SUNDAY NOTEBOOK: CHAMPIONS CROWNED IN HOT-LANTA
PUTTING A CAPPS IN THE STREAK - Someone had to do the job. Ron Capps was all too willing to oblige.
The assignment was to break the stranglehold John Force Racing has held on the class and at 4.166-seconds Ron Capps was the man to get it done.
Capps drove his Rahn Tobler-tuned, NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car to victory in the Funny Car final round of the NHRA Summit Southern Nationals outside of Atlanta defeating Robert Hight. His victory stopped the JFR Funny Car winning streak at six.
“We love those guys over there,” said Capps. “Not too long ago Tobler and [Jimmy] Prock went to dinner. Robert and I are good friends, went to dinner, and watched the UFC fight. They bring everything I’ve got out when I race them. I honestly got tired of hearing so much about them [JFR] winning. I love him, but I got tired of hearing about Robert’s win streak. I was happy for him. When he didn’t get the first quarter driver of the year, losing to Will Power, I tweeted that I was irritated about him not winning.
“When I go up to race Robert, it brings out the best in me and it’s a huge race. We were so motivated to win for Tobler and he’s a crew chief with a great championship past with Shirley [Muldowney], Cruz Pedregon and nearly did it with Doug Kalitta, if not for Tony’s run. I just want to soak it all up.”
Sunday in Commerce, Capps was clearly on his game.
“I screwed up in Houston and didn’t catch the car when it made a move,” Capps explained. “That one hurt and I felt it was our race to lose. Here it started to get loose and prior to the run, I had heard them say they were going to get after it a little more. It made a move and the clutch came in a little sooner than I expected. I was saying to myself, ‘Come on Tobler power.’ I heard Robert early in the run. I knew if he was next to me that it was going to be a good drag race. I hope I left on time. Then the power came in.”
Three races into their association, Capps is bonding with Tobler to establish one of the more formidable driver/tuner combinations. Capps admits he felt the connection from the first run.
“Right from the get-go in Charlotte, the first run, reminded me how fun it could be,” said Capps. “I started to get frustrated and began to wonder if I was still as good as I used to be when I was younger. It just got difficult and when Don made the move and paired me with Rahn and John [assistant crew chief, Collins] it was unbelievable. I am having so much fun and I’m the luckiest man in the world to be driving this car.
“Now I know why Jack Beckman was so excited and spoke so highly of his crew. It’s such a great group of guys.”
Needless to say Capps feels a sense of renewed enthusiasm.
“I feel like I am starting my career over again because I am learning so much with Rahn Tobler. I have learned to race again and we are seeing the overall big picture. It’s a lot of fun to get in that car and focus on what my job is. It’s so much fun when you know you are going to have a hot rod.”
The admiration goes both ways, just ask Tobler.
“What can you say about Ron? He’s a veteran driver,” Tobler pointed out. “I knew when I came here, and Jack was a great driver and we were good together, [but] I knew when I came here I certainly wasn’t going to lose anything in the driver department. We are working well together and I think I have worked well with all of the drivers I’ve been with. All these consistent runs, it’s nothing without the crew. It’s all of those things together that make it work.”
Then there’s the consistency factor, one of the attributes which excited Capps the most when Schumacher reassigned Tobler to his team.
“Consistency is everything you want as a driver,” explained Capps. “It’s more than consistency. There’s guys out here who are good drivers. There are very few good racers. I learned a lot of that from Ed McCulloch. I’ve learned so much from Tobler already. He teaches you how to think ahead … how to keep everything the same around you including your guys. When all of that is in check, you just go up there to the starting line and do your job. It’s the little things you don’t have to think about, like lane choice. Everything with him is about the big picture. Obviously the biggest picture is the ring and I don’t have one. I want to take a ring to NAPA headquarters in November.
“I’ve had crew chiefs where I prayed for cloud cover. I’ve had others where I prayed for a 135-degree track. He’s both. If there’s cloud cover and it gets cool or a night session, I start salivating. My juices are flowing and I know we are going to throw down. When it gets hot like this and 4.16s pop up on the board – it’s awesome. We might just come back to Atlanta next week and bracket race in Super Pro and dial a 4.15 so we don’t break out.”
AGAINST THE ODDS - Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence has made a name for himself by beating the odds.
At 17, he faced cancer and walked away a survivor.
Torrence entered Top Fuel after winning a Lucas Oil Top Alcohol Dragster championship and though he lost his major financial backing and ride, never gave up hope that he’d challenge one day for a title.
Torrence did return to competition and when his rented ride didn’t produce the desired results, he and his supportive parents underwent the challenge of forming his own team.
Three races after debuting, he was on the way to the final race of the season in Pomona, Ca., adversity struck again. Torrence had hoped to make a statement but instead it was the California Department of Transportation [Cal-Trans], who did the talking for him. His race hauler exceeded 53-feet and therefore was illegal to haul on the California highways. Instead of racing, his trailer was loaded onto a flat-bed trailer and towed to the state line.
Still, Torrence never faltered in his optimism.
This is why, on a humid Sunday afternoon at the NHRA Summit Southern Nationals, when he faced the overwhelming challenge of a driver with an army’s worth of momentum, he never flinched.
Torrence drove his family-supported CAPCO dragster 3.893-seconds at 320.66 miles per hour to repel a determined Tony Schumacher, who smoked the tires and slowed to a 4.913, 169.44.
“The Army car has been the pinnacle for years,” said Torrence. “Tony Schumacher is a machine. I knew that I had to be on my game. Richard gave me the car to do it. It’s a little intimidating but going into that round we had lane choice and I knew I had a really good car. I was confident in myself and felt like I had the better race car to be honest.”
Torrence, after receiving his championship trophy, was approached by Schumacher in a congratulatory manner.
“We talked and agreed [before the race] that no matter the outcome, we were still going to have a good time,” Torrance said. “We will both give the glory to God and without Him, we couldn’t do anything. He walked over to me and told me, ‘Proud of you kid.”
Torrence’s first victory only puts an exclamation point beside his lifelong desire of wanting to be a Top Fuel driver.
“Ever since I was a kid, it was my dream,” explained Torrence. “I used to come to the track and see all of these drivers behind the ropes and I aspired to want to be back there. To get the opportunity to race with Evan Knoll, run as a teammate with JR Todd and run that car for a few years, and then to run this car with my family is huge. What else can you do from there?”
Torrence entered the show as the No. 2 qualifier and defeated former teammate JR Todd, Bob Vandergriff and Brandon Bernstein to reach the finals.
For Schumacher, his race winless streak extends to 30.
While Schumacher struggles to correct his once winning machine, Torrence hasn’t fully come to grips with what transpired at Atlanta Dragway.
“I don’t think the win has really set in, we’ve been working our tails off since last year at this race,” said Torrence, who embarked on his current, family-owned team following the 2011 event. “To get our first win here is a big deal to us. We’re ten races into this new team and with [crew chief] Richard Hogan, I have all of the confidence in the world.
“I’ve been practicing a lot on my driving and the seat time in a good car has helped me a lot. Getting this first win is unbelievable, and to do it in Atlanta is awesome. This track was great. The emotion just hasn’t caught up to me yet.”
With the win, Torrence is now qualified for the Traxxas Shootout at the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis, Labor Day weekend.
DON'T BELIEVE THE TALK - So much for Greg Anderson’s slump.
Anderson, who lost in the second round at the Spring Nationals April 29, bounced back Sunday to capture the Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
Anderson, the 2010 NHRA world champ, beat his Summit Racing teammate Jason Line in the finals on a holeshot.
Anderson clocked a 6.649 second elapsed time, compared to Line’s 6.618 lap. The difference was Anderson’s .039 reaction time, while Line’s reaction time was .081.
“I do not know what happened there,” Anderson said about the holeshot. “I do not know what happened to Jason, somehow something went wrong there and he made a mistake. When it is your day, it is your day apparently.”
This was Anderson’s third win of the season in five final rounds. This also was Anderson’s 73rd national event win and fourth of his career at Atlanta.
“We are very, very happy as a team,” said Anderson, whose Summit Racing team also includes Ronnie Humphrey. “If one guy doesn’t have a great race, we have two other cars that absolutely can go rounds and win races. You saw that (Sunday), we had three Summit Pontiacs in the semifinals. That doesn’t happen too often with multi-car teams. It is a pretty good feeling and it just tells you everybody is rowing the boat in the same direction. It really truly is one team with three cars. That’s the coolest thing about it and that’s what I’m the most proud of. Assembling this team and instilling in them that it really doesn’t matter which one wins. They all need to run as good as they can and let the drivers go have fun and try and settle it. It is a pretty neat deal.”
Anderson leads the point standings at 651, followed by Line (579). Humphrey is No. 7 at 350. Line, the reigning NHRA champ, also has a win in Phoenix this season when he beat Anderson in the finals. Humphrey lost in the semifinals to Line Sunday.
“It all goes back to the team,” Anderson said. “Ken Black (the team owner) and the influence he has on us, we just want to dig harder and harder everyday because that is what he is doing. He is going to rehab, trying to get back to walking, when they told him he would never walk again and he is darn close. When you see that you just do not want to let the man down. This is a tough, tough, class where anybody can win, you see it every weekend. Somehow we have been fortunate enough to get the majority of them (wins) so far this year, but there is no telling what is going to happen the rest of the year. It is going to get tougher as it goes.”
Anderson beat Greg Stanfield, Steve Kent, Allen Johnson and Line Sunday.
“I just didn’t make mistakes (Sunday),” Anderson said. “I wasn’t great out there and my car wasn’t even quite that fast, but I got a lot of luck and a lot of breaks (Sunday), and it takes that to win in this class, and in any class.”
Competing against Humphrey and Line isn’t easy, but it doesn’t change Anderson’s approach when he gets to the starting line.
“I’m not going to lie to you, you are happy when you win no matter who is in the other lane,” Anderson said. “The team is happy no matter who wins, but as a driver, you want to win. You have pride. You have egos. I’m not going to lie to you, drivers have egos. We are very happy as a driver when we win. He (Line) was very disappointed when he lost. It is hard pill to swallow, especially when he had a race car like that. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I want him to want it that bad no matter who is in the other lane. That is what I love about him.”
STILL ON TOP - Once again 20 extra pounds or the other riders could only slow down Harley-Davidson’s domination. It couldn't stop it.
For the second race in a row with the added weight, Harley-Davidson made it to the winner’s circle, the latest came Sunday when won Eddie Krawiec won the NHRA’s Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
Krawiec clocked a 6.905-second elapsed time to defeat first-time NHRA finalist Michael Ray, who came in at 7.036 seconds.
“It (the added 20 pounds) definitely slowed it (the motorcycle) down,” Krawiec said. “I have tried to explain it to everybody that the extra weight, the 20 pounds, it wasn’t going to make us not competitive. The goal, I think of NHRA, was obviously to try and bring us back into the pack, and by the performance of the Hectors (Arana Sr. and Arana Jr.) I think that definitely happened there. We are just trying to get a handle on the motorcycle and get it to leave nice and I think we did a good job with mine this weekend. I have a killer motorcycle under me right now.”
Krawiec, the reigning NHRA Pro Stock Motorcycle world champ, has now won 13 national events. Krawiec is first in the season point standings at 337, followed by his teammate Andrew Hines at 270.
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, believed adding weight to the Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson motorcycles driven by teammates 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. The Gatornationals was the season-opening race for the Pro Stock Motorcycle class.
Hines, who won the Spring Nationals last Sunday at Baytown, Texas, was upset in the second round at Atlanta by Ray on a holeshot.
Krawiec defeated Michael Phillips, Karen Stoffer, and Shawn Gann, before facing Ray in the finals. Ray, who competes for Matt Smith Racing, is someone Krawiec didn’t overlook.
“Michael Ray is coming around,” Krawiec said. “I used to race against him over in the AMA (American Motorcyclist Association). He is making better runs down the track and getting more runs under his belt. He is getting acclimated to becoming one with the motorcycle. He has a good tuner. Matt Smith is no slouch over there. He definitely puts his nose to the grindstone and I think it showed when he (Smith) went out. He (Smith) obviously had time to focus on Michael’s bike. Michael was making some really good runs. He knocked my teammate (Hines) out, so hat’s off to him. They did a good job.”
Although Hines and Krawiec are 2-for-2 in terms of winning races with the extra 20 pounds, Krawiec said the added weight has not improved the performance of their bikes.
“It (the extra 20 pounds) definitely did not make it better,” Krawiec said. “I believe we should be going 106 60 foots out here and we can’t. It is really hard to get the wheel speed out of the motorcycle initially and that’s what we are really struggling with right now. We are going 108s and high 107s (to the 60-foot mark). From what we have seen right now it is about a hundredth and a half to the 60 foot and then it’s five, eight thou (thousandths) the rest of the way down. It is probably a total of four to five hundredths that it hurt us, and it brought us right back into the pack. I think everybody wanted to see us just get punched in the gut and struggle to qualify. I think NHRA’s motto was they just want to slow us down and bring us to a fair playing field. It is a tough balance. It is different brands, the Buell, the Harley and the Suzuki, and it is tough to make parity between all that and NHRA does the best they can. If that’s what they feel they needed to do to us and that’s what we need to accept a
nd we need to go back and work and put forth an effort. That’s just the way it is. There is no reason to come out here and cry and complain about it.”
Krawiec admitted the added 20 pounds has challenged him as a rider.
“I have tried to hone and be better,” Krawiec said. “My goal Sunday was to be 30s and 20s when I needed to be (with his reaction time). We do not have the leisure of being 50. I was little aggravated with myself in the semifinals (againt Gann). I think I was 56 and I wasn’t happy with that because you leave yourself vulnerable. All Gann had to do was make a good clean lap and be 20 on the tree and he could have potentially beat me. It is a rider’s race and you can’t mess up. I just feel I’m riding well.”
The last five 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. Hines and Krawiec then won at Baytown and Atlanta.
SUNDAY QUICK HITS REPORT
NEEDED IT BAD - Terry McMillen had won only one round in the first six races. And the Amalie Oil / UNOH / Motorstate Dragster driver knew if he is going to secure that Countdown spot that has eluded him the past two years, he couldn't afford to waste any opportunities to earn points. So he stood on the gas in the first pairing of eliminations and damaged his engine but scored the upset of higher-qualified Khalid alBalooshi and advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time since the Las Vegas race. There he also beat alBalooshi, who remains winless in the Al-Anabi / Toyota Dragster.
RIGHT CHOICE - Brandon Bernstein posted an impressive 320-mph speed against Hillary Will to become the first driver to win in the right lane. That was the favored lane by those with the choice, but the first two higher-qualified drivers (Khalid alBalooshi and Dave Grubnic) lost.
BUDDIES -- OFF THE TRACK - Steve Torrence won by not even half a car length over J.R. Todd for the right to square off with , Bob Vandergriff, Todd's team owner and an Atlanta-area resident. Torrence said afterward that although Todd was making just his second race after a long layoff he provides "some tough competition." Furthermore, Torrence reminded that "he was my teammate when I first started Top Fuel racing, with Dexter Tuttle."
ON HIS WAY - Tony Schumacher took that first big step toward checking success at Atlanta Dragway off his to-do list, eliminating Pat Dakin. Asked if this racetrack has been a thorn in his side, Schumacher said, "A thorn? That's hard to say. But the track we've won at, there had to be a first time."
AL-ANABI ALL GONE - Despite dropping a cylinder and drifting perilously close to the center line, No. 14 Clay Millican and his Parts Plus Dragster raced into the quarterfinals at No. 3 Shawn Langdon's expense. That put the double-whammy on the Al-Anabi / Toyota team, which saw both cars drop out in Round 1 for the third time in seven events this year.
ACES HARD FIRST ASSIGNMENT - Spencer Massey took the Prestone / FRAM Dragster on a 3.823-second, 322.11-mph ride down the 1,000-foot course that set low elapsed time of the round and dismissed two-time 2012 winner Morgan Lucas. That E.T. was second only to Tony Schumacher's No. 1 qualifying time (3.815 seconds). Said Massey afterward, "If I have t race Morgan Lucas, shouldn't it be in the semis or finals? It's going to be a tough one all day."
WALKIN' THE WALK - Doug Kalitta's participation in the track walk during pre-race ceremonies just might have paid off. He took out sizzling-hot Antron Brown in a case of the No. 12 starter beating No. 5. "It never hurts to go walk the track with good fans of Atlanta. We're hoping we have something for them in the Kalitta Air car," he said. Track announcer Alan Rinehart mentioned to him that all the Don Schumacher Racing cars started on the same side of the ladder. Like just about everything else, that didn't faze Kalitta. "We're up for the challenge," he said.
DSR KRYPTONITE – Through the first two rounds of competition, Doug Kalitta has nearly dismantled Don Schumacher Racing. One round after sending Antron Brown home early, Kalitta afforded Spencer Massey the same fate.
Kalitta ran 3.911-seconds at 315 miles per hour which was more than enough to take out Massey’s tire-smoking 4.887 elapsed time.
“Those guys are happy,” said Kalitta of his team. “We are just happy this Kalitta car is going down the track.”
For his efforts, Kalitta will face another DSR driver – Tony Schumacher.
Consider this event to be a measure of payback for Kalitta, who has had his day ended in five of six races this season to DSR.
DAVID VS. GOLIATH, GOLIATH WINS – The great equalizer in nitro racing is heat. Except this time, Schumacher was in control from the start and never looked back en route to a 3.90, 302 victory. McMillen lost an engine at mid-track and blazed up for a second time.
“It looked like he hammered the throttle before I saw yellow,” Schumacher said. “He had a great light or something. Today can be a big day for us. After starting the week with a hole in one in golf, a win today would be great.”
Schumacher took the point lead with Massey’s loss.
BERNSTEIN ADVANCES – Brandon Bernstein’s hot performance continued in the second round with a 3.891, 313 victory over Clay Millican, who smoked the tires and slowed to a 4.699, 166
TORRENCE PERFORMS IN THE HEAT – Steve Torrence credited tuner Richard Hogan for a strong 3.848, 319 run which was enough to drive past hometown favorite Bob Vandergriff’s 3.884, 320.
“Richard has this car doing a number on this hot track,” said Torrence. “My guys are working their butts off.”
Torrence faces Bernstein in the semis with at least one first-time finalist of this season reaching the final round. In winning, Torrence showed impressive consistency by running within .002 of his first round run.
NO. 1 MEETS NO. 2 - The final round will be a textbook pairing of the Nos. 1 and 2 qualifiers, Tony Schumacher and Steve Torrence.
Schumacher had an easy time of it against Doug Kalitta, as Kalitta was up in smoke immediately. Steve Torrence won a close one against Brandon Bernstein to advance.
Steve Torrence, in the Torrence Family /Capco Contractors Inc. Dragster, will race in his first final round against the U.S. Army Dragster that has reached four finals this year. "They've dominated for a long time," Torrence said of seven-time champion and 67-time winner Tony Schumacher and the entire Don Schumacher Racing organization. But we're going to go for it and see if we can take one of these [Wally trophies] home."
Steve Torrence 3.893 seconds, 320.66 mph def. Tony Schumacher 4.913 seconds, 169.44 mph
HE DID WHAT HE WAS TOLD - Johnny Gray def. Bob Tasca III to open Funny Car eliminations on a 111-degree track. The upset victory for the No. 14 starter came at 4.125 seconds, 307 mph. The Service Central Dodge driver said his crew's advice was "Get in. Shut up. Hold on. That's all they tell me."
CRUZIN' - In a match that never gets old for drag-racing fans, Cruz Pedregon and John Force squared off in the opening round and Pedregon outran Force to advance.
WILKERSONS BOW OUT EARLY - Jim Head made it a sweep of the Wilkerson bunch, defeating dad Tim in an upset and with a wounded Toyota. A few pairs earlier, Ron Capps beat Dan Wilkerson, who was making his 2012 debut.
HEY, HONEY . . . - It was hard to tell whether Matt Hagan was happier getting a much-needed round-win -- only his second of the season -- or staying on his agenda of earning a Wally trophy for wife Rachel to commemorate their Sunday wedding anniversary.
EXCELLENT STUDENT - Courtney Force, who has raced with coolness so far in her rookie season, said she was especially nervous to pull up to the starting line against Jack Beckman. "Everything I learned [about drag racing], I learned from Jack Beckman." He was her instructor at Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School. "I took some of his tips," she said after defeating him. "I took a deep breath and it helps."
MAKE IT FOUR - Jeff Arend, in the DHL Toyota, was one of four upset win."ners.
JUST THE WAY IT IS - Ron Capps and Matt Hagan hated the fact they had to meet before a final round, for they are both drivers for Don Schumacher Racing. But Hagan, the struggling reigning class champion, has been determined to get his team back in a winning groove. He also wanted to win for wife Rachel on this day, their wedding anniversary, so he could give her the Wally trophy. And Capps has been hungry to notch his first victory since last fall at Las Vegas. Capps is the one who got to move on, forcing Hagan to go out and buy a gift for his wife. Capps and Hagan had almost identical reaction times, but Capps' NAPA Dodge prevailed with a 4.165-second E.T. that matched Robert Hight's winning time against Courtney Force.
HEAD ROLLS - Jim Head continued his upset march -- despite his misgivings about his Toyota -- by taking out No. 4 Cruz Pedregon. He had advanced by beating No. 5 Tim Wilkerson. Head now has the ultimate test -- to meet top-qualifier Robert Hight, whose Auto Club Ford Mustang has been nearly unbeatable this season.
ALL JFR, ALL GOOD - In an all-John Force Racing match-up -- and a really close one, at that -- top qualifier Robert Hight defeated Courtney Force. He said he doesn't pay much attention to who is in the other lane, but this time he was aware, of course, that his team was preparing to battle their JFR Traxxas Mustang teammates. But Hight, maybe speaking from the business side of the organization (in the capacity his of "other" job as JFR President), found the positive: "Especially when we're racing our teammates, we can't lose. That was a tough race. Jimmy Prock [his crew chief] knew that [Courtney Force's crew chief] Ron Douglas was getting that thing running good."
CAPITALIZING - In a battle between upset-minded bottom-half qualifiers, Johnny Gray smoked the tires of his Service Central Dodge Charger and Jeff Arend, in the DHL Toyota, took advantage to win with a 4.188-second, 301-mph performance. Arend said all he wants to do against Ron Capps in the semifinal is "make a good, straight run."
CONSISTENT CAPPS IS IN THE FINAL – There’s a lot of Ron Capps fans hoping the NAPA Auto Parts driver will be the one to break up the John Force Racing lovefest in Funny Car this season.
“Rahn Tobler has done an excellent job,” said Capps, whose winning 4.164 elapsed time over Jeff Arend ensured his third final round of the season.
“You really have to take these races one round at a time. My team had to change the whole steering system before the round and I was nervous. But, it worked just fine. That’s how it has been for the last three weeks.”
RIGHT LANE DELIVERS – Robert Hight chose the left lane in the first round but then jumped over to the right for the quarter and semi-final rounds. He’ll return to his starting point, the left lane, for the final round.
Hight ran a 4.194-second elapsed time at 296.47 to defeat an upset-minded Jim Head.
“I’m not scared of the left lane,” Hight admitted. “I was just thinking of going back to the left for that round, but we have been taking it round by round. We made a nice run.”
Hight was already thinking payback for Capps, who stopping his winning streak at four wins last weekend in Houston during the semi-finals.
“We owe him for that one,” Hight said.
Ron Capps 4.166 seconds, 303.91 mph def. Robert Hight 4.399 seconds, 273.44
LIGHTNING QUICK - Vincent Nobile used a .009 reaction time to defeat Rodger Brogdon in the class' first pairing. But Ronnie Humphrey had the best reaction time of the round as he eliminated Kurt Johnson.
HOLESHOT! - Erica Enders made Shane Gray eat his .030 light and beat him on a holeshot in her GK Motorsports Chevy Cobalt. Her 6.618-second elapsed time at 208.75 mph edged his 6.617, 208.36. "We expected a little more out of our hot rod, but we'll take it any way we can get it," she said.
HEADED IN RIGHT DIRECTION - Mike Edwards, determined to get some of his momentum back, was successful at that in the opening round, using a .004 light en route to a 6.631-second pass at 208.75 mph to beat Larry Morgan, who had started to build a reputation of knocking out the class leaders.
SMOKIN' HOT - Allen Johnson set low E.T. and top speed of the meet in his victory against a determined Jeg Coughlin Jr., who had a four-hundredths-of-a-second head start. Johnson won with a 6.594-second, 209.98-mph performance that surpassed Jason Line's No. 1 qualifying time and improved his own qualifying-best speed of 209.23 mph. Johnson said his Team Mopar / J&J Dodge Avenger "is just getting better and better."
HUH?!! - No one but a few Pro Stock drivers and crew hands probably has any clue what Jason Line was talking about after he beat Warren Johnson. Allen Johnson had predicted in the previous pairing -- after he beat Jeg Coughlin with a 6.594-second pass -- that Line probably would come along and post a better E.T. by one-thousandth of a second. Line didn't, winning with an equally stout 6.599. Line then teased Allen Johnson, calling him "Rubber-Cranks" and needling him, accusing, "Everybody knows Rubber-Cranks cheats."
And everybody thought Funny Car entertainer extraordinaire John Force was the only racer who needs subtitles or an interpreter.
LINE WINNER IN TWO-THIRDS OF WJ ENCOUNTERS - In his previous 27 starts from the No. 1 spot, Jason Line has five victories in 12 final-round appearances. After beating Warren Johnson, Line has a 14-7 advantage in their rivalry. However, this was the first time they faced each other since the Dallas race last September.
NEVER SATISFIED - Greg Anderson, ever the perfectionist like teammate Jason Line, frowned at his 6.624 E.T. and 209.49-mph speed that most of his peers would love to have. "I was pleased the win light came on," Anderson said after knocking out Greg Stanfield, "but it wasn't pretty other than that." This was the 39th time the two Gregs had met on race day, and Anderson ran his mark in those match-ups to 24-15. He'll meet Steve Kent in the quarterfinals. It will be only the second time in his career he has met Kent and the first since the Las Vegas race last fall.
U-G-L-Y - Steve Kent and Ron Krisher both had awful reaction times, but Krisher's .172-second light cost him. Kent got a sleepy start, at .119, but managed to be the lone bottom-half qualifier to reach the quarterfinals.
RARITY - Like some solar or lunar eclipse, the semifinal round of Pro Stock eliminations feature the top four qualifiers - Jason Line, Allen Johnson, Greg Anderson, and Ronnie Humphrey - and all three Summit Racing-sponsored Pontiac drivers. Johnson, with his Team Mopar Dodge Avenger, is the lone wolf in that quartet.
'MY HOT ROD'S HOT' - Ronnie Humphrey recorded his second straight holeshot victory in the Genuine Hot Rod Hardware Pontiac GXP in eliminating Mike Edwards. "I want to thank God," Humphrey said. "We damaged the motor after Round 1, and the crew changed it in a short time. My hot rod's hot. I've got to put two more rounds together."
PENDULUM SWINGS - Steve Kent's luck ran out against Greg Anderson. In his upset of Ron Krisher, he was way late at the Christmas Tree. This time he was way too early and committed a red-light foul. No matter what happens, Anderson has run his streak at Atlanta Dragway to nine appearances in the semifinals or better on the strength of his 6.623-second, 209.23-mph performance -- and Kent's foul-out, of course. "We've got one Summit Pontiac going to the finals," Anderson said, noting the Jason Line-Ronnie Humphrey semifinal pairing. "Now it's my job to get that other car in the final." He'll face Allen Johnson in a monster match-up. Anderson said he didn't notice right away that Kent had red-lit -- in spite of the flagrancy of it (a -.353 light).
MADE IT UP - Allen Johnson was later off the starting line than Erica Enders, but he claimed the victory with a 6.613, 209.75 effort. Enders stayed with him down track for a noble 6.637, 208.46 showing.
IT’S ALL SUMMIT – Greg Anderson had the pressure of delivering for sponsor Summit Racing Equipment. Anderson was racing the only non-Summit sponsored car in the semi-finals when he matched up with Allen Johnson.
Anderson admittedly has had better runs when he struggled at the start. He drove his way to a 6.670, 208.75 and expected to have a challenging race. Unbeknownst to him, Johnson shook the tires at the hit and lifted.
An elated Anderson graciously accepted the trip to the finals.
“It blew the tires off and I wondered, 'How bad was this going to be?” Anderson said, not initially realizing Johnson’s plight. “This is a Summit day, some days you have to be more lucky than good.”
On the other side of the ladder, teammate Jason Line defeated Ronnie Humphrey.
Greg Anderson 6.649 seconds, 208.26 mph def. Jason Line 6.618 seconds, 209.62 mph
PRO STOCK MOTORCYCLE
CAREFUL NOW . . . - Hector Arana Jr. is learning a lot from his father and from experience. His latest lesson is not to make bold predictions. "I am going to win this race," he said after continuing to qualify well. He started from the No. 2 position at both previous bike events, at Gainesville and Houston, and was No. 3 here. "I just have a good feeling," he said Saturday. However, he had some kind of mechanical problem and lost in his first-round match against Chip Ellis.
Arana Jr.'s father, the No. 1 qualifier, had scare in his opening-round race, too. Opponent Joey Gladstone cut a .004 light, but Arana (who was off the line with a .100 reaction time) made it up and won with a 6.894-second pass that equaled his qualifying time.
.018 LIGHT AND LOST? - Scotty Pollacheck recorded a holeshot upset against LE Tonglet, using a .018-second reaction time for a 6.983-second, 187.68-mph effort. Tonglet had a commendable light, too, at .030, and a quicker 6.978 and faster 191.21 mph.
RED - In a class in which red-light fouls are common, the first round had only two such DQs. John Hall made the mistake against Karen Stoffer, and Michael Phillips gave Eddie Krawiec an easy round.
OH, THAT BOB - Top qualifier Hector Arana Sr., Michael Ray, Shawn Gann, and Eddie Krawiec advanced to the semifinal rounds. But public-address announcer Bob Frey might have been the real winner with a couple of zingers on the microphone. As Arana ran away from Scotty Pollacheck, Frey quipped that for Arana to lose, "he'd have to burst into flames." As Gann rolled to the starting line to meet Chip Ellis, Frey called attention to Gann's sparkling silver leathers and dubbed him "the world's fastest roll of aluminum foil."
LOVES HIS SUZUKI - After Shawn Gann capitalized on Chip Ellis' red light, he said he remembers when he first began racing Pro Stock bikes and that filed was full of only Suzukis. "I kind of wish that's how it was again," he said.
REAL LUCKY DOG - Matt Hagan might have Aaron's "Lucky Dog" riding on his Funny Car. But Eddie Krawiec was the day's true Lucky Dog. He benefited from red-light disqualifications by both of his first-round opponents to reach the semifinals. First it was Michael Phillips, then it was Karen Stoffer.
VETERAN VS. NEWCOMER - The finals will match a veteran against a first-time finalist.
Eddie Krawiec ran a 6.953, 193.52 to defeat Shawn Gann in the final round.
The surprising finalist was Michael Ray, tuned by Matt Smith, who defeated Hector Arana. Ray’s winning time was a 7.060, 187.99.
Eddie Krawiec 6.905 seconds, 195.53 mph def. Michael Ray 7.036, 187.94
IT'S GO TIME - Robert Hight hit the throttle and immediately knew luck was on his side. With a track temperature knocking on the door of 140-degrees, he wrestled the steering wheel back into the sometimes fickle Atlanta Dragway groove.
Hight, a four-time winner in 2012 thus far, dodged a bullet and the end result was his fourth pole position of the season and first at the famed facility outside of Atlanta, Ga.
Hight wrestled his Auto Club-sponsored Mustang Funny Car enough to record a 4.15 elapsed time to top all Saturday afternoon Funny Car runs at the NHRA Summit Southern Nationals.
“Honestly, leaving the starting line, I didn’t think it was going to make it. The car made a hard move to the right. It was almost headed for the tree. I brought it back and it stayed there the rest of the way. I got on the radio and told my crew that it almost didn’t make it. I knew I was pointed straight.
“Lanny Miglizzi told me that the right tire had more bald than the left. The right one spun and the left had traction. It shot me over there towards the tree. Luckily I was able to save it.”
Hight’s Friday night 4.104-second run was never in jeopardy of being overtaken but his Sunday game plan faced a serious challenge.
“We were testing in the first session and the car didn’t make it down the track,” said Hight. “Jimmy put it back and told me that we needed to make it down the track. We didn’t have that yesterday – we had upper 120s.
“I’ll be honest, I believe the right lane is the preferred lane. To run a 4.15 in that lane is a statement. There’s a lot of cars bunched up there. Both the Pedregons are running good now. Cruz and Capps, it’s going to be a tough race tomorrow. I’m excited. You’re going to see a lot of close, side-by-side racing. It’s not going to be easy. When you win a race like this, it tends to be a little more special. You are going to need a few breaks along the way. Anything can happen in this heat. You’re seeing guys like Mike Neff not qualifying.
“You have cars putting out cylinders and if you do it too soon in the run, you’re in trouble. We dodged the bullet and made it.”
Hight had every reason to get rattled with the Mike Neff DNQ but rival Cruz Pedregon and his impressive run kept him in check.
“I saw Cruz go a 4.17 in front of me, so I was certain the track could hold it. I honestly believed if we could run a 4.17, that would be good for us. I never thought we could run a 4.15. That’s what I mean by you have to have a few breaks.”
FINALLY, A NUMBER ONE - Maybe he just needed to go into Sunday’s final eliminations as the No. 1 qualifier.
Tony Schumacher, a seven-time NHRA Top Fuel series champion and 67-time race winner will look to kill two birds with one stone during Sunday’s eliminations at the NHRA Summit Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
Schumacher is winless dating back to October of 2010 and winless at the Commerce, Ga. facility since – forever.
On Saturday, he took a major leap towards breaking part of the hold the facility has held over him courtesy of a track record 3.815-second elapsed time during Friday’s qualifying. Saturday’s 130-plus track temperature made beating the mark impossible.
Headed into Sunday’s final eliminations with the No. 1 seed provides the U.S. Army-sponsored driver with a measure of momentum he believes he’ll need to get the elusive victory.
“When you’re the number one qualifier you get to choose when and which lane you want to run,” Schumacher said. “If you’re that eight or nine guy, you get to run that No. 1 qualifier in the second round. It’s one of thse things where I need to get a little bit of track experience on race day before I go and hit those big cars. That’s good for us.
“Last weekend, we were first pair and that kind of stuff kills you. There are no easy rounds, but at least we can have a choice when and where we run from. This is not an easy sport.”
No sooner than Schumacher made his point, Mike Neff, Funny Car winner in Houston, made his words prophetic by missing the qualifying cut.
“You can go from winning one week and missing the cut the next – these guys are tough out here,” said Schumacher. “These cars are fast out here and capable of winning. I promise you I won’t take Pat Dakin lightly in the first round, and everyone we race after him is going to have to be like a machine. We want to win this race and kick off a winning streak.”
Schumacher has become accustomed to the questions of when he will break out of the streak. The inability to procure victory doesn’t play on his mind as much as some might think.
“I don’t think about the losing streak any more than I do about winning 15 in a row,” said Schumacher. “You put your nose to the grindstone, push the pedal down and the light comes on. As a driver, that’s (as much as) you can do. I know there are those who think otherwise. It’s probably more difficult going for your seventh (win) when you’ve won six in a row. You have in the back of your mind all of the mistakes you can make. We are a great team with terrible luck.
“I used to get frustrated by not winning 15 in a season. You get used to doing it one way. It doesn’t change the way we work on or race the car. We know what the race track will take and we give it everything the car has. We leave nothing on the table. If someone beats us, it’s because they did a helluva job and they have. We ran good, they just ran better.”
WRINGING THE PERFORMANCE OUT - Despite the baking heat, Hector Arana looked calm and cool and refreshed, even dapper in his trademark white Panama hat, Saturday afternoon.
And whichever way one wants to look at it, the Lucas Oil Buell rider was the hottest Pro Stock Motorcycle rider at Atlanta Dragway or the coolest customer in qualifying for the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals.
Neither Eddie Krawiec nor Andrew Hines, the only two bike-class winners so far this season with their Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidsons, could top Arana's 6.894-second, 193.82-mph performance from Friday evening. They were Nos. 2 and 5, respectively.
Even Hector Arana Jr., whose Lucas Oil Buell is supposed to mimic his dad's, couldn't improve from third place on the grid. Michael Ray, a Matt Smith protégé, has the No. 4 spot for Sunday eliminations. Actually, the only change to the top 12 riders and their efforts Saturday was that Hines found an extra bit of speed, improving that from 191.48 mph to 192.06.
Arana Sr. said he believes he used up all of his motorcycle in earning his second straight top-qualifying position this season and his second here at Commerce, Ga.
"I think she's tapped out. I have given it all," he said. "We have two bikes, so we are trying different combinations to see what we can learn from it. I need to look at Hector's [Jr.'s] data, because he made some drastic changes. We need to learn from that so he can be back up to speed. I know he wants to be on the pole and I would like to see him there, too. He grabbed a whole bunch of them last year. I need some, too."
He said they prepare the two Buells alike, although something makes them stray from the strategy once they get on the racetrack.
“When we got the second bike, the goal was to have them identical. For some reason they aren't," Arana Sr. said. "I don't know if it is his style of riding. It's always different than mine. It is still helpful, because we are learning something."
In the fourth and final session, Krawiec ran a 6.944-second pass in the pair ahead of him. That didn't give him back the lead he enjoyed in Friday's first session, but it was respectable in the heat of the day. But Arana, also not improving his numbers from Friday, nevertheless ran better than Krawiec.
"This .91 is even more impressive than what Eddie did," said Arana, paying Krawiec credit. "We have to work hard to see if we can run consistent. I know we are trading places right now. That's what the class is all about. That's why I love this class."
With a racing surface that was smoldering at about 139 degrees, Arana said he knows that is ushering in the hottest conditions the racers will experience this season.
"I really have to give credit to the NHRA and the Safety Safari, because they've done an excellent job [with the track]. We have been able to stay consistent. The weather is what we have to learn right now, how to tune this bike. So far, we are headed in the right trend," Arana said. "We are just going to use this data, which is going to go to the next race. I think this is the beginning of the summer heat we'll be seeing."
Arana said he really likes Atlanta and Atlanta Dragway.
"This place is special to me. [Coca-Cola] welcomed us to the Champions Dinner. You go over there and you are surrounded by champions. It's a great feeling and I look around. I want to do this again. I am grateful Coca-Cola has recognized us and what they have done for us and NHRA."
Arana will face Joey Gladstone in the first round of eliminations.
OLD RELIABLE, 2012 EDITIION - Jason Line said he's eager to park his KB / Summit Racing Pontiac GXP and start driving the new Chevy Camaro that Rick Jones has been building for him in Galesburg, Ill.
But the GXP has been loyal to the end for him, even giving him a little extra horsepower Saturday in temperatures that climbed toward 140 degrees during qualifying for the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals.
Line used a 6.607-second elapsed time on the Atlanta Dragway quarter-mile at 209.04 mph to claim his fourth No. 1 starting spot of the season, the 28th of his career, and the first at this facility.
That 6.607-second time was an improvement from his class-leading 6.612 from Friday evening.
"The racetrack was hotter, but great job by NHRA. The racetrack was great," Line said. "It was a good job by the NHRA because for a track to be this hot and be this good, is phenomenal. For us to go a 6.62 in this heat is great.
"We just wanted a good and safe run in the final session," he said. "This is what we will see tomorrow."
As he prepared to meet Warren Johnson, the six-time series champion and the region's favorite son from nearby Sugar Hill, in the opening round of eliminations, Line said, "I feel good about things and maybe this is a turnaround weekend for us."
He wasn't exuding that kind of confidence earlier, complimenting his crew but blaming himself for what he thought was not perfect behind the wheel.
"My crew did a great job as they have done all season. I told [public-address announcer Alan] Reinhart that I haven't really held up my end of the deal. I've struggled to maintain the intensity to be the best in this class. I haven't done a great job of that this year."
He's being hard on himself, for most would envy Line's accomplishments so far this season.
Allen Johnson, the No. 2 qualifier, was fastest in the field with a 209.23 mph he clocked Friday.
FORGING AHEAD - Jeg Coughlin Jr. has four NHRA Pro Stock series championships to his credit and 68 national event victories both as a professional and sportsman racer. Winning never gets old for him.
What has gotten old is his team’s shortcomings this season. Twice he’s failed to qualify and during qualifying for the NHRA Southern Nationals, Coughlin barely made the show, qualifying 15th.
Coughlin isn’t ready to push the panic button yet but is ready for his team to get through with his current trial by fire.
“We see a lot of opportunity in the program,” said Coughlin. “We are all competitors on this team and we have done well in our past efforts. I think our hopes, ambitions and goals were much higher than the path we’ve traversed thus far. I haven’t lost any hope but we still have some homework to do on this race car and make it more efficient and happier. We’ve got some homework to do on horsepower. Both are key ingredients to success in Pro Stock.”
Coughlin has been long lauded for his ability to perform in the clutch. He’s had to call on that same mettle to help keep a positive spin on the stretch of tough fortunes.
“You always have to remain positive,” Coughlin said. “In this case, you have to get qualified and stay qualified. It’s hard to wave that big of a wand over the car like a magician. We still enjoy it. I believe we are going to peck away at this set-up and go a little faster. We want to pull closer to the front of the pack. When you’re qualifying 13th or 14th, that’s who you end up running first round. You have to be on your best game and there’s no room for error.”
Coughlin admits a DNQ is better to handle when your team is struggling than when you are on top of the racing world.
“We’ve had a few DNQs over our careers,” said Coughlin. “Usually, these are character building. I think this situation has been a little different. We are just lacking in a few areas pretty heavily. It makes it a little tougher. In years past, when we dnq’d, we had the power to run in the top five, it really ticked you off. That’s how poor of a job you did. Now, we really need to make perfect runs with this car.”
CERTAIN MAYHEM - Unlike their NASCAR or IndyCar counterparts, drag racers don't have practice sessions at their events. The nitro-class racers can test within limited conditions, but they clearly would love to spend more time in their cars than rules and economics permit. Now they have something besides a practice Christmas Tree to keep them focused. And it's as close as their cell phones.
An iPhone / iPad app called "Dragster Mayhem" has captured their attention these days. The trick is to outsmart the rather random computerized Top Fuel simulator and land a berth in the incredibly prestigious "4.0 Club." According to C&J Energy Services Dragster teammates Bob Vandergriff and J.R. Todd, scoring a 4.0 is relatively hard.
"It's an aggravating game," Todd said, shaking his head at the thought of how much time he has invested in playing it and how a player can follow all the proper driving procedures and still record a slower elapsed time.
They agreed that the game doesn't help them hone their skills inside the cockpit. "Not even close," Todd said with a grin that signaled that it was a hopeless cause.
"It's mainly just a forum for us to talk smack to each other," Vandergriff said -- after sharing that his "career-best E.T." is 4.081, a time that wouldn't qualify him for the real-life Summit Racing Equipment Southern National this weekend.
Todd, as it turned out at the time of the conversation, was on the bump spot after three qualifying sessions with a 3.967-second effort -- while his longtime friend Bruce Litton was off the grid just a thousandth of a second behind at 3.968.
Among those in the NHRA pro pits who have been sucked into this cyber-silliness are Funny Car driver Jeff Arend and dragster drivers Brandon Bernstein, Antron Brown, Dom Lagana, Shawn Langdon, Morgan Lucas. Also in the loop are Vandergriff crew chief Rob Flynn and Mike Guger, Tony Pedregon's crew chief, as well as Vandergriff's brother Kevin.
Although the group hasn't reached proportions great enough to require a secretary to keep track officially of all the E.T.s, Vandergriff said players cannot claim simply that they have posted particular E.T.s -- they have to verify them by texting the "E.T. slip screen" to the others.
"Jeff Arend is under investigation for cheating," Vandergriff said. "He knows he's under investigation. One of the things you have to do is make the car go straight. He was playing at the Phoenix airport in between flights, and he rigged his car up with a napkin at a bar to make the car go straight. We've told him his 4.0 run comes with an asterisk."
As if the NHRA doesn't have enough dragster mayhem of its own.
NO THANKS - Newly inducted International Motorsports Hall of Fame member John Force was entertaining the crowd gathered Saturday morning at the Auto-Plus-organized autograph session, along with the father-son Ford team of Tim and Daniel Wilkerson. When the trio sat down at a table to sign autographs for a long line of fans, one little girl about eight years old happily got signatures from the Wilkersons and started to walk off. Force, thinking she hadn't realized he was sitting there, called out to her, "Hey, don't you want my autograph?" She turned and told him with certainty, "I'm not a John Force fan" and kept on walking.
NO EFI, ANYTIME SOON - The NHRA’s Pro Stock team owners are overwhelmingly against the implementation of electronic fuel injection [EFI] and have done their due diligence in proving their case. No one from the NHRA has approached the Pro Stock fraternity about making the move, and for Pro Stock’s Rodger Brogdon, that’s fine.
Brogdon believes if or when the time comes, his group will have compelling evidence why moving forward with new technology isn’t in the class’ best interests.
“We’ve remained open minded about the EFI,” said Brogdon, one of two Pro Stock board members of the Professional Racers Organization [PRO]. “We are trying to figure out what is best for the class. We’ve had input from the manufacturers as well.”
Manufacturer support for EFI from Mopar, Ford and GM, Brogdon says, is nonexistent.
“The manufacturers have shared with us, that they love those hood scoops on the cars,” said Brogdon. “They believe the hood scoops make them look like a hot rod. With all the troubles that NASCAR has with EFI, they really want us to stay with the hood scoops.”
NASCAR implemented electronic fuel injection this season.
Brogdon said the proactivity of the Pro Stock owners is not intended to squelch the natural development of technology in the class but rather do what’s best for the class.
“Our intention is not to be adversarial at all,” added Brogdon. “We just wanted to provide all the information to the NHRA we can if the situation ever arose. I think we are all on the same page, and I believe the class will stay the same for about three years or so.”
NHRA’s VP of Technical Operations Glen Gray said he is proud of the way the Pro Stock teams are proactive in researching EFI for their class.
“I’m proud of the way they did their due diligence in researching what it would take to make the switch,” Gray said. “They explained to us what it would take and the big effort it would take. They told us there was no overwhelming desire to make the switch. This correlated with what the manufacturers have told us.
“If that were to change, either by the manufacturers or teams we would then start making moves in that direction. Without the desire from those parties involved, there’s no reason for us to move in that direction.”
LOCATION, LOCATION - Location makes all the difference in business.
For NHRA Top Fuel driver Tony Schumacher, it made all the difference in the world.
Schumacher ran Friday evening's Top Fuel session at the NHRA Summit Southern Nationals from the back of the pack and kept his car located in the center of the Atlanta Dragway groove. His 3.815-second elapsed time not only vaulted him past Brandon Bernstein for the No. 1 spot but also set a track record.
“I think we were fortunate enough to run at the back of the pack,” said Schumacher, who was second after the opening session. “We were one of the few, if not the only car, that got it moving early. Our car is pretty old with 200 runs on it. We’re going to be bringing out a new car on Monday in testing. We are looking forward to it but I believe this car has some left in it.
“The run was perfect. When it left the starting line, it had the wheels up in the air and set it down. With this Atlanta groove, you always have to keep it in the middle. The groove actually moves a little towards the center and I think it was the right call at the right time. He probably could have gotten after it later in the run because we were so aggressive so early. You look at the ladder and it appears to be great right now except all of the DSR cars are on the same side of the ladder.”
Schumacher might have mastered Atlanta Dragway on Friday evening but is still reminded this is the one facility he’s yet to win a race. And, he’s been in the middle of dry spell which dates back to October 2010.
“I’ve always had confidence at this track,” said Schumacher. “[Teammate] Antron [Brown] has beaten me in the final round a couple of times and we have a good car. It’s dynamite racing and what the fans pay for. We’ve just been on the losing end of these races. It’s about time we turn it around.
“I would like to get this done. It would be neat to have gone all of these races without a win and score a victory at the one track where we haven’t won.”
If a golf outing in the days leading into the event is a harbinger of things to come, then Schumacher might just get the win. He scored a hole in one, the first of his life.
“It might not have been where I was aiming, but the ball went in just the same,” said Schumacher.
He’ll admit his location made all the difference in the world.
SUNSHINE SUCCESS - The sun shines on all competitors.
Friday afternoon at Atlanta Dragway, the rays favored Robert Hight.
Hight, whose four 2012 wins make him the hottest driver thus far this season, continued his torrid pace by jumping to the top of the field early at the NHRA Summit Southern Nationals.
“I was nervous on the final run because the sun was right in my eyes,” said Hight. “In fact, one of my crewmen [Shafty] was standing in such a manner when we had the body on the car raised on the starting line, he blocked it out. I figured when the body went down it was going to be right there. As it turned out, the a-post on my Mustang blocked it out.”
John Force Racing track specialist Lanny Miglizzi came on the radio and informed Hight most cars in his lane were drifting to the outside of the groove. Hight admits he fudged a bit by pointing the car a little to the inside.
Hight was elated. The crew chief wanted a little more.
“Jimmy Prock was really trying to run a 4.0-second run,” Hight explained. “The left lane is a little on the tricky side. There’s a couple of bumps in the right lane, but I will say this is probably the best racing surface in the country. It is awesome. But those few bumps can upset the car. He wanted to get over those bumps and didn’t necessarily believe a 4.08 or .09 will get No. 1.
“We picked up a little early and it was a bit on the weak side at the other end for some reason. That why we ran a little slower than we planned to and at 308 miles per hour. We’ve been running the big speeds and lucky for us it held for No. 1. We believed the other guys would run better than that.”
This event usually provides a challenge for the teams as the first true hot weather outing.
“It’s our first real test in the heat,” agreed Hight. “We had really good conditions in Houston but you’re not getting that here. It will already be hot. I have a lot of confidence and with this car running this well, I’m thinking positive.”
Hight understands he cheated fate for this provisional and this reality is likely to have caused a sleepless night for the aggressive Prock.
“We’re going to change a blower and do some things tomorrow,” Hight explained. “He’s one of those guys who will pick everything apart. He’s never happy. He’s not going to sleep well knowing it didn’t run well on the other end.”
If his run holds through Saturday qualifying, he will score his fourth No. 1 qualifier of the season.
IT'S ON YOU FELLAS - Eddie Krawiec and Andrew Hines have won the only two Pro Stock Motorcycle races so far this season, and Hector Arana Sr. said he was planning Friday night to "treat the V-Rod guys to some margaritas."
Arana just had trumped early leader Krawiec for the provisional No. 1 qualifying position for the Summit Racing Equipment NHRA Southern Nationals on the Atlanta Dragway quarter-mile.
His 6.894-second pass at 193.82 mph on the Lucas Oil Buell edged Krawiec by a mere thousandth of a second, and he was feeling generous about their pre-Cinco de Mayo celebration at Commerce, Ga.
"It's on you, Hector," Krawiec said after ending the opening day with the track speed record in the opening session at 195.42 mph on his Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson.
Said Arana of the margaritas, "I'll buy him a lot of them."
His on-track feat is costing him, but he said he doesn't care: "I'm looking at the long term." Then he smiled that delightfully devilish grin.
Krawiec conceded, "That was a nice, impressive run by Hector." He didn't stress out about it, though, knowing he has two chances Saturday to regain that top spot. And coyly -- and correctly, Krawiec said, "You don't have to have the fastest bike out there to win."
Arana said he enjoys the friendly verbal jousting with Krawiec.
"It seems like we're trading the No. 1 spots, but I like that. It's challenging," said, adding that he doesn't genuinely take to the track, aiming for Krawiec and Hines in particular.
"I just think about the best I can run, the best E.T.," Arana said.
For Friday's second run, in which he and Krawiec traded places, Arana said his approach was "grab a handful of throttle -- full throttle all the way to the quarter-mile."
Arana is seeking his second No. 1 position in as many weeks but said he doesn't expect numbers much better from his bike and its new engine, named "Forrest" for Forrest Lucas, his team sponsor and his boss at the Lucas Oil production plant at Corydon, Ind.
"I looked at my 60-foot times and my 330-foot times and all the way to the eighth-mile, and they were awesome," Arana said.
He said he'll use Saturday to experiment and simply try to get his Buell to behave consistently. The tentative led, he said, "is going to give you an eay time, less pressure. I can take my time and play it safe, pay attention to the weather, and try to make it repeat the same E.T."
Hector Arana Jr. ended the day in third place with a 6.950-second elapsed time.
HIGH EXPECTATIONS - Jason Line never quite thinks his runs are the best they can be, and he always talks as though his competitors could ambush him at any time.
Nothing much changed in Friday's opening day of qualifying for the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals at Atlanta Dragway. Line grabbed the Pro Stock class' provisional No. 1 spot with a 6.612-second elapsed time in the quarter-mile in the KB / Summit Racing Pontiac GXP.
And he said none of the class' top performers ever thinks he or she has made a perfect run. And he said early leader Allen Johnson "is still going to be a handful." He also named teammate-points leader Greg Anderson and Mike Edwards as competitors who "certainly could have" kept him from enjoying the No. 1 honors overnight.
All in all, though, Line said, "How could it ever be bad, being No. 1? There's no better place to be."
He said his team had to change an engine between sessions.
“We didn’t even have time to start the thing,” Line admitted. “There’s probably some room left [to improve]. Hat’s off to our engine guys for being able to plug an engine in from underneath the bench and go to the pole. That’s a very reassuring feeling for sure.”
If his run holds through Saturday’s session, it will mark his fourth No. 1 effort of the season.
CARRYING ON THE LEGACY - Racing is all Mark Ingersoll has ever known.
Ingersoll’s late father, Buddy, won multiple Sportsman titles in several different classes, while Mark was growing up at the track.
“I was always around racing my whole life,” Mark said. “My dad always raced and it was one of those things you are around and I loved to do it and I still love to do it. I would rather be at the race track than anywhere. It is something you fall in love with and you just love to do it.”
Fast-forward to the present and Mark has established himself as one of the best NHRA Pro Stock crew chiefs. Ingersoll has helped guide Allen Johnson’s Team Mopar Dodge Avenger to fifth-place in the point standings heading into this weekend’s Southern Nationals at Atlanta Dragway.
“The season has been really good,” Ingersoll said. “We are learning as we go, and we are learning different things every time we go out. We are just trying to get ourselves situated for the Cowntdown and learn to get better on race day and make smarter decisions.”
The top 10 Pro Stock drivers in the point standings following the U.S. Nationals Aug. 29-Sept. 3 in Indianapolis qualify for NHRA’s six race Countdown to the Championship.
Johnson has one win this season at Las Vegas and two No. 1 qualifying positions, the latest coming last weekend at the Spring Nationals in Baytown, Texas. Johnson lost to Dave Connolly in the semifinals at the Spring Nationals.
Buddy Ingersoll, a drag racing pioneer, passed away March 12 of this year, and Mark took a moment to reflect on the influence his dad had on him.
“The biggest thing for me from him was work ethic,” Mark said. “He believed in if you were going to do it, do it right. Give it all you had and try to do the things you needed to do to win. He won pretty much everywhere when he put his mind to it. He made it happen. He did a lot with not a lot of money, so it was that kind of work ethic he gave to me. I learned from him, always the right way to do things.”
Trying to fill his dad’s enormous shoes in drag racing wasn’t something Ingersoll felt pressure to do.
“That really never crossed my mind,” Mark said. “I tried to do good for him. Even when he was not able to come to the track anymore, he would always call me and ask me what happened. Why didn’t you run better? That kind of thing or you did good. He was really involved even if he wasn’t at the track. He was worrying about what was going on with us and I tried to do good for him.”
Mark admitted when Jim Yates came onboard with the Team Mopar Dodge Avenger, he has been able to flourish even more. Yates joined the team late last season. Mark Ingersoll has been with driver Allen Johnson and his father Roy Johnson’s team since 2001.
“I have been basically doing two cars with Vincent’s (Nobile’s) car, I’m responsible for it as well,” said Mark about Nobile who uses the same Roy Johnson motors as Allen Johnson does. “I’m trying to do Allen’s (Johnson’s) car, and it is a lot going on. I also do a lot of the work on our car (Allen’s car). Not only am I trying to figure what to do, but I’m doing things to it with suspension and transmissions, and I just have a lot going on. I didn’t really have the time I needed to make good decisions. It kind of frees me up a little bit to make better decisions. It is just another set of fresh eyes (with Yates). He has his thoughts and I have my thoughts and together we try to make the best decision we can. I will make the final decision, but a lot times he (Yates) makes me think about things I wouldn’t think about. He (Yates) is more of a numbers guy and a thinker, so it is just a really good combination between us. We are just getting better. We are hitting our stride now. Plus, I think we are doing a real good job working together with (Nobile’s) team. I think it has helped us.”
Nobile, in the Mountain View Tire Dodge Avenger for owner Nick Mitsos, is third in the point standings, thanks to winning at Baytown last Sunday.
Allen Johnson also weighed in on having Ingersoll and Yates on his team.
“Mark has been with 11 years and he is a very hard-working individual, and if the not best crew chief in the pits,” Allen said. “Things have been great for a long time between he and I and my dad, and the whole team. He (Ingersoll) has Jim Yates to work with it, so that has definitely helped the situation. We brought Jim in to improve our consistency and it has definitely helped.”
Ingersoll has high expectations for the remainder of the season.
“I think we have as good a chance as anybody,” said Ingersoll about his team winning the season championship. “I know we have not proved ourselves to be yet. KB (Keith Black) has won championships and Mike Edwards has won championships. I think we have to prove ourselves to be there, but I feel like our whole team feels like we have as good a chance as anybody (to win the championship). We just have to keep trying and keep working and keep moving forward.” - Tracy Renck
COPING WITH UPS AND DOWNS - Tommy DeLago, Matt Hagan's crew chief for the Aaron's Dream Machine Dodge, has struggled this year to find what he calls "that sweet spot." And team owner Don Schumacher visited with him for an hour by telephone last week, trying to help him find it.
"He really put me at ease," DeLago said, trying to shake the team's poor performance that has consisted of four first-round losses, one DNQ, and only one round-win in the first six races.
"The first few races I was out of synch, making the wrong decisions at the wrong time," the crew chief said.
He said part of the reason was the self-imposed pressure "after 17 years of being the underdog, scratching and trying to be the best. I'd never been on a team that had won a championship."
So he has made the transition from striving to achieve the top level to trying to stay there. The strategy has been driving him crazy. "At Las Vegas, we had a fuel-system gremlin. But we had four bitchin' runs in testing right after that. Then we blew up at Charlotte, and that put me back in a safe mode." At Houston, he said, he "backed [the tune-up] off a little too much.
"So I don't think I'm totally back to where I was," DeLago said. "You'd love to stay in that sweet spot, but life doesn't even work that way. You have peaks and valleys. We had a pretty good peak, and we're in a valley now. But we'll keep trying. That's why they call it work."
Hagan called this whole slump "a big piece of humble pie." But he found the positive, saying Friday's qualifying sessions were encouraging. He was 13th after the opening session and improved to No. 7 overnight with a 4.144-second pass in his evening chance.
"It's a good run to build on," Hagan said.
That should make Tommy DeLago a little happier, too.
Although DeLago said he has been making a conscious effort to let go of pet peeves and annoyances in his life, he couldn't help but be perturbed to see Hagan's Charlotte explosion played and replayed seemingly endlessly through various media.
"I feel a little guilty," he said. "Nobody's blaming you, but you know somebody's blaming you. But I know the answer is just to toughen up and get over it."
BOUNCING BACK - Jack Beckman rebounded Friday from missing the field last week at Houston, breaking an 87-race qualifying streak. He took the provisional No. 7 position in Friday's first session and ended up eighth with a 4.152-second E.T.
"It reminds you just how unpredictable these cars are," he said of the alternately stubborn and compliant Valvoline NextGen Dodge Charger and its ilk.
Beckman stayed at Houston after the O'Reilly Spring Nationals and made five test passes Monday, gathering input from his own former crew chiefs Rahn Tobler and John Collins and Prestone / FRAM Dragster crew chief Todd Okuhara.
Beckman said the troubles he has been having with his car came partly because the crew was trying to "listen to the car -- and it was telling us a lot of different things." Being unable to harness the 7,000-horsepower Funny Car, he said, "is not for lack of throwing some IQ points at this car."
THE SUPERCHARGED SASHAY - Tim Wilkerson made a funny sashay right off the line in the first qualifying session at Atlanta Dragway, leaving him with the slowest time in the class. In Q2, running near the front of the pack, Wilk powered to a straight-as-an-arrow 4.13 to jump all the way up to the No. 5 spot, after day one of the Summit Racing Equipment Southern Nationals.
The run was the third-quickest of the session, and therefor earned Wilk one bonus point.
"I told Alan Reinhart, on the P.A., that I was a sissy, because we left some on the table," Wilk said. "On the other hand, maybe discretion is the better part of valor, and after that show we put on in the first session it was important to get it down the track safely but with a good solid time. I think we did that, and tomorrow we can tweak on it some more and maybe get a little better. We also have to get the kid (Daniel Wilkerson) in the show."
TOP FUEL-A-PLENTY - The gears were turning in Spencer Massey’s mind. The driver of the FRAM/Prestone-sponsored Top Fuel dragster was already trying to find a place on the crew for Charlie Wiggleton.
Wiggleton is the order caller during the Thursday lunch rush at the Beacon Drive-in located in Spartanburg, SC, an eatery once featured on the famous Diners, Dives and Drives show. Massey was warned ahead of time the Beacon was a nitro-powered version of Atlanta’s Varsity Restaurant.
Massey, the 332-mph driving phenomenon on the NHRA Full Throttle Drag Racing tour, participating in a pre-race promo tour for this weekend’s NHRA Summit Southern Nationals in nearby Commerce, Ga., was thoroughly impressed with Wiggleton’s mettle.
“He reminds me of Phil Shuler when we come back from a run,” said Massey, referring to his co-crew chief. “When the guys start tearing apart the race car, Phil starts barking out orders and telling everyone what they need to do. He’s hollering back at [co-crew chief] Todd Okuhara what is happening. This guy is in charge of everybody who comes through this line, and he’s not taking notes – he’s taking charge of the situation – what do you want? Boom, boom and it happens. You can see how passionate he is about making sure the customer is getting service.”
The efficiency Massey witnesses is not unlike his own crew as they travel 23-times annually, crisscrossing the United States in charge of a prestigious NHRA Top Fuel operation.
Massey currently holds second place in the championship standings after seven races on the strength of three national event wins. Last season he finished second in the championship points.
“The faster he channels these customers through the line, the quicker they get their product. Replace the clutches with chili cheeseburgers and he’s pulling a Shuler right there.
“This is true southern hospitality at its finest,” continued Massey, of Fort Worth, Texas. “He’d fit right in on our team – right along with a guy we call 2-7. This is a pure experience, the likes you could only see from the deep south of Texas. It’s organized chaos, like out pits”
There’s no reason why Massey couldn't pull off the challenge of order caller at the Beacon, after all, it was in 2007, with a six-day old license, he won his first Top Fuel race under the guidance of seasoned drag racer turned tuner Paul Smith. A quick study, Massey went on to win the IHRA series championship which netted a call from drag racing legend Don “the Snake” Prudhomme to drive his Top Fuel dragster the next season. He reached the finals of five NHRA races, winning twice and scoring Rookie of the Year accolades for the second season in a row for two different drag racing series.
Massey currently drives for another drag racing legend, Don Schumacher whose stable of talented drivers lead the NHRA Top Fuel division.
Then again, just because he’s talented enough to drive a 330-mph land-based rocket, doesn’t mean Massey has the confidence to fill Wiggleton’s role.
“When you have as many people as he has yelling and screaming at him, and he’s then screaming at the 20 cooks behind him – I couldn’t handle that job,” Massey admitted.
THURSDAY NOTEBOOK: ARE YOU READY FOR SOUTHERN COMFORT AND ... HUMIDITY
ONE YEAR LATER - A year ago at this race, finishing his stint with Dexter Tuttle, Steve Torrence stepped away from active racing and began planning his own family-run Top Fuel team. Already he's on a roll, improving in the standings from seventh to sixth with a semifinal performance at Houston. It was his second semifinal finish in three events, and on the way, he set career bests in elapsed time (3.772 seconds) and speed (322.88 mph) Torrence Racing / Capco Contractors Dragster as the No. 2 qualifier. He led the field at Charlotte. This weekend he has two goals. "We want to continue our consistency and go more rounds on Sunday," the Kilgore, Texas, native said.
NOT AS BAD AS IT LOOKS - Tony Schumacher, the most successful driver in Top Fuel history, never has won at Atlanta Dragway. That's the only racetrack at which he has not won, although he does have three runner-up finishes to his credit (including last year's finish). Moreover, the U.S. Army Dragster driver has watched his winless streak balloon to 29 races. Still,
Schumacher is fourth in the standings, 37 points behind leader Antron Brown. DSR colleague Spencer Massey in second place, 32 points ahead of No. 3 Morgan Lucas.
"What I find interesting ," Schumacher said, "is that, even though we haven't won a race, we are still very much in the hunt. We're less than two rounds of racing behind Antron in first, which is pretty amazing. Wait until we start putting some victories in the bank.
"I'm always seeking to improve, no matter how many years I've been doing this. I try to be a machine every time I get in the race car. If I can do that, then that's one less thing for my crew chief (Mike Green) and team to be concerned with," he said.
With three of the top four drivers, DSR team owner Don Schumacher is happy. "I'm sure he's happy," his son said, "but he would probably be happier if we were 1-2-3 in the points. And so would we. We all root for each other to have success, but when we face each other, it is definitely game on. We represent different sponsors, and each expects its driver to win. That's just the way it works."
BROWN-SCHUMACHER SAGA - Top Fuel points leader Antron Brown has denied Tony Schumacher a victory at Atlanta Dragway twice in the past four seasons, but he shrugged off that.
"I just do my job like Tony does his. When we race, it's always a straight-up deal. We go at it hard and it will be what it will be," Brown said. "I'm sure Tony's time will come at Atlanta Dragway. Maybe it will be this weekend. Frankly, it's incredible that there's only one track on the schedule where he's never won a race. Pardon the pun, but what a track record that is."
The Matco Tools/U.S. Army Dragster driver said, "The Top Fuel class is so crazy right now. You just don't know which team is going to rise up and win on a given weekend. We just have to stay focused, do our deal and the results will take care of themselves. So far, that's been a good formula for us."
Brown took the points lead for the third time this season at Houston and has advanced to four final rounds in six races.
"We have been pretty consistent. When you get to the finals, you certainly rack up the points. But, in the end, you want to win races. The way we see it is that we've won one race, but there were three other opportunities when we didn't win," Brown said. "You have to be your own worst critic. You never want to settle for being runner-up. Nobody ever remembers who came in second."
IT'S ALL PEACHY - It's hard to keep Dom Lagana away from a racetrack. He wasn't racing the NTB / Service Central Dragster for team owner Paul Richards last weekend at Houston. But he and brother Bobby Lagana were there working for longtime friend Bruce Litton. "It's always a good time helping a friend, but it just makes you want to get out and race your own car more. I'm definitely excited to get back in the driver's seat," Dom, the younger of the two Laganas, said. Last May he wasn't racing at Atlanta but he was sitting in the stands, watching. This weekend will mark the first time he has driven at Atlanta Dragway, but brother Bobby made his first three-second-range pass in 2009, less than a year after the NHRA shortened the course from a quarter-mile to 1,000 feet. "We were making awesome runs that weekend," Dom Lagana remembered. "We beat Brandon Bernstein first round, and we made a real good run in the second round against Cory Mac [McClenathan]. Bob had him on the tree and we were pretty close with him – ran a 3.95. We'll take those numbers again to start this weekend. That would be really nice. We're aiming for a 3.90 to 4.00 every run, and if the track gets really hot, we'll have to slow it down from there, but we want to keep the consistency that we've already established. Our Service Central Dragster has run a 3.90 to a 3.96 every single run this year, and if the track conditions come to us, we think we could improve on that. The car and motor are really happy. Everybody is doing a really good job. The car is well-prepared every run. We want to continue in that direction."
WILD THING - Johnny Gray called his NTB / Service Central Dodge Charger Funny Car an "out-of-control animal out there." But thanks to a few test runs by substitute driver Tommy Johnson Jr., Gray said, "Our crew chief, Rob Wendland, says it looks like we are getting the car backed down and under control. Now we should have something we can work with." Gray turned over the seat to Johnson because he had business commitments.
"I'd like to thank Tommy Johnson for stepping in for me," Gray said. "Of course, I'd have rather been in it myself, but that's one of the benefits of being part of the DSR organization - there is always somebody who will step up to the plate and help you. It worked out really well, and I'm very appreciative."
PRO STOCK RULES! - The entire Pro Stock community is taking the initiative to spread the drag-racing gospel and encourage improved TV ratings for the sport and for Pro Stock racing in particular. Their campaign is called "Tell 10 Friends." Like his Pro Stock colleagues, Mike Edwards and his team members are asking fans to tell 10 friends each weekend to watch the race coverage on ESPN2. Of course, he's asking them to "Follow Mike Edwards on Facebook and Twitter." Edwards' press release about "Tell 10 Friends" said, "Let's help make NHRA and Pro Stock the kings of motorsports."
'JUST HOW IT WORKS' - Spencer Massey is enthusiastic, but he's not excitable. He knows the tour is a long grind and said he isn't frustrated about DSR mate Antron Brown regaining the Top Fuel points lead at his expense. "Whatever. Sure, you always want to be first, but it's a long season and we're only disappointed that we weren't first today," Massey said last Sunday at Houston. The Prestone / FRAM Dragster driver is coming to a racetrack he loves. "For whatever reason, Atlanta likes me and I like Atlanta," Massey said. It's where he earned his first NHRA national-event trophy, in 2007, Top Alcohol Dragster. He made it back-to-back victories in 20008. In his Top Fuel rookie season as hired shoe for Don "The Snake" Prudhomme, Massey advanced to the final but lost to Morgan Lucas. Last year he was top qualifier at Atlanta. "Sometimes you shine at some tracks and others you don't," he said. "It's the luck of the draw, in a way. It has nothing do with tune-up or whatever you might think. That's just how it works."
SOME LIKE IT HOT - Brandon Bernstein has shown that his MAVTV/Lucas Oil Dragster performs well when track conditions are worse. He has qualified in the top half of the field at four of the year's six races. "Usually there's one good qualifying session on Friday night, when it's cooler and the sun is beating on the track. That's when everyone generally locks in their spot in the field. But the thing of it is, we don't race at night. We race during the heat of the day when the track is sometimes greasy and slippery," Bernstein said. "That's especially the case in the summer months, which we're coming into now." Of his Joe Barlem-led team, Bernstein said, "These guys know how to win. If I can drive the way I know how to drive, the way I've been driving my whole career, eventually things will fall into place for us. We should have more round wins then we've earned so far, and we've come up on the wrong end of the races that are decided by thousandths of a second. But that will swing back our way. I have the feeling that once we break through, the win lights will come in bunches. We're sure hoping that starts this weekend. We're ready."
ENCOURAGING FORECAST - Hot-streaking Morgan Lucas said last week's race at Houston "might have been the best race we've ever had. Not only did we qualify No. 1, but we had low elapsed time of every round on race day. That's never happened for us before." The GEICO / Lucas Oil Dragster driver said, "The reason that's encouraging as we look forward to Atlanta is that Houston was hot. Charlotte was pretty hot, also. But Houston was just intense, and we expect pretty much the same sort of weather in Atlanta. We've definitely hit the hot part of the schedule and our car is still really stout. It's just been an incredible start to the season." Lucas claimed his first professional victory at Atlanta Dragway in 2009.
LOOKING FOR A CHANGE-UP - Shawn Langdon is ready to hit a change-up. "Being a big sports fanatic, going to the Braves game on Thursday should be pretty cool," The Al-Anabi / Toyota Dragster driver said. "One of my bucket-list items is to see a game at every Major League Baseball park, and Atlanta's is one stadium I haven't been to yet. So it'll be nice to cross Turner Field off the list." And he's ready to knock it out of the park with his Atlanta Dragway performance. He's still looking for his first Top Fuel victory and Al-Anabi's first of the season, just like teammate Khalid alBalooshi.
READY TO GO AGAIN - Alexis DeJoria might have lost the first head-to-head battle against Rookie of the Year rival Courtney Force in the first round of the Houston race last Sunday, but the Tequila Patron Toyota Camry driver said, "We gave the fans a good show, and I'm looking forward to the next time we can square off again."
In her first nitro Funny Car competition at Atlanta Dragway, DeJoria hopes to overcome the mechanical trouble that plagued her in the first two and a half seconds at Houston. Kalitta Motorsports Team Manager Jim Oberhofer said he and DeJoria crew chief Del Worsham are trying to run her car and Jeff Arend's DHL Funny Car exactly the same. "We made back-to-back runs and the DHL car looked good, but then Alexis' suffered some engine damage. Exactly what happened is what we're still trying to figure out. The good news is the two cars are really starting to respond well and the two teams are successfully working off each other. I'm happy with how Alexis stepped up to the plate in the first round. She wanted it bad, and she did a great job."
She doesn't fear the scorching temperatures that are forecast. "We're prepared for it," DeJoria said. Oberhofer said, "Atlanta [Dragway] is one of those tracks where when conditions are good, you can run very well, but when they're not, it can be a very bumpy and temperamental track. It'll be tricky, but we learned a lot in Houston which will help us in Atlanta."
GOOD NEWS /BAD NEWS - For reigning Funny Car champion Matt Hagan, this weekend could be a case of good news / bad news. "We're getting closer to straightening out our Aaron's Dream Machine [Dodge Charger] and it would be great to start it at Atlanta," he said. In this fourth visit here, Hagan is looking to reach the quarterfinals for only the second time. "Atlanta really hasn't been a good track for me," he said. "It's always been hot. But it could be cool and great conditions, but more than likely it will be hot and sticky."
SMOOTH RIDING - Funny Car's Ron Capps has improved from eight to third and advanced to back-to-back final-round appearances since acquiring Rahn Tobler as his crew chief. "The car runs what (Tobler) says it's going to run. This NAPA Dodge had been like driving a Chrysler 300. That's two finals in a row for this NAPA team, and that's great." Capps said. "This crew is just top-notch. Like I said all weekend, Rahn Tobler could make this car go down the return road. It's really neat for me to sit in the lounge with Rahn and JC (assistant crew chief John Collins) and learn and follow their mindset and listen to what they plan to do on the next run."
NEEDS JACKPOT AGAIN - Mike Edwards drove his Penhall / K&N / Interstate Batteries Pontiac GXP to a victory at Las vegas. Since then he has rolled snake eyes. "The last two races have not unfolded as we had hoped coming off the win, We were strong during the four-wide racing in Charlotte, but it did not translate into a win. Then in Houston, we were close to where we needed to be, but came up short in the semifinals," he said. Edwards posted back-to-back victories at Atlanta Dragway in 2008 and 2009 and said, "We are hoping that Atlanta kicks off the run for us to get back into a comfortable position in the points chase and possibly a run at the top spot come time for the NHRA playoffs. He's fourth in the standings, 97 points off the pace.
'WE KEEP GETTING GYPPED - Erica Enders has performed well in her KLR Group Chevrolet Cobalt this year, qualifying four times in the top half of the Pro Stock ladder in six races and advancing to the semifinals or finals at two of the three most recent races. "It's just silly things sometimes," Enders said. "I don't know what you do to keep that stuff from happening. I feel like we keep getting gypped. My guys work really hard, and I've got a great car and a great team. But stupid stuff happens. But you know what? It's going to come together. The tables will turn. We're going to keep at it for as long as it takes." Said Enders, "We know this is not an easy business, and nothing is given to anyone. We don't expect to be given anything either. The way to get through it is hard work, and my guys will keep doing that. I will, too. We all want this so badly, and we won't stop until we succeed."
BUSY BOYS - Greg Anderson and the KB / Summit Racing team have logged nearly 3,000 miles of travel in the past four days with its twin transporters and Sunday-night flights by the remainder of the crew. The Pro Stock points leader wanted to maximize the teams' time at the shop before heading to Atlanta.
"This was a very busy week for the Summit Racing team, busier than normal," Anderson said. "The crew flew home on Sunday night after the race (at Houston), while one of our transporters came straight home with both race cars so we could work on them, getting them as ship-shape as we can for this weekend.
"At the same time our other truck went north to RJ Race Cars in [Galesburg,] Illinois to pick up our first Camaro, getting back on Wednesday with just enough time to unpack and reload for Atlanta," he said. "We're really eager to see our Camaros and start this exciting new chapter.
"We're a little disappointed we couldn't bring them out here at the Summit race, but there just wasn’t enough time. Besides, we didn't want to shake down a brand new car at such an important race," Anderson said.
"It's certainly been a crazy few days, but if it was up to me I would race every weekend. When you're doing well, you naturally want to keep going," he said.
BACK-TO-BACK = RHYTHM - Allen Johnson loves the Southeast. The Greeneville, Tenn., native, of course, enjoys being close to home, but he's eager to get going with this first back-to-back occurrence of the season. He's fifth in the Pro Stock standings, and he said. "This is the time of the year that we are racing two and three events in a row and it helps to get into a rhythm. It keeps the driver and the team sharp. And if you have momentum you are able to carry that from week to week. When you are running well, you always want to be at the racetrack." He likes being there especially because he said he knows he has the goods to win races. "You normally have really humid and hot conditions down there this time of the year," Johnson said about Atlanta. "It seems like that is one of our strong points. These HEMI engines seem to run really well in humidity. We have made plenty of passes at Atlanta over the years and are very comfortable there in our Mopar Dodge Avenger."
GIANT KILLER WANTS WINS NOW - After knocking off the likes of top-performing Pro Stockers Mike Edwards, Allen Johnson, and Erica Enders, Larry Morgan is proud but wanting more. "When we have our act together, we can beat anyone," the Lucas Oil Ford Mustang driver said. "We've proven that four times. We just need to find some consistency so we can start running well every time down the track. It wouldn't hurt my feelings if we turned some of these first-round upsets into longer runs on race day. We'd like to get a win." He's 10th in the standings. He spent two days testing at South Georgia Motorsports Park at Valdosta to prepare for this weekend's race. "It's hot and it's getting hotter," Morgan said. "Atlanta has been a lot friendlier to Pro Stock cars since they smoothed it out a few years back, but we'll all be dealing with high humidity and heat. It can get slick out there. It's especially tough on these Pro Stock cars, because they're naturally aspirated. So they need air, just like a person does. When it's humid and sticky with lots of water molecules in the air, it's something you have to plan for. We'll be ready. We like the direction we're going."
WHO'S WHO AMONG WHOS IN WHOVILLE - GEICO Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle rider Karen Stoffer said, "Every weekend seems to be a little different with the Pro Stock bike class. You never know who's who in Whoville. You've got all these weight rules and no R&D on some of the Suzukis and huge R&D on some of the Buells. It's always a mish-mash, and you never know what you're going to come up against. Hopefully, in Atlanta, we'll be able to stick to our tune-up and be consistent and make rounds." She said she feels "confident going back" to Atlanta, "but not so much because we've done well in Atlanta -- but the reasons why we've done well there." That, Stoffer said, would be the fact that crew chief / husband Gary Stoffer "has figured out the tune-up really well, and I've been able to ride really well. That's more the reason why you have a little more kick in your step, rather than just coming to the track. It's the fact that you know we have all worked together, have a good team and are putting a good package together for the track."
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