2019 NHRA LUCAS OIL NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
PRITCHETT PUTS DSR BACK IN TOP FUEL WINNER’S CIRCLE FOR FIRST TIME IN OVER A YEAR - One thing Don Schumacher Racing is not accustomed to in the sport of drag racing is losing.
One of the most dominant teams in nitro racing today, DSR is known for race wins and championship contention. But in recent months, those wins have been few and far between and in Top Fuel - the pinnacle of NHRA competition - the team had not won in over a year.
That is, until Sunday.
Leah Pritchett propelled DSR back into the Top Fuel winner’s circle for the first time since August of 2018, defeating Mike Salinas in the final at the 38th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway. It was a huge day across the board for DSR as Funny Car competitor Ron Capps joined Pritchett in the winner’s circle for the first nitro double for the team in just as long.
“It feels just as good as it sounds. Not only for myself, but for the team, for Dodge, for Don Schumacher,” Pritchett said. “There was a recent article put out by AutoWeek that Don Schumacher isn’t going anywhere and we are thriving and this weekend, I think that definitely showed across all the nitro categories.
“I am proud to be the one to put on the final win light, especially for DSR. This is the perfect time to be able to gain some momentum for this season. I feel like, looking at the time sheets, you can see we made four incredible runs and that is something the crew chiefs have worked really hard to do consistently now. And it is coming into play at the perfect time.”
Pritchett broke a 26-race winless drought herself with the victory over Salinas, getting away cleanly and never trailing in earning her first win since Denver last year. Pritchett ran a 3.732-second pass at 321.04 mph in her Mopar-backed dragster in the winning pass - the eighth of her career in Top Fuel - as Salinas began hazing the tires and had to click it off early. Salinas ran a 4.066 at 235.72 mph in the runner-up effort.
“I was feeling good about whatever was going to happen. I was replaying situations in my head, thinking is Salinas going to go in deep? Is he going to hang me out? What is he going to do? But I was comfortable with all of those things,” Pritchett said. “When I launched it stuck and we kept going and when we got to halftrack I knew I drilled it. I had heard him in the beginning but I didn’t hear him anymore.
“Unfortunately, it wanted to let loose at the top end. We were only at 321 mph, but she was not happy at the top end through the lights. We were pushing hard, but in the final round you give it everything you have.”
While the team had been nearly flawless all afternoon, Pritchett admitted that the team’s recent gains on the race track and the confidence instilled by crew chief Todd Okuhara helped ease her mind going up against Salinas and his own legendary crew chief, veteran tuner Alan Johnson.
“We had an almost flawless car in the three runs going into the final,” Pritchett said. “I was sitting in the car watching and I saw Alan Johnson walking over to Salinas while Funny Car was running and in my mind, I’m like, ‘he ain’t Todd Okuhara.’ That is the confidence I have in my own team and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. People have been taking us lightly lately and, while we aren’t trying to show anybody anything, we are just trying to show ourselves that we are the competitors and the champions that we know we are.
“Today we raced really smart from a tuning standpoint and myself from a driving standpoint. I am just really excited because when you see results from hard work, you are able to just work on that even more.”
Starting from the No. 4 position, Pritchett added wins over Kyle Wurtzel, Billy Torrence and Austin Prock on her way to her 15th career Top Fuel final. Pritchett was on the receiving end of a red light by Torrence in round two and was able to dispatch red-hot Prock in the semifinals with a 3.725 to a 4.002 to eliminate the most recent winner on the NHRA tour.
“There is no secret that I have been working at my own craft and to do that doesn’t mean you are going to go in one direction the entire way. In qualifying I did four entirely different things - the way I staged, the way I looked at the beam, the way I looked at the tree. And some of it worked and some of it didn’t,” Pritchett said. “Through that I’m able to pick up on what other drivers do. Billy is a very consistent racer and his times are really good. I’ve been bit before and if you have a chance to bite you have to be the lioness. This is like eat, ride, or die. There was an opportunity that I saw and, unfortunately for him, he jumped the beam and got out of sync. It startled me, but we had a fast pass and we were able to get lane choice over Prock.
“In the semifinals we got a great racer coming off of a win. And when you are on that high and you race with no fear you do really well. He is a hot shot no doubt about it, but today we had a hotter race car and just as hot of a driver. It feels good to put up a win light against that.”
Salinas reached his fifth final of the year with wins over Luigi Novelli, Clay Millican and Doug Kalitta.
It is no secret that Pritchett has had her share of struggles over the past year, chasing sponsorship, missing races and, lately, struggling on the track. Coming into this weekend, Pritchett had faced six first round defeats in her last eight races, but Sunday’s win was a game changer for this team entering the final race of the regular season with the Countdown to the Championship looming large on the horizon.
“Looking at us lately, it would seem (that we have been missing). It was like, ‘hey, where are they at, I know they are here.’ But if you really look at the Western Swing and our qualifying positions, our early rounds, they were all really close races,” Pritchett said. “When we talked about gaining momentum internally, we really were (gaining momentum) in regards to the car, the setup, and the team morale. We have been able to keep that up and, putting all of the puzzle pieces together, we could see what it was looking like when I am not sure everyone else could.
“And the change in our mindset has been huge. You look back here when we won two years ago and it was throwdown central. It was world-record setting conditions and that is what you get excited about. That is what this sport stands for - being the fastest and the quickest. And you have to race with that extreme mindset and I feel I haven’t been able to do that. I’ve been racing out of fear of sponsors, of what the future holds, instead of racing without any fear.
“Once you break that barrier, you are finally able to get that back. It goes all the way from the parts and pieces to the mindset and this has done such incredible things for our confidence, for our sponsors, for our fans and for ourselves. I’m excited. Between the race car and the team and what we are asking (the car) to do, she is behaving beautifully and we couldn’t be happier.”
With the final race of the regular season two weeks away in Indianapolis, Pritchett has secured her spot in the Countdown, the last driver locked into the 10-driver Top Fuel field. Seven drivers have secured their ticket for the postseason, with another three spots to be earned at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals over Labor Day weekend. Larry Crum
CAPPS CAPTURES BRAINERD FUNNY CAR WIN FOR SIXTH TIME - Some drivers just seem to have a better fit at certain track.
That certainly can be said for veteran nitro Funny Car driver Ron Capps and Brainerd (Minn.) International Raceway.
Capps, who pilots the NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat for Don Schumacher Racing, won at BIR for the sixth time in his career Sunday.
Capps got the jump on the starting line and clocked a 3.946-second elapsed time at 324.28 mph to edge DSR teammate Tommy Johnson Jr.’s 3.947-second lap at 319.98 mph.
Capps had a .055 reaction time and Johnson Jr.’s reaction time was 0.171.
“Tommy and duked it out,” said Capps, who won the 2016 NHRA Mello Yello Series world championship. “(Rahn) Tobler (Capps’ crew chief) made a joke before we rolled out of the trailer, he said ‘How bout that, the two 5-disc clutch Funny Cars are going to duke it out in the finals. That car (Johnson Jr.’s) I feel like I’m racing a mirror of myself in a lot of different senses. First of all, J.C. (John Collins, Johnson Jr.’s crew chief) is a chip off the old block. He spent so many years working under Tobler. His approach is the same and their car is set-up almost identical to ours. It is Karate Kid and Mr. Miyagi every time. Going into that round, there was nothing strange to me when I staged. Tommy doesn’t mess around. Just like racing Robert Hight and certain guys, we just pull the pump and let our foot off the clutch and roll right in. There are no games, no waiting and we let our cars do the talking and Tommy has always been that way.
We both pulled the pumps and went right in. He must have got distracted. I think we staged around the same time so maybe that threw him off. It is very unlike Tommy Johnson to do that. I really appreciate him doing that at the right time and letting me win the final. The final round was another handful. I got on the radio in the shutdown area and I wasn’t even sure I won because I was on the radio telling Dustin (Heim, assistant crew chief) oh my gosh this thing was evil handling like it was in 2016 with the laid-back headers. I was fighting to not cross the finish line. I didn’t even know what was going on next door. I thought for sure, any minute he was going to come flying by me because I had my hands all over the place. It was very good timing and another reason why Rahn Tobler is as good as he is, his impeccable timing and we are going to have that car front-halved before Indy and it was already planned.”
Capps now has wins at Brainerd in 1998, 2001, 2012-2014 and 2019. He also been runner-up at BIR in 1997, 2009 and 2011. Only legendary John Force has more wins at Brainerd – 11 – than Capps.
“My wife’s family is from the Twin Cities area and we flew in early and had a family reunion on my wife’s side of the family on Tuesday night (Aug. 13) in Minneapolis,” Capps said. “Every year my wife’s family comes out and it is awesome to have family here. Me coming here with my wife’s family every year, the wins have been so much fun because you have family to enjoy it with. The fans around here take me in. They call me Ronnie. I never get called Ronnie anywhere but here. For some reason, it makes them feel like they know me. It is the way people are around here and I love them.”
This was Capps 64th career national event win and 63rd in Funny Car and one in Top Fuel in Seattle in 1995 driving for Roger Primm. Capps is fourth in the season point standings – 226 points behind leader Robert Hight and only 47 points behind second place Tommy Johnson Jr.
Capps' victory parade consisted of wins over reigning world champion J.R. Todd, Jack Beckman, Shawn Langdon, and Johnson Jr. This was Capps third win of the season as he also snared wins in Atlanta, Richmond, Va., and Brainerd.
“We were a little bit under gunned (Sunday),” said Capps, who qualified No. 7 at Brainerd. “We didn’t qualify as well as we wanted. We had lane choice first round and not that it mattered because both lanes were great (Sunday). That car (Todd) is a final round at the finals in Pomona kind of race every time we race the yellow fellas. Obviously, that was a big win. I didn’t know what was going on with J.R. until I saw the replay later and I saw out of shape he got. It was a typical Rahn Tobler go out and try not make a mistake and not go low E.T., but just get down the track.”
Things didn’t get any easier for Capps after his victory over Todd.
“Beckman’s car went 87 low ET of the event and we did not have lane choice,” Capps said. “It was fun to sit in the lounge and really listen to what Tobler was going to do to the car to pick up in the middle of the track, little more mph here, little more E.T. in the middle of the track and try and run more speed. It all sounds great and I have heard this a million times, but it doesn’t always equate to going out and doing it and it was fun to be in the car and feel everything he talked about and accelerate and the G-meter and see the win light come on. We felt like we had to up our game because they had run so well the previous round. The list of teams you’re talking about are team you’re going to have to beat to win a world championship in the six races of the Countdown, no doubt about it so that was a huge round.
Langdon’s car is a threat to win a world championship. They are coming together at the right time with Del (Worsham) and those guys. I had my hands full. The semifinals the car was all over the place and we are having the car front-halved after this week. We have a lot of runs on it. I don’t know if all of sudden it said that was enough runs.”
Capps improved his elimination-round record this season to 27-14. Capps has a 21-17 elimination-round record against Johnson Jr.
“This is a race (Brainerd) that we circle because it is fun and it takes a little bit of the edge off because there’s so much going on around us,” Capps said. “This is race, where you don’t want to go into Indy and worry about having to move yourself position-wise and have to worry about getting in the top 10 or whatever the problem is. You want to race this race and get the finishing touches on your tune-up because guess what, you’re going to the biggest race in the world for us in Indianapolis and you want to go there just to win Indy. This is a crucial race. They have done such a great job here that we can come here and not worry about lane choice. NHRA did a great job of prepping and all that, but you really want to have your act together. There are a lot of teams testing here (Monday). It will be like a national event, we are not, thank God.
There are a lot of people a little nervous about their tune-ups and you don’t want to be one of them. I’m so happy we had great success (Sunday). We have a good running car and we can just go to Indy and try and win Indy. I have never won Indy personally so I would love to win it. Then, right after that it is six races for everything you dreamed of as a kid to win a world championship.”
Up next for Capps in the prestigious U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis Aug. 28-Sept. 2 at Lucas Oil Raceway.
“I feel really good leaving here (Brainerd) right now and heading to Indy because now we can treat Indy like it is,” Capps said. “If we can move up another couple positions in points that would be great. We just want to go to Indy and try and be a U.S. Nationals champion, something I have never done. It will be fun and huge and then it is playoff time. Just talking about it right now makes my hair stand on my neck because you have to get you r act together for that and this was a great example how to do it.” Tracy Renck
LINE EARNS FIRST PRO STOCK WIN AT HOME TRACK WITH FLAWLESS WEEKEND - There is no other word that can be used to describe Jason Line’s weekend other than perfection.
Line was flawless in all eight passes over three days at his home track, sweeping qualifying, earning the No. 1 spot and racing to his first victory of the season and his first on home soil at the 38th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
“This is very cool. As we get older, you realize these moments are going to be fewer and farther between and there is less of a chance of them happening, so this is very special,” Line said. “I am super excited - as excited as I get anyway. You want to win here in front of your friends and family. It was just a great weekend and a fun day. It is probably as much fun for them and for me to see how happy they are. That makes it super special.
“Having a weekend like this is a rarity. I couldn’t tell you the last time that happened to anybody. We had a great car and we were head and shoulders above everyone else.”
Line, who grew up a little over an hour away from Brainerd in nearby Wright, Minnesota, credits this very track for a career that now includes 49 Wallys, 55 top qualifier awards and 101 final rounds. He has won here in other classes, but never as a professional in the Pro Stock ranks. He is technically credited with a win at the facility back in 2014, but that race was rain-delayed in the semifinals and Line later picked up the Wally in Indianapolis a few weeks later.
So while he has a trophy with his name on it from this race, Sunday was his first win in Pro Stock actually at the Minnesota-based facility.
“My parents let us come here when we were just kids. It was the start of something big for me,” Line said. “I won my first race here. My first lap was here. My first beer was probably here. My first memories (of racing) were of coming here. It is a great place. No matter what, this place will hold fond memories for me. My dad raced in the very first event they had here in June of 1968 and he still has the same car.
“This place has been a big part of our lives. They did a great job with the track and to return up the return road on the zoo side with all of the fans yelling, that was really cool. It was a great moment that I will remember forever.”
Line defeated Erica Enders in Sunday’s finale, a matchup of two of the strongest cars in the field. While Line topped every session over the course of the weekend, Enders was a close second and the two put on a tremendous race in the final.
Enders, known as a world-class leaver, edged the three-time champion by the narrowest of margins at the start, but Line quickly made up the ground and never trailed with a 6.597-second pass at 209.10 mph in the Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro for KB Racing. Enders, who was also seeking her first win of the year, crossed the stripe with a 6.604 at 207.59 mph.
After the race Enders came up and congratulated Line with a hug on the top end.
“My goal is not to leave first against her. My goal is to be close,” Line said. “She is quicker than I am. I have my moments, but she is as good as anybody ever as far as letting her left foot out. My goal is to get close to her and hope we can outrun her. We managed to do that today.
“I don’t normally look over in high gear, but I did today. It has been a while since I bracket raced and I looked over and I won’t tell you what I said, but I really thought I was a couple thou behind.”
Going into the final, Line had the added drama of flying blind as an issue with their data-gathering device during the run before left the team guessing with the race on the line.
“We didn’t get any data the run before for whatever reason. Normally we make some tuning changes and today we had to take a guess at it,” Line said. “They actually outran us a little bit down the back, so we were off a little bit somewhere, but it was enough. When the win light came on I was a little surprised. We probably should have made some bigger moves, but it is what it is.”
In addition to his personal history at the track, Line also extends his streak of 16-consecutive seasons with a win on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series, having won each year since joining the Pro Stock class.
“It is a big deal. My dad is a numbers guy and he likes streaks. So he makes a big deal out of the fact that I have won a race every year that I have raced in Pro Stock,” Line said. “And he puts a lot of pressure on me to make sure that continues. To do it here in front of him is pretty cool.”
Line added wins over Wally Stroupe, Alex Laughlin and Deric Kramer to reach his second final round of the season as he moves up a spot to fourth in the championship standings with one race remaining in the regular season.
Line built on his Friday and Saturday successes on race day, running low elapsed time and speed in a round two win over Laughlin, before being gifted with what he calls his lucky round in the semifinals. Kramer lit the red light during a run in which Line was late on the tree, gifting the eventual race winner a ticket to the final.
“Against Kramer in the semifinals, I was tardy. I fell asleep up there,” Line admitted. “You can’t do that against anybody. Fortunately, he couldn’t wait. I think everybody knows how everybody wants to stage, so I think he was trying to do something to throw me off a little bit. So I tried to do the same in return and we both did a really poor job. Thankfully his was worse than mine so it worked out for us.”
With a win under his belt and already being locked into the postseason, Line now shifts his focus to the biggest race of the year at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals in two weeks with an opportunity to further his standing with the Countdown to the Championship looming on the horizon.
“The truth is, one little event can change everything,” Line said. “It is a tough sport and right now everyone is so equal. There is no margin for error. You have to have a little bit of luck as well. That is what makes it special when you win.
“It is a big deal going into Indy with at least one win. I am going to sleep well tonight.” Larry Crum
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK – BRITTANY ROCKETS TO THE TOP; FIELDS SET FOR SUNDAY ELIMINATIONS
THE FATHER FACTOR - As competitive as Billy Torrence is, he’s glad point leader Steve Torrence is his son and not his brother.
“If he was my brother I’d be kicking his butt,” the elder Torrence admitted.
Torrence admits he’s always been a competitive person, first with his business and it spilled over into his racing. He’s content to let Steve bask in the limelight, and take a backseat on the race track.
“I’m the dominant one at Capco,” Torrence said. “So that’s what I’m good at. I’ve never really been good at anything but pipelining.”
That’s not exactly true as Torrence had three career sportsman wins before moving up to Top Fuel, where has won twice. He’s not the dominant driver in the Torrence Family and that suits him just fine.
“I get as much personal satisfaction out of seeing what Steve, Kay, Richard, Bobby and Dom, and all these boys have put together and achieved and to know that I’m just a part of that, it’s very humbling. I’m totally satisfied with those guys just having that success and me being a part of that.”
It’s the family aspect of drag racing, the non-blood bonded family which intrigues Torrence the most about the straight-line sport. The fact it’s something the blood-related family can and has done for years together is what keeps him coming back.
“The thing about drag racing is we’ve raced as a family for years and years now, and I think that anything that you can do week in and week out with your family,” Torrence said. “No matter what it is what hobby or sport you partake in, I think that the family aspect that we come out here every weekend or 30 weekends a year and can spend time together, good quality time and have a good time all the time win, lose or draw. That’s what intrigues me is a family aspect of it. There are many more families out there enjoying the same thing.”
Torrence admits there came a time once Steve started racing, where watching his son win became more gratifying, than hoisting the trophy himself.
“I would just as soon see Steve win,” Torrence admitted. “Steve is in a better position to win than I am because he’s a full-time driver out here and you really need to do this full-time to be really good at it. It’s tough to come out even taking off two or three races; it’s tough to come out and have to think about what you do.”
While Torrence might have taught Steve how to drag race initially, it was his son who taught him the ins and outs of fuel racing.
“When we were racing sportsman racing, I had a lot of influence on him in the way he did early on, but he’s taken it to a different level,” Torrence said. “He drives the car and thinks while he’s driving it and he does a really good job.”
Torrence said he knew early on; Steve was going to be something special. And, this is just not a proud father kind of thing.
“He was always a very well disciplined young man,” Torrence said. “He’s a third-degree black belt in karate and Taekwondo or something like that. He’d been in that from an early age, and then he was raised pre-CPS. It was not against the law to whip his butt, and I think his mom probably kept him in line. But he’s always been a top-notch young man. No angel, but a good fellow.”
Torrence learned as much about the resolve of his son when at 17, he was diagnosed with cancer. Steve’s will to survive, and the overwhelming power of prayer was what Torrence credits with saving his son’s life.
“Steve and I were there when that doctor told him that he had cancer and looked at me and it’ll floor you, but we went into fight and pray mode,” Torrence recalled. “We prayed, and we got the best health care we could. We were blessed and fortunate for Steve to come out of that, and we’ve never looked back.
“We’re just very blessed and fortunate and had it not been for the good Lord; Steve wouldn’t be here today.”
Torrence is convinced the experience made Steve the man he is today.
“Steve lives every day to the fullest,” Torrence said. “He doesn’t worry about what repercussions tomorrow may bring. He says what he thinks, and he doesn’t leave much on the table at the end of any day.”
Torrence puts his personal accomplishments on the back burner to celebrates those honors earned by his son.
“I’m so proud of that young man,” Torrence said. “I’m proud of what he’s achieved. I’m a proud father of him, of how he’s grown up and what he does. The moral values that he has in his work ethic. I duck because they always say you pay for your raising and I’ve been very fortunate to have a great young man.
“I think he loves me unconditionally and is always in my corner. I work with Steve at Capco and trained Steve to take that place over every day, and he enjoys that camaraderie. He enjoys the competition of that business, and we work together every day, 12 hours a day.”
There and only there is where Torrence prefers to unleash his competitive tendencies.
REMEMBERING THE DONES - Word started to make its way around the Brainerd International Raceway pits on Friday afternoon that legendary and popular drag racing promoter Bill Doner had passed away.
Doner, the credit driving force behind 64 Funny Car Shows, had a profound effect on many drag racers, business associates, and race fans. Two iconic drag racers remember the man known simply as the Dones. Saturday, John Force and Ron Capps were all too eager to talk about the man who put Funny Car racing on the map in the 1970s.
Force met Doner as a struggling drag racer in that era, just hoping to get a place in one of Doner’s iconic Funny Car shows up and down the Pacific seaboard.
The unfortunate aspect of Force’s race endeavors in 1977 and 1978, is that most of his racing was either covered in oil or fire. This didn’t stop Force from trying to be a star, a status Doner could deliver through his booked-in shows and the radio ads which flooded the regions.
“I didn’t go to National events back then I was just getting started,” Force recalled. “But he could make you a star; he could build you up to make you a star.”
Or in Force’s case, Doner could deliver a big dose of reality.
“He could tell you to take your race car fishing, flip it upside down and make it a boat,” Force recalled. “It was a better boat than a race car. Oh, he was a tough promoter. But he packed them in week after week.
“It was unbelievable. Rock bands playing. Helicopters were bringing Raymond Beadle, and he’s running over the rooftops. Only Doner could put that together. He was tough, but he was always fair. He always paid us. He knew I was a little guy coming up. I remember when he said, “you always oil the track, so you’re carrying the grease sweep to Seattle.”
It remains uncertain which attracted Force more to the Doner shows; the chance to be a star or the wild stuff which often ensued.
“The girls running out to the car looking in the window, header fire out both sides and here’s some girl there in a halter top looking through the window and then one on the other side,” Force recalled. “Oh, they did stuff that they don’t do today. But it was crazy, but we got away with it, and it was just an unbelievable time for me. I was young.
“Doner used to say, “I can’t get this kid off the phone,” until he told me I was booked.”
Force tried his best to get featured in Doner’s famous radio commercial spots.
“First time I showed I said “I’m gonna be in the ads this week, you promised,” Force recalled. “It said ‘Don Prudhomme, Mongoose, Raymond Beadle, Jungle Jim, and many more.”
“I said, “you cut me out again.” He responded, “You were many more, and that was a true story.” He said, “one day kid I’ll advertise you, right now haul my grease sweep.”
“That’s how we lived. But he always treated me with respect. He’d say, “I don’t know if you’re going to make it. You probably kill yourself first. But I love your energy. Just keep trying. You might make it someday.”
Ron Capps remembers Doner, but not in the same fashion as Force. He saw Doner’s incredible 64 Funny Car shows and credits them as the inspiration for his professional drag racing career.
“Going to places like OCIR, the days when you would look out and they would be 64-plus Funny Cars firing up at the same time on the track before they even ran and it was on into the night,” Capps recalled. “You talk about a childhood of being able to sit in the grandstand and watch over 64 Funny Cars go side by side throughout the night, not counting all the Top Fuel cars.”
Capps, when Ed McCulloch was his crew chief, will forever cherish the moment when his tuner and Doner got together to talk the good old days.
“I got to hear those stories that I’ve read about, but I got to hear the real stories,” Capps said. “The unedited, non-rated PG, if you will. You read about in the magazines, you heard people certainly talk about them in interviews, but I got to hear him out of the horse’s mouths and some of them I could probably never repeat.”
As Capps sees it, there will never be another Doner.
“Right now I’m sure he’s up there with Steve Evans and Beadle and those guys, and they’re probably at the coolest dive bar that there is and just hanging out telling stories,” Capps said. “It’s another Legend we’ve lost.
SURPRISE, SURPRISE - It is safe to say few saw that one coming.
After day one in Minnesota, Steve Torrence looked to have a lock on yet another Top Fuel pole.
He was the quickest car on Friday with a pass that looked relatively insurmountable considering the conditions and the ensuing runs in the class.
But in drag racing, anything can happen, a point proven once again Saturday night.
Brittany Force and world-renowned crew chiefs David Grubnic and Mac Savage blasted from 10th to first in the final qualifying session in the Advance Auto Parts dragster, giving her her fifth No. 1 of the season and the 15th of her career Saturday at the 38th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
“It was a clean run all the way down there, and that put us No. 1, and we are very happy with that,” Force said. “David Grubnic said on this last run we are safe in the field, and he was going to push to see if we could move up, and he moved us up quite a bit. We are very excited about that, and it puts overall good energy in our pit and confidence going into race day tomorrow.”
With few able to improve on their times from Friday, the field appeared locked entering Saturday’s fourth and final session. Going up to the line, Force was informed that she would be running her teammate and most recent race winner Austin Prock in round one on Sunday and the team hoped to see some movement on the ladder to avoid that matchup.
“Right before we started the car I heard them say that we would have each other first round,” Force said. “That was a bummer and I thought that we have to step it up. But with Grubnic and Mac Savage, I knew we were capable of doing it.”
In the fifth pairing of the session, Force put together her best run of the weekend, rocketing to the top of the charts and holding on as no other cars were able to improve on their times. While it was a surprise to some, with an all-star team in her corner, Force admitted that little surprises her anymore.
“I love working with (Grubnic) and Mac Savage. (Grubnic) has been behind the wheel in one of these things so he understands the stress. He understands the pressure. He understands exactly what you feel when you pull up to the line every time,” Force said. “To be able to sit down and have a conversation with him when I come back to the pits and I’ve screwed up or whatever, to talk to him knowing he has been there, is really cool. It is great to be able to rely on him.
“I have the greatest team out there and I know that we are capable of doing anything. Grubnic told me the number he wanted to run before (that pass) and I knew it was going to be pushing hard if we could make it down there and it did just that.” – Larry Crum
HAGAN MAINTAINS - Matt Hagan maintained his position atop of the Funny Car board and will start race day at Brainerd International Raceway from the No. 1 spot.
The driver of the MOPAR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat Widebody Funny Car captured the pole when he blasted to a 3.890-second pass during Friday’s second qualifying session. The stout lap was the only sub-3.9-second Funny Car E.T. of the weekend, and his speed of 328.46-mph held up to be the fastest of the floppers.
Prior to powering to the head of the pack, Hagan kicked off his Brainerd weekend with a solid 4.004 E.T., the third-quickest run of the session. He and his Dickie Venables-guided team maintained their performance on Saturday when Hagan posted a 4.000-second E.T. in Q3.
“Everything is coming together for our team,” said the Countdown contender who officially clinched his spot to compete for the 2019 Mello Yello Funny Car world championship during qualifying. “This MOPAR Dodge is really running strong. The No. 1 spot is great, but we’ve got to focus on race day. We’ve got a good setup for the heat, and I feel really confident in this combination. Anything can happen; track conditions change all the time. We’re going to try and keep lane choice all day and focus on turning on four win lights, and hopefully, we’ll finish the day holding another Wally.”
The two-time Funny Car world champion will start from the pole for the 35th time in his career as he seeks his third victory this season. Hagan, a two-time Brainerd International Raceway runner-up, will begin his campaign for his first Brainerd victory with a first-round matchup against No. 16 qualifier Dale Creasy Jr.
THE SAME LINE - There is nothing quite like home-field advantage.
With friends and family looking on, Jason Line, who hails from nearby Wright, Minnesota, placed his Summit Racing Equipment Chevrolet Camaro in the No. 1 spot on Saturday at the 38th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway, his second pole position of the season.
While all successes are to be celebrated, there is nothing quite like proving the best at a facility just down the road from where you grew up. A fact that made Line’s green hat celebration on Saturday just a bit sweeter.
“I say there isn’t any (added pressure), but I suppose there is,” Line said. “I would just like to win here in Pro Stock. It would be fun. It would be good for my friends and family and for all of us - something we can enjoy together. That is a rare thing in our sport, so it would be good to do it this weekend.”
Line’s 6.606-second pass at 207.27 mph from Friday evening held up on day two as he earned his second No. 1 of the season and the 55th of his career. While he wasn’t able to better his numbers on Saturday, Line was still quickest in both sessions on day two in Brainerd, giving him a clean sweep as the quickest car in all four sessions and the 12 bonus points that go along with it.
“My car is really good. It is certainly the best car that I have had in years,” a confident Line said. “We’ve made four really good runs and that is not always easy to do. There are a lot of good cars, but being able to have the quickest car in four sessions in today’s Pro Stock is no small feat. The car is very predictable and doing what we ask it to do.
“It happens sometimes, you go to a place and for whatever reason, the car will be super happy. Mine is very happy here and that is a good feeling.”
Erica Enders, who joins Line in the winless category this season, qualified second with a 6.616 at 206.99 mph. Line’s teammate Bo Butner qualified third with a 6.624 at 207.08 mph. Deric Kramer (6.627) and Jeg Coughlin (6.627) rounded out the top five.
While heat and humidity were a hurdle on Saturday, Line welcomed the race-like conditions and was able to use the afternoon as a test session to prepare the car for race conditions on Sunday as he seeks his first Wally since October.
“The weather was the same for everybody, and it wasn’t really that bad. If you are from North Carolina, it is really not that bad at all,” Line said. “This morning we probably could have ran a 6.60 again, but that last run we used as a test run for tomorrow. So the fact that we were still low on that run is a good thing.”
While Brainerd is at the top of Line’s list of favorite tracks on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series calendar, it is a facility that has largely eluded the three-time champion. He is credited with the win at this race way back in 2014, but in that race Line reached the semifinals before rain forced the remainder of the event to be finished in Indianapolis.
While he has a trophy that says he is an event winner here, he has yet to do just that in front of his hometown fans, something he hopes to change this weekend.
Line will get Wally Stroupe in round one on Sunday. – Larry Crum
CHANGING TRADITIONS - Last year, J.R. Todd and the DHL team credited the traditional pre-Indianapolis test at Lucas Oil Raceway as a significant factor in the team’s run for a championship. Likewise, the test session contributed to back-to-back U.S. Nationals victory.
The team still plans to make a run at a third Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals but will do so without the test session.
“As of now, we’re not planning on testing there,” Todd said. “Usually that’s been our key. It’s what picked up our momentum there, but honestly last year I feel like here in Brainerd is where we turned the corner. The results didn’t show it, but we made some changes in Seattle last year on race day and then that carried over to Brainerd here. We went to the semis and we barely got beat in the semis from what I remember.
“I should have went to the final. So I feel like our momentum kind of started here and I’m hoping history repeats itself and we get going here again because we ran really well in Seattle just stumbled there second round on race day, but I feel like we’re going in the right direction.”
Todd was tenth quickest in qualifying in Brainerd with a 3.963 elapsed time at 321.27 miles per hour. He said in tests past, it was never whole gains which contributed to the success but several moderate adjustments which sent the team in a winning direction.
“We didn’t make a big change at any test,” Todd explained. “That change came before that and we just kind of fine-tuned it there at the test session. It’s always nice to test at Indy just because you’re going to race there the next week, but is it that important? No. Basically, you’re just testing things that you wouldn’t try during a race weekend is why you test.”
In other words, Todd’s credit of the pre-Indy test is the equivalent of the Dale Armstrong terrible towel approach in the 1980s when the crew chief of Kenny Bernstein used the equivalent of a hotel towel covering up a part to divert attention from where the team had real speed secrets.
“I guess it’s been good karma in the past, but I’ve run the Indy test so many years and not won Indy so I’m not saying that’s the magic key to winning Indy,” Todd explained. “It’s just that Todd and John have a good handle on this thing at the right time of year. You go back on those notes and realize what you did and just do what you know how to do and I don’t change the way I drive at Indy or any race.
“I try to treat them all the same. But we all know Indy holds a special meaning. Everybody seems like they’re tensed up, no one’s talking to one another as far as teams. You can tell that it’s Indy. And I feel like we’ll be ready to rip when we get there.”
Todd said the team plans to test after this weekend’s Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals on Monday.
“Every track is unique and when the weather conditions are right, they’re all fast and this place shows that,” Todd explained. “You would think places like here and Topeka that with the weather conditions they go through throughout the year, that the tracks would be that good but they’re probably two of the best surfaces that that we run on.
“It’s just a matter of getting the right conditions to run on. We’re not going to see those crazy conditions that we had that year everybody was setting records but tonight we should be able to throw down here pretty good, I think.”
THE PROFESSOR OF TOP FUEL? - Warren Johnson might be considered the Professor of Pro Stock, but when it comes to Top Fuel, the professor is Cameron Ferre, literally.
Ferre recently left his role at RacePak and accepted the position as fulltime college professor at Cerritos College in Cerritos, Ca.
“A lot of people don’t know that I’ve actually been a part-time college instructor/professor for a couple of years,” Ferre admitted. “I applied, and they took a liking to me and yeah, it actually kind of all worked out. It’s something that I did, and it was really cool and I start on Monday.
Ferre is part of the automotive technology department, teaching Auto Collision, a field for which his family’s been involved in the body shop industry his whole life.
It’s kind of a natural progression,” Ferre added.
BEST FOR LAST - Tim Wilkerson saved his best for run for last, cranking out a 3.993, 312.78 run in the most oppressive weather conditions of the event.
"We're getting better; I'm creeping up on it," said Wilkerson, who races Tommy Johnson Jr. in round one.
"I've changed a lot of things, and we're still trying to get a handle on it, but tomorrow I don't want to smoke the tires first round. I'm going to try hard not to do that, because we've done it the last three races. We're getting good at it, but that's not what we want to do. We just have to learn how to do it differently now, and I'm confident we can."
Conditions in Brainerd on Sunday are forecast to be refreshingly cooler and dryer, but so far, none of the data collected will apply for anyone.
"The conditions will be completely different tomorrow, but it'll be the same for everybody, so that's not a big worry for us," said Wilkerson, who was runner-up in Brainerd in 2003.
"The weather looks like it's going to change in the direction of giving us plenty of power, and we'll have to figure out how to adapt to that. We're lacking power right now, so I changed the motor because so far, I'm not happy with how it's acting here. I'm not quite sure why it's acting the way it is right now, but I'll figure it out. In the meantime, heck with it, let's put another one in there and see if it acts any different. It's a process, but we're getting there."
SIXTH TIME IS THE CHARM? - Jeg Coughlin Jr. enters Sunday's final eliminations gunning for a sixth title. He won Pro Stock trophies here in 1999, 2002, 2007 and 2010, and the Super Stock crown in 1997. He was also Pro Stock runner-up here in 2000 and 2014.
"I feel pretty good about everything," Coughlin said. "We started off with two decent runs Friday, tried a few things in Q3 that ended up taking us in a different direction, so we changed it up again for Q4 and feel like we made our best run in that round.
"We may have a different racetrack tomorrow. It's been in the mid-80s throughout qualifying, but it's supposed to be down in the 60s when we start eliminations, which will be quite a bit of a shift for the Pro Stock cars. We like the cooler temperatures, so I'm sure the crew chiefs will be going for it."
On Sunday, Coughlin will first face No. 12 qualifier Kenny Delco, who topped out at 6.663 and 206.20 mph. In their only head-to-head meeting this year, which took place in Gainesville, Delco beat Coughlin on a holeshot.
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK – HAGAN BLASTS TO THE TOP; LINE STILL SEARCHING FOR ELUSIVE WIN
RENEWED PASSION - Life is good for Jim Oberhofer these days. Just ask him.
The longtime Top Fuel tuner is now a Funny Car crew chief but still dabbles in the long skinny cars.
Oberhofer, for decades, plied his trade as the tuner of record for Doug Kalitta before leaving the team last October. He joined the Straightline Strategy Group a little over a month later, a conglomeration of professional race teams pooling their marketing resources.
Oberhofer lives life at a less hectic pace these days. He’s even embarking on a new business venture away from the strip he hopes will reengage the hectic pace in a good way.
“I think that’s all going to change when I get back home to Plano, Texas next week,” Oberhofer admitted. “I’m actually going to close on my new oil change business. So it’s an exciting step for me in my life and my family’s life. I’m trying to have my cake and eat it too.
“Drag racing is the fun part of my life and then, hopefully with my new Victory Lane Quick Oil Change center, that’ll be the more business side of life for me. I’m just excited about everything I’ve got going on. It’s just really breathed new life into me this year.”
Oberhofer learned a valuable lesson he always knew existed when one can't see the forest for the trees.
“Last year when I parted ways with the Kalitta team, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do from that point on,” Oberhofer said. “I kind of wanted to still race, but at the same time, I wanted to do something else, and I’d been thinking about it for a long time.”
Shortly after Oberhofer left Kalitta, a representative of the Michigan-based Victory Lane Oil Change franchise contacted him.
“They called me the day after, and we had been talking previously about doing something down in Dallas, opening some stores up, in the future,” Oberhofer revealed. “They said, “let’s get this deal going.”
Oberhofer was almost at a point where he was content to walk away from drag racing forever.
Enter longtime Australian friend Bruce Read, son of Australian Drag Racing Hall of Famer Jim Read, and one of’ Oberhofer’s best friends.
Read invited Oberhofer to come Down Under to help with the family’s Top Fuel operation. It was the trick to make Oberhofer fall in love with the straight-line sport all over again.
“They made me realize why I love drag racing so much,” Oberhofer said. “I went down there in November and raced with those guys down there in Sydney, and I had more fun than I had in such a long time and Bruce’s like one of my best friends I have in this world. It’s a shame he lives so far away from me.
“We had fun getting this car back on track, and I really had fun racing with them, and I said, ‘You know, this is the way it’s supposed to be, this is what drag racing was all about for me for a number of years.”
Oberhofer often understands words are open to interpretation, and the renewed passion for drag racing should never be construed as his time at Kalitta was never anything as one of the most significant opportunities in his life.
“The sport grows, things change,” Oberhofer said. “For Connie Kalitta, he did a great job; he’s done a great job. If it wasn’t for Connie, I wouldn’t be in the spot that I’m in right now. So, I’m very appreciative of that. He taught me so much about business and racing.
“At the same time, it’s about also enjoying yourself and enjoying what you’re doing. Bruce showed me that again, he taught me something that I needed to learn again, and that was to how to enjoy myself out at the racetrack. That’s what made me want to go racing again.”
Oberhofer didn’t even have time to return to the States when he received a phone call from Parts Plus-sponsored team owner Doug Stringer, whose Top Fuel team is the flagship for the Straightline Strategy group.
“He presented this idea of me coming and working with Mike Kloeber on Clay Millican’s car,” Oberhofer explained. “I’ve known Mike for a long time, but I asked. “Is Mike okay with this?”
Stringer revealed Kloeber was 100-percent behind the move, and this was all the Oberhofer needed to confirm this would soon be his next chapter in life.
Oberhofer was already committed as crew chief of Paul Lee’s forthcoming Funny Car, but in the meantime, he would work alongside Kloeber to ensure the dragster remained on track amid the crew chief transitioned from David Grubnic to Kloeber.
It was no bed of roses in the early going, Oberhofer admits.
“When we first started with Clay’s car it was tough,” Oberhofer explained. “It was a struggle, and there was a lot of pressure on Mike, a lot of pressure on the team to succeed because not many people thought we could do very good with that car and the circumstances that were presented to us. But when we got to Gainesville, we really start having a lot of fun with the car.”
Not long after this, Oberhofer began his new role as Lee’s crew chief, all the while playing a role in Millican’s continued success. Fun in drag racing wasn’t an option; it was a requirement.
“Paul made it very clear to me that we’re here, we’re going to come to ten races or so, but when we’re here, we’re going to have fun,” Oberhofer explained. “Yeah, we want to run good, we want to win, but we’re going to have fun while we’re doing it and he’s made that happen.
“The group of guys that we have working on this car, they are awesome. I mean, there are a lot of guys I’ve worked with in the past, and I reached out to them. They reached out to me. We all made this happen. It’s kind of funny because we say we’re a bunch of rejects out here racing a Funny Car.
“To me, this is like major league baseball players; we’re playing a kids game. We’re out here playing with race cars and trying to make them go quick and fast, and you should have fun doing this because there’s not many people in the world that get this opportunity. So you need to cherish that opportunity.”
Oberhofer is cherishing every moment, one new opportunity after another.
MOMENTUM IS WHERE YOU FIND IT - It has been a roller-coaster kind of year for Matt Hagan.
From a string of early season success that saw him as high as second in points, to a summer stretch of six first round losses in eight races, and back to the top again, Hagan is ready for a little consistency on the race track.
And he thinks he may have finally found it.
With two finals and a semifinal in the last four races, Hagan has once again found his foothold in the class and continued that momentum on Friday at the 38th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals as Hagan found himself sitting atop the Funny Car class at Brainerd International Raceway.
Hagan, who hasn’t secured a pole all year, put together the only run in the 3.80s on Friday with a very quick 3.890-second pass at 328.46 mph to grab the provisional top spot with two more runs on Saturday.
“We have a hell of a race car right now,” Hagan said. “We have just come off of some semifinals and finals on the Western Swing and, if you throw Denver out of the mix, we’ve had a great combo that has gone a lot of rounds.
“We just have a lot of confidence right now. We roll in here and have two great laps right off the bat. The car was digging early and had a lot of wheel speed and it washed out early, so you know it is on a good run. Dickie (Venables) has a lot of confidence in the combo that we’ve got and the window is a lot bigger right now.
“This is the momentum we need heading toward the Countdown. If we can make up a couple of points and a couple of rounds here, maybe we can move ourselves up to fifth or fourth or something like that. Right now we’ve got a really good shot at coming out here and hunting hard for this championship.”
Hagan was third quickest in session one before blasting to P1 in his second hit at the track in his Mopar-sponsored Dodge Hellcat Charger. Hagan’s Don Shumacher Racing teammate Jack Beckman was second on Friday with a 3.908 at 325.53 mph and current points leader Robert Hight was third with a 3.924 at 326.48 mph.
Shawn Langdon (3.935) and Ron Capps (3.936) rounded out the top five.
It was a brilliant run for Hagan who is seeking his first No. 1 qualifier in over a year.
“When you have fast wheel speed that early and it washes really hard and doesn’t come loose, you know (the crew chief) is getting all of it out there,” Hagan said. “As a driver you are just trying to pull it back into the groove. It is a fine line bringing it back and letting it settle into the groove. You are trying not to drive these cars too much, but in a Funny Car you have to drive them no matter what. I didn’t see the scoreboard, so I knew it was a good lap when I saw my guys and they were clapping and high fiving.”
Hagan has never won in Brainerd. He was runner-up in 2013 and 2016. - Larry Crum
SURPRISE, SURPRISE - It takes a lot to surprise Steve Torrence these days.
But that was exactly the position Torrence found himself in on Friday as the defending Top Fuel world champion rocketed to the top of the charts on a run that he felt wasn’t even close to the best on day one at the 38th annual Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway.
“It was really a pretty special run. We were able to go out there and be the last pair with my dad and, when you have two Capco cars out there, whether it is the final round, a first round, or qualifying, it is pretty neat,” Torrence said. “We go up there and just watched (Mike) Salinas go 74 in the right lane, which was really impressive being that there were hardly any cars go down that lane, and then you see (crew chief) Richard Hogan with his little smirk and get in there and turn some knobs. I didn’t know if it would make it, but I was really proud that it did.
“It didn’t feel as quick as what it ran. It felt a little soft early, but felt good in the middle and towards the end. Typically I can look up and see the scoreboards, but with the sun behind us I couldn’t. So when they said what it ran it surprised me.”
Torrence’s 3.738-second pass at 328.70 mph in the Capco Contractors dragster was good enough to give the Texan the provisional top spot and a shot at his fourth No. 1 qualifier of the season if his time holds on Saturday.
“I knew that we had made the adjustments back in the pits before we came up here to try to go No. 1, and then seeing Hogan get in the box and knowing what had transpired before us, I knew he was being more aggressive,” Torrence said. “I thought it was good enough to go No. 1 if it stuck, it just didn’t feel like that.”
Mike Salinas sits second after two of four qualifying hits with a 3.743 at 329.58 mph, while Leah Pritchett is third with a 3.756 at 325.53 mph. Billy Torrence (3.763) and Clay Millican rounded out the top five (3.765).
If his time holds on Saturday it will be Torrence’s first top qualifier award since Denver as he tries to get back on track following two surprising defeats in the last two races.
“We need to have something to build on. I think tomorrow is going to be really good conditions if the weathermen are correct, we will just see how that goes,” Torrence said. “This place is notorious for running quick. It is as quick as anywhere. But I think that this was a good starting point.” - Larry Crum
LINE DRAWS THE LINE - Jason Line’s father raced the very first time the gates opened at Brainerd International Raceway, competing in a J/Stock 1967 Chevrolet Impala. Friday at what used to be his home track, he showed the Pro Stock field he was the man to beat, at least provisionally.
Line, a two-time No. 1 qualifier here, paced both sessions Friday.
“It’s fun racing here, a lot of chaos, but it’s fun,” said Line, whose extended family is participating in Sportsman racing. “I love coming back here and seeing all the folks I grew up with. This is where I made my first-ever lap down a racetrack. I won my first race here, my first national event here, my first points meet here. A lot of firsts for me here.”
For all the history, and family reputation, Line has never won in Brainerd.
Line got a good head start on his first, though. He recorded a 6.613-second pass at 207.46 mph in the first session for the top spot, then in the second round of qualifying stepped up with a 6.606, 207.27.
“Everybody is so close, so you want to qualify near the top,” Line said. “I haven’t done a good job of that in a while, so it feels good. My Summit Racing Chevy went a little faster, but I’m struggling. I need to go back to shift school; I left a few thousandths out there – but it was a nice run.
“I don’t know if it will hold, but I like where I’m at. I don’t want to trade with anybody.”
THE PINNACLE OF A CAREER - Brian Corradi has tuned drivers to world championships and world records, and he’s been responsible for a healthy amount of wins. Two weeks ago in Seattle might have been one of the most memorable ones.
Corradi, along with Daniel Hood, tuned 16-time Funny Car champion John Force to milestone victory No. 150 at the Magic Dry NHRA Northwest Nationals.
“I could quit now,” Corradi said with a smile. “It was special. John’s a unique dude. Let’s just leave it at that and to get him his 150 means a lot in looking back at my career stuff I’ve done.”
Just what has he done? He’s tuned Antron Brown to multiple Top Fuel championships, and in one of his finer Funny Car moments directed Mike Ashley to the 2007 NHRA U.S. Nationals title.
Corradi still gets all giddy about those milestones, but No. 150 for the most prolific drag racer remains in a category of its own.
“This one goes in the book too in my little book I keep in my head.”
Corradi admits there was a lot of pressure to get the milestone victory because, in Seattle, the dry spell had already grown to 25 races.
“I was more excited for the guys to get a win,” Corradi admitted. “It had been over a year and plus it was probably the toughest win I’ve ever had to be involved with just getting to that point. I didn’t know if we’d ever get to win again the way it was going. But watching Force, seeing the pressure lifted off of him, even though he’s still a time bomb; he had a lot of pressure on him because he thought he was holding the team up.
“We had a lot of pressure on us. We thought we were holding the team up, making the wrong decisions. To get it out of the way, let’s just say I’ve gotten more sleep since then than I’ve had all year.”
Well, let’s just say during the dry spell Force was entangled in was largely a case of Murphy’s Law.
“I think maybe we were trying too hard, he was trying too hard and we were missing the obvious,” Corradi said. “So we regrouped the last five or six races and came together. Now if we can capture a few more wins this year, that would be awesome if we could pull off in championship form.”
FORCE INKS NEW SPONSOR - Tri-Pac North America LLC, a brand specializing in managing and optimizing pallet supply chains and recycling waste systems, has signed on as the newest partner with John Force Racing. New to the sport of drag racing, Tri-Pac will be featured on all four of the John Force Racing hot rods this weekend.
Collectively, Tri-Pac has over 75 years of pallet manufacturing, recycling, logistic, transportation, and onsite labor services experience and a footprint that reaches across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. With 15 manufacturing plants across the U.S and 600 affiliates located throughout Canada and Mexico, Tri-Pac continues to grow as an industry leader with a commitment to service, quality, and financial stability.
“In the tough economy that we’re in, it takes money to run these race cars and to bring in Tri-Pac, a huge pallet company with headquarters in Lake City, Minn., I’m excited. I’ve met the owners; they’re bringing customers to the race. We’re looking to grow their business,” said John Force. “They’re new to the sport of drag racing, and we want to show them, not only a good time but, that there are opportunities here to expand and really build on what they already have, that’s what it’s all about. And ultimately, we want to put them in the winner’s circle.”
Rick Ziebell, a partner in Tri-Pac, commented, “John is the winningest drag racer in the NHRA history, and Tri-Pac wants to partner with winners. The whole John Force Racing Team represents quality and endurance. Their whole team has been great to work with, and we are excited to have their entire group representing Tri-Pac.”
The Tri-Pac North America logo will be on the back panel of both sixteen-time world champion John Force and two-time world champion and company president Robert Hight’s Chevy Funny Cars and the front nose of 2017 world champion Brittany Force and rookie Austin Prock’s dragsters during this weekend.
SOONER OR LATER - Erica Enders believes it with all her heart - drag racing is cyclical. The two-time Pro Stock champion hopes the pendulum will soon swing her way.
“We prepare the best we can, and if we continue to work hard, I feel good that it’s going to work out,” Enders said. “I think our time will come and we’ve got the tenacity to work through it. We’re not running poorly; we just need a little luck. There’s definitely a little pressure with just two races before the Countdown, but I’m confident we’ll be ready this weekend.”
Enders sits eighth in points, which means there’s some urgency for to find the momentum she needs to compete for a third championship.
Enders believes her team can slip into a hot streak in a hurry.
“As soon as the Countdown starts, my money’s on us,” Enders said. “Hopefully things swing in our direction at the right time, but I think we’ll be fine. I know the work everyone on this team puts in, and I’m just ready to get this monkey off my back and get a win this weekend.”
151? - Give John Force a good horse, and he will win the derby. If you don’t believe the 16-time champion, just ask him.
“I may not be as young as these kids, and I may not be a hotshot on the ‘Tree anymore,” Force said, referring to the NHRA’s electronic Christmas Tree starting system, “but if you give me a good race car, I can still win and right now I’ve got a race car as good as any.
“(Crew chiefs) Brian Corradi and Daniel Hood and (car chief Tim) Fabrisi have had to put up with me all year,” he admitted. “I was unhappy with so many things: the way the car steered, how I sat in it, a lot of things. It’s my baby girl’s car (the Camaro driven last year by Courtney Force) only there’s 70 more pounds in the seat, and we had to adjust for that.
“I had to get to know my car, and sometimes you just need a slap in the face. I got that from Corradi and (legendary former crew chief) Austin Coil,” Force said. “Now that I’ve got that monkey off my back (the pressure of winning his 150th title), I’m ready for the Countdown. I’m in the hunt, and that’s all I ever wanted to be.”
Force has been more successful at Brainerd International Raceway’s NHRA Nationals than in any other event in the series. In 33 appearances, he’s gone to the finals 15 times with wins in 1988, 1990, 1991, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2007. His rate of success at Brainerd International Raceway is 77.5 percent (76-22) and is one of the events for which he has never failed to qualify.
From a big-picture standpoint, the former Driver of the Year (1996) has no idea how many more wins are in his future or how many more years he can add to his streak of 32 seasons with at least one tour victory. At age 70, though, he knows he’s racing on borrowed time.
“I’m still racing because I love these fans and I love this sport,” he said. “I’m still excited. God will tell me when it’s time. Until then, I’m giving it all I got. I never thought I’d be lucky enough to get five wins. Now I’ve got 150. I give credit to a lot of crew chiefs over the years, especially Coil and Bernie Fedderly, but they all taught me and got me to where I am today.”
HEY, HARTFORD IS HERE - Well, there’s one more thing Matt Hartford can check off his first-time list this weekend. Let the record reflect career start No. 104 comes at Brainerd, Minnesota.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” Hartford said. “The track produces some really good times, and we feel like we can run really fast up there.”
Running fast has not been a problem for Hartford this season. He’s fourth in points and already clinched a spot in the Mello Yello Countdown to the Championship for the first time in his career.
Two weeks ago Hartford secured his first victory of the season, in his fourth 2019 final round.
“To go to four final rounds this year and win one of them, it definitely says we have a strong team and a championship-caliber team,” Hartford said. “To be able to have my team and my group of friends and family around me, and have this opportunity, it’s the most exciting part. The meaning behind all this is you’re with your closest friends and family, and you’re representing your sponsors and your family. The relationships are just so strong and to have a chance to win with them, that’s the powerful meaning for me.”