2020 NHRA FALLNATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
STEVE TORRENCE ACES FATHER BILLY IN DALLAS FINAL TO WIDEN POINTS GAP ON TOP CONTENDER KALITTA - Billy Torrence owns Capco Contractors.
But Steve Torrence owns the advantage on his Capco Dragster teammate father (9-4 in overall matches, 3-1 in finals) – and on every other Top Fuel racer as the 2020 season begins to wind down.
And deep in the heart of Texas, and deep in his own heart, Steve Torrence knows he raided Texas Motorplex of just about all of the loot he could carry home down the road to Kilgore.
The eyes of Texas and drag-racing fans were upon the Top Fuel dynamic that ended Sunday at the AAA Texas FallNationals with an all-Capco Dragster Top Fuel final for the second time in three races.
By defeating dad Billy Torrence, Steve Torrence stretched his points lead over closest competitor Doug Kalitta from two at the start of the weekend to 51 as the Camping World Drag Racing Series heads south to Baytown, Texas, near Houston for next week’s 10th of 11 events.
Steve Torrence covered the 1,000-foot course at Ennis, south of Dallas, in 3.716 seconds at 328.78 mph. Dad Billy challenged with a 3.810-second elapsed time and 323.43-mph speed.
Together the Torrences have won exactly half of the past 80 NHRA national events. They are the first father and son duo to compete against each other in more than one NHRA Top Fuel final.
For the younger Torrence, it was his fourth triumph this year and his 40th overall victory. It lifted him above Texas legend Kenny Bernstein for sixth place on the Top Fuel all-time list.
It also meant the scale of experiences at Texas Motorplex has tipped in Steve Torrence’s favor. This dragstrip, a “home track” for the Kilgore native, is where his seemingly certain 2017 championship unraveled with a ruinous race-day wreck. It also was on the route along which he steamrolled through the 2018 Countdown. On the other hand, it’s where Shawn Reed humbled him in the first round last October. But he left Ennis Sunday with a new black Cowboy hat and trophy that go to the winner.
“We don’t do the best all the time, but we try the hardest all the time,” Steve Torrence, on a roll toward a third consecutive title, said.
Most significantly, Torrence left with an extended points lead over fiercest rival Doug Kalitta. And he has another chance to build on that in less than a week, when the Camping World Drag Racing Series swings though Houston on the way to the season finale a week later at Las Vegas.
Kalitta remained in second place as the championship chase moves this coming weekend to Houston Raceway Park at Baytown, Texas, for the penultimate event of the season. The finale is the week after that, at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – and the sanctioning body has raised the ante. The Las Vegas scoring will be points and half.
“It was an unbelievable weekend for the Capco team. To be able to go out and represent Capco well, to represent Texas well, and to put both cars in the final round, you can’t have a better weekend than that,” Torrence said.
The turning point, he indicated, was the semifinal round – Capco versus Kalitta, doubled. Steve Torrence took on upset-minded Shawn Langdon, who lost to the points leader but improved to fifth place in the standings. Then Billy Torrence took advantage of Kalitta’s traction trouble to help his son’s championship chances and to keep his hold on his own fourth-place status in the standings.
“The semi had huge implications,” Steve Torrence said with a touch of relief in his voice. “If we lost against Shawn or Billy lost against Doug, he [second-place Kalitta] would have gone rounds. It was teammates against teammates – huge race for both of us, really a tough race.”
Billy Torrence had reached the semifinal by eliminating Clay Millican and Tony Schumacher.
As for racing his father for the 13th time, the winner said, “My old man, he’s the toughest son of a gun out here. That sucker’s bad to the bone. He’s beaten me more than anybody else out here. He helped us out, and we had to do our job to get by him that [final] round. I don’t know what it was [that worked for him or didn’t work for Billy Torrence]. But that ol’ rattlesnake’s going to come up and bite someday.
“That car [Billy’s Capco Dragster] is a direct clone of ours,” Steve Torrence said. “So we basically equip somebody with ammo to get us. And he’s done a great job driving. I didn’t know exactly what was going to happen when we went up there [to the starting line]. The race wasn’t nearly as close as what we usually do. I don’t know – they may have missed the tune-up a little bit.”
Whatever the technicalities were, the result is that Steve Torrence is in command at the moment. And Kalitta knows – they both know – the Houston race will give neither of them any room for error. This twice-postponed race easily could be the cornerstone for Kalitta’s title run if he is to break his cycle of five Top Fuel series runner-up finishes. Or it could be a nail in Kalitta’s coffin if Torrence performs exceptionally well – like when he won from the No. 1 qualifying position Sunday and was quickest in three of the four elimination rounds (winning with times of 3.704, 3.726, 3.720).
Kalitta’s Mac Tools / Toyota Dragster has performed well all year, too. He had a strong start, winning the season-opening race at Pomona, Calif., in February and later that month recording a runner-up showing at Phoenix. At six of the season’s nine events, Kalitta has advanced to the semifinals or beyond, helping him lead the standings through much of the season. He has two victories, two runner-up efforts, and two semifinal finishes.
"We lost some ground today, but we have two races left to make that up. The last race will be 30 points a round,” Kalitta said, starting to calculate what must happen to claim his first Top Fuel championship.
“We will be in Houston next weekend, and I am not sure how similar the conditions will be. This Mac Tools / Toyota team was strong this weekend. We made some great runs today, and we got aggressive in the semifinals. We will put this race behind us and get ready for Houston," he said.
That’s not comforting to Torrence. He said, “The Kalitta team is tough. [Rob] Flynn and all the guys on Kalitta’s car, they’ve been consistent probably more consistent, in my opinion, than they’ve been in any year I can remember. So we’re just battling toe-to-toe with them. I’ve said it multiple times: Doug Kalitta is probably the best driver who never won the championship. I have a ton of respect for him and for that team, and I think that’s why they bring out the best in us.
“We handicapped ourselves by skipping Pomona, so it was over 100 points that we’ve had to make up,” Torrence said. “We’ve really kept our nose on the grindstone and tried to make every round, every lap, every qualifying session count.”
He did this weekend.
“That run we made last night [a 3.662-second pass to clinch the top starting spot] gave us some momentum and a lot of data. Being No. 1 qualifier made the path to the final a little bit easier. We had Cameron Ferré in the first round, and you never know what those guys are going to do. That car can go out there and run good, and sometimes they struggle. But Cameron did a great job, and we had a good car. Second round we didn’t have anybody – we had a bye, and that’s the benefit of being No. 1 qualifier. We rolled into the semifinals with Langdon. And Langdon, he’s always there all the time. He’s always consistent. You never know what Connie’s going to do with that car. That was just a good drag race.”
And that was just a good weekend outing for this first race under the Camping World banner. Susan Wade
BECKMAN WINS DALLAS FUNNY CAR, EDGES CLOSER TO HAGAN - This has been a bittersweet season in the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series for veteran nitro Funny Car driver Jack Beckman.
Beckman has been a world championship contender from race one in this COVID-19 marred season.
However, the third week of August, Don Schumacher Racing announced the Chandler Family "Giving Car Program" was coming to an end at the close of the 2020 season, leaving Beckman and fellow nitro Funny Car driver Tommy Johnson Jr. without sponsorship in 2021.
Despite the adversity of the season, Beckman and his team have kept moving forward with an eye on a championship.
Beckman, the driver of the Infinite Hero Foundation Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat, outlasted DSR teammate Matt Hagan in the finals to win the 35th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals Sunday at the Texas Motorplex in Dallas.
Beckman clocked 3.908-second lap at 328.46 mph to edge Hagan’s 3.943-second run at 324.20 mph.
“He's probably had my number more than I've got his number and we have a phenomenal car,” said Beckman of Hagan, who had a 28-24 record against Beckman before Sunday. “But the thing is you're always aware of all the small issues in your pit. You're not aware of the ones that are going on three doors down. We went to warm this thing up for the final and it backfired, and we didn't know if we hurt the motor. The idle was suddenly down and we’re like, ‘we're out of time.’ We just had to do our regular service and drag it up to the starting line.
“Boy, you want to talk about feeling two inches tall because I thought maybe I did something that caused us an anomaly and just cost us this race. I had a good feeling all day today and I wish I could put my finger on it, and I wish it came in a pill form because I take it before every single race. After that happened for the warm-up I thought, ‘wow this might be the way that we lose this thing.’ So you got to try to compartmentalize all that stuff and put it off to the side and then you look over in the other lane and there's the No. 1 qualifier in a car that hasn't stumbled at all today, but you know what, we're right there too. We're not giving away anything to anybody right now. I mean, I think our cars as good as any car out here every time we drag it up there. Doesn't matter if it's cool or hot out there.”
Beckman’s victory parade consisted of wins over Cruz Pedregon, Tim Wilkerson, Bob Tasca III and Hagan. Beckman arrived in Dallas 16 points behind leader Hagan and now he’s only four points behind.
Beckman, who won his lone nitro Funny Car title in 2012, won his third race of the year in five final round appearances.
This was Beckman’s 33rd nitro Funny Car win of his career and first in Dallas.
“No, getting up in the morning sucks for me as it has for 54 years,” Beckman said. “No, when I got here and we did the pre-race deal where we rode up in the trucks I thought, ‘you know what?’ I think it comes from not forcing things. This might be my last race at Dallas. This might be my last year driving a nitro car. Don't know. I'm not going to stop looking for funding but most people don't retire because they're ready to retire, they run out of money and stop driving the cars and I'm going to go back to fixing elevators the week after we run at Vegas.
"I will continue to look for sponsorships, but I have to have a paycheck for my family. I got a mortgage and two little kids. So, this might be my last go-round. I never in my wildest dreams thought it'd be 33 funny car trophies and counting and Dallas was the one. I won Indy, I won Pomona, I won a lot of the other majors but Dallas. Since I came here in 1986 to spectate at the first national event here when I came on the pro tour, I just thought, ‘God I’d love to win at Dallas.’ I had 14 shots at it before I finally closed the deal.”
This was DSR’s 12th consecutive Funny Car victory win dating back to the 2019 Dallas event win by Hagan.
Each of DSR’s four Funny Car pilots have contributed at least two Wally trophies to the string of 11 wins. DSR previously set the consecutive win record in a single class at 10 races during the 2017 season with the same driver lineup of Beckman, Hagan, Johnson Jr., and Capps.
Beckman, a drag racing historian, also understood what it meant to be the first nitro Funny Car winner with the NHRA known as the Camping World Series.
“It's huge. I think I won the inaugural at Charlotte and that's it. John Force was always phenomenal at gobbling up those firsts, the shootouts, the inaugural races. But if you look at the percentage of races, he won that's not a shock to you. So, to have your name listed as the first to do anything, that can never be taken away from you. That's awesome.
“There's two things that I am worried about. One is my career and what I'm going to continue to do for income and the other is the future of the sport. I love this sport dearly and fortunately that one with the Fox extension with Camping World coming on board, once we get through all this COVID mess, it looks like the future for NHRA is going to be very bright and I love that and I would love to continue to be involved in that. I'll keep trying.” Tracy Renck
MATT HARTFORD WINS PRO STOCK TITLE AT FALLNATIONALS - Pro Stock driver Matt Hartford refuses to be overlooked in NHRA’s Camping World Drag Racing Series.
It seems like everyone seems to forget about the Phoenix, Ariz., driver.
However, Hartford is always lurking around, and he proved again how good he can be as he won the 35th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals Sunday in his Total Seal Camaro.
Hartford, on a hole shot, beat perennial powerhouse Greg Anderson in the finals at Texas Motorplex in Ennis.
Hartford clocked a 6.625-second lap at 206.39 while Anderson was quicker at 6.588 seconds at 207.94 mph.
The difference in the win was Hartford’s .018 reaction time compared to Anderson’s .066 reaction time.
“The final,honestly, for me was big because that's now three wins out of nine final rounds,” Hartford said. “But really the semi-final run was the run that really set it apart for us. Erica Enders is just so dominant on the tree and obviously everybody's going to say I strung her out and I was tardy getting in and what took me so long to stage. That's all the truth. We have every right to do whatever we want. She pre-staged fairly quickly and I just decided I was going to take my time, relax, take a couple deep breaths and not be in a hurry because there's a lot on the line and to beat her and then come back and we didn’t make a good run.
“But then to come back and our team pulled together and made some good changes and Greg dominated us on the track. We just left on them. It's incredible for the Total Seal car to have another Wally. Let it be known, to hold the first ever Camping World Wally in Pro Stock, that never gets forgotten. People will never forget. Hey, that'll be a trivia question in 20 years. ‘Who won the first Camping World Wally in every category?’ So, for me it's incredible.”
This was Hartford’s third career national event win and first this season. He arrived in Dallas fifth in the points and moved up one spot in the standings 181 behind reigning world champ Enders.
Hartford defeated Chris McGaha, Bo Butner, Enders and Anderson Sunday.
“Well, yeah, McGaha, Bo, Erica and Greg. That's not an easy road to take to get a cowboy hat. But we've had a really good car all year long. At Gainesville, I made a really bad rookie mistake. I went red (in first round) and I just screwed up when I was staging, and it cost me. St. Louis, we were in the semifinals, it was a good race, but we lost. When we got to the semis here, I said, ‘here's our redemption. Let's go ahead and close this deal and let’s win this race.’”
With two races left on the schedule Houston (Oct. 23-25) and Las Vegas (Oct. 30-Nov. 1), Hartford wants to finish strong.
“We love the fans,” Hartford said. “To have the fans out here supporting us and it's not just us, they're out here supporting the sport and supporting every team. They’re supporting Camping World. It's the greatest sport in the world when people can walk in your pits and want to just talk about it, and we typically don't have ropes up unless we’re thrashing. People come in all the time. They just want to talk about Total Seal. They want to talk about rings. They want to talk about, ‘hey, I seen this.’ We love having the fans around. That's what makes drag racing so much better than most motorsports.” Tracy Renck
SAVOIE CONQUERS PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE RIVALS IN SIXTH STRAIGHT TEXAS FINAL- Louisiana native Jerry Savoie has dodged two or three hurricanes this fall.
He has watched the markets for his alligator byproducts spiral downward in today’s swirl of economic disruption while his monthly costs of maintaining that business alone remain fixed at $400,000.
He has wrestled with whether he should step back from NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle racing and be happy with his 2016 championship and 12 victories.
He has moped a bit about not having crowds to share his racing joy and fretted at least a little about what direction the sport might be headed post-pandemic.
He has wondered why he hasn’t won since last October at Texas Metroplex.
But by the end of Sunday’s AAA Texas FallNationals at Ennis, Savoie was celebrating his lucky 13th overall victory and third here, energized by fans, welcoming new series sponsor Camping World, and mounting a late-season performance surge like he did last year on his way to a runner-up finish for the year.
Savoie defeated Mark Ingwersen, Cory Reed, and Eddie Krawiec (with whom he had split four of those six final-round decisions) to reach his sixth straight Texas Showdown here. This time his opponent was first-time finalist Joey Gladstone, a racer he had beaten five straight times in head-to-head matches.
Savoie won with a 6.910-second elapsed time and 191.16-mph speed on the quarter-mile south of Dallas, while Gladstone crossed the finish line on his Cory Reed team Buell at 7.005, 192.69.
“Once you get your magic going in a place, it just keeps coming and coming and coming,” Savoie said, still astride his White Alligator Racing Suzuki and holding the Wally statue. “We’re not the fastest bike here, but the crew and Tim [crew chief Kulungian], everybody works so hard. It’s unbelievable. What can I say? All my people back in Bayou Lafourche and St. John Parish, we got it!”
He was missing one of his dear friends, just like last October, when he mourned the recent passing of one of his friends as he won the traditional black cowboy hat and trophy.
His friend, Mitch Compeaux, passed away Oct. 9 at their hometown of Cut Off, La., and Savoie said Sunday, “Mitch, I know you was on my shoulders today. I love you, bro.”
Compeaux, Savoie said, “was my CPA and real good friend. He used to ask me all the time about racing and how I was doing. He’s going to be missed. He was a special person and gave a lot to the community. He was one of the best.”
And Savoie was one of the best on his motorcycle Sunday, although he reiterated that he “didn’t have the fastest bike.”
What made the difference, he said, was “I think God was on our side. Luck was on our side. And we just outran ’em. We’ve really been struggling, but Tim’s been working real hard back at the shop.”
Mastering the Motorplex more than most Pro Stock Motorcycle racers – he tied Krawiec with the most bike victories here in the facility’s history – speaks to his love of the area.
“It’s kind of fate,” Savoie said. He said he and wife Vonnie “have been looking at a place in Lake Travis, Texas (near Austin). There’s just something about Texas I love. To come here and be in the finals six times and win three, it’s awesome, especially at my age (61). You never know when I’m going to retire. So it’s a great deal.”
Gladstone, 29, a Delaware native who lives in Ashland, Va., advanced to the finals past Hector Arana Jr., Michael Phillips, and Angelle Sampey.
Savoie shared the winners circle with Steve Torrence (Top Fuel) and first-time Texas Motorplex winners Jack Beckman (Funny Car) and Matt Hartford (Pro Stock). Susan Wade
AAA TEXAS FALLNATIONALS – DALLAS
SCHUMACHER TO BE HONORED AS TEXAS MOTORPLEX LEGEND, ENDERS TAKES PRO STOCK POINTS LEAD WITH ST. LOUIS TROPHY AGAINST LINE, BIKE-RACING MATT SMITH TEAM HAS HUGE DAY, ANDRAS CLINCHES TOP FUEL HARLEY CROWN
Tony Schumacher was a little out of his neighborhood in the early- to mid-1990s when he showed up at Ennis, Texas, to race his Super Comp entry at Texas Motorplex.
“There are only a few out there that you showed up for as a young kid from Chicago. The Texas Motorplex was one of those tracks,” he said. “Billy Meyer built a track that everyone had to see.”
It wasn’t long before Schumacher moved up to the NHRA’s headliner class and earned his first national-event victory in his Top Fuel dragster in 1999. He went on to record the first of his eight series championships that fall. And he became someone everyone had to see.
Schumacher has won six Top Fuel finals at the racetrack south of Dallas, and for his accomplishments, he will be recognized Sunday during opening ceremonies of the AAA Texas FallNationals as a Texas Motorplex Legend.
“I have won Driver of the Year and AARWBA awards during my so called ‘reign of terror.’ We won a lot of races and accolades, but now to be recognized by a place like the Texas Motorplex means a lot. It is where I won my first race. I have won a lot of races there. It really means the most because I live in Austin, Texas, and it is the closest track to my home now. It was a track that I raced Super Comp when I was coming up,” the driver of the Okuma / Sandvik Coromant Dragster said.
His six victories (1999, 2004, 2005,2009, 2010, 2014) are the most among Top Fuel drivers at this venue. (John Force leads the pros with seven Funny Car trophies.) Schumacher also was the 2008 runner and was No. 1 qualifier here three times (2003, 2006, 2011).
Cory McClenathan, Schumacher’s teammate for four summer events this season, was the first to receive the Texas Motorplex honor, in 2019.
Although his most recent appearance (at St. Louis) ended in the semifinal round with a peculiar mechanical problem during the burnout, Schumacher is coming off his best weekend of the year. At World Wide Technology Raceway, he earned his Top Fuel record-setting 88th career top-qualifying position and advanced farther than he had since November 2018. He had been idle, without a sponsor, from that Finals at Pomona in 2018 until this July at Indianapolis.
Schumacher will start Sunday’s eliminations from the No. 3 position and will face Joey Haas in the opening round.
“I just love the Texas Motorplex,” Schumacher, who resides at Lakeway, near Austin, said. “This place has been a gift to me. Billy Meyer built a superior track back in the day, and it’s still one of the best [with] the stadium seating. I’ve got 30 friends here, many who have never seen a drag race. The all-concrete surface is amazing. For Okuma, Sandvik, and Toyota, we’re all family here in Texas. The car is running great. The crew is starting to gel. This is just outstanding. I have two cowboy hats from the past, and it’d be great to add another.”
ENDERS TAKES ‘ST. LOUIS’ PRO STOCK TROPHY, POINTS LEAD – Erica Enders landed a punch to retiring Jason Line and his dream of retiring as a four-time champion, defeating him in the Dallas dusk for the Pro Stock trophy from the St. Louis race – and the points lead.
The Mell-Gear Performance Chevy Camaro driver made a strong case for her own fourth series title with a 6.572-second performance. Line countered with a 6.588 with the silver KB/Summit Racing Camaro in the rubber match of their 47 meetings. Each had won 23 times in their 46 previous match-ups, but she has a 5-2 advantage now against Line in final rounds.
“Man, that was really huge,” she said. “I’m just really excited. This was a step in the right direction. By no means is it over, anywhere close to being over. But I’m happy to be in the lead.”
Enders said, “I feel like we gave up something big in Gainesville second round against Jason. I had a transmission issue and we crushed him to 60 foot. We were going to outrun him, but it doesn’t matter – things work out the way they’re supposed to, and you just have to stay the course.
“St. Louis is where everything changed for me last year,” she said. “It was the first race of the season that we won, and we were able to parlay that into a championship.”
She called this victory “just a huge move” and said, “When all the money’s on the line and our backs are against the wall, my guys perform every time. And I can’t speak highly enough about them.”
This was not the first time she and her car were clicking along and their momentum was interrupted and they were forced to finish at another venue. It happened a few years ago at Charlotte, where she was No. 1 qualifier. “This must be the place of reruns,” Enders said. “Doing it in my home state is huge. This feels like a K&N Challenge [bonus race], where it’s two races in one. Yes, we got it done today. Tomorrow’s a new day. We’ll be first out tomorrow, eighth position – not where we would have liked to qualify. But we have to race different than we qualify, and that was part of the plan.”
Enders, who’ll be competing in her hometown when the Camping World Drag Racing Series moves south to Houston next weekend, began her career driving a Jr. Dragster on this track, among others in the Lone Star State.
Line had said before he took to the track Saturday that “it’s a good feeling anytime you're leading the points. But the truth is that it isn't by much, and we'll have to be better than anyone else if we want to keep that lead. If we do what we're supposed to do and my Summit Racing Chevrolet cooperates, the points will take care of themselves."
He’ll have Sunday’s Dallas eliminations and two more events, at Houston and Las Vegas, to erase the damage of Saturday night’s setback.
The St. Louis Pro Stock qualifying order two weeks ago was determined by points for the first time since 2000, so officials awarded the No. 1 starting spot to leader Jason Line. Conditions turned cold and windy that Sunday, spoiling any chances for a race day full of eyebrow-raising numbers. Teams tried to adjust their set-ups to combat the elements, but from the start it appeared to be a losing proposition. Kenny Delco got out of the groove and in the opening round and survived a spectacularly frightening crash in which his car barrel-rolled next to Greg Anderson. Other Pro Stock drivers had close calls with losing control, but eliminations proceeded into Round 2. However, the first two pairs clearly were continuing to have problems. So the NHRA decided to stop the race for the Pro Stock, Pro Mod, Pro Stock Motorcycle, and Factory Stock Showdown classes and ultimately chose to finish the AAA Midwest Nationals this weekend at Texas Motorplex as part of the AAA Texas FallNationals qualifying.
Of course, with Line leading current champion Erica Enders by merely two points and No. 3 Jeg Coughlin by just 34, the stakes are higher and the pressure dialed up during this two-races-in-one weekend in Texas. Some of the drama unfolded Saturday during qualifying for Sunday’s eliminations.
To finish the second round from St. Louis, Jason Line defeated Aaron Stanfield, despite Stanfield’s .008-second reaction time. And Erica Enders beat Chris McGaha.
That pitted Enders against longtime rival Greg Anderson in the semifinals, and she used a .006-second light to defeat him on a holeshot, 6.575 seconds on the elapsed time to his 6.570. Line reeled off a 6.559-second E.T., dismissing Matt Hartford (who leases his engines from Line’s KB Racing operation). Hartford ran a 6.57-second E.T. So that matched Enders and Line in the final round of the delayed St. Louis final.
Hartford had written about the St. Louis chaos on his social media account, “Some have referred to it as the ‘dumpster fire race.’ Call it what you will, this weekend was anything but normal. Not a single Pro Stock car ran down the track prior to eliminations, the weather continued to pose challenges, and after TOO MANY crashes including one of our own [Kenny Delco], the officials pulled the plug. We managed to make it down the track twice, securing a spot in the semifinals. As bad as we want[ed] to keep the momentum going, it is always our goal to live another day to race. And safety trumps all.”
Line, who like Coughlin is stepping away from driving duties at the end of this season, said that the previous race was “an unusual weekend, to say the least. I can't say that I've ever seen anything quite like it. It's certainly making my last year of racing Pro Stock interesting."
Looking back, Anderson said the situation at St. Louis was “frustrating. You hate to quit, ever, once you get started. But when you step back and look at it, I guess it was the right decision. I'm very happy we survived and [had] a chance, still, to win this event, but I'm sad that we couldn't finish. It's not a lot of fun trying to drive down the racetrack like that [in less-than-ideal conditions], but then again, it's a huge challenge – and I like huge challenges. I was up for it [back on Oct. 4], if we were going to keep going. We would have kept trying, kept working to make our cars better to get down that track."
Deric Kramer, who said “a lot of things are coming together,” will lead the Pro Stock field into Dallas eliminations, which are set to start at 10 a.m. local time. Kramer grabbed his second No. 1 start in three races with a 6.541-second elapsed time at 210.37 mph.
ANGIE SMITH CLOCKS 200-MPH PASS – Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Angie Smith joined husband Matt Smith and their teammate Scotty Pollacheck in the 200-mph Club early Saturday, clocking a 200.89-mph on her first qualifying pass of 6.809 seconds. She grabbed the provisional No. 1 position for a few minutes – until Matt Smith came along and upstaged her. He had a 200.71-mph speed to go with his top-qualifying 6.808-second elapsed time. So he aced her out by one-thousandth of a second.
A joyful and relieved Angie Smith said moments afterward as she held the oversized congratulatory sign, “It’s been such a burden on me, and I have wanted this for so long for Denso, for myself, for my team . . . and I'm like the last member. Got all my team to do it, but we got it done. I guess I can say I'm the first girl to do it, and I'm so excited. I owe all this to my entire team. They work day in and day out to help me achieve my dreams. Denso has been such a great supporter of us. Mark Stockseth, I wish you could be here and I thank you. I'm so excited. I finally got the sign.
“All you want to do is go 200 miles an hour, and it's been such a burden on me,” she said as her husband and crew chief joined her. “I've been on his butt the whole time going, ‘I want to go 200. I want to go 200.’ And he goes, ‘You know, you just got to put it all together.’ We put it all together. I'm so happy for my team. They have stood behind me and encouraged me, and I'm just so excited.”
Matt Smith said the conditions were helpful: “We got really good air, and we got a little bit of a tail/side wind, so that helps. But the biggest thing is, our bikes have a lot of power and now we've got three members in that club. It's such an honor to be part of this Denso motorcycle team and to have Denso sponsor the club.”
Other members of the elite group are Hector Arana Jr., the first to post a 200-mph speed, and Eddie Krawiec.
In other news highlighting NHRA diversity, Julie Nataas won the delayed final round of the Gainesville Top Alcohol Dragster eliminations to claim the 301th NHRA victory by a woman. Deb DiGenova earned the 300th Oct. 1 at Virginia Motorsports Park, at the completion of the rain-delayed JEGS Sportsnationals from New England Dragway.
ANDRAS RULES OFFICIALLY – Morgan City, Louisiana, racer Randal Andras, winner of all but one of the six completed events this season, clinched the Mickey Thompson Top Fuel Harley Series championship Saturday afternoon with his No. 1 qualifying performance at Texas Motorplex.
“It’s been a long, tough road for me.” Andras said, joking that “the difference is this year we’re winning.” He said, “I have the most respect for the team I’ve got. They pushed me everything but through the finish line. Without these guys, I wouldn’t be on the podium.” He thanked new NHRA pro series sponsor Camping World, as well as “Texas, the governor, the people of Texas” and said he is grateful the state government permitted racing as other states around the country still are shutting down sports venues to fans.
“We love this place,” the rider of the Teche Towing/Time Energy/Rock Holdings entry said. “This place has got value for me and a lot of memories. Jay Turner and I got started at this track in 2007. So to be here brings back a lot of memories.”
Turner, Andras’ teammate, is the only competitor to defeat Andras this season. The newly crowned champion’s five victories have come at Pomona, Calif.; the second and third races and the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis; and Gainesville, Fla.
Andras has a bye in the first round of Sunday runoffs and will get some competition in Round 2 against the winner of the Tii Tharpe – Rickey House race.
Eliminations in the Top Fuel Harley class will be Sunday. The class also has its season finale at Las Vegas Oct. 31-Nov. 1.
COUGHLIN ADJUSTING – The NHRA didn’t budge on its decision to resume Pro Stock eliminations from St. Louis where they left off in Round 2 two weeks ago, ignoring Team JEGS spokesman and PRO Board member Scott Woodruff’s request to start afresh.
And that has Jeg Coughlin, the retiring JEGS.com Elite Motorsports Chevy Camaro driver, doubly uncomfortable. Not only does he have to live with an aborted run that his team believes was due to unsafe track conditions, a run that he started five-hundredths of a second quicker than opponent Greg Anderson, he has to deal with the unfavorable championship implications.
NHRA officials immediately cancelled the remainder of the action in that class, as well as eliminations for the Pro Stock Motorcycle, Pro Modified, Factory Stock Showdown, and all Lucas Oil Series sportsman classes.
Coughlin, who led the points for half the season but has since fallen to third place, said, “I certainly don't see us completely out of the game at this point." And he isn’t. He’s just 34 points off Jason Line’s pace and 32 behind No. 2 Erica Enders.
However, he said he can envision another – disappointing – scenario.
"The result that's come out of the St. Louis situation is unfortunate," he said. "Erica, Jason, and our group were neck-in-neck in the points. And now it appears we may not end up being a part of it all, depending on what happens here. We are scheduled to have three more races, [including this one and ones at] Houston and Las Vegas. So there's still a chance for others to stumble and for us to pull off some wins down the stretch.”
Coughlin has won twice this year, at Pomona in February and the third Indianapolis race in August, and he has a runner-up finish from the first July Indianapolis event. Dating back to last year's race here at Texas Motorsplex, he has three victories in six final-round showings in a span of nine races.
"It's been quite a run since last year's Dallas race, where we were runner-up," Coughlin said. "We've been to plenty of finals and had a good share of success. The last few races have been challenging, for sure, but the worm can turn at any time. We're optimistic it'll come back to us this weekend. St. Louis was a bad deal, but at this point we can only control what we do. I know I'll do all I can to get these 1,500 horses down the track as best I can every run.”
As the No. 11 starter, his first task will be against his dangerous young teammate, No. 6 qualifier Aaron Stanfield.
DSR DRIVERS STEALING FUNNY CAR SHOW – This is where Don Schumacher Racing’s 11-race Funny Car victory streak began, with Matt Hagan’s triumph over Bob Tasca III. Since then, each of DSR’s four Funny Car drivers – Hagan, Jack Beckman, Ron Capps, and Tommy Johnson Jr. – has won at least twice in this stretch. The same quartet broke their 2017 record of 10 straight victories.
What has each of them more amped up, though, is the fact they all are duking it out with one another for the championship as this shortened season winds down with this race and the following two, at Houston and Las Vegas. The DSR Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat delegation is 1-2-3-4 in the standings. Hagan leads, with just 34 points – less than two elimination rounds – separating him from No. 3 Johnson. Beckman is No. 2, just 16 points out of the lead – a lead he had during six of the first eight races. He never has fallen below second place this year. Capps is a distant, but not disqualifying, 147 points out of the lead.
In the first eight races of 2020, DSR drivers have gone head-to-head four times in final rounds, most recently two weeks ago at St. Louis as Johnson held off new points leader Hagan.
“Not only are we battling everyone else for the race win, but we’re battling our teammates for the points. It’s going to come down to the wire, but I’m looking forward to building off of the momentum we’ve got,” Johnson, driver of the M.D. Anderson entry, said. “It’s getting down to crunch time, only three races left.”
Johnson powered his John Collins-tuned Dodge to the top spot in the first session Saturday at 3.871-seconds with a 326.64-mph performance. Hagan, the three-time winner here (2010, 2016, 2019) and the 2012 runner-up who said he’s “going to go out here and have some fun” in the Pennzoil Synthetics car, took the early No. 2 slot at 3.890, 323.97. Beckman was third at 3.917, with a class-fastest 328.70 mph. (Tim Wilkerson broke up the Don Schumacher Racing party, zipping to the provisional fourth place at 3.918, 327.35.)
Hagan, though, isn’t ignoring the stakes of this weekend’s results. “Obviously there’s pressure all year long, but now it’s time to make sure we keep that lead,” he said. “We made up so much ground these last few races and were able to take the No. 1 spot from Jack Beckman. The points are still super-tight though, and at the end of the day, Dallas is another race. Our car has been running really well all season long, and [crew chief] Dickie Venables has a great handle on the tune-up. Going to a new track, new conditions, only two qualifying sessions, you just never know, but we’ll take it one round at a time. We’re running the Pennzoil scheme for the first time this year, and it’s exciting to show them some new love, especially in their home state of Texas. We’re looking forward to doing big things. We’re blessed to do what we do, and I’m really proud of my team.”
If Beckman could put the Infinite Hero Foundation entry into the winners circle this weekend, it would mark his third victory of the season and his first reign at Texas Motorplex. He’s a two-time runner-up at this track, in 2009 and 2015.
“I’ve had so many awesome experiences at Dallas over the years,” he said. “What I have not had is a winners circle, and we fully intend to fix that this year.”
Although Capps won here in 1998, at the discontinued Dallas 1 event that May (alongside Top Fuel’s Joe Amato and Pro Stock’s Mike Edwards), he has yet to capture a Wally statue from the FallNationals. He has been a three-time runner-up here at Ennis (2011, 2016, 2017) and has led the field twice (1997, 2005).
Nevertheless, the NAPA Auto Parts-sponsored driver said he’s “pumped to get [here] and try and move our way back up into the point standings and see if we can run for the championship this year.”
Hagan emerged from qualifying with the No. 1 starting spot and will start eliminations against Todd Simpson. Johnson was right behind Hagan in the order at No. 2 and will take on Jim Campbell. Wilkerson slipped into third, but Capps took the No. 4 slot and will face Terry Haddock. Beckman is the No. 6 qualifier, and his opponent will be Cruz Pedregon.
HOME NOT-ALWAYS-SWEET HOME – Top Fuel points leader Steve Torrence is back on his home turf. The proud Texan this weekend is racing as close as he’ll get all year to his home at Kilgore, about 140 miles away. But a peek at his past experiences at Texas Motorplex proves “home-track advantage” doesn’t guarantee anything.
His 2017 appearance began with his first pro championship clearly in sight. By the end of eliminations, he had survived the nastiest crash of his career but lost the car that had brought him some magic with eight victories in 11 final rounds. Along with that came an uncharacteristically shaken confidence. With a new dragster to break in for the final two events that year, he didn’t reach the semifinals at either race and watched Brittany Force outperform him for the championship.
That motivated Torrence to return in 2018 and post his first Texas Motorplex victory, the third triumph in an unprecedented sweep of the NHRA’s Countdown to the Championship. But last year was no triumphant return – Shawn Reed eliminated him in the first round here (even though Torrence stormed back to claim his second straight series title).
Once again, the Capco Contractors Dragster driver is feeling pressure here. It matters not that he has won 31 times in the past four years. It doesn’t matter that he’ll have a large cheering section from his family’s Capco office and the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation. And it doesn’t matter that this year he has won three times in four finals throughout his seven appearances and compiled a 19-4 race-day record.
He has only a two-point lead over virtual season-long leader Doug Kalitta, the racer who beat him in the final round at the most recent event, two weeks ago at St. Louis. Kalitta has won twice this year, and they’ve split their head-to-head finals. And Torrence knows he is battling his match. He said, “Those Kalitta boys are tough as nails."
First Torrence will take on Cameron Ferré, the 14th and final qualifier in the incomplete field of 14.
KALITTA UP ON THE WHEEL – Doug Kalitta’s respect for Steve Torrence is mutual. The Mac Tools Dragster driver said, “Steve Torrence is a tough racer, but that is what you want in a competitor. This battle has been going on for a few years. No matter what happens, I know I will have left it all on the track. I can’t wait to run these last three races. We are ready for these next three races.
“The win in St. Louis was a nice boost,” he said, “but these next three weeks will be where we win or lose the championship. We got off to a hot start at the beginning of the season, and now I feel like we are in a position to finish the season just as strong.”
He amended his statement: “That win in St. Louis was big,” Kalitta said. “Every win is important, but we wanted that one. If we are going to get the championship, we are going to have to beat the Torrences, Leah [Pruett], and a handful of other drivers. I am not counting out my teammate in that DHL dragster, Shawn Langdon, either. Anything can happen. I am going to give it my best, and we will see where we end up.
“We have won a lot of rounds at the Texas Motorplex. Billy (Meyer) built a great racetrack. Kalitta Motorsports has a lot of history at that track. This is Toyota’s home track now,” Kalitta said, referring to the Toyota North America headquarters just north of Dallas at Plano, Texas. “So we all want to do well. I know there will be a lot of Toyota VIPs at the race. I love racing this Mac Tools Dragster, and Rob Flynn has really been giving me a great race car. We are going to try and get a great qualifying spot and then get four win lights on Sunday. If we do that, I will like our chances for the final two races,” he said.
Kalitta’s next victory will make him just the fifth Top Fuel driver in history to record 50. With that, he’ll join Tony Schumacher, Larry Dixon, Joe Amato, and Antron Brown. But he wants something – besides 50 or more victories – that each of those legends has: a series championship. So he has said a 50th victory would be terrific, not only for stepping into such an elite circle but for earning more points to overtake and hold off Steve Torrence and Leah Pruett for his first Top Fuel crown.
For lovers of trivia, here’s a curious statistic, courtesy of Toyota public-relations representative John Procida: Since the beginning of the 2019 season, Kalitta and Steve Torrence have been separated by no more than just five points.
Kalitta qualified seventh and will meet Antron Brown, who qualified just four-thousandths of a second slower.
A LITTLE REFLECTION – For Ron Capps, this season he undisputedly called “weird” started out weird before coronavirus rocked the status quo worldwide.
On the NAPA Dodge crew’s way to preseason testing at Las Vegas, his hauler caught fire, ruining one Funny Car body and leaving his Rahn Tobler-led team to sort out damage to Capps’ helmet and brand-new firesuits and to their own tools and equipment.
“Both inner tires on the left rear [of the 18-wheeler] got punctured by something. And the rear one, the tire came apart and the steel cords in it were whipping around and created a spark, caught that tire on fire. By the time they pulled over, the outer tire, which was still inflated, was on fire also. They got out of the truck to try to put the fire out with extinguishers and the outer tire exploded,” team owner Don Schumacher said.
Inside were two NAPA-branded cars. The primary car was stores on the top level, and it was usable as the season opened in February at Pomona, Calif. (“Those two cars were built over the wintertime from scratch. One of them we ran already, but it was taken apart and front-halved, so it's brand-new, basically started from scratch. So both cars these guys [were] working on all winter long to make perfect – and then this happens,” Capps said.
Immediately after that, Capps and brother Jon Capps, who competes occasionally in the Funny Car class, traveled to Miami for Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV, where they worked the sidelines carrying parabolic microphones (“sound dishes”) during the NFL championship game between their beloved San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.
The NHRA got in two races, at Pomona and Phoenix, before coronavirus concerns forced the NHRA to suspend its season until July. Half of the season had to be canceled, but the NHRA got back on the track in July with the first two of four consecutive races at Indianapolis. Capps won one of those events and again at Gainesville, Fla., when the sport broke from its Indianapolis cocoon. Even then, the schedule had its shaky moments, and the series was thrown into upheaval with Coca-Cola abruptly and unilaterally exiting its agreement that still had three years remaining. Purses were slashed, and uncertainty surrounded the re-schedules season finale at Las Vegas until the facility’s announcement that the race officially is on.
So the season will finish Oct. 31-Nov. 1 at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. But whether No. 4-ranked Capps can leap past his three DSR teammates in the standings in these final three races is immaterial. Capps said he’s just happy to be racing.
“I have to be honest,” he said. “Every time we’re talking about these upcoming races, I think some of us are taking this for granted. It was only a few months ago that we were all wondering what was going to go on with the NHRA season, and while it’s been a crazy year, we obviously hoped that we were going to see some of these racetracks back on our schedule. Props to NHRA for keeping us out racing.”
He said 2020 “has been weird, but look how it’s blossomed into having Camping World come on board, and the fact that I get to strap into the NAPA AUTO PARTS Funny Car a few more times this year is awesome.”
DENSHAM FLASHY IN RETURN TO TOUR – Gary Densham was hot – literally – Saturday in his first Funny Car appearance since the Seattle race last August. He nailed down the tentative No. 7 with a 4.163-second pass at 247.20 mph in the class’ first pairing of the weekend, but after he crossed the finish line, flames shot out from underneath his Ford Mustang. He slid in his own oil and struggled to keep the car safely off the walls. He did, got out, and ended up in the top half of the field. And for his effort, he also was charged with an oildown and a five-point deduction that for him were immaterial. Densham was on a solo qualifying chance, because Todd Simpson in the right lane saw his car have an ignition problem on the starting line. Densham was unable or chose not to make a Q2 appearance. Simpson did come back in Q2 and had trouble at the first hit of the throttle but made the field, which has exactly 16 cars.
BUMPING, SCRAMBLING – A whole lot of bumping and grinding marked the final Pro Stock Motorcycle session Saturday. Chris Bostick bumped in and was bumped out. He was on the hot seat with a 7.008-second pass, knocking out Eddie Krawiec, who still had a chance to run. Hector Arana and Angelle Sampey rolled up and had to run 6.986 or better to both make the field. Angelle had a 6.84, and Arana clocked a 6.994 and took over the bump spot – knocking out Bostick. Krawiec needed a 6.99 or better, and he got into Sunday’s mix with a 6.87.
’92 FINAL STILL INSPIRES – Drag-racing fans still are entertained by watching the wild, tire-smoking, wall-banging pedalfest in the 1992 Dallas Funny Car final that Cruz Pedregon won against John Force. It was the class-rookie Pedregon’s fifth consecutive victory that helped him fend off the two-time and reigning champion Force and earn his first of two series titles. That final round was the final blow to Force’s chances that year, and Pedregon’s crown turned out to be the only interruption in Force’s championship dominance between 1990 and 2002.
Pedregon said that 1992 Dallas coup has energized his entire team: "Locking up the championship here in the early 90s and the energy that memory holds [was] our real motivation heading to Dallas this week. It's something that will forever stay with me and something many NHRA fans remember."
Before the St. Louis race, the Snap-on Tools Dodge team tested at Tulsa, and Pedregon said that “helped us out in qualifying in the last race, and we plan for it to pay off this weekend where it looks like the weather is going to be a lot more in our favor than it was in St. Louis."
In spite of his parachutes deploying at about 300 feet in the first session Saturday, Pedregon landed in the provisional sixth spot with a 4.027-second elapsed time at 284.33 mph.
MOTORPLEX MANIA – It has been 35 years since Waco, Texas, businessman Billy Meyer, the former Funny Car standout opened Texas Motorsplex, the all-concrete Palace South of Dallas. But racers today still brag about the facility and speak fondly of their first/early visits here.
Funny Car’s Tommy Johnson Jr. said, “Texas Motorplex is such a historic track. I’ve been going there for years, and there are quite a few sentimental memories there. This year, with the limited NHRA schedule, we weren’t sure what would end up back on our schedule, but I’m certainly happy we’re able to go to the Motorplex, the original all-concrete track. The conditions should be good for everybody. It’ll be interesting, we’ve had extreme heat followed by extreme cold at the last two races, so maybe we’ll meet somewhere in the middle this weekend. Our M.D. Anderson team needs to go rounds, and we would love nothing more than to win it this weekend. That would help our cause a lot.”
His key rival Jack Beckman never will forget his first peek at the place: “This year marks the 35th year of the Texas Motorplex, and let me tell you, I was there for Year One. I drove a thousand-mile round trip with a buddy of mine from the Air Force to be at the 1986 Nationals, and it was breathtaking. Texas Motorplex is a state-of-the-art facility, and there was nothing like it at the time. It still makes the hair on my arms stand up just thinking about it.”
Like Beckman, Ron Capps – another DSR colleague – is a lover of NHRA history. And he said, “I’m always excited to go to Dallas and visit Billy Meyer’s Texas Motorplex. Billy is an old Funny Car driver, and I always thought the world of him, especially when he built the ‘supertrack’ back in the day. It’s a great racetrack. The fans are unbelievable. It’s great for our sport to get back here.”
Fellow Funny Car racer JR Todd agreed, saying, “I like racing at the Motorplex, because Billy Meyer was a racer and built a race track for racers. It has a lot of cool upgrades for fans, but really the track is awesome for the teams. We could see some record setting times on Sunday morning during that first round. The key will be to have two good qualifying runs on Saturday.
Todd’s Kalitta Motorsports teammate, Shawn Langdon, said, “I like racing at the Texas Motorplex because it is one of the all-concrete tracks on the tour. When the weather is right, you can really put up some great numbers. I know this DHL Top Fuel Dragster has the capability to run low.”
Pro Stock’s Troy Coughlin Jr. said he especially likes this dragstrip, calling Texas Motorplex “a dream track.” He said, “Billy Meyer drag-raced for many years, so he built a place racers love. It's always been a dream of mine to win a black cowboy hat [the traditional prize]. So as long as they have one big enough for my head, I'll be racing hard for it."
With Saturday qualifying, Justin Ashley got his first taste of racing on the so-called supertrack with its all-concrete surface, and he said, “I have never raced at the Texas Motorplex, but you always hear about it being a great facility.” It always will be for him, because he soared to the top of the provisional leaderboard in the first of two qualifying sessions Saturday. With a 3.687-second elapsed time at 323.04 mph in the Strutmasters.com Dragster, Ashley edged out Tony Schumacher and the Okuma / Sandvik Coromant Dragster (3.700, 326.87) and Steve Torrence (3.717, 326.32). But Steve Torrence swiped the honor from him with 3.662-second blast top cap Top Fuel qualifying, and Ashley’s engine let go in a big fireball on his final, 3.802-second run.
Q1 PSM ORDER A BIT SURPRISING – Pro Stock Motorcycle racer David Barron managed to take the No. 15 spot in the order, despite hitting the sand trap at the end of his 7.135-second, 188.60-mph qualifying pass in the first session Saturday. Barron rolled away quickly, popped to his feet, and gave the thumbs-up sign. (He didn’t run in the second session and missed the cut at 19th among the 19 entrants.)
The bottom half of the tentative ladder looked a bit surprising. It contained four class champions who represented 14 series crowns – Andrew Hines (6), Angelle Sampey (3), Eddie Krawiec (4), and Hector Arana (1). It also contained 2016 NHRA rookie of the year Cory Reed. Arana was on the bump spot at 7.386 seconds. Still off the 16-bike grid were Chris Bostick, the runner-up at the third Indianapolis race, as well as Michael Phillips and Kelly Clontz.
The first session of Top Fuel qualifying produced some noteworthy results, as well, besides rookie Justin Ashley seizing the No. 1 starting spot. Only five of the 14 racers made it into the 3.7-second range, and one other turned a 3.8-second E.T. The 3.8 belonged to Scott Palmer, who was making his first NHRA pass of the season. Part-timer Kebin Kinsley, from up the highway at Arlington, Texas, who drove the Worsham family dragster at St. Louis, two weeks ago, put the Dexter Tuttle-owned car in the top half of the order, at eighth. Veteran crew chief Tony Shortall is tuning Kinsley this weekend. Champions Antron Brown and Shawn Langdon started the day in the bottom half of the order, Brown at No. 9, Langdon No. 10. Doug Kalitta was 12th at the start of Saturday’s second and final qualifying session.
OVERCOMING ODDS AGAIN – Little in Leah Pruett’s drag-racing career has come easily for her. And again this weekend, the gritty driver of the Mopar Dodge SRT Hellcat Redeye Dragster for Don Schumacher Racing is proving herself resilient.
Following a vicious accident at the most recent race that broke her dragster in two, launched her into the air, slammed her back down to the track, and slightly injured her back and left her with assorted bruises, Pruett has prepared as thoroughly as she can for this event.
She said it has been a “busy week for all since the St. Louis incident. The team has been working diligently on preparing our spare car that Tony [Schumacher] had just gained possession of before Gainesville, and they’re getting a strong handle on it.” As she put it in an interview with National Dragster editor Phil Burgess, “We are in the repo business now. We’re repo-ing my spare car back from Tony, who was running it.” She said Schumacher took one of Antron Brown’s spare cars and got a new front-half on it.
Pruett said, “Our spare has a fresh front-half on it now, and we are not letting the ‘chassis roulette’ effect our championship hunt. Our eyes and focus are forward to Dallas and maintaining our strategy of qualifying well for the best Sunday result. I personally have been approaching a full recovery and am very much looking forward to getting back behind the wheel.”
Make that wheels. For the fifth time this season, she is competing in both Top Fuel and the Factory Stock Showdown Series. Pruett is the No. 5 Top Fuel starter and will go against No. 10 Scott Palmer when eliminations open Sunday. She qualified 13th in the FSS class in her Dodge Drag Pak Challenger and will face No. 4 Arthur Kohn in Round 1.
As far as Pruett is concerned, the accident at St. Louis is in the past, but the No. 3-rated racer indicated she still sees a Top Fuel title in her future. “till heavy in the championship chase, so it’s an exciting time. I'm not letting what happened in E2 of St. Louis take any part of momentum away from what we're trying to accomplish,” she said.
‘GOT A GOOD THING GOING’ – Tim Wilkerson said his takeaway from the St. Louis race – at the Madison, Ill., track downstate from his Springfield, Ill., home – “kind of stinks.” His Funny Car class got just one qualifying session, leaving him pretty much no data upon which to establish his tune-up for a No. 10 start, then Sunday saw him take a first-round defeat.
"We were tipped over, motor-wise, all weekend long. We did terrible both runs, and hopefully we got that out of our system," he said of the Oct. 3-4 weekend.
The Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang owner-tuner-driver, ranked fifth in the standings (and the highest-rated non-Don Schumacher Racing driver), was more optimistic before qualifying Saturday. It paid off – he’s the No. 3 starter.
“We've got a good thing going with all our guys. They've been working real hard, and I know our Levi, Ray & Shoup Ford Mustang is a good car capable of great things. We've seen it. I think we'll be back on track [here] and see it again," Wilkerson said. "This weekend is a good opportunity to redeem ourselves after the last race. We did terrible in St. Louis, and we sure don't want a repeat of that. I think we got it out of our system, and we've licked our wounds.”
Wilkerson was the 2008 Dallas winner over Tony Pedregon.
DALLAS PLAYS BIG ROLE FOR BROWN – Antron Brown scored his first NHRA victory – on a Pro Stock Motorcycle – here at Texas Motorplex in April 1999, and he since has added two Top Fuel victories (2012, 2016).
He said, “Dallas has always been a great track for me. I remember back in 1999 when it all started for me. It was my first professional NHRA win. And I remember also helping to seal the deal in a couple of my Top Fuel championships thereby winning that race and getting one of those famous cowboy hats.”
His team’s plan this weekend is “to keep our heads down, stay on the grind, and put our best foot forward.” The aim was to qualify in the top three on the 16-car grid. He was eighth. He said he’ll “take it one round at a time. We’ll work hard, see what we can do, and give it all we’ve got.”
Brown is in seventh place in the standings. But he has qualified in the top three in each of the past two races. In addition, at the most recent event in St. Louis, Brown ran a 3.733 or better every time down the track.
TOP FUEL FLASHBACK – Last year’s Top Fuel final round at Dallas was one of the more intriguing showdowns of the season, pitting two of the most-talked-about part-time racers: 61-year-old Billy Torrence and 24-year-old Jordan Vandergriff.
Torrence, founder of Capco Contractors and father to dominator Steve Torrence, denied rookie Vandergriff his first victory in only his 10th race. And he did it despite his massively late 0.319-second reaction time at the starting line, running down the tire-smoking first-time finalist.
After winning, Torrence said, “It was a very unusual deal. I was going to deep stage to get a little better light, and it threw my concentration off. We caught him pretty quick. He got in trouble about 300 feet. Even though we didn’t have the best driver in the final, we did have the best car.”
Maybe most memorable was his quip that mocked his own horrible launch: “I was sitting there long enough to see the other guy leave, and I just said, ‘Hold my beer and watch this s---!’
So Billy Torrence, winner at the first Indianapolis race this July and runner-up to his son Steve in September at Gainesville, rolled to the starting line Saturday as the defending Texas Motorplex champ. Overall, he’s fourth in the standings. So son and father are No. 1 and No. 4 in points, respectively, in spite of skipping the first race of the season.
Billy Torrence is the only driver who has beaten the points leader Steve Torrence more than one time this season. In their past seven meetings, Dad is 4-3 against his Son. They’re 1-1 in final rounds against each other.
The elder Torrence posted the class-best speed in the first round of qualifying at 327.66 mph. He was the No. 9 qualifier.
‘WE CAN RIP OFF THREE WINS’ – JR Todd knows a strong performance here this weekend could lift him from sixth place to fourth and into the championship mix with two more races after this one, at Houston and Las Vegas.
“We know we need to perform at these last three races. The top three teams have a pretty big gap, but until they tell me the math doesn’t work, I am going to do everything I can to get that championship. I have a whole team of DHL crew guys plus crew chiefs Todd Smith and Jon Oberhofer behind me,” Todd said, acknowledging his Kalitta Motorsports team.
“We have three races over the next three weeks. It will be a sprint to the finish. I like our chances,” he said. “We have been in this situation before, and I know we can buckle down and get the job done. This DHL Toyota Camry Funny Car can rip off three wins, and we will see where that puts us.”
“The DHL Toyota Camry driver could accomplish a feat few have at this 35th edition of the AAA Texas FallNationals. If he wins, he would put his name on an exclusive list of racers who have won both Top Fuel and Funny Car at Texas Motorplex. His 2008 Top Fuel victory would add Todd’s name to those of such stars as Kenny Bernstein, Don Prudhomme, Ed MCulloch, and Mike Dunn.
“You look at the guys that have won both Top Fuel and Funny Car at the FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex, and those guys are all Hall of Famers and Legends,” Todd said. “I remember that Top Fuel win in 2008 and I know how close I came to getting that Funny Car win in 2018. I would love to see four win lights Sunday.”
Todd also was Top Fuel runner-up in 2014, and he was No. 1 qualifier twice (2007 and 2014) in Top Fuel.
I LOVE TEXAS – Pro Stock rookie Troy Coughlin Jr., driver of the JEGS.com Elite Motorsports Ford Mustang, said he’s happy to be in Texas: "I enjoy Texas quite a bit, so there's a lot of excitement [about] Dallas and Houston for the next two races. Texans love drag racing, and they love to have a good time. So it's always a blast when you visit the Lone Star State.”
Troy Coughlin Jr. already has a final-round appearance, in July at Indianapolis, where his uncle Jeg Coughlin defeated him. This will be his sixth start in Pro Stock, but he has earned two Top Alcohol Dragster regional titles in the last two years and has eight national-event victories. He has competed in Top Fuel, Top Alcohol Dragster, Pro Modified, Super Comp, Super Gas, Top Dragster, E.T. Bracket cars, and Jr. Dragsters.
"Pro Stock has been the most challenging," Troy Coughlin Jr. said. "I'm still learning so much, but I'm having a blast. Working with Rick Jones, Mike DePalma, Robert Freeman, and Eric Luzinski has been a real blessing. And I'd love to keep them busy on race day and give them a win before the year is over.”
WHO KNEW? – Top NHRA Rookie of the Year contender Justin Ashley was not expecting to run a full season, although he was eyeing a first victory of his Top Fuel career – something he earned at Indianapolis.
And no one expected a full season to be 11 races.
“My rookie year was only supposed to be a handful of races,” Ashley, who drives the Strutmasters.com Dragster, said, “so to be able to race the full season has been amazing. I have to thank my sponsors for making this possible. Without each and every one of them, we wouldn’t be in position we are today.”
The 25-year-old from Plainview, Long Island, N.Y., is sixth in the standings, just three points out of the top five. So while he still is craving seat time to gain experience, he knows he has this race and two more to make a splash in the class.
“We are doing so well that I think people forget we are a rookie team working together for the first time,” he said. “We are learning every race. St. Louis was a tough weekend [with a single qualifying opportunity and tricky weather conditions race day]. But those are the weekends where you learn the most sometimes. I have so much confidence in my guys and my crew chief, Aaron Brooks.”
He said he couldn’t “wait to get back on track.”
LANGDON LOOKING FOR TIMELY RUN – DHL / Kalitta Air Dragster driver Shawn Langdon said, “We have three races left, and our goal is to win all three. At the very least we want to beat the guys in front of us or close to Doug in the points. We both have great teams, and I would love to see either of us get that championship.”
Langdon has an outside chance to challenge for the title, which would be his second in all and first since 2013.
He is in eighth place – but only one round out of fifth. A top-three finish is not out of the question, considering his recent performance, particularly winning the U.S. Nationals from the No. 1 qualifying position. (That kept a Kalitta Motorsports streak alive, with either a Funny Car or Top Fuel dragster winning the event the past four years.)
“We have been running really well,” Langdon said. “St. Louis was a race you can throw out the window, because conditions were so crazy for everyone. I am glad Doug [teammate Kalitta] got the win there, and they definitely earned it. It was tough to race him in the first round, but I felt whoever won that round was going to win the race.”
After spending two years learning to master a Funny Car, Langdon returned to the Top Fuel class and said he not only was glad to get a victory again in a dragster this season but happy simply to be back in one.
“I enjoyed my time racing a Funny Car, and it was a big challenge,” Langdon said. “I think it made me a better driver, because I had to learn so many things. It really helped me focus better. I love being back in a Top Fuel dragster, though. This is where I came up in the pro ranks and I won a world championship in 2013. I want to get back to those winning ways, and I think we can do that over these last three races.”
Langdon ended qualifying in fourth place after posting a 3.727-second pass in the second session Saturday and will open eliminations against Kebin Kinsley.
THINK PINK – Many race cars are bathed in pink this month to raise awareness of breast cancer. All of Team JEGS’ bright-pink cars, crew uniforms, firesuits, and helmets will help promote the JEGS Foundation's longtime affiliation with The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, including the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, Richard J. Solove Research Institute, and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
Cruz Pedregon's Snap-on Dodge will carry a paint scheme that pays tribute to The Pink Fund. Snap-on Tools is dedicating a portion of the sales of a themed promotional mini-diecast set of all six Funny Car paint schemes dedicated to The Pink Fund. That should bring its total donation to the organization during the past six years to more than $475,000. Team Manager Caleb Cox said the team will run the popular paint scheme through the end of the season.
Antron Brown’s Matco Tools / Global Electronic Technology / Toyota Dragster has brought back its “Tools for the Cause” livery.