beams, and is the last person Butner sees before he races.
"I had Randi Lyn sitting there, closing the door, knowing she had just won the night before," Butner said. "And then my crew chief looked at me and says, 'He broke, you won.' It's troubling, but you have to still stage. And then I wanted to make a good run.
"It's unfortunate for Alex. I’m sure we'll have many races throughout the season. They're tough. He made some good runs today, but I'll take my team."
Butner would have been hard to beat, as he ran 6.505 in the final. But he knows he had some St. Patrick's day luck.
"Today was all about being in the right place at the right time." Butner said. "We've had a good car. It's been consistent the first three races. It’s the best crew. (team owners) Judy and Ken Black are like second parents to me, and they take care of us and make sure we have good stuff. It says a lot for them. I am a renter: I rent a ride. But they give me the best, and that's pretty cool." Lee Montgomery
ACE, PROFESSOR STAGE WILD LEGENDS RUNOFF FINAL; SATURDAY ACTION FEATURES WRECKS, EXPLOSION; BIKE NEWCOMERS SHOW PASSION
The NHRA’s “Unfinished Business” promotion seemed like anything but unfinished business by the time Saturday was over, thanks to the shenanigans of Funny Car pioneer Ed “The Ace” McCulloch and “Professor of Pro Stock” Warren Johnson.
The eight-car field of legends racing in identically prepared Toyota Camrys at the 50th edition of the storied Gatornationals was supposed to cap a year-long celebration of drag racing’s pioneers, heroes, champions, and tough guys. Maybe that should be wise-guys.
In an unexpected twist based on the weather forecast, the NHRA moved the final round that was scheduled for Sunday afternoon at the Amalie-Oil sponsored Mello Yello Drag Racing Series event to Saturday afternoon.
Johnson – who has six championships and 97 victories – officially can claim the title of the NHRA’s legend of legends. He defeated 22-time winner McCulloch in the final that triggered another go down the Gainesville Raceway dragstrip.
As they approached the starting line, McCulloch questioned Johnson’s . . . ahem . . . transparency in preparing for the showdown. After all, Johnson developed the reputation of being wily – and undeniably skilled in preparing his General Motors Pro Stock cars. He enhanced the mystique by smiling wryly and insisting that “Old age and treachery beat youth and inexperience.”
McCulloch suggested Johnson’s car was faster than the other seven in the competition and said, “You can’t make that up in reaction time.” Then he stepped from his car and offered Johnson a friendly challenge: “How about we trade cars right now?”
They didn’t, as Johnson said, “All I’m doing is driving it.” The GM evangelist reportedly had lifted the hood on his assigned Camry, only to have a Toyota representative shut it before he could get a long look at it.
So they raced in the original cars, and Johnson won. At the top end of the track, they shook hands and Johnson said, “I got lucky on that deal. Toyota gave me a good race car.”
Asked if they wanted a do-over, Johnson shrugged and said, “Yeah, I’ll try anything.”
McCulloch certainly was game to get behind the wheel of Johnson’s Camry. He said, “I’d like to try it. Let’s go!”
So they switched cars – but not before Johnson tinkered with something on or near the dashboard. But McCulloch got in and won the rematch and said, “I rest my case.” Then McCulloch said, “He took us to school all weekend long. It’s all in fun.”
Or is it?
The legends tossed around the idea Friday that they would be interested in doing the event again next year, for charity.
Until then – or maybe forever – the verdict of who’s the best of the legends is unread.
Fans chose the first-round pairings.
Johnson on Saturday defeated Shirley Muldowney, who Friday had dusted off her longtime nemesis, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits in a rematch of their 1982 Top Fuel final on this racetrack. Johnson eliminated Pro Stock Motorcycle founder Terry Vance in the opening round.
McCulloch’s victim Saturday morning was five-time Top Fuel champion Joe Amato, who knocked off “King of Speed” Kenny Bernstein in the first round. “The Ace” backed up his pre-race trash-talking Friday by beating Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, who had enjoyed a 14-2 advantage over him during their active Funny Car driving days.
‘PIPELINE ALWAYS GETS REFILLED’ – Ed “The Ace” McCulloch said that years ago, the question used to come up about who would replace such legendary crew chiefs as Austin Coil and Tim Richards and who might be the cream of the next generation’s crop of drivers.
Don “The Snake” Prudhomme immediately offered, “Austin Prock.” The legend was instrumental in lining up sponsorship for the 23-year-old John Force Racing rookie and closely follows his progress.
Darrell Gwynn chimed in, “JR Todd” and said, “I’ve got news for you. That JR Todd kid, I just singled him out, but just knowing what I know about him and how perfect that kid is all the time behind the wheel, he’s as good as anybody in this room.”
“I don’t know about that,” Todd said.
“That’s pretty high praise, coming from legends of our sport. I mean, those are all guys that I looked up to as a kid. That’s reaching, if you ask me,” he said. “I’m just honored to be able to share the race track with those guys this weekend. Like I said, those are all guys I looked up to, and it’s awesome to have . . . you know, Kenny Bernstein’s over hanging out in our pit area this weekend. Snake, he’s always calling me and texting me, seeing how things are going. Ace, he likes to come by and see us. So just having those guys at least pay attention to what we’re doing means a lot to me as a driver.”
Todd knows better than to become too puffed up about that. He wasn’t the least bit surprised to learn that after Gwynn expressed his compliments, Prudhomme piped up. “Wait a minute!” he said.
“Exactly. Snake, he’s the first one to bust your chops, for sure,” Todd said with a laugh. “He’s not going to tell anybody how good they really are. He’s always going to be better than you, that’s for sure. That’s something he told me when we won Sonoma in 2017. He said, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll always be second-best to me.’ If I’m second-best to somebody, it might as well be Snake. So I thought that was pretty cool. I’ve got to thank Darrell for saying that. That means a lot. Like I said, it’s just cool having those guys paying attention to what we’re doing. I guess it means I’m doing something right.”
Winning a championship will get the attention of even a legend. But Todd insisted that a number of individuals shaped his championship career.
“When you have a good team like I do behind me, they make my job easier than what it is. It’s definitely not easy to go out there and win races and win a championship. I think Funny Car is the toughest category in our sport right now,” he said. “To be able to win that, I don’t know. I never expected to be able to do that in Funny Car. I always thought if it were to happen, it’d be in a Top Fuel dragster. I don’t know. I’m definitely a Funny Car guy now. I mean, I’m not dogging dragsters or anything like that, but I love Funny Cars.
“Growing up, I was always into dragsters when I raced Jr. Dragsters. Got in Bruce’s [Litton’s] car right out of high school, driving a Top Fuel car in IHRA, so that’s kind of the path I wanted to go. Then going and working at Gilbertson’s, that kind of changed my mind about things. You kind of form a love for Funny Cars when you understand how cool and how difficult they are,” Todd said. “I got to make a test run in his [Gilbertson’s] car in 2005 at the Indy test, so that kind of planted the seeds – like if the right opportunity ever comes along in my career that I can drive one of these things, that’s what I want to do. It finally happened, so here we are.”
He said he still visits with Gilbertson when the chance presents itself: “Whenever I see him, usually at the Charlotte race, so it’s cool to hear from guys like that and they tell you how proud they are of you and what have you. I haven’t forgot about guys like Bob, Bruce, Dexter Tuttle, guys that all helped me out to get to this point in my career.”
McCulloch said he always responded to the next-wave question by saying, “Look around. Look at the guys who are helping us. Those guys are probably better than us, because they’re into the electronics today and they know the computers better than we did. So realistically, they’re better than we were. There’s no shortage of talent.”
Kenny Bernstein said, “The pipeline always gets refilled. In any sport, in any endeavor, the pipeline always gets refilled. We’ll be gone. We’ll be talking about these guys 10-15 years from now. I think any sport’s that way.”
HINES SETS NATIONAL BIKE E.T. RECORD – Pro Stock Motorcycle top qualifier Andrew Hines accomplished Saturday something even he couldn’t do for the past seven years – break his national elapsed-time record. The Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Street Rod racer reeled off a 6.720-second pass late Saturday afternoon that reset the mark by eight-thousandths of a second. It had stood since the October 2012 race at Reading, Pa. Of course, it also re-established the track E.T. record, eclipsing teammate Eddie Krawiec’s 2012 Gainesville Raceway mark.
“I’ve got my teammate who’s got four of those time tickets now. It’s tough. It’s hard to get that last little bit of speed there. These things are pushing a lot of wind down there, and it definitely makes it difficult. But hey, 6.720. We haven’t set a national E.T. record in Pro Stock Motorcycle since I did in 2012. So it’s nice to break that barrier again and get it back for, or keep it for, Harley-Davidson and Vance & Hines,” he said. “The guys have been working hard. My crew guy Mike, he welded this chassis up, did all the fabrication work on most of the motorcycle. He’s probably more pumped than I am. He’s jazzed.”
No. 3 qualifier Matt Smith, the current class champion, led the field provisionally Friday night with the bikes’ national speed record of 201.76 mph. That overrode the 201.22 he clocked last November at Pomona, Calif. Smith’s 201.76 beat the 201.01-mph track record Hector Arana Jr. set a year ago.
SEPARATE ACCIDENTS MAR SATURDAY ACTION - D.J. Cox was unhurt Saturday in a crash during the first round of Top Alcohol Funny Car eliminations. His accident came shortly after Pro Modified driver Mike Castellana crashed hard in a qualifying run and ruined his car but was uninjured.
Cox’s Dixie Construction Chevy Monte Carlo got out of the groove, and he pedaled the car, but it turned to the left, and smashed into the opposite guard wall nearly head-on. The impact shattered the front end of the body and launched it, spraying parts and debris across both lanes. The body came to rest upside down in Cox’s original (right) lane, and the front end of the chassis was mangled and shredded.
Cox exited the tub of the car on his own power and was walking around at the accident site, talking with emergency officials. He said, “I’m OK. Medical cleared me.”
This was the first brand-new car the Whiteford, Md., racer had driven.
Castellana did not return to the E3 / J&A Service Pro Mod Series season-opener, because he does not have a back-up car.
The Al-Anabi Performance/Western Beef Camaro driver from Muttontown, N.Y., was unhurt in the cross-lane crash, but his Chevy didn’t fare as well.
It ran into severe tire shake at about 330 feet on the course, spun him around in the right lane, and pushed him across the track behind competitor Chad Green. The car slapped the left guard wall, then looped around. A crew member said later that a wheel bearing popped off, causing the rear tire to do the same as the car slowed to a halt in the left lane.
The body of the brand-new Camaro was scuffed, but the crew pronounced it fixable and said it would be ready for the next Pro Mod race, in a few weeks at Houston.
MAKE-A-WISH: JOHNSON, CREW WANT EXPLOSIONS TO STOP – In just three weeks, Funny Car racer Tommy Johnson’s situation went from rough-to-take to tough-to-beat.
And in about two seconds Saturday evening, their efforts blew up in a fiery spectacle that didn’t hurt anything but their feelings and team owner Don Schumacher’s pocketbook.
Johnson experienced two serious body-destroying engine explosions in his Make-A-Wish Dodge Charger at the Magic Dry Arizona Nationals near Phoenix. But Friday he took the early No. 8 qualifying position and improved to fifth overnight. Then in Saturday’s third overall session, Johnson zipped to the top of the order, trumping tentative No. 2 John Force’s elapsed time by one-thousandth of a second. While Force was wanting to set himself up for a strong shot at earning his NHRA record-extending 150th victory, Johnson was looking for some safe consistency.
His hard-working crew had scrambled to build him a new ride – after they drove 1,700 miles back to the Brownsburg, Ind., shop and before they had to drive it 863 miles down here to Gainesville, Fla.
“The guys had lot of work to do the last two weeks between races. Luckily, we had that amount of time. The guys worked hard every day,” Johnson said.
That was just practice for them. They’ll have to do it again – this time overnight. Johnson is the No. 3 qualifier and will meet No. 14 John Smith in the first round of Sunday’s eliminations.
They’ll be working late into the night Saturday because Johnson’s engine blew up in the final Funny Car qualifying session, tossing the body over the guard wall onto a grassy strip in front of the return road and grandstands.
“We had some small chassis work to do. We were fortunate the frame wasn’t bent, so it was a small fix,” he said of the post-Phoenix task. “We had to get another Hellcat body mounted. We’re actually down to our last two bodies. Fortunately, there was another one that had just been mounted or we would have been in trouble.”
They might officially be in trouble now.
“The guys did a lot of work. We had to rebuild everything. It was not only the body, but we had to go over all the parts. We hurt two blowers [and] two manifolds. It starts adding up quickly, and then you have all the little pieces that you don’t see, like the cable and all the smaller pieces, that got burnt,” Johnson said. “They did a great job to put it all back together, and we come out here Saturday afternoon and go low in the third session. It shows that their hard work paid off and the level of job that they are doing to continue the performance that we’ve been on. I’m really happy for them.”
He spoke too soon. But Johnson has seen his team perform miracles before. Tommy Johnson earned his only Englishtown, N.J., victory and his first ever at any racetrack from the No. 1 qualifying position in June 2007. Along the way to that triumph, the one he calls “still my all-time win,” his car caught fire in a Round 1 victory and appeared too charred to continue. But his crew had the car ready for him in about an hour’s turnaround time.
“I couldn’t believe that happened. It’s just not supposed to happen,” Johnson said.
Surely the Make-A-Wish driver understands miracles.
CLOSE CALL FOR BARTON, HOLBROOK IN FSS RUNOFFS – David Barton escaped injury Saturday at Gainesville, Fla., in a frightening, wall-banging, first-round accident that almost collected opponent Chris Holbrook in Factory Stock Showdown eliminations.
It was the fourth major incident Saturday at the 50th NHRA Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway.
Barton’s new Chevrolet Copo Camaro lurched to the right and shot across the racetrack directly in front of Holbrook and his ’19 Ford Mustang Cobra Jet. Somehow Holbrook managed to steer around the calamity unfolding in front of him, but Barton crashed hard into the right-lane guard wall.
“I’m not sure what happened,” Barton said after exiting his car on his own. “The car spun quickly right toward the center line and into the wall.”
Medical officials examined him on site and cleared him.
Barton, of Reading, Pa., is the 2017 Gatornationals winner and 2017 series champion in the increasingly popular new class. He’s the son of prominent HEMI engine builder Ray Barton.
Holbrook, a Lavonia, Mich., resident, is the son of legendary Ford Super Stock racer Carl Holbrook, a/k/a “Captain Cobra Jet.”
Neither racer clocked a time in the pairing.
CAMPBELL RACING WITH WOUNDED HAND – The fact Jim Campbell qualified No. 13 in the Funny Car order is a genuine accomplishment this weekend. His left hand still is mending from a stab wound he incurred in his hometown of Huntington Beach, Calif., just after the Phoenix race.
Campbell was reluctant to talk about the incident in which he and other patrons chased a wild attacker who had stabbed fellow diners then bolted from the restaurant. But he did say he was going to be fine and was just glad to help and do what was right.
According to a Feb. 26 Twitter post by CBS-LA’s Michele Gile, Campbell “helped chase a violent suspect with a knife – 3 were stabbed including Jim Campbell.”
Campbell tweeted, “Just a cut to my hand. I’m good! It’s a crazy world and I’m just glad I was there to help!”
The KCAL / CBS Los Angeles website gave this account of the crime:
“Police are investigating after the bizarre double stabbing Monday night at The Cliffs, a neighborhood bar and hang out on 17th Street. The crime scene stretched a mile away to Dog Beach near Goldenwest Street, where police say a woman was attacked by the same man who is accused of stabbing the two patrons watching a basketball game at the bar.
“’We’re watching the Lakers game, and we hadn’t had not a clue. He just all of a sudden come up, and shanked [him] in the neck,’” said witness Brad Bermingham.
“A 70-year-old local man needs surgery for his neck wounds, according to witnesses.
“McCullough got 22 stitches in his hand. Witnesses say they recognized the suspect as a homeless man who has been in the area. McCullough said his attacker asked him for a cigarette outside of the bar a few minutes before the stabbing. . . .
“McCullough was able to block the suspect from getting to his neck, but he said the other victim was stabbed at the bar area. Patrons then chased the suspect down the street.
“Huntington Beach police have identified the suspect as 25-year-old Lamont Waters. He has been booked for attempted murder and other charges against the third victim, who used mace to get the suspect away from her.”
WHERE IT ALL STARTED – Marc Ingwersen, of Upper Sandusky, Ohio, didn’t make the Pro Stock Motorcycle cut at this class season-opener. But the owner of three Harley-Davidson dealerships was familiar with Gainesville Raceway. This is where he attended the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School in the summer of 2013.
“It was at that time I knew I wanted to pursue owning and riding a Pro Stock Motorcycle,” Ingwersen said. “A few short years later, I acquired a Buell Pro Stock Motorcycle from Jerry Savoie. We have spent the last few years developing our own in-house engine program and are very happy with our progress to date. Moving forward, our goals for the Gatornationals are to be able to qualify in a very close field and gain very valuable experience as the season gets under way.”
He did gather some key information and gain some useful experience. But he had a tough field that also shut out John Hall, Steve Johnson, Katie Sullivan, Jianna Salinas, Lance Bonham, and Andie Rawlings.
It was a disappointing result for the team that gets help from Buckeye Harley-Davidson, Boneyard Harley-Davidson, Gibtech Pistons, E3 Spark Plugs, and Dave from Worldwide Bearings. They had worked through the night for two straight nights and finished at 4 a.m. Wednesday, then drove 13 hours straight through to Valdosta, Ga., to make a test pass on the way here.
“In 2006, I purchased my first Harley-Davidson dealership, which already had a rich background in drag racing, headed by my current crew chief, Jon Miller. Jon, a veteran engine builder and crew chief, has a very decorated past, including feats such as five-time AHDRA Pro Stock champion and having the world’s fastest and quickest 45-degree Pro Stock Harley-Davidson,” Ingwersen said.
He since has acquired Buckeye Harley-Davidson at Dayton, Ohio, and Boneyard Harley-Davidson at Winterville, N.C.
Ingwersen made his NHRA debut in 2017 at St. Louis.
CLONTZ READY TO ROLL – Hughesville, Md.’s Kelly Clontz refers to herself as “just little old me trying to perfect this fast motorcycle racing.” Well, little ol’ Kelly is getting the hang of it. Armed with a year’s worth of experience, some new backing from UA Steamfitters Local 602 and Creations Auto Body, and some fresh parts, she is on her way to becoming a consistent competitor.
She nailed down the No. 13 starting spot in a loaded field Saturday and will meet Hector Arana Jr., who was the toast of Gainesville last year for recording the class’ first 200-mph pass.
“We now have a whole season of data from 2018 that we can use for 2019. We are in our second full season, so we hope to improve at each event from the year prior. Consistent clean, straight runs and working on shift points is the goal. And with continued seat time, we know we will continue to do better,” Clontz said.
She has paid attention to fitness during the offseason. “I hit it hard in the gym, as it is important to stay in shape,” she said.
Meanwhile, her husband, Chris, has kept the bike updated with new parts, and Vance & Hines has freshened the motors. They even sport a new paint job.
“I am used to being in a male-dominated industry, as I work as an electrical estimator for Frisoli Electric in Holbrook, Mass., in the construction field,” Clontz said. So it’s merely a bonus that she’s embarking on a Pro Stock Motorcycle career when the category has no fewer than eight females participating.
“I have a very close relationship with Karen Stoffer. She has been a mentor to me since Day 1, as she debuted the same race as Angelle in 1996 and she knows exactly what it’s like to work with her husband – and also Angie Smith. We are close in age and have a lot in common! But all of us are very supportive to one another,” Clontz said.
Moreover, she said, “It is such an honor to continue to represent my local steamfitters union. Riding with the UA Steamfitters Local 602 on my Suzuki brings me a sense of pride. I want to make the them proud with our performance on the track. We are looking to start the season with a bang!”
The Clontzes spent the beginning on the week testing at Orlando Speedworld Dragway 139 miles southeast of Gainesville.
“It is the first time that we’ve tested this season,” she said. “My husband Chris worked his tail off over the off-season to make sure everything was ready to go racing this week. I needed to shake off some dust as a rider and feel very blessed to be able to have the opportunity before it count[ed] in Gainesville.”
STAYING POSITIVE, LEARNING – Andie Rawlings isn’t going to be discouraged by her results this weekend. The Kissimmee, Fla., racer qualified 23 in the 23-racer lineup, but she said, “We have to keep working hard at improvements on the program and myself in order to become the next first-time winner in our very accomplished class.
“Everything we go through as a team, the other seasoned riders have already been through. Instead of focusing on how far we have to go,” she said, “I use the old yoga saying ‘Eyes on your own mat.’ Each pass we will find improvements, because we have a solid foundation to build on and the support of our home track, Orlando Speedworld Dragway, who is supportive of our program and gives us a world-class surface to test on.”
Rawlings said that “at testing, we learned that all the changes to the program are working to make my job as a pilot easier. We are headed in the right direction.”
She has some extra help this year, bolstering her continuing partnership from JT Norton. “Try & Keep Up media will be zooming in our coverage, and BPM Racing Engines will be keeping our nuts and bolts together. Wes Pullin Automotive by Design out of Central Florida will be a huge team partner during the Gators. A few new partnerships are brewing. Be looking for more announcements after the big Gator Nats!” she said.
MULDOWNEY, McCULLOCH, JOHNSON, AMATO ADVANCE IN UNFINISHED BUSINESS; TORRENCE ON TRACK TO EARN FIRST GATORNATIONALS VICTORY; SMITH SETS NATIONAL MARK AS BIKES MAKE SEASON DEBUT
MULDOWNEY HAS EDGE ON GARLITS – Drag-racing icons “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Shirley Muldowney had matched-raced against each other dozens of times throughout the country in their heydays, but their head-to-head record in NHRA competition, surprisingly, was five and five.
After Friday’s first round of “Unfinished Business” pairings in a showdown of the sport’s legends at the 50th edition of the Gatornationals at Florida’s Gainesville Raceway, it’s Advantage Ms. Muldowney.
In identically prepared Toyota Camrys, Muldowney scored a runaway victory. She’ll meet six-time champion and 97-time winner Warren Johnson, “The Professor of Pro Stock,” in Saturday’s semifinal round. He beat Pro Stock Motorcycle class founder Terry Vance, co-owner of the Vance & Hines two-wheeled empire.
Also advancing was five-time Top Fuel champion Joe Amato, whose 52 victories still rank No. 3 on the class’ all-time list. He defeated six-time champion Kenny Bernstein, who earned his “King of Speed” nickname on this racetrack by breaking the 30-mph barrier in 1992. And in another highly anticipated pairing preceded by some pre-race trash talk, Ed “The Ace” McCulloch dismissed longtime rival Don “The Snake” Prudhomme. McCulloch, a 22-time winner, said after he outran four-time series champion and 49-time victor Prudhomme, “How cool is he now?
Muldowney’s victory was just the way she planned it – despite the fact she said she’s “in Garlits Country,” where she said she thought upon retirement in 2003 that “I thought it was over with and I didn’t have to put up with his fans anymore.”
The three-time NHRA Top Fuel champion and two-time Gatornationals winner, said, “People came up to me in the pits [before the race, with encouragement]. If I don’t win, I’m in big trouble.” Longtime friend Darrell Gwynn suggested that this might be their last chance to square off against one another, unless the NHRA showcased them in another match-up. Shot back Muldowney, “If I lose, they’d better do it again.”
Garlits offered to race her in his Dodge Challengers.
“You’re never too old to have fun – and make money,” he said.
For their one-time fierce rivalry, Muldowney and Garlits, whose Museum of Drag Racing and International Drag Racing Hall of Fame is down the road at Ocala, Fla., the two actually have similar histories. Both were interlopers, East Coast hopefuls in a world dominated by a strong Southern California clique. Muldowney was doubly jinxed as a woman in a male-dominated endeavor. Garlits, a native Floridian from Tampa, didn’t mind crashing the ruling class’ party, and Muldowney didn’t ask anyone’s permission or apologize for invading their comfort zone.
“I just didn’t have a lot of support. I had to start from the beginning and work my way up the ladder,” she said. “It was worth the fight, if you will, because it just made me better, I thought.” She acknowledged that Garlits, too, had a tough time convincing the establishment he was legitimate. She recalled the Californians referring to him as “that guy from the swamp.”
Garlits remembered another name they called him.
“They called me Dan Garbage,” he said. “In 1959, they paid me 4500 to come out to California to run three events. In 1959, that was a lot of money. I pulled in there to Bakersfield with my car and trailer, and they said it didn’t cost $1,000 to build this whole rig. And they were right. It cost less than $1,000, because I built it myself, and it ran good. “That was the start to his career that netted 35 victories (including four at the Gatornationals) and three Top Fuel championships and a reputation as maybe the sport’s most influential innovators.
“They didn’t like me very much,” Garlits said. “But you know, it all changed, because when the racers feel that way, the fans kind of get a different feeling. When I was at Riverside (Calif.) the following December and won that event, the fans were just cheering. They really liked it that Don Garlits was winning a big race.”
For all their sniping though the years, Garlits signed Muldowney’s Top Fuel competition license in 1973.
“I always thought he did it for the notoriety, because he didn’t think it was going anywhere,” Muldowney said.
Garlits replied, “I didn’t.”
“See?” Muldowney said. “Shirley’s right again.”
She was right on the track, as well, Friday.
AMATO: ‘THINGS ARE GOOD. NO COMPLAINTS’ – Joe Amato can’t sit still. The five-time Top Fuel champion says, “The glass is half full for me.” And every day brings a fresh idea or challenge or adventure. “I’m retired – but I can’t be retired,” he said. “I need to get up in the morning and have something to think about. You can play only so much golf.
“I’ve got a couple of land-development projects,” Amato said. “I’ve got seven shopping centers that I bought and rebuilt. I like to buy old stuff that’s beat up and fix it up and rent it. It’s fun.” The first property he took on is a 200,000-square-foot, 25-acre strip mall at Edwardsville, Pa. “Right in town. It was a total dump,” Amato remembers. “Now it’s 95-percent filled.” He says, “It’s just something to do.”
Amato says he has been enjoying the NHRA’s Legends Tour that began last year as a lead-up to this weekend. He said it has been “kind of exciting. They kind of bring all the old geezers out and are putting us back to work. It’s fun.”
Just to clarify, Amato doesn’t classify himself as a geezer. But he gets a kick out of fans who have approached him and asked for him to pose with their children who are in their 20s but once had their picture taken with him at a race at age four or five.
“It’s kind of cool the people remember you. At least you made a mark on the sport. That’s kind of nice, that you have a good history, a good run, and di some things that made people happy and like it. That’s like giving back a little bit, you know? The sport that was good to you, you can give back. That’s a good thing.”
Since he left the sport, he hasn’t slowed down at all. He and wife Andrea split their time between their primary residence in Florida and their lake house in Eastern Pennsylvania – when they aren’t in the middle of their 100 days of globetrotting. They ski two or three times a year, have swept through Europe on their “Life Is Good Tour,” and treated or joined friends and family members along the way. Nearly five years ago, in 2014, Amato received a diploma from Pennsylvania’s Old Forge High School at age 73. “I quit school in the 10th grade to run my father’s business,” he said of his youth in Scranton, Pa. He built Keystone Automotive into a roaring success, in no small way by selling parts to fellow racers through the years and branding his dragster with the business logo that got attention every time he stuck it in the winners circle. Now, he whimsically says, “That’d be fun to go to college. I see all the fun the kids have. It’s like Party Central.” However, he said his success comes from acting on “gut feelings and street smarts – I have a lot of both of those. I think that got me where I am, more than college and book smarts. I’ve always had the ability to find the right people in business.”
If Amato has regrets, he doesn’t share them. “My wife and I are both very upbeat people. We don’t want any downers around us,” he says. As for his career, the man who always wore Snoopy-decorated underwear beneath his firesuit says, “I’m happy where I ended up. It was exciting. How many people are dumb enough to strap themselves in a car and go 300 miles an hour? It was a good run. You’re dealing with fans – that made it exciting. The competition is what drove me more than anything, the ability to go head to head with somebody and you’ve got to have the right car and drive it right.”
He used those gut feelings and street smarts in his racing days and was a psychologist of sorts. “Everybody has big egos, and you clash. And there’s only one winner on Sunday. Sometimes there’s hurt feelings.” Losing, he said, “bothers you. It bothers you more if YOU mess up than if the team messes up. You feel like you let the sponsors down, the team down, the fans down. That never changes. That’s a growing curve. If you’re going to push the envelope, you’re going to have a malfunction once in a while. If you don’t push it, you’re probably never going to have a red light – but you’re probably never going to get a holeshot win, either. It’s a fine line. It’s a cruel game.
“All the classes are so much more competitive today,” Amato said, citing technology for more parity in performance. Aside from this weekend’s Unfinished Business promotion, he has no dreams of returning to drag racing. “If you could just drive the car, that’d be the fun part. But there’s a whole lot more to it than driving: the business part, getting the money, the politics. It’s a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week commitment on your brain and your life to be successful. I’ve been there, done that. I think in life, once you’ve closed a chapter, you open another chapter and move forward. That’s where I am now.”
McCULLOCH BACK IN FIGHTING TRIM – What’s a few haymakers among friends? Actually, that hasn’t been Ed “The Ace” McCulloch’s style for a long time, he admitted. But his longing for the fun old days produced maybe his most classic line: “It’s just getting so you can’t hit a guy anymore.” But, as NHRA’s Lewis Bloom discovered in a recent interview, McCulloch is rediscovering the joy of trash-talking a little bit. In this weekend’s Unfinished Business showdown in Toyota Camrys, The Ace was paired against The Snake, Don Prudhomme – a familiar Funny Car opponent at NHRA events and in match races and more recently his boss when he was Ron Capps’ crew chief. And that last gig ended on a slightly sour note, with McCulloch hinting that the two adversaries stifled their urges to duke it out. His competitiveness resurfaced with his chance to beat Prudhomme once again.
Fifteen years ago, in 2004, McCulloch grumbled, “I don't know why everybody thinks Snake's so cool. He thinks he's cool, but I don't think he's cool. You hear Bob Frey in the tower: ‘There's Snake. He's really cool.’ Now Snake thinks he's cool. But do I think he's cool? No.”
Back then, McCulloch and his peers were trying to adapt to the new norm. This sport was built on rebellion, and it arguably was America’s last bastion of defiance and swagger, of in-your-face calling cards. But it wasn’t lost on McCulloch that it was starting to reek of political correctness. He could see he had mellowed – “a lot,” he said – not because he wanted to but because he had to.
“Everything was different then. You could get away with things,” he said. When he would tell the younger bucks and his children about his exploits, he would lament, “Times have changed.” He said kind of wistfully, “Used to be you go out and get in a fight and the better man's going to win. Now you go get in a fight, somebody's going to get shot. With the sponsorship and all of everything that's here, you go out and you raise a little bit of hell, they get a phone call. Back then you can call all you want; it doesn't matter to me. It's different now. The pressure level in the sport is much greater. The generation we're in now, hardly anybody even knows my reputation. And if they were to hear it, they wouldn't probably, believe it because I've changed enough that they don't see me as that today.” He said their reaction would be ‘No way would you do something like that.’ You're right, I wouldn't. That was then, and this is now.
“At the tail end of my driving career,” McCulloch said, “[announcer Dave] McClelland or [Steve] Evans would say, ‘You know, you guys get out there at the other end and everybody compliments your competitor and how great they are. We need some controversy.’ I said, ‘For 20 years, you guys have been on my ass for getting into it at the other end. Now you want a fight down there, like we used to have. What do you want? Make up your minds.’
“I'm not the hothead that I used to be,” he said, resigned to “progress.” But, he cautioned back in 2004, “there's a still a button you could push that'll get me there. But when that happens, I can't control that. I've learned to control it way better than I ever have before, but when it comes right down to it, it happens and then I get in trouble. It's lawsuits, and it's fines, and it's all of that. Well, screw that.”
Aaah, but then along came Unfinished Business, and lookie who fans wanted to see racing against one another again? Ace and Snake. And their tongues started wagging.
McCulloch told Bloom, “There’s a lot of history there. The things we did in the past, we can’t really talk about a lot of it. There were a lot of rivalries. There were a lot of good races; there were a lot of bad races. There was good blood, and there was bad blood. Snake, he was always hard to beat. He’s still going to be hard to beat.”
Prudhomme popped up on a video screen and got the yapping started. He told McCulloch, “Good luck, buddy. I hope you’re better in the lights than you used to be, because this race in the Toyotas is going to be bad-ass.”
McCulloch didn’t wilt. He shot back, “The only problem I see is you’re so old that you’re going to need binoculars to see the Christmas tree. So bring it, buddy.”
Then The Ace said to Bloom that he and Prudhomme “fought a lot over the years and fortunately, I guess, it’s never come to blows. But it’s not over.”
McCulloch’s son, Jason, is a tuner for the Torrence Racing/Capco Contractors Dragster team. But The Ace is over that gig. As early as 2004, he said, “I told Jimmy Prock years ago, ‘I'm glad I'm not you.’ He looked at me funny and said, ‘What do you mean by that?’ I said, ‘You're young. Your entire life is in front of you. This is what you do. You've got to put up with NHRA's crap the rest of your life. I've only got to a few more years.’ In one respect, probably the things I used to go off on – track preparation, different issues I used to raise all kinds of hell about – now I look at it and I say, ‘Nothing I can do about it.’ It is what it is. I can raise hell. Is it going to change it? No. So I make my adjustments, whatever it is I got to do, and go on down the road.”
MONGOOSE M.I.A., SNAKE CARRIES TORCH – If longtime drag-racing fans ever forgot the scene at the U.S. Nationals when Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen scored an upset final-round victory over Don “The Snake” Prudhomme days after losing his young son Jamie to leukemia, they had a movie to remind them how Snake crawled up under McEwen’s raised body at the top end and shared a poignant moment with his pal. What no one else but Prudhomme got to see was the last one they ever had.
Prudhomme received a phone call one morning last June at his home near San Diego and learned that McEwen had passed away in his sleep.
“I was shocked,” Prudhomme said. “I had just talked with him the day before. I jumped in my car and drove over to his place in Orange County and went upstairs in his bedroom,” Prudhomme said. “And there he was. I just wanted to see him one more time. I just spent some time with him. It was a sad moment. To this day I have a hard time dealing with it, because I want to pick up the phone and call him about some bulls--- deal I heard or something.
“We would always be on the phone together. He would even call me and tell me about stuff that was going on in my own shop, rumors. He always had my back,” Prudhomme said. Their friendship, he said, “meant everything to me. It was tough to lose him. It was very hard.”
Prudhomme had planned to have his sidekick right alongside him this weekend, regaling fans and media and the NHRA’s other legends with tales of the macho and mischievous, the daring and dopey. Gainesville Raceway was going to be McEwen’s stage. Prudhomme was prepared to sit back and be a fan of The Mongoose – unless he had to correct McEwen for saying “The Mongoose and The Snake” rather than the other way around.
“Like I told him, he had the mouth and I had the performance. I was just driven to win, and he wasn’t exactly that way. So we made a good team. He was a good mouthpiece, and I would cover the performance side of things, pretty much. He would lose a race and it was no big deal. Maybe inside it’d piss him off. But I showed my emotions, and he didn’t. And Tom, he was a little different with his money. He spent it on girls and jewelry.”
Lest anyone think they had a continual lovefest, The Snake and The Mongoose were like their namesakes, quarreling and sounding like enemies half the time – or, according to promoter extraordinaire Bill Doner, like a couple of immature junior high school kids.
“We were just like brothers,” Prudhomme said. “We fought like hell. We didn’t agree. We were totally different personalities. We were totally racing for different reasons. We were complete opposites.”
However, if anyone interfered with one of them, the other would attack the attacker and defend the other. “When it came time for that true friendship, he was always there for me, and I was always there for him.”
Ever since they met at Southern California’s Lions Dragstrip in the late 1950s, “we became instant friends. He just stuck to me like glue. We were just hooked at the hip,” Prudhomme said. “I was painting cars in the San Fernando Valley, and he’d drive out there. He wasn’t big on working; he just raced. And he’d drive out there to hang out at lunchtime. I don’t know, man, we just had a great time until the time he passed away. We worked together on pretty much every project. We still had deals going with Hot Wheels. Fifty years later, here we are.”
McEwen enjoyed being a mentor and helping others. (“He paid for more gold necklaces and boob jobs than anyone on the planet,” Prudhomme said.) “When we lost him, everybody who knew Tom knew he wasn’t exactly on a diet. He always had advice for everybody else how to take care of themselves. But he wasn’t so good on doing that himself. Yeah, absolutely, he liked being a mentor – on their personal life and everything – and his life was more screwed up than everybody’s. He’d tell you what you should eat and what you shouldn’t eat – and then he’d slip away for a cheeseburger.”
And together they made history, not just on the track but in the boardroom. “There were people who said we ruined the sport, brining in money like that,” he said of the Hot Wheels sponsorship deal that McEwen masterminded with Mattel. Tom was really thinking out of the box when he was able to get Hot Wheels to come in and join us. It completely changed the sport. I give a lot of credit to him.”
That same Corporate America tint to drag racing turned around and bit him in 2008. “I was caught not having a sponsor and we had four months to put [another] deal together. Companies were closing up left and right. Those were difficult years, 2007 and 2008. A lot of people went broke, and I didn’t plan on going broke. So I just closed up the shop. It’s as simple as that. I just stopped. I didn’t have another source of income. Also, I was at the age it was time for me to retire and start thinking about the rest of my life instead of one quarter-mile at a time.”
Another special person Prudhomme wishes could be at Gainesville to celebrate this race’s 50th edition is NHRA founder Wally Parks.
“He was kind of like my dad, in a way,” Prudhomme said. “He would scold me if he’d see I was out of line. He’d give me a call or set me straight on a lot of issues as I was coming up. He was as proud as punch of me. In 1989, we won at the U.S. Nationals – won the race, won the Bud Shootout, set records, did all kinds of stuff. After winning, I’m pulling in down at the end, and the first guy I could see was Wally Parks through the window of my car. There he was, standing with this big smile. I got out of my car – didn’t even take my helmet off – and gave him a big hug. He hugged me. He was as proud as punch of me. I know he was.
“And I was proud of him. He created amazing things,” he said. “He used to tell me that people were pissing and moaning about not making enough round money and not doing this and that. He said, ‘You know, Don, we didn’t start the NHRA to make people millionaires. We started to get kids off the street.’ That’s what he was all about until the day he passed away. He was all about the young racers and getting them organized and getting them off the streets.”
So Prudhomme has come to Gainesville for the 50th Gatornationals without his best friend and his father figure. But today he’s like a second father to young Top Fuel driver Austin Prock, who has a certain throwback sense of breezy brashness about him like a young Prudhomme, perhaps.
And where is Snake? Probably slipping off to have a cheeseburger in honor of The Mongoose.
LEWIS HONORED - Mike Lewis, senior vice-president at Don Schumacher Racing, was among the 2019 inductees into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame feted at Thursday night’s ceremony at Gainesville. Lewis’ honor came just two days after team owner Don Schumacher’s induction into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America upstate at Daytona Beach.
“Don Garlits had attended our DSR Open House last September [at Brownsburg, Ind.] and volunteered to sign autographs with all of our drivers, and I ended up taking him to dinner on that Sunday night,” Lewis said. “He called me shortly after, and I just thought he was calling to say thank you for dinner. Instead he informed me of the nomination.
“To get a call from Don Garlits and learn that I was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame was beyond imagination,” Lewis said. “Of course, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it since then, and every night I’d kind of close my eyes and rehearse what I was going to say. But really, it didn’t fully sink in until last night.”
Lewis has spent time behind the wheel of a Top Alcohol Dragster and Nostalgia Funny Car, in addition to his various management roles. He has worn many hats throughout his illustrious career which spans nearly five decades. His is one of the most recognized faces in the industry, for he has been an integral part of the DSR fabric since 2002. Before joining the winningest team in NHRA history, Lewis owned and operated a consulting company. Previously, he served as Vice President and General Manager of Indianapolis Raceway Park, and Vice President of Field Operations for the NHRA.
Prior to joining the sport’s sanctioning body, he worked at his family’s motorsports facility, Maple Grove Raceway, where he rose through the ranks learning all aspects of track operation.
“Winning the 2012 NHRA California Hot Rod Reunion in Bakersfield ranks right up there and has always been ‘the moment’ for me but being inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame really takes the cake,” said the lifelong drag racing enthusiast. “Professionally, being inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame was definitely the best night of my life.
“It’s such an incredible honor, and I’m so grateful that I was able to share it with Don (Schumacher), Megan (Schumacher), all my friends, family and everyone at DSR. I’m truly speechless,” Lewis said.
Lynn Prudhomme, wife of drag racing superstar Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, was recognized Thursday with the 2019 Pat Garlits Memorial Award Presented by Mopar during the 28th Annual banquet and induction ceremony for the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. She has been at the forefront of efforts to help racing families in need and was one of the driving forces behind the formation of DRAW (Drag Racing Association of Women). Since 1985, the organization has supported families of drag racers who have been injured in on-track accidents, helping to defray some expenses. Linda Vaughn accepted the award on behalf of Lynn Prudhomme. The award is named for longtime Dodge and Mopar driver Don Garlits’ late wife, Pat.
DON SCHUMACHER INDUCTED – NHRA team owner and Funny Car pioneer Don Schumacher was one of seven enshrined in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America Tuesday evening at Daytona Beach, Fla.
Schumacher, owner of drag racing powerhouse Don Schumacher Racing (DSR), was recognized alongside his fellow members of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America’s class of 2019 as they took their place in history among the greatest, most recognized names in motorsports. Joining Schumacher in the 2019 class were Augie Duesenberg, Dario Franchitti, Phil Remington, Kevin Schwantz, Tony Stewart, and Linda Vaughn.
“I have to thank my wife Sarah, my son Tony, who’s won eight world championships, and my daughters Megan, Tara and Samantha,” said Schumacher upon receiving his induction from DSR driver and 2012 NHRA Funny Car champion, Jack Beckman. “Without their support and willingness to stand by my side and allowing me to do this, none of it would have happened.
“I’m blessed to be surrounded by the team of people at Don Schumacher Racing. I got into drag racing because I drove too fast on the street. I’m a competitor and I don’t like to lose, period. That’s what it is. That’s what I’m about.”
Renowned for his accomplishments both on and off the track, Schumacher is the winningest team owner in NHRA history and is considered a champion for the advancement of safety innovation in motorsports.
The DSR patriarch has amassed 17 NHRA championships and 334 Wally trophies, including the five he won while behind the wheel of a Funny Car in the early 1970s. During his driving career, he contributed cutting-edge safety innovations for the new Funny Car category including a roof-mounted escape hatch that allowed drivers to quickly exit when all-too-frequent fires occurred. He was also the first to mount the lever that activated a fire-suppression system on his Funny Car’s brake handle so the driver could apply both while keeping one hand on the steering wheel.
As a team owner, he funded and spearheaded a project to develop a protective, enclosed canopy for Top Fuel dragsters. The canopy has since been adopted by multiple NHRA teams in addition to being utilized on all DSR dragsters.
In 2018, Schumacher made a major commitment to concussion research when he and his team of seven drivers pledged to donate their brains to the Concussion Legacy Foundation.
A fierce match racer in the 1970s, Schumacher took a departure from motorsports in 1974 to grow the family business, Schumacher Electric. In 1998, he returned to NHRA Drag Racing with son Tony Schumacher, who went on to become the most successful Top Fuel driver of all time. Continuing to build his racing dynasty, which has campaigned cars in all four of NHRA’s professional categories, Schumacher recently expanded to include a championship-winning Factory Stock Showdown Series program.
“I’ve been connected and competed with a lot of great racers. Some of them are here tonight,” Schumacher said during his induction speech. “It’s been an amazing career and an amazing life, and without the support of my family, none of this could happen. Thank you for inducting me into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America. It’s an incredible honor.” – Contribution by Allison McCormick
SMITH SETS NATIONAL RECORD – Reigning champion Matt Smith reset his Pro Stock Motorcycle national speed record in nailing down the class’ provisional No. 1 qualifying position Friday.
His opening-session elapsed time of 6.753 seconds held up for the tentative lead, but he improved his early speed of 200.95 with a 201.76-mph speed to rule the day aboard his new EBR bike.
Smith had set the national mark at 201.22 mph last November at the NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif.
“I’m just glad it’s carrying over,” he said of his performance momentum. “The track was super-smooth. I’m pretty excited about tomorrow.” Temperatures are expected to dip.
“We made two more identical bikes to what mine is. We’re working the little bugs out of them for Angie and Scotty [teammates Angie Smith, his wife, and Scotty Pollacheck],” he said.
Smith said if he, as crew chief, can get those two other bikes up to speed, he’ll have a three-motorcycle threat this season.
His performance Friday was a pretty strong statement for a racer who failed to qualify for this event last year. Everything turned out all right, for Smith secured his third championship on the final day of the season.
Smith joked, “If it was a guarantee for me not to qualify for this race and win the championship, I wouldn’t have even showed up this weekend.
“But we’re here, and we’re here to defend our championship,” he said. “I think everyone knows that race at the end of the year wasn’t a fluke now.”
BUTNER JUGGLING CLASSES AND WINNING – Bo Butner aced out KB/Summit teammate Greg Anderson for the provisional No. 1 position in the Pro Stock class Friday on speed. They had identical 6.556-second elapsed times, but Butner’s Jim Butner Auto Group Nitro Fish Chevy Camaro cranked out a 201.73-mph speed, slightly faster than Anderson’s 210.24.
“Well, I can’t complain,” Butner said, calling his car “pretty awesome – and it has been all season. It’s just been very consistent. I mean, we made two runs today within a thou[sand of a second]. So that’s pretty impressive. But our KB team is strong again. Greg and I ran the same E.T. – just lucky to go just a little bit quicker than him. We’re very happy, all three cars. I think we’re going to have a good weekend.”
He joked about the addition of Dave Connolly from Gray Motorsports as a tuner for KB Racing, saying, “I didn’t know he’s started yet. No, honestly, Dave’s been good. I brought on Jep that helped Tanner some last year. Between he and Darrell, I’ve got a big crew now. They’ve all kind of helped me to become less of a hands-on guy. I hop in and drive, and I’ve enjoyed that part so far.”
He said he thinks that tuner-driver separation has helped him focus more on his task in the seat.
“I do believe it has. I think having those guys that you really trust and not have to second-guess anything is everything in this sport, especially when it comes to you having to be perfect,” he said. “You try to be more perfect than the guy you’re racing, or gal. It is the toughest class. To have the least to think about is the way to go. But I’m very happy with our team, and I can’t wait for race day.”
Butner also is competing in the Factory Stock Showdown class this weekend.
“What’s funny is our Summit Cobra Jet, I know the potential for it, and I’m struggling with it. I didn’t make a good Q1 so I hop in the Pro Stock car mad and I go out there and I made, in my eyes, a perfect run, shift points and all that in the Pro Stock car,” Butner said. “So I do better with more to do. So when I hop out of one and into another one, I think it helps me in both cars. We’ll be running a little bit better in the shootout car and then we’ll make another good run in the Pro Stock car. So it’s a mindset. It’s all about discipline. They’re both totally different. We have to do good in both cars. That’s my goal.”
As the winner at Indianapolis in 2012, Butner is the first-ever Factory Stock Showdown winner.
“It’s fun. We were fortunate to win a couple. I think I won one in Gainesville also. So it’s changed a lot. It’s kind of becoming a baby Pro Stock class, and it’s very neat. It’s going to be hard to win, and you’re not going to see a dominant car. A lot of cars that just get A to B are going to win rounds. Right now, you have to qualify, and it’s going to be a tight field tomorrow. The air’s going to be better, and where I’m at has no chance of being in.
“I think the people that are showing up are very capable of going rounds and winning rounds. We had pretty much a full field last year. Pretty much the year I won the championship we had probably the least amount,” Butner said. “We had a couple bye runs and stuff. I don’t think you’ll see that this year. It definitely brought me back with the shorter schedule, and I think some of the guys that retired that I’m kind of close to, they’re missing it. I’ll call him out. Tanner Gray, he calls me like once a week. So I’d love to see him back, but he’s too good so we’ll just leave him at home. Hopefully he does well with the circle track. Drew’s [Skillman is] really digging this Factory Shootout stuff, and that’s kind of up Drew’s alley. Down deep, if you have a competitive Pro Stock car, you have to miss it to hop out of it. That’s why it killed me for a week. I’m back.”
AMERICAN DREAM TOUR BACK ON TRACK – Despite a problem with the tires on his race-car hauler this week, dragster driver Lex Joon is making his first appearance of the season. Joon, the 2005 FIA/European Top Fuel champion who made a permanent move with wife Gerda to the U.S. from The Netherlands to pursue his drag-racing dream, this week discussed the differences between and NHRA’s North American dragstrips and those in Western Europe with Drag List Live’s Bill Pratt.
“Santa Pod [in the U.K.] recently changed from asphalt to concrete. Most tracks in Europe, when I was racing there, were all asphalt. That’s completely different than running on a concrete track here,” Joon said. “Besides that, we didn’t have the equipment out there to really get the tracks as tight as they can do over here. They’ve got a lot of machinery to treat the track. You’ve got a lot of traction. I really had to get used to the fact that over here, you can throw the kitchen sink at it and will still hold. You will still go from A to B. You cannot have enough power.
“Over there, nitro racing is a little more like I always had too much power and I needed to negotiate the track. So it’s a lot about tuning. It’s a lot about understanding how much power nd clutch you can apply to every part of the track,” Joon said. “What’s going on here is trying to make as much power as possible and get it down the track. They’re trying to turn it back so the high-end speeds are going down a little bit, which I don’t mind. I can understand a lot of crew chiefs here right now have to adapt to that.”
TORRENCE POISED TO CONTEND FOR FIRST GATORS TROPHY – Tony Schumacher has Atlanta. Steve Torrence has Gainesville. Torrence, the reigning Top Fuel king and Capco Contractors Dragster driver, hasn’t had much luck at this fabled racetrack. But he has a special connection with local and global legend “Big Daddy” Don Garlits that could provide some magic in this year’s 50th Gatornationals.
In nine previous Gatornationals appearances, the reigning series champion has recorded just seven round-wins. He has lost in the first round in three of his last four appearances here. Peculiarly, despite being among the career leaders in final-round appearances (42), No. 1 qualifiers (20), and victories (27), he is 0-for-his-career in those categories at Gainesville Raceway.
“There’s no reason why, really,” Torrence said of the phenomenon. “There’s nothing different about the track or the conditions or anything. It’s just one of those deals. All you can do is just keep showing up and doing what you do. Eventually, it’s going to happen. It’d be nice if it happened this week – the 50th anniversary. That would be special.”
Following his first-session run Friday that put him atop the leaderboard, Torrence said he has “all the faith in the world” in crew chief Richard Hogan, a Florida native whose drag racing roots pre-date this race. Hogan grew up in the Sarasota area on the Gulf coast, where his father, the late “Charlie the King” Hogan, was something of a local drag racing legend and a 1950s rival of an emerging Garlits. The elder Hogan, whose lightweight V12 Ford roadster might have been his most memorable ride, never pursued the sport at the professional level. However, Garlits credits their rivalry with stoking his own competitive fire.
“Without Charlie, I would probably never have experienced the coming decades of victories, all the ‘Swamp Rat’ excitement, and even the nickname ‘Big Daddy,’” Garlits said. “I thank the good Lord every day that there once was a guy named Charlie Hogan who became the ultimate challenge for me.”
Garlits went on to hire Charlie Hogan’s son, Richard, to work on his crew – and steer the aspiring young racer away from a career behind the wheel.
“He impressed on me that there was always going to be a shortage of [good] crew chiefs,” Hogan said, “so I just went down that path and never thought about driving.”
He reached the pinnacle last season as Torrence swept the Countdown to cap a Top Fuel championship season that included 11 victories, 12 counting the Brainerd, Minn., triumph of Billy Torrence, Steve’s father.
“You have to keep proving yourself week after week, and we like that,” Torrence said. “We like doing what everybody thinks can’t be done. That’s what motivates me, that’s what motivates Richard, and that’s what motivates all these Capco boys.”
Torrence has yet one more honor to look forward to. The Kilgore, Texas, native will be recognized March 20th on the floor of the state House of Representatives at Austin for his accomplishments in professional drag racing. The House recognition is just the latest honor for Torrence, who earlier was feted by his hometown of Kilgore, Texas. In addition to his status as the first driver in any category to sweep the playoffs, he also is the first to win NHRA series championships in both the Fuel and Alcohol divisions. He was the NHRA Top Alcohol Dragster champion in 2005. Torrence is one of four Texans to win the NHRA Top Fuel championship, following Richard Tharp of Dallas (1976), Eddie Hill of Wichita Falls (1993), and Kenny Bernstein of Lubbock (1996, 2001). Torrence is trying this year to become just the eighth driver to win back-to-back Top Fuel championships – oh, and trying to win at Gainesville for the first time.
FORCE TRYING TO GET IN GROOVE, PROCK CAPITALIZING – Top Fuel rookies Austin Prock and Jordan Vandergriff will remember Brittany Force for their impressive starts. Each recorded his first elimination round-win against the 2017 class champion, Prock at Pomona and Vandergriff at Phoenix. Force, looking for her first round-win this season, rebounded well early Friday with a provisional No. 5 position in the order. She was the 2016 Gatornationals winner, defeating Amalie Oil-sponsored Terry McMillen in the final round and sharing the winners circle with Funny Car teammate Robert Hight.
“Gainesville has always been a special race for me. It’s the Gatornationals. The first east coast race of the season,” Force said. “It’s the race track that I’ve always gone to as a kid. I’ve watched my dad, watched [older sister] Ashley, and it’s where I had my first win. That is definitely a big one, a very special one, to do it at a track that is so prestigious.” In this historic 50th version of the event, she said she’s “looking forward to repeat a little bit of history.”
Force said, “After Phoenix, we stayed and did an entire day of testing with the Advance Auto Parts dragster and got some good runs under our belt. We made four runs down the track and on our last run put a 3.75 on the board. My crew chiefs, David Grubnic and Mac Savage were both very happy with that and we’re excited going into Gainesville,” Force said. “We’d like to go out there and turn our luck around. Get this Advance Auto Parts team in the winner’s circle. I’m looking forward to getting there.”
So is John Force racing teammate Austin Prock, driver of the Montana Brand / Rocky Mountain Twist Dragster.
His career already looks promising. He began the season by winning that first round at the Winternationals, at Pomona, Calif. Then at the Arizona Nationals at Chandler, Ariz., Prock started sixth, and an improvement from his No. 11 position at Pomona. He also notched another round-win.
"We've had two good race weekends so far. We broke into the [3.]60s in Pomona, qualified No. 6 in Phoenix, so I think we're getting a good momentum. We’ve made some good passes down the racetrack, and we're looking to keep things going. I have some full-time guys now, and Jon Schaffer and Ronnie Thompson have done an excellent job. My team is putting in the work, and it's showing, so I'm excited to see what this dragster can do," Prock said.
This is Prock’s first race at Gainesville, although he attended Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School and was licensed in an Alcohol Funny Car and Nostalgia Funny Car at this facility. He is also surrounded by individuals who have had success here. Grandfather Tom Prock was the Funny Car runner-up in 1975. His dad, championship tuner Jimmy Prock, was first in the Gatornationals winners circle in 2003 with Gary Densham and has since landed Robert Hight victories in 2012, 2014, and 2016. Schaffer, also has a win in Gainesville with team boss John Force in 2017. He’s hoping he’ll take advantage of his chance to shine here this year, as the NHRA celebrates the 50th anniversary of this event.
“Gainesville Raceway has a lot of history for my family, and it’s where I got my Alcohol Funny Car and Nostalgia Funny Car licenses. East Coast opener, 50th anniversary, racing in front of the legends of the sport, I’m definitely excited and looking forward to getting back into the seat. The break between Phoenix and Gainesville is a long one, and I’m ready to be racing again.”
PRITCHETT HOPES TO BE GOLDEN – Don Schumacher Racing’s Leah Pritchett is doing double duty this weekend. She’s racing her Mopar Dodge Dragster, chasing her first Top Fuel crown. And she’s making her first start as reigning SAM Tech NHRA Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) champion in the DSR-owned 354-cubic-inch HEMI-powered Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak that carries “Angry Bee”-themed livery. The car is designed by motorsports-lifestyle brand Hoonigan and chosen by a fan vote on the brand’s website.
Pritchett brought a 12-round winning streak into FSS action. The field includes Mark Pawuk in a Mopar Dodge Challenger Drag Pak, but also 2012 NHRA Pro Stock world champion and two-time Gatornationals champion Allen Johnson campaigning in a Drag Pak with additional vehicle preparation and support provided by DSM and Dodge//SRT Mopar engineers.
She reached her 14th career final in the NHRA Arizona Nationals Feb. 24 and is third in the Top Fuel standings. Pritchett is seeking to join Shirley Muldowney and Brittany Force as female Top Fuel winners at Gainesville.
“Competing at the Gatornationals alone is always prestigious, no less gunning for two Wallys at the 50th anniversary,” Pritchett said. “I remember attending the 50th anniversary of the Pomona Finals and Winternationals as a fan, and to now be a strong contender at the Gators in its golden hour is something that excites my soul. We have a great race car and team that I know is excited about putting on an incredible show for a sell-out crowd, as well as bringing home two truly golden wins to DSR. History will be made there, and we intend on giving it everything we’ve got to be the fastest part of it. We hope to be golden.”
LINDBERG MAKES 2019 PREMIERE – Jonnie Lindberg made 13 test passes in Jim Head’s Funny Car at the Pro Winter Warm-up at Chandler, Ariz., about a month and a half ago. But he’s making his first appearance of the season in it this weekend. And so far, he’s 15th in the order with two more sessions scheduled for Saturday. Lindberg tuned Brian Hough to the No. 1 starting position and victory in the Top Alcohol Funny Car class at the season opener at Pomona, Calif. He called Auto Club Raceway at Pomona “one of my favorite tracks” where he has “had a lot of success.” Incidentally, Lindberg earned his first victory at Pomona, in 2015, where he defeated Hough in the Brian in the final round.
The 29-year-old Swede will have LANDMECO, the Danish company that is Scandinavia's largest producer of poultry equipment, as his primary sponsor in the Funny Car.
Lindberg and Top Fuel driver Richie Crampton collaborated last September for Hot Rod Magazine’s Drag Week, with Lindberg’s alcohol engine powering Crampton’s funky ’57 Chevy 210 four-door station wagon. Somehow they souped it up so that Lindberg drove it in successively quicker and faster passes to a best of 6.89 seconds at 207.31 mph at zMAX Dragway at Concord, N.C. Lindberg explained the escapade by saying, “You’re sitting at a bar and it’s like ‘Hey – let’s put my alcohol engine in your car. That would be awesome!’” They’re considering another go at it this year, but Lindberg warned, “We are both extremely busy people, and this car is a pain in the a--.” But he added, “People like this project. It’s stupid. People like stupid s---.”
STOFFER GIVES QUICK PSM 101 COURSE – Karen Stoffer, the newest rider for Jerry Savoie’s White Alligator Racing team, has won eight races, including the 2007 and 2015 Gatornationals.
Stoffer told PunishUM Motorsports You Tube show host and aspiring Pro Stock Bike competitor Tracy Arakaki that what makes this class of racing appealing is the fact “that you can actually see the driver navigate the vehicle” for the entire course. She said that’s “one of the coolest things.” Moreover, Stoffer said, “A lot of people think you have to be an adrenaline junkie to race one of these NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycles. In truth, it’s very precise. There’s a lot of precision behind it.”
She said in the show’s latest episode that the art of racing one of these bikes involves mastering the mental aspect and achieving consistency. “There’s actually a pre-practice you do before you get out on the racetrack. You want to make sure you pull into the water box exactly the same way every time. You do your burnout in third gear. So you want to make sure you put it in third gear every single time. You want to clear your mind of everything and make sure you use everything in the back of your head, as far as how many times you’ve done this before. It’s kind of burned in there. It’s like when you drive home from work every day – you don’t think about it; you just do it all the time naturally. And that’s how you want to race one of these Pro Stock Motorcycles.
“You pull up to the starting line the same, and you put your bike in gear the same way. Then your mind is clear, and you sit there and work with your opponent in the other lane. You stage the bike appropriately, the same way every time. Then when you get on the throttle and wait for the tree to come down, you pop the clutch. You’re doing the same thing – it’s coming from the back of your brain. It’s something you’ve done millions and millions of times,” Stoffer said. “The preparation for this is doing it over and over and over again. Now, life is going to throw you come challenges, and you might have to deviate from your processes. But the good thing about that is if you have that in the back [of your mind] and you’re doing everything the same way, you can quickly get past the change that occurred and get back into your routine.”
She said, “These things are fast, powerful machines. You have to shift them five times on a six-speed transmission in six seconds. Two of the gears are within a second of each other. And it’s precision. If you’re 100 rpm off your designated number you want to shift at, basically, you’ve either scrubbed off E.T. that could have won a race or you could have hurt an engine. So you have to be very precise. You want to make sure you’re not thinking about it, because if you’re thinking about it, you’re probably going to mess it up.”
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