SUNDAY: THE STORIES BEHIND THE WINS
OBJECTIVE ACHIEVED: Morgan Lucas’ dream weekend at the O'Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals had a fairytale ending Sunday.
Lucas, who qualified No. 1, powered past his competitors, including Antron Brown in the finals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.
Lucas clocked a 3.848-second lap at 320.81 mph. Brown, meanwhile, didn’t even get 100 feet off the starting line before smoking the tires and slowing to 5.894 seconds.
“I’m just proud as can be for this whole race team and it is nice to just be positive and go up to the starting line on race day and feel like you have a car that can beat anybody,” Lucas said. “It is something I have not had in a really long time and I do not think I ever had it in Top Fuel. It is just one of those things that we are blessed right now and we have to keep going in this direction and try not to lose the momentum.”
This was Lucas’ second win of the year as he also won in Gainesville, Fla. Lucas now has six career NHRA Top Fuel national event wins. Lucas, who made his Top Fuel debut in 2004, also has won six final rounds in a row after losing in his first five final rounds.
Lucas disposed of Troy Buff, Tony Schumacher, Bob Vandergriff Jr. and Brown on Sunday in his Geico/Lucas Oil Dragster. Lucas also had the low elapsed time (3.772) and top speed (327.74) of the event.
“This is probably the first time of my career alcohol dragster or not that we have been low ET of every round of eliminations,” Lucas said. “That goes to speak for what the team has been doing and the hard work and the consistency the guys have been putting in, putting the car together. For me, it is one of those deals where I have just to try to do everything I can to keep my scatter brain together and try to be half as good as this race car has been.”
Lucas’ win over Brown was impressive since he had lost to him 11 times in a row.
“To be honest with you, racing Antron was a little nerve-racking for me,” Lucas said. “That guy is so good and he has had my number for so long. Today is just awesome. It is the first time we have ever won without having a rain-delay involved in the race. You do not really think about that stuff (that he lost to Antron 11 times in a row) until you see it in front of your face. There are a lot of people that have a really dominant winning record against me and our team. That’s fine with me to be honest with you. I feel like this team has worked really hard to pay a lot of dues.”
Lucas is now third in Top Fuel point standings with 505 points. Don Schumacher Racing teammates, Brown (537) and Spencer Massey (523) are first and second in the points chase.
“We just have to keep staying on this path and keep our head on straight,” Lucas said. “Hopefully we can win a few more before the year is out. Again Aaron (Brooks, Lucas’ crew chief), they got it done.”
Lucas admitted his team is making up some ground on the dominant DSR team.
“If you asked before a race in the heat if I felt like that (being on par with DSR drivers), I would say no. But, I feel like we are a whole h*** of a lot closer than we used to be. Those guys are so good and they get a lot of good data and they communicate really well with each other. Right now, we are starting to get that kind of situation going in our camp. And, I think it is one of those deals where the progress just has to keep going and we have to keep building on what we have learned. We have to keep making good decisions and stay away from the bad ones we made in the past, and maybe we can actually consider our car as good if not better than theirs.”
Personally, Lucas knows this year is helping silence his many critics.
“I have no doubt that people doubted my capabilities because for a long time I didn’t give them much of a reason not to,” Lucas said. “I got just as discouraged as anybody else when the car wasn’t running good at times and I would let it show in my reaction times and my driving. It is a real humbling experience getting you’re a** kicked race in and race out. You just appreciate the wins when they come and this is such a big deal for me and the whole team.”
THE LAST LAUGH - One streak in Funny Car came to an end, but Mike Neff made sure another continued during Sunday’s O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals.
After four straight event wins and 17 consecutive round wins, Robert Hight’s amazing run atop Funny Car came to an end in the semifinals against Ron Capps at Houston’s Royal Purple Raceway.
But John Force Racing’s dominant streak continued thanks to a day filled with a little bit of everything for Neff.
Catching his second break in eliminations when Capps dropped a cylinder and headed towards the center line, Neff claimed the event win, running a 4.239 at 301.67 mph to also extend JFR’s impressive winning streak to six.
“It was a heck of a string Robert put together to win four races like they did. That’s hard to do in Funny Car or in any class for that matter. I give a lot of credit to them. I’m just glad I could keep the streak going for Team Force,” said Neff, who won for the first time in three final rounds in 2012.
“There is pressure and there are a lot of high expectations when you’re on a top team like John Force’s team. John Force is built on winning and of course there’s pressure there. You can just feel it and nobody has to tell you, but there’s no pressure coming from John Force. He’s our biggest supporter and cheerleader.”
Neff certainly didn’t expect his Sunday to unfold like it did.
Going against Jim Head in the first round, Neff admitted his first lucky break came against his longtime friend.
After a .062 reaction time, he double-stepped it and then smoked the tires. Head, though, struggled just as much and Neff was able to advance with a 4.495 at 251.30 mph.
It was a perfect summation of a weekend that was bizarre to say the least.
“The whole weekend has just been one of a kind. Not getting qualified until the last session was definitely a nail-biter,” said Neff, who is second in points behind Hight.
“In the first round, the light, it was just so long. I never let go of the brake because I knew I hadn’t see the yellow yet. My foot just flipped it, but fortunately I was staged shallow enough that when it lunged a little bit, it didn’t go red and then I looked and saw the green and that’s why I legged it on through there when it started smoking the tires because I knew I didn’t red-light.
“I was fortunate. That was a total mistake, so we definitely got a lucky break there.”
After two solid runs to beat No. 1 qualifier Cruz Pedregon in the quarterfinals (4.199) and Jeff Arend in the semifinals (4.176), Neff once again found some luck against Capps.
“In the final, I caught another break. He was on a good run and something happened to him,” Neff said. “I don’t feel good about winning like that. I like being able to run quick of all the sessions and really feel like you earned it. Today, I definitely backed my way into it, but it’s not the way I liked to do it. There again, it’s also nice to catch a break. It doesn’t seem like we catch a whole lot of breaks.
Neff, who won for the seventh time in his career, felt confident about his warm-weather tuneups in Houston, as evidenced by his runs in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
He was also aware the amount of good fortune involved in going rounds in one of the NHRA’s tightest classes.
“Anybody will tell you, there’s a lot of luck involved in winning these races. Sometimes it’s your day and sometimes it’s not,” Neff said. “It seems like one little thing is enough to derail you and anything can happen. That’s what’s so exciting about it. You get one shot it and you either get it right, or catch a break, or it’s over with and you have to do it four times in one day.”
A CHAMPION AGAIN - Racing against someone he called the best driver in the class, Vincent Nobile certainly proved he belonged in that conversation after the finals of Sunday’s O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Houston.
In a Pro Stock final that easily lived up to its billing – at the start and at the finish – Nobile got the best of Dave Connolly and narrowly led from start to finish, thanks to a .009 reaction time and a run of 6.595 at 210.14 mph.
It was his first win in three final appearances in 2012, his fourth overall and second straight at RPR, though this one will certainly have a special place in Nobile’s memory.
“I’ve honestly looked up to Dave as a driver his whole career because he’s probably the best driver out here,” Nobile said. “He hasn’t been racing, he comes right back to it and he’s in a final round. That’s very impressive to me.
“Going up against Dave, you know you have to try your hardest. You can’t give anything up against him because if you’re a little late, he’ll steal that win against you.”
On Sunday, though, it was Connolly who was a “little late,” which is stunning considering he had a reaction time of .011.
It set up a phenomenal final round race between the two young standouts, both of whom are regarded as two of the top drivers on the tree.
Running for the just the fourth time since the start of 2011, Connolly finished with a 6.595 at 210.41 mph, but fell by a mere three feet to a overjoyed Nobile, who revealed the major adversity the team overcame after beating Mike Edwards with an unsettling 6.622 in the semifinals.
“It’s an amazing feeling. I really couldn’t do it without my crew. In the semifinals, we broke our motor and had to do a motor swap in that short time frame,” Nobile said.
“They did it and there was no flaws and they produced a really fast in the final round. I owe it all to them. I just did a small part cutting a good reaction time.”
The great reaction times happened all day, with Nobile having nothing worse than a .027.
But he caught his lucky break in the quarterfinals, a round after going 6.581 at 210.73 mph to beat Greg Stansfield to start his day.
In the second round, Nobile had tire shake and limped to the finish line in 15.277. But he still saw the win light thanks to an 0.045 red light from Larry Morgan.
Two rounds later, the Royal Purple Raceway crowd was entertained by another raucous celebration on the starting line from the Nobile team, which includes Vincent’s father.
“He’s taught me everything. We live through racing together. This win is a win for both of us. He always wanted to win a Wally but never really had the horsepower to do it, but definitely the talent. Now we have both together and we’re doing it together,” said Nobile, who moved to third in points.
“I like being under the radar. I’m not much of a spotlight kind of guy. If I win and it surprises people, I like that. I’m just out here having fun.”
A HEAVY WIN - Not even 20 extra pounds could slow down Harley-Davidson’s domination.
Andrew Hines made sure of that fact.
Hines, a three-time world champ, thanks to a perfect start, edged Hector Arana Jr. to capture the Spring Nationals title Sunday at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.
Hines clocked a 6.905-second elapsed time to beat Arana Jr.’s quicker 6.886–second effort. The difference was at the starting line. Hines had a perfect .000 reaction time, compared to Arana Jr.’s solid .026 light.
“I was trying to go double 0 something and I wasn’t hoping for the triple 0,” said Hines, who pilots the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley. “Luckily, I didn’t roll in an eighth of an inch farther or anything. I was on my game (Sunday). I was 37, 20 and 19 (on reaction times before the final round). I knew I had a lot of room and I was comfortable hitting the tree at those numbers. I figured I could give it my all and obviously I got away with one right there. I will take a triple 0 in the final with the added 20 pounds we got I needed to do something because we obviously didn’t have the performance going into that final round.”
This was Hines’ first victory of the season and 26th of his career. This also is the third time in a row he has won at Baytown, Texas.
NHRA addressed the issue of parity in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class March 20 by increasing the minimum weight for the Harley Davidson 160-cid, 4-valve combination by 20 pounds, from 640 pounds to 660 pounds.
“Going out there and winning one on a holeshot after the adversity that was put upon us is pretty darn cool,” Hines said. “I was pretty down in the dumps when we got the added weight because I won here (the Spring Nationals) the last two years and I thought I used up all my luck. It is quite the deal to come out here and bring out the hardware after something like that (getting 25 pounds added). This was a statement race.”
Glen Gray, NHRA’s Vice President, Technical Operations, believed adding weight to the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson motorcycles driven by teammates Hines and Eddie Krawiec was the right step to take at the time. Krawiec and Hines are the only two NHRA Harley-Davidson riders.
NHRA reviewed the parity in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class as a result of Harley-Davidson’s dominating performance at the Gatornationals which were completed March 12. At the Gatornationals, Krawiec established new NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle national records with a 6.750-second elapsed time and a 199.26 mph speed. The Gatornationals was the season-opening race for the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
Krawiec was upset in the second round at the Spring Nationals by Karen Stoffer.
“Everybody is not going to be happy all at once,” said Hines about the parity issue in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class. “People are still complaining because we are still fast, but you have to look At (the fact) we were really fast in Gainesville and 20 pounds isn’t going to take us out of the show. It just brought us right behind the Hectors (Arana Sr., and Arana Jr.). They obviously went back and did their homework in the last six weeks. We are all in the same ballpark right now. Karen (Stoffer) took out Eddie in the second round only running two hundredths off of Hector Jr. That obviously shows the Suzukis are right back in the game. They just have to find their tune-up. A lot of people, I do not know how much work they have done over the last few weeks, but I know they have not done as much as us.”
The last four NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle national events, dating back to last year, have been dominated by Krawiec and Hines.
Krawiec beat Hines in the finals of the Las Vegas fall race last season and then at the season-ending NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif., Hines defeated Krawiec in the final round. At the 2012 season-opening Pro Stock Motorcycle event, the Gatornationals, Krawiec edged Hines in the finals.
QUICK HITS RACE REPORT
SCHUMACHER GETS HISTORIC WIN: When Tony Schumacher beat Doug Kalitta in the first round Sunday at the Spring Nationals at Baytown, Texas, he added another line to his glossy resume.
The win by the Sarge was his 600th career NHRA round win. Schumacher joins the 600-round win club that only includes Kenny Bernstein, Warren Johnson, John Force and Larry Dixon.
“It (600) is impressive, and it just goes to show you what a great team we have put together,” said Schumacher, a seven-time NHRA world champ. “We have had different teams along the way and the Army sure inspires us. These soldiers, these families are the greatest people in the nation. They give us to the right to be here and rise to the occasion. That was a big occasion because Doug Kalitta was in the other lane. I was proud to have them in the other lane and it was a good race.”
Schumacher clocked a 3.825 ET to beat Kalitta’s 3.870-second effort.
VANDERGRIFF JR. KNOCKS OUT ALBALOOSHI – This was a strange race. Khalid alBalooshi did a burnout in the Al-Anabi dragster and then could not back up. The Al-Anabi crew pushed the dragster back to the starting line and in the mean time Bob Vandergriff Jr. was just waiting at the line. AlBalooshi then could’t get his dragster to roll forward to stage. Vandergriff finally did stage and took the win light at 3.866 seconds.
LUCAS MOVES ON – Top qualifier Morgan Lucas flexed his muscles in the first round with a 3.776 elapsed time to zip past Troy Buff, who had engine problems.
GRUBNIC EDGES MILLICAN – This was one of the best drag races in the opening round. David Grubnic’s 3.843-second run was just enough to get by Millican’s 3.898-second lap.
“We are just happy to be out here going rounds,” Grubnic said.
TORRENCE STOPS ZIZZO – Steve Torrence proved his No. 2 qualifying spot was no fluke. Torrence slowed a little off his 3.772-second qualifying ET, but his 3.830 was enough to get past T.J. Zizzo’s 4.041-second effort.
LANGDON, OTHERS WIN – Shawn Langdon was off the starting line first against Brandon Bernstein and cruised to the win. Langdon clocked a 3.82, while Bernstein slowed to a 4.25.
Joining Langdon in the first-round winners circle were Spencer Massey, and Antron Brown.
Massey and Brown, Don Schumacher Racing teammates meet in round two.
VANDERGRIFF JR. GETS BREAK, WIN – Bob Vandergriff Jr. did just enough to win in the second round against David Grubnic. Vandergriff clocked a 4.260-second run and was able to pedal past Grubnic, who had trouble early and slowed to 5.415 seconds.
“We have been having trouble all weekend smoking tires down track and we were making changes and nothing works for it,” Vandergriff Jr. said. “This has to be one of those cars that just doesn’t want to do what you tell it to, but we keep turning on the win light.”
LUCAS IN CHARGE AGAINST SARGE – Morgan Lucas, the No. 1 qualifier, captured a big win in second round when he knocked off seven-time world champion Tony Schumacher.
Lucas had a solid 3.834-second run at 322.19 mph to defeat Schumacher’s 3.865-second lap.
“I’m really proud of my guys,” Lucas said. “That was a big round for us. When you race guys like Tony it is easy to psyche yourself out and screw up on the starting line and make mistakes. Aaron (Brooks, Lucas’ crew chief) I tell you what, the guy is just awesome. He keeps going up there making the right calls and the guys are doing a great job putting the car together, so let’s just keep going rounds.”
BROWN OVER MASSEY – Seemingly every race this season, Don Schumacher Racing teammates, Antron Brown and Spencer Massey have met.
Brown got the best of his teammate in the latest battle. Brown clocked a 3.83-second run at 323.27 mph to edge Massey’s 3.859-second performance.
TORRENCE STOPS LANGDON – Steve Torrence, surprisingly beat Shawn Langdon off the starting line, and then the Texas driver beat him to the finish line.
Torrence’s 3.878 run was enough to beat Shawn Langdon’s 3.895 run.
“I’m pumped up,” Torrence said. “I was nervous as all get out. Shawn Langdon and the Al-Anabi team, those guys can put you on the trailer any day.”
BROWN WILL TAKE FORTUNATE: Antron Brown didn't call it a lucky one, but it might have been a fortunate one.
Racing against No. 2 qualifier Steve Torrance, Brown and the Kilgore, Texas resident both smoked the tires. Brown, though, had just enough to hold off Torrence, running 4.011 at 278.35 mph to advance to the finals.
Despite both cars running into trouble, it was an incredibly close drag racing, with Brown winning by a mere .005. Torrence finished with a workmanlike 4.030 at 276.80 mph.
"Both cars were trucking and I heard their car right beside me. It was just an incredible drag race," Brown said. "That's what this Top Fuel class is like. These cars are means and they are all incredible."
LUCAS STILL ENJOYING VIEW FROM TOP: Morgan Lucas' weekend at the top is nearly complete.
Lucas, the No. 1 qualifier in Top Fuel, was never challenged in the semifinals against Bob Vandergriff, running an impressive 3.870 at 320.97 mph.
Vandergriff suffered from mechanical problems, limping to a 5.198 at 138.07 mph, but it might not have mattered against Lucas, who is rolling this weekend at Royal Purple Raceway. Considering the conditions, the run was even more remarkable and Lucas will now have lane choice against Brown in the finals.
"I'm really proud of this team and it's just really impressive," Lucas said. "This is what we want to do - go out, compete for points and win."
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH FOR LUCAS - Apparently, 11 straight losses to Antron Brown was enough for Morgan Lucas.
Wrapping up a perfect weekend in fine fashion, Lucas took the win in Top Fuel with a 3.848 at 320.81 mph, snapping an 11-round losing streak to Antron Brown.
In picking up his second win of 2012, Lucas was on top throughout at Royal Purple Raceway, qualifying No. 1 and turning in a wonderful Sunday, which included a strong and straight full pass in the finals.
Brown, meanwhile, struggled after leaving first with a .042 reaction time en route to a 5.894 at 117.05 mph. He smoked tires early and often and watch Lucas blow by in another strong run to cap off his outstanding Sunday.
COURTNEY WINS THE FIRST BATTLE – In the first head-to-head battle between the nitro rookies, Courtney Force was victorious.
Force came across the finish line at 4.126 seconds at 309.98 to defeat Alexis DeJoria’s 4.202 run.
“That was a fun race,” Force said. “She is a great girl and an amazing driver. She is going to be coming after me at the next race, I know it. I was nervous going up against her. I just found out we ran a 12 and we just have to focus on the next three rounds. We (her and DeJoria) are both so supportive of each other. They just bought a Traxxas car the other day and I’m going to buy some Tequila (Monday night). Who knows? I’m just having fun and I love being out here and it is great to have another friend like Alexis out here on the road with me.”
CRUZ MAKES STATEMENT– Cruz Pedregon didn’t waste any time sending a message to his fellow competitors. Pedregon, the No. 1 qualifier, clocked the fastest Funny Car ET and speed of the weekend at 4.057 seconds at 313.88 mph.
That performance was easily beat Gary Densham, who slowed to 7.424 seconds.
“We all know what (crew chief) Lee Beard meant to this team and it is starting to show,” Pedregon said. “This car is frickin’ hauling.”
HAGAN’S WOES CONTINUE – Matt Hagan won the 2011 Funny Car world champion. That, however, must seem light years ago to Hagan.
Hagan lost again in the first round, the latest came Sunday to Jeff Arend. Arend, the defending champion at the Spring Nationals, clocked a 4.141-second lap to beat Hagan’s 4.179 seconds.
Hagan now has lost in the first round four times in the first six events. Hagan’s only round win came against Mike Neff in Las Vegas. At the 4Wide Nationals in Charlotte, the event before Baytown, he didn’t qualify.
HIGHT’S STREAK KEEPS GOING – Since his first-round loss at the Winternationals, no one has been able to stop Robert Hight. That didn’t change Sunday in the first round. Hight beat Tony Pedregon, Hight came in at 4.119 seconds, while Pedregon had engine problems.
CAPPS BEATS BODE – Ron Capps took care of business in round one by defeating Bob Bode. Capps had a solid 4.165 second run.
Other first-round winners were Mike Neff, Tim Wilkerson and Bob Tasca III. Tasca ended John Force’s day in round one.
NEFF STUNS CRUZ – All of Cruz Pedregon’s great runs this weekend were gone in a flash.
Pedregon, the No. 1 qualifier, was upset by Mike Neff out of the John Force Racing stable.
Neff’s 4.199-second run was enough to beat Pedregon’s 4.280-lap.
“I was fortunate just to get it together and get it down the track,” Neff said. “I was hoping to run to run a little better than that, but a win is a win.”
HIGHT’S UP to 17 – Robert Hight is up to 17 round wins in a row. That became a reality when the John Force Racing driver was able to get past Bob Tasca III in the second round.
Hight came across at 4.139 seconds to clip Tasca’s 4.175-second run.
“Everybody is thinking that left lane is better and we lost lane choice the first round, but Jimmy (Prock, Hight’s crew chief) just went up there and set it up like we ran the 14 (Saturday) and said let that other Ford see if they can beat us. That’s a tough lane to get down in a Funny Car.”
AREND WINS 6 IN ROW – Jeff Arend’s good fortunes as Royal Purple Raceway. Arend, the defending champion at the Spring Nationals in Baytown, made it six round wins in a row, as he stopped Tim Wilkerson.
Arend came in at 4.204 seconds to defeat Wilkerson, who had engine problems and slowed to 8.836 seconds.
“The car keeps going down the track and we have made some changes,” Arend said. “It is like driving a new Lexus, instead of driving an off-road truck.”
CAPPS KEEPS MOVING ON: Ron Capps ended Courtney Force’s day in round two. Capps, in his Don Schumacher Racing NAPA Dodge, had just enough to defeat Force.
Capps had a 4.165-second run to defeat Force’s 4.175-second lap.
THE STREAK IS OVER: Robert Hight's brilliant streak is over thanks to a driver who ended his own drought.
Ron Capps put together a 4.162 at 303.50 mph, ending a long losing streak against Hight, who had been the hottest driver in the class heading into Houston.
Hight went 5.102 at 155.10 mph, going up in smoke at the 330-foot mark as Capps excitedly took his biggest round win of the year.
"The win light I have got to tell you, Houston Raceway Park, please fix your win light on your left guardrail because I about had a heart attack," Capps said. "It wasn't on and obviously I know Robert runs good. To end that streak they have going is unbelievable. This is great we have one more round to go." Hight had won 17 rounds in a row, dating back to his first-round loss at the season-opening Winternationals.
"We still have a streak going," Hight said. "John Force Racing has won the first five (races) and (Mike) Neff is in the final in that other Ford. We have still have a streak to win the first six. Good job to (Ron) Capps and the NAPA team. We are going on to Atlanta (May 4-6) and try to start another streak."
JFR RACING STILL HAS ONE LEFT: Jeff Arend jumped off the line quicker than Neff, but it was the John Force Racing driver who had the complete run, going 4.176 at 306.81 mph to move into the finals.
Arend smoked the tires after the early advantage, meaning Neff goes from No. 9 qualifier to finalst on a day where everything eem to be going his way.
"It's been a strange turn of events, and I got my breaks, but I'm happy to be going to the finals," Neff said.
LUCK STAYS WITH NEFF, JFR IN FINALS: Mike Neff likely wouldn't have expected a 4.239 at 301.67 mph good enough to win at Royal Purple Raceway on Sunday, but he certainly won't complain.
Good fortune again stayed on his side this weekend in Houston, and Neff chased down Ron Capps to pick up his seventh career win and keep John Force Racing undefeated in finals in 2012.
It looked like Capps had him early, but a round after beating Robert Hight, Capps started dropping cylinders as he inched closer to the centerline, finishing with a 4.476 at 211.79 mph.
Neff took advantage, going past Capps on a relatively smooth run for his second straight "good-fortune" round.
Capps took care of two of the John Force Racing cars he went up against on Sunday, but Neff made sure a third one didn't take place.
JOHNSON MOVES FORWARD – Allen Johnson won the pole position and didn’t slow down in round one. Johnson clocked a stout 6.564-second run to defeat Shane Gray’s 6.644 effort.
CONNOLLY DOWN TO ONE JOB – Dave Connolly showed his driving skills by speeding past Rodger Brogdon. Connolly came in at 6.569 seconds to defeat Brogdon’s 6.628 run.
Connolly was down to just one duty as Erica Enders lost in the first round. Connolly is the crew chief for Enders, who lost to Larry Morgan at her hometown track.
HUMPHREY COMES OUT ON TOP – By virtue of qualifying, this wasn’t an upset, but it was a little surprising. No. 8 qualifier Ronnie Humphrey edged Ron Krisher. Humphrey clocked 6.607-second lap and Krisher came in at 6.608 seconds.
SUMMIT CARS INTO ROUND TWO – Greg Anderson and Jason Line, Summit Racing teammates have had an outstanding year so far and that trend continued in round one as Anderson and Line both won.
Anderson defeated Kurt Johnson and Line upended Rickie Jones.
EDWARDS CLIPS KENT – Mike Edwards chance of a win at the Spring Nationals are still alive as he beat Steve Kent in the first round. Defending Spring Nationals champion Vincent Nobile also won in the round one against Greg Stanfield.
JOHNSON STAYS CONSISTENT – Allen Johnson won the pole position and kept his momentum going through round two.
Johnson had a solid 6.595-second run to edge Ronnie Humphrey’s 6.603 second.
CONNOLLY KEEPS MOVING ON – Dave Connolly doesn’t drive fulltime on NHRA’s Pro Stock circuit, and he is certainly making the most of this weekend at the Spring Nationals.
Connolly turned some heads by knocking off Greg Anderson, the 2010 world champ, in round two.
Connolly had a 6.596-second run, compared to Anderson’s 6.611 effort.
EDWARDS DEFEATS LINE – It turned out to be a tough second round for the Summit Racing team as Jason Line, Anderson’s teammate and 2011 world champ, lost to Mike Edwards.
Edwards used a holeshot to beat Line. Edwards used a .030 reaction time and a 6.603-second lap to beat Line. Line had a quicker 6.591-second time, but had a .050 light.
NOBILE JUST KEEPS WINNING – Vincent Nobile, the defending Spring Nationals champion, caught a lucky break in round two when Larry Morgan registered a redlight.
It was especially for fortunate for Nobile, who had engine problems and clocked a 15.277-second run.
NOBILE NAILS THE LIGHT: The run wasn't what Vincent Nobile was looking for, but a tremendous start made it not matter.
Nobile had an oustanding .017 reaction time and easily held Mike Edwards at bay despite a rather pedestrian 6.622 at 209.33 mph.
Edwards struggled to a 6.644 at 209.79 mph, but he never had a chance thanks to Nobile's brilliance at the line. The stout reaction time gives him seven straight round wins at Royal Purple Raceway, giving him a great opportunity to put his purple Pro Stock car back in the winner's circle in Houston.
"This has just been my lucky day. I definitely did not make a good run there; I'm just glad I could turn on the win light," Nobile said.
CONNOLLY CRUSHES AT THE LINE: Just moments after Nobile's excellent light, Dave Connolly matched him and now they will meet in the finals. Connolly had an identical .017 light and he needed all of that against the No. 1 qualifier Johnson, winning on a holeshot with a 6.584 at 210.34 mph.
Johnson turned his best run of the day, going 6.580 at 211.56 mph, but he couldn't track down the young standout.
With the pass, a pair of young, outstanding leavers will meet in a must-see final.
MORE PURPLE POWER: In a Pro Stock final that lived up to its billing - both at the starting line and at the finish line - Vincent Nobile and his purple Pro Stock found the winner's circle at Royal Purple Raceway for the second straight year.
Leaving the line with a .009 reaction time, Nobile led start to finish, running a 6.595 at 210.14 mph to narrowly edge Dave Connolly and his 6.595 at 210.41 mph by .0111 in an absolutely marvelous final round in Pro Stock.
The two young standouts who are noted as wizards on the starting line delivered in that respect, with Connolly putting together a tremendous .011 reaction time.
Somehow, he left last as Nobile was even more amazing at the light, barely holding Connolly off throughout - and just three feet at the finish line - in a memorable final round that easily lived up to its billing.
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
BERRY GARNERS UPSET – Hector Arana Sr.’s great weekend ended abruptly in round one when he registered a redlight. Berry wasn’t complaining about his 6.998-second lap, since Arana Sr. had a minus-.005 light.
QUICK START FOR RAY – Michael Ray used a .016 light to speed past Shawn Gann in round one. Ray clocked a 6.951 time compared to Gann’s 9.963.
HALL ELIMINATES HIS TEAMMATE – John Hall defeated his Sovereign-Star Racing teammate Scotty Pollacheck. Hall’s 7.001 elapsed time was good enough to best Pollacheck’s 7.244 run.
HARLEYS MOVING ON – Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines, Harley-Davidson teammates moved on to round two. Krawiec beat Jerry Savoie and Hines stopped Jim Underdahl.
Hector Arana Jr., Karen Stoffer and Matt Smith were the other first-round winners.
STOFFER STOPS KRAWIEC – Eddie Krawiec has been the most dominate racer in Pro Stock Motorcycle this young season.
Karen Stoffer used a 6.907-second run to defeat Krawiec’s 6.928 effort.
ARANA JR. ROLLS ON – Hector Arana Jr. didn’t flinch against Matt Smith in the second round. Arana Jr. had a strong 6.882-second run to beat Smith’s 6.975-second effort.
HINES KEEPS HARLEY HOPES ALIVE – Although his Krawiec, his Harley-Davidson teammate lost in round two, Andrew Hines didn’t end the day for the team.
Hines had a 6.972-second run to beat John Hall’s 7.120.
RAY OF HOPE – Michael Ray’s great weekend continued in the second round.
Ray, who is part of the Matt Smith Racing team, beat Mike Berry,
Ray’s 6.995-second run was just enough to get past Berry’s 6.994 run. The difference was at the starting line. Ray had a .017 reaction time and Berry was at .030.
ARANA JR. PUTS IT ALL TOGETHER: At just about the perfect time, Hector Arana Jr. got the run he was looking for.
Against the upset-minded Karen Stoffer, Arana Jr. the No. 2 qualifier, never gave her a chance, running a 6.842 at 196.85 mph for the quickest run of the weekend in the class.
To make matters even more impressive, Arana had a strong .020 reaction time, giving him a complete run when it counted. Stoffer went 6.954 at 190.70 mph.
"The whole team is working, communicating and working excellent together and we finally got it fine-tuned," Arana Jr. said.
HINES ROLLS INTO FINALS: Andrew Hines was never challenged in the semifnals, as Michael Ray went red and Hines inched closer to back-to-back wins in Houston.
Ray went red by .029, handing the win to Hines, who ran a solid 6.955 at 192.74 mph. It was the first time Hines and Ray had met in eliminations.
PERFECT START GETS HINES TO WINNER'S CIRCLE: After watching Hector Arana Jr. put together the best run of the weekend in the semifinals, Andrew Hines knew he would have to deliver something special in the finals.
He provided it, pulling out a perfect and brilliant .000 reaction time, beating Arana Jr. on a spectacular holeshot at Royal Purple Raceway in Houston.
Arana Jr. nearly caught him, but Hines' 6.905 at 194.52 mph stood up at the end, beating Arana Jr. by a mere two feet thanks to a reaction time that couldn't have been any better.
It ended up being a tremendous final round race between the two standouts. Arana turned in a great .026 reaction time and an equally strong run of 6.886 at 196.33 mph, but it couldn't stop Hines' perfect start, which ultimately proved to be the difference.
SATURDAY: SETTING THE STAGE FOR A CHALLENGING SUNDAY
LUCAS PACES ANOTHER ONE: On Saturday, no Top Fuel drivers could knock Morgan Lucas off his qualifying throne at the Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas.
Lucas stayed on top with his 3.772-second lap at a track record speed of 327.74 mph on Friday at Royal Purple Raceway.
Lucas actually had the identical elapsed time as Steve Torrence, but Lucas took the pole based on his faster mph. Torrence’s mph was 322.88.
“We were really fortunate that the (Friday night) session ran a little late for us and we could get those conditions we got to get that big number,” Lucas said. “I’m really proud of my team for putting that together. It also gave us an opportunity to test a little bit (Saturday) and try to figure a couple of things out. Some stuff panned out to be good and some stuff stuff wasn’t the right direction and we are learning. We are just taking one step at a time. The big deal for us right now is just trying to build consistency in the heat. Thank God for that (Friday) night session because we probably would not have been qualified in the top half.”
This was Lucas’ eight career pole and fourth this season.
“What we did (Saturday) is top secret, but it is just conventional engineering type outlooks on the race car,” Lucas said. “It is stuff that really worked and it is going to show a lot of good promise in the future, but for (Sunday) we are going to put the car back to how we know it can run well. We obviously have a good handle on making the car run 3.80s. The track seems to be able to hold 3.80s and if we can just go up there and do that four times (Sunday) and maybe get a little luck on our side that should give us a good opportunity to win this thing.”
Lucas faces Troy Buff in round one.
Although race day is Sunday, Lucas did take a moment to reflect on his great season. Lucas is fourth in the season points and has one win at the Gatornationals.
“This has been an amazing start to the season for us,” Lucas said. “I know we are almost getting on the better side of the halfway mark on the season now and it still shows a lot of promise for us. It makes me excited about the Countdown. I have never had a car where I was actually concerned about the Countdown. You were always concerned about making it (being in the Top 10) so you can actually get on the stage at the end of the year, but now it is kind of one of those things where wow we might actually have a chance to throw our hat in the ring for a championship chase. Even if it doesn’t happen it is nice to know that we have some potential.”
CRUZING - Cruz Pedregon secured his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season on Saturday at the O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals outside of Houston. He’s qualified on top eight times in his career at Royal Purple Raceway.
It’s a good thing he has a good track record and two good runs carried over from Friday, because Saturday did not produce the kind of performance results he wanted.
Pedregon smoked the tires during Saturday’s first session and had to lift in the final when his car began drifting out of the groove.
“It’s a good thing we had those two great runs yesterday, and we dropped cylinders like we did yesterday,” explained Pedregon. “The good news is that we held on to the number one spot and we can go in and adjust the fuel system. It’s an honor to be number one but I am already thinking about race day.”
Pedregon’s 4.103 held through Saturday’s warm conditions. The two-time series champion will face Gary Densham in the first round.
“I wouldn’t say we tested today but we did experiment with a new clutch,” admitted Pedregon. “We still don’t think it affected us but you just never know, so we are going to put back the way it was yesterday. There’s always that possibility that it changed the car and the fuel curve.”
The heat, Pedregon believes, made a difference on Saturday.
“It was warmer out there and noticed a lot of people out there dropping cylinders,” said Pedregon. “These engines are susceptible when it is more humid out there, plus you are taking away clutch because you can’t push as hard. The load is decreased a bit. The conditions were the same for everyone.”
Pedregon noted some of the frontrunners fared well in the conditions, most notably Ron Capps, who finished the final session as second quickest.
“We are going to have to be on our toes on Sunday,” said Pedregon. “Once we all get in the second round, it’s anyone’s game. We go to bed tonight and come tomorrow, we’ll be nervous again.”
CONSISTENCY IS THE BUZZWORD - Allen Johnson’s Friday night 6.546-second pass stood the test during Saturday qualifying at the O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals. The result was his second Pro Stock No. 1 qualifier of 2012.
Knowing the likelihood of similar conditions for Sunday, he spent two sessions working on his race day tune-up.
“I think they are pretty much going to be the same,” Johnson said. “Our motto on this team is consistency and I think we achieved that on Saturday. We weren’t quite as quick as we wanted to be today … maybe .01 off. I think tomorrow is going to be a knock-down drag out.”
Johnson was brutally consistent on Saturday with runs of 6.563, 211.93 and a 6.560, 211.60. He was .008 apart during Friday’s runs.
Consistency is the key to success in drag racing and for Johnson, there’s a sense of urgency in learning to win.
“Everyone has their winning hats on and we are learning to win,” Johnson said. “I’m looking for good things tomorrow.”
The story was the same as Friday. The Mopar-sponsored team ran just quick enough to stay on top but not as quick as they could have been. Johnson was the second quickest in both Saturday sessions behind defending series champion Jason Line.
“We left maybe a hundredth and that could have been enough to be low in both rounds,” admitted Johnson. “We’re happy with that and as long as you can be consistent to within .01, I don’t think you can ask for much more than that.”
Line’s quicker car wasn’t a cause for concern to Johnson and his team.
“We’ve been preaching hard the consistency thing,” Johnson explained. “We ran .56, .55, .55 and a .54. No big moves, just small steps … just tinker.”
Tinkering in small increments helps, but putting a good tune-up in the driver is just as crucial.
“You have to get a good night’s rest and relax on Saturday,” added Johnson. “You have to go out there and have fun. Not think about it much. In drag racing, a lot of it is mental. You go up there and cut a bad light one time and you have to shrug it off. The biggest part is just to have fun.”
The most fun for Johnson, he admits, is consistent fun.
PAPA ARANA BAGS A NO. 1 - This season all the talk in NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle class has been about the domination of Harley-Davidson teammates Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines.
That changed at least for one day, anyway.
Hector Arana Sr. captured the pole position with a 6.850-second run Saturday in the final qualifying session at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.
“We have been working hard,” Hector Sr. said. “I know those Harleys have been running fast and we can’t think about them. We just have to keep going and working harder and harder. It is great to be back sitting on pole and what was even better is when my son grabbed that No. 2 spot. We are feeling great.”
Arana Sr. pilots the Lucas Oil Products Buell and his son and teammate Hector Arana Jr. is second on the qualifying ladder at 6.862.
Krawiec, who had the pole Friday, is third at 6.864 and Hines is fifth at 6.877.
NHRA addressed the issue of parity in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class March 20 by increasing the minimum weight for the Harley Davidson 160-cid, 4-valve combination by 20 pounds, from 640 pounds to 660 pounds.
This was Arana Sr.’s 18th No. 1 qualifying position.
“On the tuning, we are picking little by little, and trying to get this bike perfect,” Hector Sr. said. “There was a tailwind out there, but it didn’t bother me and the bike responded great.”
Arana Sr. isn’t making any bold predictions for Sunday.
“Do I want more? Yes,” said Hector Sr. when asked if his Buell could go faster. “Is it there any, I do not think so.”
Arana Sr., the 2009 world champ, has won six career NHRA national events.
ON HIS TERMS - When team owner George Bryce left NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks following the 2008 season, it was on his own terms.
Now, Bryce, a six-team world champion owner, believes he is molding a new championship team in 2012 with his Sovereign-Star Racing Team. Bryce is the co-owner of the team with Jeno Rujp. Rujp owns Sovereign, a large European sugar distribution company.
John Hall and Scotty Pollacheck are riding for the Sovereign-Star Racing team this season.
“I have been teaching the Pro Stock Motorcycle class at Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School for 19 years,” Bryce said. “Jeno brought these guys from Europe, Rasmus (Olesen) and Jesper (Thiel) and he brought them to my school. I taught them what I know about racing, like how to drive well and how to turn on win lights and so on.”
That led to a new friendship between Riup and Bryce.
“After the Rasmus and Jesper went home to Europe Jeno called me on the phone and said I was a fantastic teacher and he wanted me to come to Europe and teach his motorcycle riders how to race,” Bryce said. “We had sold him the engines and motorcycles they were racing in Europe (in 2011). He flew me to seven races in Europe and we won 6 out of 7.”
Thiel also won the European Pro Stock UEM Championship for the Hungarian-based team.
“We dominated in Europe in 2011 and when he (Jeno) came for a Christmas party (in the United States), I asked him if he wanted to race in America and in the NHRA and he said yes,” Bryce said. “He shipped all the motorcycles and the five engines back to America two weeks before the Gatornationals. We got both bikes back from Budapest (Hungary) and the five engines and we were able to qualify both bikes for the Gatornationals.”
This weekend at the Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas, Rujp is making his inaugural appearance at an NHRA national event.
“I hope to race forever with George,” Rujp said. “I like being here. This is a big show. Europe has smaller (Pro Stock Motorcycle) shows.”
Rujp also is going to attend NHRA’s Southern Nationals May 4-6 in Atlanta. He also might attend the Mile-High Nationals in Denver July 20-22.
From 1990-2002, Bryce’s Pro Stock Motorcycle riders for Star Racing won six NHRA championships in 1990, 1992, 1995, 2000, 2001, and 2002. Also in those 13 seasons, Bryce’s riders finished no worse than second in the points standings. Bryce’s team has won 78 NHRA national events with 11 different riders.
Pollacheck and Hall are qualified No. 4 and No. 13 for Sunday’s race.
“Things have worked out really well,” Bryce said.
DQ'D RUN: Following Top Fuel’s second qualifying session Friday night, Tony Schumacher thought he qualified fourth at 3.778 seconds.
That wasn’t the case. Schumacher’s run was nullified because his U.S. Army dragster didn’t pass a post run tech inspection.
“It was a technical violation,” Graham Light NHRA’s senior vice president-racing operations said Saturday morning. “It was a cut-and-dried situation. I do not know if they argued or not. I didn’t talk to the team. The (NHRA) tech department talked to the team.”
Light said the run was disqualified after a minor technical issue was discovered during a routine post-run inspection of the dragster.
“No further action will be taken,” Light said later Saturday to Competition Plus. “They were not fined, no points (were docked). It is not that degree.”
Schumacher’s 3.883-second run during Friday’s first qualifying session was allowed to stand.
“There’s no way of knowing whether the part was on the car for the first run, so the first run stands and the second run doesn’t,” Light said.
Schumacher’s 3.883 lap left him in the No. 10 in the qualifying ladder. Schumacher ran a 3.860 elapsed time during Saturday’s first qualifying session.
COMING SOON, ANOTHER ARANA: Adam Arana is inching closer to making his NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle debut.
“We have spent some time with him (Adam) and he has done some burnouts already,” said Hector Arana Sr., Adam’s father said Saturday. “We did them at the shop (near Indianapolis). We have a launch pad there.”
According to Hector Sr., about three weeks ago at the team shop, Adam did the burnouts and then drove forward and left in first gear and pulled in the clutch.
“He did that three times and it started raining so we had to stop,” Hector Sr. said.
Now, Arana Sr. has more plans for Adam.
“We are going to go to an 1/8th mile race track at Ohio Valley (in Louisville, Ky.),” Arana Sr. said. “We are going to go to Ohio Valley (with Adam) as soon as I get back from Atlanta. I will have him (Adam) go through the first couple of gears only and if he feels comfortable we are going to take him faster and faster and get him up to speed. If he still feels comfortable and wants to do more then the next thing will be to send him to school, Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School (in Gainesville, Fla.)”
The NHRA Southern Nationals in Atlanta are scheduled for May 4-6.
Adam is serving as Hector Sr.’s crew chief this season. Arana Sr. and Hector Jr. compete full-time on NHRA’s Pro Stock Motorcycle circuit. Hector Jr. is 23 years old and Adam is 20.
Hector Arana Jr. finished second in the Pro Stock Motorcycle standings as a rookie last season and his father was fifth. Thanks to winning three 2011 races, Arana Jr. won NHRA’s Auto Club of Southern California Road to the Future Award as the top rookie in drag racing.
Adam was scheduled to be at the Spring Nationals this weekend at Baytown, Texas, but he had to miss the trip because he was taking some college finals. Adam attends school at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany.
Hector Sr. admitted having Adam drive a Pro Stock Motorcycle isn’t easy for him.
“Knowing he is going to do that makes me nervous,” Hector Sr. said. “I’m more relaxed now with Hector Jr. It has been a year and he proved himself and now I’m starting with Adam. Adam notices some things with the bike, like how hard it leaves. It is like re-living everything again. I still get nervous with Hector (Jr.), but now having Adam I do not know what to do. I can tell you this much I can’t start the bike (for him). I will not start the bike for him. I will let somebody else do it because I’m already shaking. But, that’s what he wants to do and I want to give him a chance and help him out.”
ROOKIE BATTLE BREWING - Already this season Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria have been paired up at a number of media events from Pomona to Charlotte to this week in Houston.. They have never raced each other in competition however and that will change tomorrow. These two high profile rookie of the year candidates are looking forward to running side by side in front of an expected capacity crowd at Royal Purple Raceway.
Force’s Traxxas Ford Mustang ran 4.151 seconds on Friday, good enough for the No. 7 qualifying position and lane choice over DeJoria. Today her Funny Car smoked the tires both sessions on an increasingly hot track while DeJoria made consistent passes both sessions.
“First round I was in the right lane. It got a little out of the groove and it spun the tires. Second round today it was going down; I kept it in the groove and kept it straight. We just needed to make a few minor changes on the car to get the tune-up right. It was getting down there, it was going great, it was on a good run, it just decided it wanted to disagree with the race track and spin the tires at the other end so we didn’t get a great run out of qualifying today, but we did get a 4.15 and hopefully we can use that to our advantage tomorrow,” said Force.
“We do have lane choice, which is a good thing. I’m excited. I think it will be fun. I wish we had a little more consistency right now, but I have a lot of faith in my team and I know that even with a couple downfalls in qualifying we will get it together and I know my Traxxas crew members will get this car back running. We’ll be okay.”
“We have Alexis DeJoria first round which I’m excited about; two females in the first round. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be a fun race. We both have pretty good cars. She definitely has a consistent car so she has that advantage right now over me. I did run a 4.15, but that was in some cool conditions. Hopefully we can get our Traxxas Mustang Funny Car from A to B. It doesn’t matter what the number is. I just hope we can get to the other end without spinning the tires and hopefully we’ll get a win out of it.”
RACING WITH A HEAVY HEART - Rodger Brogdon is racing with a heavy heart this weekend in the O'Reilly Auto Parts Spring Nationals after one of his best friends passed away earlier this week.
Jimmy Carlton of Magnolia, Texas, died from cancer, and Brogdon attended the funeral Friday morning.
"We lost a very close friend to the family," Brogdon said. "I went to Jimmy's funeral Friday morning, so racing is secondary to me right now. We'll do the best we can but it's difficult."
Brogdon qualified No. 13 in Houston, his home track, with a best pass of 6.616 seconds at 209.30 mph. The Tomball, Texas, resident will face Dave Connolly in the first round of Sunday's eliminations. Connolly's best lap was a fourth-best 6.568 seconds at 211.00 mph.
"We've struggled a little bit this weekend," Brogdon said. "We're not really sure why. We hope can turn it around and get it figured out."
Brogdon had three passes within .004 seconds in qualifying, so his MAVTV Pontiac has been consistent. But the overriding thought is with Carlton's family this weekend.
"Knowing him, he'd want us to do the best we can," Brogdon said. "He was my biggest fan, I can promise you. He called me every time we ran."
Brogdon talked a lot to Carlton at this race a year ago, when Brogdon raced his way to the final round after doing some of the best driving of his Pro Stock career. This weekend, Brogdon's usually bright mood has been assuaged by the loss of his close friend.
"I made it out to the track in time to run, but I wasn't missing his funeral," Brogdon said. "We're not running that good, but there are bigger things in life than running fast at the race track. We'll do the best we can like we always do, but if we don't win, we don't win. Monday, the sun will come up, and everything will be good."
FIGHTING THE LEARNING CURVE: Bruce Litton made his 2012 NHRA season debut at the Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas. Unfortunately, the 2007 IHRA world champ, will not be racing Sunday.
Litton, driving a Lucas Oil-sponsored dragster, clocked 4.088 and 4.007-second laps, and then Saturday he ran 4.112 and 4.009 in the two qualifying sessions.
Unfortunately that 4.009 run left him No. 17 in the ladder for the 16-car field.
“We have a new combination in the car and it is just going to be a learning curve,” Litton said. “It (the combination) shows a lot of promise, but we just have to get it so that it is happy. We are going to do quite a bit of running this year, but this is a new combination and it is just a matter of learning it. I think it will be a real quick combination.”
Despite his Spring Nationals setback, Litton has more plans for this season.
“We are going to run 14 races this year,” Litton said. “We will run 8 in NHRA and some IHRA stuff in Canada and we are going to do some matches races as well, so we are going to be pretty busy.”
In addition to Houston, Litton said he plans to compete at Atlanta, Englishtown, Bristol, Brainerd, Indy, Dallas and St. Louis on the NHRA circuit this season.
“There a lot of good cars, there are a lot of good drivers and a lot of good teams (in NHRA),” Litton said. “We are playing catch up, but I think we will be OK.”
CHAMPIONSHIP MEMORIES – Between Jeg Coughlin Jr. and Warren Johnson, there are ten NHRA series championships. Neither driver qualified this weekend.
Coughlin had an unusually tough week losing an engine in testing and another in qualifying. On the final qualifying attempt, his Dodge Avenger turned sideways forcing him to lift.
"We're big boys so we'll face this head on," Coughlin said. "This is definitely not what we had on the script for this weekend. We came in here with high hopes after getting to the semis at the last race in Charlotte. We had made what we thought were good changes with the chassis and we had another new motor we were excited to run. It just didn't work out."
ZIZZO SLIPS IN: With one last qualifying run to get in the show, T.J. Zizzo stepped up.
The driver of the Peak Performance dragster clocked a 3.990-run to get in the 16-car field in the No. 15 spot.
“I saw that 3.99 and there was no oil and it was nice and clean and it was all right for me,” Zizzo said. “All is good.”
Zizzo faces No. 2 qualifier Steve Torrence in round one.
DECISIONS, DECISIONS - Bob Bode admits his team has been “toying” with the idea of running the Toyota body opting against the make in favor of the proven Impala body. He stuck with the tried and true GM version in Charlotte because “we just didn’t want to take any chances”.
This weekend, he’s getting the overwhelming urge to try the Toyota.
“We just don’t want to make the wrong decision,” said Bode, pointing out qualifying for each race is crucial when running on a limited budget.
The Toyota, over the course of the season, has proven to be the faster of the two.
“We’re just not sure if we know the ins and outs of the Toyota well enough to take that chance,” said Bode. “The Impala is good, but it’s old technology. The new Toyota stuff everyone is running is so much better.”
The Toyota is the 2011 version.
“The Impala is just so round; there’s not enough flat areas on it,” said Bode. “We call it a 2010 but the technology is likely from 2006 or 2007. It’s the car we call the bulldozer because it plows through the air. It runs good but just not real fast. We are looking for fast.”
Bode raced both the Impala and Toyota in Houston last year. He went with the Impala on race day and reached the semi-finals.
BROWN AVOIDS DNQ: Antron Brown didn’t wait until his last qualifying run to make the 16-car Spring Nationals field.
Brown clocked a 3.845-second run at 319.22 mph to get into the field at the No. 6 spot.
“You go through those bumps and bruises and we had those little gremlins get us (Friday),” Brown said. “My guys dug deep and got the car back together. It is running like our DSR car should run like. I always have all the confidence in the world in our boys, and we are back to normal form right now.”
BECKMAN DNQ – Jack Beckman missed the cut in Funny Car at the NHRA O'Reilly Spring Nationals. His 4.756 was not enough to crack the bubble; effectively ending his consecutive qualifying streak at 87.
“It sucks, you can’t put a good face on this,” Beckman told ESPN2’s Gary Gerould. “I still drive for a great team, and I still drive a great car. There’s nothing wrong with this crew. I think it’s the trailer – you know we inherited [teammate Ron] Capps’ trailer out of this deal. Maybe that’s it.
“We’ve had Rahn Tobler and John Collins helping out Todd Smith and Terry. We just can’t calm this car down. Every time we turn knobs, we are not getting the desired outcome. That’s two out of the last ten runs we’ve been down the race track, and that’s not going to cut it. It’s a brand new car and every time we unload one, they go right down the race track. I’m not sure we have an issue but we are so far off of this thing doing what we want it to do.
“I don’t know if we will test out … sprinkle holy water on the thing … it’s just frustrating. It’s tough to put a good spin on it. We have five days off before we have to do again in Atlanta and do a better job for Valvoline."
This marked the third consecutive race a DSR Funny car has failed to qualify.
QUICK TURNAROUND: Cory McClenathan failed to make the Top Fuel field at the Spring Nationals. Cory Mac’s best run left him in the No. 19 spot.
McClenathan, however, doesn’t have time to dwell. Cory Mac, who is driving for the Australian-based Rapisarda Racing team, is heading to Sydney Australia this coming week.
“We leave Tuesday for that race next weekend in Sydney,” McClenathan said. “We have had pretty good luck when I have gone to Sydney. We will run the cars they (his team) has over there. They have two cars over there and I will just run the same car I ran when I won Sydney the last time I was over there. I’m looking forward to going back there. It is always fun to go back to Sydney. It is a long plane flight (15 hours from Los Angeles where Cory Mac is leaving from). We will leave on Tuesday and we will land there on Thursday morning. So you are completely upside down when you start, but it is a lot of fun. It is a whole different world over there. The people are really nice and the food is great.”
Cory Mac said the Rapisarda Racing team will return to the NHRA circuit to run at Topeka, Kan., May 18-20.
FRIDAY: WEATHER COOL DOWN YIELDS HOT PERFORMANCES
Cruz Pedregon knew his limits during first day qualifying for the O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals and used them to his advantage.
The Snap-on Tools-sponsored driver pushed his Toyota Camry Funny Car to a run of 4.103-seconds to knock off Ron Capps, who had previously claimed the top spot by a run .004 quicker.
“I thought it was a good track, but you can’t go crazy,” said Pedregon.
Robert Hight has been the man this season in Funny Car, winning four of the first five races, but on Friday Pedregon admitted his car is showing signs of life.
“It’s coming around,” Pedregon said. “I feel it in my bones and it’s a good car, a car which should have won the last race. The driver just let us off then. I think we are coming into a time when we can run with anybody. Credit to Robert but I definitely want to keep my name alongside Bernstein and Prudhomme I want to keep my name up there. To heck with Robert.”
Hight’s four wins-in-a-row mark equals only Pedregon, Kenny Bernstein and Don Prudhomme in the history book.
“Records are meant to be broken ,” said Pedregon. “It’s really flattering because I always felt those guys [Prudhomme, Bernstein] were my heroes growing up. If Robert gets there, he deserves it. He’s got a great car and he’s a great driver. We are going to do all we can and we have a great start so far.”
Pedregon got off to a good start leading the first session with a 4.133 elapsed time at 306.19 mph. Though he stepped up considerably hard, Pedregon found it had to say whether the run could hold through Saturday’s remaining two sessions.
“Hard to say because we didn’t know there were going to be clouds today,” said Pedregon. “We probably should have run a 4.07 on that one and we dropped a cylinder three seconds into the run. We came through [on that run] by just a hair. It’s going to be tough to eclipse that run in the heat of the day.”
Pedregon, who benefitted from overcast skies on Friday, hopes Saturday is the opposite.
“I hope the sun comes out because that’s how it is going to be on Sunday,” said Pedregon.
Pedregon’s quick nature on Friday netted six bonus points for low elapsed times in both sessions.
“After our slow start, we are happy to produce like this,” Pedregon said. “Lee [Beard] has exceeded my expectations. He’s a true professional from top to bottom. We are fortunate to have a guy of his talents on our team. He’s a true professional from top to bottom. It’s not just one guy tuning this car, it’s a combination. Lee and I work well together. We don’t have the wins to show for it but we have some good times ahead.”
MIGHT NEED THAT –Pedregon, while waiting to run his final lap of the day, tossed part of his race car out the side window while his car idled on the starting line.
“We lightened an aluminum reverser,” explained Pedregon. “It’s such a frail piece of aluminum that it finally broke. It probably shouldn’t have been lightened. It weighs about as much as a feature.”
Fortunately for Pedregon, an alert crewman was able to shove the car back in gear.
“I was almost ready to shut the car off even though I knew the pole position was sitting there,” Pedregon said. “My tallest guy on the crew rocked the car and how he got it in gear I will never know. I tossed it out and the guys looked at it like it was a hot potato. We kept our cool.”
DOING IT: Before the season, no one probably thought Morgan Lucas was a contender for NHRA’s Top Fuel world championship.
Well, Lucas is proving his critics wrong, so far.
On Friday night, Lucas took the provisional pole at the Spring Nationals with a 3.772-second lap at a track record speed of 327.74 mph at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas.
Lucas actually had the identical elapsed time as Steve Torrence, but Lucas took the pole based on his faster mph. Torrence’s mph was 322.88.
“We were lucky to stay on top of that,” Lucas said. “When I hit the gas, the thing snapped the front end up and pulled it out of the beams. I actually think it might have run a little quicker than the ET showed. All I could keep thinking was it was as aggressive as H*ll and God please let this thing stick and it did. When Steve O ran than 4.772 right behind us, it was almost nerve-racking for a second just trying to wait and hear what the mph was. It is cool to race like this because I have never had a car to where I had to be concerned how everybody else was doing. I know that sounds weird, but it is truly a blessing to be able to have this thing going the direction it is going.”
Lucas was quick to praise his revamped team which includes new crew chiefs Aaron Brooks and Rod Centorbi.
I’m really fortunate to have the team that we do right now, and it was a good way to bounce back from what we did in Charlotte,” said Lucas said, who lost in the first round at Charlotte’s 4Wide Nationals. “We learned a lot in testing the next day (after Charlotte) and we came here on the first run and had an MSD box malfunction and it kind of cost us a run. But, I’m just really proud of this Geico team for stepping up when they need to step up. They have the confidence to put the car to where they think it is going to be able to run to its best potential.”
Lucas, who is fourth in the season points and has one win at the Gatornationals, is full of confidence himself.
“To be honest with you this year my confidence has been so much higher than it has been in years past,” said Lucas, whose best career NHRA Top Fuel points finish was fifth in 2005. “This car gives me no reason to lack confidence.”
Thanks to his stout run Friday, Lucas knows his team has far more options available Saturday.
“The luxury of the situation for us right now is being that good in qualifying is going into the warmer sessions (Saturday) it is going to give us the opportunity to try some things we need to try,” Lucas said. “That way we can try to go down the track four times on Sunday. I have a hard time imagining that we will run quicker than that (3.772) (Saturday), but if the conditions are right I know we will try to.”
Being fourth in the points behind the DSR stable of Spencer Massey, Tony Schumacher and Antron Brown also isn’t lost on Lucas.
“It is weird because I think people because of years past have counted us out a little bit,” Lucas said. “I’m not saying we have something figured out, but I feel like we are closer to being to that point than we were in the past, so maybe we are the darkhorse (in this championship race). It is nice to actually put a little parity in there. I’m sure the fans like to see it. John Force built one H*ll of a fan base when he was winning every race he went to, but at some point you kind of get fans who root against you just because they want to see somebody else win. Maybe we will get to be those guys and maybe it our season to at least challenge these guys at the end of the year.”
WHAT WEIGHT? - Adding 20 pounds to Eddie Krawiec’s Harley-Davidson didn’t slow it down.
Krawiec, the 2011 NHRA world champ, clocked a 6.872-second run at 197.83 mph to grab the provisional pole Friday at the Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway.
“That run there was almost like a picture perfect run for me,” Krawiec said. “It went straight as a string and I tucked in there nice and tight after I got in second gear and I just motored on down through.”
NHRA addressed the issue of parity in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class March 20 by increasing the minimum weight for the Harley Davidson 160-cid, 4-valve combination by 20 pounds, from 640 pounds to 660 pounds.
Glen Gray, NHRA’s Vice President, Technical Operations, believes adding weight to the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson motorcycles driven by teammates Andrew Hines and Krawiec was the right step to take at the time. Krawiec and Hines are the only two NHRA Harley-Davidson riders.
NHRA reviewed the parity in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class as a result of Harley-Davidson’s dominating performance at the Gatornationals which were completed March 12. At the Gatornationals, Krawiec established new NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle national records with a 6.750-second elapsed time and a 199.26 mph speed.
“You look at it and you have to work on your stuff and put forth the effort, and we did,” Krawiec said. “We worked all winter long. We had four months there and put in a lot of hours on our motorcycles and expect results. That’s our deal. If you are racing out here and you are a full-time team, you expect results and we got results. We ran well for that to happen (adding 20 pounds to the Harley-Davidsons), and I understand that to try and make it competitive. It makes it tough on everybody. It is not the easiest for anybody. We are just doing our best to come out here and run the best that we can.”
The domination of the Harleys, had some Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors saying third was the new first, something that didn’t sit well with Krawiec.
“I think if people are going to say and race like that they ought to not even come out here and race,” Krawiec said. “If you have not been out here for a couple of years and you turn around and come to the first race and you are not even at that point of running through the season and that’s your mentality that third is the new first then I do not think you should be out here racing. You have to dig deep and go after it harder. We all work on our stuff and we all push and that is the way it is. You can’t go to a race saying I’m not going to win. Every time I leave to go to a race I’m telling you I’m going to win and that is my mentality. Why even leave and want to go to a race if you know you are not going to win. You have to put forth an effort. We still need to ride the motorcycles. We still need to tune the motorcycles and we need to hope that they do not break. They have to get down and go from A to B and make good clean runs. That’s why we race on the dragstrip, not on paper and not anything else.”
Hines is No. 5 in the qualifying ladder at 6.911 seconds.
“The humidity went down a little bit, but you still have a pretty stout tailwind here,” Krawiec said. “I wish this tailwind was in Gainesville to be honest with you. If I had this tailwind in Gainesville, it probably would have run real well. I’m just trying to make good clean laps. We didn’t test at all. We had a pretty good baseline and it is all about balance and stuff on the motorcycle. We sort of scaled it and figured out where we need to be with a certain weight and went from there. We have a great racing surface here (at Royal Purple Raceway), and it is one of the best we have been on all year.”
Hector Arana Sr. is the No. 2 qualifier at 6.886.
FAIR WEATHER MOPAR - Allen Johnson admits he gave up being a weatherman years ago. If he had the knack of predicting Mother Nature, he’d be a No. 1 a lot more than he has been in his career.
Johnson, of Greeneville, Tenn., channeled his inner meteorologist as he ran his way to a 6.546-second run at 211.73 miles per hour to lead first day Pro Stock qualifying at the O’Reilly NHRA Spring Nationals. He edged defending series champion Jason Line by .004 for the provisional No. 1.
The track temperature dropped for the final session and it made a world of difference in the way Johnson’s Dodge Avenger ran. He improved by .009 in the second run.
“It got about 15 or 20 degrees cooler when sun went behind the clouds,” said Johnson. “Man that was good. We gave it all it would take and [the run] was perfect.”
Now whether it will hold or not, that’s where Johnson says he understands his limitations.
“No idea what the weather is going to do,” said Johnson. “I figured out a long time ago I couldn’t do anything about the weather.”
Johnson admitted he believed his run could have been quicker if the team had gotten more aggressive in their approach.
“We left a little on the table,” said Johnson. “All in all, we were very consistent and that’s what we’re shooting for.”
The veteran driver admitted his team was shooting for a 6.53.
“That just goes to show you how much was left on the table,” Johnson pointed out. “We thought we had a good shot at it.”
And for Johnson, this kind of result doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Late last season, he added two-time NHRA Pro Stock champion Jim Yates to a braintrust headed by Mark Ingersoll, son of the late Buddy Ingersoll.
“We’re playing against all-star teams so we had to create an all-star team of our own,” said Johnson. “For the longest Mark was making decisions on two-cars against three-car teams with three crew chiefs. We felt like we needed some help. Mark is the best and Jim will tell you that. Jim backs him up and helps him to make decisions – and keep focused. It’s working great and combined with my dad [Roy Johnson] and the guys at the engine shop are making great power.”
Now if Johnson could control the weather, he’d really showcase their work.
BERNSTEIN LOSES POINTS: Top Fuel driver Brandon Bernstein, who is in his first year driving for Morgan Lucas Racing, was five season points lighter after the first qualifying session Saturday at the Spring Nationals.
Right at the end of his run, Bernstein damaged his engine and oiled down the track. Bernstein clocked a 3.922-second lap at 278.69 mph.
Bernstein was docked five points by NHRA for oiling down the track. Bernstein came to Houston 10th in points with a 207 total. David Grubnic, who was in 11th place, at 201 points picked up three points for being the top qualifier in the first qualifying session at 3.86 at 320.20 mph.
After Friday, Bernstein was qualified seventh at 3.848 seconds.
STOP BEATIN’ SEA BISCUIT – Dave Connolly is over his starting line snafu which resulted in his Chevrolet Cobalt being timed out at zMax Dragway in Charlotte.
Connolly was disqualified when his car pushed close to the seven-second starting line time-out. Unbeknownst to Connolly, the starting line auto-start has a rare variable which can shorten the stage time to 6.45 seconds.
“If you still want to talk about that weekend, you’re beating a dead horse,” said Connolly. “It’s over … done with … I don’t think it was fair. That decision has been made and we are on to a new race weekend.”
Connolly is racing this weekend with backing from Alamo Iron Works.
“I don’t get to race that often, so I am eager to get out here as much as I can,” Connolly admitted.
Connolly plans a number of races towards the end of the season and may have a few outings in between. When pressed for which events, Connolly couldn’t give definitive answer.
NO RIDE LIKE A SUMMER RIDE – Ron Capps, with the addition of tuner Rahn Tobler, described each run as like a relaxing summer drive.
“It’s like a summer day and you have your Oakley glasses on,” said Capps. “And, you’re driving down the road in your favorite car. It’s a lot of fun. It makes you want to sing Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang.”
He didn’t sing it, but he tweeted the popular line from the classic movie of the same title to his thousands of followers.
“That’s just how fun it is,” Capps added.
Capps alluded the team has pre-existing chemistry, and it’s just a matter of him adapting to the former Jack Beckman crew. Following a SummitRacing.com Nationals DNQ, tuners Tim and Kim Richards resigned. Team owner Don Schumacher reassigned Rahn Tobler and his crew to the role of tuning the NAPA Auto Parts car. The previous crew was reassigned to Beckman and Todd Smith was brought in as tuner.
“I have to adjust to them,” explained Capps. “I have to make sure I do things the way they are used to. I don’t want to change the performance of anything they’ve built. It’s a great thing already.”
FIRST DAY STRUGGLES - The first day was anything but a banner one for Robert Hight.
In the first session Hight and teammate Mike Neff were the last pair of Funny Cars by virtue of their positions in the points but both shook the tires just a hundred feet into their runs. In the second session Hight was on a strong run but at the finish line his AAA Texas Ford Mustang shot towards the center and slowed dramatically at the top end.
‘It welded the clutch together and it made a right hand turn real hard. That is what we needed to do. That 4.15 wasn’t what Jimmy was looking for but hopefully that will stay in the Top twelve. We’ll try and do better tomorrow,” said Hight from the top end.
STILL ENTERTAINING – Teammates Rodger Brogdon and Steve Kent might be parked on Royal Purple Raceway’s “back-40” but this hasn’t stopped them from entertaining the hometown folk and a number of business clients. Brogdon owns a roofing company in nearby Tomball, Tex., while Kent is just a little further across the state line in Louisiana.
“We’re just as serious about doing business as we are about our racing,” said Kent. “This is a hometown race and we are hoping to do well for everyone. We want to go to the front but we are here to have a good time and show everyone else a good time too.”
Neither Brogdon nor Kent celebrated after Friday’s qualifying. Brogdon got into the field provisionally 6.616 while Kent fell short with a 6.662.
“It’s great to be home, but it’s a lot of work,” added Brogdon. “The extra fans and friends make you want to try harder. You want to get everyone in the big picture at the end of the day. We wanted to take a big picture here last year.”
Brogdon reached the final round last season, losing the race to Vincent Nobile by less than .003.
HARSH REALITY: In basically 18 months, NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle rider LE Tonglet has experienced the highs and lows of racing.
Back in 2010, Tonglet shocked his competitors by winning the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis.
Shortly after his Indy win, Nitro Fish Racing owner Kenny Koretsky came onboard as a primary sponsor and Tonglet proceeded to win three more races in the Countdown playoffs at Charlotte, Dallas and Las Vegas and was runner-up at Reading, Pa. Those performances helped him capture the world championship by a mere four points over Andrew Hines.
The 20-year-old Tonglet became the youngest NHRA Full Throttle world champion. Additionally, he earned the $20,000 Auto Club Road to the Future Award as the season’s top rookie.
Fast-forward to this weekend at the Spring Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas and Tonglet’s dealing with the fact he likely have to park his Suzuki after the race at Atlanta May 4-6.
“Right now our last race is probably going to be Atlanta,” said Tonglet, who is now 22. “There is no real funding to get to New Jersey (Englishtown May 31-June 3) right now. We are just going to go to these two races (Houston and Atlanta) and see what happens. After Atlanta we will just park the bike and go to our real jobs. GT (LE’s older brother) and I work 40 hours a week at a Honda Motorcycle shop (in Metairie, La.) and my dad (Gary) has his own business.”
Tonglet’s team lost its backing from Nitro Fish Racing following the season-opening Pro Stock Motorcycle race at Gainesville, Fla., in March.
“We kind of knew it was coming, the way the class was,” said Tonglet, who was seventh in points last season. “Kenny (Koretsky) wants to win and he feels like he couldn’t win.”
Glen Gray, NHRA’s Vice President, Technical Operations, believes adding weight to the Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson motorcycles driven by teammates Andrew Hines and Eddie Krawiec was the right step to take at this time. Krawiec and Hines are the only two NHRA Harley-Davidson riders. Krawiec also is the reigning Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ.
NHRA reviewed the parity in the Pro Stock Motorcycle class as a result of Harley-Davidson’s dominating performance at the Gatornationals which were completed March 12. At the Gatornationals, Krawiec established new NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle national records with a 6.750-second elapsed time and a 199.26 mph speed.
“Adding weight will slow them (the Harley-Davidsons) down, but we just have to run our own program,” Tonglet said. “If we worry about them all the time, we lose focus on our stuff. We try not to worry about what everybody else is doing or anything like that.”
The thought of parking his Vance & Hines-powered Suzuki after Atlanta is hard to digest for Tonglet. Tonglet is tied for fifth in points this season with Hector Arana Sr.
“It sucks,” said Tonglet, who has nine career Pro Stock Motorcycle national event wins. “It is mainly the economy. There is no money out there and it is just tough. You can go from the top to the bottom real quick. This is just part of racing and it sucks. There is really nothing we can do about it except look for sponsorship now. We will be back if we can get some funding.”
EXPECTED CRITICISM: When NHRA professional teams arrived at the Spring Nationals Thursday at Royal Purple Raceway in Baytown, Texas they knew pit parking would be limited.
On April 19, Josh Peterson, NHRA’s vice president of racing administration, sent out an email to NHRA Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Mod teams that read as follows:
NHRA Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle and Pro Mod Teams,
Due to overwhelming popularity in the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals presented by Super Start Batteries at Royal Purple Raceway from sponsors and manufacturers pit space on the asphalt will be limited.
Based on the amount of entries projected to attend the event we estimate approximately 10 Pro Stock teams will be parked on asphalt. All Pro Stock Motorcycle, Pro Mod and any remaining Pro Stock teams will be parked on grass.
The limited pit space parking didn’t sit well with Greg Anderson, a four-time NHRA Pro Stock world champ.
“They (NHRA) took the top 10 (in points) and they service them first, and they give them the best spots,” Anderson said Friday. “It looks like they did better than they expected to do because it looks like more than 10 cars are on the asphalt. I haven’t looked around yet to see who drew the short straw and ended up on grass. I feel bad about that. I do not know what we do about it. It just seems every year we keep getting pushed farther and farther down the pit area. I guess I know the fuel racers are the stars of the show, but you will have racers show up in the fuel class that race probably once or twice a year, and I do not know if that’s quite fair for them to get prime parking and then push your regular Pro Stock cars down. I do not quite understand that and that’s obviously a beef we will probably always have with the NHRA. I do not get that. If you are a part-time Top Fuel racer I do not think you should get the same treatment as the full-time ones.”
Anderson said he didn’t talk to the NHRA about Houston’s pit parking.
“That was kind of dropped on us and we were left with no choice,” Anderson said. “You do not want to get in a big argument and a big fight. It is kind of the way it is. Do I think it is fair? No absolutely not. The spots are jammed up mainly with add on fuel racers that do not race every race and they are going to give them prime spots and I do not understand that.”
During a walk of the pits Friday morning, V Gaines, Rodger Brogdon, Steve Kent, Rickie Jones, Kurt Johnson, Warren Johnson, and Chris McGaha were all parked in the grass.
All the Pro Stock Motorcycles and Pro Mods also were parked on the grass.
Some drivers set mats down on the grass, while others put tarps down and plywood.
Brogdon is eighth in the points, but he elected to pit on the grass with his teammate Kent, who is 15th in points.
“Since we are teammates we had this hospitality and we went to the dance together so we wanted to stay together,” Kent said. “So we built ourselves a dance floor. We put this floor in (Thursday). It is double-layer plywood with sheeting under the bottom. Our thing is we come here to race and have a good time. NHRA has an agenda that most people here do not understand, and I do not really care as long as they provide us a place t o race. I told them we would race from Winnie (Texas) if we had to. There is no use fussing and fighting or whatever. We just need to come in and have a good time and do the best you can with what you got and try to win a race.”
Royal Purple Raceway is the home track for both Brogdon and Kent.
“We have a lot of customers coming (to the race this weekend),” said Kent, who said there are 236 pieces of plywood in he and Brogdon’s pit area and hospitality area. “Rodger is based in Houston and I’m based right out of Baton Rouge. We have a lot of business interests here in Houston and in Texas and a lot of people are coming out to visit and we all wanted to have our party together. We are not going to let NHRA dampen our party.”
McGaha, who is racing a limited Pro Stock schedule, also weighed in on Houston’s parking.
“We feel right at home because we are Comp racers,” McGaha said laughing. “It was kind of a joke (that some Pro Stock cars have to park on the grass), but what do you do? I ran Competition Eliminator for 17 years, so we are used to parking in the grass. It is disappointing that a Pro class (Pro Stock) has to park out here on the grass. You do what you have to do and here we are. It’s a bummer especially since we had to pay for the (hospitality) pit spot next to us in the grass. But, in the end what do you do? You just do not want it to rain if you are in the grass area.”
McGaha’s hospitality area has a tent with five tables of eight chairs each.
McGaha also offered his suggestion to remedy the pit parking.
“You know what I think really needs to happen is some of the places need to update their facilities,” said McGaha, who resides in Odessa, Texas. “I have been coming here (Royal Raceway Park) since I was a kid and it (the track) was new and they have not done a lot of updating to this place. Every track should be like Vegas. There is no bad parking spot in Vegas from the Super Street guy on up and that’s the way it should be, but I can understand people who own tracks are in it to make money.”
Royal Purple Raceway, formerly known as Houston Raceway Park, was opened in 1988.
SPECIAL FANS: Top Fuel driver T.J. Zizzo has become an NHRA fan favorite the last several years.
Zizzo will have some special fans in attendance Saturday at the Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas near Houston. Heroes for Children is having a family day at the track. There is expected to be 70 families with Heroes for Children at the track.
Heroes for Children is a charity foundation founded in 2004 by two mothers in memory of their daughters. Heroes for Children provides financial and social assistance to families battling cancer within the state of Texas.
“Dan (Martens) who owns Misix which is our agency of record, he was a cancer survivor as a child,” Zizzo said. “That is where this whole thing stemmed from. With Heroes for Children being based in Texas we thought this would be a perfect event to do something like this.”
Misix is a full service marketing and innovation agency, and is a sponsor on Zizzo’s dragster.
On Thursday, Zizzo attended a patient party at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
“It was one of those deals where they were an inspiration to me,” Zizzo said. “I do not know if I was an inspiration to them, but they were certainly an inspiration to me. I just wanted to go there and entertain them. We donated a laptop computer to a 14-year-old candidate. When you see something like that it just touches your heart to the nth degree. I have two healthy children at home and thank God because you never know.”
The families in attendance Saturday with Heroes for Children Saturday will attend a Zizzo autograph session in the morning and take a group picture. Friends, board members and volunteers of Heroes for Children also will sit together in section 106 Saturday. Race track owner, Seth Angel, is providing a generous block of discounted tickets to support this event.
Zizzo is racing a limited Top Fuel schedule this season. Following Houston, Zizzo will compete at Atlanta (May 4-6) and Englishtown, N.J. (May 31-June 3).
“That will be the first time ever we have raced at Englishtown,” Zizzo said. “One of our team members, Tony Smith, our clutch specialist, has always wanted to go there (Englishtown). He has been with us for 20 years and we were finally able to grant him that wish. After Engishtown, we will go to Chicago (June 28-July 1), and Norwalk, Ohio (July 5-8). Then, we will go Indy (Aug. 29-Sept. 3), St. Louis (Sept. 28-30), Vegas (Oct. 25-28) and Pomona (Nov. 8-11).”
YUM-YUM, EAT 'EM UP - If you happen to drop by any pit area this weekend at the O’Reilly Spring Nationals, you will see specialists at work. In less time that it takes to cook, eat, and clean up supper, these guys can tear down and rebuild an 8,000 horsepower motor, and best of all, when they’re done there are no nuts and bolts left over.
The key to their success? Specialization. On every team you’ll find a guy who works exclusively on a specific area of the car, such as clutches, blowers, or another area of expertise.
Team Schumacher is no different. You’ll find employees hard at work, whether polishing the car bodies, fine tuning the motors, or dishing up heaping helpings of chicken fried steaks.
Wait a minute. Chicken fried wha…?
Yep, at any NHRA tour stop, as many as 2,000 folks, including sponsors, family, and invited guests will visit the hospitality area of Schumacher Racing, and all show up hungry. Thanks to executive chef Malcolm Clark, those same people will leave in much better shape than they arrived, all full from the good eats that Chef Clark creates.
A native of Mitchell, Indiana, Clark has spent his life in the Midwest, but thanks to his training at the International Culinary Institute at the Art Institute of Indianapolis, he is now well-versed in foods from all over the world and travels the United States sharing his culinary skills with appreciative folks at each NHRA event.
Clark’s interest in cooking runs as deep as his Indiana roots, thanks to kitchen skills learned in a school boasting a 24/7 teacher. “My mom was a big influence on me going into cooking,” said Clark. “She was a stay-at-home mom, so she cooked dinner every night. We didn’t eat fast food, because she wanted to cook good meals for us at home. I’d come home from school, go into the kitchen, and help her. I grew up with five sisters, but the weird thing was that none of my sisters cooked. If I were to go home tonight and have my mom cook my very favorite meal of hers, it would have to be stuffed green bell peppers.”
Recognizing as a freshman in high school that he wanted to make food his career, Clark continued to hone his kitchen skills by observing chefs, working in a few fast food restaurants, and continuing to pay close attention to his mother’s efforts. After completing his culinary training, Indianapolis became Clark’s home base, and he quickly established himself in the local food scene by working with highly-visible clients. “I was working at Centerplate Catering for the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium,” said Clark. “One of the chefs there had done it all, including working at the Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway for years. After the football season, he took me out to work at some of his facilities, such as the Verizon Wireless Music Center to do backstage catering and VIP catering for concerts. I also worked in the L.S. Ayres Tea Room, (An Indianapolis landmark that opened in 1905) which is located in the Indiana State Museum, and we had a traditional menu. We did catering and a lot of weddings in the museum, which was on the canal in Indianapolis. Later, I worked for another company, providing catering for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for such events as the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400. From there I went to O’Reilly Raceway Park, the dragstrip in Indianapolis where they hold the U.S. Nationals, and that’s where I was introduced to Dustin, the chef for Al-Anabi. “(A rival race team that promotes the country of Qatar)
Not long after, Clark learned from Dustin of an opening on the Schumacher team and jumped at the opportunity. Now armed with kitchen tools and a Commercial Drivers’ License, he spends over 200 days a year sharing his skills with his own appreciative fans. “There are four chefs on the circuit, but I’m the only chef that drives a semi,” said Clark. After arriving as early as Tuesday for an event, Clark spends his days cleaning his kitchen, ordering, picking up, and checking in food from local warehouse stores, and making food platters for team members that arrive on Thursday.
However, much like the 300-plus-mile-per-hour land rockets sitting just a few feet from his hospitality tent, Clark’s weekends travel at warp speed, concluding late Sunday evening when he prepares to head out for the next race. Beginning Friday around 9 a.m., Clark hits the pavement and never looks back. “I have one guy that helps me with the actual prep,” he said. “We have three girls that serve the food and make the salads and tray up the desserts. We have seven hospitality employees that manage the tent, put the food out, clean tables, pick up trash, and they come to the kitchen when it’s close to service to help put everything in the hot boxes. Then they put the hot boxes on each side to get ready for service. When the race is over on Sunday we’re usually there until 10 or 11 o’clock at night. We tear down all the hospitality tents, pack up the semis, and get them ready to roll the next morning. On Monday we pull out.”
Unlike other Schumacher team members, Clark’s efforts cannot be seen on the track, however, his talents are regularly noticed by others. “I’ve heard from sponsors that will tell me that they’ve had one of the best meals that they’ve had at the track in years,” said Clark, who also provides meals for crew members with special dietary needs and religious requirements.
Occasionally, Clark contributes to the team by simply meeting the need that arises from a good old-fashioned craving. “Last week at Charlotte, Spencer Massey (driver of the Fram/Prestone Top Fuel dragster) told me he wanted Sloppy Joes,” said Clark. “So, I told him that if he won the race I’d make them this week for him.”
Massey must have wanted his childhood favorite in a big way. Not only did he win the race, he also set a new national speed record for the Top Fuel category in the final round, blistering the zMax Dragway enroute to a 332.18 mile-per-hour effort. Needless to say, Clark was more than pleased. “This week,” he grinned, “We’re having Sloppy Joes.” - Randy Cunningham
THURSDAY PREVIEW: THE BAYTOWN BOOGIE SOON TO BEGIN
BACKING UP THE TALK - If any man walks the walk and doesn't just talk the talk, it's Funny Car champion Matt Hagan -- whose 2012 statistics, unfortunately, might not make him feel much like a champion at the moment. But leading by example and staying positive is something he not only has done but further committed to do by sharing those ideas with students at the middle school he used to attend in Christiansburg, Va.
Hagan has won just one round in five races this year, already has a DNQ, and gained worldwide attention for a spectacular engine explosion.
"Life is full of challenges and how you deal with those challenges, how you take that hardship and turn it into something positive," Hagan, a local cattle farmer as well as driver of the Aaron's Dream Machine Dodge Charger, told the "tweens." He quickly added, "Sometimes that's hard to do.
"This is about as low as it gets. A lot of folks are looking to see whether you're going to dig deep and get back up on top or let the pressure crumble you," Hagan said. "You think, 'How in the world can I take a DNQ, a blow-up, and one round win under our belt all year and make that look positive?' While it's hard to make all that look positive, what we can do is get with Tommy [crew cheif DeLago] and make sure the guys on the team and keep their heads up. You have to lead by example."
Hagan earned his first NHRA victory at Baytown, Texas, and he said, "Good, bad, or indifferent, it will always be a special racetrack for me, because it's where I got my first win. We started that year off and ended up second in the world at the end of the season. It goes to show it's not too late to bounce back.
"We need to make something out of these next couple races," he said. "We have a great car, a great team, and Tommy is giving 100 percent. Sometimes it just hasn't materialized to what it should be. That doesn't mean that we're losing faith, throwing our hands up, or lost any confidence in anybody. It's just a matter of seeing what we're made of. This pressure is no different than the pressure of the championship. It's about how you deal with it and turn it into a positive and make things happen."
WANTS IT ALL - Given his druthers, winning in the so-called "regular season" or the Countdown to the Championship, AAA Texas Ford Mustang driver Robert Hight really doesn’t want to choose. He wants to win everything. That might sound greedy, but it's no different from any other racer wants -- and it's understandable how he has gotten used to winning, considering he has earned the Funny Car Wally trophy at the past four events.
"You definitely want to win as many races as you can," the three-time No. 1 qualifier this season said. "I have had a number of interviews lately when people have asked me would I rather win now or in the Countdown at the end of the season. I want to win now and at the end of the season. I don't think you can pick when you win. You just have to take advantage of every opportunity.
"Jimmy [crew chief Prock] and I have talked about wanting to dominate a whole season. I am hoping we are on one of those streaks like Force in '96 or Tony Schumacher in '08. Those guys won over 10 races in those seasons and they won Driver of the Year. I am not looking that far ahead, but I want to keep going rounds and see where we wind up at the end of the season," Hight said.
"I am proud of my guys and especially my crew chief, Jimmy Prock, for giving me a Funny Car that has been in position to win the past four races. It has been a team effort. The car has won some races and I have done a pretty good job driving it. We are all focused on just getting qualified and going rounds," Hight, a 27-time winner, said.
Hight took a look back at Charlotte to appreciate how special his achievements have been: "You look at the final quad of racers at the NHRA Four-Wide Nationals. It was Force, [Cruz] Pedregon, Ron Capps, and me. Those three other guys are guaranteed Hall of Famers. That was a big win for us. It is hard enough to win one race out here, but to win four in a row is more than I could have dreamed.
"I have been lucky to get a great opportunity from John Force to be with a tremendous team led by Jimmy Prock. The biggest key to my success has been the fact that we have kept my crew guys together. Our core group of 7-8 guys has been together since my rookie year. I want to continue to keep getting better as a driver, because I know my guys are pouring their guts into this race car."
GETTING TO KNOW YOU - Adjusting to a new Funny Car team in the Don Schumacher racing organization and Rahn Tobler as crew chief meant some changes for NAPA Dodge Charger driver Ron Capps. "It was a big transition at Charlotte with the team, because they wanted me to do some things differently like how we warm the car and do a burnout," Capps said. "But the hardest part for me was when somebody yelled 'Ron!' (or 'Rahn!') in the pit area. Tobler and I would look every time. And then to get the names down for our new crew guys -- and a lot of them have nicknames. To be honest, I need name tags. I've been [looking] on ShoeRacing.com to become more familiar with the new guys."
However, Capps said he has no confusion about how he feels right now, especially after taking the provisional No. 1 qualifying position Friday at Charlotte.
"Ah, man, that weekend was exciting. I can't explain how much fun I had running the Four-Wide Nationals with Rahn and (assistant crew chief) John Collins and the NAPA guys. That day [Friday] I remembered how much fun it was to drive one of these hot rods," Capps said.
"I couldn't believe how smooth our NAPA Dodge drove and how quick it was. That was a pretty good barometer on how the rest of the season will go," he said. "I feel so confident with Rahn Tobler. He looks down the road and plans so far ahead. The way the car is running now, I'm confident how well it will run at the end of the year in the Countdown to the Championship. I have no problem saying we'll be in the winner's circle soon. That's a fun position to be in as a driver."
Despite all the chaos of not qualifying at Las Vegas and seeing crew chief Tim Richards and his equally capable wife Kim leave DSR, Capps is seventh as the tour heads to Baytown, Texas. And it's a place where Capps has had some success. He won here in 2006 and 2007, and in 1997 here, he became the first Funny Car driver to reach 315 mph.
"It gives you a feeling of confidence, knowing you won there before," the 33-time winner said. "There are certain tracks where a certain driver or crew chief does well. I've always loved going there, especially when I look back and remember winning twice and going 315 with Roland Leong as my crew chief. That was cool. Some things stand out in your mind."
This past Saturday night, Capps raced an IMCA Modified open-wheel car at Kingsford Speedway at Hanford, Calif., using it as a chance to prepare for Tony Stewart's June 6 Prelude to the Dream charity race at Eldora Speedway at Rossburg, Ohio. Capps started 18th Saturday and climbed to fourth place after 10 laps, but another car damaged the left-side of his Modified.
MILESTONE APPROACHING - As he stands at the threshold of his 600th elimination-round victory, Top Fuel star Tony Schumacher said, "I guess I haven't given it much thought. To be honest, I'm more concerned with getting a race win versus a round win."
His streak has stretched to 28 races.
"Hitting 600 is definitely a milestone, of sorts. I know not many drivers have done that, so it's probably a big deal," Schumacher said. Only four have achieved it -- John Force, Warren Johnson, Bob Glidden, and Kenny Bernstein.
"Frankly, on Sunday," he said, "I’d like to say that I now have 603 round wins."
Baytown is the site of his first victory with crew chief Mike Green, in 2009. He won here in 2005, as well, but that 2009 triumph went beyond a regular race victory for Schumacher. "It absolutely does – that was the first race win for Mike Green and me. He was my new crew chief at the time after replacing Alan Johnson. All of the so-called experts said I would never win another race or contend for another championship after Alan left. Not only did we win that race in Baytown, but we won four other races and the world title that year."
Don Schumacher Racing teammate Antron Brown said, "As a friend and teammate, I want him to get it, for sure. He's achieved so much during his career it really is mind-boggling. He's the winningest driver in Top Fuel history – that says it all right there in my mind. If I can do half of what he's accomplished in the last decade or so, I'd be a pretty happy camper."
THREE GOALS - Castrol Ford Funny Car driver-crew chief Mike Neff has decided three things.
(1) He wants to earn a berth in the inaugural Traxxas Nitro Shootout bonus race that will be part of the Labor Day weekend's Mac Tools U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis. So far the only two qualifiers for the $100,000 top prize are JFR teammates Robert Hight and John Force. Neff said he would love to keep it "all-John Force Racing, all-Castrol, all-Ford, all the time," really, he simply wants to qualify for it. To do that he must win, be the points leader after the Brainerd, Minn., event (for which a victory or two would be incredibly helpful), be voted in by fans, or in a lottery-style drawing.
(2) He wants to win at least once before the Countdown -- and with statistically the most consistent car in the class, he knows he could. His Mustang has made just one uncharacteristic pass down the 1,000-foot course in 12 competitive tries this year. His average for those 12 runs, even with a 4.959 two weeks ago at the Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte, is 4.176 seconds. No one else is close, not even teammate and points leader Robert Hight who he has won the last four races. Hight has averaged 4.369 seconds in 16 elimination runs.
(3) He wants to remember to stay healthy physically during race day. Last year, he fouled away his chances in the final round, and looking back, he decided the humidity and his inattention to his body's needs were the main culprits. "I just didn't take care of my physical self. I got to the final, and my brain was just not all there. I just wore down and made a mistake. That's the long and short of it. I asked myself, 'Why did I do that? I realized I hadn't eaten anything and then I got dehydrated and chugged some water. Then I popped some aspirin." Oof.
If he can get everything lined up correctly, he could become the first in 38 years to win an NHRA Funny Car title as both driver and crew chief.
WEIRD STATS - John Force has led the Funny Car field three times in his last five Houston appearances -- but he lost in the first round each time.
He won both Houston races in 1999 (one of only two drivers to accomplish that feat), won a track record seven times overall, and beat Tommy Johnson Jr. in the 2002 final to earn his 100th victory. But he hasn't won or gone to the final round at Royal Purple Raceway since reaching that milestone.
Twice he set the official NHRA quarter-mile record at this track – at 4.996 seconds in October 1993 (just weeks after Chuck Etchells had become the first to break the 5.00 second barrier) and at 4.788 in October 1999. He also owns the track's 1,000-foot elapsed-time record, with his 4.021-second, 316.08-mph qualifying run in April 2010.
In the last 16 events, Force has driven his Castrol GTX Ford Mustang to two victories (at Denver last July and at the season-starting Winternations this year). He was in the final foursome at Charlotte, but by contrast, during that same stretch he has lost in the first round an unexpected 11 times. To put that statistic in perspective, consider that from 1990 through 2002 (265 races), he lost in the opening round just 32 times – an average of 2.5 times per season.
"Our car is making a lot of progress. We still have a lot of work to do to get back in the hunt. We're not as consistent as Robert and Neff. Their cars go down the track almost every run. That's what we need. We don't need to beat ourselves. We've always run good in Texas, so I feel good about going back. Guido [Dean Antonelli] and 'Danny D' [DeGennaro] are working hard to figure this thing out. We'll be OK."
JFR has three of the top-five drivers in the Funny Car standings: No. 1 Hight, No. 2 Neff, and No. 5 John Force.
READY TO ROCK, TEXAS-STYLE - For Top Fuel owner-driver Steve Torrence, this visit to Royal Purple Raceway couldn't come at a better time. The Kilgore, Texas, native doesn't have to travel too far geographically, but he also might not have to go far before he capitalizes on his showing at Charlotte. The newly organized Torrence Racing / Capco Contractors Inc. team, with crew chief Richard Hogan, fired an attention-getting salvo at the Four-Wide Nationals by qualifying No. 1. Of the Houston-area racetrack, Torrence said, "We are very happy to race there, because we will have a lot of support from all the Capco people and our fans who will be cheering for us." He said the Charlotte effort "is a big deal. It shows we are capable of running with all of the teams out there. The guys gave me a good car, and I didn’t want to let them down. Everything seems to be going in the right direction. We continue to improve at every race, and I am proud of the way things are going. We would be ecstatic if we could get our first win at this race."
ARANAS EAGER - While some Pro Stock Motorcycle racers might have been antsy to get their class back on the track, Hector Arana Sr. rather enjoyed the extra down-time. However, Hector Jr. is champing at the bit to compete again. Either mindset, they're prepared more than ever.
"We're much better now than when we were going into Gainesville," the Lucas Oil Buell rider said. "We've been busy, getting parts and building motors so we have backups as the season goes along. Since we've had the time since the last race, we haven’t had to pull all-nighters in the shop to stock up."
"We have been working steadily, but not been killing ourselves." teammate Arana Jr. said. "Instead of working until 9 at night every night, we've been leaving at 6 and been able to have a nice dinner at home."
"It seems like last year since we've raced," Arana said. "I went out to watch the national event in Las Vegas (which didn't feature bikes) but being there just made me want to race that much more. It was like torture.
"I went over everything on my bike," Arana said, emphasizing that he has resisted the urge to make a lot of changes to the bike as a way to fill time between races. "Everything looked good. From there we've spent a lot of time working on the dyno trying to see if we can find any more horsepower. We've done everything 10 times. It's time to race."
The Aranas actually found time to have some fun. "On the weekends, everyone in the family was able to jump on our four-wheelers and work out any frustrations we had out in the woods. We're rested and ready to go," Dad said.
As for his time in the Corydon, Ind., shop, Arana Sr. said, "I was able to fix a lot of the little things that weren't quite right. We had a pretty long list of things we weren't able to take care of before Gainesville, and we've been knocking those things out consistently. It was nice to have a lot of the pressure lifted from our shoulders.
"We were also able to go testing in Indy and worked on our 60-foot times and got some data to work from. If we can launch right, everything else should fall into place," Arana Sr. said.
But Arana Jr. didn't glean as much form the trip up to Indianapolis as he had hoped. "We attempted to go testing," Arana Jr. said. "Unfortunately the day before we went to the track, it rained all day. We waited for a couple of cars to go down in order to get some heat in the track, but the rubber started to peel up from all the water. So there just wasn't a good surface there for us to really try and hit it hard. There were also 20-mph winds that day, so it just wasn't a good opportunity to try and get good data. It would have been nice, but we know exactly where we are with the Lucas Oil bike. I'm so glad to hit the track. I'm ready."
RIGHTING THE SHIP - The once seemingly unbeatable Al-Anabi / Toyota Top Fuel team is winless in five races for the first time since Qatar's Sheik Khalid Al Thani established it in 2009. Shawn Langdon has advanced to the semifinals twice, though, and has scored an average qualifying position of 4.20, with one No. 1 (at Phoenix). So the team is hoping to get back on its more familiar dominating path at this race, where one year ago Del Worsham recorded the third of his eight victories in last year's championship run. Langdon, too, has been successful at Royal Purple Raceway during his sportsman-racing career Here he won the Super Gas trophy in 2005 and was the Super Comp runner up in 2007 and the Super Comp winner in 2008. He didn't qualify in Top Fuel here last season, so he has extra incentive to fare well this weekend.
"I'm really anxious to get down to Houston because of the last couple of weekends we’ve had. I'm ready to get back to racing and turn things around," Langdon said. "We've hit a little slump, and I think it's safe to say we are all a little disappointed in how our season has started because of what this team has accomplished in the last three years. We all know we'll get there. We all just hope it's sooner rather than later. We want to get that first win out of the way so we can start concentrating on other things. If we have a couple of good races, we can easily climb back towards the top of the points. When I had some bad reaction times, the guys all told me they had my back. When the car has had issues, I've had their backs. They're going to get the car figured out. And starting last race, I've gotten my mental focus back where it needs to be in the car. At Charlotte, I had some of the best lights I've had in a long time."
His teammate, Khalid alBalooshi, is still getting comfortable in the dragster, with just 54 54 passes, including pre-season testing. The Dubai native joined the Al-Anabi team when it was formed and has won in both the Arabian Drag Racing League and American Drag Racing League. He is the 2011 NHRA Get Screened America Pro Mod champion and before switching to the Top Fuel ranks, he had 158 career victories in various classes of competition.
"I think we will all get better this weekend," alBalooshi said. "Race after race, the more seat time I get, I feel better in the car. I went to the Pro Mod finals at Houston last year and had some good luck. I hope we will have a good week again like we did last year in Pro Mod. I talked to Sheikh Khalid, and his mood is good. He says, "No problem and don't worry about anything. Everything will be OK.' I thank Sheikh Khalid for this opportunity and for his patience."
ONE MOTOR BUT READY TO FIRE IT UP - Karen Stoffer agrees with Hector Arana Jr: "It's the longest time between the first race and the second race that I can recall. It's back to being exciting again. The long break is almost like starting over. Everyone is excited at the opportunity to get things started."
The GEICO Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle rider said the warm weather in the Houston area could help her, because high temperatures and humidity have a balancing effect on the bike class. "If it's warm that will help us," she said, "because the top bikes will have a tougher balancing act for getting their power to the track. We have always done that well, so it could be an advantage for us." He said she and crew chief husband Gary 'going to be conservative with the one motor it has, the one she ran last season. "We've still not gotten any new motors," Stoffer said.
She did get a new experience in the off-weekends. She was crew chief, while Gary drove his Super Gas car in races at Las Vegas and Phoenix.
"He did really well in Las Vegas. Out of 91 cars entered, he finished in the top 12. That's huge for us in Super Gas," Karen Stoffer said. "It's been fun to go out there and keep in touch with the racing: focused and in race mode. It's a different kind of challenge for us but still very exciting and keeps a jump in our step."
YAHOO! - His confidence might not be Texas-sized, but Brandon Bernstein -- who grew up in Dallas and attended Texas A&M -- has lassoed some of his and the team's assets so far this season for a strong statement heading to Houston. He qualified No. 2 at Charlotte in the MAVTV Dragster and is taking that momentum into a place that suits him well.
"When the car is running terrific, you know you can win," he said. "To be able to win at this level, everything has to be in place. The car has to be perfect and the driver has to be perfect. It's just so hard to win these days. But when you know those pieces are in place, you can't wait to get to the track.
"This could be our weekend to break through," Bernstein said. "The guys have a lot of confidence and have a firm handle on what the car is doing. The car is running great. Hopefully I'll get a little better on the lights and we can go down there and kick some butt. It's always great to race in Texas. I'm proud of my Texas roots and there are still a lot of friends and family who live there. Everybody likes to come and hang out. I've got a lot of good history in Baytown, so I'm really looking forward to getting down there, because I feel like we're really close to a real breakout race."
FRESH APPROACH - Morgan Lucas Racing has been around for a few years, but the owner-driver talks like it’s a brand-new team. And to him, it is. "We don't have as many laps as a lot of the other teams out here," Lucas said. "We're a new team, in the sense of the structure of the way the team is and who is involved now. We're building this data and building information."
Just the same, the GEICO / Lucas Oil Dragster driver is eyeing the Countdown. "What I think is going to be cool is as long as we can stay in the top 10, top five, when we get to the Countdown, we're going to have a lot of good runs in the books, and it's going to contribute to chasing the championship at the end of the year," he said.
This weekend's venue could be a great one for him, he said. "When you go to somewhere like Houston, you know it's a good, flat track. If the weather's right, it can be a really fast race track, but you can't always hope the weather's going to be good," Lucas said.
He said he and crew chief Aaron Brooks have learned not be too aggressive during the early qualifying sessions. "I think we'll have a good starting point," he said. "We've realized we need to go out in the first lap and go down the track, A to B, and then start working forward from there. Every run where you smoke the tires early is just a run lost.
The team really learned a lot from Charlotte, when we lost in the first round. And we will be able to progress toward the future and have a better game plan and a better overall approach now. I feel like they've given me a good car and a good reason to work my butt off and try to be the best driver I can be."
NEW -- AND IMPROVED? - When Jack Beckman arrived at the previous race, at Charlotte, he saw something that threw him off a little -- and it wasn't the four lanes he would have to deal with in qualifying and eliminations. He already had figured that out, winning the Four-Wide Nationals last year (and he had figured the track out, winning the inaugural event at zMAX Dragway). So what was it?
"When we start the car, I'm looking at all new faces looking back at me. It was Todd Smith's first race with us as crew chief and seven of our eight crew guys had never worked with me before," Beckman said. "We clicked pretty good, and we clicked pretty fast. The transition was pretty easy, and there weren't any awkward moments. I can't wait to get back in that car. I just wish we had to start the race near Houston on the Tuesday after Charlotte."
Beckman was runner-up at Royal Purple Raceway in 2009 and has yet to go to the winners circle here.
HOME AGAIN, SORT OF - Antron Brown said he likes that spicy Cajun food that rules in communities all along the Gulf Coast. And he wants to leave Baytown, Texas, with a zesty taste in his mouth, too. He's from New Jersey and he lives in Indiana, but Brown feels just as home in the Houston area. It's where he won his first Top Fuel trophy in 2008, and his wife, Billie Jo, is from nearby Gheen, La., which is about an hour southwest of New Orleans. "I'll have a lot of relatives there this weekend, but Billie Jo won't be able to go," Brown said. "But I know a lot of her family is coming down for the race, so it will be a fun time." Brown was runner-up here in 2010 in Top Fuel and in 2004 on a Pro Stock Motorcycle. He was the No. 1 qualifier with his dragster in 2009 and on the motorcycle in 2001. "You're used to going there and you're comfortable," he said. "And having family there just puts you in a relaxed zone, and it takes some of the pressure off that I put on myself. You're not just going out there to race, but you're also going there to have fun. I don't get bogged down with as much of the pressure that's out there all the time."
Although he won at Phoenix in the second race of the season, he referred to mechanical problems when he said, "We've been struggling a little, and we've still been getting to the finals. We're actually having a lot of things hit us, and we're still winning rounds. Our program is very strong. Now we have to start hitting on all eight cylinders for the rest of the season and peak at the right time so we can fend for the championship."
REMEMBER WHEN . . . .? - Shane Gray was only 20 years old and younger brother Jonathan 11 the 1993 day they stood there and watched their dad, Johnny Gray, break the Comp Eliminator class' 200-mph barrier (at 201.60 mph) in his Reher-Morrison-powered A/Dragster during the first round of eliminations at Baytown, when the track was called Houston Raceway Park. "It's been so long ago now, but people still do bring it up," said Gray, who travels more than 100 mph faster in his Don Schumacher Racing-owned NTB/Service Central Dodge Charger Funny Car. "It was a pretty nice run for the time, and boy, it was fun. Not quite as fun as driving my Service Central Funny Car, but it was really something."
He said crew chiefs Rob Wendland and Rip Reynolds have his Dodge Charger back where they want it and that he's ready to move up from fourth place in the standings with an excellent showing in the O'Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Spring Nationals.
"We have faced some challenges, but we tested after the last race in Charlotte and really feel like we found some things that will help our program become even better," Gray said. "Rob and Rip and the guys have been working alongside the braintrust of Don Schumacher Racing crew chiefs, and we won't know until we get there, but we think we may have gotten the consistency back that has been missing. Houston has been good to us before. Let's see what we can do now." -- Susan Wade
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