2019 NHRA U.S. NATIONALS - PRO MOD NOTEBOOK
MONDAY NOTEBOOK - CASTELLANA WINS THE BIG GO!
Pro Mod veteran Mike Castellana scored his first career victory at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals, slipping past Rickie Smith on a holeshot in the final round of E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service action on Monday at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis.
The series was presented by Hot Wheels in Indy and marked the ninth of 12 races in 2019. For Castellana, it was his first Indy triumph after finishing as the runner-up two previous times. He went 5.758-seconds at 248.43 mph in the finals in his blown Al-Anabi Performance Camaro, beating Smith’s 5.747 at 250.83 by a mere 17 inches thanks to a better reaction time. It is Castellana’s second win in 2019 and 10th in his E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series career.
“I just go up there and do my own thing and to try to win,” Castellana said. “It was pretty close at the finish line. I knew it was tight. It feels great to win this, especially for my team. They work their butts off all weekend, so it’s great.”
Castellana, who qualified second with a 5.751 at 248.93, picked up round wins against Sidnei Frigo, Doug Winters and AAP teammate Brandon Snider to reach the final round. Smith, a three-time world champ and the No. 1 qualifier this weekend, advanced to his 23rd career final round thanks to round wins against Eric Latino, Khalid AlBalooshi and defending world champ Mike Janis.
The E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series presented by J&A Service continues at the AAA Insurance NHRA Midwest Nationals at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Sept. 27-29 in St. Louis. It is the 10th of 12 races during the 2019 season.
Final finish order (1-16) at the 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The race is the ninth of 12 events in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
1. Mike Castellana; 2. Rickie Smith; 3. Mike Janis; 4. Brandon Snider; 5. Khalid alBalooshi; 6. Doug Winters; 7. Todd Tutterow; 8. Dwanye Wolfe; 9. Steve Jackson; 10. Eric Latino; 11. Sidnei Frigo; 12. Scott Oksas; 13. Steve Matusek; 14. Jason Scruggs; 15. Rick Hord; 16. Bob Rahaim.
Monday's final results from the 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis. The race is the ninth of 12 events in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
Pro Modified -- Mike Castellana, Chevy Camaro, 5.758, 248.43 def. Rickie Smith, Camaro, 5.747, 250.83.
Final round-by-round results from the 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, the ninth of 12 events in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
ROUND ONE -- Khalid alBalooshi, Chevy Camaro, 5.764, 251.81 def. Jason Scruggs, Camaro, 5.966, 244.16; Doug Winters, Chevy Chevelle, 5.793, 248.80 def. Bob Rahaim, Camaro, 6.180, 182.26; Todd Tutterow, Camaro, 5.751, 249.53 def. Steve Jackson, Camaro, Foul - Red Light; Dwanye Wolfe, Camaro, 5.796, 246.44 def. Rick Hord, Camaro, 6.061, 197.65; Mike Janis, Camaro, 5.887, 208.65 def. Steve Matusek, Ford Mustang, 5.938, 232.55; Brandon Snider, Chevy Corvette, 5.754, 247.93 def. Scott Oksas, Mustang, 5.812, 242.32; Mike Castellana, Camaro, 5.765, 248.89 def. Sidnei Frigo, Camaro, 5.790, 253.66; Rickie Smith, Camaro, 5.740, 251.02 def. Eric Latino, Camaro, 5.779, 246.89;
QUARTERFINALS -- Janis, 5.909, 221.09 def. Wolfe, Foul - Centerline; Castellana, 5.801, 248.39 def. Winters, 5.873, 227.23; Snider, 5.788, 247.43 def. Tutterow, 6.181, 169.40; Smith, 5.774, 251.58 def. alBalooshi, 5.785, 255.19;
SEMIFINALS -- Castellana, 9.155, 98.30 def. Snider, Broke; Smith, 5.769, 251.58 def. Janis, 5.865, 246.17;
FINAL -- Castellana, 5.758, 248.43 def. Smith, 5.747, 250.83.
Point standings (top 10) following the 65th annual Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis, the ninth of 12 events in the E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
1. Steve Jackson, 689; 2. Mike Janis, 567; 3. Todd Tutterow, 556; 4. Jose Gonzalez, 527; 5. Sidnei Frigo, 485; 6. Khalid alBalooshi, 425; 7. Mike Castellana, 410; 8. Rickie Smith, 407; 9. Brandon Snider, 366; 10. Chad Green, 362.
CHAD GREEN UPDATE - Following a horrific, high-speed crash during the fifth and final round of E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series qualifying at the 65th annual Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals, Chad Green was transported by ambulance to Indiana University Methodist Hospital where he awaits surgery to address an upper back injury.
“First off, the support we’re getting from the racing community has been overwhelming,” said Pat Musi, who has served as crew chief for Chad Green since the Midland, Texas-based driver started laying the foundation for his NHRA Pro Mod debut in 2018. “To everyone who’s offered to drive the rig, came by the pits and helped us load up, offered their well wishes – thank you. We truly appreciate it.”
Musi continued, “Right now, we’re focused on getting Chad on the mend. He’s with his family – his mother and father have flown in – and his kids were by his side all night. He’s alert, talking, knows what’s going on and what happened. The doctors have gotten his pain under control, and he’ll be going into surgery this afternoon.”
Andrew Petersen, Director of Marketing for Chad Green Motorsports, echoed Musi’s sentiments and added there’s currently no timetable set for a return.
“It’s our hope to know more and have more details later today and, of course, over the course of the next few days, weeks and months,” said Petersen. “Chad and his family are so very grateful for the outpouring of support – phone calls, texts, emails. We’ll do our best to keep our racing family and fans updated throughout this process.”
SUNDAY NOTEBOOK - THE FUTURE OF PRO MODIFIED BEGINS TO TAKE SHAPE
TIMES ARE A CHANGING - The NHRA Pro Modified program is expected to take on a new look for 2020.
In a meeting spearheaded by Steve Matusek and attended by Pro Mod drivers and reportedly NHRA officials, an announcement was made confirming disbanding the Real Pro Modified Association
The Real Pro Modified Association was a group spearheaded by former NHRA Pro Modified driver Danny Rowe to secure the long-term viability within the NHRA.
Right now, proposed changes on the table include NHRA taking over the administration of the class, which could lead to the removal of car entry quotas, bought-in provisionals, and increased prize money.
“We’re still conceptualizing our Pro Mod program for 2020 and beyond, but are committed to ensuring a bright future for these racers and teams,” said NHRA president Glen Cromwell. “We appreciate all that the Real Pro Mod group has done to grow this brand of drag racing, and we’re excited to build on the foundation that has been laid over the last several years.”
Matusek, who will be instrumental in the next phase of Pro Modified racing, sees the future of the class in the present.
“I think we have finally reached the horizon,” Matusek said. “What we built and what Danny Rowe fought hard to achieve, I think we have arrived at what we wanted, and I’m excited about the future.”
Matusek is grateful for what the Real Pro Modified Association achieved and that it served its purpose.
“It was purposeful,” Matusek explained. “Now it is a different time and different era, and it’s time for that association to step aside. The whole plan was to incubate this to the point it could be self-sufficient. We are at that point, and it’s a very exciting time.”
KEEPING IT REAL - Mike Janis still smiles when he recollects how his 2018 NHRA Pro Modified championship transpired. For the Upstate New York-based drag racer, it was a matter of finishing what he started. He knew all too well what could happen if he didn’t.
“In 2015 we let it slide by, and as the tail end of the year went by, it was sliding by again,” Janis explained. “It’s all about doing your, having a good race. Just keep plugging away.”
Janis entered the weekend ranked fourth in points, 163 points behind Stevie “Fast” Jackson.
“Stevie’s been doing a great job this year, and I think the only way we catch him is if he stays home at this point,” Janis admitted.
Janis is in a different place than he was this time last season when a run of good fortunes put him in championship contention by the time he got to Indy. He won the championship in the last rounds of the season.
This year, Janis says he’s in a three-way battle for second place.
“We haven’t thrown the towel in, but we are real about it,” Janis explained. “Stevie’s got us covered by what eight rounds? You’ve got to make that up in four races. It ain’t going to happen unless he stays home.”
SATURDAY NOTEBOOK - THE CENTRUGAL SUPERCHARGER TEST BEGINS
TRICKIE STILL LEADS THE PACK - Rickie Smith remained atop the Pro Modified qualifying list after three sessions at the 65th annual Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals outside of Indianapolis.
Smith’s 5.717 elapsed time at 251.34 miles per hour from Friday’s session gave the doorslammer drag racing legend a comfortable lead which held all day Saturday.
Supercharged racer Mike Castellana, of Muttontown, NY, bridged the gap as he drove his 2017 Camaro to a 5.751, 248.93 which edged Brandon Snider’s 5.760, 247.16.
Current point leader Steve Jackson jumped to sixth with a 5.767.
Eric Latino anchors the field with a 5.819, and two sessions are remaining.
THE REACTION? - The possible inclusion of the centrifugal clutch in NHRA Pro Modified has created a buzz within the pits at the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals.
After three exhibition runs, the 6.18 elapsed time of John Strickland stands as the quickest in similar conditions to what the current Pro Modified entries have run. In Radial vs. The World trim, Kevin Rivenbark ran as quick as 3.587 seconds in the eighth-mile, at 206.67 miles per hour.
Defending NHRA Pro Modified champion Mike Janis is one of those who believes the centrifugal supercharger has a place in a class which was limited to two power adders for nearly two of the first decades of the class.
We’ve got to bring new blood into the class as long as they make it fair for everybody,” Janis said. “I think the bottom line, ProCharger’s probably going to put some money into NHRA so probably a done deal in my mind.” Janis, a longtime supercharger proponent, and distributor of high-end blowers says he’s fine remaining where he’s at with the conventional roots supercharger. Some believe the centrifugal version is an eventual replacement to the standard supercharger in Pro Modified.
“That’s only up to the rule makers and if everybody keeps doing what they’re doing, and keep it on a fair playing ground, that’s what you have to do,” Janis said. “You can’t let one take off. They’ve been pretty good with it so far. All we can do is hope that politics don’t take over the whole deal.”
“Indy provisional low qualifier and multi-time NHRA series champion Rickie Smith said he’s not opposed to the centrifugal superchargers as long as NHRA’s tech department does their due diligence in keeping the power adder in line with the other established combinations.”
“It’s just another power adder that they’re going to have to try to keep under control,” Smith said. “What I see here, this whole deal would be great if they would keep the rules right and keep the cost down. But it’s just like anything when you’re trying to slow somebody down so another guy can run with him, then why do you allow better motors to come in?”
Consider nitrous engine builder, a pioneer of the electronic fuel injection movement into the nitrous-injected combination, as opposed to the thought of the centrifugal superchargers coming into Pro Modified.
“I’m the wrong guy to ask,” Musi said without hesitation. “I’ll just flat tell you I think they’re going to be sandbagging. So how are we going to know their potential? We can’t get parity now, we’re just trying to get to it, and you want to open up a whole nother can of worms and throw it out there. So me personally, it’s about the dumbest thing [NHRA] could do.”
BACK TO HAVING FUN - Whether he wanted the title or not, many christened Jason Scruggs as the savior of eighth-mile doorslammer racing when he purchased the assets of the American Drag Racing League back in 2013 and rebranded the series as the Professional Drag Racers Association. Three years later Scuggs sold his stake in the series and took a break from drag racing.
These days Scruggs is migrating back to the drag strip, his happy place.
"It's exciting over here racing in the NHRA," Scruggs said. "There’s so many cars it’s just hard to make the field out here and we’re still learning how to do this. We’re old school outlaw racers so this is all new to us still. We’ve been to a handful of races, I think this is my fourth race or something, NHRA race."
Scruggs is racing his new Jerry Bickel Race Cars-built Camaro, and for him, a personal victory will be a top-half starting berth, and a couple of round wins on Sunday.
We’ve got a brand new car we just tested a little bit so we feel pretty good about this weekend. Maybe we can qualify, maybe hopefully in the top half and go some rounds.
Scruggs comes to the drag strip these days with less stress.
"I never really let it get to me too much, but truthfully, with our businesses, I don’t have enough time to race all the time, no matter what I’m doing, whether it’s eighth mile, quarter mile, NHRA, PDRA, it doesn’t matter," Scruggs said. "We’ve just decided to take, two or three years ago we decided to take a step back from racing some and race when we could, and that took pressure off because now if I don’t have time to go, I just don’t go.
"Before I felt pressured that I needed to go because I was running for a championship or whatever. Now we just go to have fun, so that’s fun. We’re still competitors and we still want to win, and this is a new challenge and that’s what makes it exciting. So we felt like give us a few races and stuff and I think we can run with these guys."
A 5.78 in pre-race testing served as significant encouragement for the Tupelo, Miss-based driver, who heads into the final day of qualifying ranked ninth with a 5.79 best.
Maybe the break did him good and made him a better racer.
"I don’t know," Scruggs admitted. "Truthfully, it got me in a better mindset but at the same time, there’s no substitute for racing all the time. That’s what made Scotty Cannon so good back in his day, it’s what makes people like Stevie and Tutterow and those guys good now. They race all the time. If they’re not racing, they’re testing. So you can’t replace that.
"You know I could just kind of think about what I’m going to do and take advantage of when I am there and try to make good quality test. I’ve got a million things right now I’d like to run, I just haven’t had time to run it."
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - TRICKIE RICKIE RETURNING HOME TO NITROUS
BACK IN THE BOTTLE ROCKET - The turbocharged experiment is over for Rickie Smith, at least until the end of the season.
“I’m just going to stay with the nitrous,” Smith revealed. [It’s] kind of what I know how to tune and do. I’m back in my nitrous car for the rest of the year.”
This weekend’s weather is expected to be in the upper 80-degree weather range; conditions many believe will significantly favor the nitrous combination. Point leader Stevie “Fast” Jackson even went as far as to predict a nitrous car will qualify in one of the top spots this weekend.
Smith isn’t buying it.
“Well, you know a lot of people run their mouth and don’t know what they’re talking about,” Smith said. “So it’s always a weekend for the nitrous car. Well what the hell’s happened the last year and a half? Why is it always the weekend of the nitrous car and a nitrous car can’t run?
“Until they get the rules right, we’re not going to be real good. All I’m saying is they slowed the blower car down probably a hundredth and a half. Well, they had three to four hundredths on us, so why all of a sudden are we going to outrun them?”
“I’m not trying to be smart here, I’m just trying to realistic. All you’ve got to do is look at the numbers. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”
So what would make Smith happy?
NHRA made rule changes following the most recent Pro Modified event on the tour in Norwalk, Ohio, reducing overdrive from the superchargers and boost from the turbocharged combination.
Smith, who was racing a turbo car at the time of the rule change, felt the sting of the reduced boost but feels the supercharged cars didn’t get what was needed to bring the three combinations into parity properly.
“What they should have done was took a pulley off of them like they done, but then put 50 pounds on them also,” Smith explained. “Then that would have been two more hundredths and then I’m still not saying we can outrun them, but we could have probably run within a hundredth or two of them.
“What you’ve got to watch here right now and not be naive if you’re tech people, Stevie has a pretty good lead on the points. Why is Stevie going to go show what he’s got now because he don’t want a rule change for next year. I ain’t dumb, nobody else is that knows what’s going on. So the tech people’s the ones that’s got to be the smart people that knows what’s happening and who is playing. them and who ain’t playing them.”
Smith says while there are some in Pro Modified who might sandbag, he isn’t one of them.
“When I can run up front, I run as hard as I can and I have all these years,” Smith said. “I’m not a player. I like to come and race hard and until [NHRA] figure out who the guys are that like to play them and lie to them, then we’ll all run good.”
The sage advice is coming from a man who answers to the nickname Trickie.
“That’s about the starting line and stuff like that, ain’t got nothing to do with the tech people,” Smith counseled.
"These tech people know for eight years I’ve been honest as hell with them on what’s going on. We’ve talked, they know that. So we’ll see where it goes."
For Smith, he went to the top of qualifying at the Chevrolet Performance, stopping the timers at 5.746 seconds, at 251.96 seconds. Mike Castellana was second quickest with a 5.774, followed by Jason Scruggs with a 5.795.
Point leader Stevie "Fast" Jackson anchors the field with a 6.108.
THE ODD COUPLE - Larry Morgan knew for the longest time he wasn’t your average Pro Stock driver once Pro Modified debuted in the early 1990s. Those cars were on the edge of out of control and downright scary and entertaining.
For Morgan, he always believed he was a Pro Modified driver trapped in a Pro Stock car competitor.
“There’s a lot said for that,” Morgan said, as he sat in the Al-Anabi Racing Pro Mod pits. “I do enjoy this. I enjoy working with these crazy guys, but to be honest with you, I’m probably a Pro Mod guy more than a Pro Stock guy.”
“To be honest with you, I like the characters in this class and there’s so much that you can do differently than we’re allowed to in Pro Stock. I like that challenge part of it. And one of the biggest challenges is getting them down the track because they’ve got too much power and we never have enough track, so that’s a challenge.”
Morgan is over the driving aspect, and now it’s the tuning challenge which intrigues him the most. And for the multi-time NHRA Pro Stock national event winner, he’s working alongside one of the best - Frank Manzo.
“Frank called me when he was in trouble and said, ‘Can you come help me?’ and I said, ‘Yeah.” Morgan said. “Because I love Frank. Him and I have been friends for 40 years and he’s helped me in my time with the Pro Stock car that I couldn’t figure out a tuneup, and he comes over and clued me on how I need to approach tuning on the thing.
“I ended up winning the race, so I’ve got a lot of respect for him and always did because of the things he’s done in drag racing.”
Yes, Morgan understands Pro Stock does not run an alcohol-burning, supercharged engine like those Manzo mastered decades ago.
“It was understanding the barometer, but I didn’t quite understand at the time, and he clued me in on how to do that, and he helped me, and I never forgot that,” Morgan explained. “Him and I have always been buddies and always kind of kept an eye on him, and if he needed help, I helped him. He couldn’t get this car to run the first race that he went to and asked me if I’d help him and I came down and helped him. So now I come to all the races with him.”
Morgan says he’s perfectly fine helping and has no desire to drive again.
“I’m okay with watching,” Morgan said. “We’ve got the best driver out here. This guy, Castellana’s the best there is. He doesn’t even screw up. That’s what I like about him. Most guys screw up a little bit. He’s like a machine, and I like that part.”
Morgan likes machines.
“I like machines,” Morgan confirmed.