2021 NHRA CAROLINA NATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
HART DOES IT AGAIN, WINS TOP FUEL AT NHRA CAROLINA NATIONALS - Consider Josh Hart to be the champion for the underdog. You can also consider him to be the underdog with the most vicious bite.
Sunday at zMax Dragway, in the most improbable fashion, the soft-spoken Hart stepped up in the final round to beat the seemingly unstoppable Brittany Force in the Top Fuel final round at the DeWalt Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals.
Hart spoke volumes with his actions on a day that many could consider the epitome of the "Any Given Sunday" mantra.
"I think the biggest thing I want to prove is that even if you grew up in a trailer park, anything is possible," Hart said. "You can come out here and race a Top Fuel car and win races just like everyone else if you work hard enough. We are in this for the long haul."
Hart's victory marked his second in his first eight races as a Top Fuel driver. This record, in addition to 16 Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series wins, including his regional victories.
Not bad for a driver who planned to run a limited schedule in 2021.
"We never really planned on doing a full season this year," Hart admitted. "We just wanted to get our feet wet and build the team. That has obviously been accelerated by moving to Indianapolis. The team seems to have gelled together right away. We revamped all of our parts inventory. We keep buying more stuff and investing in NHRA."
Well, there was the whole winning his Top Fuel race in his debut event back in March at the NHRA Gatornationals, which also lit a fire under Hart.
"After winning our first race, we thought we'd be chasing our tail for a little bit. I'm glad to be back out there. The real magic happens in the pits, not on the track. Those guys are awesome. Watching them is like a well-orchestrated symphony. That's where the praise needs to go. Happy that I could return the favor for them in the finals."
Hart entered eliminations as the No. 7 qualifier and earned his way to the final, beating Alex Laughlin, Mike Salinas, and a surging Justin Ashley.
Hart has had to overcome a stretch of misfortunes, including a batch of bad blower belts and, yes, even COVID-19. This can be attributed to costing the team a spot in the NHRA's Countdown to the Championship.
"Everything for a stretch of time that could have gone wrong for us went wrong," Hart explained. "We sat out a few more races than I would have liked to with COVID issues. We were moving things to Indy. I felt like we really should have been in the top ten. We could have if we would have attended those races. That's all behind us now. We are willing to make the commitment to fix all of those issues. We are in this for the long haul."
And all of a sudden, with two race wins, Hart finds himself back in the mix for the NHRA Rookie of the Year honors.
"Rookie of the Year would be a great honor," Hart said. "I want to represent my team and my sponsors as good as possible. I'm trying to bring a lot of new things to NHRA. R&L Carriers have never really dabbled in NHRA before. We donate all of our contingency money to young racers to help them get to where they need to go. It's expensive. Rookie of the Year would be extremely important to me and my team and everybody we support down the ladder."
Hart doesn't take offense to the notion he's a spoiler since he's not in the Countdown. It's a role he's prepared to play to the fullest.
"Somebody called me the wildcard at Reading," Hart said. "I want to win every race. Whether I help someone or hurt someone, it's not our objective. We just want to go out there and win like everyone else."
Sunday, he did just that with little or no regard for just how much the odds were stacked against him.
A BUSY WILK RACES UNFAZED BY PRESSURE, ODDITIES IN WINNING CHARLOTTE FUNNY CAR TITLE - Maybe the reason Tim Wilkerson doesn’t seem fazed by the pressure lurking all around him is the veteran Funny Car driver keeps himself too busy to take notice.
Wilkerson, the Illinois-based driver, has longtime held the dual roles of crew chief and driver. Sunday at zMax Dragway, Wilkerson took his hectic pace right to the winner’s circle at the DeWalt Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals.
Wilkerson’s victory marks his second in the last three weekends.
“It was tremendous pressure today,” Wilkerson said. “Crazy, crazy day. It started out pretty good. Went down the track just like I wanted to. From there, it kind of went bizarre. Force had me beat [in the second round].
“It was a tough day. I mean, we barely made it to the rounds in the semis, in the finals. Capps sent me a text and said, ‘Hey, we’ll wait for you in the back of the lanes man, We won’t pull up, guarantee you.”
“But it was a tough day. I’m very proud of my guys. We were one team today. We had two teams at Indy helping us. We only had one team, and boy we looked like it. We were thrashing. I was out there changing tires and putting motors in and Lord, I’m worn out. I can tell you for sure.”
About the only “normal” drag races Wilkerson had was in the first-round victory over Bob Tasca III and the final round victory over Cruz Pedregon.
The rest were not so conventional.
The second-round win over Force was payback from fate after getting caught off guard in Reading. Force was on his way to almost certain victory when his Peak-sponsored Camaro Funny Car drifted close enough to take out a finish line timing block.
“He ambushed me last week, my Lord,” Wilkerson said of their first round match in Reading.
“It looks like I just need to qualify number eight. I won Indy out of the number eight spot too. So that’s what I’m going to do for the rest of the year. We’re just going to qualify No. 8.”
Then in the semi-final win over Capps, it was questionable if Wilkerson would even make the call. It’s one thing to be short on horsepower, another thing to be down on manpower.
“Our normal tire guy, he’s down,” Wilkerson explained. “Our other guy hurt himself on Saturday. First round, I come back and my clutch guy, there’s blood running down the top of his head, where the guy taking the cylinder head off, smacked him with a torque wrench. So he’s dizzy as hell, walking around in there, looking like he’s drunk.
“So I take him up into the lounge. Mop him all off. Super glue his head back together. Put a bandage on top of it. He does his job. We win the race. Cool as it can be. But yeah, it was a tough day.”
Yes he tunes, he drives, and now jokingly he's an unlicensed physician.
“We looked at him and thought he’s got to have stitches, and he’s like, ‘You’re not giving me stitches,” Wilkerson recalled.
“So I stuck his head back together with some super glue and put a big old bandage on it and sent him. So I asked him how he felt a while ago. He goes, ‘I think you should be a doctor, boss.”
Might as well, as Wilkerson admits staying bodes well for him when it comes to avoiding the pressure of pressure situations.
“My wife said that. She goes, ‘if you don’t have a heart attack today, I’m going to for you. This is ridiculous.”
And I said, “Well, I can’t get rid of you. You’re my lucky charm. So you stay in here and keep calm, and I’ll do the goofy work.”
“Sometimes there’s too much time to stare at the thing and make changes. Today I made wholesale changes and lived with them, and it worked out.”
Included in the list of things he refuses to worry about is a championship he’s come close to winning yet has eluded him.
“Every race is a new race,” Wilkerson said. “If we get down in Pomona and we got a chance to win it, then we’ll clap our hands. But yeah, not that big a deal.”
So Wilkerson gets amped up to race drivers but not win a championship?
“One race at a time,” Wilkerson said with a smile. “Is my nose is getting longer?”
KID CHAOS SCORES THE FIRST TROPHY FOR THE FAMILY IN CHARLOTTE - The emotion of the moment got the best of the kid.
When Kyle Koretsky exited his Lucas Oil-sponsored Camaro after successfully beating his team leader and horsepower supplier Greg Anderson to win the DeWalt NHRA Carolina Nationals, he went through his list of sponsors and concluded the top-end interview by holding up his trophy and saying, "This one's for my Dad."
Koretsky, the son of longtime Pro Stock racer Kenny Koretsky, described his dad's sacrifices so he could be the first drag racer in the family to win an NHRA Pro Stock national event.
"I'm going to try not to cry here," Koretsky said. "He worked his whole life, and it gave me the opportunity to do it."
Koretsky's first NHRA victory came in his 21st start, and before the monumental victory, he'd reached the final round three times.
"I'm out here, living my dream," Koretsky said. "KB supplies me the best power out there. Our team just works flawlessly. I raced [teammate] Dallas Glenn, I think eight times this year already or throughout my career, and we go head to head. Once he lost, he jumped right on my car. Everyone's a big team and we get along. Yeah, this is huge. This is what I wanted my whole life."
And to hear the second-generation Pro Stock driver tell it, it's a hard-earned achievement when one wins a national event in the class.
"Pro Stock is the most competitive class out there, I think in NHRA," Koretsky said.
The final round was a high-stakes affair, especially for a lesser experienced driver facing a seasoned veteran on the cusp of becoming the winningest driver in NHRA Pro Stock. Anderson needed one more win to raise his total to 98 career victories.
"I needed to get this done," Koretsky said of the final round match against Anderson. "That guy's unbelievable. He's the hardest-working guy I ever met, and he's non-stop. We’ve been racing back to back, and he's been in the shop 18 hours a day. He's a machine, and he's the best.
"I try to race every round and pretend like it’s a time shot. I just beat Greg Anderson, a driver going for the title of the winningest driver. I feel bad. But I feel great."
Koretsky leaves Charlotte in third place of the Pro Stock championship standings, just 91 points behind Anderson with five races left in the season. He's not knocking on the door of the lead, but he's definitely in the hunt.
"To win a championship, to be honest, I’m not even really looking at that right now," Koretsky admitted. "I'm just gonna take every race one round at a time. I think I focus a little better that way of looking at it. But hey, would I like to get one of them white hats? A hundred percent."
SAMPEY WINS NO. 44 ON A DAY FILLED WITH EMOTION - It was as if she was a reluctant winner.
But that's how iconic Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Angelle Sampey came across as she opened the press conference in the zMax Dragway media center following her 44th career victory at the DeWalt Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals.
Almost 30 minutes earlier, Sampey dismounted her potent four-valve Suzuki and made a beeline for Joey Gladstone, the rider she had just beaten in the final round. Gladstone had had a tough day on the track after his teammate and mutual friend with Sampey, Cory Reed, crashed in their quarter-final match and was transported to a local hospital with serious injuries.
In the shutdown area, the two just embraced.
"I felt total guilt," Sampey said after beating Gladstone when his bike's safety shutoff rendered the machine powerless. "I felt so bad for him because of what happened to Cory and Joey's been in the final twice, and I think I've taken it away from him before. I want to see Joey and I really want to see Cory win a race. I love Cory. He was my teammate, and we were very close, and I felt guilt.
"I felt guilt because I had a horrible light and I felt like I didn't deserve it. So sorry. So I just kept telling him I was sorry. I'm sorry, because I hate to be the one who takes it away from someone. That's why I wish people were more happy for everybody that wins because we all want to win it so bad and I hate to be the one who stopped somebody else from doing it, but I want to do it just as much."
The happiest person for Sampey was Mother Fate, who apparently felt she owed her a "day."
To take inventory, in the last few weeks, the Louisiana-based Sampey has overcome Hurricane Ida, watched a close friend seriously injured in a crash, and has just been on the losing end of bad racer luck Sunday.
Sampey questioned momentarily whether she wanted to continue in competition after watching Reed take his spill in the second round.
"I almost wanted to say, 'I don't want to do this anymore today," Sampey said. "You start thinking about what you're risking out there. I know Cory knows it now. He's a father himself and I'm a mother of two girls. I weigh my risks. I know I have a safe motorcycle. I have an awesome team. We have a safe racing surface. We have an awesome Safety Safari that takes care of us, but I do know the risks.
"It took some mental preparation on the starting line to get over what I had just witnessed with Cory and build up the guts to get down the track and do it. So I had to put my faith in God and my faith in my team, and we made it, but it doesn't leave your mind. The next round in the final was just as scary, but we made it for that one, too. And so I definitely want to say, God is good and he kept me safe today. Thanks for that."
Call it divine intervention; call it what you want. But on Sunday, Sampey likely could have beaten Steve Torrence's dragster. Any given Sunday doesn't only apply to football.
"We always say, 'When it's your day, it's your day at the NHRA," Sampey said. "It takes literally every single thing to go in your favor. And one little bitty thing doesn't go in your favor, and you're done for. Joey's kill switch actually came off. So it cut the engine off and I was gaining on him, but I don't think I would've caught him had that not happened.
"So it was definitely, it was my day. I was thinking that the last two races, "This is my day. This is my day." And then when it doesn't happen and you lose, you're devastated and it's so hard to get to the final round. And it's so almost impossible to win a race these days that you start to think, "Why am I putting myself through this anymore?"
No. 1 qualifier Steve Johnson appeared to be a lock for a second consecutive victory, but like Reed in the previous round, he had his bike begin drifting to the right and hit the timing block, disqualifying him and negating an almost certain victory.
So what made the bikes a handful on more than one occasion? Sampey had her ideas.
"There is a bump at the tunnel in the left lane," Sampey explained. "He may have possibly broke loose on that bump and lost some traction. And then I think the wind was actually blowing a little bit at that time, that way. And then there's a crown in the race track. This one, as well as the last race, once you get over that crown, it starts sucking you towards the centerline.
"One of the things you cannot do, and I try to learn from everything, even from what happened with Cory, I learned something today. He was hanging off the left, he put his knee out, but if you step on the right peg while you're trying to push yourself off the left of the motorcycle, sometimes you're making it even worse. So if you're stepping on that right peg to push yourself over, it makes the bike go that much further. So that possibly could have been what went wrong.
"I remembered that every round after that. So when the bike was going to the centerline for me in the third round, I moved over to the right and I made sure I didn't touch that left peg at all. It came back pretty easy. Those are things that are sometimes hard to remember when everything's happening so fast going down the racetrack."
It's moments like Sunday afternoon's victory in the face of adversity, which inspire Sampey to keep moving forward.
"It would be easier just to go home and just be a mom, but I still have these goals in life," Sampey said. "One of them is to prove to my little girls that they can do anything they set their mind to, and I'm not done with that yet. I'm not done with winning. I hate to even say it. I don't want to talk about it, but the whole ... I'm looking for another championship and we're headed that way. I just have to keep my focus and one round at a time and hope things continue to go my way."
HE CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW - At least this time, he was able to see what he was able to enjoy.
Pro Stock Motorcycle point leader Steve Johnson, who admitted he couldn't see the track for much of his Friday provisional No. 1 at the DeWalt Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals, performed the feat again Saturday afternoon with a 6.788 elapsed time, at 197.74 miles per hour to seal the deal.
"Yes. Yes. That was awesome this time," the jubilant Johnson said in Saturday's press conference in the media center at zMax Dragway. "Oh my God. That's exactly right. I saw all the way down the drag strip. You know?"
Johnson was reveling in the accomplishment between rounds, and for a brief moment, stepped outside of his pits and into those of the Pro Stocker cars, where he struck up a conversation with Chris McGaha.
Johnson posed the question, "Hey, what do you think about when you're in high gear?" You know? Because there's some time there. Right? In racing.
"So he's like, 'Oh, I'm looking at my target and I'm getting ready for the 'chute and let off and everything."
Apparently, Johnson was asked the same thing, to which he answered, 'Normally I'm like, "Oh, you know, waiting on the finish line. But I was so ahead of the bike. In like second or third is when I can really get comfortable. It sounds like a damn Ferrari."
" It was so cool. I got to enjoy my engine instead of being so petrified that it was going to hand grenade on the chassis dyno. When it blows up, it blows up right by my friends. And it's like it's scary as heck. You know?"
"And there, I'm just, "What? it's going 14,000, 14,000, 14,000." And I'm like, "This is bad apples, man." And I was loving it in high gear. I said to myself, "This is like a Ferrari engine." And I was like ... And my feet are all tucked up and I'm all hunched ... real. I mean, I had the best ... It was one of the funnest times I had riding."
Johnson's first-round competition, Chris Bostick, didn't make the Q3 session and sent word his bike was broken, and if he doesn't make Sunday's first-round call, it will mean a bye run for Johnson.
Johnson implied his team gives everything its got every time and will do so even if he's got an automatic win in the first round.
"We're not hiding anything," Johnson added.
Competing against teams significantly more funded than him, Johnson says it's an age-old approach yielding dividends. He's outworking the big teams.
"Well, this person's ... They're golfing, and then there's that," Johnson said. "They're playing golf [on Monday after Reading]. And you know, I don't know what some of them are doing, but some of them are playing golf. Some of them are doing things that ... Just other things. We're at the shop. Jock drove nonstop. I flew, I'm working ... trying to work on proposals and sponsorships.
"So Jock gets there, we tore the whole darn thing apart, engine crank laying on the ground, the thing, tore it all apart, put it all back, checked everything, put it all back together. When you talk about resources, we all want to have a green grass. We all want to have lots of money in the bank and have healthy kids. And healthy families. And then it's like, there's got to be some kind of effort towards that. Right?"
"So, winning one of these races, I don't want nothing. And when we get to November and last race, I don't want anything to be able to say, besides cash, that we left on the table. I'm going to do whatever it takes."
PROUD MOMENT - During the DeWalt NHRA Carolina Nationals Kalitta Motorsports hosted Savannah Smith, an 11-year-old from Statesville, North Carolina, as part of their association with A Kid Again. Prior to the first round of qualifying Savannah and her family toured the Kalitta Motorsports pit area and she was able to meet Top Fuel drivers Doug Kalitta, Shawn Langdon, and Funny Car driver J.R. Todd.
Savannah was born with congenital malformations & two rare genetic conditions - Pfeiffer Syndrome & Turner Syndrome. She also suffers from Craniosynostostis, Epilepsy, Asthma, Strabismus & Exostosis of both tibias. She was given less than a 5% survival rate at birth. She’s had 37 surgeries in her young life and will require many more in the future. The A Kid Again adventure was a highlight for Savannah and her family.
“People always stare at Savannah because she looks different,” said Gary Smith, father of Savannah. “Everyone at Kalitta has been so nice to her and no one here is looking at her funny. This is the first time we’ve ever been in a group setting where we felt so welcome and normal - this team is restoring my faith in humanity.”
Kalitta Motorsports’ support helps A Kid Again further their mission of giving families the opportunity to take a time out from illness by attending ongoing Adventures together at NHRA races while they work through significant medical situations. This season the team has hosted five families during the 2021 season.
With the goal of providing year-round fun-filled Adventures that allow children with life-threatening conditions and their families to feel like “a kid again,” the organization works to create a communal and interactive environment offering comprehensive resources to help families cope with the extended effects of living through difficult medical journeys.
UNDER HIS TERMS - Whoever coined the phrase, “Once you race Top Fuel, there’s no going backward” obviously never met Spencer Massey.
Massey is having the time of his life drag racing, and sometimes it’s behind the wheel of an 11,000-horse Top Fuel dragster. In Charlotte, Massey is making one of his infrequent appearances as driver of the Pat Dakin-owned Top Fuel dragster.
“I'm always happy when I'm here at the racetrack,” Massey said, after procuring the No. 9 qualifying position at the DeWalt Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals. “It doesn't matter if I'm driving my Top Fuel car or Pat Dakin’s Top Fuel car, my alcohol dragster, I'm happy I'm at the racetrack. But definitely getting back inside one of these race cars is something way different than you could ever explain. I mean, heck, it's been a couple of years since I've been at a race. I've run this car at a match race to keep my license current. But when you’re at a race and your lined up against everybody, it's nothing like being out at an NHRA Top Fuel drag race.
“Went a 3.76. Heck, I haven't been that fast in years. It could have been better. It kicked the rods out at the finish line but these are Top Fuel cars. You never know what's going to happen. I mean, it can happen no matter what. That's why when we put nitro in them, it happens. But this car is very, very capable of winning races and going fast, and it proved it Friday night.”
Massey ran a 3.769 elapsed time at 321.58 miles per hour in his first NHRA national event since 2019. He expected no less of a performance from a car fielded by Dakin, one of the Top Fuel divisions more seasoned nitro competitors.
”Pat Dakin, and I, we have such a good relationship,” Massey explained. “He goes back to when I first started driving Top Fuel with Mitch King. Pat decided to get his license back and go Top Fuel racing again and he actually got in Mitch King’s race car, the one I was driving at the time, and he got his license back and ran Indy.
“We've always had a very good relationship, and we drive the same. He knows exactly how I drive in that I respect the race car. I'm not going to abuse that throttle pedal and hurt the motor and so forth. So we have a very good relationship. But when I sit in his car knowing his history and knowing he's been out here doing this longer than anybody, like the Greek. Very awesome man, very down to earth, and he'll tell you how it is, and that's why he told me he wants me to drive. That's why I'm here. He called me and said, ‘You're driving. I don't want anybody else to drive. You're the one driving.”
Massey respects the car he’s driving, but Friday night’s mayhem came as a total surprise.
“Hundred percent,” Massey admitted. “I'm going down through there, and I'm thinking by eighth-mile like, ‘Alright, this thing's on a 3.70-something run.”
“I mean, it's moving pretty good. Put my hand up on the chute lever and going right through a thousand foot, hit the chutes, stepping off of it, and it goes KABANG. It looked like number one and two rod failure, might have been from bearings, it might have been from nitro, who knows with these motors. The last thing I want is to hurt a motor because this team and this guy does not like hurting parts. Scott Graham is a great crew chief. Known Scott for a long time from back in the Scott Palmer days. I worked as a clutch guy on Scott Graham’s car as him being a crew chief. So now, as a driver, I totally respect everything as, I don't want to hurt anything. Whenever I feel the rods hang out of it at the top end, I don't like it. That's like money out of my pocket, just like it's money out of Dakin’s pocket. We don't have a big sponsor. We don't really need a big sponsor because we just do this for fun, for the love of it, because we love this sport and we love to go fast.
“At the same time, I'm not going to abuse it and stand on the street corner and hand money out. I like to save money and save parts. So whenever something like that happens, it does hurt. It's a little bittersweet getting to drive the car and go fast. But then at the same time, I hate blowing stuff up, and I hate hurting the pocketbook, but it is what it is. It’s drag racing. If you can't expect that, then you shouldn't be here doing it.”
Massey has no intentions of returning to the NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series fulltime. He’s at a place in life where he’s enjoying everything it has to offer.
“Truthfully, I have more fun bracket racing,” Massey said. “I've been doing all my big money bracket races with my 1971 Nova and my dragster and I can see myself really doing that full-time, more than I could see myself doing Top Fuel full time. I like the cars. I can do it a few times a year with Pat Dakin or something like that. But other than that, I'm content having fun, living my life, going from bracket races to bracket races and seeing all the happy family and the people out there.
“My friend, Jeff Serra, just won $175,000 dollars last night. He's won over $400,000 just this year alone in bracket racing. Tell me you can do that anywhere else.”
FRIDAY NOTEBOOK - THE FORCES ARE THE FORCE, STEVE JOHNSON RIDING BLIND AND DEALS ALL OVER
KNOCKING ON THE DOOR - Growing up in drag racing, Brittany Force is aware of the legends and their great accomplishments. The second-generation drag racer entered this weekend's DeWalt Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals knocking on the door of a nearly 30-year old Top Fuel record.
In the 1982 and 1983 seasons, Gary Beck drove the Larry Minor Top Fuel dragster to nine consecutive No. 1 qualifiers. Friday night, Ms. Force pulled to within one race, at least provisionally, of Beck's longstanding mark on the strength of a 3.662 elapsed time at 331.85 miles per hour.
"It's incredible that this team has been able to carry that for, hopefully this could be eight races straight," Force said. "That's incredible. It's picking up bonus points. We're stashing away those number one qualifier hats. But again, we're looking for race day too. That's our focus. Tomorrow it's two more solid runs down the racetrack, grabbing those bonus points, and then winning this thing on race day on Sunday."
"It's my entire team involved in that. It's not just me as the driver. I always get the credit, but it's David Grubnic, and Mac Savage, and every single one of my guys that got us here. To that point, we're at seven in a row. That's just incredible. Very proud of all my guys."
Brittany Force is gunning for her eighth straight No. 1 start, one shy of Gary Beck’s Top Fuel record of nine straight starts over the 1982 and 1983 seasons. If she tallies that eighth consecutive, she also will break a tie with her dad for the John Force Racing team lead. John qualified No. 1 at seven straight events – the last six races of 1994 and the first race in 1995.
Force is one of only two women (with Erica Enders) to have won a pro race at zMAX and is trying to become the first woman to win both events. In 2016, Force won the 4-Wide and was runner-up to Steve Torrence at the Carolina Nationals in 2018.
Force said a big key to the success is the nature of tuner David Grubnic.
"He comes out and he wants to put the best number up on that board every single time we run," Force said. "On certain runs, race day, whatever it is, he debates, ‘should we pull it back and play it safe?"
"Every time we've done that, it hasn't worked to us. So with David Grubnic in our pit, it's throwing those numbers up, it’s the best that we can. That's what he does and why go against that? That's what he does and he delivers."
And when Grubnic delivers, Force does too.
CLEARLY ON A MISSION - One could easily conclude that 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force is on a mission.
Force, in Friday's lone qualifying session at the DeWalt Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals, drove his way to the provisional top spot with a 3.860 elapsed time at 332 miles per hour. If the run holds through Saturday's heat of the day sessions, it will mark the third time this season that Force has gone into Sunday as the No. 1 seeded driver.
By his own assessment; yes, Force is on a mission.
"I'm running out of time, if you want to know the truth," Force admitted. "I don't know what that timeframe is, but I love it. I'm healthy. I was in the gym today for two hours and I want to just race with these kids. And I just really love the racing. I love the fans and it's getting tougher because I'm getting older.
"The driving's the easy part, you know what I mean? If you don't let stress get you, and get caught up in the Countdown, I'm going to go down and wake up and see what happens at the end. But no, I just like it. A race car don't know how old you are. I can drive this thing. Not a problem."
Force is in for the fight of his career, in the midst of a handful of drivers all capable of leaving Charlotte with the points lead. After a runner-up finish at Reading he stands atop the ever changing leaderboard.
"It's a fight, but you got to look at the points. It's all jammed up," Force said. "There's five or six cars from Robert Hight, right up to the list. J.R. Todd and Capps, everybody within a few points, trying to win. So right now it's just a hair; we're just trying to stay in the game."
Consistency and not brute force, appears to be the old champ's trump card.
"Qualifying will give you a few points if you can stay there," Force said. "Tomorrow's a new day and we'll be running later in the day. Just depends on track conditions. But Bruton Smith, Marcus, this track here, the Bellagio we call it, it's just an excellent racetrack. And everybody's running pretty good out here."
YOU MEAN YOU HAVEN’T DONE THIS BEFORE? - It’s hard to imagine a driver who has already achieved so much success in Pro Stock by winning four races in his relatively short career may have finally gotten around to scoring his first career No. 1 qualifying effort during first-day competition at the DeWalt Tools NHRA Carolinas Nationals.
“If it holds, this would be the first pole position,” Aaron Stanfield said with a smile. “I guess I haven’t been holding the throttle down hard enough. But I held it down that time good.”
Stanfield stopped the Compulink timing system at zMax Dragway with a run of 6.575 seconds at 208.59 miles per hour.
“I got on the radio after that run, and I said, ‘That was a really nice run.”
“And obviously, It was. I was surprised to see it stand with some really good race cars behind me. But it was a cool feeling for sure.”
Stanfield said his Elite Performance-powered team doesn’t plan to rest on their laurels headed into the warmer Saturday sessions.
“I think we should try to improve,” Stanfield said. “There’s still a couple good cars that need to make some good runs. So I can’t say that it will or won’t hold up, but I hope it does.”
Saturday will present a challenge, unlike what he sees on Sunday. At least, this is how Stanfield sees it.
“When you’re getting ready for race day, you’re kind of getting geared up for race day,” Stanfield explained. “The conditions just lined up really good. The track cools down, the air cools down, and it’s favorable to make a fast run, and that’s what we did. So definitely, probably a little bit different between going for a pole position and race winning. But it’s the goal in mind is to keep the performance at the best we can and drive the best I can.”
WHAT THE BLANK? - When Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Steve Johnson pulls off something spectacular, tempering his enthusiasm isn’t an option. However, after riding his four-valve Suzuki to the provisional No. 1 Pro Stock Motorcycle run during opening day qualifying at the DeWalt Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals, he was a bit more subdued than usual.
Johnson, who entered zMax Dragway as the leader in Pro Stock Bike pits, was someone confused by what had transpired during the 6.807 seconds it took him to reach the finish line stripe while speeding along at 196.47 miles per hour.
Johnson couldn’t see.
“I’m still trying to process it,” Johnson admitted. “At the end of the day, to answer your question, I could not see in third gear. I literally could not see. I didn’t think about it because when I pre-staged and then staged and then backed up, I could see the lights go on and off. I looked over at the other lane, and I saw the pre-stage light. I could not see anything.
“Normally, you can see the bulb. You can see the whole round bulb; half of it’s lit, half of it’s not. So you can see the whole bulb. I could not see the whole bulb.
‘Steve Johnson, with my eyes, on this day, at that time could not see the bottom part. So I thought, ‘wow, that’s weird.”
“So when it did light up, and I did let go, I feel like I didn’t have a great light. So then I’m going down the track. In third gear, I push third gear, light comes on, and I look up and I could not see anything. I could see a little bit off to the left as I’m reliving it. But I could not see going down the track. Could not see where I was. I felt I was going to the right, and I was, but I just couldn’t see.”
THINK PINK - Cruz Pedregon and his sponsor Snap-on will use the new Socket to Breast Cancer car design to support breast cancer awareness raising funds for The Pink Fund® in the U.S. and Kelly Shires Foundation in Canada. Both organizations help breast cancer patients in their time of need, including Cruz’s sister Dora, who is a cancer survivor.
“Dora is doing well today and was grateful for the guidance and information she received from The Pink Fund when she was facing treatment,” Pedregon said. “We’re out here to win a race, but the real win is for individuals undergoing breast cancer treatment who see the paint scheme on the Snap-on® Dodge® and go to the ThePinkFund.org or KellyShiresFoundation.org to find out how these organizations can help them.
“For so many, both organizations help with a financial safety net that covers non-medical expenses like transportation, housing, utilities, and insurance during breast cancer treatment. Snap-on franchisees and their customers have raised more than a half million dollars for the work done by The Pink Fund and Kelly Shires Foundation, and we’re proud to be a part of it.
“Snap-on’s partnership with The Pink Fund has helped us to accomplish two things,” said Molly MacDonald, founder and CEO of The Pink Fund. “First, due to our logo on Cruz Pedregon’s car, attendees in person or on TV have an opportunity to learn about our mission to provide real help now and one less worry to breast cancer patients nationwide. Secondly, with the help of Snap-on, we have provided more than $5 million dollars in direct financial assistance to patient’s creditors for housing, transportation, utilities, and insurance.
“And, this fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, we are on target to provide $1 million in financial aid. Additionally, due to Covid-19 and the large number of people who have lost their jobs, The Pink Fund has expanded its eligibility to include spouses or domestic partners of patients whose income may have been affected by Covid-19 to apply for help when their spouse or partner is in active treatment for breast cancer.”
Molly has traditionally been a part of the unveiling of The Pink Fund paint scheme on Cruz’s Snap-on Dodge but will be watching it along with other fans on FOX and through Cruz’s social media posts.
Prior to the race, Snap-on created a diecast of the Socket to Breast Cancer paint scheme as a part of its breast cancer awareness campaign. The new design on the El Conquistador body features the Snap-on Socket to Breast Cancer logo on the hood, three main colors pearl white, dark titanium, and pink, with The Pink Fund and Kelly Shires Foundation logos on the wing.
Snap-on Franchisees will sell the diecasts and tools made in the three colors of the design across the United States and Canada to raise funds for each organization. For more information on these organizations, check out ThePinkFund.org and KellyShiresFoundation.org.
A HELATHY SHOT OF MARKETING - Justin Ashley has been proficient when it comes to bringing in sponsorship for outside of the mainstream companies. Friday at zMax Dragway, the 2020 Rookie of the Year introduced another new marketing partner.
Ashley announced VitaC Shot, an energy-boosting supplement mixture of Vitamin C, caffeine, magnesium, and Zinc, to provide sustained energy with zero sugar.
“I could not think of a better company for our program to partner with, than this company right here, and we’re grateful for the opportunity, and we’re looking forward to it,” said Ashley. “The great part about it is, it has the caffeine in it, it has the energy, but it’s more about the vitamins. It’s more about the minerals that are going to provide you with good health and make you healthy the right way, which is something that I absolutely love.
“I knew when Chip Lofton brought me this opportunity, having had a relationship in a professional capacity and a personal capacity with Chip, that this was a great product. He’s a great guy, and I’m just excited to continue working closely with Chip and working with Vita C Shot. And I think it fits in with our program perfectly, exactly what we want to do.
Ashley has built the Davis Motorsports dragster into a 320-mph billboard with healthy living with additional backing from Daily Crave Healthy Food Snack and RISE Brewing.
It’s no coincidence Ashley’s primary sponsors are pandemic-focused entities, Smart Sanitizer to improve sanitary health and now VitaC Shot, to create a stronger immune system.
“We’re living in a different world than we were before, just a few years ago,” Ashley explained. “So I think that a lot of these products like VitaC Shot have come to the forefront, and they’re looking for opportunities to brand. They’re looking for B2B opportunities. And I think that our racing program provides great opportunities to do that and capitalize in some different areas of the market.
“I think that part of it was by design, but at the end of the day, you have to have a good team around you. I’m fortunate to be blessed and surrounded by a lot of really great people to help me, Chip being one of them. And I think that it’s nice to see a product like this come full circle and be welcomed at the NHRA.”
FACING THE BELT ISSUES - This weekend, Top Fuel rookie Josh Hart will be trying out several new blower belts. After losing to Billy Torrence in the first round last weekend at Maple Grove Raceway, Hart will no longer use his previous suppliers of blower belts.
In June, Hart was defeated by 2020 Rookie of the Year recipient Justin Ashley in Norwalk, Ohio. During the elimination pass, Hart’s dragster suffered a blower belt issue.
At the U.S. Nationals, Hart admitted that there was an issue with a blower belt during his semi-final loss to Brittany Force, as well.
“We made a blower belt change,” Hart said. “We’re going to try out a couple of different companies in qualifying and make sure that we’re on point. I think once that problem is behind us; we can move forward right into the winner’s circle.
“I do not know if there is a shelf life for them, or if we were doing something wrong. I assume that we’re not. If you look at my first round at Norwalk, I got Justin Ashley off of the line and the same thing happened with the belt breaking and we losing power. Then, if you go to the Indy run, I began to look at that run against Brittany, the belt broke again.
“We then moved over to Reading, and it; it was almost the carbon copy of what had happened in Norwalk. We made some changes, and we upgraded our supercharger program upon my return. We’ll get it. I’m just going to run them once now as I’ll never take the chance to run them more than once. We’ll give them to the fans after the one run. Ron [Crew Chief Ron Douglas] and I have spoken, and I told him if the Torrence’s do not use it, I do not want it on my car.”
NEW PARTNERSHIP FOR MILLICAN - For the second time this season, Top Fuel driver Clay Millican has unveiled a medical industry-related sponsor.
Millican is racing at the DeWalt Tools NHRA Carolina Nationals with sponsorship from Nurtec ODT, a medication for the acute treatment of migraine headaches. However, the connection to the medical industry, is just a coincidence.
The partnership comes as a result of team Doug Stringer combining forces with Rick Ware Racing, a team that not only has four charters in the NASCAR Cup Series, but also fields an entry in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, NTT INDY CAR Series and NASCAR Pinty Series,
“This is mixing Doug Stringer’s drag racing world and the NASCAR World, which is where Doug spent many, many years before he came back drag racing, because he originally was a drag racer,” Millican explained. “Nurtec is a big part of Rick Ware Racing where he has multiple NASCAR teams and Indy Car teams.
“Doug and Rick actually ran into each other at the Indy car race in Nashville and this all kind of came about.”
Millican’s dragster will sport a different look, away from its traditional blue hues.
“The car looks really cool,” Millican said. “It was kind of neat to see the way this car turned out, because everybody’s like, ‘Man, this is really cool, the flat black thing”. And I’m like, ‘we did this 21 years ago.”
OPPORTUNITY AWAITS - Funny Car racer Robert Hight knows now is the time to make a move. This weekend’s race is the second of seven events in the NHRA’s playoff series. And while there’s one more event in the championship sprint series, he came into this weekend’s race ranked fifth and with a clear understanding that he cannot afford to not capitalize on the opportunity. ,
A standout performance here will put the Auto Club team in prime position for championship contention.
This season, Hight already has two wins to his credit at the SpringNationals in Houston and later at Sonoma Raceway’s NHRA Sonoma Nationals. He also accrued two runner-up finishes at the season-opening Gatornationals and the New England Nationals and a No. 1 qualifier at the Las Vegas Four-Wide event.
“We know what we need to do to get this thing done,” Hight said before Friday’s lone qualifying session. “This Auto Club team can do it. I have all the confidence in Jimmy Prock, Chris Cunningham and my entire team. We’re getting some consistency, which is what we need. Now we just need to keep it going, pick up points where we can, be aggressive and go after wins.”
If Hight is an opportunist, zMax Dragway provides the perfect opportunity for the crewman turned championship-winning driver. He has won more races at zMAX Dragway than any other Funny Car driver with six, and four of his wins have come at the Carolina Nationals (2009, 2013, 2017, and 2019). His 2019 win marked the 50th win of his career.
But wait ... there’s more! Hight is the track record holder for speed at 333.91 mph set in April 2017. This weekend,
Hight will be trying to extend to four the number of consecutive seasons he has won a Countdown race, the longest active streak in Funny Car. Hight also leads the Funny Car category in Countdown wins with 12.
“There’s no time to try and figure things out anymore; it’s time to get after it. This Auto Club team knows that,” Hight said. “We’ve had a lot of luck in Charlotte. Hopefully, that continues. We need to make good runs, clean runs, but we can’t be safe either. Jimmy and Chris, they’ll have this Chevy just right. I just need to do my job too.”
THE POTENTIAL IS THERE - Towards the end of the 2021 regular season, there were moments when Alexis Dejoria’s Bandero Premium Tequila ROKiT Toyota Camry Funny Car looked like it was running on a string.
Headed into Charlotte, the Funny Car team led by Del Worsham and Nicky Boninfante are trying to put their driver into the winner’s circle and in the middle of contention for the Funny Car championship.
“There is no doubt our Funny Car can run with anyone,” said DeJoria. “This Bandero ROKiT Toyota Camry gives me a lot of confidence when it rolls up to the starting line,” DeJoria said. “We have been talking about it for a couple races, but we just need to make some of our own luck. There are six races left in the playoffs, and that is plenty of time to start getting wins and moving up in the points.”
DeJoria has always found the palatial drag racing grounds of zMax Dragway conducive to her visions of excellence. In two of her previous three races at the track, she advanced to the semifinals. In 2014 she scored her second career No. 1 qualifier, and from 2013-2017 she started as the No. 5 qualifier twice and No. 4 and No. 1 qualifier once each.
“This is a quick and fast track,” said DeJoria. “We were the No. 2 qualifier at the Four-Wide Nationals earlier this season and raced to the final quad. Del and Nicky are doing a great job with the tune-up, and I know it is just a matter of time until we get our first win of the season.”
DeJoria entered the weekend as No. 8 in the Funny Car standings. The five-time Funny Car national event winner is five rounds out of first place with the addition of a handful of qualifying bonus points which the team regularly collects.
“We have a stretch of races at tracks where I have had success in the past, and that gives any driver confidence,” said DeJoria. “This team has been working together all season with one common goal to get that Funny Car championship. We are in a position to do just that and we need to dig deep and stay focused.”