2021 NHRA FALLNATIONALS - EVENT NOTEBOOK
TOP FUEL WINNER ASHLEY: ‘TODAY WAS ABOUT US. WE DESERVE THIS ONE.’ - For all the cowboys, all the pipeliners, all the Capco Construction customers, all the hunting buddies, all the friends and neighbors in Kilgore who were having homecoming parties, ready to celebrate another Steve Torrence NHRA victory, the beer went flat and the nachos suddenly went cold and soggy.
And they can blame Justin Ashley.
Last year’s rookie of the year derailed Torrence’s plans Sunday for a milestone 50th Top Fuel victory at Texas Motorplex, near Dallas, by claiming one of his own in his third final-round appearance of the year at the Texas FallNationals. It was Ashley’s second overall victory.
With that, Ashley asserted himself and inserted himself into the Top Fuel championship conversation. He eliminated both points leader Torrence and No. 2-ranked Brittany Force, along with top-five racer Billy Torrence, Steve’s father.
“It’s about one thing: It's about getting hot at the right time,” Ashley, the Vita-C Shot / Smart Sanitizer Dragster driver for Davis Motorsports, said. “Obviously, the regular season is you just wanting to set yourself up in a good position to win the championship. Once you're in [the Countdown], all bets are off. That's when the best teams in the world step up. It’s really satisfying to step up and get hot at the right time right now.”
The victory, which came by just five-thousandths of a second (or about three feet), got Torrence’s attention.
“Everybody’s been calling this a two-car race, but I guess they forgot to tell Justin,” Torrence said. “We’ve still got three races to run, and there are a lot of points still out there.”
Ashley said, “This is huge. There’s so many championships implications on the line right now. Getting this win against a competitor like Steve is absolutely awesome and it’s not because of me. I’m just along for the ride, having a good time. It’s because of this team. They’ve done an outstanding job. My job is just getting there and doing the best I can.
“You definitely got to be on you’re a-game in the finals, let alone against Steve Torrence. That's a Capco car. Whether it's Billy, Steve, Brittany, no matter who it is, you got to be on your A-game today. Fortunately, I was, and it worked out that time.”
Ashley advanced to the final round in August at Pomona and became ill with severe heat exhaustion and couldn’t run against Leah Pruett. He also got to the final in the Countdown kickoff at Reading, Pa., where he lost to Billy Torrence. But Sunday belonged to him.
“It was an incredible day. We had some really good competition, and we knew going into the day that's what we were going to have to go through. After qualifying, make no mistake about it, we looked at the ladder and we figured these are the guys and girls that we might have to go up against. I think the way we approached it helped us a lot,” Ashley said.
“I think for us, yeah, they're tough, they're great competitors, but it's exactly what we wanted. Right now, coming into this race, we were fifth in the points and we needed to gain some ground. Racing these incredible cars that are ahead of us gave us the ability to make up some ground. So just real happy we’re able to collect a win and get closer to that No. 1 spot,” he said.
“All weekend long, this car was on fire. It was super-consistent. “There’s no more margin for error. We have three races left. We had to capitalize on our opportunity, and I felt like we did a really good job of doing that. Love Steve. He’s an awesome guy. They’ve got an awesome team. But today it was about us.”
He made that happen with his winning 3.759-second elapsed time at 326.40 mph on the 1,000-foot course at Ennis, Texas, against Torrence’s 3.764, 321.81 that capped the week-long Stampede of Speed.
“This one right here,” Ashley said, waving his trophy, “is for Chip Lofton, Vita C Shot, and Strutmasters, for everyone at Kato, AutoShocker, everyone at Menards and all the awesome people that sponsor us. We’re bringing this trophy home” to New York’s Long Island.
Ashley praised crew chief Mike Green, whom he called “a baaaaad man.” He said of Green, “That guy is good” and said he felt “just fortunate to have him on our team. Excited to have him back next year.”
He said, “I think when you win a race like this, the key is the team, and everybody does their job. I think that the best teams in the world are the ones who have each individual do their job and do it to the best of their ability. It was a complete team effort today. The key was this crew, this team, how incredibly hard they work – they definitely deserve this win. I was fortunate. Did my job behind the wheel. Mike did an awesome job tuning this race car all weekend,” Ashley said.
“It’s nice, it’s definitely satisfying, to kind of throw our name into the [championship] mix, but it's satisfying because it's awesome. We're happy that we did it and we only concentrated on ourselves,” he said. “We can't control what Steve and Brittany and these other drivers do. They’re all in the top 10 for a reason, and they're all great drivers. The Top Fuel class is excellent, but we're happy for us because it puts us right back in the thick of things. Next week is personal. That's going to be a huge race where you continue to progress and move forward and learn and just continue to do very best we can.”
Maybe the folks on Long Island will be having their own parties this next weekend. Susan Wade
ANDERSON SEALS THE DEAL WITH 98 WINS - Finally.
It’s not so much Greg Anderson has to be concerned with winning one more race to pass Warren Johnson on the all-time wins list. He just doesn't have to field questions about when he's going to win his 98th career national event victory.
Anderson pulled off his monumental victory Sunday at the NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex, beating Texan Chris McGaha.
The so-called experts who said getting the first win is the toughest never had to win a No. 97 and No. 98. At least, this is how Anderson probably sees it.
"It’s been a big buildup and I’ve had such a fantastic race car all year," Anderson explained. "It was almost like impossible for it not to happen. But still, at the same time, there’s so many great guys in this class that are capable and want to and will whip your ass. It’s been happening so often, and so there’s no guarantee that would happen and who knows, come next year, maybe my car won’t be so damn good. You never know. So I know now is the time to get it done.
"I can’t say I put a lot of extra pressure on myself, but I certainly expected myself to step to the plate and get it done. I’d have been very disappointed if I didn’t get it done this year, especially with the Hendrick folks on the side of my race car. That’s 100% the reason he jumped on my car. He wanted to be a part of history, to be a part of this this great story. If I would have dropped the ball and not got it done, probably been a one and done with HendrickCars.com."
After qualifying No. 1 on Friday, Anderson worked his way through the field to make it to the final by beating Marty Robertson, Matt Hartford and Troy Coughlin Jr.
"Timing is everything," Anderson said. "Today, for this to happen, as soon as I stepped out of the car, I got a call from Mr. Hendrick at the finish line. Kyle Larson won today, too, with the Hendrick.com Chevrolet. Jim Campbell jumped on the phone, the president of Chevrolet, excited as can be. So big day for Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet altogether. I’m honored to be part of it.
"If I hadn’t got it done today then I would have dropped the ball. I would have not got it done for the whole team. So thank God I finally came through and got it done and it’s a relief. It’s a big relief, but at the same time nobody owes you any of this stuff. You got to go out and earn it every day and I tried awful hard all day long. I had a great car. I tried awful hard, but I just couldn’t seem to get that reaction time I was looking for. I struggled with the tree today and not sure why. I felt like I saw the tree well and everything was great. It wasn’t something that each round I could say I could fix for next round. The numbers just weren’t there. The ET slip said I wasn’t worth a darn on reaction time."
Anderson knows what Warren Johnson has said before. He's heard it. Records are made to be broken. However, Anderson, who worked for Johnson as a crewmember before he pursued driving, said he has immense respect for the drag racing icon he replaced in the record book.
"Tough day for Warren," Anderson said. "Well, I don’t know how to say that. I’m not going to make any bones about it; I respect the hell out of that guy. He taught me a ton, and I would not be here without everything that he taught me and everything he did for me. I learned a ton and I learned a ton of what to do. I learned a ton of what not to do, and I applied that to my next career, my next life, which was driving a race car and running a race team."
Anderson knew to win on Sunday he needed more than good reaction times and a fast car. His greatest gift came in the second round when Erica Enders, the defending series champion and his closest competition in the championship chase, lost to Aaron Stanfield. Anderson now leads her by 81 points.
"When I saw [Erica] lose second round, and I went up there. I staged for my run in the second round. I let the clutch out in it, and it spun the tires so hard and it shook so hard, and I have no earthly idea how it even made it through low gear, but it did," Anderson explained. "But it was ugly, ugly, ugly. I was scared to death to look over because I just knew I was beaten. I’m done. And when I got to the finish line, and my light came on, I just couldn’t believe it. I absolutely couldn’t believe it. I was saying all the way down the racetrack, 'what a joke. She loses, and she opens the door for me, and we completely dropped the ball."
"We got a hell of a break there, and we capitalized on it. We got some luck there and we made the most of it the rest of the day. If you don’t capitalize on your opponent’s miscues, you won’t win. You won’t be a champion."
So, is this win a down payment on a fifth NHRA World Championship?
"It's certainly is a great step that way," Anderson said. "Every time somebody asked me, is it a distraction trying to break this record? I tell them, 'Look, I come to the races to win.”
"I’ve told everybody else I’ve ever talked to, I come to a race to win, and nothing else is important to me and the points come secondary. Winning’s number one, but what comes right behind that? If you win, you get the most points. So why can’t I worry about trying to set the record? The record is to win the race. If I win the race, I get the most points and that goes a long ways towards winning a championship."
CAPPS REDEEMS HIMSELF IN TEXAS MOTORPLEX VICTORY - Hell hath no fury like a Funny Car driver who beats himself up over a mistake.
Ever since Ron Capps left the NHRA Midwest Nationals two weeks ago, admittedly, he was not the most fun person to be around.
Sunday, after beating Matt Hagan in a crucial Funny Car final round at the NHRA FallNationals hosted by the Texas Motorplex, Capps was more fun than they, say, a barrel of monkeys.
Last week? Not so much.
“It’s been a long two weeks,” Capps said. “I made a mistake that I don’t think I’ve ever made in 26 years in St. Louis, and it killed me. I mean, I was not happy to be around at home. I could not wait to get here, get in the race car and just get going again and try to redeem myself. I’ve got such a great crew. Right away they were like, ‘Hey, man, just don’t worry about it. We’re going to go on. We got a good car.”
“I felt like we had the car to win there in St. Louis. So that hurt that we lost those points and the lead. Then you have Force and JR [Todd] breathing down our necks. So today was one of those days.”
During his 110th career match-up against John Force, Capps was late on the tree and lost on a holeshot. Capps apparently became distracted when Force deep-staged.
At Dallas, Capps took redemption into his own hands and beat Matt Hagan on a holeshot. The victory put Capps at 33 points behind Hagan, who entered the event with a 31 point lead. Knowing how tough this season has been in Funny car, Capps caught himself wanting whatever it took to get a leg up on his Don Schumacher Racing teammate.
“You don’t wish ill on anybody out here, but I’m certain that when I was leading the points a few times this year they were hoping that I would smoke the tires, or we would lose early because you want to gain ground,” Capps said. “It’s only natural. So I was hoping Bob Tasca would do the dirty work second round when they had them.”
“Just a lot of stuff going on right now,” Capps said. “When you get in a car, and you got to sit all that time, there’s a lot of thoughts rolling around in your brain at this time of the year in the countdown that you’re just trying to shut it. You think of something and you go, ‘Get out of my brain, get out. I don’t want to think about that.”
“You’re talking to yourself in your helmet, trying to focus. And then you’re thinking, ‘Well, if we could do this.”
“You’re like, ‘stop it, stop it.” until it happens.”
“So just a lot of emotion going into that round win, and we’ll take it any way we can get it.”
Admittedly for Capps, who has run the roads for decades in NHRA Camping World Drag Racing Series competition, this season’s battle for the Funny Car championship is in a league of its own.
“Wilkie and Robert Hight and I were just talking and we’ve been through this fight quite often for a lot of years and it’s never been this tough top to bottom,” Capps said. “Yeah, it may have been closer at times, or you had some competition in years past. When I first came into Funny Car, you had Al Hoffman, Chuck Etchells; you had Jim Epler. Of course, John Force was dominating. There was a pretty stout group, and I was a young kid and wet behind the ears. Those were some cool days of just trying to pay respect to these guys but also get up and race them.
“I don’t think since then I’ve had that feeling like we’ve had in this countdown of top to bottom, anybody can win. Not each race, I’m saying the whole thing. So, yeah, it’s good to get a little bit of ground from third place and gain a little bit on Hagan and those guys. It’s nice to go right to Bristol and get it on and get a little breather before Vegas. But it’s going to be a lot of fun. There’s a lot going on right now. We want to finish the year strong as we can.”
MATT SMITH REASSERTS HIMSELF INTO NHRA PSM POINT LEAD - One would be wise to never count Rickie Smith’s boy out of anything.
Matt Smith, the son of one of drag racing’s most prolific doorslammer racers, hasn’t ridden his father’s coattails to prominence, but this doesn’t mean he hasn’t learned a thing or two from the crafty veteran along the way.
During the NHRA FallNationals, defending NHRA champion Matt Smith kept pace with points leader Steve Johnson, and when the colorful personality from Alabama faltered, the Denso-sponsored rider capitalized.
Smith stopped surprise finalist Hector Arana Jr. in the finals, and in doing so, took the points lead.
“We were pretty flawless all weekend,” said Smith. “We qualified number two, just a tick behind Steve Johnson and we were low every round today I think. Hats off to my guys, Nate Kendrick, and Angie, my wife and Cookieman, and Michael Ray. We got an awesome team to run the table here and collect the money from Billy Meyer for the quickest pass Friday night and get that cowboy hat and a brick. Since 2005, since I started my career, I’ve always wanted to win this race and never have, and just glad to get it done.”
The biggest obstacle Smith faced en route to the finals was in shaking off the dumb luck which has plagued him since the playoffs began.
“We’ve had the best bike all year,” Smith said. “Steve’s definitely stepped his program up and it’s just one of the things. We’re going to go head to head with him the rest of year, and hopefully we can pull this thing out and get a five-time and stop him from being a one-time. That’s the goal. We’re going to do everything we can for Denso, Lucas Oil, Mark Stockseth and Greg Butcher Trucking and everybody who helps us. That’s what we get paid to do and what we’re going to do.”
Given his druthers, he’d like to have beaten Johnson in a heads-up competition. Instead, Johnson’s bike lost fire in the semi-finals and also lost its advantage on the field.
“You don’t ever want to see your competitor lose like that, but when it’s the grand scheme of things, it happened to me here last year,” Smith said. “First round, I was number one qualifier and I couldn’t make first round because the bike wouldn’t even crank up. So it’s just one of them deals. Parts failure that got us at Reading. We had semi-finals won to race Steve in the finals and a parts failure. Obviously, he had a parts failure happen.
“You just gotta go over these bikes every second we can and try to save these things so we can have the best stuff come these last two races. You’ve got to capitalize on everything you do. We come in this race, we were 30 points down. We knew we needed to get bonus points. We didn’t get as many bonus points as he did, but we were close to him and we were number two qualifier right behind him, so we didn’t lose that many in qualifying points. When it all comes down, if I can win three more races, it doesn’t matter what anybody else does.”
Next weekend, the NHRA tour rolls into Bristol Dragway. Smith went to the historic facility many times as a kid with his father, who drag raced there, but never as a racer.
“I think it’s gonna be tricky. It’s kind of a rough track,” Smith said. “I’ve never raced there, but I’ve heard it’s really rough, and these motorcycles, we don’t have shocks, so that could be really iffy out there. We’ll see what happens. I’ll be interested first round to see how fast we can go spinning the tire because when you don’t have shocks on a bike, and you hit a bump, it just unloads the whole bike.
“We make a lot of power down track, so that’s kind of where it’s rough from the 330’ to the finish line, I’ve heard. We’ll see what happens, but hopefully we can run good there and do everything we can to get as many points as we can.”
NHRA – DALLAS – TEXAS FALLNATIONALS
AREND BRINGS BACK NITRO BANDIT BRAND, STANFIELD HELPS REVIVE PRO STOCK CLASS, IT’S FORCE NO. 1 & STEVE TORRENCE NO. 2 IN TOP FUEL AGAIN, JOHNSON REVEALS BIGGEST THREAT, BROWN BEFRIENDS YOUNG RACER
THE NITRO BANDIT RIDES AGAIN - Funny Car journeyman Jeff Arend isn't sure of his driving plans beyond the NHRA FallNationals this weekend. He is sure that he will have a grand time driving a tribute to an iconic nitro brand from the 1980s.
Arend is driving the Nitro Bandit for the Tuttle Brothers, Dexter and Brad, a throwback Mustang Funny Car emblazoned by the livery showcased by Brad in the mid-to-late 1980s.
The Tuttles have been working with Del Worsham, who was instrumental in getting the program moving forward.
With Worsham obligated as a tuner for Alexis DeJoria's Toyota Funny Car, bringing Arend into the fold was the only logical decision. Arend drove the Mustang in testing with good results.
The plan is for Arend to race the car this weekend, and Brad will begin the licensing process on Monday following the event. Brad plans to race the car in Funny Car Chaos competition.
Dexter, who is known for fielding Top Fuel dragsters previously driven by Steve Torrence and J.R. Todd, became interested in fielding a Funny Car when he attended the Funny Car Chaos event earlier this year at the Texas Motorplex.
Tony Shortall and Aaron Brooks have helped in preparing the car. - Bobby Bennett
STANFIELD HELPS BOOST PRO STOCK – Aaron Stanfield is 26 years old, but he said, “People ask me if I have a driver’s license.”
Evidently no one who asks him that ever has been to a drag race. If they had, they’d know he understands exactly what to do behind a steering wheel.
Stanfield is the newly crowned two-time Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) champion, cementing back-to-back titles at the previous race, at St. Louis. And he’s a top-five Pro Stock Countdown contender who entered this race just 51 points behind No. 4 Dallas Glenn and 167 behind leader Greg Anderson.
But Stanfield is doing more than chasing four-time champion Anderson in pursuit of his own first Pro Stock title. He’s helping change the face of the class as part of a wave of younger drivers eager to forge their own achievements like Anderson – and, shamelessly, at Anderson’s expense.
Stanfield, whose dad Greg Stanfield and grandfather Howard Stanfield raced before him, made his professional debut in 2014 at age 19. And though he has ushered in a wave of younger Pro Stock drivers who have turned around the conversation about the class, along with 2018 champion Tanner Gray and fellow FSS champ Drew Skillman, Stanfield is more of a veteran than some of the new generation.
Until December, Mason McGaha still is 19 and Glenn 31. Cristian Cuadra is 22 and brother Fernando Cuadra Jr. 25, and Robert River is 28. Barely in the 30s are Vincent Nobile (30), Troy Coughlin Jr. (31), and Kyle Koretsky (32).
But Stanfield and his contemporaries are revitalizing a class that as late as two or three years ago teetered on the brink of collapse. Anderson affirmed that today, Pro Stock is healthy and growing, saying, “We all say we need young blood in the class, and we absolutely have it. It used to be all old people like me, and now I'm probably one of one or two guys that are older. So the class switched, and that’s what it has to do to continue.”
Stanfield said, “I think that is really good. And you can walk through the Pro Stock pits and you wouldn’t hear one person say a bad thing about that.”
The expectations that puts on him don’t faze him. “I think it’s a good thing,” Stanfield said. “The only way the NHRA or drag racing, period, continues to grow is you have to have youth. You have to have new people. Greg Anderson’s still bad to the bone, but he won’t be able to drive a Pro Stock car forever. So that knowledge has to be passed down. The torch has to be handed off at some point. And I think it’s great that we’re seeing some youth in Pro Stock. And I’m happy and excited to be a part of it.”
He said, “Pro Stock’s in a good place but way different than it has been in the past. It’s in a really good state, as far as availability of it, and we have a lot of youth in it. I think it’s important for the health of our sport. I would probably say that as far as new blood and youth, Pro Stock is the best right now. I think it is more affordable than it was when my dad raced. With the RPM limits and certain things they’ve done, it’s definitely made things more affordable.”
Stanfield cautioned that “it’s not as simple as just picking up the phone and calling someone and saying, ‘Hey, I want to drive a Pro Stock car.’ But the availability of going to these big-name teams and being able to compete at a high level very quickly. And a lot of it can be based on you. I guess you could say it microwaves you. If you look at Greg Anderson, Erica Enders, you go look at their starts – or my dad – they didn’t start out with what a lot of the younger guys that are in it right now have the opportunity to start out with. It has taken them a long time to get to that top level of performance.”
He clarified that he isn’t saying this new crop of Pro Stock drivers is entitled.
“I would say Dallas and myself, we both put in a lot of time in drag-racing, period, to be able to put ourselves in a good position and get around the right people to help us chase our dreams,” Stanfield said. “But at the end of the day, I didn’t start a Pro Stock program and end up where we’re at. I mean, we’ve gotten around the right people. The Elite team has done a great job with putting me in a good position to do well.”
For Stanfield, the key word is work. That’s what makes Stanfield a bit of a throwback who might have been completely comfortable in the heydays of Bob Glidden, Warren Johnson, and the drag-racing pioneers who built, serviced, and raced their own cars.
“It is hard work. I always said since I’ve started that I’ve eaten it, I’ve slept it, and I’ve breathed it. And I’ve been very fortunate to be around some really good people that have helped put me in good places,” he said.
Along the way, Aaron Stanfield had to juggle his racing career with business classes at Louisiana State University-Shreveport. He said, “College was a challenge, because opportunities were starting to pop up in the drag-racing world, so I had to learn how to juggle being able to go to school and start to build a career for myself at the same time. It was something that was very important for me, and I did well. I was taught to take a lot of pride in anything I ever do.”
He said his dad, Greg, who reached the semifinal round Saturday in Super Stock competition, “built the name for himself, and he started me with a great foundation to continue to build. What he has accomplished, in my eyes, is he’s one of the greats of drag racing, in the sense of Pro Stock and sportsman racing and engine building, as well. My goal isn’t to fill his shoes. It’s kind of to build my own path.”
At the shop back home at Bossier City, La., the Stanfields focus primarily on the four Factory Stock Showdown cars they prep: the ones for Aaron Stanfield, Stephen Bell, Arthur Kohn, and David Janac.
“It’s mostly all NHRA stuff. Just about any class, we’ve worked on engines. We have a lot of different customers throughout the sportsman ranks. We’ve had four cars on the Factory Stock Showdown this year that we basically call our house cars.”
In FSS, Stanfield drives a COPO Camaro for the Janac Brothers, “but it’s all our stuff. From top to bottom, it’s our package: engine, chassis, tuning, everything. The Pro Stock stuff, Elite does the engines. We don’t do anything to do with the engines on the Pro Stock side.”
Stanfield said the gang at the shop is a small but hard-working contingent.
“It’s myself, my dad, my uncle [Mike Stanfield], and Collin Jackson and Conner Statler, who are both SAM Tech graduates,” he said. “My uncle and my dad are the ones we lean on inexperience and knowledge. My dad and uncle work very hard, but a lot of the hands-on work being done is done by the young guys: myself, Conner, and Collin – with leaning on my dad’s experience. He lets us learn. He teaches us. Of course, learning’s always a challenge. It’s a lot of hours to be at the top of our game. We all eat, sleep, and breathe it. We practically live together. We spend a lot of time at the shop, working, and on the road, racing. They both work with Arthur Kohn, who races Showdown with us.
“I personally saw myself in them in many ways,” Stanfield said of Jackson and Statler. “You know, it’s something I don’t see often: young guys as interested as I am in the sport. It was something I wanted to have around me. They both come to work for us at the shop, and it has been really fun. They’re a blessing to us. They work in the engine shop. They’re very heavily involved in the engine shop, and they’re very involved at the racetrack. Connor takes care of my car and David Janac’s car, as far as servicing between runs. Anytime we make decisions, we try to make them as a team. They’re both extremely involved in all parts of our program. It’s just learning and always trying to get better. In the grand scheme if things, it’s been around for a few years, but it’s still a new class. So it’s ever-changing, and you’re always trying to get better. It’s been challenging, for sure. And we also do a lot of engine customers, as well.”
Factory Stock Showdown has captured the Stanfields’ fancy.
“It’s always a step to hop in a brand-new class, no doubt. But it’s something that we think is really important to drag racing. It’s just the fact of having the manufacturers compete against each other is something that we want to be involved in and be part of the evolution of it,” Aaron Stanfield said.
“Both classes obviously are very expensive. Pro Stock has been refined for a really long time. Even though it changed to EFI, it’s still 500-inch, naturally aspirated engine that’s been refined for a long time. So being that the Showdown class is new, there’s just a lot of development that goes along with it.”
He said, “I definitely would say I take a lot of pride in how the car runs. That definitely means a lot to me. That’s part of the reason I enjoy so much this class. It’s something we’ve all worked really hard to do well in. It’s a lot of fun. That’s one of the reasons we enjoy it so much.”
Greg Stanfield won 13 national events and earned four national Super Stock championships (1990, 1992, 1993, 1994). He competed in five classes: Pro Stock, Pro Stock Truck, Stock, Super Stock, Competition Eliminator. Aaron Stanfield, who drives the Janac Brothers entries in both the NHRA staple Pro Stock and the relatively new Factory Stock Showdown, has experience, as well, in the Stock, Super Stock, Super Comp, and Top Dragster categories.
Aaron Stanfield’s 2020 achievements alone included earning the Factory Stock Showdown (FSS) championship in his Chevrolet COPO Camaro by winning five of the series’ six races (including the renowned U.S. Nationals, which his dad won in 2010 in Pro Stock). He won three trophies in one day at Houston, claiming his first Pro Stock victory with Elite Motorsports, winning the FSS race, and secured his first title. On top of that, he took the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Division 4 Top Dragster championship.
This season, Aaron Stanfield entered the Countdown with three Pro Stock victories (at Epping, N.H., and Sonoma and Pomona in California) in four finals. And at St. Louis in September, he clinched a repeat of his FSS championship. He continued to dominate his Division 4 Top Dragster standings.
For all his “driver of the future” sort of label, Stanfield hasn’t thown a whole lot of his attention into EVs, which earned a class in the NHRA’s Summit E.T. Series starting next year.
“I think it’ll take a while for that to take in drag racing. Everybody that’s in drag racing right now probably isn’t 100 percent on board with it. If that’s where the manufacturers are going, it might be something that’s way off in the future, that people might take a little more interest in. I’m an engine guy, not necessarily into the electric stuff, personally. But I think the innovation of everything is really cool. But we aren’t personally involved in any of the eCOPO stuff.”
Just the same, he said he’s glad to see motorsports titan Tony Stewart making exhibition passes in Ford’s eCobra Jet Mustang.
“I think that is really good for the sport, personally,” Stanfield said.
HOME RACE MAKES FOR WILD WEEKEND – For the eighth time in 17 races, Brittany Force has qualified No. 1 and Steve Torrence No. 2. It happened Saturday here at Texas Motorplex after identical results at Las Vegas, Charlotte 1, Denver, Sonoma, Brainerd, Indianapolis, and Reading.
But Torrence isn’t worried about that, especially not here. In his past six starts on his home track, the Kilgore, Texas, native has advanced to the final round four times, won twice, and compiled a 16-4 eliminations record. Last year, the Capco Contractors Dragster tandem of Steve and father Billy Torrence registered its third straight FallNationals victory in historic fashion when son defeated dad in an all-Torrence final round. In 2019, Steve Torrence exited, uncharacteristically, in the first round at this venue, but Billy Torrence brought the trophy home.
None of that makes this race a wild on for Torrence. What makes it chaotic is the fact that he has invested time and energy in helping support Texas Motorplex to make this Stampede of Speed successful and the fact that he has so many friends and well-wishers that he hardly can focus on the task at hand during a weekend like this.
“We love being able to race in front of family and friends at the Motorplex,” Torrence said, “and we’ve been blessed to have had a lot of success. But this championship battle isn’t over. We’ve got the points lead, but there’s still a lot of racing to do [16 more rounds in the Countdown]. Our goal is to stay consistent and keep our focus, and that’s always tougher when you’re racing at home.
“Everybody wants you to know they’re pulling for you,” he said. “They all want to shake your hand and give you some words of encouragement. It’s a great problem to have, but it makes it harder to maintain focus. We just have to go out and do what we’ve been doing. It’s worked pretty good so far.”
Last month, Torrence he invited Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to sit in the cockpit of his Capco Contractors Dragster to promote the Texas Fall Nationals and its week-long Stampede of Speed event that the governor called “a major boost to travel and tourism and to our economy.” From the race-car seat, Gov. Abbott signed a bill providing funding to the Texas Motorplex under the state’s Major Events Reimbursement Program. He said the gesture is aimed at “attracting even more economic activity to the Lone Star State.”
Torrence entered the Texas Fall Nationals with 49 victories, more than 400 career round-wins (403), and a 46-7 race-day record. His 49 trophies tie him with veteran standout Doug Kalitta for fifth place on the class’ all-time victories list. He also earned the 2005 Top Alcohol Dragster national title in the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series, the first ever to achieve championships in both of those categories.
He entered this event 36 points ahead of Force, but she has whittled that margin doen to 32 heading into race day.
“We’re just trying to win the Fall Nationals,” he said. “These Capco Boys are the best in the business, and if I win one or 50 or 100 races, it’s not because of anything I’ve done. I just drive the best race car out there. That’s it. To me, 49 wins means that’s 49 times I didn’t screw up, because a lot of times I do.”
BROWN MAKES YOUNG RACER’S DAY – Three-time Top Fuel champion Antron Brown has a 10-yearold admirer from Lake Charles, La., a Jr. Dragster eighth-mile ace in the 8.90-second class named Phillip Mouton.
And before qualifying began Friday, Brown gave young Phillip a thrill he never will forget.
Phillip, it turns out, received a Jr. Dragster for Christmas but wasn’t going to make a pass with it until Brown signed the rear wing of the half-scale dragster.
Brown said Phillip’s parents “haven’t given it to him so they could bring it here so I could sign it for him.”
The Mouton family arrived at Brown’s pit two hours before the driver did Friday morning. And the wait was worth it. Naturally, Brown, whose three children have raced Jr. Dragsters, accommodated Phillip and his family.
With that, he cried and told mom Renee and dad Brandon, “My dream came true.”
Then during late Friday night qualifying, Top Fuel driver Joe Morrison’s engine let go in a ball of flames as Brown sat in the staging lanes directly behind, in the next pairing.
A bit fearfully, Phillip told his parents, “I don’t want Antron to get hurt.” He didn’t.
Brown appreciated Phillip’s loyalty, saying, “He’s just a cool kid.”
GLADSTONE HOPES LUCK TURNS – Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Joey Gladstone started the year in the hospital in Florence, S.C., with a long list of serious injuries from a testing accident at Darlington. Amazingly, he recovered enough to start the NHRA season in March at Gainesville, Fla. But then this fall at Charlotte, where he was focused on moving up in the Countdown, teammate Cory Reed’s bike crashed into him during their side-by-side match in Round 2. Reed, who also was a Countdown racer, is recuperating from a broken leg at home in Virginia. Gladstone was unhurt, and he finished the race at zMAX Dragway as runner-up to Angelle Sampey because his engine lost power when he was ahead downtrack.
Gladstone said Saturday that his situation “has gotten easier as time goes on. But when it happened, it definitely stung. I don't know what I did to deserve that kind of bad luck, but it's racing. I proved to myself that I can put myself in a position to do it again. So that's a plus on that.”
Encouraged that perhaps he’ll be encountering a streak of good luck soon.
“Maybe. This year doesn't seem that way,” he said. I'm banged up, my best friend’s at home banged up, but he's got to keep on keeping on.”
Gladstone said Reed “is doing well. He's a warrior. He’s itching to get back. He's had a couple surgeries. His leg is banged up pretty bad, but he’s got a good hospital right there in Richmond. It’s going to be a long road to recovery. But if anybody can do it, he can.”
BIKE CLASS, QUALIFYING LEADER PAYS RESPECT – The answer might have been surprising – if the racer had been anyone but Steve Johnson.
“Who's the biggest threat for you out here?” was the question the Pro Stock Motorcycle points leader and top qualifier at the Texas FallNationals pondered Saturday evening.
He replied, “Myself. That’s what our advisory council would say.”
Actually, Johnson wasn’t being smart-alecky. He threw a measure of truth into that. Then he said, “I think, in all fairness, in all respect, they all are. Everybody’s a threat, but I know that in life we all fight these things.
“We had quite some struggles. I lost my temper, and I never lose my temper. I’m so excited. This yellow hat [for leading the field into eliminations Sunday] means so much to me and the sponsor, the people that come to say thank you, the competitors . . . That’s so cool. They know we’re not the highest-funded team. They know we have the smallest [crew], and they know we work. It’s nice to have that respect, but at the same time, I give it right back. They’re all threats.”
UNDERDAHL TEAM IMPROVING – Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Jimmy Underdahl scored his season-best qualifying position Saturday at No. 10. And it’s proof that all the new systems on his bike are starting to benefit him.
His dad and crew chief, Greg Underdahl, said “everything is new and exciting” with their program: “Different ignition, fuel injection, all that. We never had fuel injection up until the last race. We ran it in Charlotte. Fuel injection’s a little bit different than it was back a few years ago, so it’s a lot of learning curve.”
Greg Underdahl confessed that he’s late to the party when it comes to fuel injection.
“We kind of are. I’m old-school – I’m an old-school guy. I stuck to the carburetors as long as I was allowed. It’s based on the new four-valve engine. The two-valve engine, we probably could have been better with it and continued. But that’s not the future. The future’s where we’re going,” he said, lamenting that “it’s all more expensive. Racing’s expensive.
“We’ll figure it out,” Underdahl said. “We’re die-hards. We’ve been out here for 32 years.”
Jianna Salinas, who grabbed the No. 16 position Saturday, is part of the Underdahl team. And Greg Underdahl said the young rider is “coming along. She’s riding better and better all the time, getting more confident. She knows she’s still green, but she definitely has made a lot of improvement and her confidence level is greater.”
BALDWIN ADDS THIS RACE TO HER HECTIC SCHEDULE, HARTFORD TEAM REFRESHED, LAUGHLIN LOVING TOP FUEL, FUNNY CAR SCRAMBLE BENEFITS TODD, KING IN HIS OWN CAR FOR FIRST TIME IN 10 YEARS
Krista Baldwin hadn’t planned to be driving her Top Fuel dragster here at Dallas.
Intense planning for the upcoming SEMA Show on behalf of Paul Lee’s Wharton Automotive Group has been occupying her 9-to-5 world. She still is General Manager for Lee’s Funny Car team. And even when she isn’t racing the car she and her grandpa, Chris Karamesines, own together – and are in the process of transitioning the sole ownership to her – she still has to attend to the business of that.
So the NHRA’s FallNationals at Texas Motorplex, just south of Dallas, wasn’t on her agenda. But the Stampede of Speed and the excitement surrounding that lassoed her in.
“When we were discussing what our plans for the Top Fuel car were going to be for the year, Dallas was not on the list. I was originally planned on attending Lucas Oil’s Brainerd Nationals, but I had to back out at the last minute. And with the Stampede of Speed available, I knew I had to attend,” Baldwin said. “But in the back of my mind, I knew this was during my busiest weeks as a Creative Director [for McLeod / Wharton Automotive Group]. But I’m very lucky to be working with people who believe in me and help me accomplish everything I need to do for the next few weeks.
“But don’t kid yourself,” she said with her trademark smile and laugh, “I still wake up in the morning, visualize being in the dragster and exercising my reaction times. It’s called balance!”
Devoting time to this appearance, her fifth race overall and first since Indianapolis, hasn’t been at the top of the list every day.
“So we are a few weeks out from the SEMA show in Las Vegas. This is traditionally my busiest time for work, as I coordinate the booth at the show. And this year we are representing the three companies of the Wharton Automotive Group: McLeod Racing, FTI Performance, and Silver Sport Transmissions. You can only imagine what it takes to set up a 20- x 50-foot booth at the biggest show of the year – but I live for it,” Baldwin said.
The learning curve on both the team-ownership and driving fronts, she said, “has been difficult but welcoming at the same time. I have confidence that I will be able to continue with what my grandpa has built as his legacy, and I’m honestly more excited than ever. And of course, he will still be by my side if I ever need anything, and I will still be able to have his advice whenever I need it.
“But this is a huge chapter in my journey to what I have only dreamed of doing,” Baldwin said. “I want to show that I will work hard for this opportunity, but I am also going to live in the moment. If life has taught me anything, it is to live in the moment. Don’t get too caught up in the future. Although it is inevitably going to surface, enjoy the ride.”
She said she tries “not to think of how long the period in between races are. Honestly, I’ve been so busy, I don’t even know if I would have been able to compete at another race in between now and Indy. Obviously if the opportunity presented itself, I would have made time. Hahahaha! And we only have a limited crew, so it takes us a while to turn the car around for the next race.
“But with that being said, I’m still a fan, and I still have my hospitality/social media/general manager role with Paul Lee. So although I have not been in the seat, I still have been at most of the races. And each time I go to the races, I am always studying on how a driver will react to different situations or how each person has a different starting line routine,” Baldwin said.” So I’m not just some sitting duck when I’m not in the car – I am still learning everything about Top Fuel, just in a different perspective this year.”
She said she and Katie Buttera “have some fun activities planned to interact with our fans” this weekend. Be sure to check it all out on social media for your chance to win.”
Apparently Baldwin’s name has been tossed into the rumor mill about the 2022 season.
“Someone asked me a few days ago if any of the crazy rumors coming out of Brownsburg [Indiana, home to many NHRA teams] will involve me and my career - to which I responded, ‘You’ll just have to wait and see! Happy Silly Season!’”
HARTFORD, TEAM REFRESHED – The weariness was showing in Matt Hartford’s face when he exited the most recent race on the Camping World Drag Racing Series tour, at St. Louis. He and his Pro Stock team needed a break, needed to step back and recapture their purpose. They did, and they’ve regained their resolve, ready to move up in this Countdown to the Championship.
“The Total Seal /CIP1 team is excited to return to Dallas. We had tested the week prior to Indy and certainly did not perform to our expectations over the last four races. Everyone on our team, including myself, welcomed the weekend off to regroup after a long five weeks on the road,” Hartford, the Houston winner at the SpringNationals earlier this season, said.
“As with any competitive environment, frustration builds when you are not achieving your goals,” he said. “Over the past two weeks, we were able to support the grand opening of a new Carquest from Jason Curry in Iowa. Our transporter and car were on display for the weekend. KB worked hard on our engines to make sure we have the best power possible, while all of us on our team focused on our day-to-day businesses.
“Our team races because we love the challenge of winning, the camaraderie at the track with racers, customers, and fans, and the fact that we have fun. We are all returning to Dallas recharged and ready to return to the winners circle.”
His team hosted another edition of Trackside Tech Talk at his pit Friday morning, as Keith Jones of Total Seal Piston Rings and Ed Kiebler of Rottler Manufacturing spoke directly with fans and automotive-industry enthusiasts about a broad range of topics, including honing and cylinder sealing.
For nearly 20 years, Jones has provided technical support globally for Total Seal, which supplies piston rings to some of the quickest and fastest race cars on the planet. His expertise comes from working with race teams and engine builders not only in drag racing but also in such motorsport sanctions as NASCAR, the NTT IndyCar Series, FIA Moto GP, World of Outlaws sprint cars, and the GT sports car racing series. Kiebler has nearly 50 years of experience with the fabrication/production, assembly, and sales of automotive engine remanufacturing. And he has spent more than 35 focusing on honing. Like Jones at Total Seal, Kiebler has traveled extensively to solve issues and visit with customers as they have shared their engine-rebuilding plans and projects across a variety of motorsport forms. Rottler Manufactuiring is based at Kent, Wash.
Hartford is President and CEO of Phoenix-headquartered Total Seal Piston Rings, in addition to racing in the Camping World Drag Racing Series. He plans to host another Trackside Tech Talk at the Oct. 29-31 national event at the Las Vegas Nationals.
LAUGHLIN GETTING HIS LEGS IN TOP FUEL CLASS – Top Fuel’s Alex Laughlin, who has driven a variety of race cars and adapted well to each, took on a new job this week while waiting to make his fifth appearance in the Havoline Dragster for Scott Palmer Racing.
He busied himself applying decals to Palmer’s new pit bike, a 58th birthday gift Sept. 11 from the team owner’s girlfriend, Crystal Shiveley. Palmer owns a Harley-Davidson motorcycle that he has tricked out to pay tribute to one of his heroes, the late Evel Knievel.
Laughlin said, “A friend of mine [Nico Lattanzio, of Boyd, Texas] owns this little graphics company, Vibes Decals, and all of my friends and I have these little pit bikes that we race around here. Our friend Nico makes these decals specifically for these bikes. So when Palmer ended up with this, I thought, ‘Man, how cool would it be to get custom graphics done?’” When he learned about the patriotic paint scheme on the bike, he told Shiveley, “Send me that picture and I’ll have him match it up.” Lattanzio “did a pretty awesome job,” Laughlin said. “This thing looks rad.”
His own performances in the Havoline Dragster aren’t bad, either, especially for a class newcomer. In his debut, at Denver, he qualified fifth and was the first victim of upstart Joey Haas, who reached the final round that day. Laughlin started the U.S. Nationals from the top half of the ladder – following Bruce Larson, Paul Longnecker, and Dave Connolly as only the fourth to qualify at the marquee race in both Top Fuel and Pro Stock. He ran down Justin Ashley, no trifling feat, in the first round for his first Top Fuel round-win before running into No. 1 qualifier Brittany Force. Laughlin also competed at Topeka and Charlotte for Palmer.
“I was supposed to run Pro Mod in Denver, and Richard Freeman, who owns Elite, didn’t want to take the cars to Denver. And I had a huge sponsor commitment for that race. It’s a huge market for Havoline,” Laughlin said. “I told him I had to be there. And he told me, ‘Tough luck. Find something else.’ So I did. After getting into the Top Fuel car, I loved it. Palmer’s great, and his whole group is awesome.”
His departure from Elite Motorsports wasn’t as amicable as he had hoped it might be.
“It was just the right time for me to move on,” Laughlin said.
“In all reality, I don’t have the funding that some of my other teammates over there have. So as everybody else kept bringing more and more money on, I just started struggling more and more,” he said. “I couldn’t keep up with the Joneses, you know?
“My exit was as professional as possible, and I really wanted to keep it that way. But things ended up kind of hitting the fan over there, anyway. As far as everybody else over there, I love everyone on the team to death. But at the end of the day, I decided to do what’s best for me and my future and career. And so Palmer has offered me a home here, and these guys are fantastic. And I’m just happy to be here. It’s awesome – I’m running Top Fuel now.”
It’s odd to hear Laughlin say he had a hard time getting sponsors, because he’s a real go-getter when it comes to the chase for racing dollars.
“That’s just a testament to how hard it really is,” he said. “I work every single day, trying to put deals together, deals for sponsorship, business-to-business deals where my sponsors can work amongst each other to generate revenue and help pay a commission on the backside or stuff like that. You just have to be extra-creative, and it’s harder than ever. I’ve never had an agency or anybody helping me with securing funding. I’ve done everything completely by myself. And it’s tough. It’s very, very tough.
“A prime example is look at Tony Schumacher,” he said, referring to the eight-time Top Fuel champion who leads the all-time class victories list with 85. “He’s been around forever, and the first thing I thought whenever they parked his car was, ‘If Tony Schumacher is getting parked, that verifies that nobody’s safe.’
“These cars are so expensive to run, and NHRA keeps taking away purse money and just making it harder and harder. How is somebody supposed to be able to come out and compete, even on a part-time schedule, when it costs so much to run an event? They can do things to help police what the costs are. But you’ve got teams out here that have huge, huge budgets, some of them that don’t even require a sponsor, that are just privately owned teams and they race because they want to. When you’re competing against something like that, it makes it harder than ever,” he said.
The Texas native, from Granbury, near Fort Worth, was pragmatic about his chances to swipe the $15,000 bonus Friday for being the provisional No. 1 qualifier: “In all honesty, we’ve got as good of equipment and crew as anybody else. So this deal is ‘How hard do you want to run, and how much money do you want to spend?’ You can earn the No. 1 qualifier spot to get the $15,000, but it’ll cost you $25,000. It would be cool.” Of the Stampede of Speed extravaganza that Texas Motorplex General Manager Andy Carter has organized and executed successfully this week, Laughlin said, “This is a cool deal, for sure.”
WHY NOT ME AGAIN? – JR Todd, who’s lurking in fifth place and eager to make a big move this weekend in the Funny Car standings in Kalitta Motorsports’ DHL Toyota Camry, knows he has a strong chance to do that.
“The Funny Car class has been close all season,” he said. “A lot of guys have had the points lead this season. And since the start of the Countdown, it seems like there is a new points leader after every race.”
Todd started the year as the leader with his victory at Gainesville, Fla. Then Bob Tasca III took command for eight races. Since the start of August, at Pomona, the lead has become a round-robin among Ron Capps, John Force, and Matt Hagan. But Todd has a plan to break that cycle of Don Schumacher Racing / John Force Racing game of hot potato.
“If we can keep going rounds on Sunday and knock out some of these Countdown cars, we will be in a good position for the final races of the playoffs. We have four more races this season [counting this weekend’s], and I feel really good about how this DHL Toyota Camry can perform at each of those tracks.”
Todd, the 2018 Funny Car champion, is 115 points off Hagan’s pace but less than one round of racing (16 points) behind No. 4 Cruz Pedregon. And Pedregon is just 27 points behind No. 3 Force. To keep the rhythm going, Force trails No. 2 Capps by only 13 points.
DRAGSTER BACK IN KING’S HANDS – A funny thing happened to Mitch King’s La King’s Confectionery Dragster when it came brand-new out of Murf McKinney’s shop at Lafayette, Ind. Several other racers got the benefit of it more than King did, and eventually he sold it – and bought it back home to Galveston two months ago.
“This car was built for me in ’09, and then we licensed Ron August, Keith Murt, and a few other people in it, and I ended up selling it to Keith Murt. It changed hands a couple of times. Terry Brian ended up with it, and I bought it back a couple of months ago,” King said of the circuitous life of the surprisingly still-rather-new dragster.
“I was kind of looking for a few cars, but I wanted to get this one back because it’s a twin to the car that Spencer Massey and Del Cox drove to the [IHRA] championship. Belly pans and bodies and all that will interchange. I’ve got three bodies that’ll fit this car. All the spare parts are all alike. That’s why this car was appetizing,” King said.
“It doesn’t have a lot of races on it. Terry didn’t make but two or three. We’d only made 12 races with it with Keith driving it. So it probably don’t have 20 races on it since it was built.,” he said.
“We made a shakedown run against Scott Palmer Monday night [in the Stampede of Speed Nitro Side Show], which was the first time we cranked it and made a hit since I got it back two months ago. Everything was doing what we told it to. We only went about a second and a half, but it had an .845 60-foot time. It basically looks like we only warmed it up. The motor was happy that far.”
King’s strategy is set for the weekend in his reacquired entry which sports La King’s Confectionery and Out Da Ditch Crawfish, a Texas-Louisiana business that belongs to Danny Bell.
This weekend King will have veteran crew chief Donnie Bender tuning. King said, “He was available, and to have somebody of his caliber is exciting. We’ve been down here since last Thursday, putting this all together. I went to Eddyville [Iowa] with Palmer, just to hang out. I stopped and saw Terry [Brian, in Overton, Texas] on the way home. Two weeks later, I made a deal on this stuff he had left over. And we did all this in the last seven weeks.
“We’ll go a little further Friday during the day. If it looks good, we’ll go a little further Friday night. I don’t know if we’ll try to make a full pull Friday night, because we want to sneak up a little bit [on it]. We’ve got a lot of new stuff on there and a lot of different management. We need to go a couple hundred more feet, then a couple hundred more feet before we’re ready to go all the way.
“This is the first race in my car in 10 years,” he said of this weekend’s FallNationals. “I got my license back in Terry’s [Haddock’s] car right before Houston, and I drove his car at Houston.” King qualified 14th at his home track – where he began his Top Fuel career in 2002 – and lost to fellow Texas Steve Torrence in the first round of eliminations as the engine expired.
“I brought the altered up here [to Ennis] and ran it. The Bone Bucket [his longtime fuel altered] is getting front-halved. We’re going to run it some next year, and it’ll be freshened up. And we’re going to play at some of Chris’ deals,” he said. He was talking about Chris Graves’ Funny Car and Nitro Chaos series. “We came up to the Funny Car Chaos that was here in March, and that’s where we renewed my license.”
Graves, a skilled photographer with his Max Cackle photography business – worked for King on the dragster as a teenager. Today Graves has established and built on the wildly popular Funny Car Chaos series that started into one race and has ballooned into a mega-hit that has spun off a Nitro Chaos series, too.
“Actually,” King said only half-jokingly, “he and Alex Conway were both about 15 when I took ’em on the Western Swing – and ruined them for life.” Conway, a respected fixture in the nitro pits, has worked with John Force racing but has settled in with Matt Hagan’s team at Don Schumacher Racing.
As for next year, King said, “I’m going to run two or three [races] a year. If we’re going to run a bunch of races, we’ve got to have money. The rig’s been inside the shop all this time. I did have to put some new tires all the way around it. It’s kind of my toolbox. That’s why I didn’t sell it. That was instrumental in making the decision to come back – all I really needed was a car.”
He said he’ll make one last fling at Houston Raceway Park next spring before it closes permanently, and he’ll return here to Texas Motorplex for the FallNationals. “If Chris has Nitro Chaos, we’ll run that.”
In the past few years, King has taken major financial hits from hurricanes and from the pandemic. This latest hurricane, Ida, which devastated the Gulf Coast next-door neighbors in Louisiana, spared King this time. But he said he knows how those folks feel.
This summer, he said of Ida’s destruction, “We got a little rain. It killed a day or two worth of business, but I’ve been fortunate this year so far. They had a little blow over there [in Louisiana] a month or so ago.”
By calling it “a little blow,” evidently how South Texans refer to hurricanes, King said he wasn’t trying to underestimate it. His buddy, Jim Dupuy, lives at Houma, which was hit hard. A lot of the NHRA family live in Louisiana and were severely affected by the hurricane.
“I’m sure there are people who have been homeless, and I’ve been there. I know where they’re at. When Hurricane Ike came, my business was closed for a year and I was homeless, lost everything we had. I had a house out on the water that had nine feet of water in it. The candy store [La King’s Confectionery, on The Strand promenade at Galveston] had 12 feet of water. So home now for me is out in Lagrange, Texas [between Austin and Houston]. I bought something off the island where I’d have someplace to go to escape and keep everything out of the corrosion and salt air and have a place to go be if we get wiped out again,” King said.
His business is just now starting to come back. “Summer last year was about half of what it ought to be. We were closed April and May, but since then, it’s been OK. At least I’m open, and there are a lot of ’em that aren’t. And there were a lot of businesses that were on the fence that aren’t here no more. I feel fortunate.”
MORRISON WORKS TO MASTER ALL FACETS OF SPORT – If bringing a steady stream of new sponsors to the sport provided a berth in the Countdown to the Championship, Joe Morrison would be chasing a Top Fuel title. The Flemington, N.J., resident is returning to action for his ninth appearance, with yet another new sponsor on board with the Leverich Racing dragster.
New to Morrison’s portfolio is TapTok. Its specialty is, he said, is “providing digital business cards. Fans can just touch their phone to the TapTok card located on the sign above my hero cards or scan the QR code to get direct links to our social media accounts. It makes connecting with me and the team quick and easy. The link to the company’s website is https://taptok.shop/. He said he sees “lots of great potential with this company: B2B, B2C, and networking with our existing partners.” And don’t be surprised if before the season is finished Morrison has even one more new marketing partner.
Rejoining Morrison for this race at Texas Motorplex are two Lone Star State-headquartered food and beverage companies: John Hale’s Best of Texas BBQ Sauce & Chuck Norris’ CForce Water. Hale hails from Addison, a suburb of Dallas, and Norris’ über-eco-friendly (with bottles made from recycled plastic) product comes from a sustainable, natural aquifer deep under Norris’ Lone Wolf Ranch at Navasota, in Southeast Texas, near Houston.
Morrison skipped the St. Louis race, but last weekend when the NHRA was idle, Morrison drove Rocky Pirrone’s Nostalgia Funny Car at the Bunny Burkett Memorial race at Maryland International Raceway at Budds Creek/Mechanicsville. Torrence Racing clutch specialist Gary Pritchett, Burkett’s godson, drove one of the late legend’s cars there. Morrison said, “Being a part of the Bunny Burkett memorial meant a lot. Through match racing around the Mid-Atlantic, I got to know and admire her. Coming home with the award for the best reaction time and having a keepsake from the event was just amazing.”
This weekend in NHRA competition, Morrison’s event strategy is simple. He said, “We plan to run every qualifying session. If we’re in and can’t get bumped out in the last session, we might skip it. We’re excited to continue the forward progress we’ve made with Lance Larsen onboard. We will continue the same mentality forward to Bristol.”
ENDERS ALLOWS PEEK AT HER PERSPECTIVE – Following her Pro Stock victory at St. Louis two weekends ago that threw another scare into season-long points leader Greg Anderson, four-time and reigning champion Erica Enders gave a peek at what it’s like to be a Pro Stock driver and one locked into title fights, to boot.
“It’s extremely challenging. It’s very easy to be critical when you’re sitting in the grandstands or standing behind, taking pictures. It’s a true challenge to drive one of these cars and I love it. These are the pressure-packed situations that I thrive on and my guys thrive on.”
As for her back-and-forth momentum swings with Anderson for class supremacy, Elite Motorsports headliner Enders said she had a hunch this championship race would center on her and the KB Racing star who has had to fend off young teammates Dallas Glenn and Kyle Koretsky in addition to longtime nemesis Enders.
“We talked about this from the beginning of the season. We hoped it would come down to the two of us,” she said, acknowledging that “I think it’s so exciting for our class that we have so much fresh blood out here.”
This wave of new drivers, though, she said, isn’t like those in her early years or Anderson’s.
“These young kids are coming out here and being able to compete at the top of their game. They didn’t have to come in and drive cars that didn’t qualify or go around and scrounge out sponsorship money to be able to make it to the next race. It’s as young as it’s ever been. It’s as affordable as it’s ever been. And that’s something Greg Anderson and Jason Line and all the guys at KB worked hand in hand [on] with [Elite boss] Richard Freeman and my guys to make this class affordable to run. So I think it speaks volumes for how much we believe in our class and how much we love it and how much passion we all have for it.”
So the on-track rivals can cooperate to reinforce the class, but they still want to beat each other more than anything.
“It’s going to be a dogfight. I’m definitely up for the challenge, and I know Greg is, too,” Enders said.
The fact that she’s in the eye of the Pro Stock storm is her ultimate dream unfolding for her.
“As a kid growing up, Pro Stock was always my favorite thing to watch. I loved the in-car cameras with the drivers shifting, and I love that the weight of the world is on their shoulders with having to leave with the clutch and hit your shift points as precisely as possible,” the Houston native said. “It’s a huge deal. It’s a dream come true for me. So I watched Allen Johnson and Jeg Coughlin and Bob Glidden and Jason Line and all the people that were before me. So before I even got in the cockpit of this race car, I was a fan – a fan of theirs, a fan of our class. It just kind of comes full circle to be able to ever be on the same stage as those guys. It means a lot to me. What a blessed life we get to live.”
ANDERSON APPLAUDS YOUNG RIVALS’ STYLE – As aggravating as it has been for Greg Anderson to have his own KB Racing teammates – and other young racers, such as Aaron Stanfield, Troy Coughlin Jr., and Vincent Nobile – challenging him and time after time denying him milestone victories this season, the sudden new dean of the Pro Stock drivers expressed his admiration for them.
He actually got a kick of their audacity. With a laugh, he said, “They don’t fear anything. They couldn’t care less that the guy in the other lane’s got 97 wins or one win. They’re out to win. They’re out for blood. That’s what’s good about them. That’s what’s going to make them great racers. I respect that. I appreciate that. That’s honestly the way you should race.”
And with a $15,000 bonus from Texas Motorplex on the line for the driver with the quickest pass Friday night, those young chargers . . . as well as a couple of veterans, Kenny Delco and Rodger Brogdon . . . continued to give Anderson – and Enders – fits.
By the end of qualifying Friday, Anderson was in charge, knocking Glenn from the provisional No. 1 qualifying spot.
“That was an impressive run Dallas made,” Anderson said, referring to Glenn’s 6.567-second elapsed time at 209.14 mph. “But I’ve got a fast hot rod.”
Anderson topped that with his 6.553-second pass at 209.23 mph.
Enders is third overnight with a 6.571-second, 206.67-mph performance.
WYATT HAVING FUN WITH HIS OWN HOT ROD – Jack Wyatt, who for years has run his IHRA and NHRA Funny Car operation out of his Seymour, Iowa, race shop, has experienced broken motors before. But a couple of weeks ago, the veteran owner-driver was on his way to World Wide Technology Raceway at Madison, Ill., near St. Louis. But that time, the broken motor was on his tow vehicle.
“We were going to run St. Louis, and I broke the motor in my tow truck and we couldn't get there. So we've got another truck to use for here because they're still working on mine. This was a 12-hour drive, close to home,” Wyatt said.
But, he said, this will mark his final appearance this season: “This is it. This will be it. We ran Denver and Topeka [in NHRA competition]. We also ran the World Series of Drag Racing, at Cordova, Ill.”
Wyatt said he and his volunteer crew are “just trying to run once in a while. I still go out and help other teams, start-up teams. I went back and helped Clay Millican, trained crew guys a couple of times and got them started. The last one was with [Doug] Foley. I went down and helped them get crew guys trained and started up and get that deal going. Then just mainly just doing that and running my own hot rod once in awhile, whenever I can afford to.”
That’s getting harder and harder to do, though.
“This inflation is going to get us. I come down here, and you can't even buy a hundred gallons of fuel for $300. Come on. So that ratio is getting all out of whack,” Wyatt said.
“So it's going to get to the point where the parts cost so much and travel expenses, motels cost more, everything else. Well, then there's not enough coming in. I’ve already got crew guys . . . I go, ‘Hey, look, there's no more. We're back in the ’70s again. I can't pay you guys. I'll feed you. I'll give you a motel and a pillow to lay your head on. Other than that, it's back to the 1970s.’ We hit the reset button,” he said.
“So we're going to race like that. Even my match races, I had to cut back on the price of those because of that. So I'm getting paid less, but everything's going up more. So the ratio somewhere has got to adjust. Next year, who knows?
“But I think that we got really good viewership on TV. So hopefully some more sponsorship stuff will start heading our way,” Wyatt said.
For example, according to Jeffrey Young, the NHRA’s vice-president of marketing and communications, the recent DeWalt Carolina Nationals at zMAX Dragway benefited from an excellent time slot.
Young said the event “that ran adjacent to FOX’s NFL Singleheader delivered 1,452,000 viewers, good for the most-viewed NHRA telecast on record. The telecast peaked at 2,242,000 viewers.”
And that’s what gives hope to the small-budgeted racers such as Wyatt – that and the fact that Texas Motorplex owners Billy Meyer, his daughter Christie Meyer Johnson, and General Manager Andy Carter “wanted to make this a bigger race” and “well, he stepped up.” And this Stampede of Speed FallNationals, Wyatt said, is a rallying event.
“What we need to do is we got to support something like this. I was actually going to go to St. Louis and it was going to be my last race, but then I go, ‘OK, well, we'll come down here,’ because he steps up. Somebody needs to, to keep this thing going. He should really take a lot of credit for sticking his neck out like this. That's great.”
He said some racetracks have decided to cut back, which, Wyatt said, means that “the fans don't get as much, ticket prices go up, less show, there you go. If we keep that up, that's not very good for the sport. So we got to do whatever we can. So if everybody cinches their belt up and we all chip in, it’s going to survive.
“The operating cost is going up. So we have to have more money into the sport and that's what it is. Well, if you got the viewership on TV and stuff, we just need to figure out somehow how to promote it better, whatever, and try to get sponsors that they get real dollar value back,” he said. “I raced for crumbs sponsorship-wise.”
So Wyatt has changed his funding strategy.
“Instead of the big money, I'm not looking for a multi-million dollar deal. I’m trying to find a whole bunch of little deals so if one of them goes away, I'm not out of business,” he said. “But those things have gone away. I can't find people to spend enough money to get motels or buy a barrel of fuel or buy clutch discs or whatever, like I used to. Those things are harder to come by. So if we can get back to where that is, where operating cost for me would be down, then it would make a difference to come out to race more.”
So while Wyatt is having fun with his own race car right now, he’s trying creative budgetary approaches so he can keep on doing that in a competitive way.
CAMPBELL, DELCO JUSTIFY BEING IN COUNTDOWN – Billy Torrence sparked a bit of discussion at the Countdown opener last month at Reading when he accepted his Top Fuel winner’s trophy and referred to the manipulated points adjustment -which erases the actual tally of earned points and gives the Nos. 2-10-seeded drivers a huge break by bunching up the standings – as “the Loser Appreciation Program.” That’s because this year, the NHRA is allowing racers out of the top 10 to participate in the Countdown if he/she attended every regular-season event and made at least two qualifying passes at each.
Torrence and son Steve – and fellow Top Fuel racer Josh Hart – contend that the NHRA decision-makers have caved into the “Everybody gets a trophy for showing up” practice.
“I agree with him,” Hart said of Billy Torrence’s remark. “If you’re not worthy of making the top 10, you shouldn’t just automatically be in it.”
(Hart knows that applies to himself. He’s not a Countdown qualifier. He didn’t attend every race, but he could have qualified on points had he not skipped two events this summer because some of his crew members became ill with RSV, a respiratory virus that can mimic COVID. “I’m very loyal,” Hart said. “Got to make hard choices.” Besides, Hart said, “Every one of us has the same opportunity as [dominator Steve Torrence]. It’s up to us to capitalize on it.”)
Billy Torrence said it never bothered him that a championship sometimes was decided before the final race of the season – which the sanctioning body also has chosen to manipulate with a points-and-a-half reward system.
“That’s just the way it rolls,” he said. “I always liked it when [Funny Car’s] John Force had it locked up by Dallas. I don’t care if it’s us or the Kalittas or the Forces or Josh Hart or whoever – if they have walked the walk, let ’em talk the talk.”
Naturally, Funny Car’s Jim Campbell and Pro Stock’s Kenny Delco disagree. They are the only two racers left in the Countdown who got in by using the new rule. Pro Stock Motorcycle’s Cory Reed also did, but he suffered a broken leg in a nasty spill at Charlotte in the second playoff race.
Campbell, Funny Car’s No. 11 seed, said in response to Billy Torrence, “First off, those [Capco] cars run absolutely phenomenally, so they’re going to make the Countdown on points, even if they run half the season. We’re not like NASCAR, where we have 40 cars and it goes to 20 or whatever. If you run the whole season, you should have a chance to make the top 10 by the end of the year.
“And I think that’s just fair, because we’re out here every weekend. The other cars earn it on points, that’s fine. But if you’re a full-time car, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these cars making the Countdown – because it takes a lot of time, work, and effort to go to every race,” the Jim Dunn Racing driver said.
“So put it this way: If there were only 10 cars in the Countdown, if you take the playoffs in any other sports, if you had 10 cars in the Countdown and another six or seven cars didn’t show up, how fun is that going to make the sport to have 10 cars? Somebody’s going to get a bye. Somebody’s going to get two byes. So that wouldn’t make it any fun. So I don’t know,” Campbell said.
“But I’m stoked to make the Countdown,” he said. “So if it’s a Participation Award, then thank you. I participated in it, and I’m more than happy. If I can wind up in the 10th, ninth, eighth, then it’s a great marketing tool for next year, saying we were a top-10 car.”
Campbell said, “We don’t have enough cars to really have a Countdown. If you run the races and all that stuff and you earn your way into the top 10 on points by the end of the year whether you ran 10 races or 20 races or nine race and you made it on points, you can do it on a points thing for the top 10. I think all touring cars should automatically make the Countdown. I get it that in some of the classes you have a [huge] points lead.
“I’m just stoked that I’m in the Countdown and I actually have a chance to make the top 10 for the first time in my career,” he said. “And however we got here . . . that’s what the rules say, and I’m happy with it. I showed up at every race. We made the minimum qualifying runs.
“It’s good for the sport. You got more cars in it,” Campbell said. “Pro Stock’s got the same thing and Pro Stock Motorcycle. I think it’s fair. I have no problem with it. The Capco cars are obviously are stout cars. They’re well-funded cars. We’re out here trying to do the best we can with the budget that we have.”
Veteran Delco used the new rule to score his first Pro Stock Countdown berth this year as the No. 11-ranked driver. He, too, gave the new rule a thumbs-up: “It encourages racers to go to all the races and support NHRA and the fans. It has also given us full fields in Pro Stock every race this year. This is great for our fans, and at the end of the year we are rewarded with the opportunity to compete for a position in the top 10. It’s a win-win.”
STEVENS BACK WITH NEW POWER SUPPLIER – Larry Morgan substituted for New Orleans’ Richie Stevens in driving for Pro Stock team owners Mark Beaver and Chip Lofton when Stevens missed two races because of Hurricane Ida and its aftermath.
But, Beaver said, “He’s back. He's ready to go. We had dinner with him Tuesday night in New Orleans, and he's anxious. We've got our motor deal now.”
The Vita C Shot Camaro is getting its power now from Titan Racing, which grew out of the Gray Motorsports shop that supplied some of the class’ strongest competitors and pushed Tanner Gray to the 2018 series championship. “Stevie Johns, Mike Smith, that's who’s taken over our engine program,” Beaver said. “It’s a struggle, but they're good. They know what they're doing. Mike has been over here looking at the tune-up and working on some stuff.
“We made a couple of test runs Wednesday, learned a lot. Alex did one of them, Kenny Delco did the other one,” Beaver said. “The car went straight down the racetrack. This car would go down a dirt road. We just got to figure out gear ratios and stuff like that, and I think it's easy to go out here and rent a motor from a big team and they give you the tune-up, they give you the set up and say, ‘Here, go do this.’ It makes you look like a hero in a hurry, but the problem is, that ain't the way we race. Chip and I, that's not what we want.”
Beaver said he enjoyed thinking about the $15,000 in bonus money from Texas Motorplex that Stevens had the chance to bring them Friday night if he had been Pro Stock’s provisional top qualifier. But he conceded that it was a bit of a fantasy, given how young the program is at this moment.
“Yeah, that'd be nice. That'd be real nice. Barring a miracle that probably won't happen,” he said before qualifying, “but I think we've got some good power. I think we'll be fine. And Richie's, I mean, that guy's amazing. He averages better than a .002 light – which makes up a lot for our screw-ups on the car.
“The thing that we like about this,” Beaver said, “is we're doing it ourselves. We haven't went to somebody and said, ‘Here, we want to run Pro Stock and here's a bunch of money,’ because we don't spend as much money as some of these guys . . so kind of trying to do it ourselves.”
He said he and Lofton are thinking about competing at the season’s penultimate race, at Las Vegas. As for the Finals at Pomona, he said, “We hadn't put that one on the books yet.”